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Hero Name: First Protector

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I.

For Kurosaki Yuzu, everything had changed after Hell. She'd been in dangerous situations before, despite how Ichigo fought to protect her, but Hell was... it was something else entirely. Even ten years later, her dreams were still filled with lakes of bubbling lava, of twisted white bones, binding chains, and inescapable cages, of pain and horror, death and betrayal, and stinking smoke that burned straight through her with every gasping breath she took, a fiery torment in her very soul.

Those first few years after were the hardest. She only remembered fragments of Hell, disjointed and jagged, but it was enough to nearly destroy her– her night terrors and strangled midnight screams rivalled Ichigo's, and Ichigo had fought in two wars and a handful of uprisings and rebellions before his eighteenth birthday.

Her mind was... scarred, to put it bluntly; she was still Kurosaki Yuzu, she was still kind and gentle and loving, but she'd gained a quiet edge of sadism. Her smiles were still sweet, but sometimes they were sweet like poison, and her sense of justice became entwined with an urge to ensure the wicked were punished (because she'd certainly started to find punishment quite appealing... and as she grew older, she found it quite appealing in very different ways, growing her nails long and filing them sharp because she liked to see the marks she left on her boyfriends and girlfriends, liked to watch their faces twist into something less like pleasure, and more like pain. Mortifyingly enough, it had been Kisuke-oji, her honorary uncle, who'd discretely brought sadomasochism to her attention, but he'd been right, of course, he usually was, and Yuzu had certainly found the lifestyle a healthy way to channel her urges).

Another significant change to her life after Hell was that dead were never hidden from her again; no, from Hell onward she saw them as sharp and clear as her brother. In fact, she could see further, even; could see the dark taint of the damned, the ones destined for Hell– she'd been a denizen there long enough to recognise her own.

The aftermath of Hell had also seen her finally reaching out for help to learn how to defend herself, to fight. Surprising everyone who knew her except for her twin, Ichigo and Kisuke-oji, she went to Ryuuken-ojisan and asked to be taught what her mother knew. Ryuuken-ojisan had been silent a long moment before agreeing. It took years for Yuzu to be able to manipulate reishi effectively, but she stubbornly persisted until she could use Blut Vene and Blut Arterie and shape Reishi into her weapon of choice– not a sword, or a bow, a soccer ball, or even a pan, spatula or kitchen knife, as the bets had been laid; no, the weapon that came most naturally to Yuzu were chains.

It made sense, to her. She'd never lost her Togabito chains, after her little visit 'downstairs'– or, as Karin had called them, her Hell Chains. The Hell Chains were... very potent weapons, to say the least. Appearing as if stabbed clean through her wrists when she manifested them, the Hell Chains were, at their core, pieces of Hell that had found a home within her soul; they hurt people, crippled them even when used on living humans, Shinigami, Arrancar, and Hollows alike. While Yuzu preferred to use her reishi-chains to fight, her Hell Chains were an extremely (and gloriously) effective last resort.

When Ichigo had first realised just how determined she was to be able to defend herself, her brother had taken her to the dojo he'd belonged to with Tatsuki and signed her up for Japanese kick-boxing classes. Yuzu, who had lacked any athletic ability at the time, had struggled at the beginning, but as months crept into years she began to excel, just as her brother and sister had before her. It became widely known to everyone in the Non-Living worlds that the Kurosaki siblings were fucking terrifying to piss off– and people weren't sure what scared them most; Ichigo's hard scowls, Karin's toothy grins, or Yuzu's sweet smiles. The Kurosakis were dangerous, deadly, feared, and loyal. Nobody dared touch any of them, not when it risked bringing the wrath of the other two and their many allies down on the dead man walking who tried.

And Yuzu; well, Yuzu finally began to... not heal, precisely, some things just couldn't be healed from, and Hell was one of them, but in the way of kintsugi, the cracks in her psyche left by her experiences were filled in with seams of silver and gold, making her whole once more. The end product was significantly different from that which had come before, but Yuzu was all the more lovely for it– as many would agree (university really was an amazing time for exploration, not to mention her ability to curb-stomp her opponents had drawn the interest of Yachiru, a pink-haired menace of a shinigami who was insane but very pretty and also quite good at curb-stomping her opponents. Even Ichigo had been horrified when they started dating, albeit in an open relationship. Yuzu was just happy to learn so many new ways to stab people and crush her opponents to pulp despite usually being so much smaller).

And then, at age twenty-three, just as she was nearing the end of her undergraduate degree and was about to begin her residency as a doctor under Ryuuken-ojisan, Yuzu went for a walk during a break between lectures to enjoy the fresh winter air and chat to Karin on the phone about her twin's recent engagement to Toshirou-kun when, to the immense horror and utter rage of everyone who knew her, Kurosaki Yuzu disappeared.

While her brother, sister and all their allies started tearing the Living and Non-Living worlds apart looking for her, Yuzu woke up in a rather cliche underground laboratory with, to quote Ichigo, "that clown-faced bastard" Kurotsuchi grinning triumphantly down at her. Her clothes were gone, and she was restrained to some sort of altered surgical operating table in a room that stank of old blood, death and the sharp scent of harsh cleaning chemicals. 

Drugs had blocked her off from her spiritual energy and left her body weak and unresponsive and her mind foggy, reducing her to the helplessness of a pinned butterfly, unable to escape the devastatingly effective restraints– because they were effective, horrifyingly so. Part of her hair had been shaved away and her head was bolted down so tightly to the operating table that she couldn't move it an inch– thick bands of metal ran over her forehead, another over her neck like some perversion of a neck-brace, and a thick strap pulled across her mouth and chin. More restraints had her arms pulled away from her body, metal bands trapping her wrists and her upper arms. Her legs were restrained in a similar manner, spread apart in a Y-shape, with a set of metal bands around her ankles and just above her knee. Her torso was restrained by a final thick band, this one over her stomach. There were also nasogastric tubes up her nose, an IV line in her arm and catheters inserted to deal with her waste. She'd never felt so exposed, trapped, vulnerable, violated and horrifyingly helpless in her life, not even in a cage in Hell. 

She spent the first few weeks of her captivity (or possibly longer– it was hard to keep track of the time) drugged out of her mind, which was probably a blessing considering the scarring on her body that suggested Kurotsuchi had opened her up more than once to look at her insides. She didn't remember the invasive surgeries, not really, but that didn't subtract from the fear and violation she felt. She was never released from the restraints, with Kurotsuchi washing her after she'd passed out, whether from blood-loss or from the drugs. She'd wake up clean, but as if she'd never been released from the operating table at all. She half wondered, in her more lucid moments, if maybe she hadn't been, if maybe her captor had just tipped buckets of water over her. She hoped that was it. She couldn't bear the idea of Kurotsuchi bathing her, of his hands on her flesh. Her body was so numbed from the drugs that she couldn't tell if there was any... violation, and she could only desperately hope that the mad scientist retained at least some dregs of morals, or that his scientific sensibilities held him above such 'weaknesses' of the flesh. 

She wasn't quite sure where Kurotsuchi had stashed her away, only that it wasn't in Soul Society and he seemed convinced that nobody would find her there, and that nobody had any idea he was the one that had taken her. Considering he was still breathing, Yuzu suspected he might be right too. But as smart as Kurotsuchi was, he had overlooked one thing– it had been years now since Yuzu had needed someone to play the hero for her; she was the sister of Ichigo and Karin, the daughter of Masaki and the honorary niece of Kisuke and Ryuuken; she was a Kurosaki and she would save herself.

Yuzu suspected that entire months had passed with her as a prisoner before she finally got the chance she'd been waiting for, but her memories were confused and blurred, and she had enough presence of mind to understand that her perception of time was completely off. She didn't particularly care for the specifics anyway– in her opinion, even a single second in Kurotsuchi's possession was a second too long– and whenever she was actually aware enough to make note of time passing, most of her attention was focused on more important things. And eventually, just like she knew he would, just like she'd been waiting and biding her time for during her more lucid moments, Kurotsuchi made a mistake

The mad scientist either missed a dosage of the drugs he'd been using that kept her cut off from her ability to access spiritual energy, or perhaps her body had just built up a tolerance to their presence, enough to diminish the effects. Yuzu really didn't care, and wasn't about to waste the opportunity on anything but escape, and when Kurotsuchi next leaned over her, scalpel in hand, she promptly sent a Hell Chain burrowing straight through his chest, to where his black, rotten heart supposedly beat, the Hell-forged links shredding their way through his torso, through flesh, ribs, lungs, heart and his spinal cord before tearing out the bastard's back. Kurotsuchi spent his last brief few moments alive suffering unimaginable torment and screaming before she used her Chain to rip, almost tearing the clown-faced bastard in half, splattering the surroundings with blood, bone shards, and mutilated chunks of flesh and steaming organs.

Yuzu passed out from exhaustion immediately after, but the next time she woke it was to an even clearer head, nearly full access to her spiritual energy– reishi, reiatsu, and her Hell Chains– and Kurotsuchi's corpse slumped on the floor. Not that she actually saw the corpse until after she'd used her reishi-chains to rip away her restraints then immediately tried to sit up, despite the way her head spun and protested at the abrupt motion. Her body atempted resisting her attempts to move it, her muscles all stiff and atrophied from the extended disuse, but she pushed herself onwards regardless, made herself sit, then slide off the table and onto her feet, clutching the table for support when her legs nearly gave out underneath her. She ripped out the nasogastric tubes, uncaring of the dull tearing pain it caused in her sinuses, or the wet trails of blood that leaked out in their wake, followed by the IV and then the catheters, though she at least had the presence of mind to force her badly trembling hands to be far more careful when removing the latter, not wanting to cause any permanent damage to her body through careless haste, despite her desperation to be free.

She then barely managed to take three steps before she tripped over Kurotsuchi's close-to-bisected corpse, crashing to the ground where her body stubbornly refused to assist her in standing up again. Steeling herself, Yuzu stubbornly decided if she couldn't run or even walk, then she'd just have to fucking crawl. And so crawl she did. 

The moment she'd dragged herself out of the laboratory that had been her prison for far too long, she actually teared up and would probably have started crying if that wasn't the moment that she found out Kurotsuchi wasn't working alone– and the last thing Central 46 wanted was for Yuzu to escape and reveal what had been done to her and by who to her brother. Adrenaline lent Yuzu strength she didn't even realise she had, helping her to stand and then remain upright as she staggered wildly through the facility, dodging attacks while lashing out with both her reishi-chains and her Hell Chains, the Hell-tainted forged links of her soul tearing through flesh and bone and leaving bisected corpses in her wake as the white walls were painted red with blood. 

The laboratory of a mad scientist, however, was one of the worst possible places to fight any sort of battle, because collateral damage in a battle was inevitable and one never knew what sort of insane contraptions a mad scientist had laying around. In this case, Yuzu's frail, battered body was sent crashing back by one of her attackers into an experiment Kurotsuchi had labelled years ago as 'too unstable to use, but too interesting to destroy', and it proved its instability when the wave of her attacker's offensive kido that had sent her crashing into it was enough to set it off with an ominous electronic whine as gears started whirring.

The building energy was intense enough to cause Yuzu's her ears to start bleeding as she tried and failed to move off the machine, to force herself away, only for the enormous and still growing pressure to cause the whole underground laboratory to start collapsing around them. The Central 46 minion who'd accidentally activated the bloody thing in the first place ignored the shaking and rumbling around them long enough to drive his Zanpakutou through her chest, but it was the last mistake he ever made. The release of spiritual energy caused by the death of Yuzu's human body and subsequent awakening as a shinigami fed the machine the last of the energy it needed to rip the very fabric of reality before the energy build up proved too much and the machine exploded into an inferno, taking the minion and the laboratory with it.

At the very same time as Kurotsuchi's hidden Central 46-funded laboratory exploded, killing everyone inside, Yuzu found herself gasping her way back into awareness in an entirely new universe with an entirely new second set of memories inside her head while laid out flat on wet grass as her ears rang in the aftermath of a nitroglycerin explosion to her face.

The four young children she was surrounded by were laughing and jeering, the blond among them shouting something as explosions smoked and crackled at his hands, but Yuzu ignored all of that, too busy gasping for breath with a ribcage that thankfully didn't have a huge fucking length of sharpened steel driven through it, which wasn't how she last remembered it being. She spent hours laying there in the grass, quickly abandoned by the four horrible children, her aching head struggling to make sense of what was going on, of what had happened to her.

A policeman found her there, though she was still in shock at that point and didn't really notice, only vaguely aware of her too-small body being lifted by gentle hands, so different from the clinical, impersonal, invasive hands that had been touching her since her abduction. The policeman immediately called for an ambulance and stayed with her the entire ride to the hospital, talking to her in a low, kind voice, the unending stream of words not something she really took in, but found comfort in the sound of anyway.

Midoriya Inko, who had been the one to contact the police when her son failed to return home after school, met them at the hospital, the plump, green-haired woman crying out in horror at the sight of Yuzu. Yuzu just stared with confusion at the woman her new memories informed her was her mother, and the accompanying shock of that new, alien awareness of the woman's identity did not make for a smooth transition into her new life as Midoriya Izuku, but honestly, Yuzu doubted such a thing could actually have been possible.

 

Chapter Text

II.

"I'm going to kill those bastards!" Ichigo snarls, his face rigid with rage as he paces the wreckage of an underground laboratory. Karin is white-faced and furious where she stands, motionless, before a dark pool of dried blood, Toshirou hovering helplessly at her shoulder. Yachiru is stroking her Zanpakutou in a decidedly unnerving fashion, a disturbingly bloodthirsty look on the pink-haired girl's face as she traces the gleaming steel, while Kisuke is bent over the still-smoking machine presumably responsible for the explosion, his mouth moving silently as he mutters to himself.

There are others in the room too, all in various states of shock, rage, and grief– there's Isshin, of course, and Ryuuken, Uryuu, Rukia, Renji, Orihime, Rangiku, Shinji and the Visored, Yoruichi, and Tessai. Even Sui-Feng, Unohana, and Kyouraku are there, identical grim expressions on the latter two's faces, while Sui-Feng's is carefully blank.

"Central 46 have gone too far," Kyouraku states with a quiet fury. "They've overstepped their bounds."

Ichigo abruptly twists to face Kyouraku head on, his mouth twisting into a vicious snarl as his eyes flare bright gold-on-black with rage. "A hundred years ago they overstepped their bounds when they sentenced eight innocents to death, and you all did nothing!" He roars, his black-red reiatsu lashing out and reducing huge chunks of the scattered debris to dust. "You either ignored them or cowered under them and their orders, like when they tried having Rukia fucking executed, and fucking Aizen had the right idea, killing the lot of them– you should never have let them reform! Their existence today– it's on you! Yuzu's dead, because you did nothing to stop them! My sister is dead and I'm going to kill them all!"

Kyouraku takes a half step back, even as the nearly all of those present shift seemingly unconsciously in Ichigo's direction, their loyalties to the young man clear. Only Unohana, Sui-Feng and Kisuke remain where they are, Unohana standing beside Kyouraku, her mouth pressed in a thin, unhappy line, Sui-Feng hovering uneasily at the soutaichou's shoulder and Kisuke still bent over the machine, a groove carved into his forehead as he frowns in deep concentration.

"Ichigo," he says, not seeming to notice the growing tenseness behind him, or more likely just ignoring it as he focuses his attention on what he classifies as more important, "I... I don't want to get your hopes up, but... I do believe there's a chance Yuzu-chan may still be alive."

~

~

Yuzu had a headache, though at this point the wretched pounding in her skull was probably better classified as a migraine. In the four days since she'd woken up in an abandoned, unused park in a strange body that wasn't her own, the migraine had only grown worse. She blamed the second set of memories that her poor brain was attempting to assimilate while at the same time her conscious mind rebelled against their very existence. Yuzu wasn't an idiot, she had a fairly good idea of what had happened– but understanding and accepting were two very different things, and Yuzu was very much struggling to accept her new reality. Literally, actually, because it apparently wasn't enough that her mind had been transferred into the body of a male child, it had been transferred into the body of a male child who lived in an entirely different reality, universe, dimension, or whatever it was called when the world she found herself existing in was so bizarrely, horrifyingly different to the one she'd lived in.

It was only the memories she'd inherited from her– host?– that had kept her from panicking when her doctor had two extra sets of arms. 'Quirks' was a very apt name for the odd quirk in human evolution that this universe had experienced, which had led to humankind developing such odd abnormalities. Except the abnormal was now the normal here, and going by the sympathy and mild condescension everyone treated her with, 'quirkless' people like her host were the odd ones out.

It was honestly bewildering to her. Despite her best efforts otherwise, Yuzu was 'remembering' more and more of Midoriya Izuku's life with every hour that passed and the way society looked down on him for being quirkless despite the fact he was one of the highest scoring students in his year level was ridiculous. Even having utterly useless quirks like purple skin or a set of horns or being able to magnify their voices somehow meant that those people were superior to quirkless people. Not to mention the whole godforsaken 'hero' industry!

Yuzu didn't know whether to laugh or cry just thinking about it. This world had turned heroism into a commercialised industry filled with property damage, corruption and so-called 'villains'– and that was even before she got started on how this society managed to justify what was basically the equivalent of child soldiers to itself with its 'hero schools'! The entire industry was like a bad reality tv show that the entire world had tuned into. Even her little host had been obsessed, a flaw she forgave considering he was still a child who'd been brainwashed by society's own obsession and lacked the clarity to observe with unbiased eyes and a clear head how society had largely created its own villains by demonising quirks it saw as 'villainous', while fawning over quirks suited to 'heroics'.

And then, as if that wasn't enough, there were all the laws restricting quirk-use in public (unless, of course, one had a 'hero license'), which was ridiculous and ineffective considering some quirks, such as mutation quirks, were constantly active, not to mention all the 'villains' running around that needed defending against, except no, apparently people were expected to just sit on their arses and wait for a hero to show up to save them.

She hadn't even left the hospital yet, and Yuzu already loathed this stupid, stupid world. There was only one bright spot in all this bleakness– actually, make that two, because the fact she was out of Kurotsuchi's laboratory was definitely a positive, but the bright spot she was referring to was Midoriya Inko, her/Izuku's mother.

Yuzu would always love Kurosaki Masaki, but the reality was that she'd just been five years old when Masaki had died and she remembered very little of her mother. She'd had to grow up fast after that, despite Ichigo's best efforts, and found herself becoming the mother-figure of the Kurosaki household. Having a mother was an entirely foreign concept to Yuzu, but Inko... Inko was everything she'd ever imagined of a mother. She instinctively loved the woman, who fretted lovingly over her while simultaneously threatening the police about finding out who did this, who was the reason her child was in hospital.

Yuzu had remembered enough of Izuku's memories at this point to be aware of the identity of the four children who had attacked Izuku, leaving him/her collapsed on the grass in a park left abandoned several months ago after it had been torn up by a villain attack. Three of them were mostly inconsequential; mere sycophants, the weaker personalities drawn to the strong, dominant personality. The fourth, the ringleader of the group, was a boy who embodied everything she considered wrong with this society condensed into a pathetic meat-sack of anger, narcissism and inferiority issues. Bakugou Katsuki was a bully of the worst kind, one who consistently broke the law by attacking Izuku with his quirk and was downright abusive in his behaviour towards most of his classmates, and yet, due to his strong quirk, everyone fully believed the boy would make 'an amazing hero!', not even sparing a thought to his horrific personality. This society was so broken that Yuzu was genuinely amazed it was still functioning.

Of course, for all that Bakugou had been the one to attack Izuku that day in the park, assaulting him with his quirk and leaving him laid out dazed on the grass, the boy actually wasn't responsible for her near-catatonia, horrific night terrors and repeated panic attacks. No, the responsibility for those went to Kurotsuchi, and of course to Hell.

She didn't remember her time in the hidden laboratory all that well. She'd been in and out of consciousness and in and out of a drugged stupor, not to mention, of course, the memories her mind had suppressed purely as a form damage control to ensure she didn't fracture to pieces, that she was able to hold herself together even when Kurotsuchi had been cutting her apart (and if, in her nightmares, she sometimes got a glimpse out of the corner of her eyes of a human torso opened up with a skill that bordered on almost artistic... well, there was a reason she woke up screaming).

She did remember escaping. She remembered fighting, she remembered killing, and she remembered dying. And, in her dreams, she remembered dying a second time, remembered the explosion that ripped her new spiritual body apart, mere moments after it had separated from her dead human body, remembered the terrible burst of heat as every particle of her was torn asunder.

She didn't remember how she came to be here, though.

Which meant she had no idea how to get back.

~

Yuzu spent five days in the hospital before being discharged. Other then the stubborn migraine that had only continued to grow, her physical condition was within the normal parameters of health, but because the doctors seemed to have decided she'd suffered a head injury– and they might not be wrong either, she had a vague memory of when she'd just woken in Izuku's body of that explosion quirk going off in her face– and had kept her in longer for observation. A head injury was a good excuse for the gaps in her memory, at least.

The day of her discharge, the police officer who had found her came in to visit her and take a statement. He introduced himself as Detective Tsukauchi, and he was a kind, earnest man. She vaguely remembered his attempts to comfort her while she was catatonic, and she appreciated the effort. She was honest with him about what she remembered– that she'd been playing with four of her schoolmates and that one of them, Bakugou Katsuki, had used his quirk on her, before the four of them had left her.

She didn't have any confidence in Bakugou facing appropriate consequences for this– he'd likely get a slap on the wrist for leaving her without fetching help after he spun a story about still learning how to use his quirk– but she still held out hope.

And if that failed... Yuzu smiled darkly to herself as she remembered a quote from an English-speaking fantasy television show one of her friends in university had introduced her to; 'there's no justice in the world, not unless we make it'. She was perfectly willing and perfectly capable of creating her own justice, but she hoped for the sake of both her faith in humanity and Bakugou himself that there'd be real consequences for the boy. Because she wouldn't be nearly as kind as the justice system.

Inko drove them home after she was officially discharged, and fretted over her the entire short walk from the carport to the apartment the pair of them lived in together. Yuzu strained her limited Izuku-memories for any information on the father, Inko's husband, but other then a name– Hisashi– she wasn't coming up with anything, and despite the abundance of photographs of Izuku and Inko on the walls, there were none of Hisashi.

The apartment was small but neat and modern. It reminded her of the apartment she'd been living in while attending university, except nicer. It was located in the city Musutafu, near Tokyo, and on the second floor of the apartment building. Inko had worried the entire flight of stairs, offering five times to carry her, but Yuzu had politely turned down the offer each time– while clearly a kind woman, Inko wasn't a physically strong one, and she had a feeling they'd just both end up injured of Inko tried.

After five days of bed rest, Yuzu was mildly horrified to realise that she was exhausted after just the climb up the stairs and more than ready for a nap, or at least an opportunity to rest for an hour or two. After expressing that to Inko, Izuku's(her) mother immediately herded her straight to Izuku's bedroom, even going so far to open the door for her. Stepping into the bedroom, Yuzu felt like she'd just been kicked in the chest by a hollow. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with hero posters, with a high focus on the hero known by the alias 'All Might' (Izuku's memories of this hero were VERY prevalent), the shelves on the walls were filled with hero memorabilia, hero collectibles and books about heroes, the bed-covers and pillow-cases were All Might-themed, the plushies were all in All Might's image, the stationary, notebooks, exercise books, lamp and laptop case on the desk were all hero-themed and even the laptop screen was still opened on a paused video of a hero fight.

It was honestly obsessive in an extremely concerning way, though she placed the blame mostly on Izuku's isolation from his peers due to his quirkless state. It also really brought home for her the fact that Izuku was a person, and that this was his body she was invading, however unwillingly– and it was a body she needed to give back.

After numbly letting Inko steer her across the room to the bed and then tuck her under the bedcovers, Yuzu waited for the woman to kiss her cheek then leave the room. Once alone, she took several deep breaths, refusing to let herself spiral into any sort of panic. There was a way to fix this, she had to trust that. There would be a way to retrieve Izuku from wherever he might be and return his body to him, maybe with a good talking to about not letting himself be brainwashed by society in the process.

Where could Izuku be, though? As Yuzu considered it, a possible answer sprung to mind– her inner world.

She didn't know a lot about inner worlds, only that Ichigo-nii, Kisuke-oji, and Toshirou-kun had all mentioned theirs before. From what she understood, it was some sort of mental plane that existed within the mind that allowed them to commune with their Zanpakutou, the sentient sword spirits who lived within those inner worlds. Ichigo-nii's hollow, Shiro-kun, also lived in Ichigo-nii's inner world.

If there was an extra conscious still within this body, it had to be located in her inner world– right? She just had to figure out how to access it. It was some form of meditation, she was mostly sure, as she remembered walking in on Ichigo-nii seated in a meditative pose with his Zanpakutou laid across his lap more than once. She mimicked his pose the best she could remember on her bed, folding her small legs into the position she remembered and rested her palms facing upward on her knees, despite her memory of Ichigo-nii's palms facing downward, his fingers curled gently around his Zanpakutou.

It took time for Yuzu to focus her mind; she still had a headache, which was distracting and painful, but she couldn't just put off retrieving Izuku if there was even the remotest possibility she could save him and return his body to him. So she persisted, and eventually, after what felt like hours, she became aware of the world shifting around her, and when she opened her eyes she found herself somewhere very different to the child's bedroom she'd been meditating in before.

The inner world, her inner world, was beautiful; bathed in silvery moonlight and filled with pale-petalled flowers and waterfalls that flowed into pools of crystal-clear water that reflected the glowing moon as perfectly as a mirror, the glass chamber that made up her inner world was a breathtaking space, and not what she'd expected at all.

Her inner world also wasn't empty. But contrary to her hopes, it wasn't Izuku standing inside it.

The second occupant of her inner world was a being wearing a mask– not a Hollow mask, but a porcelain one that was vaguely fox-shaped. The being was female, or at least feminine in their appearance, and tiny; small, slender and waif-like in stature, barely five feet tall and fragile-looking, draped in snowy-white silks and veils with pale skin and long silvery hair with flowers woven into it, the bright blossoms and green leaves the only visible splashes of colour. It was the sealed katana the being was carrying in an ivory-white sheathe that prompted her dawning realisation.

"Zanpakutou." She murmured, and even though the entire face bar a pair of gleaming inky dark eyes was hidden from her, she got the impression the being– the spirit– was smiling at her. Or maybe sneering. The mask really did make it impossible to tell.

"Yes," she(?) confirmed, her voice smooth and delicate as her appearance, before serenely adding, "yours, to be precise."

Yuzu very nearly choked on the air around her. "What?" She squeaked, in a way she hadn't since before Hell. She didn't know much about Zanpakutou, the information had never been relevant to her, and the extent of her knowledge was that the swords were reflections of a Shinigami's power and soul, and sentient beings unto themselves. A Zanpakutou's name empowered the sword and the sword lent its strength to the Shinigami who wielded it. As she was neither a Shinigami or Ichigo, who was just wonderfully strange like that, she (and Karin too, for that matter) didn't have a Zanpakutou.

Well, she hadn't had a Zanpakutou.

"You died," the... her Zanpakutou informed her. "And that was enough to fully activate the shinigami powers you never quite managed to activate while you were still alive."

"But I'm not dead!" Yuzu protested, and the spirit made an elegant sort of shrugging motion.

"The fact you're not dead now doesn't mean you didn't die. It just means you didn't stay dead." She said, and a sudden thought had Yuzu's blood turn to ice.

"Did... did I kill Izuku?" She choked out, utterly horrified.

"I honestly don't know," the spirit admitted. "I don't believe so. If you had, I don't believe the memories would be available to you."

"If I didn't kill Izuku, then... then where is he, then?" Yuzu demanded.

"I believe you are Izuku," her Zanpakutou told her. "And Izuku is you. Our memories are what make us who we are; you remember what Izuku remembers so it might as well have happened to you– and in a sense, it, they, have happened to you. Everything Izuku thought is a thought you remember having, such as your love for Inko... Izuku isn't gone, he's just more now. And you're more now too, for another life that you've lived."

"That's a nice way to look at it," Yuzu said after taking a shaky breath, her mind whirling, "but I don't know if I believe it. There are too many differences in how I feel about this bullshit society. Izuku believes in these pro-heroes, he thinks they're actual heroes, not celebrity wannabes. I don't."

Her Zanpakutou seemed almost amused. "And before Hell, could you really claim that you weren't just like Izuku?" She asked. "You made excuses for an abusive father, just like the memories of excuses made for 'Kacchan'. You believed blindly in black and white concepts, in what your society promoted as right and wrong. Izuku's memories are of believing what this society's propaganda promotes, regarding the entire 'hero' extravaganza. You would have believed it too, and you know it."

"I thought you were me." Yuzu observed, after a long silence in which she thought over everything her Zanpakutou had just said. "But you keep referring to us as separate."

"I'm part of your soul now," the spirit agreed. "But I'm still a sentient being in my own right and I don't have to agree with every choice you make. I'm your partner, we will most certainly disagree, as all partners are wont to do. But so long as you hear my voice, I will support you, even when I believe you're making the wrong decision."

"Partners, huh?" Yuzu said thoughtfully, as she looked over at the Zanpakutou in curious consideration. "And what's your name, partner-san?"

"Well," the spirit said, amused, "I'm afraid that's something you'll have to find out for yourself. But until you do, you can call me Kyo."

Yuzu was fairly certain that she was supposed to have to learn the name of her Zanpakutou before being able to communicate with it, but she could be wrong– as she'd already acknowledged, her knowledge of Zanpakutou was very limited.

"Well," she said, finally, "I'm Yuzu, which you know, and it's nice to meet you." She smiled sweetly at the spirit, a hint of mischief in her eyes as she recalled the shared annoyance she and Ichigo, and even Karin, to a lesser extent, experienced with the multiple meanings of their names, depending on the kanji they were spelled with (Izuku too, thanks to that cruel nickname Bakugou had given him). "Kyo-chan... I like it." She told the spirit, her voice as sweet as her smile. "'Apricot' is a super cute name."

"Cheeky girl," Kyo said, sounding almost fond. "How many people do you fool with that sweet face, little trickster?"

"Enough," Yuzu admitted, before stepping forwards, closing the distance between them so she could wrap her arms around the startled spirit in a warm hug. "I really am happy you're here," she told Kyo, honestly.

She wasn't sure what she would have done if she was alone. She would have coped, she wouldn't have had a choice there, but the sheer relief of having someone else who knew about her world, who could reassure her that she wasn't going crazy... well, it was staggering.

Even if that person wasn't actually a person, and was instead a rather shady spirit who lived in her head.

(Because she wasn't going mad at all. Promise.)

~

Chapter Text

III.

The Urahara Shouten appears empty when Ichigo slips inside; the lights are dimmed and there's a thin layer of dust evident on the polished wooden floors, but he knows better by now than to blindly trust what outer appearances suggest.

Kisuke is in the lab under the shop, just as Ichigo had guessed he would be. The shopkeeper's face is gaunt, dark smudges evident under puffy eyes, and Ichigo doesn't have to look in a mirror to know he himself doesn't look much better. Over the past year since Yuzu was taken, her bright light stolen from their lives, Kisuke has been Ichigo's rock, his pillar of support and steady, stalwart foundation. He's kept Ichigo from losing himself in despair or anger or grief, kept him focused on hunting down the truth of the fate of his little sister, and now it's time for Ichigo to return the favour, because he hasn't seen Kisuke for over a week now— and he knows why.

Kurotsuchi, that fucking bastard, had recorded all the... the "experiments" he'd performed on Yuzu, and Kisuke hadn't let Ichigo watch. Somebody had needed to, though, and Kisuke had volunteered.

Ichigo knows Kisuke feels a certain degree of responsibility for Kurotsuchi, for being the one to free the clown-faced bastard from Maggot's Nest and choosing him as his Third Seat so many decades ago. He shouldn't. Ichigo knows exactly who to hold responsible for Yuzu's suffering, and it's not Kisuke.

He holds by what he said to Kyouraku in the destroyed laboratory, even if it did come from a place of anger at the time— because that anger hasn't faded in intensity, Ichigo's just focused it instead. Central 46 ordered Yuzu's kidnapping; the dead minions in the destroyed lab were proof enough of that, and Ichigo has no doubt that Kisuke will have found more, irrevocable proof of their involvement in the... records, and he's not about to let them get away with it. 

The one good thing Aizen ever did with his life was destroy Central 46. The worst mistake the Shinigami ever made was letting them reform.

But first, before vengeance, before punishment and hellfire and salting the ashes, first comes his family.

"Here, Geta-boushi, dinner," he announces, dumping the takeaway container he'd brought with him in front of Kisuke, frowning when Kisuke just blinked up at him, eyes puffy and face blank. "Eat," he tells the unresponsive shinigami sternly, "or I'll have to hand-feed you, and I don't think either of our prides could recover from a hit like that."

That's a lie, Ichigo would hand-feed all his loved ones in a heartbeat if that's what they needed, but the lie serves its purpose as Kisuke's mouth twitches slightly into what's almost a hint of a smile.

Ichigo busies himself, setting out the disposable chopsticks that came with the meal, giving Kisuke the time to gather himself. He waits until they've both finished eating, fixing the shopkeeper with a scowl every time it looks like the blond's only poking at his food, before quietly asking the question that's been lurking on his mind since he first saw just how awful Kisuke looks. 

"...the recordings were that bad?"

Kisuke turns his face away, turns it down at his empty plate, like he can't bear to look Ichigo in the eye, like he's afraid that Ichigo will be able to read the horror in them. "She suffered very little pain," he offers, still not looking up. Ichigo doesn't think it's a lie, and he can't help the modicum of relief he feels knowing that despite how Yuzu must have suffered, Kurotsuchi had had at least a slither of compassion somewhere... or, more likely, any agonised thrashing would have jolted the 'specimen' around too much for him to work properly.

"She was not often... aware," Kisuke continues, still speaking quietly. "He kept her heavily sedated, to ensure she could not access any spiritual energy."

Ichigo swallows roughly, bowing his head as his hands clench into fists at his sides. The snarls of his Inner Hollow echo around his head, Shiro fuelled by the intensity of the hatred and rage he's experiencing, and Zangetsu's icy, simmering fury is nothing to scoff at either. Every single part of his soul is united in this moment, and it's only the fact that he wants to hear the rest of what Kisuke discovered that keeps him from leaving and storming off to go find some hollows to vent his rage out on.

"Kurotsuchi has always had a... very unhealthy fascination with the Quincy," Kisuke murmurs, still looking down despite how violently Ichigo knows his reiatsu must be fluctuating right now. "Yuzu-chan... she's not just a Quincy, she's part-Shinigami, however weak that part is, and she's... 'blessed' isn't the right word... she's touched by Hell, in a way that nobody in Soul Society's recorded history has been before. Whether she's part Togabito, part Kushanada, or if it's her unique genetic make-up that allowed her to continue accessing the abilities that Hell... unlocked within her, well, he wanted to find out, and he wanted to replicate the effects. Her, ah, 'Hell Chains'... they are a unique weapon... one that Central 46 was very interested in."

"So... they targeted her specifically, because of her own power? Not... not because she's my sister?" Ichigo asks, not sure whether the thought is one of relief or not.

"A bit of both, I believe," Kisuke answers, finally looking up, and Ichigo breathes out slowly as he takes in the look in Kisuke's eyes, like the Shinigami has aged hundreds of years in the days he spent watching Kurotsuchi's recordings of his experiments on Yuzu.

"They're going to pay," he finally says, quiet but absolute, a hard promise audible in his voice. "I'm not going to let what those bastards in Central 46 did to her go unpunished— they're going to suffer for what they did to her."

Kisuke's mouth curves into something sharp and dangerous at that, without even a hint of condemnation. "Well," the blond murmurs, his pale eyes glittering, "I believe that is certainly something Yuzu-chan will approve of. Hell did give her a strong sense of... justice, and the delivery of it unto those who do wrong."

Ichigo snorts quietly at the memory of how horrified people were by the changes in his little sister after Yuzu's time in Hell. He'd never worried that there was something wrong with her, not like a lot of the people Yuzu scared urged him to be, because Yuzu's potential had always existed. She was a Kurosaki; she was a protector and advocate for the weak and the hurt— even when she'd been small, soft and delicate, she'd been the one to wipe away people's tears and soothe their pain, and it made sense to him that when she'd grown stronger and harder, she'd started focusing her attention also on those who'd done the hurting, and ensuring sure they think twice before doing it again. 

He's always been proud of her, he's always seen her as strong, and that didn't change after Hell, after she'd changed and grown from her trauma, taking strength from an experience which could just as easily have broken her, and would have broken most others.

He's always been proud of her, his littlest sister, younger and forever smaller of the twins, the brightest light in his life and lives of all those around her, and there's a lump in his throat as he looks over at Kisuke with eyes wet from unshed tears. "Do you really think she's alive?" He asks hoarsely, and Kisuke leans forwards across the table, reaching to take Ichigo's hands in his own, seeming to ignore how they tremble as those pale eyes meet his, gaze steady and sure.

"I do," he says. "And wherever she is, I'm going to find her."

And Ichigo believes him.

~

~

Izuku squirmed in excitement on top of the too-large plastic seat in the doctor's office. His mama reached over to gently squeeze his small hand in hers, smiling encouraging at him as they waited for the doctor to give the results.

"I hope my quirk is super powerful," he chatted excitedly to her as they waited, swinging his legs as he remembered the video of All Might's debut that he'd been watching before mama had told him it was time to go. His favourite All Might action figure was clutched tight in his hand, and he beamed down at it. "Once I get it, I'm going to be a hero, just like All Might!"

"Sorry kid, that's not going to happen. You should probably give it up." The doctor announced as he returned to his seat, from where he'd been studying x-rays he'd taken of Izuku's feet. Izuku turned wide, puzzled eyes over to the doctor, who opened his mouth to speak the words every child dreaded. "Izuku has no quirk."

The sheer blunt and uncaring manner in which the bored-looking doctor informed him he should give up on his dreams shattered something inside Izuku– ever since he first watched that video of All Might's debut, he and Kacchan had talked of nothing else than following in the footsteps of Japan's Number One Hero. And now... now his dreams were dissolving before him, like a sandcastle caught by the cruel tide of reality, and he was left as helpless in the face of it as he was the inevitable ocean. 

He blinked back the tears that wanted to come, instead doing his best to smile like All Might always did as his mama talked with the doctor in a strained voice, who monotonously reported that based on the x-rays of his feet and the research currently available in the medical field, it was safe to say her son wasn't going to develop a quirk. His eyes strayed down to his sock-covered feet, still so far off the ground, and felt oddly betrayed by them in a way that wasn't at all logical, but still hurt. It all hurt, and the lump in his throat continued to grow and grow.

Mama was silent on the journey home, the wet, gloomy weather reflecting both their moods, and Izuku plodded quietly up after her into their apartment. As she half-collapsed onto one of the squashy sofas, he fled to his bedroom, where his mama's laptop was sitting on his desk where he'd left it. The video of All Might's debut was still open on the screen and he couldn't help but click replay, watching the clip again and again and again, until he'd lost track of how many times he'd watched the video, and it was only his mama's tentative voice that pulled his attention away from the screen.

"Mama," he said, his voice catching and trembling, "All Might saves everyone with a smile, no matter what trouble they're in... He's such a cool hero... Can I... be a hero, too?"

His mama's face crumpled.

"I'm so sorry Izuku," she sobbed, dropping to her knees beside the desk chair as she threw her arms around him, and Izuku couldn't keep smiling, no matter how hard he tried, the tears finally falling freely as he started sobbing too and

—and Yuzu woke with a gasp, her face wet with tears and practically smothered with a grief that wasn't hers, not really, but still felt like it.

"Oh Izuku," she whispered, her heart aching for that sweet little boy. She couldn't relate to his situation, not completely, but she did understand how it felt to be helpless, and how that hurt. Her family had been in danger, and had put themselves in danger for her sake, and yet for so long there had been nothing she could do. She wasn't like Ichigo or Karin, she hadn't had access to Shinigami powers or Quincy powers, not even Fullbringer or Hollow powers. She'd been human and helpless.

The difference between her and Izuku was that no one had really expected her to have power, so she hadn't been ostracised or discriminated against for being human, she'd been normal.

'Yuzu?' The quiet query in that silvery voice startled her– it took a moment to remember that she wasn't alone in her head anymore, and she hastily shut her eyes, entering her inner world.

It was still nighttime in her inner world, but it wasn't dark; the full moon hung low and bright in the sky, casting a silvery sheen as far as her eyes could see. The reflection of the moonlight on the pools of crystal water was breathtaking and Yuzu took a moment to admire it before turning to Kyo.

Kyo was sitting on the ground in a lotus position, her katana laid across her lap the way Yuzu remembered seeing Ichigo's when he meditated. Kyo's long hair, as silver as the moon in the dark, velvet night sky, rippled behind her without the aid of a breeze, the effect not unlike the sight of rippling water. Yuzu wondered if perhaps the Zanpakutou was water-based. A tipsy Rukia had once mentioned Shiba Kaien to her, one of their Shinigami relatives who'd died in the war against Aizen, decades before she'd even been born. Shiba Kaien had had a water-based Zanpakutou, so perhaps she took after him.

"You were distressed," Kyo said, something almost accusing in her voice but not quite.

"I dreamed more of Izuku's memories," Yuzu sighed, sitting down beside Kyo and leaning against the spirit. Kyo stiffened slightly, clearly shocked by the contact and just as clearly attempting to hide that shock.

Why would a part of her soul be so very touch-starved? Yuzu wondered, even as she closed her eyes and breathed in Kyo's sweet, fruity scent. Her mouth tugged into a surprised smile as she recognised what she was smelling, and she didn't even open her eyes to softly accuse, "you did that on purpose!"

"Did what?" Kyo asked, and Yuzu could hear the quiet amusement in her voice.

"Made your hair smell like apricots," Yuzu grumbled, and Kyo laughed.

"Maybe," she admitted, and Yuzu laughed too, though the sound was interrupted by a yawn.

"You should sleep, Yuzu," Kyo murmured, smoothing a small, delicate hand through her hair. It was a comforting motion and Yuzu near-melted into it.

"I'm afraid I'll dream again," she confessed in a whisper, and Kyo stroked her hair again.

"Trust me," she murmured, "I'll protect you."

And Yuzu... Yuzu chose to trust her.

(She didn't dream at all)

~

The first few days back ‘home’ passed slowly, but not without productivity. Yuzu still had a headache, but it felt less like her head was going to explode and the decreasing pain allowed her to actually function as a normal human being, even if this body was still weak from bed rest... and weak in general, if she was being honest.

Izuku was small and skinny, with no proper muscle on his bones. If he was so desperate to be a hero, she couldn’t help but wonder why he hadn’t tried to achieve at the very least a basic level of physical fitness, or better yet signed up for some sort of martial arts, but it wasn’t her place to judge his choices (or were they really her choices? She hadn’t dismissed Kyo-chan’s theory, but it still didn’t feel possible). She’d hunted down Izuku’s birth certificate while Inko was out at the shops and was slightly appalled to realise the body was actually thirteen years old. He was too short and too cute to be a teenager, what with his wide green eyes and curly green hair and button nose and freckles!

Yuzu couldn’t help but be pleased though, that if she had to be in a body that wasn’t hers it was one like Izuku’s– she knew just how convenient a cute, adorable face could be to help wrap adults around her finger, and Izuku’s face was definitely cute and adorable. She just wished it didn’t have a penis to go with it. 

Being a boy was... not ideal. She was very aware that if she didn’t have Izuku’s memories it would be so much worse, as even with them she was uncomfortable enough having male genitalia instead of the female genitalia she was used to and quite preferred. It was like wearing a shoe with a pebble stuck inside; it didn’t hurt, not really, but it was annoying and impossible to ignore or forget. At least body dysmorphia seemed to be a common enough issue in this world, unsurprising considering the mutation-type quirks alone, so there were enough people out there for her to reach out to if her discomfort turned to distress.

Before reaching out to anyone, however, or interacting with the world outside the Midoriya apartment, Yuzu was determined to actually familiarise herself with this new world beyond the scope of Izuku’s memories, and her years studying medicine had certainly taught her how to research efficiently.

Around two hundred years ago, a baby was born in Quig Quig, China, that appeared to be glowing. Originally, scientists debated if illegal experimentation in fluorescent proteins had been performed on the infant prenatally, and there had been talk of the parents being arrested for endangerment of a child and unethical human experimentation, but neither parent had any background in scientific fields, nor did anyone in their immediate friends or family circle, and similar phenomena started occurring across the world, of children being born with mutated genes that newspapers began nicknaming ‘superpowers’, while scientists and doctors labeled them ‘abnormal quirks of human evolution’.

At first, those with quirks were the minority, regarded with a combination of wariness and awe by the general populace. Yuzu was of the opinion that the human race was quite fortunate that more and more of the population had started to be born with quirks, or it was entirely possible that the individuals with quirks could have been targeted for persecution, even devolving to outright genocide— human beings weren’t known to react rationally when they were afraid, and there were far too many reported incidents in the earlier decades in countries across the world where children with quirks were abandoned or killed, by either the communities they lived in or even their own parents.

And then tables seemed to turn as more people were being born with quirks then without, to the point where in this current century approximately eighty percent of the population had quirks. This had led to the formation of a society where people defined themselves and their identities by their quirks, and it was those who lacked them that were the minority… and minorities were always vulnerable.

It didn’t really make sense to Yuzu that quirks were considered an evolution for the human species. The overall trend in human evolution over time was about evolving, moving forwards towards greater complexity as a species… quirks seemed less of a step forward for humankind, and more of a drunken stagger that had veered wildly off-course.

Izuku’s analysis of various quirks and her own research immediately proved that not all quirks were suitable for a human being; elemental quirks were particularly damaging as human bodies were more often than not unable to withstand the effects of the extreme elements. Extra limbs were also problematic, the body often failing to likewise develop the necessary musculature and skeletal structures to support them, or those extra limbs caused systems to not quite line up right, which of course only got worse as when the child grew, the misalignment of the muscles, sinews, nerves or bones only increasing with age and growth, more often than not causing a not-insignificant amount of pain (and it made sense to her now, why the majority of doctors and nurses at the hospital all seemed to have extra limbs; they likely had to spend time in hospitals when they were young to get fixed as much as was possible, and it had left an impression).

And of course, those who had gained certain features of various fauna or fauna often failed to likewise gain the necessary accompaniments and evolutionary adaptions that animals and plants had developed over hundreds, or thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years to accommodate such features, such as the hollow bones and two to three sets of eyelids of birds, the swim bladders of fish, the increased bone density and reinforced peripheral airways and middle ear cavities of aquatic mammals, and the production of antimicrobial chemicals, proteins and enzymes by plants.

Humans with quirks involving wings more often than not just weren’t light enough to cover the immense distances that birds could fly and had to wear goggles in place of the semi-transparent eyelids to protect their eyes from the wind, those with gills, fins or flippers were too buoyant, their lungs were susceptible to compression damage if they tried diving too deep and their ear cavities vulnerable to tissue distortion and barotrauma, and those who grew leaves or vines or flowers were susceptible to the parasites and pathogens such as fungi, bacteria, and nematodes that live off of the plant and damage its tissues that flora had evolved to defend against.

Really, more often than not, despite how outwardly flashy and 'strong' they appeared, Yuzu thought that quirks seemed more of a threat to the continued wellbeing of humankind than any sort of evolution.

And then there was the whole ‘pro-hero’ industry…  with the influence of superhero comics and the newspapers all calling quirks ‘superpowers’, it was little wonder that masked, costumed vigilantes started to appear on the streets. And, of course, it wasn’t as if criminals weren’t born with quirks too— and Yuzu could and would admit that a regular police force wouldn’t be as capable of fighting someone who could create lightning with their bare hands, as somebody with skin hard as granite. And folding the lawless vigilantes into the already existing chain of command had been an effective measure for dealing with such a potentially disastrous situation, but in her opinion, they’d handled the transition wrong.

Instead of encouraging collaboration— the police worked with partners or in teams for a reason— the vigilantes-turned-'comic book heroes come to life' kept working alone, kept their costumes, kept up massive social media presences where clips of their fights were posted and shared and kept the ‘hero names’ they’d come up with, when their own identities had to be hidden. From there, it had all just devolved into the current pro-hero industry that the world seemed to fawn over, complete with high schools training up child soldiers… which was a touch harsh, minors were only given ‘provisional’ licenses and weren’t meant to actually fight villains, only observe and learn, but the age in which people were able to get their full hero license and act as a hero was getting younger every decade that passed.

This dimension, Yuzu concluded to herself as she began the herculean task (pun intended) of peeling all the hero posters off the walls of her bedroom, passing on a silent apology to Izuku as she did so, was seriously messed up— and the worst part was, nobody even seemed to realise it. 

Chapter Text

IV.

Her lover's freezing touch is grounding against Karin's bare skin. Toshirou himself is grounding to her. She doesn't know what she'd do without him, how she could have survived this past year without his steady presence in her life, not when her second-half has been so violently torn from her, taken and hidden and hurt.

She always knew, right from the very beginning when her phone call to Yuzu had abruptly cut off, that it wasn't going to be good. She was right. Seeing that operating table with its torn restraints and old bloodstains, seeing those brief glimpses of the recordings, of Yuzu so small and fragile and thin, of her ribs spread open like a butterfly's wings exposing her fluttering, raw insides, of that fucking sword going through her twin's heart

The icy sensation Toshirou's lips on the back of her neck drags her out of her spiraling thoughts and Karin inhales raggedly, blinking away the tears threatening to spill. There's a time for crying, and a time for rage. Karin's grieved enough; she doesn't have any more time for tears, she needs to focus on what comes next. Yuzu is... missing, still, but this time they know she's not in enemy hands. She's currently just... lost to them.

Kisuke-oji isn't entirely sure what the clown-faced bastard had built the gods-damned device for, or if he'd even been the one to build it– it could just as easily have been confiscated by Central 46 in the past from some unfortunate soul now either dead or rotting in the Maggot's Nest– but from his examination of it and the readings he'd taken, he'd reported it was meant for instantaneous transportation– a sort of illegal, poor man's Senkaimon that didn't require a Jigokucho to work.

All Kurotsuchi's recordings from his hidden, Central 46-funded laboratory clearly show that the device activated exactly when Yuzu's human body was killed and that the activation was what caused the explosion, but so far Kisuke-oji hasn't been able to track the energy to wherever it took Yuzu. And as much as she wants to be out there looking for her twin, combing through the entirety of the three planes of existence for Yuzu isn't something Karin can logically accomplish, but the fact that Yuzu hasn't found some way to contact them yet... well, it means that something might have gone wrong with the transportation, or with Yuzu's transition from human to soul. It means that Yuzu might not remember them. Might not remember her.

And, most terrifyingly of all, she is petrified that it means Yuzu is trapped in Hell again, despite what the Kushanada Ichigo threatened claim–

Karin inhales again, slow and purposeful, and exhales, leaning into Toshirou's tightened hold. She can't be this out of sorts, she doesn't have the time to break apart and be a mess because she knows exactly what Ichigo's planning to do, knows he'll never let Central 46's actions go unchallenged and unpunished, and she refuses to be left behind. Not again. Not after every time she had to watch Ichigo go off to fight when she was a kid, helpless as a lamb for the slaughter, entirely dependant on her brother's victory for her and Yuzu's safety.

This time, when Ichigo marches off to war, Karin plans to be marching at his side.

~

~

There was a dark anger simmering inside Yuzu as she watched Inko shut the door of their apartment with a sharp click that near hit the representative Orudera Junior High had sent to inform them of the aftermath of the school's investigation into the incident. Bakugou Katsuki, the representative had just told them, had been given a permanent strike on his school record for using his quirk in public, along with two weeks of detention. And that was the extent of the consequences he faced. 

When Inko had protested, citing Orudera's supposed zero-tolerance for bullying, the representative had denied that any bullying had taken place, but rather it had been an accident caused by the children playing unsupervised with their quirks. Apparently, everyone knew how Izuku and Katsuki were long-time friends and often got into 'scuffles'. The representative had then had the nerve to comment that considering Izuku's 'disability' he should have known better, that he should have avoided the situation and then he wouldn't have gotten hurt.

Yuzu was honestly impressed Inko had managed to not slam the door into the representative's face. She wasn't sure she'd ever seen her/Izuku's mama's face so icy as she informed the representative that it was time for him to leave.

Victim blaming was disgusting, as was the fact that Orudera Junior High was actively protecting Bakugou from facing any consequences for his actions. Any sort of criminal charge against him would impact his chances of getting into a hero school, and they just couldn't have that. Not when Bakugou had such an 'amazing' and 'heroic' quirk. And Izuku, poor, forgiving, abused Izuku whose behaviour was far too horrifyingly reminiscent of the victim of an abusive relationship, a sufferer of 'battered wife syndrome'—a legitimate, serious condition considered a subcategory of post-traumatic stress disorder— would have done the same thing, shielding Bakugou from any consequences with his iron-clad opinion that 'Kacchan' was going to be the 'greatest hero ever' because of his 'amazing' quirk, despite how the boy hurt him. 

( "Izuku, baby, maybe you shouldn't play with Katsuki-kun so much anymore," Inko said softly, gently, and Izuku winced as she dabbed antiseptic onto the raw, shiny burns on his arms. His head hurt, pounding with a vicious ferocity— he'd been getting more and more headaches lately, after every confrontation he had with Kacchan.

Kacchan had been so angry today, and it made Izuku want to shiver in horror to remember the pain of the explosions against his skin. Kacchan's quirk was so scary! And so powerful!

"But mama," he exclaimed, looking up at her pleadingly with damp green eyes, "Kacchan's so amazing! His quirk is so amazing! He can make things explode! And he can fly! He's going to be the greatest hero ever!"

"Oh Izuku," Inko murmured, looking down at him like her heart was breaking. "My darling boy, quirks don't make people heroes."

"But– but heroes always have super cool, super powerful quirks!" Izuku protested, looking up at her in bewilderment, and Inko's lips trembled slightly as she smiled down at him, her eyes so, so sad.

"No, my darling," she told him, "true heroes have love, compassion, and kindness. True heroes don't hurt or bully people, they care about people, from the small, fragile infants, to the weak, frail elderly, and all those in between. True heroes, Izuku, don't have 'super cool', 'super powerful' quirks— true heroes have hearts.")

Bakugou was a wretched, abusive bully and as Yuzu glanced down at her arms, at the old scarring she knew was present under the sleeves, she vowed then and there that the loathsome child would face the consequences for what he'd done to Izuku, for the violent abuse he'd committed against the child over the years. 

Justice, after all, was a form of vengeance long overdue.

She honestly didn't see what was so 'heroic' about Bakugou's quirk anyway; nitroglycerin was a highly dangerous, highly sensitive, highly unstable contact explosive, and not something she'd ever want anywhere near her.

She'd read about nitroglycerin while studying for her medical degree, as it could be used to relieve angina (chest pain) in people with coronary artery disease, but in its natural form, nitroglycerin was an oily, colourless liquid so unstable (and that only degraded further over time, producing even more unstable chemical forms) that the slightest jolt, impact or friction could cause it to spontaneously explode, and the speed of its decomposition reaction made the high explosive highly violent— it didn't burn or deflagrate, not typically, no it detonated; an instantaneous destruction of all the sample's molecules, where the rapid expansion of hot gases caused a violent, destructive blast. Nitroglycerin also happened to be toxic by skin contact and inhalation, causing severe headaches. Considering how often Bakugou attacked Izuku, or set off explosions in his face as an intimidation tactic, it wasn't surprising Izuku had basically suffered chronic headaches.

Unsurprising, and disgusting— and Yuzu's rage flared just as hot as a nitroglycerin detonation at the dregs of recalled memories.

"Mama," she said, the memories she'd been reliving of Izuku's younger years causing her to accidentally use the childish word for her/Izuku's mother for the first time in years without even noticing, "can we go to the supermarket, please?"

"The shops, darling?" Inko asked, visibly puzzled, and Yuzu smiled sweetly at her.

"I'd like to bake something for the nice police officer who helped me," she explained, her mind already whirring as she prepared to put the first phase of the plan she'd been toying with into motion. Inko looked proud and delighted at Yuzu's explanation, her face lighting up as she started pulling out her cookbooks, chattering excitedly over what they should bake "kind, polite Detective Tsukauchi-san".

Yuzu easily settled in next to Inko, discussing her own ideas— she'd always loved to cook, had always found a great deal of pride in watching people's faces light up as they tasted her food, and she was genuinely grateful to the policeman who'd found her the day she'd arrived in this world. She didn't remember much about him, barely even remembered what he looked like, but she did remember with intense clarity how gentle his hands had been, the first gentle touch she'd experienced since Kurotsuchi had taken her, and she remembered the soothing rumble of his voice, if not any of the words he'd spoken. He'd stayed with her, comforted her to the best of his ability and brought help— she'd like to show him that it had meant something to her, that it still did, that she continued to find comfort in the memory of those gentle hands.

She and Inko ended up deciding on making wagashi. Wagashi were Japanese sweets traditionally served with tea, though to call them 'sweets', she thought, was rather misleading; wagashi were far more than just simple treats. Originating as accompaniments for the Japanese imperial family and nobility to enjoy with a cup of tea, the confections had evolved over the centuries into intricately crafted works of edible art; beautiful in appearance, refined in flavour and numerous in type and range. Wagashi were often fashioned into shapes from nature, such as flowers, fruits and leaves, and including seasonal ingredients, such as cherry blossom leaves in the springtime and chestnuts in the fall.

They were time-consuming to make, but Yuzu currently had little else but time on her hands and it had been far too long since that had been the case, even before her abduction. Not to mention, just as making wagashi for the detective served more than one purpose, to thank the man as well as her ulterior motives, so did going to the supermarket to get the ingredients they were missing— there was something else Yuzu needed to buy there before she returned to school the following week, as the representative had told Inko she was required to. This was the same school where Bakugou would also be present, waiting and undoubtedly pissed off. She had no intention of going in unprepared for the inevitable confrontation. 

Inko looked puzzled by the appearance of a plastic container of caustic soda in their shopping basket, and Yuzu smiled sweetly at her/Izuku's mother when Inko turned her puzzled look on her.

"I've read that you can use it to make soap— doing some arts and crafts could be fun, until I have to return to school next week," she said, which wasn't a lie, but it also wasn't what she needed it for.

"That's fine, Izuku," Inko smiled, still looking confused but not demanding that Izuku return it. "But we should get some rubber gloves too— it's not good for your skin, and you'll have to be careful about keeping it away from your eyes and mouth, alright?"

"Alright mama," Yuzu beamed.

She and Inko spent the remainder of the day and part of the next baking, an easy, familiar rhythm that Yuzu fell into with ease. Inko was clearly delighted by her "son's" sudden aptitude in the kitchen and Yuzu's heart felt full to burst as she got to spend her time bonding with her/Izuku's mother, a woman she couldn't help but love so fiercely.

Izuku's memories were growing stronger and clearer; some of them were so indistinguishable from her own that more and more often it took a moment of concentration to separate herself from the memories as Not Hers. Kyo didn't say anything, but Yuzu knew how the Zanpakutou spirit felt... but she also knew she wasn't ready yet to accept and welcome Izuku's memories as her own, to accept the possibility (reality) that there was no way to return Izuku to Izuku's body... because Izuku wasn't truly gone, just more.

Yuzu firmly pushed that train of thought aside, returning her focus to the wagashi preparation.

Inko took her to the police station closest to them where Detective Tsukauchi most likely worked that afternoon. They both spotted the detective quickly, he did stick out slightly in his long, tan trench-coat, and Yuzu beamed as he spotted them too, surprise colouring his face as recognition sparked, and she waved happily. He was quick to smile back at her, and his smile was warm and kind as he crossed over bustling station to meet them.

"Midoriya-san, Midoriya-kun, I hope everything is alright?" he asked, and Yuzu stepped forwards slightly.

"Detective-san, I wanted to say thank you," she told him, her earnestness genuine. "I don't remember much about what happened when you found me, I barely even remember your face," she admitted, "but I do remember that you were... gentle. And you were kind. And I... that meant a lot to me." She held out the carefully sealed container holding the assorted wagashi and smiled up at him. "So thank you, Detective-san."

Tsukauchi's face softened, and his eyes were as warm as his smile. "I'm glad to hear that I helped, Midoriya-kun," he told her, accepting the container with his gentle hands. He opened it and his eyes widened at the sight within. "These are beautiful!" he exclaimed, and Yuzu couldn't help but preen, because yes, yes they were, and she was quite proud.

"Izuku-kun made them himself," Inko explained, looking just as proud, and Tsukauchi turned to look at her again, visibly impressed.

"Thank you, Midoriya-kun, for such a thoughtful gift," he said warmly. "You look like you're feeling much better."

"I am," Yuzu agreed (Kyo protecting her dreams from memories of the laboratory certainly helped, and so long as she didn't think about her time there, or dwell too long on the family she so desperately missed, then she could function like a human being. Mostly). "But..." she hesitated, ducking her chin slightly and pressing her fingers 'anxiously' together. "I was... I was wondering if you could help me with something."

"Oh?" Tsukauchi asked, and Yuzu nodded.

"I'd like to read more about the laws on quirk-usage in public, and I was hoping you could tell me where the best place is to look for the most accurate, comprehensive up to date information," she explained, and Inko inhaled sharply while Tsukauchi frowned, a hint of confusion evident.

"Of course," he said, "but can I ask why?"

Yuzu grimaced slightly, letting one of her hands move to her arm, to where old scarring had left the skin slightly discoloured. She'd worn short sleeves today for this exact purpose, the detective's keen eyes not missing the movement— or missing the scarring. The burn scarring.

She didn't need to say anything for Tsukauchi to connect the dots.

"The school reported that you and Bakugou-kun have been friends since primary school," he said with a frown. "They said the... accident... was a case of children playing with their quirks unsupervised, and things going wrong."

Yuzu smiled thinly back at the detective, while Inko bristled angrily at her side. "They misrepresented the situation," she said. "They seem to like doing that."

Tsukauchi's frown darkened. "I think I need to send some officers around to Orudera to give a presentation on legal and illegal use of quirks." He muttered, before focusing back on her again. "If you'll give me a moment, I'll get you a list of relevant resources that you should find helpful," he said, and Yuzu nodded, thanking him. The detective didn't take long, returning sans wagashi container and with a post-it note with a link to the police website and instructions about where to look on it, as well as several brochures.

"I hope these help you," he told her, and Yuzu smiled up at him.

"Me too." She said. "Thank you again, Detective-san."

Tsukauchi smiled down at her. "And thank you, Midoriya-kun."

~

In this age of pro-heroes, the police force didn't often receive recognition from the public as their efforts were mostly relegated to behind the scenes work, so the visit from young Midoriya Izuku had been a surprise to Naomasa, and after the boy and his mother left he found himself staring bewildered at the container of beautiful confections on his desk.

"Ooh, those look great, boss!" One of his favourite officers, Tamakawa Sansa, said as he reached over lightning-fast to snatch up a cherry blossom shaped monaka. "Are these homemade?" he asked, delighted. Naomasa picked up an ichigo daifuku, examining it with a bemused smile.

"Yeah, they were a gift," he told his officer.

"Boss!" Sansa said, delightedly. "Do you have an admirer?"

"Boss has an admirer?" Kaniyashiki Monika immediately appeared beside Sansa, summoned like magic by his subordinate's words, her eyes shining brightly with excited glee, and Naomasa gave them both a flat, albeit amused look.

"No, they're a thank you present from a kid I helped," he explained. Sansa whistled, which never failed to impress Naomasa, considering Sansa's mutation quirk had given him the head of a domestic cat. 

"These take hours to make! What did you do?" Sansa asked, impressed.

"Not enough," Naomasa muttered, thinking of those starburst-pattern burn scars on the kid's arm. Orudera Junior High, when he'd contacted the school about dealing with the situation, had assured him they'd reiterate the importance of not using quirks unsupervised and in public to their students, as well as explaining to him that Midoriya Izuku and Bakugou Katsuki were old friends and that the three other boys who'd been there at the time of the incident had all explained that it had been an accident.

Old scarring didn't suggest 'accident', it suggested an unacceptable pattern of behaviour– and the younger Midoriya had been telling the truth when he said the school had 'misrepresented' the situation. Naomasa's quirk wasn't infallible, in that people could tell the truth without being honest– it may very well have been true that Bakugou and Midoriya were old friends and that the three other boys had claimed it was an accident, but that didn't mean Bakugou wasn't a bully, that he hadn't attacked Midoriya, or that the three boys hadn't been lying and it had been no accident at all.

As much as he'd like, however, bullying was the school's jurisdiction, not police jurisdiction, unless Bakugou broke the law– and laws regarding public quirk use with children weren't nearly as strictly regulated. Still, he made a note to keep an eye on the situation the best he could, and to maybe even reach out to the Midoriya family about how to report any further attacks to the authorities. If Bakugou was smart, he'd stay away from Midoriya after this situation had drawn so much attention and Midoriya had spent nearly a week in hospital.

Naomasa really did hope for Midoriya's sake that Bakugou was as smart as the Orudera teachers all praised him to be.

"The kid must believe you did enough," Sansa said firmly, as he stole a colourful cube of yokan, having already finished his first sweet, while Monika snagged a bright yellow sunflower-shaped wanama. "Whatever you think you did wrong, he clearly didn't seem to agree."

Naomasa couldn't help but smile at that, remembering the sincerity ringing clear as a bell in Midoriya's words as the boy thanked him. As a kid, he'd had dreams of being a pro-hero– who hadn't? He'd wanted to help people in their times of need, to make a difference in their lives. His quirk just hadn't been suitable, however, and after a brief period of devastation, he'd turned his attention to the police force. It wasn't as grand as being a pro-hero, sure, but he liked to believe he still made a difference. Midoriya's words had been a gift to him, even more so than the baked treats, but he couldn't help but reflect on the state the boy had been in that night. 

When he'd first found the catatonic Midoriya, limp on the grass, glassy-eyed and unresponsive, for a brief and horrifying moment he'd actually thought the boy was dead. It hadn't been until he'd gotten closer that he'd seen the trembling. Could bullying from his classmates really account for Midoriya's state that night? Or had something else happened, after Midoriya had been left injured and abandoned in the unused park? If Midoriya hadn't spoken up about it by now, Naomasa doubted that he would at all, but still... he couldn't help but wonder.

 

Chapter Text

V.

There's a dangerous charge in the air, during the calm before the storm; it's heavy and electric, and it tingles at the back of his throat with every breath Shinji takes. He can feel the terrible, weighted anticipation building around him, can feel the promise of violence and upheaval that shivers throughout the entirety of Seireitei as the Shinigami and nobility alike go about their days uneasily, all of them looking over their shoulders, all of them waiting for the inevitable axe to fall– and all of them hoping, desperately, that it's not going to be their neck stretched out across the chopping block.

Despite Central 46's best efforts to the contrary, it's common knowledge within Seireitei's city walls that the esteemed judiciary authority was complicit in the kidnapping, unlawful detainment and torture by way of inhumane experimentation of Kurosaki Yuzu– and everybody knows that Kurosaki Ichigo, the hybrid-Visored who fought a god as a teenager and has only grown stronger since, undoubtedly the most terrifying weapon in the entirety of Soul Society's arsenal, will not let their actions go unchallenged.

Or unpunished.

Shinji was there when they found the lab Yuzu had been kept in, he was there to see the look on Ichigo and Karin's faces when they saw the blood-drenched operating table Yuzu had been kept restrained to, and he was there to see Kisuke's sheer lack of composure in the aftermath of those damned recordings the blond scientist had insisted on watching, all so Ichigo wouldn't have to. He was there, he bore witness to the wretched injustice of it all, and he fully intends on standing at Ichigo's side in the face of this oncoming storm– and the Visored are ready at his back.

Hiyori had said it best when they'd covertly met to discuss what to do– covertly, because Central 46 was already running scared and they weren't about to give the esteemed members of the central chambers an easy excuse to take out any major players before the fight had even begun.

"That dumbass fought a war for us," Hiyori growled, her usual scowl in place, but paired with a great deal of steely, unshakeable resolution that reminded them all just why the angry midget was a lieutenant, "so we'll fight one for him."

"We didn't start that war," Rose had pointed out, but Hiyori just tossed her head and scoffed.

"And it ain't just the dumbass 'n his spooky-ass sister we're gonna do this for," she told him, told them all, her eyes bright and burning gold-on-black and the familiar grating snarl of a hollow double-toning her words, "we're gonna do it for all of Central 46's victims– those fuckers betrayed us, they sentenced us to die and there ain't a fuckin' chance in Hell I'll ever forget or forgive 'em for that!"

"Technically it wasn't them," Kensei countered, though without any actual effort or belief in what he was saying, merely for the sake that it had to be said and acknowledged, and it had been Lisa who'd scoffed that time.

"Might not be the same people, but it's the same organisation– and it hasn't changed one bit," she said bitterly.

"Fine, fine," Kensei grumbled, with a dramatic sigh. "I guess we're going to war then. Again."

Shinji snorts at the memory. Like it had ever really been in question– and they won't be the only ones to side with Ichigo when the inevitable happens, he knows with absolute certainty. There are too many within the Gotei 13 who are too loyal to Ichigo and his friends to even consider for a second siding against the hybrid-Visored, especially for Central 46's sake, and too many who aren't part of the Gotei 13 but are just as loyal, and will be just as ready to fight– the remaining Arrancar, the remaining Quincy; hell, Ichigo even has an in with the Royal Guard and the Kushanada, and if anyone can convince them to fight in a Shinigami war, it's Ichigo. 

If Central 46 order the Gotei 13 to attack Ichigo, it's going to be the bloodiest civil war in the history of Soul Society as the thirteen Divisions are torn apart by loyalty versus duty, comrades forced to fight comrades on the orders of forty-six power hungry idiots who should have known better then to ever put the people they were supposed to protect and govern fairly over in this situation.

Good thing Shinji's got a plan. He may resent the Gotei 13 just as much as he resents Central 46, may never forgive how they'd turned their back on him after his centuries of loyal service, but that doesn't mean he wants the organisation he'd once loved to be destroyed like this. Not if he can stop it.

The house is ridiculously easy to break into, but Shinji guesses there aren't too many idiots out there dumb enough to try– all Hiyori's kicks to the head must have caused brain damage, for him to think this is a good idea– and he makes himself comfortable, lounging like a lazy cat along the length of a couch that's entirely out of place in the traditional-style Japanese house, all minimalistic with its negative spaces, and helping himself to the sake. He doesn't have to wait long for the house's occupant to return, likely in response to some alarm or other being set off, and he doesn't bother to reach for a weapon, despite the hint of threat in the newly-arrived shinigami's reiatsu.

"Yo, Soutaichou," he greets Kyouraku Shunsui with the wide, cat-like smile he'd practiced a thousand times in front of the mirror, back in the days when he was young and stupid and vain, meeting wary eyes with his own mocking ones. "We need ta have a little chat."

~

~

With only a handful of days before her reluctant return to middle school (which she was NOT looking forward to; she'd just finished her university degree and had been about to start her residency, and now she had to go back to junior high school!?), and her even more reluctant return to Bakugou's vicinity, Yuzu immersed herself into studying the resources Detective Tsukauchi had provided her with.

Legal uses of quirks in public or against another living being– or both– were few and far between, and it was clear to her that Bakugou was breaking the law on a regular basis. The situations where it was legal to use quirks outside of one's own home were incredibly specific and restrictive, and clearly hadn't been adapted to change with the growing prevalence of quirks, and those regarding the use of a quirk against another living being, even in self-defence, even more so. The punishments for breaking those laws were harsh, too– even someone who could create some sort of forcefield using it to protect themselves if they found themselves in the vicinity of a villain attack was enough to earn a demerit mark on their criminal record. Earning too many demerit marks resulted in fines, mandatory community service, or even time in prison. 

The law was softer on children, especially those still developing control for their quirks, but Orudera Junior High (and the primary school Izuku had had the misfortunate of attending along with Bakugou, for that matter) should have long-since threatened Bakugou with suspension, expulsion, or even contacted the police with how he went around using his quirk to detonate blasts in the face of his classmates, burning Izuku and destroying the belongings of his peers.

Yuzu was plotting out the specifics of just how she was going to use the law to ruin Bakugou when she came across something that made her smile in a way that would have warned anyone in her world to run away as fast as they could.

Known officially as ' Early/Late-Onset Quirk Activation', there is a very rare phenomenon that can occur in circumstances where people with previously inactivated quirks believe their lives to be in danger and their body’s fight/flight response activates their quirk. This is more common in children under the age of four, whose quirks had not developed before they found themselves in danger and their quirks manifest, activating to protect them. It’s unknown if this traumatic manifestation affects how their quirks would have manifested, as in all known cases of Early- Onset Quirk Activation , the quirks are offensive in nature, never passive. In the much rarer Late- Onset Quirk Activation , people who have been diagnosed as quirkless due to never manifesting a quirk spontaneously activate an offensive quirk in a situation where their lives are in danger. This is significantly rarer then early onset quirk activation, and in the past two hundred years there have been only sixteen known cases of Late- Onset Quirk Activation .

Oh Bakugou, Yuzu smiled sweet as strychnine down at the text. She was going to make that nasty, pathetic bully pay for ever daring to touch Izuku.  

Wanting Kyo's opinion on her plan, because she might be new to having a Zanpakutou but she'd overheard enough from Ichigo's conversations with other Shinigami to know that having a Zanpakutou meant having a partner, not a servant, Yuzu folded herself into a meditative position on her bed and closed her eyes.  

Kyo was meditating in the silvery moonlight when Yuzu arrived in her inner world, the deadly, graceful curve of the sheathed katana laid out across her folded legs. The pale silks and shimmery veils that draped over the spirit's slight form had pooled about her in a puddle of pale material, and her long, long hair was rippling gently without a breeze. 

Yuzu crossed over to her, careful to move Kyo's silks and veils out from under her before she sat down and leaned against her spirit. Kyo stiffened, as she always did, and Yuzu waited patiently, as she always did, for Kyo to relax and lean back against her before speaking up.

"What do you think?"

"I think," Kyo said, and her voice was darkly, vindictively amused, "that boy is going to wish he'd never laid eyes on you."

Yuzu grinned, holding up a hand and focusing. The dangerous dark crimson links of her Hell Chain were stark and bold against her pale skin, and she could hear the haunting whispers of Hell emanating from the indestructible 'metal' which made her grin widen further as she recalled the subsection she'd just read on legal public quirk use. The glory of man's folly truly was that he brought it upon himself, she thought, with a spite-fuelled smugness. Bakugou was going to regret ever burning an innocent child.

"You fight well with those chains," Kyo said suddenly, and hearing how intent the spirit sounded, Yuzu straightened so she could look Kyo in the eye. Kyo looked back at her, those dark eyes, half-hidden as they were behind the delicate porcelain mask, unmistakably assessing. "And you fought well with your body before," the spirit continued, "it won't take you long to relearn with this different one."

"I'll definitely ask Inko about starting kick-boxing classes again," Yuzu agreed, a touch confused as she couldn't quite see where Kyo was going with this.

"Yes," Kyo said approvingly, "but I will be the one to teach you how to fight with a sword– you are my wielder, Kurosaki Yuzu. And you must learn how to wield me."

~

Yuzu grimaced as the dreaded morning finally arrived where she had to dress for her first day (back) at Orudera Junior High. The clearly male cut to the plain black gakuran uniform, the lone splash of colour being the yellow buttons, irked her– her body's biology may be male, but Yuzu wasn't. Izuku was slight enough to get away with wearing a skirt, she thought wistfully, sighing as she pulled on plain white sneakers.

Inko hovered worriedly from the moment she left her bedroom, to the moment she left their apartment. "Are you sure you don't want me to walk with you?" Inko fretted, but Yuzu stood firm.

"I'll be okay, mama," she promised. She had a strong inkling that Bakugou wasn't going to be patient enough to wait for her to reach Orudera before confronting her, and she didn't want Inko there when she used her temporary countermeasures against the little shit until her proper plan could be enacted. She had a feeling Inko wouldn't approve.

Sure enough, Yuzu was barely halfway to the school, walking through an underpass she recognised from Izuku's memories as one she/he passed through twice a day, when Bakugou jumped out at her with a roar, hands outstretched.

For a moment, Izuku's memories overwhelmed her, the instinct to freeze in terror almost keeping her from evading the attack, only for Kyo's sharp, silvery voice to cut through the haze as the spirit snapped out her name, giving her time to swiftly pull the plastic spray bottle with the blue nozzle from her bookbag and spray the contents at Bakguou's dangerously sparking hands while simultaneously ducking out of his path.

"What the fuck?" bellowed Bakugou in confused rage as his hands sizzled and crackled with weak, sputtering 'pops' instead of the explosion he'd been expecting, and Yuzu smiled at him, her lips pulled back to show her teeth.

"Like it?" she asked sweetly, as she pulled out the second spray bottle she'd prepared with the caustic soda she'd gently tricked Inko into buying (she actually had made soap with it too, but this had always been its intended purpose), this one with a pink nozzle, and holding one in each hand. "It's sodium hydroxide. Heavily diluted with water, of course, so it doesn't strip the skin from your bones, but still strong enough to do a decent enough job of neutralising nitroglycerin." 

When Bakugou roared with fury and took a threatening step in her direction, Yuzu lifted her second spray bottle and warned, "I wouldn't if I were you."

She'd shocked Bakugou enough that he actually did stop, his eyes wild and bright with rage as he demanded, "And what the fuck's that?"

"Less diluted," she said dryly. "Significantly so."

Considering sodium hydroxide was corrosive to human tissue, despite the temptation Yuzu had diluted the blue spray bottle enough that it wouldn't have caused Bakugou more than an uncomfortable sting. The pink bottle, however... well, it wasn't nearly as diluted. If Bakugou tried attacking her after she'd given fair warning, the acid burns were on him. Not to mention, if anyone asked how he got the burns, he couldn't admit to the truth without revealing he'd been attempting to attack her.

Bakugou looked like a hunted, cornered animal as he roared at her in wordless rage. "Fucking Deku!" he howled. "Just you wait! You can't keep those with you forever!"

"Bakugou," Yuzu said icily, scorn dripping from her voice, "do you really think that after everything you've done to me that I haven't come up with contingency plan after contingency plan for dealing with your abuse? You can't possibly actually be as stupid as you look."

"You'll pay for this!" Bakugou snarled, wild-eyed and furious. "You stupid, weak-ass, quirkless piece of shit, you're going to pay for this!"

Yuzu barred her teeth at him in a grin, letting her reiatsu leak out enough pressure into the air to affect Bakugou without the boy realising he was being affected.

"My sentiments exactly." She said, before turning her back on him and leaving, trusting Kyo to watch her back.

'Well done' Kyo murmured, all sleek, sly and satisfied, and Yuzu smiled, pretty as a rose and with just as many thorns.

~

Her smile didn't last long after arriving at Orudera Junior High, however, instead being replaced by an overwhelming disgust at the blatant discrimination evident in the school. Not only did none of the teachers spare even a moment to inquire into Izuku's wellbeing after the hospital stay, but not one of them had collected the work she'd need to make up from during her absence. She'd had to chase each of them up for the work she was required to catch up on, and they all reacted like she was demanding the moon from them when she politely requested it. One of the teachers had even frowned darkly at her, telling Yuzu that she'd wanted to fail Izuku for the test Izuku had missed, because Izuku shouldn't have been breaking the law along with 'Katsuki-kun' and that it was her own recklessness that had resulted in her injuries.

Yuzu had been pale with fury, and the look in her eyes had been enough to shut the hateful hag of a teacher up, though the woman had still scowled at her before ordering her to sit down and 'stop wasting class time'. Quirklessness really was the last acceptable form of discrimination and Yuzu hadn't been quite this enraged for a long time. Yuzu had honestly been fairly fortunate when it came to discrimination; her Quincy identity had gone unknown long enough to spare her the danger of genocide her ancestors faced, and thanks to the preventative measure that was her brother, she had grown up without her personal rights and fundamental freedoms ever being at risk for something she couldn’t even help, for something she'd been born to (not until Central 46 had decided to defy Ichigo, anyway, but Yuzu would not think about that, she couldn't). Izuku hadn’t been as lucky as she was, Izuku had suffered for being born quirkless, and Yuzu was furious.

"Getting back at Bakugou isn't going to be enough," she told Kyo grimly, after retreating to the school bathroom to calm down before she did something she... honestly probably wouldn't regret, but would certainly upset Inko. "The teachers are going to have to face consequences too. This is... this is wrong."

"This society is wrong," Kyo said, the disgusted sneer audible in her voice, if not visible on her mask-covered face. "Everything about it is broken, and everyone is blind to it."

"I agree," Yuzu said, equal parts seething and determined, "but we can either bitch about it, or actually do something about it."

She couldn't see Kyo's expression, but she could feel the approval radiating from the spirit. "No matter what may happen," the Zanpakutou told her, a small, pale hand reaching out to Yuzu, palm facing upwards in an unmistakable offering, "as long as you walk by my side, there shall be no enemy that can stand before us."

And Yuzu smiled, affection for the strange, secretive spirit swelling up inside her as she reached out and accepted Kyo's hand, entwining their fingers together. "Then let's change the world, Kyo-chan."

 

Chapter Text

VI.

Ichigo’s eyes are hard as they meet his, and Kyouraku Shunsui bites back a low sigh. The boy is passionate, fierce, blazing bright with the vitality of his youth. Shunsui remembers, hundreds of years ago, when that had been him. He remembers having a strength and passion strong enough to move mountains, and the ideals to match. With Juu-chan at his side, he’d willingly given Yama-jii the strength of his sword and trusted the old man to lead them. Yama-jii had led them well, too. He knows that Ichigo will never agree with that statement, but Ichigo wasn’t there to see Yama-jii in his... not ‘youth’, but before the centuries of leading Soul Society had taken their toll.

Ichigo will never look kindly on Yama-jii, not after his introduction to the old man had been when he’d ordered Rukia-chan’s execution, but Shunsui will always love his old mentor. It pains him every day that he hasn’t managed to uphold the legacy that had been entrusted to him in the way Yama-jii deserved.

He’d never wanted to be the Captain-Commander of the Gotei 13– being the captain of a division had been enough. He is capable of leading and leading well, but he isn’t a natural leader, not the way Yama-jii was, and Ichigo is. He’d always expected Juu-chan to take Yama-jii’s place when the old man retired, on the rare occasions he’d even thought about it. It had never struck him as possible that Juu-chan would die before him. And the idea of Yama-jii falling in battle had seemed ludicrous. And yet, Shunsui and Unohana Retsu are the only ones left now of their era.

He should never have accepted the position of Captain-Commander when it had been pushed on him. He realises that now. He’s old and he’s set in the old ways, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not. Shinji's little visit had reminded him of that. He hadn’t even given a thought to Central 46 being reformed, because that’s the way it had always been. And now... now they’re on the brink of civil war, because the Central Chambers had overstepped and Shunsui honestly doesn’t even blame Ichigo for snapping.

He’s ready, he realises, as he looks over at the boy-turned-man, the foot soldier-turned-general, the pawn-turned-king. He’s ready to leave the fate of this world in the hands of the young and the youthful. It’s their world now and he knows they’ll shape it in a way that will do Yama-jii proud. It’s time for him to step back, and take with him the invisible chains of the old ways that are trapping Soul Society in place, holding it back from reaching full potential.

“I will not order the Divisions to stand against you.” He tells Ichigo, and the orange-haired hybrid narrows his eyes.

“Will you order them to back us against Central 46?” He asks, blunt and straight to the point in a way that’s pure Ichigo.

“I will,” Shunsui confirms, able to take a small bit of amusement out of the surprise that flares so visibly on Ichigo’s face. “But I cannot guarantee that those with noble families who support or are involved with the Central Chambers will follow my orders,” he warns.

Ichigo just grins at that, hard and dangerous, his eyes flashing gold-on-black. “Doesn’t matter,” he says, and Shunsui can hear the hollow-double tones in his voice as he speaks, eerie as it is oddly comforting. “It’s a start.”

And it is– it's the start of a whole new era.

~

 

 

“When are you going to spring your trap?” Kyo asked her, as they sat together in Yuzu's inner-world, under the silvery light of the moon in the wake of Yuzu's declaration of changing the world.

“Soon,” Yuzu said, "but I'd like to get a bit more... well," she lifted her left arm and flexed, before poking at the evident lack of muscle. "Less like this."

Kyo nodded, radiating an approval that Yuzu couldn't see behind the mask, but felt all the same. "Yes, you need to be able to defend yourself in this body. And after the stressful day, I believe beginning your lessons in learning to wield me would be beneficial."

Yuzu immediately brightened, the last of her poor temper from the day falling away as she sprang eagerly to her feet. "How are we doing this?" she chirped excitedly. Kyo gave her an assessing look, before she removed the sealed katana, sheath and all, from where it was strapped to the side of her kimono and carefully passed it to Yuzu, who accepted it with the gravitas expected of the moment. Kyo gave her another assessing look before nodding and reaching out into the air, materialising a matching katana out of nothing. Yuzu blinked, startled, and automatically glanced at the katana she'd been handed to check she was still holding it- she was- before simply shrugging internally. Apparently Kyo was never unarmed- that was... surprisingly good to know. 

“I want to see what natural talent you have with a blade first, and we shall progress from there,” Kyo announced, and Yuzu nodded as she lightly tested the weight of the sealed katana in her hands.

“Alright,” she said, “I’m ready.”

“Excellent,” Kyo purred, spreading her arms wide open, the matching katana held loosely in her left hand, “now attack me.”

Already knowing she was going to lose didn’t mean Yuzu wasn’t about to try her hardest to best Kyo, but enthusiasm and determination meant little in the way of her complete lack of knowledge with wielding a blade. Her first wild swing was easily ducked under by the spirit. The following reverse stroke Kyo leaned away from, the overhead chop was sidestepped and then Kyo stopped remaining on the defensive. With a speed and strength Yuzu couldn’t even attempt to match, Kyo was suddenly in her face, ramming the hilt of her katana into Yuzu’s stomach. Doubling over, Yuzu didn’t even have time to retch or gasp for the breath that had been knocked out of her before a quick, hard thrust to the back of her knee sent her crashing to the ground and the tip of Kyo’s thankfully still-sealed katana pressed to the back of her neck kept her down.

“So, I was terrible?” She asked through a mouthful of grass.

“You could use work,” Kyo admitted as she removed the katana from Yuzu’s neck so Yuzu could turn around and sit back up. “Your attacks were clumsy and your evasions slow. But you are untrained, and as you increase your strength, speed and stamina, your evasions will improve. And I will teach you the katas that will enable you to best wield me.”

“I’m going to train until I’m worthy to wield you, Kyo-chan,” Yuzu promised the spirit, and Kyo went very, very still.

“The pursuit of worthiness is an endless road, with only solitude to be found,” the Zanpakutou said quietly, almost coldly.

“Maybe,” Yuzu agreed, speaking carefully as she realised she'd apparently stumbled onto what appeared to be a sensitive subject to Kyo, “but I’m not going to be alone. When I train, I’ll be training with you, Kyo-chan. We’re partners, until the end.”

When Kyo turned away, briefly overcome by her emotions and as desperate as always to never show them to another, Yuzu sighed silently, though not without a small degree of fondness for the emotionally-stunted spirit. She wasn’t an idiot, she was very aware that something about Kyo wasn’t right, that the spirit just didn’t add up, but... but she just didn’t care. Not only did having Kyo mean that she wasn’t alone in this strange world, but there was something very vulnerable about the spirit, vulnerable and achingly, painfully sad, and Yuzu had gone to medical school for a reason. She loved to heal people, to take away their hurt, and Kyo was most definitely hurting– she wasn’t about to just abandon the spirit to the aching loneliness inside the Zanpakutou.

Kyo was hers now; her partner, her confidant, and perhaps even her friend.

~

In the end, it wasn't Yuzu who sprung the trap so much as Bakugou dived into it, head-first and with great deal of vicious enthusiasm. Just two and a half weeks. That was how long it took. Only two and a half weeks for Bakugou to snap.

Yuzu hadn’t spent her time idly– her life didn’t revolve around that brutish child, far from it. She’d been busy. She’d packed away all the hero posters and action figures in the bedroom she was reluctantly claiming now as her own, she’d replaced the hero-themed bedsheets for a lovely apricot-orange set with geometric patterns, and had used her pocket money to buy new stationary and notebooks in plain, solid shades of red, green, blue, purple, yellow and even black.

With her new stationery and school supplies, she’d taken the time to familiarise herself with Izuku’s schoolwork, which hadn’t been hard– studying was something she was grimly accustomed to, after so many years of med school. She’d also taken the time to request permission from a bewildered Inko to enrol herself in a martial arts dojo she’d found that was close to their home and offered the classes she was looking for. When the poor woman, who honestly seemed overwhelmed by the whirlwind of changes her son had been undertaking, asked why, Yuzu answered with as much honesty as she could.

“Pro-heroes didn’t save me, mama,” she told Inko, feeling a thrill of guilty pleasure go through her at the easy use of the word ‘mama’, “and next time, I don’t want to be stuck waiting for a promise that can’t be kept. I want to be able to save myself.”

Inko’s green eyes filled with tears and Yuzu found herself held tight in her mama’s arms, smothered against an ample bosom in a similar manner to how Rangiku-chan and Yoruichi-san liked to tease, except there was no teasing here– just pure love. “I’m so proud of you,” Inko whispered, her voice tremulous but carrying Inko’s inner-strength; the resilience that her son had inherited, Yuzu knew from the memories she now carried and treasured.

“I love you too, mama,” Yuzu whispered back, just as teary and knowing it to be true, that she loved Inko with all the strength of the fierce, protective heart of a Kurosaki– and all the strength of the resilient, loyal heart of a Midoriya.

Inko wasn’t the only one Yuzu had found herself becoming closer to in this strange, new universe she’d found herself in, although her relationship with Inko was certainly more straightforward than the one she was continuing to develop with Kyo. As well as her accomplishments in the outer world, Yuzu had been making great strides of achievement in her inner-world as Kyo continued training her in how to wield a katana. She wasn't a prodigy, not quite, but she was still picking up how to use a blade quicker then most. 

That using a sword came so naturally to her had surprised neither Yuzu nor her spirit, as for all the differences that existed between her and her siblings, Yuzu was still a Kurosaki; she was the daughter of a Shinigami Captain, the sister of a prodigy, the descendant of the Shiba, one of the last of their noble bloodline. She was born to wield a Zanpakutou; it was in her blood. Natural skill didn’t mean she wasn’t still a novice, though, and she was an eager student to her talented teacher.

Kyo seemed honestly bewildered by the praise, attention and the easy affection Yuzu afforded her; Yuzu respected Kyo as a teacher and she was genuinely fond of the spirit. Really, she doubted Kyo had even realised, but the way to the heart of a Kurosaki always involved some form of fighting. The spirit appeared to have stumbled across the best bonding activity by pure fluke and had little idea what to do with the enthusiasm with which Yuzu greeted the lessons, or the gratitude she never failed to express afterwards.

Honestly, for supposedly being a part of her very soul, Kyo didn’t remind Yuzu of herself at all, not in any way. If anything, observing Kyo made her think of Kisuke-oji– both her spirit and the Shinigami ex-Captain had that same shadow lurking under their skin, a brittleness behind their daunting strength, a tragic vulnerability disguised by masks, both physical and metaphorical. Kisuke-oji and Kyo both brought to her mind horrible images of beaten dogs; flinching and cringing away from even kind touches, as all they’d known for so long was abuse. But beaten dogs only cowered for so long before they snapped and went for the throat of those who’d hurt them, and as Yuzu watched Kyo demonstrate new grips and stances, all flowing footwork and gliding sweeps, wielding the katana as effortlessly as if it was another limb, she couldn’t help but wonder who it was that had hurt the spirit so badly.

She thought she might be a little bit insane to trust Kyo, that her time with Kurotsuchi must surely have damaged the part of her brain that should have her knowing better than to open up her inner-world to a spirit that claimed to be her Zanpakutou when there was so much conflicting evidence that hinted otherwise. But potential brain damage aside, Yuzu did trust Kyo. The spirit had a past she was lying about, but was Yuzu not doing the very same to Inko? She would never dream of hurting Inko, she loved her, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t lying to the woman and she refused to judge her own actions against a separate set of standards then she did everybody else. And so, she let Kyo’s lies go without mention– even if she did find herself drawn more and more to that fox mask, unable to help but wonder what the spirit looked like beneath the porcelain.

And her trust had already started to prove its worth when the two and a half weeks of intensive daily training ended up saving her from what would have been a painful surprise blow. It was only the instinctive muscle reflexes that Kyo was helping her to start honing in this new body that had enabled her to duck under Bakugou’s exploding fist when one of Izuku’s memories surging forth had briefly paralysed her mind, though thankfully not her body.

The latest class rankings had just been released and Yuzu’s efforts towards familiarising herself with the material Izuku had been studying had paid off with her new top ranking, first in her entire year. And if her efforts in part had been a form of passive-aggression against the wretched teachers that had her decide to forgo any sort of subtly and aim straight for the highest possible score she could get, well, the teachers of Orudera Junior High were lucky to get off so lightly.

For now, anyway.

Bakugou, the previous highest-ranking student in their year level, hadn’t taken his demotion well. He’d shouted and screamed and blown up a desk like a toddler having a tantrum, and Yuzu had watched with mild disbelief as the teachers did nothing to discipline such outrageous behaviour. He hadn’t approached her, at least– her sodium hydroxide threat in the form of diluted caustic soda had continued holding up, and Bakugou was unwilling to risk the humiliation of a “quirkless loser” neutralising his oh-so powerful quirk in front of their classmates. Personally, Yuzu wouldn’t have minded if he had attempted having a go at her, she’d have enjoyed putting him in his place, but she knew his temper wouldn’t allow him to keep away from her forever. After all, he’d never been forced to control it before, and subsequently he had even less impulse control then a starving hollow let loose in the Living World for the first time.

She just… hadn’t quite been expecting his tenuous control to snap so soon. In fact, she’d barely even set foot outside the classroom as the end of day bell had rung when a dangerously sparking fist had raced towards her face.

Dodging should have been easy for someone of her talents, it would have been easy, except this body had its own muscle-memory, and when faced with Bakugou’s fists, Izuku had always frozen–

(Worthless, quirkless, Deku

White flares of pain, agonising burns, merciless fists–

Kacchan’s quirk is so cool, he’s going to be such a cool hero

True heroes have hearts–)

–and it was only her recent training that had her body automatically twisting away, dodging the fist like it was a merciless swing of Kyo’s blade.

“–wish you’d never come back here, you worthless Deku!” Bakugou was screaming at her, red-faced and out of control. “Nobody wants you, nobody likes you, you should do the world a favour and just die already!

Yuzu stared in complete and utter dumbfounded disbelief at the schoolboy who’d just maliciously encouraged his classmate to commit suicide, unable to believe any child could be so maliciously despicable. It was like the floodgates in her brain had suddenly burst open, a barrage of Izuku’s memories crashing forward with all the destructive force of a tsunami, brought to the forefront of her mind by Bakugou’s poisonous baiting.

(“I wouldn’t even want to be alive if I didn’t have a quirk,” Bakugou jeers, his ‘friends’ laughing alongside him–

“What’s the point of life without a quirk? You’re just worthless trash,” Bakugou sneers as Izuku shrinks back from his fists–

“Get out of my way, Deku!” Bakugou scoffs, shoving roughly past as Izuku is walking over to the station platform. “Go jump in front of the train or something–”)

Reeling from the onslaught of memories of suicide baiting, of Bakugou’s careless disregard of Izuku’s life and wellbeing– no, not his careless disregard, his casual disdain, Yuzu Saw Red.

When Bakugou swung back his fist to try and hit her again, she let it connect; the white-hot, eye-watering pain of a newly-broken nose was second only to the blistering burn of the explosion to her face. She stumbled back, her face feeling like it was on fire as blood gushed from her nose, down her chin. She was sure she must look a ghastly picture, all bloody and burned, and through the film of tears she could see the trepidation dawning over Bakugou, the boy taking a half-step back.

One little push,’ Kyo’s silvery voice murmured with curdling rage and dark anticipation both, the fey-familiar-fey emotions shivering under Yuzu’s own skin, curling around her, possessive and protective in equal measure. ‘Get him where it hurts

Where it hurts?

Oh, that was only too easy.

“You’ll never be a hero!” Yuzu spat out, through a mouthful of blood, her voice thick with tears of pain. "You're nothing but a villain!" Bakugou’s renewed rage overcame any hesitation and what little common sense he possessed, and he charged at her, fists sparking as he shouted vile abuse. Yuzu shielded her face with her arms, unwilling to take the risk of a head injury or unconsciousness, not when it would interfere with step two of her plan to destroy Bakugou and the teachers of Orudera Junior High.

She let Bakugou ‘corner’ her against a wall, knew exactly how pathetic it must look as the bigger schoolboy viciously whaled on her while she flinched and cringed and huddled back against the brick wall, oh-so helpless and defenceless. And, just as she heard teachers finally start screaming for Bakugou to stop, Yuzu bared her teeth in a bloodstained grin, one that was hidden behind her forearms, and let her Hell Chains explode into existence.

Originally, when she’d first thought up her plan after reading about Late-Onset Quirk Activation, she’d planned on using her reishi chains, as they were formed from spirit particles. The Hell Chains... well, they weren’t formed of anything a human should touch, not without causing the infliction of a soul-deep suffering almost beyond comprehension; they were formed from pieces of Hell itself, from the stains the dimension had left on Yuzu’s own soul. They were as cruel, vicious and nightmarish as Hell itself, and she’d used them in the past to cripple humans, Shinigami, Arrancar and Hollows alike– Ichi-nii-san and Kisuke-oji had insisted on testing their effects on a wide variety of the potential species of future foes, and nobody had ever volunteered twice, not even Captain Zaraki.

It was cruel to use them on Bakugou, Yuzu would later admit in the privacy of her inner-world to Kyo, but in the heat of the moment, her face burning, broken and bloody, all she felt was a surge of vicious pleasure boiling through her veins at the sight of the boy screaming.

Justice for Izuku was long overdue, but here was justice at last.

~

“Boss!”

Naomasa looked up, eyebrows lifting at the sight of his harried-looking subordinate, Officer Tamakawa Sansa.

“What is it?” He demanded, rising immediately to his feet as he started to run through potential worst-case scenarios and emergency protocols in his head.

“You remember that kid that brought in those baked goods for you? Midoriya Izuku?” Sansa asked him, pointed cat-ears pressed flat back against his skull, and Naomasa felt something cold settle in his stomach as he remembered the small, green-haired teenager with the warm smile. As a police officer, he was well aware of the various statistics involving bullying that had graduated to outright physical abuse– and he also knew far too much about the rapidly rising rates of suicide amongst quirkless teenagers across the globe.

“What happened?” He demanded. Sansa looked like he didn't even know where to start.

“Well,” he said, “there was a call to Orudera Junior High. My partner and I were the two first on scene, other than the ambulance. There had been an altercation between two students and it got out of hand when one of the kids attacked the other one.” Sansa explained, which had Naomasa’s heart rapidly sink down somewhere near his small intestine. “Except,” his officer continued, looking even more bewildered, “Midoriya-kun, he was supposed to be quirkless, everyone knew it, the school has a doctor’s certificate on file and everything, but... well, Midoriya-kun somehow manifested a quirk, these weird chains that wrapped around Bakugou Katsuki, the boy who attacked him. It should have been harmless, the chains weren’t around the boy's neck or wound too tight or anything, except it really, really wasn’t harmless at all– the first responders think the chains might have induced hallucinations or something. Either way, the Bakugou boy is basically comatose now that he’s stopped screaming, and Midoriya-kun’s been hospitalised for a broken nose, orbital fractures and second degree burns all over his face.”

Naomasa just– stared. There honestly wasn’t anything else he could think to do, after Sansa finished his verbal report of the events (except put Sansa in remedial classes to teach him how to give proper, succinct reports that didn’t involve so much rambling).

“Late-Onset Quirk Activation,” he finally realised with a cold swell of nausea, and the subdued Sansa nodded.

“That’s what the doctors at the hospital were calling it,” he agreed. “Everyone’s going crazy about it, there are barely any registered cases– only about three in Japan over the last hundred years!”

Naomasa frowned. “It’s supposed to occur only when someone feels that their life is in danger,” he said, and Sansa winced.

“Midoriya-kun was black and blue with burns all over his face and arms and his front was covered in blood,” he said grimly. “I’m not surprised he felt like his life was in danger– hell, I’m more appalled then anything that nobody tried to stop Bakugou sooner. We subpoenaed the security camera footage around the school and it took about five minutes before anyone thought to step in!” Sansa shook his head in disgust. “The whole situation is a mess, boss. An absolute shit-show. And if the media learns about it, which they probably will considering the rarity of Late-Onset Quirk Activation, the Bakugou boy and the school are both going to be facing some serious repercussions. As it is, I’d be shocked if Midoriya-san didn’t press charges for the attack on her son– she looked ready to kill when we were explaining things to her at the hospital… and I can’t really say they don’t deserve it either.”

Naomasa nodded grimly. “Thank you, officer,” he said, “please send me your report so far, I’ll take over handling the case.”

“Will do, boss,” Sansa nodded, looking a bit relieved almost, and Naomasa didn't blame him– this really was going to be an absolute mess. “But, uh, if you could let me know what happens with Midoriya-kun, I’d, uh, appreciate it.” Somehow, even with a cat’s head, Sansa’s expression managed to look sheepish and in spite of the gravity of the situation, Naomasa managed a small smile.

“Of course.” He promised. 

~

Chapter Text

VII.

The day Ichigo throws down the gauntlet to Central 46, giving them the option to either decommission or start a war, Toshirou is standing at his side– and there is nowhere else he'd rather be, no one else he'd wish to stand beside. Kuchiki-taichou, Urahara-san, Yachiru-fukutaichou, Ishida-san, Hirako-taichou, and (of course) Karin stand with Ichigo too, all of them ready to serve as his generals should Ichigo's more than generous offer to only punish those directly involved with Yuzu's abduction so long as they accept the immediate decommissioning of the Central Chambers be declined.

The nobles are aghast by Ichigo's demands, but Toshirou feels no sympathy for the fools. He may have been born in the 1st District of West Rukongai, but the 1st District of the Rukongai is still the Rukongai; it is still without the protection offered inside the hallowed walls of the Seireitei, where the nobles of the Central Chambers have lived all their pampered lives. 

He has no tolerance or fondness for these spoiled fools who hide behind their names, riches and the grand walls of their clan grounds and properties, demanding the protection of the Gotei 13 while the Rukongai descends further and further into infernal regions of unlawful chaos. And he holds nothing but icy disgust for those who believe themselves unaccountable for their actions, that they are able to do with those 'lower' than them as they wish without consequence.

Central 46 believed it was within their right to steal Yuzu, to keep her from them, to hurt her, and Toshirou eagerly anticipates his opportunity to educate them on the erroneous nature of their assumption. He may appear calm and cold on the outside, but Toshirou's soul is that of a dragon, with all the fiery rage, fierce protectiveness and fanatic possessiveness that implies. He will fiercely hoard that which is his and tear apart without compunction any who think to steal from him, as Central 46 has stolen Yuzu. He burns to rip apart the fools who stole one of his treasures, his family, with tooth and talon both, and Hyōrinmaru rumbles non-stop deep within his soul, eager for blood.

"You've planned a coup against us!" the apparent spokesperson of the Central Chambers, a noble wearing a grand set of heavily embroidered robes, spits with disgust clear on his powdered face. "You mean to start a war!" 

"That is not our intention," Urahara-san intercedes smoothly, his voice and tone deceptively pleasant for the rage Toshirou knows seethes within the older Shinigami. "Simply accept that this institution has been decommissioned by order of the Gotei 13 and so long as you were not involved in the abduction and murder of Kurosaki Yuzu you may return to your previous lives, titles and wealth intact."

This sounds very reasonable to Toshirou. Far too reasonable, in fact. Central 46 apparently do not agree with him.

"The Gotei 13 does not have the authority over us! We have the authority over you!" The noble shrieks, near-incandescent with indignant fury. "We do not accept this– this– this outrage! Your ridiculous 'requests'– pah!– are denied! You can count yourselves lucky if you don't end up facing charges for treason, all of you! Soutaichou!" the enraged noble rudely jabs his finger in Shunsui-soutaichou's direction, imperious and not doubting for a second that he will be obeyed. “Arrest them! Arrest them all!”

Shunsui-soutaichou looks over at the fool and blinks slowly, lazily. “Hm. No.”

The noble swells up, face almost purple to match his robes now with impotent fury. The sight is almost comical. 

What did you just say!?” He bellows. Toshirou almost winces in pity for him, except this fool was complicit with Yuzu being taken from them and he can’t find anything but satisfaction in the moment. Really, the noble should know better– just because the Captain-Commander appears lazy, laid-back and casual, it doesn’t mean he actually is. The man is one of the oldest, most powerful shinigami in Soul Society; he’s one of the most dangerous beings that Toshirou has ever met. Only a fool would mistake the easy-going nature with a lack of threat.

Shunsui-soutaichou moves so fast that even Toshirou, a powerful Captain in his own right, can barely track him. The noble fool gurgles, hands flying up to his neck, where blood is beginning to froth and bubble.

"The Gotei 13 was not created to cater to the whims of Central 46. We do not recognise your authority," Shunsui-soutaichou says coldly as the noble falls to his knees, clutching desperately at his slit throat, unable to even scream. “Let this be my declaration; Soul Society is Ichigo’s. The Gotei 13 are Ichigo’s. am Ichigo’s. This esteemed Chamber's time of power is over.”

The rest of the Central 46 finally react; the shock of the attack on their peer wearing off long enough for them to spring into action. Some panic, some shout, loyal retainers leap to defense and the various Shinigami in their official posts stand frozen, unsure of what to do, who to attack, or who to defend. 

Some of the nobles turn desperately to a blank-faced Kuchiki-taichou, blanch (likely as they remember how the previous Central 46 had attempted to have the Captain's beloved younger sister executed and realised that, fellow Noble or not, they would find no sympathy or support in that quarter) then to Urahara, Hirako, Toshirou himself and Yachiru-fukutaichou, a number of them actually stumbling backwards at the sight of the pink-haired shinigami– Toshirou isn't sure what sort of expression Yachiru-fukutaichou is wearing, but he knows it won't be a friendly one. He knows that his isn't. 

“This will mean war!” Shrieks one of the nobles, face red and mottled, spittle flying as he jabs his finger accusingly in Ichigo’s direction. Ichigo snorts.

“I’ve fought wars before,” he says, “rebellions too. What’s one more?”

Toshirou watches as Ichigo's eyes bleed black-on-gold as he draws his sword, his hollow’s powers rolling out around him like the rumbling of thunder to herald an oncoming storm, terrifying and magnificent in its sheer power. "Well," his leader says, Ichigo's voice deceptively mild despite the building tension in the chambers, "nobody can say I didn't give you a chance." 

And that's when the building explodes.

~

~

Inko's hands hadn't stopped shaking, not since the police had rung her for the second time in just over a month to inform her that her precious child was in the hospital.

Her Izuku getting injured to the extent that he ended up in hospital– or worse– had been her most frequent nightmare since that doctor had told him he was quirkless and her boy had declared he'd be a pro-hero anyway. Inko loved her son, she loved him more than life itself and would have supported him no matter what he chose to do with his life, but she couldn't deny the sheer relief she'd felt when recently her beloved boy had started to move away from his love of pro-heroes.

It had never been that Inko didn't believe he could become a pro-hero, because quirkless or not she genuinely believed Izuku was capable of achieving greatness in whatever he directed his efforts towards, but his approach had been... 'flawed' was a harsh word, but not necessarily an inaccurate one to describe the specific situation. Izuku had just been so intensely focused on the quirks of pro-heroes, and on quirks in general, as the 'be all and end all' of the heroics industry that he hadn't thought to study tactics, strategy, investigation, law, or even a form of self-defence that could have enabled him to be a pro-hero without a quirk. He'd just, well, studied quirks.

Inko had thought long and hard about the wisdom of directing Izuku toward such approaches, of encouraging him to broaden his perspective, but his fixation on quirks and on attending UA specifically, with no consideration of any adjustments or alternatives... it had had her hesitating, unsure if pursuing a heroics career would be the healthiest option for her child, or if it would just be a constant reminder to him of his quirkless state, a reminder that would grow so heavy she feared it would end up crushing him. Before he could become a pro-hero, Izuku needed to change his mindset, but that sort of change... it had to come from within, Izuku had to accept himself for who he was, quirkless-ness and all, and that wasn't something she could do for him, no matter how much she wished she could.

And he hadn't accepted it. He hadn't and as high school drew closer and closer with Izuku as determined as ever to become a pro-hero through UA, filling notebooks upon notebooks on information about the quirks of pro-heroes, her heart had sunk and her nightmares got worse. Her son might be strong intellectually, and his strength of will and resolve was second to none, but his body was... below average when it came to strength. Inko didn't know if she was more terrified of what would happen to him if he did, by some miracle, manage to get into UA... or what he would do to himself if (when) he didn't. Hospital beds featured vividly for both scenarios.

But then... then it had happened, it had finally happened. For her child's sake, Inko truly wished the circumstances could have been different, but ever since Bakugou had assaulted Izuku at the old playground and left him near-unconscious there for hours, Izuku had changed. She wasn't sure if it was disillusionment, or acceptance, or perhaps a combination of the two, but her son had finally stopped idolising pro-heroes, had stopped placing them and their quirks up on pedestals, and she breathed easier for it. After nine years of loving a child who hated himself, no matter how he tried to hide it by channelling the self-loathing into an industry that idolised the powerful, flashy quirks that were out of his reach, she and her son had finally achieved peace of mind.

And her baby had finally started using his intelligence and analysing skills in areas outside of quirk analysis! Oh, her Izuku thought he was so sneaky, but his sudden desire to buy caustic soda had been odd enough to raise her suspicions, and five minutes of searching the internet had told Inko all she needed to know about its ability to neutralise nitroglycerin. She was so proud! Izuku had finally realised that he didn't need a quirk to defeat another quirk! And the fact that he was taking measures to defend himself from Mitsuki's awful son was honestly a relief.

There had been other changes too– the pro-hero merchandise had all been carefully packed away at long last, Izuku had decided to learn to defend himself and had found a local dojo to sign up at, his grades were improving more and more by the day, and, best of all, he was beginning to display new interests outside of heroics– like the culinary arts! Inko had always loved cooking food of all types, and realising she'd passed that love on to Izuku was just wonderful. 

She and her son had spent hours upon hours in the small kitchen of their apartment baking the past few weeks, and after the distance that had grown between them in the years since Izuku's quirkless diagnosis and his subsequent emotional withdrawal from the world, Inko treasured the newfound closeness between her and her child. She still worried about him, about the shadows she saw in green eyes that far too often looked far too old and haunted for such a young face, but for the first time in nearly a decade she was so, so hopeful for her son's future. And then... then this had happened.

One of the doctors treating Izuku had explained 'Late-Onset Quirk Activation' to her, after she'd listened in disbelief to the police describe to her what had gone down at Izuku's school. The part that was most jarring was the sickening realisation that Izuku, her poor, smart, practical, abused little boy, he must have truly believed that his life was in danger... and she couldn't help but wonder, horrified by the thought but unable to stop it, the probability of him actually being right about the danger. What would have happened if Izuku hadn't manifested a quirk? What would Katsuki have done to him? Would the teachers or other students have stopped that despicable child in time?

...and what if they wouldn't have? What would have happened to her child then?

(And oh, she just couldn't think about that, not yet, not when she was already on the verge of falling to pieces)

She hadn't been able to stop her tears, and she wasn't even sure if it was grief or rage or loss or even relief that had her sobbing so hard into her hands. She hadn't even been able to see her child yet, as apparently the hit to Izuku's face had been powered by a nitroglycerin explosion, drastically increasing its force. Katsuki hadn't just broken her son's nose and given him second-degree burns to the face, the force of his punch had actually fractured the bones of her son's right eye socket. As soon as one of the paramedics on the scene, a young man with an x-ray vision quirk, had identified the orbital fractures, the medical team's first priory had been getting Izuku into surgery so they could avoid any potential complications such as vision loss or nerve damage. They'd also promised to do what they could about the facial burns, but she'd been warned that scarring was unavoidable.

The thought that every time Izuku looked in the mirror he'd be reminded of Katsuki's violence against him had made Inko physically ill and one of the nurses had had to run for a sick bag. She'd then cried long and hard for her poor child, her head in her hands while a nurse rubbed soothing circles between her shoulder-blades.

Detective Tsukauchi's unexpected presence at the hospital had been a blessing. She wasn't sure how he'd learned about the events that had unfolded at Orudera Junior High, but she was just so relieved he had. He'd sat with her the entire time she'd waited for Izuku's surgery to be completed so she could lay her eyes on her son again and be able to see for herself that he was okay. She understood now what Izuku meant about the Detective having a calm, comforting voice, even if she wasn't really registering the individual words he was saying.

Nearly two hours after she'd arrived at the hospital, the kind Detective offered to go buy them both something to eat and drink and a weary Inko accepted. It was, of course, during this brief absence of his (because that was honestly just the type of awful day that she was having) that Bakugou Katsuki's mother stumbled across where she was hunched over in a chair that was both too hard and too small in one of the hospital's waiting rooms.

"Inko!" Mitsuki, her old childhood friend, immediately perked up upon spotting her, the fiery, foul-mouthed woman making a beeline over to where Inko was seated. Mitsuki was so much like her son, she couldn't help but think, with the same red eyes and blonde hair and hair-trigger temper. In fact, she was too much like her son. Despite their many years of close companionship, both of them having even gotten pregnant and had their children within weeks of each other, today Inko found that she just felt sick looking at Mitsuki. Sick and angry, furious even, at Mitsuki's failure to raise a son with any degree of decency, compassion and care for his fellow human beings (and maybe she was being harsh, but she'd spent years helplessly watching her poor son defend his abuser while black and blue from Katsuki's fists, and she was just so, so angry).

"Can you fucking believe the trouble those little shits get into?" Her old friend whined, flopping down on the seat beside her in an artless sprawl of limbs that Inko had once thought funny but now found herself thinking was just careless– not to mention the fact that that was the Detective's seat, not Mitsuki's. "Urgh, I swear to fucking god, that boy will be eating fucking vegetables for weeks!" Mitsuki whined, before she quickly brightened up. "But hey! At least your kid's fucking finally got his quirk! Better late than never, right? He and that shitty brat of mine can follow their dream of being heroes together!" 

For a long moment, Inko couldn't do anything but stare as Mitsuki grinned at her like nothing was wrong and what had happened to Izuku was just a blip in the 'friendship' of their kids. Like her rotten son hadn't mercilessly bullied Inko's child for years, like Izuku hadn't manifested a quirk because he believed his life was in immediate danger, and that he wasn't currently been operated on because of damage caused by Katsuki!

"I'm pressing criminal charges against your son."

The words slipped out of their own volition before Inko had even consciously made a decision on the matter. The moment she heard them, though, she knew immediately that she wasn't going to change her mind. Bakugou Katsuki had been going too far with his actions for a very long time, but he'd never learned that behaviour had consequences. He'd tortured and tormented her child enough, and she just wouldn't allow it anymore. She couldn't. Not ever again.

"What the fuck are you talking about, Inko?" Mitsuki demanded, her voice rising in anger loud enough to draw attention. Inko pressed her lips together as she stood, hitching her handbag up onto her shoulder as she did.

"Katsuki attacked and gravely injured my child to the point that he has been admitted to hospital, Mitsuki. Again." Inko's expression was hard and cold as she stared flatly down at her almost-friend. "That's what I'm talking about."

"They're just a couple of fucking stupid kids," Mitsuki protested and Inko laughed, the sound short and bitter.

"Yes, tell that to my son who's manifested a quirk in circumstances where manifestation is the result of some category of mortal danger! Enough is enough, Mitsuki!" she hissed, her voice cold, sharp and brittle as shards of ice. Before Mitsuki could do anything more than swell up indignantly, her face flushed red with her outrage, Detective Tsukauchi returned to the waiting room. Inko wasn't sure if he recognised who Mitsuki was, but he clearly recognised there was an argument going on between them and quickly moved to intercept.

"Midoriya-san, I ran into one of the nurses looking after Izuku-kun on my way," he said smoothly, getting between her and the increasingly furious-looking Mitsuki. "Izuku-kun's out of surgery, they're ready for you to see him."

Relief surged over Inko, her anger and Mitsuki both forgotten as she smiled tremulously at the Detective, accepting the take-away cup of tea he offered her, even though her hands were still shaking.

Finally, it was time to see her son.

~

"Izukkun?" a soft voice asked from the doorway of the hospital room and Yuzu couldn't help her smile, even as the movement tugged uncomfortably at the injured skin on her face.

"Mama," she said as she sat up in the hospital bed and tried not to feel awful about how pale Inko looked, or how swollen the woman's eyes were.

"Oh my baby," Inko teared up as she rushed forwards into the room, pausing only to very carefully sit on the hospital bed so that she didn't knock Izuku at all, before leaning down to gently wrap her arms around her.

"You don't need to be so careful– only my face is actually injured," Yuzu said guiltily, even as she lifted her arms to hug Inko back. She then winced. "And my arms a little bit." She'd forgotten about using them to shield her face and head.

That was apparently the wrong thing to say, though, because when Inko drew back, her expression was furious. "No!" Her gentle mother exclaimed, "Izuku, no! It's never okay for people to hurt you, never! Not even if it's an accident!"

"Mama!" Yuzu exclaimed, going a little wide-eyed. "Mama, I know that! I swear! I do!"

Inko crossed her arms against her chest, narrowing her familiar bright green eyes. "I'm pressing charges against Bakugou Katsuki." She declared.

Oh excellent, Yuzu thought, relieved. That made things easier– she thought she'd have to be the one to bring it up.

"Okay," she said out loud. "Will the police be needing to take another statement from me, then? Or was the one at the scene enough?"

Inko blinked, her arms coming unfolded to hover at her sides, like she'd been prepared for a fight and now didn't know what to do. Which was likely exactly the case– Yuzu imagined that the old Izuku would have fought very hard against Bakugou ever having to face any consequences, if her memories of the past were any indication. She couldn't help but grimace slightly– whatever had happened during the fight, whatever it had unlocked inside her mind, she now remembered far more about Bakugou and Izuku's past interactions than she ever wanted to. If anything, she now felt that Bakugou had gotten off lightly.

"Oh, well, you remember Detective Tsukauchi?" Inko said, sounding slightly off-balance from Yuzu's easy acceptance, and when Yuzu nodded she went on to explain, "he's actually here at the hospital. He waited with me while you were being treated."

"That was nice of him," Yuzu noted, surprised but pleased. The baking must have had more of an impact on him then she'd realised. She'd certainly have to do it again– she'd severely underestimated the ill effect her plan had had on her poor mother, and she was relieved to hear that Inko hadn't been waiting alone. Honestly, the surgery felt like overkill, but it wasn't like she could explain that she healed faster than normal humans and it really wasn't necessary.

"Yes, it was very kind of him," Inko agreed warmly, her face softening slightly. "The police really don't get enough credit for the hard work they do, do they?"

"No," Yuzu agreed. "They don't."

"And you'll really talk to him? You'll really be honest about what happened?" Inko pressed.

"I'm not going to be covering for Bakugou," Yuzu confirmed, "never again." Inko relaxed slightly at hearing that, reaching across to smooth her hand over Yuzu's hair.

"So... a quirk," she said softly. "That's... well, that's certainly something. Do you want to talk about it, darling?"

"Not really," Yuzu said, and quite honestly too– it wasn't anything new or special to her. "But I would like to show you," she hastily added, when Inko's face fell slightly. Carefully, she cupped her hands and manifested one of the smallest reishi chains she could, a training exercise Ryuuken-ojisan had made her do to practice her control. The silvery–blue-ish links pooled in her palms, shimmering under the artificial lighting in the room, nearly as thin as a bracelet and only around ten inches in length.

"Oh, Izuku, it's so beautiful!" Inko gasped, automatically reaching out to touch it before suddenly snatching her hand back. "Oh, but..."

"It won't hurt you," Yuzu quickly promised, realising what was likely behind Inko's hesitation– Bakugou was probably still comatose at this point. "It's not made from ugly emotions," she told her mother, which wasn't a lie... it just wasn't not a lie, either– there were ways of telling the truth that made it a lie, without it technically being a lie. Reishi really had nothing to do with emotions, but Hell Chains... sort of did. So it wasn't a lie even if it was a deception, not that it mattered because Inko didn't even hesitate when she reached out to touch the chain, and Yuzu felt her insides warm at the implicit trust that implied.

"Beautiful," Inko murmured again, before looking up to meet Yuzu's eyes, her face serious again. "Izuku, I want you to understand something very, very important. You having a quirk or not having a quirk... it's never mattered to me. Darling," Inko moved as if to cradle Yuzu's face in her hands, remembered the injuries and then changed the direction of her movement so her hands were gently cradling Yuzu's own cupped hands instead, "my darling, you have always, always been enough for me. This world is unspeakably, despicably cruel, and stupid, and petty, but you have always made me proud, just as you are. I love you, Izuku. I love you, my darling son."

Yuzu couldn't help the tears that welled up in her eyes– these words weren't for her, not really, and yet they were and it felt like her heart was breaking and healing at the same time. She ignored the pain of her injuries, slight as it was compared to what she'd suffered in the past, both as Kurosaki Yuzu and in her memories as Midoriya Izuku, and threw herself forwards into her mother's arms, the reishi chain spilling over the white hospital bed sheets as she flung her arms around her mother, holding the older woman tight.

Inko made gentle hushing sounds as she hugged her back, her soft hands rubbing soothing circles on Yuzu's back as Yuzu cried into the warm crook of her mother's neck. With the floodgates now open, suddenly all the tears for all her hurts came spilling out– the gaping, torn apart wound in her heart that was the absence of her brother and sister and dearest friends, the cruel agony that was her memories as Kurotsuchi's prisoner/experiment/specimen, the trauma of dying twice in less than a minute via sword then explosion, and the crushing grief of Izuku's memories in a world that saw him as worthless, with a best friend who abused him and dreams he chased while knowing he'd never achieve them.

She let out her tears, clinging to the comfort of a mother's warm embrace, of her mother's warm embrace, and wondered, for the first time since she'd arrived in this world, if she could ever possibly leave Inko behind.

Chapter Text

VIII.

The building shudders. Smoke billows. Walls splinter. Windows shatter. People scream and wail and carry on in useless, unproductive panic.

Ichigo rolls his eyes in the wake of the drama of a frankly terrible assassination attempt. "Seriously," he grumbles as he brushes the dust off his shihakushō from the bits of debris that had managed to get through Kisuke's kidou barrier and ended up vaporised by his reiatsu before anyone could be injured. "Did they really think we were stupid enough not to realise they were going to set a trap?"

"The esteemed members of the Chamber are not renowned for their intelligence," Kisuke says blandly, his smile almost as sharp as the glint in his eyes.

"You were expecting something like this?" Kuukaku-obasan grouses, the familiar scowl on her face one Ichigo usually sees in the mirror. His 'aunt' hadn't attended the meeting with Central 46 (they had actually wanted to attempt a peaceful, diplomatic resolution first), but she'd been waiting nearby and was quick to appear in the wake of the explosion.

"You weren't!?" Ichigo counters, incredulous.

"No," Kuukaku admits, her shoulders slumping slightly, her mouth slanting down unhappily. "No, but fool that I am, I still hoped."

"If you are a fool for your hope, then so are we all," Byakuya rumbles, looking gravely over at the wrecked building. "We knew the risks that would come with meeting them today, but we still sought peace over battle. And we hoped that Central 46 would too."

Rukia reaches over to squeeze her brother's hand in comfort, giving him a soft look before she turns to the rest of them, steel in her eyes and her spine.

"What do we do now, Ichigo?" she asks, and Ichigo looks grimly back at her, because at this point it's damned if they do, or damned if they don't, and he's always been a do-er.

"Now we do what we have to," he tells her, tells them all, "the only thing left that we can do."

"We fight," Yachiru declares, the pink-haired Shinigami Lieutenant barring her teeth in a vicious, predatory smile.

"Yeah. We fight." Ichigo confirms, and Rukia nods, the determination on her face a mirror to all those around him. There's something horribly familiar about this, about being flanked by his generals as he stands tall against an enemy, and Ichigo hates the comfort he finds in the familiarity. This is unquestionably a loss, it is defeat, failure; victory is peace, and there is no peace here.

And yet, he's still comforted.

"So be it." Shunsui sighs, dipping his head– in permission, maybe, or more likely resignation. It doesn't matter, because that's that. 

~

~

When Naomasa walked into Midoriya Izuku's hospital room, Midoriya Inko giving him a quick, beaming, teary smile as he passed her, he wasn't sure what to expect– and he wasn't sure, either, whether the sight he was met with surprised him or not. The younger Midoriya was sitting up in his hospital bed, thick white bandages on his face and arms, his green eyes slightly puffy from crying but still focused and intent as he twisted a slim, glowing length of chain about as thick as a pen, and maybe three times as long as one, between his fingers.

There was an expression of intense concentration on Midoriya's face as his fingers wove around the chain, almost as if he was hypnotised by the sight of it. Maybe he was. Naomasa tried to imagine what it was like, to have not had a quirk for so many years without any expectations of developing one, only to suddenly find himself with one after being convinced that his life was in danger. He honestly couldn't imagine it. He just didn't have the life experience or the imagination necessary to really put himself into the boy's shoes.

As if hearing his thoughts, Midoriya spoke up without warning, those intent eyes never looking away from the delicate chain he was manipulating with his fingers, twisting it into patterns like a child playing with string, as if it hadn't left someone comatose with its touch alone. "Do you have a quirk, Detective-san?" he asked, his voice soft, quiet. Unthreatening, even with the dangerous weapon in his hand.

"I do," Naomasa found himself answering, without really even thinking about it. "I know when people lie."

Midoriya startled slightly then made a quiet sound, almost a laugh but not quite.

"I think that's the best quirk I've heard of yet," he commented, more to himself it seemed, and Naomasa blinked in surprise at the Truth of the statement. Most people either grew uncomfortable when learning about his quirk or viewed it as a party gimmick. Outside of his profession, there was very little honest appreciation or understanding of its danger. Midoriya's immediate recognition and the implied understanding was... impressive. And, if he was being honest with himself, mildly flattering too. "This society is defined by quirks," Midoriya murmured suddenly, still twisting-twisting-twisting the chain around his fingers. "Being quirkless means you are an outsider to society, scorned, looked down on, treated as lesser. Having a quirk means that you belong. And I can't help but find it all so damningly shallow."

There was honest disgust in the boy's voice, and Naomasa didn't blame the kid. He was often disgusted by society too, and while he tried to blame it on the fact that as a policeman he tended to see the very worst of what society had to offer, well, his quirk identified lies– even the ones he told himself. And as reassuring as it would be to believe that, he just couldn't help but realise it as the lie it was, not when his own quirk worked against him.

Midoriya finally looked up from the quirk-chain he was holding, his green eyes sharply assessing. For a heartbeat, Naomasa held his breath as those piercing eyes seemed to look straight through his skin, right to his very soul. Then Midoriya blinked, and the moment was broken. "I'm going to do something about it." The boy stated, and Naomasa's eyes widened at the Truth that burned in Midoriya's words, at the storm raging behind those green eyes, the conviction so strong it struck him right to his core.

In his two decades on the force, liaising with more heroes then he could even name, he had only met one other person who burned with the same passion as Midoriya, who radiated that same fierce, resolute conviction. And as he stared down at the bruised, burned, bandaged child in the hospital bed, small and skinny and painfully younger-looking than his mere thirteen years, Naomasa couldn't help but wonder if he lined Toshinori and Midoriya up side by side, who between them would fall short of the other. And, very abruptly, he had the strongest urge to try it and see.

Either way, though, he didn't doubt for a moment that Midoriya would leave a mark on this world, just as Toshinori had before him.

~

The detective took her declaration in his stride with remarkable aplomb, Yuzu thought to herself, pleased. She wasn't quite sure why Tsukauchi was at the hospital– she was a good baker, but she wasn't that good– but she really was grateful for his presence.

Honestly, he seemed more perturbed by her reishi-chain, and her attempts at creating a cat's cradle, then he was at the impending social revolution she was planning. "It isn't dangerous," she said, amused as she watched Tsukauchi watch the chain with poorly concealed wariness. "It's different, to what I used on Bakugou. Those were filled with rage and hate," she made sure to choose her words carefully now she knew about Tsukauchi's quirk– Hell was certainly rage and hate and much, much more; lying without lying wasn't difficult. "This one isn't. Here, you can touch if you want," she offered, extending her hand out with the fine chain of spirit particles pooled on her open palm.

Yuzu was downright flattered when Tsukauchi decided to trust her, hesitating only briefly before leaning forwards and letting his fingertips brush against the spirit-links. His eyes widened slightly. "It feels... strange," he said, a faint trace of something unidentifiable in his voice. "Like energy, but... not. Not quite." His expression turned considering then. "Can you make it thicker?" He asked, and Yuzu obliged, manipulating the spirit particles to create a second chain, this one with the usual length and thickness. "It looks strong," Tsukauchi observed with sharp-eyed interest.

"It is," she confirmed, because it was (though perhaps, seeing as it was 'new' she shouldn't appear quite so knowledgable). Tsukauchi leaned forwards again to touch the thicker chain where she'd manifested it to drape over her legs, trapped under the white hospital sheets as they were, nodding his head after assessing if it felt the same as the smaller one.

"You realise," he said, "that a quirk like this is perfect for heroics."

Yuzu barely managed to bite back her scoff and didn't even bother to try and hide her disdain. "If I decide to go into the business of saving people, I'll become a policeman, or a firefighter, or work in the healthcare field," she said, as blunt as her brother on a good day.

"You don't think much of heroes?" Tsukauchi asked.

"I have great admiration for heroes," Yuzu corrected him primly. "And a near equal disgust for 'Pro-Heroes'. While I don't deny the good they are s of, I am not blind to the damage they just as easily can cause, or of how they are treated as both celebrities and crutches by the wider populace.

"I don't believe that the responsibility of fighting crime and undertaking rescue operations should be handed over to inexperienced people without the neccesary training just because they have powerful quirks. People are idiots, and poorly trained people will inevitably make mistakes or try to show off, and someone will get hurt. Not to mention the collateral damage the industry creates, and I'm not talking about the physical, property damage or the fact that it's a system where 'strong quirk' seems to equal 'hero' that allowed Bakugou's abuse to go unchecked so long– I'm talking about the fact I heard a pro-hero call a purse-snatcher 'pure evil' when being interviewed by reporters, about a week ago." Yuzu shook her head in disgust and disbelief both.

"I've seen pure evil," she said darkly, "and I can assure you that it wasn't a petty thief. 'Evil', 'villain', 'criminal', even 'hero'– society has destroyed the true meaning of those words." She then snorted, shaking her head again. "I watched a television show once that had a quote in it– it said 'Any man who must say, "I am the King", is no true king'.* I think that applies just as well to heroes, don't you? Anyone who must say "I am a hero" is no true hero. And while I know a number of people who have acted heroically, for me there's only one true hero," she said resolutely.

"Oh?" Tsukauchi asked, clearly floundering for his footing after her impassioned speech and trying for a smile. "I think I can guess who you're talking about."

Yuzu shook her head. "You're falling into the trap of confusing actual heroes with people with the job title of 'pro-hero'," she told him gently. "The hero I'm talking about, you don't know. You've never met him and to the majority of the world, he doesn't even exist– and that's exactly what makes his actions those of a true hero, not someone whose occupation is labelled 'pro'-hero."

"I... I assumed you were talking about All Might," Tsukauchi said weakly, leaning back heavily against the hospital chair, as if in need of support. His eyes were wide with poorly concealed shock.

"All Might's debut is one of the most watched videos on the internet," Yuzu said. "But for all the hundreds of lives he saved that day, an admittedly heroic act that I am not diminishing in the slightest, nobody ever talks about the people who didn't survive, the ones who weren't saved. I'm not blaming All Might, of course," she was quick to reassure, "but I can't help but wonder if emergency personnel actually trained to evacuate injured people from collapsed buildings had been the ones on scene instead of someone with very basic training at best for such a complicated situation, if more people could have survived. I blame this society, it's conditioned itself to react to disaster by pulling out a camera and waiting for a pro-hero to show up and 'save the day'.”

That was verging on too much for the detective, Yuzu could tell, so she smiled gently at the detective, concluding her impassioned lecture. “I dislike the institution, Detective-san, not the people in it.”

“I’ve never quite met a child like you before,” Tsukauchi told her, and she couldn’t help but laugh, the bright sound dispersing the heavy, serious weight that had been lingering in the air. Inside her inner-world, the sound of Kyo's laughter joined hers. 

“Oh detective,” Yuzu finally said, smiling brightly up at the man, “I would be honestly shocked if you had.”

~

Inko felt exhausted, the tiredness hitting her now that she could breathe again, having spoken with her child. One of the doctors had stopped to talk to her after she’d left Izuku and Detective Tsukauchi to their conversation, confirming that everything had gone smoothly and while they wanted to keep her son overnight for observation, she should be free to take him home the next day.

She was standing with a fresh cup of steaming hot, highly caffeinated tea outside of Izuku’s room, waiting for her son and the detective to finish their talk, when someone cleared their throat politely.

Plastering a smile on her face, Inko turned to see a man with a passing familiarity to Dr Tsubasa, the doctor who had diagnosed Izuku as quirkless, standing a respectful distance from her. “Greetings, Midoriya-san," he said, with a quick, polite bow, "I am Ujiko Daruma, a doctor who specialises in quirk evolution.”

“Ah, a pleasure to meet you, Ujiko-sensei,” Inko said, bowing back. Ujiko-sensei chuckled slightly.

“I suspect my presence is not a particularly welcome one, so I’ll make this brief,” he said, with just enough gentle self-deprecation to make her smile grow more genuine. “Once word spreads throughout the medical community of your son’s rare condition, you are going to be approached by hundreds, if not thousands, of doctors like myself who specialise in quirks. There’s still so much we don’t understand about quirks and the hows and whys behind their development, and people are going to leap at this rare opportunity.

“I understand what you must think of me, Midoriya-san, approaching you like this, like a vulture trying to gain personally from the terrible tragedy you and your son have just experienced, and how presumptuous it is of me, but I wished to take the chance to pass on my business card and an invitation in person. Your son is going to need to see a specialist about his quirk, likely a quirk counsellor too, and I don’t wish to see either of you exploited. I have a wealthy benefactor already, and I prefer my privacy– I have no wish to use your son to become rich and famous. I just wish to pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and I am more than willing to lend you and your son my expertise, and my discretion.”

Inko was silent for a moment, taking the time to digest everything Ujiko-sensei had just said, including the awful fact that yes, there were going to be many people very eager to exploit her son’s rare condition, when she suddenly realised something. “You’re the first person to call what happened a tragedy,” she said hoarsely, not surprised to feel the tears start welling in her eyes.

Ujiko-sensei immediately handed her a handkerchief for her tears, his smile sad but kind. “Late-Onset Quirk Activation is a condition caused by someone’s belief that their life is in mortal danger,” he said gently, “how could it not be a tragedy, that your son was forced through such a traumatic experience?”

Inko managed a trembling smile for the kind doctor, dabbing at her eyes with his handkerchief. “Thank you,” she told Ujiko-sensei, sincerely grateful for both the warning and his validation of this awful, emotional experience as the horrid, wretched thing it was. “And… I’m not sure when exactly Izuku will be getting discharged, though they’re optimistic about as early as tomorrow, but when he is, I would be grateful to take you up on your offer.”

Ujiko-sensei smiled at her again, removing a business card from his pocket, one which Inko accepted gratefully. It was a neat, cream-coloured square with just a string of black inked numbers on one side and Inko liked the lack of pomp and circumstance, it made her more assured Ujiko-sensei had been honest with his claims of not seeking fame or profit from Izuku’s situation.

As the sudden sound of Izuku’s bright laughter filtered through the closed hospital room door, Inko couldn’t help her own quiet laugh, a weight lifting from her chest at the beautiful sound of her child’s happiness.

This was never what she’d wanted for Izuku, but she couldn’t help but be hopeful that all of this would be a new start for her son, a new chance for him to finally find the happiness that a parent dreamed of for their precious child.

~

~

 

Chapter Text

IX.

The crowd of shinigami outside the collapsed building has grown and Ichigo can hear the whispers, can see the unrest, as word spreads about what had gone down between Ichigo and his allies, the Soutaicho included, and Central 46, the reigning power over the Gotei 13.

Well, former reigning power now, if Shunsui's actions in there had been anything to go by.

“Where do we go now?” Sui-Feng asks from where she’s hovering beside Yoruichi, her stony expression an obvious mask to cover up her fretting. For a moment, Ichigo considers suggesting a retreat with his allies to Hueco Mundo or even the Living World in order to regroup and start refining all those plans Kisuke had started making, before resolution sets in. Seireitei may not be his home, but it is Sui-Feng’s home, as well as the home of so many of his allies. He won’t let them be driven out of it as Kisuke, Tessai, Yoruichi and the Visored all once were.

“We go nowhere,” he declares, catching the attention of the still-growing crowd. “We’re not going to let them chase us out, like we’re the criminals! Seireitei is ours, not theirs and we’re not going to just cower before them and let them take it!”

“But– But they’ve declared war on us! Staying will mean a fight against their forces is inevitable!” Sui-Feng hisses, her eyes wide with badly concealed fear. Sui-Feng comes from a noble background, as a member of one of the branch families of the Shihoin noble clan, as well as being the commander-in-chief of the Omnitsukido– the 'pet assassins' of the Central Chambers, as Ichigo's heard them referred to. With a background like that, it doesn’t surprise Ichigo that Sui-Feng, like far too many of the Shinigami, fears Central 46 and views them as an all-powerful, all-mighty institution, a symbol of absolute strength.

They’re all wrong, though. There’s no strength in absolute power and oppression, in kidnapping young women to experiment on, in sentencing innocents to death, or imprisoning them for life for what they might do, not what they have done. That's not strength at all, it’s oppression, it’s tyranny, and Ichigo refuses to accept it. He’s a product of his generation, born in the aftermath of the worldwide decades of movements and activism following the two most devastating wars the Living World had ever suffered. He’d spent his school years learning about global, social and political uprisings and revolutions, about fallen regimes and overthrown monarchies– he knows the power that the common people hold, the strength that they can wield.

Sui-Feng is right. Standing their ground will mean a fight between his allies and Central 46’s armed forces is inevitable. He knows that. But Ichigo also knows that it’s the right thing to do.

“Of course there’ll be fighting,” he tells Sui-Feng and all the others standing here, listening. “They’re not just going to hand over their power, they’re going to cling to it, like the greedy, snivelling bastards they are. Are you about to let them just get away with that!?”

Sui-Feng’s face turns hard and determined. “No, I will not. They do not deserve their power!” Her eyes dart tellingly to Yoruichi, the only being in existence who actually does meet Sui-Feng’s standards for ‘deserving power’. Sui-Feng isn’t the only one listening, though, and the hesitation and fear of the crowd is shifting before his eyes to resolution.

“When dictatorship is a fact, revolution doesn’t just become a right, it becomes our duty!*” He tells Sui-Feng, tells them all, and smiles grimly at the cheers that follow, at the determination and hope he can see.

“I should have handed my title to you years ago,” Shunsui murmurs beside him, too soft to be heard by the crowd. Ichigo snorts.

“I would have turned it down,” he says, blunt but just as quiet. Shunsui smiles at him, wistful and tired and proud.

“Yes,” he says. “I know.”

~

~

Yuzu stared silently at her reflection in the small mirror of the hospital bathroom. The scarring on her face was light, particularly when compared to the dark bruises like spilt ink under her eyes. The skin was slightly pinker and shinier in some places but it wasn’t overtly obvious and, should she ever choose to, some clever work with make-up would conceal it. Yuzu didn’t really think it would have bothered her if it was more obvious, though. Scars just meant she had survived, after all. They weren’t something to be ashamed of or upset about– Yachiru had taught her that much, the pink-haired Shinigami had loved to recount the stories marked over her skin during lazy afterglow.

No, the scars weren’t what she was finding so upsetting about the reflection staring back at her, those she would wear with pride. It was something else altogether that had her so unhappy. While Kyo kept on insisting that memories and experiences were what made a person who they were, which meant her inheritance of Izuku’s memories made her Izuku, just someone else too, Yuzu still considered Kyo’s logic to be flawed. She just couldn’t quite bring herself to come to terms with the boy’s reflection with its freckles and green eyes and fluffy green hair as belonging to her. So seeing it there, staring back at her, it hurt.

She’d lost more than just the gender she still identified as and her physical adult body when she’d found herself in Izuku’s body with Izuku’s memories. Out of her three siblings, Yuzu had always resembled Masaki the most. It was very distressing to her, to look at her reflection now and no longer see the parts of Masaki she’d treasured looking back at her. She had been so young when Masaki had died, her memories of the woman that was her mother more vague, loving impressions than actual, episodic events. The looks she’d inherited from Masaki had been her strongest connection to her deceased mother.

And now that connection was gone, torn away from her alongside all her beloved family and friends. She loved Inko, and she loved Kyo, she really, truly did, but her love for them didn’t mean she missed her siblings, her ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’, her best friends and her lovers any less. She didn’t think she’d ever not miss them, Karin-neesan and Ichi-niisan most of all, and she’d never stop hoping that she’d figure out a way back to them, or that they’d figure out a way to find her, so she could experience the wholeness in her heart and soul that came with being in their arms once more.

“Izukkun?”

Yuzu closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and not opening them again until she’d turned away from the mirror, towards the doorway of the small bathroom connected to her hospital room. She’d only meant to take a minute, to change out of the hospital gown and into proper clothes, but she’d made the mistake of deciding to take a quick peek under the bandages on her face– according to Inko, someone with a healing quirk had sped along her recovery post-surgery and she‘d been curious to see how it compared with the Shinigami healing arts– and then she’d quickly gotten... distracted.

Inko must have grown worried when she didn’t hear any movement, or when Yuzu had failed to emerge from the bathroom after however much time had passed. The kind woman was standing in the now-open doorway looking utterly devastated, her green eyes, an exact match to the pair in the mirror, filled to the brim with tears.

“I’m okay, Mama,” Yuzu said quickly, attempting to comfort Inko. It didn’t work at all, with Inko just giving her a shaky but comforting smile as she dabbed at her wet eyes with a pale handkerchief.

“Oh, Izuku, my darling, you don’t need to be brave for me,” she said, so sweet and earnest that Yuzu felt her heart fill with love. It also made her feel quite awful and wicked about the manipulative idea she’d just gotten.

“It’s not the new scars that have upset me, Mama,” she said softly, ducking her chin so she didn’t have to look Inko in the eye when she lied to her face. “I was just thinking about how I could wear foundation if I ever wanted to cover them up, and... well, it made me think about... about thoughts I’ve had, in the past.”

Yuzu wasn’t very good at blushing on command, but she gave it her best effort as Inko made a small, encouraging sound, clearly not following where Yuzu was leading and trying to gently prompt her to continue talking.

“What thoughts, honey?” Inko asked her softly as she continued to ‘hesitate’.

Yuzu ducked her head even lower, shuffling slightly in place. “Just... you know,” she mumbled, “thoughts about make-up. And wearing it. How it might be nice. But I was never brave enough to try. I was already the outsider freak without a quirk, I didn’t need to be the boy who liked make-up too. And... and who thought he might look nice in skirts. Or that they’d at least feel nice on him.”

(It was better to start the groundwork now; Yuzu still firmly identified as female and that wasn’t about to change, no matter the body or the memories, and if she wanted to wear a skirt and eyeliner then she was going to wear them, damnit!)

“Izuku,” Inko sounded startled, and Yuzu dared to peek up at the woman, who looked just as surprised as she sounded. “Oh sweetheart, I had no idea!”

Well, no, of course she wouldn’t, because Yuzu was very aware that Inko was an observant woman, especially when it came to her son, and the memories Yuzu had of Izuku had never revealed any interest in cross-dressing. Well, not except for–

“Wait, when you were nine, you dressed up as Ragdoll once!” Inko remembered, her green eyes widening.

Yes, except for that time. Except Izuku had chosen Ragdoll because they both had green hair and he was young enough that it hadn’t really meant anything to him to dress up as a pro-hero who just so happened to be a woman, not because he had had any strong yearnings to wear large, ruffled skirts and make-up.

“It just wasn’t worth it for the inevitable bullying. It was bad enough after dressing up as Ragdoll,” Yuzu pulled a face there, because that wasn’t even a lie– Izuku had seen Ragdoll as a pro-hero before anything else, but she couldn’t say the same about the rest of his classmates at the time. “That’s why I was getting upset in the bathroom, Mama. Thinking about make-up, it made me think of school and the bullying and– and– oh mama, I don’t want to go back! I don’t ever want to go back! I hate it!

It wasn’t a lie. It was blatantly manipulative, considering the timing, but it wasn’t a lie. She didn’t want to go back to junior high school; she’d just graduated from medical school, for kami’s sake, she was supposed to be working as a resident doctor at a hospital, not learning basic math and science again! It was driving her crazy, and that was without taking into account the blatant discrimination of the teachers and the bullying of the other students.

“Oh, you’re not ever going back to Orudera,” Inko said, her voice suddenly icy cold, her eyes all narrowed and calculating like Kisuke-oji’s when he was upset or angry. “I’m taking them to court and throwing every single possible charge at them I know I can make stick, and about a dozen more that I know won’t, but won’t stop me from trying my best anyway.”

“Mama,” Yuzu said admiringly, “you’re totally a badass!”

“Language, Izuku!” Inko scolded, even as she blushed. “I’ve already spoken to Detective Tsukauchi– I know I should have spoken to you first, but I wanted to know what the options were and he’s promised to get me in touch with some lawyers he knows.”

“We should bake him something nice,” Yuzu mused, nodding approvingly. “He’s been kind of amazing.” Also, she had a question for him.

...she seemed to have a lot of ulterior motives to her actions these days. She was going to have to work on that. It was just that Izuku’s brain worked very quickly, and it was so easy for the mention of one thing– or person– to prompt several different ideas that raced off to form their own individual trains of thoughts without her actually giving permission. She was lucky she had Kyo to ramble to, otherwise she’d have already picked up Izuku’s habit of mumbling out loud!

But, back to her original plan, before Inko had thrown a spanner into it.

“Mama,” she said, this time cloaking herself with maturity as she looked up to firmly meet Inko’s eyes, “I don’t mean that I don’t want to go back to Orudera. I mean that I don’t want to go back to a junior high school at all. I would like to enrol in long distance education.”

Inko looked shocked again and Yuzu felt guilty. “Izuku, darling,” Inko said hesitantly, “I know how awful Orudera was, I wouldn’t ever want to invalidate your experiences there, but... have you considered that at a new school, the other students won’t treaty you like the ones at Orudera did?”

You have a quirk now, Inko was careful not to say.

Yuzu heard it anyway.

“I might fit in now that I have a quirk,” she said, not even trying to hide the anger that curled her lip at the thought, “but I’ll always be wondering how they would be treating me, if I was still quirkless. I’ll always be second guessing everyone around me, and that just sounds exhausting. Please, Mama– I’ve been thinking about it for a long time now, and what happened at Orudera with Bakugou was just the last straw. Please, I’m begging you to give it a chance. To give me a chance. I swear, I won’t disappoint you, Mama!”

“Oh Izukkun,” Inko closed the distance between them to sweep her into a hug, her grip firm but gentle against the still-tender injuries. “You’re never a disappointment, my darling. You never have been. And... I can’t make any promises yet, I’ll have to make my own enquires first, but... I promise to consider what you’ve asked.”

Yuzu didn’t try to hide her sigh of relief as she slumped boneless into Inko’s arms. “Thank you, Mama,” she said earnestly, and in response Inko just held her tighter.

~

It was a relief to Yuzu when she finally got to leave the hospital. Her original morning discharge had kept getting pushed back as more and more specialist doctors arrived at the hospital and ‘asked’ to speak with the ‘Late-Onset Quirk Activation’ patient.

Unfortunately for all the hopeful arrivals, Yuzu wasn’t actually interested in talking to any of them. She understood their curiosity and desire to study the development of quirks and uncover just how the stumble of human evolution had begun, and if she thought it might help them gain new insight into the phenomena, she’d have gladly volunteered herself for their studies. But the truth was she hadn’t actually spontaneously developed a quirk, so she’d be useless to them– she just couldn’t actually tell them that.

Eventually, one of the doctors who’d treated her the previous day started their shift and, recognising what was happening, had immediately pushed through Yuzu’s discharge themselves, making sure all the paperwork was sorted before showing her and Inko a hidden exit that was usually intended for use by pro-heroes. It was doctors like them, the ones that sincerely seemed to want to help people, that made Yuzu proud of her profession. 

To Yuzu’s dismay, however, she quickly learned that the harassment wasn’t about to end with the hospital discharge. Considering she had been instructed to take it easy for the next week or so, Inko had decided to bypass public transport on their way home and while Yuzu curled up on the car seat to watch the world pass by, Inko had taken the opportunity to check the messages on her phone. That appeared to have been a mistake, though, as Inko made a very dismayed sound, staring down at her phone screen with wide green eyes.

“What is it, mama?” Yuzu asked, rapidly growing concerned about the strained expression on Inko’s face.

“Ujiko-sensei was quite correct about the swarm of doctors and scientists that would be descending on us,” Inko admitted. “Somebody at the hospital leaked your name, and it seems they’ve already found my work email address. Our answering machine at home is probably going to be full by the time we get back, too.”

Yuzu groaned aloud. “I understand their curiosity, I just wish they were more respectful about it all!”

“Don’t worry, darling, I’m going to make sure they won’t bother you,” Inko said firmly, bristling slightly like a mother hen whose feathers had been ruffled. While Yuzu had full appreciation of the strength of Inko’s conviction, she unfortunately had much less faith in the human race letting her poor mother keep her promise. ‘Doctor/surgeon’ was one of the top ten careers that attracted those psychopathic personality traits, which meant not nearly enough of the doctors pursuing her case would be put off by an angry mother or ‘traumatised’ child.

All this fuss, though, of the doctors and scientists desperate to use her to try and understand the quirk phenomena was starting to rouse Yuzu’s own curiosity. She was so accustomed to strange, supernatural-type powers existing, not to mention the normality of quirks existing that Izuku’s memories had lent her, that it wasn’t really until now that she’d started really getting curious about just how quirks had come about. She’d done her research on quirks after first ‘arriving’, of course, as had Izuku in her memories, but there was no good explanation from scientists or doctors as to why that first baby had lit up like a lightbulb– or for any of the ‘quirky’ evolutions that had followed.

Do you have any ideas about it all, Kyo-chan?’ she asked her partner curiously.

Some,’ Kyo answered, to Yuzu’s surprise. ‘Speculations, mostly. Idle theorisations of possible catalysts to humans developing these “quirks”.’

Oh?’ Yuzu asked, eagerly.

I’d venture that about two hundred years ago, this dimension experienced an incident regarding its boundaries between the Living and Non-Living Worlds.’ Kyo explained. ‘Without visiting one of the Non-Living worlds, I couldn’t say for certain either way, but I suspect that, similar to how extended exposure to reiatsu leads to humans becoming spiritually aware, or how exposure to Hollow reiryoku in the womb can lead to humans developing Fullbring powers. Humans just aren’t intended to be exposed to spiritual energy, and if the boundaries between the worlds was damaged, or even broken, even briefly...’

Then humans were probably exposed to a whole bunch of spiritual crap that really fucked up their evolution,’ Yuzu concluded, and she could feel Kyo’s amusement, as well as the slight nudge of admonishment– Kyo was of the belief that expletives were for those with limited minds. Yuzu was of the belief that a good swear every now and then could be really fucking therapeutic. They’d respectfully agreed to disagree. ‘That would certainly explain why human doctors and scientists have consistently failed to find out why humans started developing “quirks”– it’s not like they’d have thought to investigate the effects of spiritual energy, not when they don’t even know it exists.’ This dimension viewed the afterlife as just as a theoretical concept, the same as Yuzu’s own dimension did. It was considered to be an ongoing theological debate, not a scientific one.

Yes, that is one of the reasons I believe it to be the most likely explanation,’ Kyo agreed, ‘however, unless we manage to access one of the Non-Living worlds, then I cannot confirm this theory either way.’

And sadly, we’re not about to figure that out any time soon.’ Yuzu sighed, feeling Kyo echo her own frustration. She’d hoped, earlier on, that perhaps this world might have a Soul Society equivalent that would be able to help her find her own world, but she had no idea how to access the Non-Living worlds without a senkaimon or through Ichi-niisan using a garganta. It was frustrating and disheartening, but Yuzu swore she would never give up hope of returning home.

Until then, she’d just have to concentrate on embracing her current home– and, glancing over at Inko who was glaring fiercely at her phone screen, Yuzu could admit that embracing this dimension might be difficult at times, but it could also be the easiest thing in all the worlds.

As if sending her gaze, Inko looked up from her phone and smiled, warm and soft and kind and oh-so motherly, absently reaching over to gently squeeze her hand, before returning to her task.

I’ve never quite met someone like her before,’ Kyo said, silvery voice so quiet it was barely a whisper.

Yuzu closed her eyes as she hummed quietly in agreement.

She really did love having a mother.

~

 

Chapter Text

X.

Karakura Town is quiet. Ishida Ryuuken’s hospital is quiet too, other than his son’s old classmate, the Kojima boy, escorting the occasional yakuza into the Emergency Department, smiling innocently at the hospital staff as he does so.

The quiet bothers him. Not so much the absence of the chaos that usually accompanies Ichigo, Uryuu and their friends, but the absence of... family. He and his son will never have a regular familial relationship– more a mutual respect and desire for the other to remain alive and unharmed– but in the last few years, Uryuu hasn’t been the only family in his life. Kurosaki Yuzu inherited her mother’s big heart, and it showed.

It had started when she requested he train her in the Quincy arts and somehow blossomed out from there, until he was being invited to family dinners with the Kurosakis and being called ‘uncle’ by all of Masaki’s children. Isshin (who does not deserve Masaki’s family name, and so he refuses to address him by it, despite how he has claimed it as his own) had not been pleased by the development, but Ryuuken cares very little for Isshin‘s feelings. He knows he won’t ever forgive the Shinigami ex-Captain for what happened to Masaki, not with the dark suspicions he holds about how terribly convenient the happenings of that night had been. Not when Kurosaki Ichigo turned out to be such a perfect, powerful weapon for the Shinigami, one that Isshin has had no hesitation in sacrificing, over and over.

(No matter how terrible a parent Ryuuken can admit he is, he takes comfort in the fact that at least he isn’t as terrible as Shiba Isshin)

Ryuuken misses Yuzu. He misses the young woman who shared his focus on those still alive, her eyes and heart turned firmly to the Living World. He misses their quiet conversations about Masaki, the Quincy, what her heritage truly means, and even, on one occasion, his beloved Kanae. He misses the tutoring sessions as she studied for her doctorate and the training sessions teaching her how to use the powers she inherited through her mother’s bloodline. He even misses the frazzled, tearful phone calls in the middle of the night during her placements or exam period.

He’d been so proud when she graduated at the top of her class, so proud to be able to extend the offer for her to complete her residency at his hospital. Yuzu calls him uncle, but truthfully he’s felt more like a father to her these past few years then he’s felt towards his son since Uryuu was a child and Kanae was still alive. Yuzu is all the best parts of Masaki, and when he looks at her, he sees the future.

She isn’t the powerhouse that her brother is with his world-bending, earth-stopping, mountain-splitting power and force of personality, capable of toppling gods and bringing about revolutions through sheer presence alone, but she’s special, with her own brand of strength. She’s the type of person who sees injustice and decides to do something about it– he’s already heard all about her plans after her residency to work overseas at a hospital like the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, dedicating herself to reducing people’s suffering wherever she can. For so long, he’d looked at the world through weary, hardened eyes, his heart turned cold; Yuzu has helped him find a fresh perspective, to see the beautiful potential around him.

Urahara Kisuke– who he also doesn’t think he can ever forgive for what happened to Masaki, but who he doesn’t resent the way he resents Isshin, because at least Masaki hadn’t loved and trusted and started a family with Urahara, that sin is Isshin’s alone to bear– claims that Yuzu is alive. Whatever Ryuuken personally thinks of Urahara, he does believe that the shinigami scientist loves Ichigo too much to ever give the young man that sort of hope unless he was absolutely, positively certain that somewhere, somehow, Yuzu still lives.

But if that ever stops being true... well, Ryuuken still has his armour and his weapons and he doubts Ichigo’s revolution will be turning away volunteers.

~

~

While Yuzu spent the week following her discharge sitting around the house (or at least that was how it appeared outwardly; in reality, Kyo had spent the week training her in her inner-world to exhaustion each day– and she hadn’t been sitting idle either, in her time not training with Kyo, instead occupying herself with researching this world’s discrimination laws), her poor mother had been quite busy. Inko had ended up spending the week attending a number of appointments with lawyers, the police and the Musutafu Board of Education as she set into motion the process of filing formal charges against Bakugou for physical assault and against Orudera Junior High, both as a whole and against individual staff members, and the Musutafu Board of Education for negligence, wilful neglect, and gross misconduct.

Inko had already unhappily admitted that she knew not all of the charges would stick, but her mother was determined to use the court case as an opportunity to kick-start the necessary legislation change in how schools were run to protect quirkless students so a situation like Izuku’s could be prevented from happening again. Yuzu was so proud of Inko, and was already determined to do whatever she could to help. Discrimination against the quirkless and against ‘villainous’ quirks really was the last acceptable form of discrimination in this society, and as Inko started her revolution, Yuzu could hardly sit back and do nothing.

But before she could put any of her own ideas into action, Inko insisted she visit Doctor Ujiko to get her quirk properly assessed so it could be officially registered. Quirk assessments and counselling were apparently standard procedures when children developed their quirks, followed by registration with Japan's official register for quirks, and Inko had made an appointment for her as soon as her prescribed week for ‘taking it easy’ was due to be over.

Inko had also insisted on accompanying her to the appointment, though she promised she would give Yuzu privacy for the appointment itself. Yuzu didn’t actually mind if Inko wanted to come in with her, but from the way Inko was treating the entire ordeal she suspected visiting a quirk counsellor (or specialist, if your quirk was complicated or unusual enough) was some sort of cultural rite of passage that she hadn’t quite managed to grasp and Izuku had simply never experienced and didn’t fully understand the nuances of. This was reinforced by Inko’s comment on the morning of the appointment, when she’d made a comment about it being a pity that Izuku’s father wasn’t there for the occasion.

Honestly, Yuzu had been wondering if Izuku’s father was either in jail or dead. Unlike the instinctive emotional attachment her Izuku-memories had created between her and Inko, Yuzu felt nothing at all when thinking about Hisashi. The lack of even a mere phone call from the man following her two recent hospital admissions had certainly suggested the relationship between them wasn’t a close one, but Inko still seemed upset by his absence from the apparent milestone.

“I wouldn’t want him there, anyway,” Yuzu told her mother honestly. She already had one lacking father in her life, she didn’t need another. Inko just smiled sadly.

“I always did hope that he’d figure out what really mattered in life, before it was too late,” she murmured, more to herself then to Yuzu, before shaking her head slightly. “But enough about him,” she declared. “Today is your day, Izukkun! Today we get your quirk officially registered!”

~

The address Ujiko had given them was for a building that hired out suites on a temporarily basis; he’d explained to Inko over the phone as she was making the appointment that his permanent practice was situated in Kamino, but that he’d had business in the area recently and had hired the suite to consult with his local clients. The building gave off the sort of expensive vibes that had Yuzu suspecting they would not have been able to afford Ujiko’s fee if the doctor hadn’t offered to see her free of charge. It also made her suspicious, though she tried her best to contain the suspicion as she left Inko in the waiting area and stepped through into Ujiko’s office.

The interior of the office was just as expensive as the rest of the suite, but it was also very obviously temporary. There were no framed photographs or promotional posters decorating the room or any knick-knacks on the desk, nothing personal at all bar for a single framed diploma hanging up on the wall which sent a prickle of something down the back of Yuzu’s spine, the same feeling she got when she felt she was being watched. Her sense of uneasiness grew, her initial suspicions compounding despite how baseless the suspicion was, considering the perfectly reasonable explanation for the barren office. She couldn’t help it. It was all just off.

And so was Doctor Ujiko Daruma. Because when she looked at him, Yuzu‘s first, automatic, horrifying thought was Kurotsuchi. That bland smile, that analytical gaze, that absence of warmth; it was all the exact same as Kurotsuchi. Standing before Ujiko, Yuzu couldn’t help but feel very small, the same way she’d felt when drugged and bound in Kurotsuchi’s labs as he cut her apart over and over, dissecting her in order to try and figure out how her powers worked. She’d been nothing but a specimen to him, and looking into Ujiko’s eyes, she felt like nothing but a specimen all over again. Like something small and pitiful and broken. Like she was nothing.

You are not!’ Kyo snarled in her head, the furious, guttural sound more akin to a wild, vicious beast, then to the slender, androgynous, masked spirit she knew Kyo to be, with all the spirit’s elegance, poise and grace. The zanpakuto’s protective rage flared through Yuzu, bringing heat and warmth to her frozen limbs, breathing emotion back to where Yuzu had been numb. ‘You are not a mere “specimen”, and you are not small, nor pitiful, nor broken! You are Kurosaki Yuzu, and you are Midoriya Izuku! You are my wielder, and my partner, and you are not nothing!’ Kyo raged, and Yuzu could breathe again, wrapping herself up in the strength of conviction her partner offered.

“Good morning, Midoriya-san,” Ujiko greeted her, from where he was seated at his desk. If any of the inner turmoil she’d just experienced had shown on her face, he didn’t acknowledge it and so neither did she.

“Good morning, Ujiko-sensei,” she instead smiled politely back at him as she took a seat, careful to leave enough room between the chair and the desk that her movements wouldn’t be hindered if she needed to leap into action.

“Let’s get started, shall we?” Ujiko said, with a smile as fake as hers. “I’ve read the file the hospital faxed over, with yours and your mother’s permission, of course, as well as the police report. I’ve got a basic idea of what it is your quirk does, but why don’t you walk me through it?”

Yuzu did, and she was surprised by how professional Ujiko was, despite all her misgivings. He interrupted her occasionally, to press for more details or to clarify something she’d said, and to request that she manifest multiple chains of different lengths and thicknesses, including a Hell Chain. He examined the chains under a microscope that had been stored in his office after an attempt to scrape off samples failed, and took notes the entire time she spoke, pen skating across a thick pad of paper.

“Your quirk is very unusual in that it has no clear relation to either of your parents’ quirks,” he observed when Yuzu finally finished answering all his questions. His fingers were steepled over his notes as he looked thoughtfully across his desk at her. “We’ve largely observed that quirks are inherited genetically in a manner which we’ve theorised follows Mendelian inheritance, but yours is one of those few outlier cases that calls that theory into question. Very unusual indeed, and it’s quite a fascinating quirk too– the ability to create chains out of a type of matter that cannot be accurately analysed or measured and is capable of transmitting sensations, such as fear or hate, has absolutely nothing at all in common with telekinesis or pyrokinesis. My initial instinct would be to label it as an Emitter-type quirk, possibly an Accumulation-type Emitter, depending on what the matter the chains are formed from turn out to be.”

Ujiko smiled then, and it was the first real smile Yuzu had seen from him. “Mapping out the elements of your Quirk Factor,” he told her, sounding almost giddy about it, “is certainly going to be a challenge! Hm, I wonder– what about your extended family? Perhaps it’s a mutation of an earlier quirk in your family tree– those who prescribe by Quirk Singularity theory* would certainly like that!” He chuckled to himself.

“Um,” Yuzu said, drawing a mental blank for Izuku’s extended family. “We might have to call my mother in to ask about that.”

“In a moment, yes,” Ujiko nodded, “I do have some other questions for her too. However first, and this is more personal interest then academic, so please feel free to not answer,” here he smiled at her, pleasant and friendly and entirely fake once again, “but I couldn’t help overhearing part of your conversation with the police detective at the hospital. Your opinions regarding pro-heroics are quite unusual for this day and age.”

Oh I’m sure he just couldn’t help eavesdropping at all,’ Yuzu commented sarcastically to Kyo, even as she kept her own outwardly friendly mask in place. “Ah, well, I know a lot of kids would leap at the opportunity to become a pro-hero if they suddenly developed a quirk like mine,” she said, with a laugh that was just a little awkward, “but I suppose I’ve just seen too much of the darker side of the industry and its effects on Japanese society to be interested in joining it.” Not unless she decided to dismantle the industry from the inside.

Careful,’ Kyo warned her, ‘if this doctor is involved in something criminal, you don’t want to look like a good target for recruitment.’ Yuzu almost blanched at the very thought.

“I believe that pro-heroes and villains alike,” she hastily added, “are both equally guilty in that regard. Powerful quirks equals strength and popularity, for pro-heroes, or notoriety, for villains. The entire hero-villain system is kind of like a really disturbing ouroboros, constantly feeding off of itself to sustain itself. The very existence of pro-heroes prompts the reactionary existence of villains, meaning villains exist because pro-heroes exist, but without the villains the pro-heroes wouldn’t exist– they rely on each other for their existence. It’s just like the ouroboros that destroys itself, brings itself to life, feeds itself and gives birth to itself, all in a never-ending loop.”

“Hm,” Ujiko said thoughtfully, looking over at her in a way that made her feel like a bug under a microscope. “What an interesting point of view. And a very interesting choice of metaphor.” He then smiled. “Thank you for satisfying an old man’s curiosity. Now, why don’t we invite your mother in?”

Yuzu didn’t really want her mother in close proximity to the doctor, but she wasn’t reading anything particularly malevolent from him and despite how suspicious he was, Ujiko hadn’t actually done anything he shouldn’t in the appointment or said anything truly suspicious. And so, with only a small amount of hidden reluctance, she invited Inko to join them in the doctor’s office, where Ujiko started asking all sorts of questions about the genetic lineage of Midoriya Izuku.

Yuzu was interested to learn that ‘Midoriya’ was actually Inko’s maiden name, and it had been adopted by Hisashi when he and Inko married. Inko knew very little about Hisashi’s family, other than that they were very traditional and Hisashi’s quirk of fire-breathing was something he’d inherited from his father, Izuku’s grandfather. She didn’t know much else about Hisashi’s family, but she did know all about the Midoriya Family, which was much more straightforward as Inko had been an only child, as were both of her now-deceased parents.

Izuku’s grandmother had also had a minor telekinesis quirk, though hers had been more about pushing objects away, earning it the name of Small Object Repulsion, as opposed to Inko’s Small Object Attraction. Her grandfather had had the mild mutation-type quirk of the green hair and eyes that had earned the Midoriya family their name, though he’d also had green fingernails, toenails and patches of skin. Apparently Inko’s grandfather had been completely green; skin, teeth, hair, eyes, bones and all– Yuzu was relieved that the mutation quirk had diluted to just affecting hair and eyes by Izuku’s generation. Inko’s grandmother had had a telekinetic quirk, capable of both attraction and rejection and for much larger objects then her daughter or granddaughter had been capable.

Ujiko took diligent notes as Inko explained the family history, and Yuzu tried not to fidget, the prickly uneasiness not having let up at all. Inko, of course, quickly noticed her restlessness, and Yuzu was dismayed when her mother suggested perhaps she should go stretch her legs while she and Ujiko finished off the formal paperwork for the appointment. Ujiko agreed much too quickly for Yuzu’s comfort, and Inko bulldozed over her attempts to claim interest in the proceedings. It was clear that she thought she was doing Yuzu a favour, and her small smile suggested she was finding it ‘cute’ how Yuzu was trying to insist on staying and helping with the boring paperwork, likely to show maturity.

It was only in the interest of trying to appear as if she wasn’t on to whatever it was Ujiko was up to (which she really wasn’t, except for ‘no good’) that she agreed before her insistence on staying started to look strange. It was with a great deal of reluctance and rapidly growing nervousness, though, that Yuzu left the office, taking care to leave the door slightly ajar so she’d hear any loud noises in case the room was soundproof.

Turning away from the office door, back towards the waiting room, Yuzu immediately noticed that it was no longer empty. A man had arrived at some point during her appointment, after Inko had joined her and Ujiko in the office. The new arrival was facing away from her, and at first she wasn’t certain why he’d caught her attention; there was nothing overtly unusual about his plain, albeit expensive-looking dark suit, or his broad-shouldered build, though wearing what she assumed was a motorcycle helmet indoors was a bit strange. But then he turned the around to face her and Yuzu blinked, startled, at the sight of what actually wasn’t a motorcycle helmet, as she’d originally assumed, but in fact a rather sinister-looking breathing assistance apparatus, the life-support system almost skull-like in its appearance.

And then she blinked again, looking deeper, past skin, bone and sinew, to a soul black as tar, fetid and rotting with only one possible future destination. Yuzu could practically hear the rattling bones of the kushanada’s armour, the clink-clink-clink of togabito chains, the burning heat against her skin, scalding her lungs, those feral, deranged screams of the–

Yuzu, focus!’ Kyo’s unusually harsh voice broke her free from the flashback she’d been spiralling down into, and Yuzu forced a smile on her face, hoping the dangerous man had just read her discomfort as a reaction to his life-support system– there was no chance that he hadn’t designed that thing to be as creepy and intimidating as possible.

How much danger do you think we’re in right now?’ She asked Kyo, who let out a small, harsh sound.

Don’t let your guard down for a second. The first chance you can, get Inko and get out.’

Right. InkoShit. She couldn’t just leave her mother here, not even to run and get help. But... it wasn’t as if the man had presented any threat to her or her mother, outside of his actual appearance. And she’d already figured that Ujiko was involved in some sort of shady shit– maybe this was just another client of the probably crooked doctor?

“I believe I’ve seen you on the news,” the masked man said, his voice shockingly deep and raspy, like he’d smoked a box of cigarettes every day for the last decade. Or alternatively, had to wear a life-support machine to help him breathe.

“I was on the news?” She repeated out loud before she could think the better of engaging the man in conversation, instead of following the usual unspoken rule of society of ignoring the fellow patients in a doctor’s waiting room. Not that she’d been the one to break the rule first.

“Yes, you were. Not your name, you are a minor and you’re not enrolled in a pro-heroics course, so your privacy was partially protected, but the manifestation of such a rare medical condition was hardly about to go uncommented on,” the man pointed out, sounding almost sympathetic but mostly amused.

“Drat,” Yuzu muttered, because her revenge on Bakugou, satisfying as it had been, was starting to almost not be worth all the fuss that had followed.

“I’m Doctor Kazuo Jun’ichi**,” the man then introduced himself, actually holding out his hand to her. Yuzu, weighing up if she was more unwilling to offend the man then she was unwilling to get within range of him and actually touch him and deciding she had to prioritise keeping peace, stepped forward to accept the handshake. The moment she touched him, though, the room started to spin and waver around her, like she’d just been hit with a rush of vertigo. She gasped, stumbling slightly in her sudden dizziness, and Kazuo stood to catch her, holding her upright. “Oh, now that is unexpected. Unexpected and very interesting. You really are quite the mysterious little curiosity.” She heard him murmur, but it was a distant sound, nearly drowned out by Kyo’s renewed snarling and near-apoplectic raging.

Interloper!’ The spirit was basically hissing and spitting, exuding a protective, possessive fury that wrapped around Yuzu’s soul, sinking deep into her heart and under her bones.

What did he do to us!?’ Yuzu demanded woozily, struggling to pull herself back away from Kazuo. After checking she wasn’t about to fall, the man obligingly released her and she hastily stumbled back.

‘...Nothing,’ Kyo admitted after a few moments, ‘but not, I believe, from lack of trying. I felt a brief presence in your inner world that did not belong.’ The burning rage of the spirit had frozen over to something icy and dangerous and Yuzu swallowed dryly, looking over at the masked man. She couldn’t see his eyes, she realised. There were no gap or slit for eyes. Could he even see outside the mask? It didn’t appear designed that way, yet he certainly seemed to be able to see... but how? Some sort of quirk? But if that was true, how had he recognised her from the news?

“Very, very interesting,” Kazuo chuckled, and Yuzu was horrified to realise she’d been mumbling out loud! Apparently whatever Kazuo had done to her head had been enough to knock enough screws around for Izuku’s old, automatic habit to re-emerge. How horrifying.

“It truly has been an unexpected delight meeting you,” Kazuo sounded like he was smiling under the mask. “I imagine this won’t be the last I hear about you, not with those interesting ideas of yours for this broken society of ours.”

Yuzu just nodded stiffly, not even reacting to the blatant implication that Kazuo had been listening in on her private appointment. The fact that the door to Ujiko’s office fully opened a moment after Kazuo suddenly turned towards it, with Inko and Ujiko both exiting the office, only confirmed to her that Kazuo had some sort of eyes in the doctor’s office.

The meaningful way Kazuo’s head tilted slightly in Inko’s direction before tilting back to her spoke a thousand words– or rather, a thousand threats. Yuzu hastily nodded. She wouldn’t say anything to her mother; she didn’t have any proof, anyway, because it wasn’t like she could admit to seeing souls destined for Hell. Plus Kazuo hadn’t actually stated that he’d been eavesdropping on a private medical appointment, and whatever it was he’d done to her with what she assumed was his quirk had only lasted a moment, and left no evidence behind. She’d definitely drop a hint off to the police that they should inquire into how Daruma Ujiko ran his business, but she hadn’t survived a childhood of wars and rebellions by acting thoughtlessly and sticking her nose where it didn’t belong.

“Oh Izukkun!” Inko beamed tearfully at her, holding up a stack of forms. “Look! Your quirk registration forms! They’re ready to be submitted!”

“That’s great, mama,” Yuzu said as brightly as she could manage. “Should we go do that now then?”

“The City Hall should be open,” Inko said excitedly, “we can submit the paperwork there today to register your quirk with Japan’s Official Registry of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Quirks!”

“Yes!” Yuzu eagerly snatched at the chance to get the fuck out of Ujiko’s consulting suites with both hands. “Yes, let’s do it!” Inko laughed, all sweet and cheery, and beamed down at her.

“Let me just organise your next appointment,” she said happily, and Yuzu’s stomach ended up somewhere down near her ankles, but she kept smiling and nodding and desperately hoping that Kazuo was going to let them go, that the situation wasn’t about to turn into a fight. Not against two men with unknown quirks when she was so aware of how weak her physical body was, despite all her memories and the training with Kyo in her inner world. She wouldn’t count herself out of a fight completely, she would have a decent enough chance, she felt, depending on the men’s quirks and how trained they were, except they didn’t just have the advantage of numbers– they also had Inko as a potential hostage. Someone to grab early and threaten until Yuzu stood down, because she would stand down, she knew she would.

(Ichigo had always been such a mama’s boy. Yuzu had never had the chance before now to see, but it seemed she took after her brother exactly)

“Goodbye Midoriya-kun,” Kazuo speaking up suddenly almost made her flinch– and then she almost flinched again at the confirmation that he knew her name, when he’d just said that it hadn’t been revealed on the news. Under his mask, she was sure Kazuo was smiling. “Maybe we’ll see each other here again.”

Yuzu wasn’t sure if that was a threat, a warning, or a promise. She made sure to keep her smile fixed on her face. “Yes, maybe. It was nice to meet you, Kazuo-sensei.” She lied through her teeth.

And then– then Kazuo nodded at her and exited the waiting room, heading into Ujiko’s office. Moments later, Ujiko followed, having finished organising Yuzu’s “next” appointment (which was never going to happen) with Inko.

It was in an almost dizzy state of relief that Yuzu snatched up Inko’s hand and half dragged her mother out of the consulting suites and towards sweet freedom, babbling something about ‘too many doctors recently’ and ‘let’s go register my quirk before we end up fined’.

And then they were free.

~

~

 

*Quirk Singularity theory: the idea that Quirks will continue to mix together and deepen, growing in strength and complexity with every new generation. Eventually, Quirks will develop to a point where nobody will be able to control them anymore. This is referred to as the "Quirk Singularity"

 

**All For One’s alias:

Kazuo – kazu meaning “one”, o meaning “male, man”

Jun’ichi – jun meaning “obey, submit”, ichi meaning “one”

Chapter Text

XI.

“Well this all got out of control really damn fast,” Ichigo mutters, huffing as he flops gracelessly down across Byakuya’s couch and kicks up his feet with a deep, heavy sigh.

Renji and Rukia peek nervously over at Byakuya, who only blinks calmly in response to the deplorable disrespect given to his furniture. Normally, he’d be making his disapproval known through a deep frown and a sharp word or two, but these were rather extraordinary circumstances and he could see the exhaustion painted so vividly over Ichigo’s strained features.

He’d offered up the Kuchiki clan lands to the main ‘revolutionaries’ as his ancestors had centuries ago taken steps to ensure its protection from trespassers– no assassins would be capable of sneaking onto the lands to pick their allies off with knives to their backs. He hoped the security would allow Ichigo a chance to rest, able to feel safe knowing he and his allies were protected, and by the way the orange-haired man’s eyelids are fluttering and the approving look Urahara is giving him, it seems as if his plan is working.

He doesn’t imagine his ancestors would ever have foreseen their protections been used in such a manner, to shield the enemies of Central 46. The Kuchikis are known for their loyalty, his family has always considered it their greatest pride and their unquestioned loyalty to Central 46 was a point of honour.

For most of his life, Byakuya let that loyalty, pride and honour dictate how he lived. He did nothing when the Central Chambers sentenced Rukia, the beloved sister of his Hisana, the sister he claimed as his own, to death, merely submitted to their ruling. He never even considered anything else, not until a brash, bright-haired human-hybrid broke into Seireitei and twised his once-inflexible world into knots, turning everything upside-down and back to front and the wrong way around.

Ichigo’s accusations from then still haunt him. He will never forget the (at-the-time) young teenage boy’s condemnation, will never forget what he almost allowed to happen, and he will never forgive himself for it, even if Rukia, Renji and Ichigo all have. He wishes he could have reacted as Ichigo did to Central 46 taking his own sister, sweet, sharp little Yuzu. He wishes he could have stood firm and refused to let them attempt to take Rukia’s life, to destroy her beautiful soul for a sham crime.

His failure back then is his deepest regret and he will work the rest of his life to prove to Rukia and to Ichigo and to the memory of his beloved Hisana that he is not that foolish man any longer. He will stand with Ichigo and Karin until his end– because he is still a Kuchiki, he is still loyal to his bones, to his very soul, but now his loyalty is pledged to someone who deserves it.

~

~

“Mama, the Doctor asked a lot of questions about my, um, genetic lineage today,” Yuzu said, after they’d finished submitting the forms to register her quirk at Musutafu City Hall and started their journey home. “And it’s gotten me thinking,” mostly because she needed a distraction after that truly disturbing appointment at the doctor’s office, considering leftover adrenaline had her hands still trembling slightly nearly an hour later, “you... you really don’t talk about my father much. And you don’t seem to know much about his side of the family. Is there... a reason behind that?”

Inko’s eyes widened in realisation of what Yuzu was trying to politely imply. “Oh! Oh my goodness, no!” She gasped. “Izukkun, darling, Hisashi never broke the law or laid a hand on me in violence! He never even spoke an unkind word! Honestly, I just don’t talk about him much because... well, because he didn’t want to be part of our lives. You– you were a bit of a surprise to us, Izuku,” Inko admitted with a blush.

“Hisashi and I were just young university students at the time and Hisashi wasn’t quite ready to take the steps to become a family man. He comes from a very traditional family, though, so he did try... we married, we moved in to the apartment, and we prepared to raise you together, but... having a family, having a wife and child, it just wasn’t his priority in life. But it was useful for him and his career, on paper, and I had no interest in dating, so we made the decision to stay married until either of our circumstances changed.

“It’s all very amicable, and with the financial support he sends I was able to return to university, finishing most of my masters by correspondence, and we do email at least once a year... you’ve never been interested in getting in touch with him before, even when I’ve offered, but I suppose you must have questions after all this. I have questions after all this. I can give you his email address, and I have a phone number for emergencies, if you want it,” Inko offered her.

“Um,” Yuzu said, because she really didn’t have any interest in getting in touch with Izuku’s absent father, even if she was still curious about why he’d taken his wife’s surname when they married, “not really, honestly. Though you didn’t use the number after, well, everything that happened?”

Inko’s cheeks turned pink. “I didn’t really think to in the moment,” she admitted, “and I did email him afterward, but...” she shrugged, sighing. “He’s not the overly emotional type. You get that from me, darling. He’s more... analytical. Which I suppose you also inherited, but you’re much kinder about it.”

...Inko had clearly never read any of Izuku’s hero analysis notebooks if she believed that. Izuku’s observations and strategies could be absolutely brutal in how coldly clinical they were. But Yuzu supposed the spirit behind them was one of empathy and great passion for reducing suffering. Izuku had wanted to be a pro-hero to help people, after all, and that definitely came from Inko– she was all heart. It did concern Yuzu, though, to think that Inko hasn’t had anyone to call during those times her child had been hospitalised. Except... except she had had someone, hadn’t she?

“Mama,” Yuzu said thoughtfully, “can we stop by the store on our way home? There’s a few ingredients I need to pick up.”

~

Naomasa really should have been more surprised than he was by his visitor, but when he glanced up at the knock to his office door at the precinct he was, more than anything, just glad to see the young teenager up and about with no signs of bandages. “Hello Midoriya-kun,” he greeted the green-haired boy, who beamed brightly up at him, his eyes practically sparkling.

“Hi Detective-san!” Midoriya chirped, like he was just this sweet, innocent little angel who absolutely hadn’t tilted the entire axis of Naomasa’s understanding of the world off kilter the last time they’d met. “If you’re comfortable with it, please call me Izuku,” the boy added, with another bright, beaming, angelic smile, though he could see the amusement in those green eyes this time. Midoriya– Izuku– was very aware of the effect he had on him, it seemed, and apparently he found it entertaining.

Naomasa decided to just give up on ever understanding the strangest child he’d ever met and just roll with it. A decision cemented by the cake Izuku had apparently been hiding behind his back, and was now proudly presenting to him. Even in the clear plastic container it looked delicious– a Black Forest Gateau, if he wasn’t mistaken, the delectable layers of soft chocolate sponge covered with heavy whipped cream, chocolate shavings and shiny, deep purple-red cherries.

“It’s another thank you dessert,” Izuku told him earnestly and Naomasa arched an eyebrow down at the boy when his quirk pinged softly at him, even as he gladly accepted the cake. Izuku laughed, apparently not bothered at being caught in the not-quite-truth. “Okay, it’s mostly a thank you dessert, and I would have made it for you anyway,” the boy corrected, which was theTruth, “but it’s also a teensy-weensy bit of a bribe.” Truth, again.

“You are the strangest child I know,” Naomasa told Izuku, amused. “You realise you just admitted to attempting to bribe a police officer?”

“It’s at least ninety-five percent ‘thank you’,” Izuku argued playfully, because he really was the strangest child he’d ever met, “because I am, you know,” Izuku’s expression shifted so suddenly to serious that Naomasa was almost knocked off balance by it. “Thankful, I mean. My mama is amazing, but... what happened was really hard for her. She blames herself when she shouldn’t. I hid how bad the bullying was, and I hid the extent to which teachers were turning a blind eye. She’s perceptive and clever, but so am I and I put effort into covering it up*.” Izuku sighed then, suddenly looking aged, a weary slant to his young shoulders that shouldn’t be there.

“When she’s upset, there’s not much I can do,” the boy admitted sadly. “If I try to comfort her, she ends up feeling worse because she thinks she shouldn’t be putting her child in the position of needing to try to make her feel better. Hisashi isn’t an emotionally available person in her life, and her best friend, who she previously leaned on in hard times, is the mother of the bully who assaulted me. She works from home, so she doesn’t really even have co-workers to talk to. But you were there for her when I was in the hospital, and that first time when you found me in the park, you’d listened to her concerns and gone searching for me. And I know you gave her your phone number, and you’ve been listening to her and you got her in touch with those terrifying lawyers she’s been talking to.”

The lawyers were terrifying; Naomasa had specifically contacted the ones he knew the Public Prosecution Office was most afraid of to ask if they were interested in taking the cases, as he genuinely wished for Midoriya Inko to get the justice she and her son deserved.

“You... you barely know us,” Izuku said quietly, “but you’ve reached out and offered Mama a shoulder to cry on and you’ve been helping her through all this legal crap and you didn’t need to do any of it. So thank you. Really.”

Naomasa blinked, staring down at that earnest face, at those sweetly sincere green eyes, and pretended that the warmth in his chest was just heartburn from too much coffee and not enough solid food (lie).

“I’m just doing my job,” he said, and Izuku snorted, the sound surprisingly delicate.

“You’re going above and beyond the scope of your job, Detective-san, and we both know it,” he said firmly.

“I swore an oath to help people,” Naomasa corrected gently, pretending he wasn’t as flustered as he felt. “And I consider helping your mother a part of that oath.”

“You’re very humble,” Izuku observed, before nodding. “Alright, I’ll stop embarrassing you. But I really am grateful you’ve been there for her,” he finished softly, bowing once more in thanks, formal but genuine with it.

“Well I’m grateful you’re looking all healed up,” Naomasa said, and Izuku immediately frowned.

“Yes, well, about that,” he said, which absolutely wasn’t concerning at all. “That’s sort of related to the bribery part of the cake.”

“Oh dear,” Naomasa muttered, and Izuku had the grace to look a little sheepish, but mostly determined.

“I’ve mostly been on bed rest for the past week,” he said, “so I took the opportunity to do some more investigating. Specifically, laws preventing discrimination against quirkless people and against people with quirks that... well, are typically labelled as ‘villainous’ by society. And I came across a pretty big problem.”

“Oh?” Naomasa frowned and Izuku’s eyes flashed dangerously.

“Yeah– there aren’t any.”

“Ah,” he blinked. That... would be a problem. But could it be true? His mind raced as he tried to think; he knew that the articles added to the Geneva Convention in the wake of the emergence of quirks intended to prevent quirk exploitation had led to the creation of laws across the world to protect those with powerful quirks from being abused for their powers, but he couldn’t think of any laws in Japan like the ones Izuku was talking about, laws that protected against discrimination. “Oh fuck,” he said quietly, before wincing when he realised he’d just sworn in front of a minor. Izuku looked as grim as he felt.

“Yes, exactly,” he agreed. “Obviously, it’s not right and I’m going to do something about it.”

“Where do I come in?” Naomasa immediately asked, and Izuku beamed at him in response, face lighting up.

“Well, I’ve done my research on how big social movements get started and it turns out that one of the best ways get awareness and support as fast and on as widespread a scale as possible is to enlist a popular celebrity to help act as a figurehead for the cause,” the boy explained. “Basically, I was wondering if you could give me a list of the names of any pro-heroes you might have worked with in the past that you think would be most likely to want to help if I approach them.”

Naomasa wondered if he would ever stop being surprised by Izuku. “I thought you didn’t like pro-heroes,” he said, and Izuku shrugged.

“Most of them are perfectly fine as individuals. I just don’t like the system they’re part of perpetuating.” Izuku then smiled, surprisingly sharp for his sweet face. “Doesn’t mean I’m not willing to use that system to help people without quirks and people villainised for their quirks get the protection from the law that they should by all rights already have.”

“Pro-heroes generally prefer to stay neutral on any issues that lean towards political,” Naomasa warned, and there was nothing at all sweet about Izuku’s expression now.

“Neutrality,” he said, spitting out the word like it was poison, “only ever helps the oppressors, never the victims. By choosing to do nothing, they’re already picking their side.”

It was the fierceness in Izuku’s voice, that determined set to his shoulders, like he was getting ready to fight, that ultimately convinced him to help, because he'd seen that same ready stance before, seen that same determined expression, and he believed in Izuku, just like he believed in Toshinori, and he was prepared to take a chance.

“You should contact Present Mic’s radio show,” he told the green-haired boy. Izuku's expression turned thoughtful.

“Despite his reputation for being eccentric and excitable,” the boy mused, “Present Mic is known to be excellent at managing crowds, which takes people skills and finesse, and judging by his fights, he’s got a keen mind for strategy.”

“He’s also an instigator who loves creating controversy and chaos, which you’d think would be obvious to anyone who spends more than five minutes listening to him talk, but apparently people are clueless.” Naomasa grumbled, mostly good-natured because Yamada could be a pain, but he wasn’t malicious about it. He just... really, really liked to get people revved up.

Yamada was also close friends with Aizawa Shouta, whose decision to be an underground hero hadn’t just been due to his dislike of crowds– a quirk that disabled other quirks, however temporarily, had not been looked on kindly during Aizawa’s youth, as people had feared it. And what people feared… well, enough said. Naomasa knew other pro-heroes who had similar issues too, like Gang Orca, who the public accused of looking like a villain due to his killer-whale Mutant-type quirk, or the Wild Wild Pussycats, who didn’t live in the city because while people appreciated it when more invasive-type quirks like Ragdoll’s ‘search’ and Mandalay’s telepathy were used to save them, they didn’t like to be around them constantly.

Naomasa had spent a lot of time working with Aizawa in particular over the years and he couldn’t help but consider it a pity that the hero was forced to operate from the shadows; with his personal values and professional ethics, Aizawa would have been an amazing idol for society to look up to, and he definitely would have set a perfect example to future pro-heroes. Thankfully, U.A.’s principal seemed to share Naomasa’s opinion and had hired Aizawa as a teacher several years back. It meant that Naomasa saw him less, as Aizawa spent more time teaching then assisting the police on cases, but Aizawa having an influence over the future generations of pro-heroes was worth it – the police force was already seeing the effects of his work in the latest U.A. graduates.

Izuku nodded thoughtfully. “Okay,” he said. “But his show is popular, it might take time for me to get on it, if Present Mic even accepts in the first place.” At that, Naomasa couldn’t help but smile and Izuku narrowed his eyes. “I’ve missed something,” the boy said, sounding annoyed.

“Izuku-kun,” he said, smiling down at the boy, “you’re sort of famous right now, you realise. You’re the only person currently alive in Japan with Late-Onset Quirk Activation. I don’t think you’ll struggle getting on the show to talk about it.”

Izuku gave a short, surprised laugh, and there was a sly amusement glittering in those green eyes, an almost coy curve to his smiling mouth. “Detective-san,” he asked, all playful mischief, “are you telling me I should lie to a pro-hero?”

“Technically,” Naomasa pointed out, “it’s not lying if it’s all connected to the same issue.”

Izuku looked incredibly satisfied in that moment, like a smug kitten licking the cream of its whiskers. “I knew I liked you for a reason.” He said, pleased, before giving Naomasa one of those brilliant, beaming smiles. “Alright! It’s a plan!”

“Before you go say anything you can’t take back, make sure you don’t forget how our society loves and admires pro-heroes,” he warned Izuku.

“They do,” Izuku agreed, “but that type of admiration is the furthest thing from understanding. And what they do not understand, they cannot be.”

There was something about the way Izuku said that, something about the distance in those green eyes, that had Naomasa suspect the boy was quoting someone. But whoever it was, they weren’t necessarily wrong.

“What you told me in the hospital,” he said quietly, “you weren’t wrong. But having my quirk has always meant my view of the world is very... honest, with most lies and illusions stripped away. Others don’t have that benefit. And if you go attacking the system they admire and idolise like they do, people are only going to push back– and they’ll push back hard.”

“I’ll catch more flies with honey then with vinegar,” Izuku agreed, with a calm wisdom beyond his years. ”I understand. Thank you, Detective-san.”

“Call me Naomasa,” He said, before he could think the better of it, and when the boy’s face lit up again, practically sparkling, he couldn’t bring himself to regret it. Toshinori would love this kid, he thought fondly as he bid Izuku goodbye, the green-haired boy leaving with a cheery if distracted wave, clearly already focused on his plotting. If it wasn’t for the problem of his time limit, he’d have enlisted All Might for Izuku’s campaign in a heartbeat. As it was, he fully intended on getting Toshi to make a public statement of support after Izuku went on Present Mic’s show.

“You’re looking very pleased with yourself,” his partner on the force– and his dear friend too, though sometimes he questioned why– commented as he sidled into Naomasa’s office. Naomasa just smiled at Tanema.

“I had a very welcome visitor,” he said. Tanema’s eyes swept over his office, pausing over the plastic cake container.

“The kid, the one who was attacked by his classmate while his teachers watched,” he deduced, and Naomasa nodded.

“He wanted to thank me again. And bribe me, a ‘teensy weensy’ bit.” He couldn’t keep the fondness from his voice as he quoted Izuku and Tanema gave a surprised laugh.

“You actually like the kid.” He realised.

“You would too,” Naomasa said. “He’s clever. And determined.”

“His mother is certainly starting to make waves, with the legal case she’s filing against the Musutafu Board of Education,” Tanema told him, and Naomasa nodded.

“And so will Izuku-kun,” he said with absolute certainty and Tanema looked amused.

“Well that explains everything.” He said, with a mischievous smirk. “You’ve got a real thing for people with strong convictions.”

“For the last time,” Naomasa said, through now-gritted teeth, “I do not have a crush on All Might.”

Suuure you don’t,” his friend drawled teasingly. And frankly, the only appropriate response to that was to throw his stapler at Tanema’s head, huffing as his partner swiped the hostile projectile from the air with annoying ease. “All joking aside, though, he’s a good kid?” Tanema asked. “Trauma can mess people up bad, and kids are especially vulnerable.”

“He can be a bit manipulative,” Naomasa admitted, “and he has very strong opinions and an indomitable drive when it comes to pushing those opinions forwards. But I truly believe he is a good, honest kid. Although...”

“Although?” Tanema leaned forward slightly, frowning. “Your quirk picked something up from him?”

“I don’t think it’s actually relevant. It’s more of a personal issue,” Naomasa explained. “I haven’t mentioned anything, of course, but from the first time I met him, my quirk has... reacted slightly, to Izuku-kun being addressed as ‘he’ or ‘him’ or ‘boy’.” It only took his partner a moment to understand.

“Ah,” Tanema said. “Right. Yeah, I can see why the bullied, quirkless kid wouldn’t be willing to put an even bigger target over their head by identifying as another gender.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Naomasa agreed. “Hopefully that can change now, but unless Izuku-kun says something, I won’t say anything.”

Tanema nodded thoughtfully and looked like he was about to say something else when Officer Tamakawa Sansa burst into the room, his fur all standing on end, pointed ears pressed flat back against his skull. “Sansa, what is it!?” Naomasa demanded, leaping to his feet, Tanema doing the same.

“I just overheard on dispatch, there was an anonymous tipster who rang to warn us about a kidnapping attempt,” Sansa panted, his whiskers quivering with anxiety, “all that they’d say about themselves was that they were from ‘the doctor’s office’, and squad cars are already on the way, but I recognised the address they gave–” and Naomasa, heart sinking, didn’t need Sansa to finish his sentence, because he already knew what his officer was about to say.

“–boss, it was the Midoriya family’s apartment!”

 

Chapter Text

XII.

Karin curls around Toshirou, plastering herself so close to him that she can feel the steady thud of his heartbeat. Their bodies are slick with sweat and she knows if she doesn’t move to clean up soon then she’ll regret the sticky mess come morning, but right now all she wants to do is hold her lover close.

Toshirou kisses her, and his lips taste like ice against her tongue, cold and sharp. She loves how he tastes, loves how he touches her, loves how he fits; beside her, inside her, and as an essential part of her life. She tilts her head back as his kisses start to trail lower, letting out soft moans as he bites small marks into the soft skin along her jawline. She rocks her hips forwards, then raises an eyebrow in surprise at what she finds.

“Again? Really?” she asks, and Toshirou pauses his actions, pulling back.

“Do you not want to?” he asks, always so thoughtful of her needs. Karin shows him exactlywhat she thinks of that, and it’s not until the exhausted aftermath that she asks again if there’s a reason for his unusual amorousness. Toshirou hesitates slightly before finally, reluctantly, answering.

“You’ve never fought in a war before, Karin,” he says softly, looking at her with grave eyes. Karin immediately bristles.

“Are you doubting that I can beat the fuck out of all of those shit-stains?” she demands in outrage, and Toshirou shakes his head.

“No, I don’t doubt your abilities at all– I know better than to do something so foolish,” he assures her, and she can see he’s telling the truth, “I’m just… aware of what a war costs a person’s heart and soul. What it takes from you, and what it never gives back.”

Karin pauses in her indignation, thinking over Toshirou’s words. He’s… not wrong. Ichigo has never been the same since the Shinigami dragged him into their wars, back when he was just a kid. And Toshirou had been so young too, by Shinigami standards, when he was dragged into war.

“I’m worried for you,” Toshirou says softly, seeing that she’s not about to start shouting, and she leans into him, letting him wrap his arms around her.

“I get it,” she says, because she does. “And… I know I’m not going to be the same afterwards,” she doesn’t ask if that’s some kind of deal breaker, because if Toshirou was that sort of guy, they wouldn’t be in bed together, or having this conversation, “but I have to do it. I have to fight, for Yuzu.”

“I know,” Toshirou says, leaning forwards to gently kiss her on the lips, soft and chaste. “So do I.”

And that is exactly why she loves him.

~

~

The detective had given her so much to think about that Yuzu decided to make her way back to her house from the police station on foot. As she walked, her head was buzzing, like her mind was a hive and her each of her thoughts were bees, frantically flying and crawling and working, while the queen churned out endless more.

'That is a very disturbing analogy,' she vaguely heard Kyo comment, but for once she paid little attention to her partner, because all those little bee-thoughts were working towards one purpose, and she had Plans!, so many Plans! A silvery chuckle, a warm nudge of amusement, and then Kyo faded back, present but not. The twenty minute walk passed in easy, companionable silence, Yuzu quite occupied by her plotting, and it wasn't until she climbed the stairs to her apartment that she found herself pausing at the front door, her hand resting on the handle and the hairs on the back of her neck prickling. Something felt... off. 

'Kyo-chan?'

'Be on your guard,' the spirit warned, and Yuzu frowned, reaching out with her reiatsu. She felt herself go very still; Inko wasn't alone in the apartment– there were four other presences, and her mother felt terrified.

'Get away and call the police,' Kyo said urgently, and Yuzu nodded, releasing the door handle and going to take a step backwards, only for the door to fly open with enough force that it was only her lightning reflexes that kept it from re-breaking face. Behind the newly-opened door stood a man she'd never seen before, in either her or Izuku's memories. He had blue, scaled skin, like a tropical fish, with pale, bulbous fish eyes and idly flapping fins over the holes he had on the sides of his head instead of ears. His teeth were needle-thin and sharp. He was grinning at her, and Yuzu sucked in a breath as she felt a new presence step up behind her and something sharp pressing to the small of her back.

"You do anything funny with that fancy quirk of yours, and my friend over there slits your mummy's throat in half, got it?" the man– or 'Blue-fin', as Yuzu had dubbed him in her head– said menacingly, still grinning as he stepped to the side and gestured to where Inko stood, her face red and blotchy from crying. Yuzu felt sick to her stomach when she saw the knife pressed to her mother's throat and had to take a deep breath, letting her shoulders hunch inwards to project her immediate surrender.

"I won't use my quirk, sir," she said meekly.

"Why don't you step inside, like a good little boy, hm?" Blue-fin said, satisfied by how her body-language was screaming victim-weakling-fragile-pathetic-coward.

"Yes sir," she whispered, still looking down, letting her green curls hide how her eyes darted around, using a combination of her peripheral vision and reiatsu to clock the position of all the invaders in the room as she placidly followed Blue-fin inside, not making her move until the person at her back stopped to close the door behind them, moving the knife briefly from where it had been held threateningly over her spine.

Two Hell Chains shot out of both her hands; one chain whirled back, whipping around to hit the person at the door, a woman dressed all in black, in the head with enough force to knock her out cold. The second chain shot straight at the man holding Inko hostage, looping around the wrist holding the knife and tightening, before yanking back, pulling him towards Yuzu. The man was already screaming, but a swift, brutal kick to the head put a stop to that.

All in all, it took less than three seconds to incapacitate two of the five invaders, but those three seconds had been enough time for the three to get over their shock at her actually fighting back and they burst into action. Yuzu was forced to leap off the ground as it suddenly became about as consistent as quicksand, attempting to suck her in, landing lightly as a cat on the arm of the sofa.

Inko, taking advantage of her sudden freedom, had lunged for a kitchen knife, which hastily smacked into her hand with the help of her quirk, and pointed threateningly in the direction of the closest invader, warning him, "don't come near me!" in a trembling voice that broke Yuzu's heart.

"For fuck's sake!" Blue-fin growled, before spitting at Inko. Actually spitting. Yuzu looked on in horror as her mother pulled some kind of thin, needle-like spine from her skin, only to stumble, swaying in place before sinking to her knees in response to what appeared to be some sort of poison. Panicked, Yuzu lashed out at Blue-fin, her Hell Chains shooting forwards as she forwent any kind of restraint, aiming to impale Blue-fin straight through his heart and gut– only for the third invader, another man, to get between Blue-fin and the chain, deflecting it with some kind of glimmering, dome-shaped barrier that appeared out of nowhere, making her shriek with rage.

Blue-fin laughed, showing those needle-thin teeth to her in a mocking grin. "Shouldn't have used that quirk of yours, boy," he said, turning to Inko, now on her hands and knees, having dropped the kitchen knife altogether as she gasped for breath, swaying, "you know what's going to happen now– you," he nodded at the quicksand quirk guy, "slit her throat."

"NO!" Yuzu screamed, panicked, "no, no, noKyouka Suigetsu, HELP!"

Her view spun suddenly; the apartment abruptly replaced by the perfect garden of moonlight and crystal-clear ponds that made up her inner-world. Panting, still panicked, heart racing in her chest, Yuzu looked around frantically for Kyo, quickly spotting her by the largest of the pools, which was framed by large, beautiful, pale flowers, the full moon perfectly reflected in the still surface of the water.

Kyo stood statue-still, the moonlight glinting off her bright, silvery hair. There was a glittering, dangerous edge to her, one that Yuzu hadn't seen before, and she sucked in a breath when she realised that, for the first time, the ever-present mask was nowhere in sight. Kyo's face was thin, pale, and pointed; more androgynous then feminine, there were sunbursts dots of red paint around her eyes, and over her lips, like a spray of blood.

Kyo's face was also blank, almost lifeless; the only emotion Yuzu could see was in her eyes, which were cold.

"Please," Yuzu begged, foregoing her pride to drop to her knees and clap her hands together, "please Kyo-chan, please, help me save her!"

Kyo looked coldly down at her, before striding forwards, unsealing her zanpakuto and pressing the point of it against Yuzu's chest, over her heart, in one swift move. For a wild, desperate moment, Yuzu thought Kyo was about to run her through. The deadly, gleaming point of the blade hovered over her heart. "You want my help?" the spirit demanded, and Yuzu swallowed, before nodding, heart pounding under the deadly silver point.

"Yes," she whispered, and Kyo's eyes were like moonlight, bright and vast and cold, set in her pale, flawless face.

"Then say my name," she hissed. "You know it, you know who I am, who I belong to, so say it. Say my name, the name of a traitor's blade!" And then, abruptly, Yuzu understood. She took a deep breath and reached out, not to pull the sword away, but to reach for Kyo's hand, not the one wrapped around the handle of the sword, but the one clenched tight at her side. She squeezed Kyo's hand and smiled, tremulous but real. "I trust you," she said, "you are my zanpakuto, Kyouka Suigetsu, and I trust you."

Kyo's eyes glittered with tears as the sword point dropped from Yuzu's heart, the spirit dropping to her knees too as she reversed her grip on the blade, offering the handle to Yuzu. "You are my wielder, Kurosaki Yuzu," she repeated the words she had spoken weeks earlier, and it felt as if they were vibrating through the air, through Yuzu's very bones, deeper. Those moonlight eyes trapped and held hers as Yuzu accepted the blade, accepted the partnership, accepted the responsibility. "You are my wielder, so wield me."

And Yuzu opened her eyes, back in the apartment, and cried out, "kudakera, Kyouka Suigetsu!"

Normal Shinigami needed the asauchi that they were given when they entered the Academy to one day become their zanpakuto, but like her brother before her, Yuzu was not a normal Shinigami. She didn't need an empty blade to imprint her zanpakuto upon. Just as she'd seen Ichigo do, countless times before, Yuzu simply reached out, the comforting handle materialising in her hand in a flare of silver, Kyouka Suigetsu forming from the reiatsu she commanded.

She felt lighter than air, like she'd drunk four shots of sake in a row, and the effects had just kicked in. Kyouka Suigetsu's shikai form was nothing like the katana that was her sealed form. Lighter and shorter, just over two feet long in cutting edge length, the sword's handle was jade green and wrapped in pale apricot and ivory ribbons, while the blade which tapered from hilt to point in a deadly curve was a pale silver, closer to liquid mercury in colouring then the sheen of steel. "Beautiful," Yuzu breathed, before raising the blade high, feeling the reiatsu gather, the building pressure in the air as tangible as a desert mirage but no less dangerous as she called out, "Kanzen Saimin!"

The three still-conscious invaders froze, their eyes glazing as Kyouka Suigetsu's shikai caught and took hold. You don't see/you don't remember/you are leaving, Yuzu wielded Kyouka Suigetsu just as Kyo said she would; she wove the illusion over the invaders, trapping them in the shimmering mirage, chaining it to their souls.

She was forced to rely on sheer instinct and power, the use of brute strength necessary in the absence of the finesse that practice would bring, and the moment she released her power over the illusion, trusting it to remain anchored without her input, she gasped, swaying under the tidal wave of exhaustion that threatened to knock her from her feet. But it worked.

"What the fuck?" One of the kidnappers muttered, eyes wide and wild, "where the fuck am I? What the fuck's going on!?"

Yuzu held herself still, frozen in place, and almost cried in relief when their eyes skittered right over her, unseeing; the illusion had worked, and two of the wannabe kidnappers were already bolting, making for the door to get away, while the third, Blue-fin, was edging warily around the edge of the room, fish-eyes darting every-which-way, pausing and lingering over the two unconscious invaders.

But her relief had come to soon; apparently Blue-fin's reaction to finding himself in a strange place without any memories of how or why he'd gotten there, was to grab a hostage to safeguard against potential threats. And Inko, now-unconscious and defenceless on the ground, was the only potential hostage he could see.

It was only by the grace of the fact he couldn't see her that Yuzu managed to get her zanpakuto between Blue-fin and her mother in time. The man howled as his blood sprayed across the floor, staggering back and grasping at his hand, gushing blood and now short several fingers.

He could see her now, Yuzu realised with a sinking heart; she wasn't Aizen, with his centuries of practice; she couldn't perform perfect, pristine Absolute Hypnosis over three people on her first try. The angry confusion visible told her he still didn't know why he was in her apartment, but that didn't do her any good; she'd just attacked him and she'd mutilated him– and he seemed the type to hold a grudge.

She felt dizzy; both out of fear for herself and Inko, and from reiatsu-exhaustion. She didn't have the spiritual energy levels her brother did, nor his seemingly-infinite capacity or his training with it, and she couldn't keep this up, not much longer. It didn't help when just moments later she was forced to manifest Blut Vene to protect herself from a spit-attack from Blue-fin, having seen what it had done to her mother, but the increased drain of spiritual energy almost had her collapsing on the spot. She'd only ever felt like this twice before, once when learning her limits while training with Ryuuken-oji, and the time she'd been forced to fight after crawling out of that lab. She could barely even hear Kyo talking to her, over the roaring in her ears, her limbs heavier then concrete.

Blue-fin was watching her, blood pulsing from his hand at a frankly alarming rate, but when he stayed still, despite the fury she could see in his fish-eyes, Yuzu realised he had observed the condition she was in and was waiting for her to collapse– he didn't know what she could do, didn't know what she'd already done, considering the blank gap in his head, but he knew enough to realise she wasn't going to be upright much longer. 

And it was going to work, Yuzu realised in horrified despair. Except... except as she looked over at him, the patient predator waiting for his prey to tire, she got an idea, because patience wasn't the only way for a predator to hunt. Sometimes, a bit of trickery was what it took to draw in the prey.

In her current state, it was easy to fake a stumble, to fake falling back against the kitchen wall as if she couldn't catch herself. Blue-fin fell for it, and when he lunged at her, she used the wall to support herself as she brought her zanpakuto up between them, then braced. The blade slid slickly through his stomach, no bones to halt its deadly progress, and Blue-fin collapsed with a strangled cry of agony.

Yuzu collapsed too, sliding back against the wall until she was on the ground. She wanted nothing more than to just pass out, but she couldn't, not yet. It was with painstaking effort that she crawled over to where Inko's kitchen knife had fallen, not quite brave enough to risk standing and collapsing for real, then grabbing the knife and crawling back to Blue-fin. There was enough blood that it was easy to smear it over the knife's blade and handle. What was much harder was to summon all the energy she had left, clawing at the last dregs of of her willpower, and rasping out, "Kanzen Saimin!"

You remember nothing of what I did/you never saw a sword/I defended myself with the kitchen knife, she forced the illusion over him, twisting his memories around the false truth, before her vision went grey. By the time she'd blinked through it, chest heaving with the effort, she was on her hands and knees and Kyo had already vanished after slipping from her grasp, returning to her soul as Yuzu lost the ability to maintain Kyouka Suigetsu's shikai form. The job was done, though; Blue-fin's eyes were glazed once more, and Yuzu wearily pulled off her sweater, wadding it up and using it to apply pressure over the stomach wound, ignoring his agonised cries as she pressed down hard. She had enough medical training to know where to stab him without the wound killing him, but if help didn't arrive soon, the blood loss might.

She wasn't sure how long she knelt there, trying to slow the bleeding, as time seemed a rather abstract concept. Eventually she heard footsteps pounding on the floor. "Holy shit!" She vaguely heard someone shout, and she blinked blearily up at the new arrival. They were a pro-hero, she realised. She'd probably recognise them if the world wasn't so blurry. "Kid, are you Midoriya Izuku?" The pro-hero asked as they got closer. When she nodded the pro-hero sighed in relief. "Guys, the kid's okay, he's still at the apartment, and so is his mother, but we're going to need ambulances here– like, four or five of them. It's a literal bloodbath," they said, apparently communicating with someone, before kneeling beside her.

"Ouch," they– he, Yuzu realised– muttered, "here, let's swap, kid." Yuzu was relieved when his hands nudged hers away, pulling back as the pro-hero kept up the pressure on Blue-fin's wound. "Hey, speak to me, kid," the pro-hero urged, as she slumped back against the wall, one hand reaching to grasp Inko's limp one.

"...who even are you?" Yuzu asked, her voice coming out slightly slurred.

"Haha, I guess I'm not so easily recognisable like this," the pro-hero's laughter sounded worried. "I'm Fat Gum, the BMI Hero! What about you, kid?"

"...you already asked me my name," Yuzu mumbled, confused.

"Right, I did too– er, got any questions for a pro-hero, Midoriya-kun?" Fat Gum was sounding increasingly worried in his forced cheer. Vaguely, Yuzu realised he was concerned she was going into shock, as well as trying to make sure she didn't lose consciousness in case she was suffering some sort of head wound or had been hit by one of the invader's and she tried to answer him.

"...why do you call yourself Fat Gum?"

"Because of the bullying I experienced as a kid," Fat Gum told her. "I wanted other kids to know their weight wasn't something to be ashamed of, the way I always felt, and to promote the ideals of body positivity and health at every size!"

"...oh," Yuzu realised. "That's... actually not stupid at all."

"You were expecting it to be?" Fat Gum asked.

"Yeah," Yuzu agreed, her eyelids felt heavy. "Most pro-hero names are stupid."

"Come on, Midoriya, keep talking kid! Stay awake! Come on–"

"Mm," she hummed, no longer really concentrating. Her head wasn't like a beehive at all, anymore... or maybe it was, but the exhaustion was like smoke that had sent all the bees to sleep, and Yuzu sighed and surrendered herself to it.

~

Naomasa's heart nearly stopped when he heard Taishiro use the words "blood bath" and Tanema swore viciously before stomping down harder on the accelerator, the car's siren wailing as they sped through traffic. Taishiro had responded to the panic alert sent out, and the Pro-Hero was first on scene at the Midoriya apartment block thanks to the speed his quirk granted him. If it wasn't for the fact that Taishiro kept the channel open as he spoke to Izuku, trying to keep the kid talking, Naomasa didn't even want to know what sort of state he would be in.

Izuku's voice was slurred, his words swimming together and his responses delayed, but he was still talking when the police car screeched to a stop outside the apartment building and Naomasa leapt out and ran for the stairs. Bursting into the apartment, he immediately realised why Taishiro had called it a blood-bath. The open floor of the living room, kitchen and dining room was sprayed with red and the three villains in the room were all unconscious and scattered, with one lying in a growing pool of red with Taishiro kneeling down and applying pressure to his lower stomach.

And next to Taishiro, with Inko's head gently resting on his lap, Izuku was slumped unconscious against the wall, paler then Naomasa had ever seen the child before. His small face was splattered with blood, and his hands were drenched in it.

"Oh thank god, are the ambulances here?" Taishiro asked, upon spotting him. Naomasa just shook his head numbly. Trusting that Taishiro was capable of keeping the villain alive and Tanema of cuffing the other unconscious villains, he focused on Inko and Izuku, rushing over and immediately checking Inko's pulse. He was relieved when Inko stirred weakly at his touch, her green eyes fluttering open. The expression of relief when she registered it was him kneeling over her was second only to the sheer terror there only moments later as she desperately gasped out,

"Izuku!"

"He's safe," Naomasa reassured her, carefully helping her sit up so she realised whose lap she had been resting in. Inko burst into overwhelmed sobs, relieved and panicked both, and it was her turn then to reverse the roles, cradling her son in her arms.

Naomasa couldn't deny his own relief at seeing the movements of Izuku's chest. He noticed kitchen knife near them and, glancing over at the villain bleeding out just a couple feet away, he realised with a jolt of horror what poor Izuku had been forced to do to defend himself. For the poor kid's sake, he desperately hoped the villain survived– he didn't want Izuku to have to live with that sort of burden on his conscience. Izuku didn't deserve that.

"When I got here, the kid was putting pressure on the wound," Taishiro said quietly, when Naomasa looked up from the wound to meet the Pro-Hero's eyes. There was a strong admiration in Taishiro's eyes, and a respect as weighted as the Pro-Hero's 'fat form'.

"That sounds like Izuku," Naomasa said, proud and exhausted in equal measure. Trying to save the life of the villain who'd tried kidnapping him, even when injured himself.

"I-It's my f-fault," Inko sobbed, still clutching Izuku, even as she reached out to clutch onto him too. Naomasa grasped onto her hand, squeezing in what he hoped was more reassuring then desperate, and she half-collapsed into him, her head falling against his shoulder. "Th-they were h-holding m-me hostage, a-and told I-Izuku th-they would k-k-kill m-me if h-he d-d-didn't d-do as th-they said!" She sobbed into his shirt, still clutching him and her son, and he rubbed her shoulder soothingly. 

"I recognise that guy," Taishiro nodded grimly down at the villain with the fish mutation. "His name's Wataru Yoichi. My agency have been after him for a while now. He's the mercenary type; a villain for hire, to the right kind of shady businessman. He's bad news."

"Do you know what happened to him, Midoriya-san?" Tanema asked seriously, and Inko just sobbed harder.

"I d-d-don't know!" she wailed. "I d-d-don't know!"

"It's okay," Naomasa tried to comfort her, as she turned her head so she was sobbing into his shoulder. "We'll figure this out, I promise you– we'll make sure you're safe," he vowed.

~

"Do you think the police will find the surveillance equipment we set up?" Ujiko Daruma asked, attention briefly turning from where it had been eagerly fixed on the camera feed of the Midoriya appartment.

"Even if they do, they won't be able to track where the signal is coming from," All For One dismissed the scientist's concerns, and Daruma nodded, attention turning back to the enigma that was Midoriya Izuku.

And what an enigma that child was. Even more so then he'd first suspected him to be.

"I have never seen a quirk like that before," Daruma breathed, his eyes gleaming with that desperate hunger for knowledge that had originally drawn the good doctor to seek him out. "I've never even heard of anything even remotely similar, except perhaps your own quirk!"

"I have," he said quietly, causing Daruma's eyes to snap away from the camera feed and over to him. "Just once, over two hundred years ago." He could see how Daruma's eyes widened further at his words, a fervour igniting within them.

He didn't blame Daruma. He remembered his own awe as a small boy, all those years ago, watching the black-robed men with their swords, fighting in the skies like gods...

"When will we make another attempt to acquire the child, my Lord?" his pet scientist eagerly inquired, interrupting his thoughts. Rude.

"Oh, we won't be," he said, enjoying how Daruma's face fell, "just as we didn't truly try today."

It didn't take Daruma long to figure it out. "Today was a test for him." The good doctor realised.

"It was," he confirmed.

"And... did he pass?" Daruma asked, clearly disappointed that he wasn't getting a new test subject, but still overwhelmingly curious about young Midoriya Izuku.

"Oh, he did indeed," he confirmed again.

"So... what will you do with the child, my Lord?"

This time All For One did smile, scar tissue twitching and distorting with the movement. "Nothing." He said. Daruma blinked.

"Nothing?"

"Nothing," he confirmed. "I have no intention of dragging that child into the shadows, not yet at least. I am far more interested in seeing how he flourishes in the light. He has a spotlight on him right now, and the sympathetic eye and ear of the public... I'm curious to see how he uses such a rare opportunity."

"Do you think he will be useful to our great cause?" Daruma asked, and All For One hmmed. 

"I think it's about to be a very turbulent time for society," he answered, eventually. "Yagi, the foolish boy, has created the persona of a hero as bright and unreachable as the sun; no other hero can even get close, their wax wings will only melt when they try. And not long from now, young Tomura will emerge into the public eye, a villain as the dark, all-encompassing and impossible to reach as the night sky, welcoming all those who cannot bear the light."

"And Midoriya? Where does he fit, in this analogy?" Daruma asked. His smile widened in response, twisting and distorting the scar-tissue. Daruma didn't even flinch. 

"Midoriya is the middle ground; he is the moon that orbits the sky, reflecting the sun's brightness without its burn, but still shining in the night for those who fear the darkness."

"He is the compromise." Daruma murmured. "Interesting."

"With the right guidance, Midoriya will not be a threat, just another piece on the game board," All For One said. "And so, we must guide him."