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Imaginary

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Izuku does not have friends, but the man who sits on the bench with him every day is nice.

 

He doesn’t speak much, but that’s okay. Izuku talks a lot, Kacchan says, and Kacchan is always right. The other boys say he talks too much too, so he knows it’s a problem. But the man is nice, and he lets him talk, and he doesn’t make fun of or belittle him.

 

Izuku sits on the bench one day after school. The man’s already there, and they sit together in silence while Izuku swings his legs back and forth. It’s a nice day, Izuku thinks—it’s sunny, and there are plenty of birds who are singing and chirping, and the wooden slats that were clumsily put together to make the bench are warm on the bottom of his thighs.

 

There are a couple feet between the two of them, and Izuku curiously looks to the man. He’s ever-so-slightly translucent, and if he stares hard enough, Izuku can see the clouds and the blue sky hiding behind his spiky hair. Izuku had asked him, way back when they first met, why he was outlined in a red glow, and why every time the man blinked a few red sparks floated from his lashes of his left eye.

 

Cold dark eyes had stared at him, small flashes of surprise flitting across his face. “I’m Second,” he had said instead, crossing his arms. “And you are?”

 

“Izuku,” he had chirped. “You’ve got a funny name, sir.”

 

Izuku is six now, and it’s been two years. He knows that it’s rude now to call people’s names weird, even though Kacchan calls his name weird too. But the man was nice, as he always has been, and he cracked a grin and patted his head.

 

“You think so? Well, you’ve got a pretty cute name yourself, kiddo.”

 

Second blinks again, and a group of small red sparks drift from his left cornea. Some flutter away and dissipate a few yards from them, but a couple others hug his dark lashes. Izuku would play with them, once upon a time, but Kacchan told him that he was being weird, so he’s stopped now.

 

“Second?” Izuku asks. He doesn’t wait for the man to respond. “I tried to tell everyone at school about how cool you are, but Kacchan says he doesn’t know anyone who sits on this bench. He says I’m just weird and talk to my imaginary friend. Why’s that?”

 

Second’s expression sours somewhat, but he’s respectful and doesn’t call Izuku stupid. Izuku doesn’t know why Second dislikes Kacchan, but he doesn’t tell Izuku to stop hanging out with him. His expression smooths out again, and he smiles at Izuku. His smile is small, and it barely reaches his eyes, but Second doesn’t smile often, so Izuku knows it’s sincere. “Well, I am your imaginary friend, Izuku. No one else sees me.” Something like sadness flashes across his eyes. “Just you.”

 

It’s always been just you.

 

Izuku tilts his head. “If that’s the case, why do people want to forget their imaginary friends? You’re really cool!”

 

Second doesn’t move any closer to Izuku, but he does let out a small, breathy laugh. He doesn’t like physical contact, so Izuku doesn’t force him to. He just treasures the moments where Second will give him a pat on the back or will run his hand through his hair.

 

“I don’t know why, Izuku,” Second says, and though he’s smiling there’s a hint of pain and sadness there. His hands are clasped together in front of him, and he’s looking at them intensely even though his gaze is far, far away. Izuku stares at him, and he knows that Second is lying.

 

He lets it go. Second is kind and nice and doesn’t call him stupid. An imaginary friend, maybe, and an amazing one at that, but nonetheless, they don’t talk about much.

 

Second doesn’t ask about the bruises and the scrapes and why his eyes are red. Izuku doesn’t ask why Second’s got knives in his pocket and a gun strapped to his waist. Second doesn’t ask about Izuku’s quirk, or his lack of one. Izuku doesn’t ask why ‘kill’ is always the word that comes to mind when he thinks about Second.

 

It represents him, a voice in the back of his head says, except Izuku doesn’t know why someone so nice would have such a strange attachment to the word.

 

But Second doesn’t ask him about his life, so Izuku doesn’t ask anything about his.

 

It’s a pretty fair trade.


Izuku’s second friend is another man, though he’s much bigger and outspoken than Second. He calls himself Sixth. It’s an odd pattern, that all his imaginary friends are calling themselves numbers, but he brushes it off.

 

Sixth has a box-like jaw, is bald, and has these cool goggles that rest on top of his head. He’s also bare-chested, and he has a line of ammo that crosses from his shoulder to hip, and a leather jacket that should top off the look but just makes him look like a biker criminal gone awry. He’s a little too loud for both Izuku’s and Second’s tastes—Izuku is seven and too much happened in the past year. Izuku knows that Second and Mom are both worried why he’s suddenly so quiet and withdrawn.

 

“Kacchan’s being mean,” Izuku had whispered several months ago.

 

Second hasn’t forgiven Kacchan. Izuku’s not sure if he ever will, seeing how he refused to even like him in the first place.

 

Sixth, for all his loudness, is still gentle with him. In a rush of adrenaline, he picks Izuku up and puts him on his shoulders, and they race down the sidewalk with the breeze in his hair. Izuku didn’t know imaginary friends could carry things, or that Second would ever leave his bench and actually chase after them, but it leaves Izuku with a huge smile and a racing heart.

 

Sixth is fun, and he laughs even as Second scolds him. Second squats and cups Izuku’s cheeks, and he looks so scared that all the laughter flies out of him. The man with the red outline blinks, but no red sparks go flying. His dark eyes stare at him, watery even as his hands shake.

 

“You have to be more careful,” he grounds out, and Sixth realizes the gravity of the situation. “He can’t be hurt. He can’t be hurt.” Second tugs him into a hug, the first one he’s given Izuku in three years, and he swallows the small boy in his large frame and arms. Everywhere Izuku’s bare skin touches Second, it tingles and zaps with energy.

 

Sixth apologizes. Second refuses to let him go.

 

Izuku likes Sixth, even though he’s a little crazy and too robust for his personality. He makes funny faces and makes him giggle, and sometimes Sixth will tickle him until he’s about to throw up. Second watches from his perch on the bench, eyes sharp and always seeing.

 

Sixth is outlined in a dark green, kind of like Izuku’s hair color. How Second always reminds him of the word ‘kill,’ Sixth always reminds him of the word ‘capture.’

 

Sixth laughs when Izuku quietly tells him that, one day. Second is leaning back on the bench, eyes closed, pretending to sleep even though the two know better.

 

“That’s pretty cool that you notice that, kid,” Sixth says. Izuku stares up at him with wide, doe-like eyes, and the man’s expression softens. “My quirk is called Black Whip. Everything about me is considered capturing, from my own rampant emotions to villains who need to be taken down.”

 

Izuku hums and swings his feet back and forth. Sixth is standing behind the bench, and Izuku looks away from him for a second as he leans forward. His small hands grip the edge of the seat tightly. “Is it bad that…” He bites his lip. “That Second reminds me of ‘kill,’ then?”

 

Second’s eyes snap open, and a wave of red sparks float into the air. He glances at Sixth, a silent message passing between them.

 

He glances back to Izuku, his expression unreadable. “I was a… hero, I guess you could say, once upon a time,” Second says. “Back when it was still dangerous to call yourself one. Back when… things were a little different.” His expression is cloudy, and Izuku soaks up the information like a sponge as he listens quietly. He wonders if the man has a longevity quirk. “Killing was inevitable. It’s not like it is, now.”

 

Izuku nods. “I understand.” He smiles, attempting to lighten the mood. “So you guys were both heroes? That sounds really cool.” A small flush rises to his cheeks as he shoots them his best grin. “I’ve always wanted to be a hero. It would’ve been awesome to see you guys in action.”

 

For a second, Izuku jolts as he reminds himself that these people aren’t real. It’s just his imaginary friends. His friends are a lot different than how they’re portrayed in books, but no one talks to him or speaks about their own friends. So Izuku just stays quiet and wonders how far his imagination will go, and when his mother will tell him that he’s too old to have them so they’ll disappear.

 

“Oh really?” Sixth’s eyes are sparkling. Second remains quiet, his expression as blank as normal. “Well, I’m sure you can become one if you want! I’m sure with your quirk, you could be one of the best ones known to date, amiright?” He gently nudges Second in the side, and he doesn’t notice how Izuku’s face falls until he’s already turned away.

 

“Woah woah hey, did I say something wrong?” Sixth asks, hands raised, his voice much softer than it had been before. Despite all of Second’s grumbling, Sixth does have volume control—the only problem is that Sixth is only quiet around Izuku, and Izuku can only stay a few hours after school ends before he has to go home.

 

Izuku shakes his head, and he blinks away tears. His hands grip his pants so hard that his knuckles turn white. Diagnoses run through his head, and he remembers the sharp pain in his heart when his mother stared at him blankly while their doctor gave the bad news of his quirklessness. He remembers the bluntness and how dismissive the doctor was, how unsympathetic to his plight.

 

“I don’t have a quirk,” he chokes out, and he thinks about Kacchan’s leer and his explosions on his arms and the pain they cause. He thinks about his second grade teacher, who looked at him right in the eye as he held out a horrifically burned arm while sobbing, who told him to stop complaining and bothering the cool kids and sticking himself where he didn’t belong.

 

He doesn’t belong anywhere.

 

Second and Sixth share another glance. “Are you sure?” Second asks, his brows furrowed.

 

Izuku nods glumly. “My mom has a telekinesis quirk, and my dad has a… a fire breath quirk, I think.”

 

They don’t talk about his dad at home.

 

Second and Sixth glance at one another again, confusion clear in the former’s eyes and in the latter’s face. They’re not really good at hiding it, Izuku thinks.

 

“What?” he asks. It comes out snappier than he means it to be, but his arms and thighs are burning even though those injuries are old and have long since faded.

 

“Nothing,” Sixth says first after a too-long pause, but still much too quickly. “Nothing at all.” There’s a moment of stillness, a bout of awkwardness that they haven’t had for a while, and Sixth places a hand on Izuku’s shoulder. It’s calming, cool to the touch, even as it sends tingles down his arm. “Don’t worry about not having a quirk, kid. Hey, no need for long faces, yeah? You don’t need a quirk to be awesome, and I think that if you put your mind to it, you could be the best hero in the world!”

 

Sixth exclaims it loudly, and his voice should echo down the street, except for some reason it doesn’t. It stays here, in their little bubble of theirs, on this little bench.

 

Izuku nods, but he doesn’t take it to heart. It’s just his imagination talking. Just his imaginary friends trying to make a lonely kid feel better.


No matter where Izuku looks, there’s always a glowing pattern on people’s skin. Sometimes, he likes to sit down and watch all the people pass and see how many designs he can find. The lines that make markings on everyone’s skin, big or small, are all paper-thin. He’s met people who’ve experienced so many different things and have so many patterns all over their body, glowing so brightly that they show through their clothing.

 

There are other people, like his neighbor next door. She’s an old woman who’s lived in the same apartment for seventy years, and she only has patterns around her eyes and on her fingers—Izuku thinks it’s because she likes to knit, and she made everyone she’s friends with (i.e., Izuku) scarves every holiday imaginable. The designs are tiny, and they aren’t much, but they’re golden and intricate, and sometimes Izuku will ask for her hands and will stare at all the different lines that cover the back of her hands and her fingers.

 

She’s asked him, on multiple occasions, what he’s looking at. He always responds, “I’m looking at all these beautiful pictures you have on your hands.” The sweet old woman smiles her shaky smile, and yeah—she really is beautiful, in her own way.

 

He doesn’t directly mention the designs, though. They started appearing and showing up when Midoriya was four, and he tried to tell Kacchan once. But the boy called him idiotic then, and that was even before his quirk diagnosis. He doesn’t bring it up now, not to anyone. Not to Second, Sixth, or his mom. He’s too afraid of what they’ll do to him. He’s too afraid that he’ll be weirder. Kacchan and his friends already make fun of him for his imaginary friends, and sometimes he wonders why they seem so real. Why they won’t just… go away.

 

It would suck, to lose them, and that’s why he won’t cut them off. They’re all he has. He doesn’t want to get rid of his only friends.

 

So why did Kacchan and the others have no problem shedding their old imaginary friends? You’re too old for this, Izuku. You’re not supposed to have them anymore.

 

Mom doesn’t know why he’s so late from school everyday. She doesn’t know about his friends. He’s pretty sure she thinks that he’s playing with Kacchan or by himself.

 

She’s got a lot of designs on her chest, his mom. They’re dark blue. They’re sad, and a lot of the happy ones she had on her cheeks have faded. The lines that wrap around her wrist are dull. They don’t glow. There’s another design, too, where a ring used to sit. A wedding ring, one that his father gave her. The design is still there, but the ring is gone, and the lines are black and cut deep. They aren’t pretty, not like the designs of their neighbor next door.

 

Mom’s sad. She’s always sad, Izuku thinks, and he tried a long time ago, every day, to make her happy. Now he just tries to make her not sad.

 

Kacchan has designs, too. They’re bright orange, and they burn brightly. They’re on the palms of his hands, and they’re thick and clunky. Unlike the intricate designs on Second’s cheek, which falls down to his neck, his lines are simple. They don’t form anything, really. They’re just straight lines that line his palms. Izuku always knows when Kacchan’s irritated and wants a fight. The lines get brighter and sometimes they spark.

 

He also has designs though, on his back that creep up his neck. They’re much more abstract, and they shine through his clothing on days when he’s very, very quiet. Izuku thinks it’s insecurities, but he doesn’t dare mention it.

 

He doesn’t know why no one talks about the designs, or the lines and the colors and all its beauty. He’s seen models with hideous designs, ones that are vulgar or shape words that make Izuku want to throw up. Abuser was crawled along the back of one lean female who was wearing thick lipstick. And there’s so many people out here with these beautiful designs that he wishes they could show off.

 

Instead, they’re shunned, told they’re hideous, and Izuku doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know why no one talks about it. Maybe it’s just something that everyone ignores? Maybe it’s just something that’s not supposed to be mentioned or talked about?

 

No one ever tells him anything.

 

He wonders, faintly, if that’s another reason why no one likes him. No matter how hard he’s looked, no matter how hard he’s willed it to, Izuku remains a blank canvas.

 

Maybe that’s why. He has nothing on him, no lines, no beautiful artwork on him. He’s just a malfunction in the system. Maybe that’s why they tease him to the point that he ends up crying. Really, who wouldn’t?

 

No quirk, no designs—just a freak with a mind who makes up his friends to make himself feel better.

 

He slaps his cheeks and takes in a deep breath. No need to be self deprecating. He’s just fine. Some day, he’ll get his designs. Some day, he’ll become a hero. Some day.

 

Some day.  


His mom doesn’t wake up the morning they take him.

 

The day before, he had taken a different route home to avoid Second and Sixth. Kacchan hurt him… really bad. He didn’t mean to, and Izuku saw the fear in the boy’s eyes once he saw what he’d done, but…

 

It hurt. It hurt a lot.

 

He had stared at the sky for about half an hour before he could push himself up. His legs and arms had been shaking, and his body hurt all over. Brushing the dirt off of him, he limped home, not wanted to worry Second and Sixth.

 

It was the first time he’d done that in four years. Even when he’s sick, even when there are villain attacks, even when the weather is awful, Izuku always says hello to Second and Sixth. Every morning. Every afternoon. Even when he wants to throw up. It’s just part of his routine, and something deep within him stirs and gets upset when he doesn’t visit them.

 

But yesterday, he ignored that. He ignored the burning in the pit of his stomach and went straight home.

 

And now, it was four in the morning, and Izuku was eight, designless, friendless, and a gun was shoved in his face. A hand grabs the back of his sleepwear and yanks him out of bed. The side of his forehead is accidentally slammed into the corner of his nightstand as he’s pulled from beneath the covers, and the masked person curses as he slams into the floor.

 

Mom doesn’t wake up. She never does.

 

Izuku’s full on sobbing as something warm and red drips down the side of his face. The intruder stomps his face, hard enough that he immediately falls limp. It hurts so bad, worse than Kacchan’s hits yesterday, and he stifles all noise so he won’t get hit again.

 

The intruder grabs him around the middle and settles him on their shoulder. He’s small and thin and he feels too tiny against their muscled form. Silent tears fall down his face.

 

He’s scared. It’s bone-deep terror. His shoulders shake, and his breath catches in his throat. The rooms and hallways and flashing lights blur, and he can’t see straight long enough to tell where he is.

 

Mom won’t wake up for a while, and it’ll take her forever to go to the police. No one at school cares. His imaginary friends are imaginary friends, they can’t do anything to help.

 

Izuku has never felt so alone.

 

There are multiple people then, and one binds and gags him. He tries to struggle, he really does, but he’s weak and he’s tired and he still can’t see straight.

 

Deep in his gut, a searing hot pain starts to grow stronger, and it takes all his might not to throw up right then and there. The binds dig deep into his skin, the rope burning his wrists and ankles. As a sharp ache in his head made his vision go white, he let out a loud sound halfway between a whimper and a deep sob.

 

Another blow hits low on the back of his skull, and it makes him see stars. A sharp sting stays even after the hand is long gone, and his eyes water as he shakes like a leaf. They shove him into the back of a van, and his head hits the floor. The rag they tied in his mouth and around his face is tight, and it burns and tastes of moldy material. It makes him gag, even as the sounds of doors slamming shut and the screeching of tires causes his ears to ring.

 

The world around him shifts and morphs, refusing to stay in one place. There’s several voices pouring over one another, but their conversation takes place too quickly and he can’t make sense of what they’re really saying. It all becomes white noise, fuzzy and in the background—a place he couldn’t reach, even if he tried.

 

He tries his best to breathe through his nose, to remain calm, but the air is thick and his lungs shudder. An iron tang decides to cling to the back of his throat, and Izuku wonders if he bit his tongue when they threw him in the van or if it’s from something else.

 

Swallowing thickly, he tells himself not to close his eyes. He tells himself to stay awake, even though the panic is blinding and makes his stomach churn. He tells himself not to let the tears fall, but they do, and they hit the floor of the van.

 

A bump. Screaming. Izuku lifts his head slightly, trying to move his twitching and aching body to look at the people in the front of the van. He makes out harsh light, and a flash of lavender. The driver grips the steering wheel and twists it harshly. Izuku rolls with the momentum of the car, and his head slams into the side of the car door.

 

For a second, the world fades in a swirl of red and black, and a loud, sickening, crunching sound reverberates through the vehicle.

 

“— keep the damn subject alive you moron!—”

 

“I’m trying!—”

 

Izuku doesn’t hear the rest. His eyes flicker shut.

 

His stomach burns.


He awakens to a hand, gentle and caressing, cupping his cheek. His mouth feels sore and his face swollen. Something sticky is dried to the side of his face, and his fingers and ankles and wrists ache. His head’s pounding. His lips are cracked and feel too big in some areas, while in others they feel split.

 

There’s another man. He’s outlined in a soft lavender, and his eyes are sharp and intimidating. His hair is pulled up into a ponytail, and his thin, muscled form is outlined in a thin outfit.

 

“Izuku,” he says, and his voice is warm like honey. “Second and Sixth are worried about you.”

 

Izuku feels tears well up in his eyes. They spill over and fall silently down his freckled cheeks. The man wipes them away.

 

“I am Third,” he said, clear and firm but not unkind. Floating around him is the word ‘rescue,’ and it radiates relief.

 

Izuku falls limp in the man’s arms. He sobs. Third rubs circles into his back, and he is solid and firm. He doesn’t shy away from it or shake like Second. He is not overly affectionate and rough like Sixth. Third is stable, even as Izuku sobs all over him.

 

After a few minutes, when Izuku starts gasping for breath between hiccups, Third places his arms underneath his legs and back and picks him up. He holds him close to his chest, even as Izuku shivers and moans, and he murmurs gentle things.

 

As Third goes to turn away from the van, which has been turned on its side at the edge of the city, Izuku gets a glance of what’s inside. He sees the intruders, his kidnappers, and Second is staring over them. The designs on his cheek and neck are glowing, and dark red sparks rapidly escape his lid. He looks furious, in a way that Izuku has never seen before.

 

Third turns away, and Izuku can’t see anything but the lavender outline and the beach covered by illegal dumping. But that split second was all he needed.

 

He suddenly knows why, now. Why such a nice man, Second, his first friend, always had the word ‘kill’ hovering over his shoulder.

Chapter Text

Third is warm.

 

While Sixth is cold, and Second sends sparks and tingles along his skin whenever Izuku touches him, Third is soft and warm even though he's all sharp looks and rigid, intimidating features.

 

Third stands a few inches shorter than Second, but Sixth towers over the both of them. Despite this, Third still seems larger than life itself; his presence is calming, and he's somewhere in between Second's gruff silence and Sixth's loud, chaotic energy.

 

Second stands a bit away, his rough, crow-like company quiet and unassuming. Third gently rests Izuku down on the pavement. Sixth is nowhere to be seen, and somewhere, in the back of Izuku’s head, he wonders where he is. The more urgent thoughts bothering him right now, however, are whether or not the light wheezing sounds he makes even though he hasn’t exerted himself are worrisome, and if the shaking in his hands will go away. He doesn’t remember when they were injured and how they’re bloody, but they are and it hurts.

 

Third crouches in front of him as he struggles to stay upright in his seated position. With a gloved hand, he runs his palm beneath his bangs and pushes the hair up and out of his face, revealing a deep cut that’s covered in dried blood. Red flakes get on the pristine white material on his hands, and Izuku swallows past the lump in his throat, guilt eating away at his chest.

 

The red-iron hot pain that was burning in his stomach has faded now into a soft ache. The pounding in his head has eased a little too, now that he’s not being jostled around. Though his thoughts are still muddled, he can start to make sense of the situation without immediately bursting into tears.

 

Imaginary friends don’t save people from kidnappings.

 

The thought—unusually clear and concise among the chaos that is his mind trying to put itself back together—washes over him. He wonders, faintly, if it’s true, if they’re not just really imaginary, and it would explain too much for it to be a coincidence.

 

Third is gentle when he lightly brushes his hands against the wound along his forehead, but it still burns, and Izuku jerks away from it with a hiss. His eyes water painfully, and Third has to squeeze his shoulder to keep him in place.

 

“My bad, I apologize. I shouldn’t have assumed that it wouldn’t hurt so much,” he says. He’s straightforward, Izuku thinks. He doesn’t dance around subjects like Second. He also isn't overbearing like Sixth is when he feels guilty, which comes often when he has to deny Izuku answers to certain questions. 

 

Third cradles his face again, looking between both of Izuku’s watery green eyes. He tilts his face from side to side, brow furrowed in concentration and care. Eventually, he lets his hands slip from Izuku’s face, and the boy wheezes again as he struggles to breathe.

 

“A concussion, I think,” Third says, looking up at Second. The man with the red outline isn’t looking at either of them, and his gaze is far off in the distance. His arms are crossed, and his brow is pulled lower than it usually sits, as it’s often prone to do when Second’s deep in thought.

 

“Any other injuries that we should be worried about?” Second asks, and he blinks. A wave of sparks, alight and sharp, whip through the air as the wind carries them away. They take forever to blow out.

 

Third hums. “Too many to count, right now. Probably messed up his hands, though.”

 

Izuku blinks lethargically, his eyelids heavy and his ears feeling like cotton got shoved in them. From how Third is crouched, Izuku can see the floral design that wraps around his shoulder, glowing a soft lavender. Occasionally, the color will shift ever-so-slightly, and a pink and blue hue will be added to the lavender lines, only to wash away a moment later.

 

Second sighs. He’s got a smear of blood on his cheek that Izuku hadn’t noticed at first. The small lines, which look almost like foreign letters in a long-forgotten alphabet, crawl down from the bottom of his left eye—the same eye that the red sparks love to float from. They're still glowing even though he's not fighting anymore, although the gleam has dimmed a bit. 

 

“It’s been a while,” Third says, and he’s staring at Second with a hopeful gaze. “I know I’m not going to get any welcome home hugs, but I’d appreciate a confirmation that you’re indeed the mentor that I remember.”

 

Second huffs, his cheeks warming slightly before he settles down beside Izuku. Izuku can tell, even in his state, that the man is trying to keep up his persona—and he’s failing. Miserably. “I’m not the mentor that you remember, though. I’m different, now,” Second says, and Third watches him curiously.

 

“Are you saying that you’ve gone soft because of Izuku?” Third asks, jutting his chin in the boy's direction. Second points a finger at him and levels him a glare.

 

“Absolutely not,” he says, voice gruff, but then Third raises a brow and Second’s facade crumbles. “Okay, okay, but just a little. It’s hard when you’ve known a kid since they were four.”

 

Third smiles, and it’s just as sharp as the rest of his features—maybe for anyone else it would be terrifying, but Izuku thinks that it’s pretty on him. “I don’t blame you. Not really. Spending four years with a little kid would do that to you.” Clearly. Sixth only appeared when Izuku was seven years old, and he had already changed a lot as well. Third sets himself on Izuku’s other side gracefully. Everything he does is done with purpose, it seems, and he does it all with an elegance that would normally make Izuku jealous. “It’s quite nice that you’re looking toward something other than killing his generals and right-hand men.”

 

Second’s face falls, and he looks away from Izuku, who, although clearly struggling to stay awake, follows the conversation with interest.

 

“You know that’s the only thing I could do.” Second stares out at the beach on the other side of the street. The sun begins to rise, casting harsh shadows and light on all of their faces. In the direct light, Izuku can see all the red flecks in his left eye, which glitter like thin slices of rubies. “I had no choice. It was the sacrifice I had to make. For First.”

 

Third’s smile is bittersweet. “I know,” he says. “You had to do what you must. I’m sorry I couldn’t defeat him. You put so much faith in me, that all that time and effort would eventually come to light.”

 

“I put too much faith in you,” Second says, and it’s harsh but true. “You couldn’t possibly accomplish the goals I put on your shoulders. That’s on me. Not you.”

 

A moment of quiet falls over all of them.

 

“You’re his mentor, Second?” Izuku asks. “Does that mean that Third was a mentor too? And Sixth?” The words come out breathy and scratchy, and if the three of them hadn’t been alone and there was a lick of any other sound, they wouldn’t have heard his frail voice.

 

Second looks down at him, expression unreadable. “Yeah, kid. Once upon a time.”

 

Izuku’s gasping sharply in and out, his breaths coming out as wheezes that sound wet and painful. “How many?” he asks, and the effort sends him into a coughing fit. Third offers him his side, stable and ready to take a beating, and Izuku collapses into it. Too weak to hold himself up, Third glances down at him pityingly and holds him close.

 

Second stares at them both warily, and his eyes dart about the two of them before he rests his hand in Izuku’s. Gently, ever so gently, he wraps his bigger one around his, swallowing it entirely. It sends light pins and tingles up Izuku’s arm, and he slowly stops coughing. His breaths are heavier than before.

 

“Seven,” Second says. “There’s seven of us, right now. Seven and… one not quite like us, yet.”

 

Izuku has no time to ask him what he means by that, because he then hears a familiar squawk that belongs to a certain friend of his. Izuku glances up, and he sees Sixth zipping down the street, waving his arms like a goddamn lunatic. For the first time, a glowing symbol that rests over his heart can be seen, glowing dark green through the fabric of his biker jacket.

 

Second sighs and runs a hand down his face. “Moron,” he grumbles.

 

Third stares at Sixth with a blank expression, a majestic twitch in his eyebrows (it should be illegal to be that attractive at everything he does) revealing how incredulous the man’s really feeling.

 

However, the two leap up when they realize who’s following him.

 

Second curses and twists on his heel, looking at Izuku with panicked eyes. “Okay, kid,” he rushes, “don’t do anything stupid, alright? Let them take care of you— no, we can’t heal you ourselves, and damn it if I’m going to let you suffer in agony.” Second tucks a strand of Izuku’s hair behind his ear, a sudden softness that is quite unlike him. “Don’t tell the man we’re here, okay? You can’t let anyone know we exist.”

 

Exist.

 

They’re not imaginary friends, are they?

 

Izuku nods and stumbles over his own feet when Third lets go of him. His lavender outline flickers, presumably with worry as Izuku almost falls back down, but the boy manages to stay on his own two feet.

 

Sixth comes barreling past the two, and he bends over and holds his hands on his knees as he pants. “You would not believe—” A gasp. “—the crap I had to go through—" Another gasp. "—to get—” A third gasp. “—their attention.”

 

Second slams a hand over his mouth, hissing at him to shut up. It doesn’t matter, anyway, because the plain man with the long beige trench coat and badge in his hand doesn’t notice them. Instead, he hurriedly makes his way to Izuku’s side before the boy can collapse and supports him with one arm. His free hand rushes to grab onto his walkie-talkie, and he spits orders quicker than Second curses when he’s pissed.

 

The three men stand off to the side as the alarms of an ambulance come closer. Second glances at both of them for a moment, face pale. Third hasn’t seen him this worried since the night he had to pass it down to him and fight with all the power he could scrounge from within himself.

 

The ambulance arrives and paints the street in flashing red and white lights, and when they load Izuku onto a stretcher and put him in the back, Second tenses. To Third’s surprise, Second leaves the two of them behind and slips into the back of the ambulance. Third and Sixth let him go, and they watch as the doors are slammed shut by the medics.

 

Third sighs softly. “Man, he really has gotten soft.”

 

Sixth snorts. “Tell me about it.”

 


 

Tsukauchi had gotten the call early in the morning.

 

Apparently, some sweet old woman had heard some commotion in her neighbor’s apartment, and she had looked outside her window to see them throwing someone in the back of a van. The woman, despite her age, had incredible memory and could recite what it looked like and how many people she could see and, to Tsukauchi’s surprise, the first three letters in the license plate.

 

“The little boy that was taken,” she had murmured, tears in her wide, old eyes, “is my best friend.”

 

Tsukauchi promised her his return. He then went to investigate the break-in, and was surprised when he found the victim’s mother sitting in the living room, face cold and stricken.

 

She had been staring at the mess, at the overturned furniture and the small droplets of dried blood with shock. But she hadn’t called the police. She had just… stared in disbelief.

 

Too many red flags popped up around her, though he did his best to ignore them. He just had to continue his investigation and get the child back home.

 

Now, though, he’s sitting in the waiting room of the hospital, giving orders to his men and receiving twice as much information back. He’s learned that there were three men and one woman, and three of them were slaughtered to hell and back. One had been in the emergency room, clinging onto life—whoever mauled them clearly wanted the last to live, but to suffer a terrible life from then on. At the moment, he’s in the interrogation room, but he’s so drugged up that they’re not getting much from him.

 

Tsukauchi’s head snaps up when a nurse enters the room. He glances around until he spots Tsukauchi and, with a nod, he ushers the detective into the back of the building. The nurse doesn’t speak until they reach the kid’s room, and he only pauses to say that he’s still unconscious.

 

No surprise there.

 

Tsukauchi pauses right in front of the door, and his hat is held over his chest, clenched tightly in his hand. Closing his eyes, he takes a deep breath in to steel himself for what he’ll see. Quietly, he opens the door and slips inside, and with a heavy heart, he closes it behind him.

 

He will never get used to seeing children in the hospital. And this kid is only around seven or eight, it looks like—he’s practically buried underneath the hospital covers, he’s so small.

 

The kid, Izuku, has thick bandages wrapped around his head and down his shoulder. Both of his small hands are covered in casts. His face and neck are covered in splotches of purple and pink bruises, and Tsukauchi can only imagine the horrific burns hidden on his wrists and ankles.

 

Tsukauchi sits himself beside the hospital bed, knowing that it may be several hours before Izuku awakens. And that’s assuming that the boy is even ready to be asked any questions—not that he really trusts the boy’s mother’s judgement on that, right now.

 

He’s biting back a sigh when his phone rings. Without thinking, his thumb goes to hang up the call to keep the gentle quiet of the hospital room, but he stops himself when he sees that it’s Sansa, one of his officers.

 

Now that’s odd…

 

He picks the call up and holds it up to his ear. “Sansa?” he asks. “What’s the matter?”

 

For a second, the officer says nothing. And then, quietly, the man with the cat-like head speaks.

 

“Sir, we’ve got a problem.”

 

Tsukauchi internally curses, and he glances at Izuku’s unconscious form. “What is it? Do I need to come over?”

 

“No, sir, but…” Sansa pauses again, and it’s so unlike him that is sends chills up Tsukauchi’s spine. “During interrogation, the last intruder said that he was employed and trained by a bigger group. Something bigger than we could ever imagine. An underground league made up of villains. They said—”

 

The line suddenly goes fuzzy, and static pours out from Sansa’s side of the phone call. Without warning, the line cuts, and the phone call ends.

 

Tsukauchi stares at his phone. He’s got a sinking feeling, way deep in his stomach. The hairs on the back of his head are standing on end, and terror flashes through him. He looks up from the phone clenched tightly in his hand, and he settles his gaze back on Izuku.

 

Why… why you, of all people?

 


 

When Izuku wakes up, there are two people in the room.

 

The first is Second, who sits at the edge of his bed. He’s hunched over, and he glances around the room every few seconds. It’s odd to see his shoulders drawn so tensely, and it’s been a while since he’s looked so hard for incoming danger.

 

The second is the man that Izuku had seen right before collapsing. He’s plain looking, and he has short dark hair and equally dark eyes. He doesn’t look special or suspicious in any way, and maybe that’s why he’s with the police and is a detective. It helps to fall under the radar and seem not-so-special when it comes to investigations, Izuku thinks.

 

However, where he is boring in traits, he is not in designs.

 

He must have experienced a lot in life, because Tsukauchi has a lot of designs around his neck and collarbone, some of which drip down his back. Several hang low under his eyes, revealing how time consuming and sacrificial his job has had to be. They outline the dark bags that follow the waterline of his eyes. He also has plenty of them along the curve of his ears and along his left wrist.

 

He’s an interesting character, for sure. The lines shine in a soft, light blue-gray that brings color to his face and suit but still outcast him as drab compared to others. It’s pretty though, and Izuku spends a few seconds staring at him before he remembers that it’s rude, and he looks away, cheeks burning.

 

Tsukauchi chuckles when he notices the reaction, and his kind eyes rest on Izuku’s small frame. “It’s quite alright if you want to stare. I know I’m a stranger, and it’s been a long day for you, hasn’t it?”

 

Tsukauchi is patient with him, and he’s nice and supportive. He helps Izuku sit up, and then he alerts a nurse that he’s awake and conscious. The nurse explains to him his injuries, says that he’ll be bedridden for the next few days, and he will have his casts for the next two weeks. He’s told to avoid all stressful situations possible and stay at home for a bit before he can face the real world again.

 

Therapy is an option, the nurse says, and repeats, and doubles over. It’s clear that he wants him to seriously consider it with his family or guardian, and Izuku nods. He’ll keep it in mind, but he’s not sure Mom will let him go.

 

Once the nurse leaves, Tsukauchi asks him if it’s okay to ask him questions. Izuku almost wants to say no, but he knows that it’ll come sooner or later, and it’s better to get it knocked out of the way so he doesn’t have to worry about it anymore. Second hovers nearby, not quite touching him but close enough that Izuku can feel the small sparks of energy bouncing off of his form.

 

Tsukauchi never talks about Second. He never even glances at him, so Izuku assumes that they’re just as invisible to the rest of the world as they’ve always been.

 

And yet, with the intruders, they still—

 

Izuku shakes his head slightly. He doesn’t want to think about that.

 

Tsukauchi asks brief questions, and occasionally he’ll dip into more dangerous territory that makes Izuku want to close his eyes and curl up and cry. Izuku doesn’t want to disappoint the detective though, so he blinks his tears back and answers the questions best he can. His voice still wavers though, revealing how uncomfortable he is despite his best efforts.

 

He doesn’t know who his intruders are, or what they wanted from him. He thinks Second knows though, because the man stiffens when Tsukauchi asks the question.

 

He doesn’t answer Tsukauchi when he asks if he saw what happened to the intruders, and if there was anyone else there that could have attacked them. He glances in Second’s direction on instinct, but he remains silent. The detective kindly takes it as a no, or that he’s too uncomfortable to answer it, and he moves onto the next question.

 

After spending half an hour recounting everything in detail that he could remember, excluding Second, Sixth, and Third’s involvement, Tsukauchi takes his leave, but not before he pauses at the door. He asks Izuku if he can drop by his apartment later and speak with his mother about protection services. Izuku thinks about the fact that this can happen again, that an intruder could burst into his room in the middle of the night whenever, that they could drag him out of bed and beat him up while grinning a second time.

 

He shudders and nods wordlessly. Please, he wants to say, but the word is caught in his throat and he doesn’t feel up to speaking.

 

Tsukauchi sends him a small, sad smile, and he nods back. “Alright,” he says quietly, and he leaves.

 

Second places a hand on Izuku’s shoulder and squeezes it gently.

 

“I know you have a lot of questions,” he whispers, “but it’d be best to wait it out.” And then, after a second, he hastily adds, “Please.”

 

Izuku nods. “Okay,” he breathes, because he can wait. He’s not sure he really wants all the answers, anyway. He just wants to curl up in his blankets at home and read a nice book and do his homework.

 

Second tucks a lock of his curly green hair behind his ear again. It’s a habit, Izuku thinks, and something he does a lot with his own hair too.

 

“You want to take a nap?” Second asks, brows furrowed. “I’ll be here with you as long as you need me to.”

 

Izuku is about to say no, but then he feels a wave of exhaustion hit him. It makes the room spin, and he clenches his jaw tightly and nods. Second lays him back down, fluffs up his pillows, and tucks him in before reaching out to the blinds. After a moment of hesitation, he draws them shut, and the hospital room darkens considerably.

 

Izuku falls back asleep shortly after. With Second hovering nearby, he feels… safe, somehow.

 


 

“Come on, kid!”

 

The voice belongs to a woman. She sounds familiar, though he doesn’t know why.

 

They’re in the middle of the city, the two of them. They just happen to be standing on the rooftop of a school. A soft wind is blowing, and it carries his bangs away from his face. His head injury is still there, but it doesn’t give him a pounding headache like it usually does when taking in such a huge sight.

 

How odd.

 

Izuku glances to the side, and yes, the woman’s still there. For some reason, he can’t quite make her features out—it’s there, right in front of him, and he can see her clearly, but… it’s almost like he’s not really processing what he’s looking at.

 

The woman laughs, and her voice sounds kind and full of laughter and joy. Izuku likes how it sounds.

 

“Make sure you smile wide, kid,” she says. “Always keep on smiling. Always keep on pushing through.”

 

Izuku thinks she grins, then, except he still can’t process what he’s seeing, and he’s not really sure.

 

“I’ll meet you on the other side, one day,” she says. It sounds like a promise to him.

 

Despite the fact that he has no idea what she’s talking about, he nods. He goes to say some affirmative, something simple to show that he cares, but his throat feels tight.

 

“Don’t worry,” the woman says. “You’ll get your voice back soon, kid.”

 

Soon.

 

The breeze gets stronger, and the dream starts to slowly whisk away. The woman’s still smiling, and he can feel her, even after she’s gone.

 

He wakes up. He doesn’t remember her. Somewhere in his journey to a conscious state, the memories slipped and now lie forgotten and untouched.

 


 

Mom’s there when he wakes up. There’s a tremor in both her hands when he glances at her, and she shuffles her feet back and forth along the floor. She’s quiet, but then again she’s always been like that, so he isn’t sure if this is somehow different.

 

When he moves slightly, her eyes snap to him, and relief colors her face. She helps him sit back up, and she smooths out his hair in her nervous manner. Silently, she places a kiss on his forehead, which is followed with an apology that she didn’t wake up and that she missed the intruders.

 

She’s quiet, almost quieter than him, and Izuku knows that his kidnapping has been hard on her. She shakes as she places his favorite blanket along his shoulders and favorite plushie in his lap. Kindly, she takes two thermoses and puts them on his bedside table. After a moment of thought, she opens them for him, and Izuku smells hot chocolate and katsudon.

 

“I-if you need help eating,” she says, so very quiet, “I can help. I know that the, uh, casts might make it hard to use the chopsticks.”

 

Wringing her hands has always been her worst habit, and it shows here as she stands there by his bedside awkwardly. Izuku smiles at her and reassures her that he’ll be just fine.

 

He’s not hungry, not yet, so he twists the lid of the thermos with the katsudon in it back on. He does, however, take the hot chocolate and holds it between his hands. Though just barely, he can feel the heat through his casts.

 

Hot chocolate always makes him feel better. Mom knows this, and he’s never been more thankful in his life. He reaches out to her with wide arms, and she comes in to hug him. There are tears in her eyes, and she trembles as she holds him close.

 

Izuku pats her back and comforts her. She shouldn’t have had to gone through this, but she has, and he doesn’t know how to help her. From what everyone told him, parents usually help their children before themselves, but Izuku’s not sure that applies to their family. So he supports her instead as she bawls her eyes out. It takes a bit of work, but his eyes manage to remain blissfully dry and tear-free.

 

He’s not great at this, he thinks, as his mother’s crying slowly dies down. But heroes go out of their comfort zones all the time, and they have to help dozens of civilians all the time when villains attack. It’s part of the contract.

 

So he whispers small reassurances and rocks her back and forth, and she stays with him for the rest of the day, and the next, and the next. She only leaves to fill up his thermos of hot chocolate.

 

It’s quite nice. Even if he hates being in the hospital, he’s glad that he can finally spend time with her.

 

Second respectfully stays in the corner of the room, out of sight but still hovering. His presence is reassuring.

 

For some reason, he watches the two of them with a sad, morose expression. Izuku can’t bring himself to understand why.

 


 

Mom and the nice detective had arranged for protection when Izuku was asleep in the hospital, apparently.

 

Izuku’s not sure he even needs it anymore. Second, Third, and Sixth have their own rounds that they make. It’s almost admirable, and Izuku would be bashful if he wasn’t so relieved and desperate for it. He jumps at the slightest sounds, and Third constantly has to hold his hands to ground him back in reality.

 

The three of them make sure there’s always one person hanging out by their usual bench. Izuku isn’t quite sure why, and he knows if he asked he’d probably get an answer. Sixth doesn’t seem to shy away from answering them anymore, as does Second, but he knows that everything that happened—and is still happening, now—are touchy subjects. He's not even sure he wants the answers anymore. 

 

The two of them that aren’t on or near the bench are usually around him. One will make take perimeter patrols around the area, while the last one stays by his side. They haven’t had any trouble yet, and with Tsukauchi’s help, they may not need it. But Izuku appreciates all their hard effort anyway, and it helps him sleep at night, so he’s not complaining.

 

In addition to his friends helping out, there’s always two people by his apartment. The pairs usually come in the form of a hero (often an underground one) and a police officer.

 

Depending on the pair, one will stay on night watch while the other will stay on the day one. Sometimes the schedules are flexible and they’ll change up the timing, but for the most part, that’s how it goes. The pair stay for a week and then are switched out with yet another pair, and then another week will go by and they’ll swap it out again.

 

There had been some arguments about switching up the pairs more frequently so they’re fresh and bright-eyed all the time, but it had been shot down. They wanted to keep it down to ten pairs at most, firstly because it was just a kidnapping—a horrific one, and one they had yet to solve, but a kidnapping of a random kid nonetheless. Izuku isn’t terribly important, and they can’t waste so many resources on him.

 

Secondly, most of the heroes, the underground ones especially, take up missions that could last them months. Usually this equates to infiltration and spying, and that means that the heroes need a large window of time to pull it off successfully. Because of this, each hero is given a nine week break before they’re stationed back at the apartment.

 

The police do a good job of mixing up the order, which was a worry to Mom. To anyone watching, it would be pretty easy to figure out the pattern. But the police often switch their own orders accordingly so that the pair is often never the same. While they have as much to do as heroes, if not more so as they deal with stuff behind the scenes, they don’t have to deal with the media nearly as much as heroes do. It’s easier for them to disappear for a week without warning, but it’s not so much for heroes, even the underground ones.

 

The heroes will also switch out with one another once or twice in a week. It causes some frustration, sometimes, especially when a hero has clocked in plenty more days than others who have asked for more switches. But they all work it out in the end, and Izuku does his best to make them comfortable. He often finds himself bringing hot chocolate out to those who take the night shift, and he’ll hover nearby. By now he’s figured out and recorded most of their favorite drinks, but some of them he just has to guess and hope for the best.

 

He’s been on-and-off when attending school. He’s tried his hardest, he really has, but Kacchan’s explosions scare him. Some of the kids are mean, too, and their quirks send his heart jack-rabbiting in his chest until he feels like it’ll jump up his throat and into his mouth. Several times he’s gone back to school and come out at the end of the day, trembling from head to toe. Whoever picks him up takes one look at him and ushers him away and back into his apartment, and they tell Mom to let him take a day or two off.

 

He can tell when each of the pairs start their second turn that they’re getting suspicious and worried. Sansa, who’s stopped by more times than he can count to check up on him, asks him several times if there’s someone at school who’s bothering him. (Then again, Sansa seems to know something that the other heroes and police officers don't, and sometimes Izuku will see him talking with Tsukauchi on the front porch, expression worried and scared.) 

 

Izuku keeps his lips sealed. He’s scared of Kacchan, but Kacchan’s going to be a hero, and he doesn’t really want to mess that up for him. So Sansa never learns about him. 

 

Third grade is easy though, even if he doesn’t go to school, and Sixth is surprisingly very smart. He helps him with his homework all the time, and when he doesn’t know how to explain something, Izuku will go to the heroes or the police officers. They’re really kind and they help him a lot.

 

It's another bad night at the apartment, and Izuku wakes up from a nightmare with sweat pouring down his face. A part of him wants to throw up, but he doesn’t. He waits an hour, wide-eyed and trying to fall back asleep, but by then he knows it’s fruitless.

 

He slips out of bed, and Third watches him carefully from where he sits in the corner. Izuku waves to him, and Third smiles (and it’s eloquent, and it makes him look so dashing that Izuku can almost imagine him as his prince in shining armor) and waves back.

 

Izuku slips out of his room and down the staircase to the lower floor silently. He does everything silently. It’s easier, that way. Everything’s so much easier.

 

Sansa, who’s resting on the couch, is sleeping lightly. Their ear twitches as he starts to make two cups of hot chocolate. After a moment of hesitation, he places a pot on the stove and starts to meander around the kitchen. He’s not the best at cooking, and Mom usually takes care of his meals, but he’s had to cook for her a few times and soup isn’t too hard for him.

 

It takes a little bit, and he tries to be as quiet as possible. Sansa’s nose twitches as the smell wafts from the kitchen, and Izuku makes sure to leave whatever’s leftover for him. He makes a small note on a post-it and places it on the front of the pot, which says Leftovers for Sansa.

 

Sansa is often cheated of getting meals in the morning, no matter who he’s teamed up with, so Izuku thinks that this is the least that he can do.

 

Quietly, he uses a ladle to pour some of the soup into a bowl. He carries the two cups of hot chocolate in his other arm, holding them against his chest so he doesn’t drop them. For a moment, he stares at the door like a puzzle, wondering how he’s going to open it when Third comes gliding down the staircase. He opens it for him, and Izuku bobs his head in thanks. When Third smiles, his lavender outline glows just a hint brighter, and it makes Izuku smile back.

 

Izuku quietly walks out onto the front porch, and he pads across it to the slumped figure sitting on the rickety, outdoor couch his mother bought recently.

 

“Eraserhead?” he asks. His voice is quiet—he can’t force it to get any louder. He thinks that the ecstatic, loud part of him he’d had when he was littler was stunted somewhere along the way in growing up. The kidnapping didn’t help any. But he’s trying, like right now, to be more outgoing. Little steps at a time.

 

The man flinches when his hero name is called, and he’s immediately on his feet, hair floating above his head and scarf coming undone. His glowing red eyes scare Izuku for a moment, and he takes a step back. The markings around his eyes glow too when he activates his quirk, and it makes him as intimidating as he can get.

 

Eraserhead notices who it is, and his scarf and hair drop back down. His eyes dull, and though they can't really be described as kind, they’re certainly less terrifying. He sighs and lets his eyes close for a moment. “Give me a bit more of a warning, kid. I don’t want to punch your lights out because you snuck up on me.”

 

Izuku blinks and nods. “Yes sir,” he says, and then he holds out the bowl for him to take. A flash of fear goes through him as he realizes that he forgot to grab a spoon, but he relaxes when he notices one already sitting in the bowl.

 

Thank you, Third, for saving me from embarrassment.

 

He can imagine Third bowing his head in response, respectful as always.

 

Eraserhead raises a brow, but he takes the bowl anyway. Izuku hands him the larger cup of hot chocolate as well, and the look of deadened surprise heightens.

 

“Hot chocolate and soup,” he drawls. “An odd combination, if you ask me.”

 

Izuku slowly seats himself next to the hero, but he makes sure to give him enough space. Like Second, Eraserhead doesn’t seem to enjoy close proximity much, and Izuku doesn’t have the benefit of knowing him for four years to get away with it. “Eraserhead, sir, if you don’t mind me saying, I don’t think you’re any better off. You just drink an apple juicebox with Ritz crackers for every meal.”

 

Eraserhead exhales through his nose sharply. “I guess you have a point there.” He rubs the back of his neck tiredly—probably a crick in his spine from having to sit in the same position for twelve hours. “And just call me Aizawa, kid. If I’m going to be seeing you a lot from now on, we can drop the hero name.”

 

Izuku blinks. “Okay, sir. You can call me Izuku, if you want to.” He swings his legs back and forth absentmindedly. “Also,” he hurriedly adds, “I’m sorry if you don’t like hot chocolate. I just didn’t know what to get you, since you haven’t told me what your favorite drink is.”

 

Era— no, Aizawa snorts. “Hot chocolate’s just fine, kid.” He glances down at him, and there’s an unreadable glint in his eye. “You usually drink it when something’s upsetting you, right? So what’s the matter?”

 

Izuku shrugs. “I couldn’t sleep.” He holds his own cup between his hands, and it warms his palms nicely. His fingers still shake somewhat, though it’s imperceptible. He’s been going to physical therapy for the past few weeks, and the pain in his hands and joints have been getting easier to handle.

 

Aizawa hums. “What about your mother? Why not go sleep with her for the night?”

 

Izuku blinks slowly and stares at him quietly. He doesn’t say anything.

 

Aizawa gets the hint, apparently. “Hm. Guess that’s not an option.” He suddenly looks uncomfortable. “Are you guys just not close or something? You guys have a…” He squints at Izuku, struggling to find the right word for what he’s trying to describe. “—strange relationship.”

 

The swinging of Izuku’s legs slows and stops, and Izuku blinks at him again with his wide green eyes. “You think so?”

 

Aizawa grunts, and Izuku takes it as an affirmative. Izuku hums and places a finger on his cheek, brows furrowing as he thinks over Aizawa’s statement.

 

“I think Mom’s a little bit different from the other parents at school,” he admits carefully. “But she still loves me. A lot. I think she’s had her ups and downs, and she’s trying to learn to be better, like she was when I was younger. I’m trying to be better too.”

 

Aizawa stares at him for a moment. Too mature. Way too mature for his age. “So you’re going to forgive everything, just like that?” he asks, and he tries not to be too bitter about it. Technically, it’s his job to protect Inko just as much as it’s his job to protect Izuku, and questioning her parenting skills isn’t part of the job contract. But he’s seen one too many kids like Izuku, has been like him once upon a time, and seeing such a forgiving nature is a once in a lifetime gift.

 

It’s admirable, almost.

 

Izuku bobs his head. “She’ll get better,” he promises. “I know she’s not perfect. I hear a bunch of you guys—”

 

Other heroes and police members. So he’s not alone.

 

“—talking about it. But I think she deserves a chance to grow.” Izuku takes a long sip of his hot chocolate, and he glances down at Aizawa’s bowl. “Aizawa, sir, could you please eat your soup? It won’t be good if it’s cold.”

 

Aizawa is quiet and still for a moment. It gives Izuku enough time to glance at the white lines that almost form a mandala on each of his eyes. The outer, final ring is lined with pointed ends of long triangles, and it almost looks like one of the rays of those cartoon suns that his teacher has taped in front of the classroom. Except all the small designs along the lids of his eyes and up to the final ring make him look much cooler than a cartoon sun.

 

(A part of him wants to make a joke that he must wake up like sleeping beauty, but he looks too much like a homeless bum to do that, so he doesn’t.)

 

Aizawa, despite only being twenty-three, must have experienced a lot in his short life. He has designs all along his hands and around his jaw and neck, which are hidden by his large scarf. He also has one on both his left and right side. Those two aren’t as bright and they’re fuzzed with all his layers of clothing, so Izuku can’t quite make out what they are, but that’s okay. Aizawa also has a few along his ankles and on the bottoms of his feet.

 

An odd place to have designs, but he doesn’t judge. He has no idea what kind of life Aizawa has lived, and there’s probably a special memory that caused it to form. Who knows what memory it is, but it’s there.

 

Aizawa sighs, and then he picks up the spoon and begins to slowly eat. (He wouldn’t admit it, but it’s really good.)

 

Izuku watches him for a moment, and then he leans his head back and rests his eyes. The hero is quiet beside him, and Izuku appreciates it. He likes the quiet.

 

It’s a long while before a wave of drowsiness hits him. He’s on the verge of almost-asleep, and he pulls back into awakeness several times before he finally starts to dream. It’s then that he’s gently picked up, and for a second, he wonders if it’s Aizawa who did so—but no, his skin tingles and sparks, and he realizes that Second, Third, and Sixth swapped roles, and now Second is on standby with him.

 

That must mean that Third’s off to the bench, and Sixth’s patrolling the perimeter. Oh, but Aizawa—?

 

Izuku hears the door creak open, and that’s when it happens. He hears a loud clatter as something hits the floor.

 

“What the hell—”

 

Oops.

Chapter Text

Aizawa’s seen a lot of stuff in his hero career, for sure. However, he’s pretty sure that the half-asleep child floating towards the inside of the house takes the cake.

 

“What the hell—” he starts, already on his feet as his now-empty bowl and spoon hits the floor.

 

Izuku’s body pauses in its odd movement. For a moment, Aizawa manages to take in the position that he’s held in and the faint imprints of what seem to be invisible hands on the kid’s loose hoodie. Nothing is said, and they both stand there for a minute, just… staring.

 

Then Izuku’s body starts moving again, and though the door is still held wide open—just teasing Aizawa to follow—Izuku disappears inside.

 

Aizawa curses, and for a second, he considers the pros and cons of following. But after an internal argument that lasts far too long, he follows Izuku inside.

 

Whatever or whomever is carrying Izuku must have known that Aizawa wanted to follow, because they wait at the bottom of the stairs. Aizawa hesitates several times, but he eventually makes his way toward the boy.

 

He’s just making sure that the kid’s safe. That’s all.

 

He follows the floating body until they finally reach another door, and Aizawa watches in fascination as Izuku is shifted carefully. (The kid just looks so damn innocent like this, and he wonders if the thing carrying him sees that too—it’s pretty illegal, in Aizawa’s opinion.)

 

Izuku’s bedroom door opens, and the boy’s slipped inside shortly after. Aizawa hesitates. He’s never been this far in the Midoriyas’ home, and it almost feels like an invasion of privacy.

 

He must have waited too long, because Izuku’s feet pop back out the door, and whatever’s holding him must be leaning around the door from the awkward position that Izuku looks to be in. Of course, the kid’s still asleep, so there’s that, and it seems like the thing has a good hold on him, or else he probably would have been dropped by now.

 

Aizawa sighs, long and deep before he follows the thing back into Izuku’s room. It’s a bit of a whiplash in Izuku’s character. The kid always seemed so mature and old, but he’s got about ten plushies and stuffed animals on his bed and cutesy art pieces hung on the walls. Of course, he also has a corner that’s seemingly dedicated to hero memorabilia, posters, and more. Interestingly enough, there’s also a set of journals that sits on the desk in a large pile.

 

Hm.

 

Aizawa watches as whatever’s carrying Izuku sets the boy on his bed. They painstakingly move all his plushies around him, pull the covers of his bed over him, and tuck him in gently. For a moment, Aizawa stands there awkwardly, and then Izuku’s hair is tucked behind his ear.

 

Closeness. Whoever’s doing this is incredibly close to Izuku, and they handle him like a parent would.

 

It clicks, then, and Aizawa relaxes slightly. He holds his hands up in front of him as a peace signal, and he speaks quietly as to not wake Sansa up. “Okay, spirit, ghost, whatever you are. You’re looking out for Izuku and making sure he’s okay, and you care for him deeply.” He doesn’t know why he of all people was shown this, but whatever the case is, he won’t ask why. “You’re making sure he’s safe. I see that now.”

 

There’s a moment of silence, and Aizawa wonders if they’re already gone. But then one of the notebooks on the desk flips open. He watches in awe as a page is slowly ripped out of the book, and then a pencil from the cupholder is taken. Aizawa is patient to wait until the message is written, and it’s handed out for him to see.

 

We can’t. Not always. We try our best, but sometimes our best isn’t good enough. Someone has to be there, to make sure he’s okay.

 

For Aizawa, the ‘we’ strikes hard. There’s multiple things then, looking out for Izuku’s well being.

 

“You want me to be that person, then,” he says. It’s a shot in the dark, but tonight’s already weird enough as it is, and he’s talking with spirits right now—surely it can’t get any worse. “Why, though? Why me?”

 

He expects (what he assumes to be) the spirit to write an explanation down on the paper, but he doesn’t. Instead, the pencil is placed back in the cupholder, and the paper floats down to the table.

 

For a second, nothing happens, and Aizawa glances around the room, tense. Then, out of nowhere, something akin to a palm is placed on his chest. Aizawa practically jumps out of his skin as tingles and pins spread from the place of contact to the rest of his abdomen and shoulder. The spirit had placed something right over his heart, and though Aizawa could probably come up with a million things to symbolize that, he’s much more concerned with all the different things happening at once.

 

For a second, the world around him flashes and changes, and he sees himself in a different form. Izuku’s there, standing in front of him, except he’s a lot younger and smaller. He must only be three or four with how little he is.

 

“Hey, why do have that weird red outline? And why do those weird floaty things come from your eye whenever you blink?” Izuku childishly asks.

 

It’s the first time he acts like his age, and the boy bounces on the balls of his feet, excitement and curiosity clear in his expression.

 

“I’m Second,” and the voice is his but at the same time it’s not. “And you are?”

 

“Izuku. You’ve got a funny name, sir.”

 

The image around them flickers, and Izuku’s bedroom comes back into sight. The memory fights to hold on, though, and Aizawa watches as his hand (not his hand) reaches out and pats smaller-Izuku on the head.

 

“You think so? Well, you’ve got a pretty cute name yourself, kiddo.”

 

The memory fades, and Aizawa’s back in Izuku’s bedroom. The tingling on his chest is still there, but the hand is gone now. Aizawa pants as he glances around the room, and he shudders.

 

That… was not pleasant.

 

Aizawa shakes the cold, icy feeling from his fingers. He twists on his heel and leaves the room, and quietly, he closes the door behind him. Izuku is still fast asleep in his bed.

 

It’s okay, he tells himself. You may not have any idea what you just got yourself into, but you’re fine. Just make sure to take care of the kid and keep the spirits happy. That’s all.

 

He sits back outside on the porch. His soup bowl and spoon are both gone, are as the two cups of hot cocoa. It looks like he’s going to be alone again, without anything to pass the time by. For a second, he thinks he misses Izuku’s company, but the thought is shattered when the door opens again.

 

There’s two cups of steaming coffee floating in the air, and the door shuts behind the hovering objects. They move forward, and eventually they, the spirit, sits beside him. They offer him one of the cups, and after a moment of hesitation, Aizawa reaches out to grab it. His hands brush against something, presumably a hand, and it sends jolts down the limb.

 

“—people want to forget their imaginary friends? You’re really cool!”

 

“You’re a strange spirit,” Aizawa says. It’s odd, talking to nothing but what appears to be thin air.

 

The other cup, the one not in Aizawa’s hand, moves upward. It tilts back, and Aizawa watches, fascinated, as the coffee disappears somewhere.

 

If the spirit could chuckle, Aizawa’s pretty sure it would be doing so right now.

 


 

“Aizawa, sir, did you meet one of my friends last night?”

 

Aizawa nearly spits out the fresh cup of coffee he’s drinking. It’s early in the morning, too early, and Aizawa was promised sleep right after he walked Izuku to school. Of course, the coffee doesn’t do much, and he still feels like he’s about to pass out, but it’s the thought that counts.

 

“Friend?” Aizawa asks. “You were awake for that?”

 

Izuku, who had been skipping slightly ahead of Aizawa, slows into a walk. He holds his hands behind his back as he blinks his large eyes at him, a clear habit that makes his nonexistent heart warm a tenth of a degree.

 

“Not really,” he says. “I mean, kind of. I heard a little bit, but Second always puts me to sleep when he carries me.”

 

Aizawa raised a brow. “Second?”

 

Izuku bobs his head. “Yeah. All of my friends have funny names like that.”

 

“All of them? As in, you have more than one?”

 

Izuku twirls around on his foot until he’s facing Aizawa, and he walks backwards like that. “Yeah. There’s three of them.” Suddenly, he looks off to the side and towards something next to him and a little above. “Second says that I should tell you to keep quiet about this. Cause if word spreads that I have friends like them, people like my kidnappers might come after me.”

 

Aizawa feels something burn in his gut. Dread, he thinks. “Of course. I won’t tell a soul.” He still isn’t quite sure why he of all people was chosen to know this information, but he supposes it doesn’t hurt anyone. “Who else knows?”

 

Izuku stares at him for a moment, confusion ruffling his brow before a lightbulb appears above his head. (Not really, but with how brightly he smiles, he might as well be one.) “Oh, no one does. Just me and you.”

 

Aizawa pauses in his tracks. “Not even your mother knows?”

 

Izuku stops walking too. “No,” he says, and Aizawa almost expects him to say more. But he doesn’t. It’s just “no.”

 

“Right,” he drawls.

 

Izuku frowns. “You don’t like Mom.”

 

“What I think and believe isn’t any of your business,” Aizawa replies. “Now come on, you’re going to be late for school.”

 

Izuku nods and skips beside him again.

 

Aizawa’s the one who starts the conversation again, even though he seemed like the last person to do so. “These friends of yours… when did you meet them, exactly? And are they a part of your quirk?”

 

Izuku hums. “Well, I met Second when I was four and a half. And then Sixth came along when I was seven or so. Third’s the most recent one. He came and saved me when—” Izuku’s voice cracks, and his smiles fades. “... The kidnapping. He helped me with the kidnapping.”

 

Aizawa frowns. “Was he the one who attacked the ones that took you?”

 

Izuku shakes his head. “No. That was Second.”

 

A silence falls between them.

 

“You still haven’t told me whether or not they’re part of your quirk.”

 

Izuku flinches. A sudden fear enters his eyes, and he hunches up slightly. It’s such an odd reaction, one Aizawa’s never seen from Izuku before. Izuku slows until he eventually stops walking, and his large eyes start to water. His cheeks lose all their color, making his freckles stand out harshly against his already-pale skin, and it sends a crawling sensation up Aizawa’s back.

 

Stomach churning, Aizawa places a hand awkwardly on his shoulder. “Hey, kid, what’s the matter?”

 

Izuku rubs the end of one of his feet back and forth across the sidewalk. He keeps his eyes glued there, to the ground, and his hands shake. “It’s okay,” he says, softly, though everything from his demeanor to the tension in his body says otherwise. And then, even softer, he says, “I’m quirkless.”

 

It takes a second, but everything clicks together.

 

In life, there’s a pecking order, a hierarchy. Those with the best of quirks remain at the top, and the pecking order goes down according to how ‘cool’ or ‘amazing’ the quirk is. At least, except for the people with villain’s quirks, who are put at the bottom, where they’re expected to feed off of the scraps of human scum and become the villains that those special ‘heroes’ are later going to defeat.

 

And those who are quirkless aren’t on the pecking order. They don’t have any expectations, any place in life. Even in Aizawa’s years he could see how bad it’s become, how unfairly they’ve been mistreated, and he knows it’s only gotten worse since then.

 

Quirkless people aren’t seen as capable. They don't have potential. They can’t reach any goal, and shouldn’t strive towards anything. They’re subhuman, lesser, everything but useful. They take up space, breathe necessary oxygen, waste human resources—every bullshit argument there is on the planet, it’s there. (No one seems to remember that quirkless people put men and women on the moon, traveled space, explored worlds way beyond, all with their heads and brains and technology that they built upon overtime. No one seems to remember that. Why bother when someone with an intelligence quirk can remember all of it with ease?)

 

At least with people like Aizawa, who has a quirk that seems villainous, he can work hard and fight back and strive towards his goals. He eventually made it to the hero course, and spite drove him all the way to the top. He made it because he could.

 

But for people who are quirkless? They don’t even get that chance. They can’t spite their way through and spit in their bullies’ faces after. No matter how hard they try, chances are, they can’t accomplish it. It’s why expectations for them are so low—because they can’t physically accomplish anything since society traps them in a box where they can’t escape, they’re seen to be able to not do anything.

 

And the idea just continues spiraling, and now every kid and their parent thinks that quirkless people will either become a victim of hate crimes in their twenties and thirties, will put themselves six feet under before they graduate high school, or will die of sickliness because somehow being quirkless equates to being deathly weak to the point of illness. (Don’t ask. He’s met too many morons who don’t even know basic biology and yet think they can say what they want because they have quirks. Great, awesome, you’re just like eighty percent of the population, move on.)

 

The point is, life sucks for quirkless people. His life sucked because of his own quirk, but he knows, at the moment, quirkless people suffer more than he ever would. And quirkless populations are constantly decreasing with every generation. Whilst one out of five people out of the world’s population are currently quirkless, (the number estimated to increasingly deplete in the next few decades) in Izuku’s generation, only one out of twenty-five are. And that’s world-based—in Japan, their anti-quirkless sentiments are strong. Strong enough that it’s estimated that only one in thirty-five of Izuku’s generation are quirkless.

 

He thinks about Sansa’s worried mumbling, about how they wonder if Izuku’s classmates are mean to him and use their quirks. And then his mind makes the connection—if people hate the quirkless so much, then surely there’s bullies out there, right?

 

Izuku’s shaking frame, standing at the school’s gate, comes to mind. That day Aizawa had picked him up. His uniform had been singed in some places, and he had a pink mark along his cheekbone.

 

Something dark and ugly broils in his gut. He smooths his expression out and makes his voice calm and collected, but the anger makes his blood simmer and sizzle just beneath his skin. “Izuku,” he says, crouching in front of him so he can see his face, “you being quirkless doesn’t mean anything to me, okay? I was just wondering if that’s how you were attracting people like Second.” He huffs. “You could have a quirk that could kill someone on contact and I wouldn’t care. You’re still Izuku to me, and nothing changes that.”

 

Izuku stares at him with large, wide eyes, shock crystal clear on his face. He wasn’t expecting him to say that, and for some reason, it makes the snake that hisses in Aizawa’s chest want to snap at something. Izuku bobs his head up and down, and he quickly wipes his eyes with the back of his hands.

 

Aizawa stands back up, and he pats the kid’s head. As he turns to start walking back to the school, Izuku shyly reaches out to grab his hand. It’s soft and tiny and warm, so unlike Aizawa’s calloused ones.

 

For a moment, instinct kicks in, and he almost rips his hand away. But Aizawa looks down and sees Izuku’s big green watery eyes, and, well…

 

He doesn’t have the heart.

 

He lets Izuku hold his hand as they walk the rest of the way to school. It’s then that the realization crashes into him again: Izuku’s eight. He’s eight, and he’s tiny, and he barely reaches his hip, and he’s scared and a child.

 

Izuku almost lets his hand go when they reach the gate, but Aizawa squeezes his hand tighter when he does.

 

“I’m coming in with you,” he says. He thinks about all the times a hero or policemen has picked Izuku up and texted their shared group chat, fussing over his appearance or happiness. And it’s happened one too many times. It’s not happening again, not on his watch. “I have to have a word with the principal and some of your teachers.”

 

Izuku looks up at him curiously, but he nods. “Okay,” he says, ever so softly.

 

Everything he does is softly, quietly, gently. And Aizawa looks at this creature, a human, one of the few he’s ever cared for in his life, and he sighs. Here’s a small boy who’s as skittish as a deer and as silent as a mouse, and Aizawa, for the life of him, doesn’t know why anyone could think about laying a hand on him.

 

Izuku leads him dutifully to the principal’s office. He waves at him as he slips inside the room. Aizawa doesn’t fail to notice how Izuku looks over his shoulder every few seconds.

 

His blood boils just a bit hotter.

 


 

Eraserhead:

I found a jerk and a I ripped him apart for Izuku. You should be proud of me.

 

Sansa:

???

Wait what do I need to get over there

I have my handcuffs in hand

 

Eraserhead:

No, it’s the weasley principal and his teachers.

The morons have been fostering and allowing all sorts of bullying for Izuku because of his quirklessness.

 

Black Ruby:

that motherfucking sonuvabitch

 

Synonym:

ok, wth is wrong w/ those ppl like come on hes 8 and sweet why r u doing this to him

 

Ahane:

:O

Do i need to come over there and kick some booty?

 

Maiko:

Oi no one messes wiht my izu, they better square the fUDGE UP

MEET ME IN THE PARKING LOT BEHIND DENNYS U FUDGERS, ILL BLOW UR FACE OFF

 

Tsukauchi:

If you don’t get caught and it doesn’t leave me with paperwork, then I don’t see why not.  

 

Aizawa’s phone buzzes in his pocket for another two hours before it calms down. Just this once, he doesn’t mind. Not one bit.

 


 

Izuku skips out of school at the end of the day, much more chipper than he had been in previous times. Sansa felt his heart flutter as he reached a hand out for Izuku to take. The boy doesn’t skip a beat before he wraps his tiny hand around the police officer’s. It makes the whiskers on Sansa’s face tingle as he smiles.

 

“Did you have a good day?” Sansa asks, and Izuku bobs his head up and down.

 

“My teachers let me hang out by myself in my own corner. It was fun. They made sure that it was quiet and that no one would bother me.” Izuku already begins to skip, and for every three of his steps, Sansa takes one. “They also let me draw ‘cause I already know how to divide. A hero helped me learn it last week so I did the- the worksheets early and so they let me draw.” Izuku bounced on his feet. “And Ka— I mean, one of my classmates didn’t destroy it with his quirk this time.”

 

Sansa’s heart melts, even as something sad sprouts in his chest. Sad that a kid could be so happy that he was allowed to draw without someone destroying it, but happy that Izuku finally could be content again. “Oh really?” Sansa says. “That’s awesome. It sounds like you had a really great day.”

 

Izuku nods, and he continues to skip his way down the sidewalk with Sansa. After a few streets down, he gets tired, and Sansa has to pick him up and settle him on his shoulders. Were it any other kid, Sansa would have been more annoyed with how Izuku plays with his ears. But Izuku’s gentle, and he barely presses his fingers against the outer part of his ear. He also keeps his hands and fingers away from his mouth and whiskers, which is nice, though he does lay his face in the crook between Sansa’s ears on his head.

 

Izuku had a long day at school though, and as he usually does, he falls asleep on Sansa. The police officer doesn’t mind, honestly. (Okay, but seriously, all twenty-one of them (Tsukauchi included) have fallen in love with the kid already. They’ve all known about his existence for around three or so months, and even though some of them have only met the kid in person just recently, they’ve all grown attached. It doesn’t help that Certain Heroes™ keep sending pictures of him in the group chat. It’s not fair, in all honesty, that a kid can be so likable. Even Eraserhead of all people has succumbed to the kid’s charm, and he was the last one to go.)

 

When Sansa arrives back at the apartment, he’s greeted with Aizawa sleeping soundly in the living room. Inko’s up as well, and it seems like she got back early from work.

 

Sansa tries to be as quiet as he possibly can when he moves through the house and up to Izuku’s bedroom. He knows that Aizawa sleeps lightly, and he deserves all the sleep he can get for his lengthy night watches.

 

For all the trouble that everyone goes through, Sansa can’t believe that he was one of the few assigned to Izuku’s safety. Sansa’s twenty-five, fresh out of training, and he’s still in the process of interning with different people related to or working with the police force. He’s thankful, no doubt about that, and he practically jumped on the chance to help the case when Tsukauchi presented it to him. But he’s barely had any experience… which is troubling for him. Just a little.

 

Tsukauchi assured him that he’s gone through all the necessary training, and that the only way to get more experience is to have it—which is exactly why he’s here.

 

He’s just glad that Tsukauchi took pity on him and planned to pair him up with more experienced heroes and individuals. Eraserhead, for example, even though the man is technically two years his minor. He’s really toughened up for his age, which surprises Sansa from time to time.

 

Sansa places Izuku on his bed and is about to leave when he feels something in the air shift. His ear twitches, his entire body pausing in tense silence. His hand reaches for the gun at his waist.

 

After a moment, the air lessens in tension, and the hair that was standing straight up on Sansa’s head flattens. Sansa’s big yellow eyes travel around the room, but he sees nothing.

 

To be clear, Sansa’s not a superstitious person. But he’s not afraid to admit that, yes, this house is incredibly creepy, and yes, there’s something else here that sets him on edge.

 

Sansa lets out a small sigh, and he glances over his shoulder one last time before leaving Izuku’s room. It’ll be fine, whatever happens. It’s never bothered Izuku or anyone else before, and Sansa can’t imagine that’ll change.

 

(Hopefully.)

 


 

It’s the next day when Third drops back in. Izuku waits patiently for him, and when he does, Izuku excitedly tells him about how Aizawa knows about their secret because of Second.

 

Third seems shocked, but Izuku reassures him that Second meant for it to happen, that everything’s fine, and that Aizawa’s really nice and promised to keep it a secret. Third reacts just as well as Sixth does—he remains quiet, and seems worried, but he doesn’t take it out on Izuku like Kacchan does when he gets mad.

 

“Well,” Third says, “I had been planning to do something with you, if you’d like.”

 

Izuku tilts his head. “Yeah? What'cha want to do?”

 

Third smiles at him, ever so kindly, and Izuku feels his heart warm. Sixth always teases him that he’s got a puppy love crush on Third, but Izuku insists he doesn’t. Sure, Third is attractive and strong and kind, and sometimes he reminds Izuku of all those princes in the movies he and his Mom used to watch, but he doesn’t think about Third like that. Kissing is disgusting, and he would rather not have to sit and wait in a tower to be rescued and be brought back from sleep with a kiss.

 

Ew.

 

He can feel his cheeks burning bright red as Third laughs and runs a hand through his hair.

 

“Ever considered learning how to dance, kiddo?”

 

It’s how Izuku finds himself ballroom dancing with Third in the middle of his bedroom, laughing as Third makes silly faces at him. One of his hands clasps Izuku’s, while his other rests loosely in the middle of the boy’s back, warm and heavy. They twirl around and around the room, soft music playing in the background, and Izuku, for all that his heart beats loudly in his ears, can’t help but feel happiness in the warmth that Third provides.

 

Yeah. This is nice.

 


 

It’s on Izuku’s ninth birthday, which Aizawa has the pleasure of celebrating with him, that it happens.


Aizawa’s on his fourth round of pairing up to take care of Izuku, and it’s closing in on knowing one another for a year. Quite frankly, he probably knows just as much about Izuku as he does his other friends, (who he’s been with for about a decade now) and from all the teasing Yamada gives him, they know it too. Several times he and the others have begged to meet Izuku, but due to protocol, he’s been forbidden.

 

Izuku asks if they can drop by the bench on their way home, and Aizawa nods. Apparently, all three of Izuku’s ‘friends’ are there that day, though he’s not quite sure why.

 

Izuku shrugs. “I’m not sure why either,” he admits. He looks to his right, and Sixth smiles brightly at him.

 

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” Sixth promises, boisterous as always.

 

Izuku hums. “Sixth says that we’ll just have to wait and see,” he calls, “so it’s probably not something we should trust.”

 

Sixth holds a hand over his heart, and he pretends to fall, wounded. Izuku laughs at his terrible acting and does his best to pick the man up. But boy is he heavy, and he just ends up falling on his butt. Sixth ends up picking him up and lets him ride on a broad shoulder. It looks a little ridiculous to Aizawa, but since the streets back here are empty, he doesn’t worry too much about appearances.

 

They approach a lonely bench, and Izuku’s face lights up. He waves to Second and Third, who are both sitting side by side. Second’s lazily reclined back, and he opens one eye to look at the three approaching figures. He raises a hand slightly in the air to show his welcome, while Third stands up and meets them halfway, smile bright.

 

It’s then that Izuku notices a fourth figure standing next to the two of them. He looks incredibly young, and there’s a cobalt blue outline that surrounds him, sparking from time to time. It matches his eye color, so bright and electric that Izuku can almost feel the energy coming from him from where he sits on Sixth’s shoulder. The newcomer also has dark hair, and his suit—which strangely resembles that of Best Jeanist’s—has a wide collar that comes up to rest just beneath his nose. The suit is long from the waist, reaching down to his knees—though there are slits in the fabric to help with movement—and the sleeves reach midway down his forearm.

 

Izuku curiously looks at the bandages that wrap from midway down his palms up until his mid forearm, and his sleeves occasionally brush against the ends of the white fabric.

 

“Ah,” the newcomer says, and a subtle smirk dances across his features. His eyes wash with color as he crosses his arms and rest his weight on one foot. It’s entrancing—not in the way that Third is, with his grace and eloquence. There’s something to his new friend that’s mysterious, like a snake in its hypnotic movements and rattling tail—like an exotic animal that you can only stare at to drink in all its dangerous and lethal beauty. “If it isn’t my mentor and his new kid. Pleasure seeing you guys again.”

 

Again? Izuku stores away the information for later. He places a finger on his cheek, deep in thought.

 

“So you’re his mentor?” Izuku bends forward and looks Sixth in the eye as he asks the question.

 

Sixth grins and nods. “Yep, the kid’s mine. Helped whip him into shape, I did.”

 

Izuku looks back at the new friend, and he blinks his wide eyes. “So you’re Seventh, then?”

 

Those cobalt irises flash brightly. His smirk, light and thin on his face, remains intact, though his eyebrow raises. “Me? Oh no, I’m Sixth.”

 

A silence falls over all of them. It’s only broken a few seconds later, when Second groans and holds his face in his hands.

 

“Sixth, you moron.

 

“Me?” the newcomer asks, outline flashing and sparking. Electricity dances in his eyes.

 

“No, not you,” Second bites out. “The other Sixth. What the hell were you thinking dude?”

 

Sixth(?), the one with the goggles and the dark green outline, scratches his head. “Wait, I thought we were going by order of how much time we had One— it. And how much power we added onto it.”

 

Third sighs. It’s melodious, and it flows out of his mouth so effortlessly. “Second, you told him to say his number according to his place in the order, but you forgot to tell him which one, didn’t you? You know that we’re still ‘Second’ and ‘Third’ in both orders.”

 

“Wait—” Sixth(?) shouts. “You mean to tell me that we’re going in order according to when we got it? I’ve been going by the wrong name this entire time!?”

 

“We know,” Second growls.

 

The newcomer with the cobalt blue outline chortles. “See, this is why you picked me of all people to be your successor. Cause you needed someone with a little bit of brains up here.” The young man points to his head, his smirk still lazily crawled across his face. “Anyway, I’m Sixth. Izuku’s your name, right? The man you’ve been with for the past two years—yes, that dimwit—yeah, he’s actually Fifth, my predecessor and mentor.”

 

Izuku blinks. “It’s nice to meet you, Sixth,” he says softly. “I’m sorry though, I’ll probably mix your name up.” He pats Si—Fifth’s bald head. “Fifth, you’re really gonna trip me up one of these days.”

 

Fifth, as he’s now going to be called, sighs melodramatically as he hides his face in his hands. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles, morose. “I’ve done a dumb.”

 

Izuku laughs. “You’re okay. All of us should have done a better job at keeping things in track, Si—Fifth, I mean.”

 

Second grumbles as he rubs the back of his neck, easing whatever crick had built up there. “Yeah, sure, whatever you say. But Sixth—I mean— god dangit—

 

Third places a hand on Second’s shoulder. “What he means is that you’re fine, and we’ll happily adjust for you. That’s what family does.” His eyes twinkle, even as Second grouches from beside him. “Anyway, we just wanted to wish you a happy birthday, Izuku. Sixth appeared a few hours before your school day ended, and he wanted to spend some time with you, if that’s alright.”

 

It’s probably the best time to do so, all things considered. Summer break starts in the next five days, and Izuku isn’t sure he’d be able to drop down here without raising suspicion.

 

Second interrupts soon after. “And we’re all coming over later tonight to wish you a happy birthday too. So hand me your notebook so your poor bodyguard doesn’t freak the hell out and so I can have some form of communication with him.”

 

Izuku blinks, curious as to who he’s talking about, when he remembers Aizawa. Twisting around, he sees the man awkwardly standing in the background, making sure that no one was coming and that no threats were in the vicinity.

 

“He looks like a lost puppy,” Sixth muses, electric blue eyes dancing with amusement. Second wacks him upside the back of his head.

 

“Oi, no making fun of those who can’t see us, that’s fucking rude—”

 

“Aizawa, sir,” Izuku calls. He grabs his backpack and unzips it, reaching inside to pull out one of his unused notebooks. “Second says that he wants you to talk with him. They want me to hang out with Sixth and get to know him.”

 

Aizawa raises a brow as Fifth sets Izuku down. “Don’t you already know Sixth though?”

 

Izuku sighs. “No. Sixth isn’t Sixth, he’s Fifth. Sixth is new.”

 

Aizawa nods and pretends like he understands. “Okay.”

 

Izuku smiles at him with that brilliantly bright pair of eyes. “Thank you, sir,” he says as he hands Second his notebook and pencil.

 

“Mhm.”

 

Sixth looks down at Izuku as the boy bounces up toward him, his hands shoved deeply in the front pocket of his suit. “You ready, kiddo?”

 

Izuku nods. “It’s nice to meet you Sixth.”

 

Sixth tilts his head to the side, as if to get a better look at him, and it helps Izuku catch his whole face. He’s young, younger than Izuku thought he was at first glance, and he stands shorter than all his friends he’s met so far. But there’s a seriousness in his eyes, which are heavily underlined with permanent dark bags.

 

“Uno reverse card,” he drawls.

 

Izuku isn’t quite sure what he means, but he nods anyway.

 

Sixth smirks and begins to cut through the grass to the other side of the small park, and Izuku treads lightly behind him like a duckling would to their mother. Once again, he has to take several steps for one of Sixth’s, though he’s shorter and slightly easier to keep up with.

 

“Sixth?” Izuku asks as they reach the treeline, and the ghost walks through it without wavering. “I was just wondering about your Representation—that’s what Second calls it. Second’s is kill, Third’s is rescue, and Si—Fifth’s is Capture. And usually I can see them pretty easily, but I’m not sure if I’m seeing yours right.”

 

The two of them walk through the forest, and Fifth’s bellowing voice and Aizawa’s droning slowly fade out. “Oh really?” Sixth asks. “Whatd’ya see?”

 

Izuku wrinkles his nose as the cool shade envelops them. Smells of pine and fresh rain permeate the air, and their trail is only decorated by the occasional bright flower that stands like a lighthouse in the middle of a sea. Faintly, he can hear the chirping of some birds and the rustling of the branches and leaves, and the quiet snap crack crackle snap of the branches snapping underneath his feet echo through the silence.

 

“Just ‘see,’” Izuku says finally. “That’s all I can get from you.”

 

Sixth throws his head back and lets out a sharp ‘ha!’ His electric blue eyes dance with amusement, and his glowing frame spitters and crackles with that constant, intoxicating aura he radiates.

 

“Just see?” he teases. “You’re almost right. My Representation is ‘see,’ not ‘just see.’ Just see implies that it’s lame and that there’s not much to it.” Sixth ducks underneath a branch, his hands still buried in his pockets. There’s a self confident kind of presence that he holds himself to, and it makes Izuku—who always finds himself trying to be smaller to avoid attention—a little bit jealous.

 

“In relation to my quirk, ‘see’ means how I can analyze,” Sixth answers. “I’ll see my opponent’s weaknesses, strengths, quirk, ability, whatever you can imagine. I see civilians who need help, I spot injuries in victims before anyone else, I track down and recognize vigilantes and villains before their names are plastered on TV. That’s me.”

 

Izuku watches with wide, large eyes as Sixth grins back at him, and they leave the underbrush of the trees. It leads to a small clearing with a creek in it, and Sixth hops on the first rock he can find to start crossing it. His hands stay right in his pockets as he begins to hop from rock to rock, clearly enjoying himself.

 

“But, to me, it’s more than that. It always has been. It’s about looking around you—” Sixth hops to a smaller rock, and he twirls on his toe so he can turn and look Izuku in the eye. “—and seeing what the world has to offer. It’s about opening up your eyes, and taking the opportunity to open your arms wide and experience the life that takes place everywhere you look.” He hops onto another rock without looking at it. “It’s about what you can’t see, not physically—the possibilities for yourself, your future. It’s about seeing the potential that resides right in front of your nose, if only you can look down and see it and open yourself and grasp it.”

 

Sixth turns back around and begins to hop this way across the stones, all the way to the other side. Izuku scrambles to keep up, and sometimes he slips and his foot will get caught in the creek, but he makes it out to the other side. Sixth grins at him, takes his hand, and Izuku yelps as he’s suddenly carried. A whirl of colors blur past him as he’s lifted, and the next thing he knows, Sixth is holding him still as they both sit in the crook of a tree branch.

 

Sixth reaches a finger out, pointing to a nest of baby birds. Small beams of light fall through the canopy of bright green leaves, and they slip into the nest of twigs and small branches. Izuku watches, awe filling him from head to toe as the mother bird hops onto the outstretched appendage.

 

“It’s about the memories,” Sixth says quietly. “About the feelings, the emotions, the experiences you’ve held to your name to help guide you.” He sets the bird back down in her nest, and then he’s crawling right back up the tree again. Izuku follows, albeit clumsier.

 

“It’s about your bonds, all the possible friendships and relationships—if only you open your eyes to see that they can exist.” Sixth keeps climbing, and climbing, and he doesn’t stop until he and Izuku reach the top branches that can hold them. The young man stood as high as he could, facing the setting sun with that cheeky smirk of his. Izuku stands next to him, and the man keeps a steady grip on his shoulder so he doesn’t fall.

 

The sun’s rays hit Sixth’s eyes, and Izuku stares at them as millions of shades of blues twinkle and shift in the bright daylight.

 

“It’s not ‘just see,’ just like Second’s isn’t ‘just kill,’” Sixth explains. “Second’s means pain, empathy, self-destruction—it meant giving up thousands of nights of good rest for nightmares because of what he’s had to commit; it meant giving up his happiness, his life for the sake of a future generation’s livelihood. It doesn’t mean ‘just kill.’ It means sacrifice.”

 

Sixth looks down at Izuku, his outline crackling around the edges. He leans down to speak lowly in Izuku’s ear, and it sends tingles down his spine. “It means the future. It means to look for the impossible and do it anyway. You don’t even have to use your eyes to look into yourself and discover your limits, if just so you can break them.”

 

Sixth is different from all the others. All the others are soft with him, gentle, even if they’re rough around the edges and are still learning best how to accomplish that. Sixth, though, doesn’t hold back around him. He reaches out to him and says I see you, and he whisks him into a world of buzzing energy and trial and error.

 

A breeze whistles through the trees, gently swaying them from side to side. It softly hits against Izuku’s face, and it feels like pins and needles are gently pressed to his skin. It sends goosebumps down his arms, and it lifts his hair from his forehead.

 

“My Representation may be ‘see,’ but what it truly means is to live,” Sixth says, and Izuku wholeheartedly believes him. “But, most importantly…”

 

The hand on Izuku’s shoulders tighten. Sixth crouches on that tree branch, and the sun hits the side of his face with warmth and color. It makes his eyes, so much like jewels, glitter and shine.

 

“It’s not about the 'what is,' Izuku.”

 

They watch the sun sink beneath the horizon.

 

“It’s about the 'can be.' 

 


 

They sing happy birthday to him that night.

 

All twenty of the heroes and police officers assigned to protect him, plus Tsukauchi and Mom, are there when Mom pulls the cake out. Though some can’t stay the whole night, they do promise to stay for this part of the celebration, and they watch eagerly as Mom sets the cake down on their table. Nine candles are lit, and Izuku watches them with a flush riding high on his cheeks as everyone sings to him. The light from the candles makes the wrapping paper used on several of his many gifts glitter. 

 

None of his classmates came to his party, but Izuku isn’t even sure he invited them for the first place—and anyway, he’s not sure he’d really want any of them over. These people are more than enough for him.

 

After the song ends, he pauses. Someone tells him to make a wish, and, quietly, he thinks back to what Sixth said earlier.

 

It means to look for the impossible and do it anyway.

 

Izuku glances to the side, where all four of his friends are standing in the corner. Sixth gives him a peace sign and a small, cat-like curl of his lips.

 

It’s about the can be.

 

Izuku looks back at all the bright faces in front of him, and at the beautifully decorated cake that his mom made just for him, all the way from scratch. He thinks about Kacchan's jeering face, and his classmates' biting laughter. Aizawa's face swims in front of him, kind even in the face of his quirk—or lack thereof one. 

 

He takes in a deep breath. Prepares himself. Wishes deep from the bottom of his heart. 

 

I want to be a hero.

 

He blows at the candles. The flames all putter out in one blow.

Chapter Text

The first present Izuku opens is from Aizawa, which happens to be a nice mug with cats drawn all over it. It’s heavy and huge and probably could hold enough hot chocolate to last him a day and a half, but that’s part of what makes it so appealing. The cats that cover the sides are also adorable, and his favorite one is the cat that’s perfectly split down the middle in color—white on the right side and black on the left. It’s wearing rain boots with polka dots on it, and it’s cute. Very cute.

 

One of the heroes goes to fill the cup up with hot chocolate, and it makes Izuku warm and fuzzy on the inside. He’s glad that he’s gotten to know all of them, and the fact that they know that hot chocolate is his favorite sweet.

 

“Open mine next, open mine!”

 

Izuku complies, and he opens his presents one by one.

 

To be honest, though, he’s very confused and has no idea what most of the presents are for. One of them has a bunch of mini outfits in them, and another has random packages of hay and brushes. The next is a kit of fancy nail clippers, and by then, he’s super confused as to what he’s going to use all of this for and whether or not the heroes and police officers in the room are crazy.

 

Or maybe this is normal. He can’t tell, he hasn’t been invited to any birthday parties and his own were usually spent alone with his mom.

 

He continues to open the presents though, one at a time, and he continues getting odd trinkets and other things. Like the bag of recycled newspaper pellet litter. That has to be the oddest out of all of them.

 

“Have you figured it out yet, kid?” someone asks, and Izuku looks up at them with blank eyes. He slowly sits the two small bowls he got down.

 

“No,” he says honestly, “I’m actually very, very confused.”

 

One of them laughs, and Izuku blinks up at the only hero-in-training assigned to protect him. The boy is sixteen and has wild, crazy blonde hair. Dark wings are folded behind his back—the teenager had been surprisingly receptive to all Izuku’s questions about his quirk and even let him touch them. His hero name is Hawks, and Izuku thinks he’s really cool.

 

“How about you open up that one?” Hawks says, and he points to one of the two presents left over. “Maybe it’ll help the mystery.”

 

Izuku stares at him for a moment, faintly suspicious, before he reaches over and pulls the large box toward him. He slowly pulls the ribbon off of the box, and the wrapping paper soon follows. He stares quietly at the words that spread across the front of the box, and he tilts his head.

 

It’s a large box of foldable, cage-like material that—according to the large words in the spiked bubble at the center—can be folded over areas up to eight feet.

 

Izuku blinks. He blinks again.

 

Small outfits. Brushes and combs. Nail clippers. Cage-like material. Bowls. A small box. Hay. Newspaper pellet litter.

 

Izuku’s eyes widen, and he drops the box that holds the cage-like material. Quietly, he approaches the last box in the center of the room. Faintly, he recognizes that Mom is holding a camera up, but he doesn’t care. The small holes that cover the top and sides of the box quietly speak of the truth that had been right under his nose the entire time.

 

Slowly, Izuku picks up the lid, eyes shining and wide. He gasps, and he slowly places the lid on the floor. Eyes sparkling, he gently reaches his hands inside and picks up the small ball of fluff, holding it in cupped hands. Dark brown eyes stare back at him, and its long ears perk up slightly. Its nose twitches.

 

“Now, Izuku,” Tsukauchi starts, “this is a big responsibility. Rabbits are hard to take care of, much harder than dogs and cats. They’re very high maintenance, but we thought that you could do it. You think you can do that?”

 

Izuku looks up from staring into the rabbit’s eyes, and he gently places it on the ground before leaping into Tsukauchi’s arms. With a small oof, Tsukauchi returns the hug, and the detective can almost feel how much Izuku vibrates with excitement.

 

“You would not believe the amount of begging we had to do for your mother to agree to this,” Hawks says, and his wings flutter in excitement. “But Shrimp is a bit of an older rabbit. Already house trained and everything. His owner’s moving and needed someone to take him, so we snatched him up. We thought that you’d like it, kiddo.”

 

Izuku nods quickly. “Wait, Shrimp? That’s his name?”

 

Sansa sighs over his cup of coffee. “Well, it’s not like we thought it up. But he seems to like it, so…” Sansa shrugs.

 

Izuku carefully picks the rabbit back up, and he holds him in his arms. With watery eyes, he smiles broadly at all of his friends.

 

“Thank you,” he whispers, still smiling.

 

They all smile back at him. Even Aizawa, the Prickly One.

 


 

Just before Tsukauchi gets ready to leave the Midoriya household for the night, he feels something tug on his sleeve. He looks down to see wide green eyes stare back at him. Something tugs on his heartstrings as the young boy and his small rabbit blink under his gaze.

 

“You need something, Izuku?” he asks, and he ignores the fact that he may or may not be late to an upcoming meeting with his superior if he doesn’t hurry.

 

Izuku shyly nods, and he holds out a paper for Tsukauchi to take. The detective does, and his eyebrows shoot up when he sees the front of it.

 

“I know that it’s unlikely that I’m gonna be allowed to go,” Izuku says, and he’s digging the toe of his foot into the ground, “but I thought I’d ask. I haven’t really gone anywhere since my… kidnapping. And it’s getting kind of boring for all of us, I think.”

 

Tsukauchi stares down at the paper, which is a community service project that seems to be asking for help to clean and tidy things up.

 

“My school required everyone to sign up for an activity to do or go to over our summer break and do a project based on what we learned.” Izuku looks guilty as he continues to speak. “I tried to sign up for the one-afternoon field trips, but my teachers told me that I had to go last in picking my choices. Everything else was taken, and I thought…” He shrugs, and he holds Shrimp closer to his chest. “I thought we could get out of the house for once. And do something. Plus, no one signed up for cleaning up the camp, and I feel bad. They wanted at least one person to help…” Izuku trails off, and he stares down at his feet.

 

Tsukauchi looks back at the paper in his hand. It would have to take a lot of planning, not to mention that—

 

Wait a second.

 

Tsukauchi squints at the page in front of him, and something in the back of his head clicks. Humming, he shoots Izuku a smile.

 

“I’ll see what I can do kid,” he says.

 

Izuku’s face brightens. It makes the upcoming paperwork that Tsukauchi knows is waiting for him on the other side worth it.

 


 

“Ahh! It’s so CUTE!” Fifth screams at the top of his lungs, (he’s hovering over Shrimp, who is sleeping in the corner of Izuku’s bedroom) which promptly causes Second to land a sharp blow to the back of his head.

 

“Shut up, you’re going to cause a disturbance,” Second grumbles. He moves past the large, burly man towards Izuku, who’s crawling into bed. Just as Izuku begins to slip his legs underneath his covers, Second takes a hold of them and lifts them high into the air. He pulls them up to Izuku’s chin when the boy gets comfortable, and he quietly tucks him in.

 

When Second looks up and begins to step away, his soft expression is shattered and morphs into annoyed confusion. His brow twitches as he looks at Sixth, who is leaning on the wall, staring at him with a Cheshire grin spread across his face.

 

“What?” Second snaps.

 

Sixth waves his hands leisurely. “Nothin’, nothin’, just thought I’d…” He wiggles his brows. “Admire the view, if you catch my drift.”

 

Second stares at him with a blank expression. “What the hell is wrong with you.”

 

Third chuckles from the corner of the room. “Don’t feel bad Sixth, it’s just that Second’s already taken. He’s married to someone else.”

 

Sixth blinks. And then he leaps from the wall, jaw dropped. “No way, really? Dude, I was totally joking about the admiring, I just thought you being all soft was totally OOC, but— wait, you’re married? Oh lord. My wig? Snatched. Gone. Pizzah. Poof.”

 

Silence.

 

“Sixth, we have no idea what any of that means,” Izuku says softly. “Also, Second, you never told me you were married. What were they like?”

 

Second jolts. “Oh. Well, uh.” He runs a hand through his hair. “I think that’s a story for another time.” He turns away, though Izuku can see how his ears have turned pink. “Goodnight, Izuku. Happy ninth birthday. Now, I have to go back to the bench—” He’s about to step through the doorway when Fifth grabs the back of his jacket, lifting him into the air. Second curls up ever-so-slightly like a cat would in the air, and he immediately stiffens.

 

Fifth grins. “Actually, you haven’t given Izuku his goodnight story. Why not talk about that significant other of yours for a little bit, yeah?”

 

Third’s smile is gentle, though there’s a hint of mischief in his eyes. Izuku thinks it suits him.

 

Second is placed back on the end of Izuku’s bed, and Izuku eagerly looks back up at him. Sixth immediately rests his chin on the covered bedspread, looking up at Second with glittering, longing eyes.

 

He looks too happy to know about this, to be honest.

 

Second sighs heavily, even as Third sits beside him and rests a comforting hand on his shoulder. Wiping his hands on his pants, he glances up at Izuku. His shoulders slump. “Well, what do you want to know?”

 

Izuku holds his hands over his stomach. “Well, how’d you meet?” And then, after a second, he adds, “And what do you like most about them?”

 

Second scratches the nape of his neck, and his lips twitch upward. “Well… we met when we were in our early teens. They were actually trying to fly a kite, and they couldn’t get it into the air, so I got annoyed and did it for them. Uh, we knew one another for several years after that, and I guess you could say I took care of them. They were strong-willed, but their bodies couldn’t be pushed that far. So I had to make sure they were safe.” His cheeks turn pink. “They asked me out when I was seventeen, and I felt bad for them, I guess, since they were going through a rough time. So I said yes since I was a stupid teenager and didn’t know much. I hadn’t even returned their feelings at the time, and I felt so bad about it. So for months, I debated on how I was going to break it to them that I didn’t like them that way, but…” He trails off.

 

Izuku pokes Second in the side with a blanket-covered toe. “But?”

 

Second stares at something far, far away, and he has a soft look on his face usually reserved for Izuku alone. “Well, I fell hard for them. Like an idiot.” Second doesn’t say anything for a moment, and then he pats Izuku’s knee from above the blanket. “Okay. There’s your goodnight story. Sleep.”

 

“Hey, wait!” Sixth cries out, sounding like he’d been insulted or wronged. “You didn’t say what they were like!”

 

Second purses lips. He clicks his tongue and looks away. “They… were always calm and level-headed. Much more so than me. When I was younger, I was pretty brash and quick to erupt. So they helped me see things straight.” His hands flick out, and before anyone can protest, Sixth and Fifth are dragged out of the room by their ears. “Goodnight Izuku,” Second calls over his shoulder, and the two other men manage to let out their own strangled goodnights and happy birthdays through the pain.

 

Third watches them go, smile still present on his face. He stands and closes the door behind the three of them, and one by one, he flicks the lights off.

 

Just before Third clicks off the last light, Izuku speaks up.

 

“Third?”

 

“Yes?”

 

Izuku ducks his head and clenches his hands tightly. He stares at the small designs of the covers in his lap. “Did Second have a wife or a husband?”

 

Third blinks, surprised. His hand, which had been resting on the switch of the lamp, falls to his waist. He slowly sits down by Izuku’s side. “Why do you ask?”

 

Izuku shrugs, and his fingers start to mess with the ends of his covers as he avoids Third’s gaze. He instead stares up at the ceiling, one brow furrowed. “Is it wrong for a guy to like a guy?”

 

Third’s expression morphs into something grim, and his lips are pressed into a thin line. “It depends on who you ask.” He takes in a long breath. “I think you’re allowed to like whoever you want to, regardless of gender.”

 

“A couple of kids in my class says it’s weird and that it’s wrong.”

 

Third exhales sharply through his nose. “Well, that’s their opinion.” Third leans his weight on one hand as it presses into mattress behind him. “Do you like boys?”

 

Izuku makes a noise at the back of his throat, something embarrassed, and he pulls the covers up to his nose. “I’m not supposed to,” he whispers.

 

“Why not?” Third shrugs. “I mean, Second’s significant other was a boy. But he’s not wrong, is he?”

 

Izuku hesitates before shaking his head.

 

“Then what’s different if it’s with you?”

 

A shrug.

 

Third sighs. He sends Izuku a smile and tussles his hair. “Don’t sweat about the details now, kid. You’re nine now, and that might seem old to you, but you’ve still got a while to go before you consider romance. And anyway, I thought you said that kissing’s gross?”

 

Izuku’s nose crinkles. “That’s because it is,” he says, his voice still muffled behind his covers.

 

Third laughs. “Well, that’s a lot of what romance is about… for most people, anyway. So get used to it, kid.”

 

Third shuts off his lamp, and darkness falls over the room. Izuku quietly settles to sleep while in the corner of the room, Third stands, hovering beside Shrimp.

 

The rabbit’s ear twitches. Third reaches down to pet him, realizes that startling the animal and giving it a heart attack might not be a good idea, and then retracts his hand. Shrimp’s head twists up, and big brown eyes stare right into Third’s soul.

 

“Cute, yes,” Third murmurs, “but creepy. Very, very creepy.”

 

Shrimp’s nose twitches once.

 

“Hey, Third?” The voice is quieter than it was before, borderline nervous.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Did you ever meet Second’s husband?”

 

Third remains silent for a moment. Izuku can hear him shifting, and he wonders for a second if he pushed too far.

 

“Not personally, no. But Second talked about him to me when he was my mentor.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Another moment of silence.

 

“Izuku… Second’s husband… he died long before I ever met Second.”

 

“Oh. I’m… I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s quite alright.”

 

Neither of them speaks again that night.

 


 

Aizawa and Izuku quietly make their way down the sidewalk. The man’s going to have to leave later in the afternoon, but he promised that he’d take Izuku to the park before he did. Izuku had thanked him over and over again until the man grew flustered.

 

“It’s fine,” he had said. “Now come on, if you don’t hurry up you won’t be there for long before we have to leave again.”

 

So there the two of them are, Izuku holding a waffle cone in his hand as the two mint chocolate chip scoops of ice cream slowly begin to melt. Aizawa has his own cone, though he only had a single scoop. Also, he had chosen coffee instead.

 

“So, kid,” Aizawa says as the near the park, “what did you wish for your birthday? I saw those gears turning, and you looked pretty intense.”

 

Izuku flushes as he licks his ice cream, adjusting his hold on it as some drops begin to make their way down his cone. “Ah, it’s… embarrassing.”

 

“What, did you wish to be a cat?” Aizawa asks, amusement practically dripping from his tone.

 

Izuku’s cheeks puff up, and he shakes his head. “No, of course not.” Quieter, he mumbles, “I haven’t done that since I was five.”

 

Aizawa snorts. “Okay, so what did you wish for?”

 

Izuku pouts as they near the entrance of the park. It’s practically empty, which should be surprising but isn’t—Izuku’s heard that they opened a new water park a couple of blocks down, and every kid in his class announced that they were going to spend their whole summers there.

 

“You won’t laugh at me?” Izuku asks, and it hurts how sad and desperate he sounds.

 

Aizawa raises an eyebrow. “No, of course I won’t. Why would I?”

 

Remaining silent for a moment, Izuku glances around the park worriedly as if someone will hear him. “Sometimes my teachers will. And the kids do too. It hurts, sometimes.”

 

Aizawa glowers at something far past Izuku, but the boy still flinches. “I thought I told them to stop.”

 

“And they have!” Izuku says quickly. “They don’t hurt me anymore. Not like they used to. And they were great for a while, but now they talk a lot, and that… that hurts too.”

 

Aizawa has to stop himself from growling under his breath, but he makes a note to himself to talk to the others about it. “Okay. I’ll handle it, kid. Now, what were you saying about your wish? I’m not gonna laugh at you for it.”

 

Izuku frowns, and his eyes cloud over as he stares at something very, very far away. He mumbles something quietly, and Aizawa taps him on the shoulder sharply.

 

“Speak up, kid.”

 

Izuku bows his head. He presses his fingers together nervously, and a his cheeks burn bright red. It almost hides his freckles. “I wished to be a hero,” he says loudly. Immediately, he tucks his chin in and looks over his shoulder, almost as if he’s scared someone else heard him.

 

Something in Aizawa’s chest twists uncomfortably, and he stares at Izuku’s nervous expression. Before he can speak, words tumble out of Izuku’s mouth.

 

“I know that it’s not likely I can be one. There aren’t any quirkless heroes, not even underground ones, and it’s just not reasonable.” Izuku’s frown deepens. “That’s what my guidance counselor says. But I’ve always wanted to be one. I don’t even remember a time when I didn’t know what I wanted to be, and it had always been the same.”

 

Aizawa’s quiet, and he stares at Izuku for a moment. “What kind of hero would you want to be, anyway?” he asks, and there’s an odd, pondering lilt in his voice.

 

Izuku shrugs. “I don’t really care. Not really.” He licks his ice cream, he starts towards a trail that heads into a patch of trees and underbrush. Aizawa falls beside him, and the two of them walk in a slow pace—mostly so Izuku can keep up. “Second says that he was a vigilante-ish kind of hero, and he’s really cool. And Third was a rescue-based hero, like Thirteen! And he’s also really nice and I think wha he does is awesome. Sixth—oh, sorry, I mean Fifth—he’s more like uhm… like Edgeshot or Best Jeanist. Have you ever met the two? I think Edgeshot’s a really nice guy, he seems polite. Anyway, Fifth is more based on tracking down and capturing villains. I think he really enjoys his job too.”

 

Izuku skips over a puddle, and there’s a soft smile on his face. “Sixth, cause of his analysis quirk, worked a lot more independently. Sometimes. Though he told me that when he worked with groups, he was often in charge of planning and the heads of all the operations. Though he preferred to work alone ‘cause everyone would mess everything up, and he stresses pretty easily when things don’t go according to plan.” Izuku hums. “If I didn’t know them, I think I’d say I’d like to be a hero like All Might, but after meeting them and hearing all about their own stories, I’d say that anything’s fine. Everyone, no matter what kind of hero they are, saves a lot of people. And that’s all I really want to do.” Shyly, he adds, “Well, I also want to give other kids like me hope that they can do whatever they want to do, but… well, Second told me that I might get a lot of backlash for that. Publicity is a double-edged sword for stuff like that.”

 

Aizawa hums lightly, and he bites the last of his cone. After swallowing the last of it, he speaks. “I didn’t tell you, but I’ve been hired to be a teacher at U.A. this year.”

 

Izuku almost stops in his tracks, and he stares with wide eyes up at Aizawa, shocked into silence.

 

“Hey, don’t give me that look.” Aizawa knocks his fist gently against Izuku’s shoulder. “I’m just saying. U.A. is the biggest hero school to date. Most people who get into the hero course are kids with flashy quirks, but there are always exceptions. There’s also a loophole. If you get into General Education and work hard enough, as well as do well in the Sports Festivals, you can get pushed up to the hero course. That’s how I did it.” Aizawa rubs the back of his head, his fingers getting caught in the neverending tangles.

 

“If you really, really badly want it… I can help you get into General Education. And I can help train you. You might not ever get into the hero course, and I can’t promise that you’ll ever be a hero, but I can do that.” Aizawa looks down at him with soft, dark eyes. “I can also speak with the new principal. He himself has a quirk that’s less flashy and more geared towards analytics… so he may implement some programs if I suggest them to him. Unfortunately, he also has his hands partially tied behind his back, as he needs to uphold public images, and having a bunch of quirkless students or students with less admirable quirks might get him backlash as well. So don’t be surprised if he can’t pass more than the bare minimum. But nonetheless, it’s something you might be able to work with if I can convince him.”

 

Izuku stares at Aizawa, and a drop of ice cream drips down the side of the cone and onto his hand. He doesn’t notice. “You… you really mean that?”

 

Aizawa nods. “Like I said, I might not be able to do much. I can only train and prepare you, but society’s expectations could very well end all of our efforts in the blink of an eye. On top of that, that would make you our first quirkless hero. You might be shredded to pieces by critics. And you’d likely be shoved into the role of an underground hero.” Despite the harsh blows that Aizawa’s dealing, Izuku still looks up at him with bright eyes.

 

It stings. Because he knows, rationally, it’s never going to happen. There are no quirkless heroes for a reason. But he can’t just say that to Izuku, never has been able to, and his stomach drops. He’s giving the kid false hope. Even if he gets into General Education, he’s not getting into the hero course. There’s just no way. But the only way to kill a dream was to have it slap him in the face, and never getting moved up into General Education seemed like the thing that could do it.

 

(He ignores the fact that he can direct Izuku to other places. That he can kill the dream before it blooms. At least if he graduates from U.A., even if it’s just from General Education, it’ll set him far above other quirkless students. He can live a good life.

 

And maybe, just maybe, Izuku can prove that rational part of his brain wrong. Maybe things will finally go right for the kid.)

 

He shrugs instead. “But I can help. Tsukauchi was talking about teaching you self defense anyway, so when you get older you can protect yourself. And you have a bunch of heroes at your side, and they can give you all the pointers in the world. So you have the resources you need.”

 

Izuku shoots forward, keeping one hand outstretched with his ice cream as he catches Aizawa in a hug. (He’s a very huggy kind of person, Aizawa thinks. He isn’t one himself, but he can deal with it. If just for the kid.) “Thank you, thank you, thank you—” The kid keeps reciting gratitudes, which are muffled with his head buried in his stomach, and Aizawa awkwardly pats the kid on the head.

 

“Sure thing, kid,” he says. “Now finish your ice cream. It’s gonna melt and I don’t want to waste it.” Not with the allowance he had. He had been spending what little money he has left over on the kid—the money that isn’t put away for emergencies and his future, retired self, which could be any day now as a pro hero—and his cats and wallet are screaming at him. His wallet because it’s depressingly empty, and his cats because they want a new cat stand despite the fact that Aizawa had just bought them one last year. Spoiled brats.

 

Izuku frantically nods and starts to down his ice cream quickly, and they continue their way down the trail. Aizawa dreads what he knows is a conversation in the near future with the kid’s mom and the rest of his Protection Squad, as they call themselves. They… aren’t going to be happy with it. At all.

 


 

“I’d never thought there’d be a day where I could say this—” Sixth starts.

 

“You’ve known me for only a day, Sixth.”

 

“—but whenever you talk about your hubby, you become sickeningly sweet and it’s both disturbing and fricken’ amazing.” Sixth is laying across the bench, his head in Third’s lap and feet hanging off the other end. He’s small enough to comfortably lay like that, but if any of the others tried, they’d probably fall off the minute they relaxed enough.

 

Second sits underneath Sixth as well, right by the other end. It means that he has Sixth’s feet close by, which obviously bothers Second slightly if the crinkling of his nose is any suggestion. But it also means that Sixth’s legs, which are propped up on the bench’s arm, are hovering above Second’s thighs and don’t actually touch him, which was probably the point of it.

 

“You guys are the ones who keep on pestering me to talk about them, so if you don’t want to hear about it then quit asking,” Second barks. But Izuku, who’s sitting on a grassy patch in front of the bench, can see how the tips of his ears turn red. A dark green outline comes into view from the corner of Izuku’s eye, and Fifth pats Second on the shoulder.

 

“No worries dude, we’re just teasing you,” he says. “We usually don’t have material to work with, and Third respects you too much to say anything. So it’s something new and we’re just milking it dry.”

 

Second huffs but doesn’t comment. Izuku smiles lightly. “You really did like him, don’t you?”

 

Second pauses, and he glances toward Third. “Him?”

 

Izuku realizes his slip-up a moment too late, and he stutters through a weak explanation. “I, uh, m-my bad, I asked Third about your husband, uh— please don’t get mad at him, I was just—”

 

“Izuku might like boys too,” Third explains in his ever-blunt manner, and Izuku squawks and throws his open journal at him. The man catches it in his hand.

 

“I never said that!”


“You implied it.”

 

Izuku, face red, puffs up his cheeks. “You were the one who implied it, not me.”

 

Third blinks. “Ah. Right. But you didn’t deny it.” Before Izuku can protest, he hands him back his journal. Izuku gives him a subdued thanks.

 

“Man, that’s rad,” Sixth says, and he props his head up with his hands. He has a cat-like smirk sprawled lazily across his face. “I mean, personally? Can’t relate. But it’s coolio if you’re like this sweet pea.” Sixth’s foot lifts up to poke Second on the cheek, but the man with the vermillion outline snatches Sixth by the ankle.

 

Second blinks, and a wave of sparks furiously dance from his eye. “Like hell I’m letting you touch me with that foot. I have no idea where it’s been.”

 

“Huh, me neither. Now that you mention it, I think I crushed a guy’s hand with this boot.” Sixth tilts his head. “Can’t remember though. My memory’s whack.”

 

“Fifth,” Second growls, and the big, burly man flinches at his tone, “out of all the dimwits in the world you could have chosen for One— for it, you chose this idiot?”

 

Fifth sheepishly scratches his head. In the crook of his other arm rests Shrimp, who has adjusted quite well to the fact that spirits would be holding him. “Well, he’s actually really brilliant,” Fifth defends. “He’s just… well, his generation was at the heart of the revival of certain internet slangs, so he’s picked all of that up. So that’s why he’s so used to using all of them. But I’m telling you, I chose him cause he’s smart. He’s probably the brightest guy I know. It’s just…”

 

“I won’t hesitate, bitch,” Sixth says, grin still present on his face even as Second’s grip on his ankle tightens threateningly. “Don’t talk like I’m not here and queer. Like come on, reciting internet slang isn’t easy. I didn’t even get to do it for a living, I had to yeet a bunch of lawbreakers into a cell, you think that’s fun?”

 

Izuku blinks. “Sixth,” he starts slowly, “I… don’t think anyone’s understanding a word you’re saying.”

 

Fifth sighs as Second almost pops a vein. “You get used to it. Overtime.” Gently, the giant-like figure presses a finger to Shrimp’s head and runs it down the length of his body. He does this several times, so unusually careful and soft, and he coos, “Look at you. So precious, little Snowball Destroyer.”

 

Izuku stares at him blankly. “His name is Shrimp,” he says, impassive.

 

“I know,” Fifth responds. He adjusts the little blanket so a bit of it covers Shrimp’s back. And then, softly, back to Shrimp, he says, “Aren’t you so adorable?”

 

Izuku nods and nods and pretends like he’s not tired, pretends like he didn’t sneak out in the middle of the night, pretends that he didn’t lie to Hawks to get past him, pretends like his four imaginary friends aren’t wearing him out, pretends like the stars aren’t out and lighting up the sky even though they’re one of the prettiest things in the world.

 

He pretends like he doesn’t feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He looks around him when the other four aren’t looking, into the shadows, and he swears he sees movement. He looks closer.

 

Nothing.

 

Izuku does not can’t sleep. And the darkness waits, patient.

 

Always, always patient.

 


 

Tsukauchi has to do a lot of begging and a lot more paperwork before he can set things up with the camp owners, who agree to take Izuku as their volunteer for community service. Izuku is overjoyed with the news, and Tsukauchi’s just glad that things worked out in their favor. Luckily for him, he knows the camp owners—not on a personal level, but definitely on a professional one—and he knows they’re trustworthy to keep Izuku safe.

 

Even so, the pairs are still going to be sent with Izuku while he’s there, and the situation is exactly the same. The only difference is the scenery and the people around.

 

Before they leave, though, Izuku is required to go to one last physical therapy session to check on his physical health. Izuku complies, and the women there who lead the exercises put these devices along his hands and make him stretch his fingers. It used to be painful, especially right after his kidnapping, but he’s better now. He can stretch his fingers even with the added weights pretty easily.

 

The people who kidnapped him damaged both his left and his right hands, though his fingers suffered the worst from it, especially his right. There are faint scars there, but you wouldn’t find them unless you knew where to look. He’s lost some mobility in his right hand, and even though he got all of it back in his left, sometimes his right hand will seize up while he’s writing and he has to massage the joints.

 

He also has a scar that hides along his hairline from where he hit the corner of his nightstand, but it’s also too faint to see. Izuku’s glad. He doesn’t like to have any reminders of the event.

 

The girls there write a note that confirms that he’s capable of doing physical activity throughout the day, though he probably shouldn’t be strained too much. They wave to him goodbye with happy smiles, and some high five him for being ‘graduated.’ That’s what they say when someone can finally move on without having to go to physical therapy anymore, though they’re always welcome back, they say. Tsukauchi takes the note, signs off on it, and then clips it to a folder that he’s going to take with him. Izuku’s happy that the detective’s coming with them to make sure that Izuku’s safe and to speak with the owners.

 

The owners too seem very accommodating and welcoming, even if he’s never met them. They don’t blink an eye when Tsukauchi tells them that they have to prepare extra bedrooms for protection services, and when Tsukauchi explains that Izuku has certain injuries that will bother him from time to time, they reassure him that they won’t push him too far.

 

Izuku hopes that they’re as nice as they seem.

 

Before they leave, Inko says that they have to dedicate a day to cleaning up the house and purging all their stuff.

 

“Now is as good as any time to get some spring cleaning done,” she said sternly. They hadn’t done it yet, not with all the chaos of the new people around. “And I know that we’ll never get it done otherwise. So might as well do it now while you’re going through all your stuff and packing for your trip.”

 

Izuku nods because he doesn’t want to upset his mom. So he goes through his room and cleans it from top to bottom. Sixth, who is his guard for the day, helps him clean up. He’s surprisingly mobile as he whips around the room, and though he keeps the mood light to prevent it from getting boring, there’s a seriousness in his face that isn’t usually there. Somewhere along the line, he stops asking Izuku for his opinion on what to purge and makes his own decisions. Izuku was nervous at first, but it seems like Sixth’s quirk comes in handy, and he makes all the decisions Izuku would have made had he been asked.

 

If Izuku looks hard enough at Sixth, he can almost see the way Sixth’s eyes swim with color and thoughts. His cobalt blue orbs shimmer whenever he reaches for something new in his closet, and a new shade of dark or light blue will fight over what color his iris will take. It’s mesmerizing, and his equally blue outline sparks and shifts constantly. It’s completely different from Third’s lavender outline, which seems still in time, or from Second’s, which will occasionally release sparks like the ones that come from his eye. Izuku likes to watch Second, especially at night, when his sparks look like fireflies and dozens at a time will trail behind in his wake.

 

Izuku, with Sixth’s help, manages to finish his room first. Sixth gives him a high five when they’re done. Izuku feels pride well up in his chest.

 

They’re taking Shrimp, who’s actually strangely accustomed to the constant change. Izuku had done his research, and rabbits usually don’t like change or being outside—domesticated rabbits can have a heart attack just seeing potential predators. But Shrimp is an odd booger, and because Izuku is scared his mom might forget to feed him, they start to pack some of Shrimp’s food—mostly just bags of fresh oat hay and a smaller bag of pellets.

 

Mom’s not done with her room when Izuku walks out of the room, Shrimp in one hand and a duster in the other. She fusses over him, double checks to make sure that he really cleaned out his room, and then grudgingly accepts his help.

 

“It’d be wonderful if you can sort what’s important and what’s not in the closet,” she says, jutting a thumb in the direction of an open door. “If you have any questions, just leave it in the maybe pile, and when I come back I’ll sort through it.”

 

Izuku nods and scuttles inside, and he places Shrimp on a blanket and puts them in the corner. Their nose twitches, and the paw at the cloth before settling down. Izuku gently runs his hands over his head, and Shrimp lets out a small croon.

 

After making sure that Shrimp will be okay and is comfortable, he begins to take boxes down from the shelves. He won’t touch the clothes, because he knows he’ll probably wrinkle them, but he can deal with the boxes.

 

He starts to go through them, one by one. Some of them he dumps straight into a trash bin, while others he sets to the side. Sixth helps him carry some of the heavier ones.

 

It’s then that he comes across a larger box, one that’s obviously been recently touched but also has dust gathering at the top. It’s hidden, shoved in the corner where it was obviously not supposed to be touched.

 

It didn’t cross Izuku’s mind. Not at the time.

 

He pulls the box down from the top shelf and puts it on the ground—slowly, as to not startle Shrimp—and he opens the top. With barely any room to set the lid down—the box is almost as long as his torso—he sets it down at the top of the ‘maybe’ box pile. He’s met with stacks upon stacks of envelopes, some that look years old and have started to yellow, while others are pristine and obviously brand new.

 

… huh?

 

Izuku tilts his head and looks at the stacks. They’re tied together, and though Izuku can’t tell the exact pattern, it looks like they’re ordered from oldest to newest carefully.

 

Izuku takes the oldest pile and unwraps the thin piece of ribbon that keeps the envelopes together. When the ribbon falls, Izuku can make out the post-it note pasted on the first envelope.

 

0

 

Izuku blinks and sets the envelopes down. Careful to make sure they’re still in order, he opens the first envelope and pulls out the little slip of paper inside.

 

It’s a poem. A childish one, and it has little drawings on it.

 

Izuku’s brow furrows, and he opens the second envelope. It’s the exact same thing, except the poem is different, and so are the little drawings. He puts the envelopes in order, ties the ribbon back around it, and sets it back into the box. Hesitant to decide what to do, he picks up the thickest package and pulls off the rubber band. The post-it at the front of the package reads 4, and Izuku swallows nervously as he picks up the first envelope. Unlike the others, however, this one hasn’t been opened yet, and Izuku accidentally tears some of the paper. He winces, but he manages to open it and pulls out the paper from inside.

 

He almost drops it.

 

Dear Izuku,

 

Happy fourth birthday! I’m not sure when you will learn how to read kanji, so your mother should read this to you until you have the hang of it. But I want you to know that I miss you so much!

 

I hope I can come home soon. Work has been keeping me up, but I’m doing my best to make it home as soon as possible. Plus Ultra, right? :)

 

I have a letter for you each week. I wrote a lot of these ahead of time, and one of my friends is dropping one off every weekend, at four, on Friday, on the dot. I hope this is something you can look forward to. I know it doesn’t make up for me not being there, but I promise you, I’m working my hardest.

 

I have a letter for you every week until you turn six. Unfortunately, I’m running out of things to say and time. Short notice about my new work. So from then on you will get a letter every other week. But don’t worry, I’m sure I will be home by then. But just in case! You never know what happens.

 

Hey, I hope you have a wonderful birthday, kiddo. If you get this letter, you’re four already. Imagine how big and strong you must be! Woah! \(>o<)ノ

 

I hope I’ll be home soon so I can see how tall you’ve gotten. Make sure to eat lots of cake today!

 

Love,

Dad

 

Izuku stares at the letter. Neat handwriting stares back at him. His hands shake. Sixth hovers next to him, and the regular sparking of his outline is muted.

 

“Hey,” he hears Sixth say, and a hand is placed on his shoulder. “Are you okay?”

 

Something wet rolls down his cheek.

 


 

Izuku’s forgiven Mom for a lot of things, but he’s not sure he can this time.

 

There are fifteen letters in total for the years until he turns four. They’re childish, and they have stupid drawings on them, and halfway through the stack the letters aren’t already opened. Mom must have read half of them to him as a baby but then never opened the rest.

 

He reads the letters. Not all of them. That takes too much time. But he takes the box and hides them in his room and when night falls, he reads them up until the one dated on his sixth birthday. He’s read over 104 letters, and he cries because the dad they never talk about prewrote all of them just in case he came home late from whatever work it is that he’s doing, or in case he passed away doing it.

 

His dad doodles little cute pictures on the papers, and they slowly grow better as the letters go on. This dad that he’s never met, never heard from before, it also sweet and funny and used to have a pet dog named Oreo. He’s got dark hair and pale skin—at least, that’s what he says he has—and he’s apparently pretty tall too. He also admits that he’s a really big crier, just as bad as Mom and he is, so it’s either genetic or they’re all just big babies.

 

His dad can breathe fire. He mentions it, once, and then doesn’t talk about his quirk after that. He seems much more interested in telling Izuku interesting facts or how much he loves him or advice that he’s learned while growing up. Izuku can almost imagine his voice there, and he so badly wants to hear it in real life. He wants to experience the hugs that his dad always talks about.

 

He misses a person he never met, and it stings low in his gut.

 

The stacks of letters grow thinner with each batch, starting shortly after his sixth birthday. It hurts. It hurts so, so much.

 

They only have a day before they leave for the camp sessions, and while everyone is frantically moving about, Izuku hides in his room and opens the stack that starts from his sixth birthday. It’s a blow to his gut.

 

Hello! I’m back again, wishing you a wonderful sixth birthday.

 

If I’ve had to save these letters up to this point, and if I’m still not there… I’m sorry.

 

I owe you, Izuku, a bit of an explanation. And if it’s gotten to this point and you still haven’t seen hide nor hair of me… I’m sorry. That’s a failure on my part.

 

As you might know, my quirk is called Fire Breath. It’s simple, and I like it that way. It’s a powerful quirk if you know how to use it, and I managed to get into Shiketsu with it. I graduated, started doing hero work beneath the surface and in the background, and lived with that.

 

I met your mother a decade ago and I love her very, very much. At the time of me writing this letter, she is several months pregnant with you. We’ve already decided that your name would be Izuku, since I might be gone when you’re born. Unless she decides to initiate karma for stealing her covers last night, I don’t think that’ll change.

 

Because of my status as an underground hero, I was approached by the police a few months ago to head an investigation. Due to the fact that it’s sensitive information, and I don’t know much about it myself since I haven’t accepted my role yet, I can’t say much. But I do know that it’s an incredibly dangerous one, and the government needs me to locate and safeguard some kind of danger. A danger that they don’t just trust anyone to take care of.

 

They told me that it’d take me two years, tops. Two years is still a long time, but they told me that I would be totally isolated to keep myself and my family safe. Nothing else to worry about but this one danger.

 

They told me specifically that I might be able to do it in less than half the time, but procedure requires them to say that the estimated time to complete the case is around two years, four at the most.

 

But I don’t trust them. I’ve been an underground hero for too long, Izuku. I’ve seen a lot of things.

 

If I’m still not here, Izuku, then I want you to know that I do love you. And that accepting this case was the biggest mistake of my life. I don’t even know how it will turn out, but even so… if this letter that I’m writing almost seven years before its arrival takes my place of me being there in your life— well, I messed up. You mean the world to me, even if you’re not born yet, and I want you to know that no case could ever replace the missed birthday parties, graduations, games, holidays, and sleepovers I’ve undoubtedly missed.

 

If I’m still alive, and still on the case, then the danger runs deeper than I thought. And for all that I will do my hardest to finish it, to put things to rest, know that I only took it up because I worried about your guys’ safety. Know that every day, I will work from dawn till dusk to finish it so I can be one day closer to coming home.

 

I know you might not forgive me, but know that I will always, always love you from the bottom of my heart. ❣╰(⸝⸝⸝´꒳`⸝⸝⸝)╯❣

 

Have a wonderful sixth birthday, kiddo. And remember, always make sure to eat lots of cake!

 

Love you!

Dad

 

Izuku doesn’t cry. Not again.

 

Second sits in front of him and the box of letters, his brow drawn low. Izuku had explained the situation to him, and he remains quiet. He’s there, and Izuku can feel his presence in the back of his mind, but he doesn’t interrupt or insert himself in the situation, and for that, Izuku is thankful.

 

The letters continue, and he reads them one by one with gentle care. The letters stay consistent, and his dad kept to his word—every other Friday, a new letter had come to their front doorstep. Izuku hadn’t even noticed.

 

Dad gives him simple, easy advice, and it makes Izuku’s heart warm. He wishes he could hear it in person, god how he wishes.

 

At the start of his seventh birthday letter, the period of time before each letter fluctuates. Dad has to fight tooth and nail to send letters consistently according to the letters sent. Izuku doesn’t mind. The decrease in quantity of letters only increases the amount of paper shoved in each one, so he’s reading just the same amount as he was before.

 

He learns that Dad’s hero name is Carmine, and that he’s finally gotten a good team to work with. His first partner is a man around twenty years of age. He goes by Dilute, and he’s the man behind the computer screen. He’s really smart, if only a bit sarcastic and witty. There’s his youngest member, a hero who graduated extra early at the age of sixteen. She’s the youngest, but she’s been with Dad longer than the last member. Shes goes by Chameleon, and she’s hotheaded but really strong.

 

Everest is the last member. Dad has a really special friendship with her. While Everest is a couple of years older than Chameleon, though still younger than Dilute, she’s only been on the investigation team for a couple months. Her quirk is a bit like Ectoplasm’s, and she can create ghost-like clones of herself and control them. Unfortunately, it leaves her body vulnerable and in a catatonic-like state, but her clones have the ability to turn invisible and intangible. Dad doesn’t go too into depth about her other abilities, but Izuku is pretty sure Everest has more to her quirk.

 

Although Dad purposefully leaves out details about his investigation, Izuku knows that leads are thin and that times are hard. He hasn’t found enough. It may still be a long, long time before Izuku sees his Dad.

 

It stings a little more.

 

His mailing schedule becomes more normal. Dad can only mail one letter per month, but he makes sure to add enough detail as to what happens to make the letter last a while. Izuku feels something bitter in the back of his throat when he picks up the most recent letter. He has a feeling he knows exactly what date it arrived.

 

Hey Izuku! (ノ´ヮ´)ノ*:・゚✧

 

It’s your ninth birthday. Man, you must be so tall. If only I could see you!

 

We’re making some huge progress on my side, so I’m hoping, hoping, hoping I can get a breakthrough. It might take a little bit, but I’m crossing my fingers!

 

Dilute says that he wants pictures of you. Everest and Chameleon are complaining about a lack of response too. You’d think they’d be more patient about this kind of stuff, wouldn’t you think? Anyway, remember that you can always talk to me! Well, not always, but… just remember that you can send a letter right up to me if you go to any police station and ask them to contact Carmine from Delphic Files Investigation. They’ll know what you mean immediately. It might take a while for your letter to come through, but it will. I hope your mother remembered that right. I was sure I told her. (`_´)ゞ But my memory isn’t what I used to be, and maybe I forgot to tell her. Who knows.

 

Anyway, I left some money in the envelope this time. I know it’s not much, and it doesn’t compare to an actual present, but I’m so closed off from the real world… I wouldn’t even know where to start. When I get back, I promise the first thing I’m going to do (after I hug you and spend time with you—which will be a very long step) is to reacquaint myself with the world. That way I can be Cool Dad #1 and buy you all the Cool Stuff. (Like stuffed animals. Have you seen the ones at the store? They’re huge and fluffy, I want them so badly! We can get one to share, how about that? I giant bunny sounds cool to me. And we can name it Somebunny.)

 

Hopefully there’s enough money in there to buy you something you’d like to have for your birthday. If it’s not enough, just tell me (if you want to, of course) and I’ll send you however much you need. Just don’t suck me dry, please. I’d like to keep some so maybe we can go have a nice vacation when I get back. I’ve been saving up for the past nine or so years, so I think I have enough to bring us somewhere nice. Your mother always liked places that were warm, so maybe we can do something in a warmer climate… hm. We’ll see. Just shoot any ideas you have at me, kid, and I can probably arrange something.

 

I hope you’re ready to be spoiled rotten Izuku. I have been gone for too long and the years that I’m back I’m going to make it my job to shower you with love. ✧٩(•́⌄•́๑) Granted, I’m not much of a material person myself, so I might resort back to simple hugs and affection more often. Hope you don’t mind too much. Your mom told me all the time I could be a little unbearable, so when I’m home and bothering you just tell me to knock off.

 

Also, you’re so close to hitting double digits, my friend! Ahhh you’re getting so old without me, how dare you age so fast? You best believe that I’m gonna give you the best hug you’re ever gonna get when I see you.

 

Anyway, hoping that school for you is going well. Make sure you keep up with your studies! You may think, “Oh well this won’t matter to me in the future,” but it might help you one day. I know though, fractions are so annoying, aren’t they? It’s okay, you’re not alone when I say that people don’t like it.

 

Sleep well tonight, kiddo. Don’t give your mother too hard of a time, okay?

 

Remember: Eat lots of cake! Enjoy yourself today! s( > ‿ <)-b

 

Love,

Dad

 

Izuku holds the letter close to his chest for a minute. Second places a hand on his knee, and it sends tingles up his thigh and down his leg. There’s a silent question in his eyes, asking if he needs to stop and take a break, and Izuku nods and slides the letter back into its rightful place. He places the lid on top of it and shoves it far underneath his bed, hidden and out of reach.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Izuku shakes his head no. He wraps his arms around his legs, pulling them close to his chest. His chin gets placed on his knees, and his eyes water.

 

“Do you need some time to yourself?” Second asks.

 

A nod.

 

“Alright.” Second stands up, and Izuku can hear his joints creak and pop. He pads quietly away and leaves Izuku alone, shutting the door behind him.

 

Izuku grips his shins with pale, trembling hands. He buries his face into his knees, and he cries alone for the first time in a long, long while.

 

(He’s forgiven Mom for a lot of things. But he’s not so sure he can forgive her now. Not this time.)

 


 

That night, Izuku sneaks out through his window. His bags are packed and are already by the entrance to his bedroom, ready for him to take down to Tsukauchi’s car when he arrives tomorrow morning. Shrimp rests on his bed, curled up in a nest of covers.

 

When Izuku drops down the fire escape and makes his way down the sidewalk, Fifth appears by his side. He’s unusually quiet as he accompanies Izuku, and they make their way to their usual bench. They stop one street over, and Izuku can see Second sitting on the bench, arms crossed. Third and Sixth aren’t there, presumably patrolling the area again.

 

Fifth places a hand on Izuku’s shoulder, and the boy looks up at him. The man tilts his head in a direction away from the bench, and Izuku nods. Fifth’s hand gently guides him around the street, and they loop around. They enter the same grounds that Sixth had led Izuku in a few days before, and they walk through the trees in silence. The area is an entirely different world at night, and if Izuku cranes his neck, he can see patches of the night sky and the stars through the leaves.

 

Patches of grass light aglow with the moonlight that quietly flows in and out of focus, its shine light and airy. The woods are silent except for the crunch of their steps. Fifth’s heavy footsteps seem almost unbearably loud compared to the still silence surrounding them.

 

After a long few minutes of silence, they come across a clearing. Fifth lumbers on before settling himself on a large, smooth rock. He pats the area beside him, and Izuku shuffles over.

 

Fifth crosses his arms. “So kid, what’s the problem?” he asks, and his voice is low and it rumbles deep.

 

Izuku shrugs.

 

Fifth waits a moment, and when Izuku obviously refuses to speak further, he grunts. “You know, letting it all bottle up inside you isn’t good for you.” His large hand comes to pat him hard on the back, and it almost sends Izuku tumbling forward. “Scream for me, would you?”

 

Izuku blinks. “Scream?” he croaks.

 

Fifth grins. “Yeah, scream, like this.” He opens his mouth, and without warning, he lets out one of the biggest, most eardrum-shattering screams Izuku’s ever heard in his life.

 

Izuku’s hands immediately jump to cover his ears, but the damage is done. His ears ring slightly as Fifth’s voice echoes through the forest, bouncing back and forth before disappearing altogether.

 

“Ow,” Izuku says blandly. “Give me a warning next time, would you?”

 

“Sorry,” Fifth says, sheepish. He bounces right back. “Now, screaming time. I want to hear you loud and clear.”

 

Izuku raises an eyebrow. When Fifth doesn’t budge, merely giving him a pair of thumbs up, he turns back forward. Suddenly self-conscious, he sucks in a deep breath and lets out a short scream.

 

Fifth waits a second.

 

“That was kind of pathetic, kid,” he says, and Izuku slaps his shoulder. He only chuckles. “Kid, try it again. But this time imagine all your worries and problems are bundled in your chest, and you’re going to scream them all out.” He pokes Izuku right back on the shoulder. “And scream like you mean it.”

 

Izuku stares at the man. After a moment, he sighs and looks away. As he clenches the fabric of his shorts, he sucks in a deep breath.

 

From the corner of his eye, he can see Fifth looking at him curiously.

 

He lets out a scream that burns his throat and almost leaves him coughing in the aftermath. Fifth smiles.

 

“Feel better?” he asks.

 

Yes, Izuku thinks, but he doesn’t deign Fifth with an answer.

 

Fifth sighs and leans back some, resting all his weight on his hands. “So. What are you feeling right now?”

 

“Huh?”

 

Fifth waves a hand at him. “What are you feeling? You don’t need to tell me anything else. Just look at that jumble of emotions in your chest and pick it apart. What emotions are you feeling right now?”

 

Izuku blinks. He glances down at his lap, and his hands intertwine. “I’m… confused,” he admits slowly. “A little angry.” Exhaling sharply through his nose, he quickly adds, “And very disappointed.”

 

“Anything else?” Fifth asks.

 

Izuku shrugs. “Hopeful, maybe.”

 

Fifth bobs his head. “Good. Now why are you feeling that way?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Why are you confused? Angry? Disappointed? Hopeful?” Fifth’s large, towering figure blocks out some of the stars from above, but a few brighter ones still shine through his translucent form.

 

Izuku bites his lower lip. He waves his legs back and forth, and the grass beneath his feet are bent back and forth. “Mom’s been hiding all these letters addressed to me. From Dad. And I’m confused because… I don’t know why. But I’m also angry because I thought he left. I thought he didn’t care. But he does care. And that’s why I’m so disappointed… I missed all of these letters throughout my life and I’m only getting them now.”

 

Fifth nods. “And what are you going to do about those emotions? Are you going to talk to your mother to get rid of the confusion? Or are you just going to stay angry at her? And will you choose to forgive her or not?”

 

Izuku sighs. “I don’t know,” he says, and he sounds miserable as he puts his face in his hands.

 

Fifth rubs his back. “It’s okay. You don’t have to know now, or any time soon. Just know what’s in your heart and what emotions you want to guide your decision-making.”

 

Izuku stares up at him. “In… my heart?”

 

Fifth smiles toothily, and his eyes soften. “Yeah, kid.” He presses a finger to Izuku’s small chest, right where his heart is. “Your heart. That’s what’s important. To me it is, at least.” He looks back up at the sky, and the dark green symbol that rests over his own heart glows softly through his jacket. “I know I’m not all that bright. Not like the others. And I know I don’t think things through all that often. I get it. I’m not analytical like Sixth, or tough as nails like Second with all his street smarts. And I’m not like Third, who can read people easily. But there’s a reason why I was a mentor. Why Fourth chose me.”

 

Fifth glances at him, and he points to the symbol over his heart. “I mean ‘capture’ for many reasons. Capture because that’s what I do to villains. I restrain them, keep them in line, make sure that they’re safe-proofed so they can’t hurt anyone else.” He smiles lightly. “I do the exact same thing for my emotions. I have to recognize them, reach out in my heart and know what I’m feeling and why. I always need to ask myself: why am I doing this? What in my heart is telling me I should do this? And do I need to restrain some of my emotions so I don’t hurt anyone who’s innocent?”

 

“I mean ‘capture’ because I have to capture all these moments and remember them. Not just up here—” Fifth taps the side of his head. “—but also in here.” He points to his chest again. “I have to remember what my feelings tells me. I have to remember my drive, my emotions. My heart.” Fifth’s eyes crinkle in the corner as he smiles widely. “And sure, I don’t qualify to be a holder, not like the others. I know they doubt my abilities sometimes. But that’s why I was chosen. That’s why I mentored Sixth, because he doesn’t struggle with it like me.” Fifth’s hands rest loosely between his legs as he leans forward.

 

His voice, for all that it rumbles and for as terrifying as it may seem, is gentle and welcoming. Izuku looks up at him again, lips parted as surprise washes over him. He hadn’t… thought about Fifth like that. Never like that.

 

Izuku leans over so he can rest against Fifth’s side. His touch is cool, like a gentle, dewy mist at dawn.

 

They sit together like that for a while. Izuku isn’t sure if it’s a couple minutes or an hour later when Fifth stands up, and he holds his hand out for Izuku to take. He pulls Izuku up into a standing position, and the two of them walk in comfortable silence back the way they came.

 

When they pass by the street with the bench, Izuku pokes Fifth in the side. When the man stops, he points to the bench and where Second continues to sit, unaware of their presence.

 

“What about the bench is so important to you all?” Izuku asks. He had meant to ask it years ago, but he supposes now is a good time as any to do so.

 

Fifth hums. Izuku’s hand is still in his hand, and he squeezes it lightly.

 

“The bench doesn’t matter. It’s the placing.” Fifth frowns. “The bench sits right over where First died,” he says quietly. “For some reason, All— I mean, these really bad people avoid it like it’s the plague. You could call it a safe spot, I guess. None of us are touched or harmed while we’re there.” Fifth cracks a smile. “And it’s also where all of us appear. Even when you had been kidnapped, Third appeared here. He immediately rushed to where you were, but this is everyone’s starting point.”

 

Izuku frowns. “Is that why Second is so careful about staying here all the time?” he asks quietly. “So he can protect the place where First died?”

 

Fifth hums. “Yes. But also because he’s probably waiting for First.”

 

Izuku blinks and looks back at Second. The man is still and quiet, his appearance like a hawk searching for his prey. Except his eyes are closed, and he looks more peaceful than usual.

 

“He really cares about his mentor, doesn’t he?” Izuku asks quietly.

 

Something unreadable passes over Fifth’s face. A light frown pulls his lips down, and his dark eyes glitter with emotion Izuku can’t quite place. Silence falls over them, only broken by the faint sounds of police sirens going off and the chirping of birds.

 

Very, very slowly, like the words have to be pulled from Fifth’s mouth, he says:

 

“First wasn’t… just his mentor.”

 

Izuku blinks. He glances back to Second. His eyes are open, now. He’s gazing blankly at something so close but something so far away. There’s something soft about his expression. Something longing. Hoping.

 

Izuku squeezes Fifth’s hand as the realization crashes into him. “Oh,” he says.

 

Long after Izuku and Fifth leave, Second waits, patient. 

 

Always, always patient. 

Chapter Text

Tsukauchi picks him up the next morning.

 

He waits outside, leaning against the side of his police car. Obviously he had just come from work, seeing as there’s a stack of files underneath his arm and a cup of coffee in one hand. Although slightly disheveled in appearance, he still has that air of calm collectiveness that always helps Izuku’s nerves.

 

Hawks helps carry all of Izuku’s bags after his own and puts it in the trunk of the car. Soft chatter rings in the air, and Sansa and Tsukauchi are speaking down below. There’s a small smile on the detective’s face as he takes a sip of his drink— clearly, the two are talking about something much more lighthearted than they usually when talking in private.

 

Mom hugs everyone before they go. The Midoriyas are huggers, as everyone now well knows. Izuku is tense in his mother’s hold, but he eventually finds it in himself to hug her back.

 

Hawks is the one who ushers him into the back of the car. His wings take up a lot of space, but Tsukauchi seemed to keep that in mind when choosing to pick them up in his police car. He chose the one with the extra room in the back for criminals with mutant quirks, and it lets Hawks stretch his wings out on one side as Izuku sits across from him.

 

Before the door closes behind Izuku, a small box is placed beside him. A small lump is curled up inside.

 

Hawks grins good-naturedly, and it beams so brightly that Izuku almost forgets the handprints that wrap around Hawks’ shoulders and arms and throat.

 

He says almost because the marks are especially bright today, and they cut deep and dark and some days they’ll drip and smear. Those are the days when Hawks’ smile is the biggest, when he has something to hide and something to shove far, far away.

 

“Wanna play a game of cards?” Hawks asks, and he holds a pack in his hand. Izuku smiles.

 

“Where would we even play?” He gestures to the room around them. “We don’t have anywhere to rest the cards.”

 

Hawks sends him one of his cheekiest smiles as he presses something on the inside of the car door. He pulls a thin board out from within the fabric, eventually bringing it closer to the two of them. The metal arm that holds it up stretches like a limb as Hawks places it between them, hovering over their legs.

 

“Oh,” Izuku says as Hawks places the deck in front of them. “That’s neat.”

 

“It is, isn’t it?” Hawks starts to shuffle the cards. “What games do you want to play?”

 

Izuku shrugs. He hasn’t played many card games. Hawks chooses for the two of them and starts to place cards in a certain order. Izuku doesn’t know why, but he knows that if he’s patient enough and waits, the boy will explain it to him.

 

They end up playing cards for about an hour or so when they finally stop. Hawks is getting a little carsick and is leaning against the door of the car, cheek pressed against the window. They spend the next moments in silence, comfortable and light. (Izuku doesn’t talk about the figure outlined in lavender, who’s sitting on Izuku’s other side. Third is making himself as small as he physically can in order to not attract attention, though there is a faint indentation where he’s sitting. Sixth is in his lap, the two of them cramped in the corner. Had it been any other combination, Izuku’s sure that they would have devolved into an argument, but Sixth is incredibly lax and likes to ‘go with the flow.’ Awkward or weird situations don’t seem to bother him, and Third is too kind to start one—in fact, he’s usually the one to deescalate all the fights his friends get into.)

 

Without thinking, Izuku slips over to the other side and sits beside Hawks. The winged teen blinks at him blearily.

 

“What’re you—”

 

Izuku just shook his head, and Hawks stuttered to a stop. When Izuku reached out to touch Hawks’ back, the boy flinched, and Izuku’s hands hovered.

 

“Can I?” he asks. Consent. He has to have consent before he touches him.

 

Hawks glances warily at him, but he nods shortly at him. His muscles and wings are tense as Izuku slowly presses his fingers to his back.

 

It’s a tip Fifth taught him. His thumbs rub small circles into Hawks’ shoulders, putting just enough pressure to ease his muscles and the tension that grows deep there. It takes a few minutes, but Hawks eventually relaxes entirely, and he lets out a long breath as Izuku’s hands move to the joints in his wings.

 

Izuku can’t do anything about the bruise-like imprints on Hawks’ body. But he can at least show him that not all touch will harm him. Izuku thinks, quietly, at least he can do that. He can’t do a lot, but that he can do.

 

When Izuku stops running his hands gently through Hawks’ wings—an intimate thing, clearly, by the way Hawks shudders—he sits back where he was before. Hawks has a soft look on his face, and he furls his wings until they rest comfortably by his sides. The fingerprints that rest along his ear and jaw have faded, slightly. They’re almost invisible.

 

The oddest thing happens, though.

 

There are soft, golden marks that rest on top of the dark handprints. They’re fingerprints too, except they’re… smaller. They rest along the back of Hawks’ spine where Izuku had massaged it, and there are brighter ones that peek out by his shoulders.

 

Memories and experiences form those markings.

 

Hawks is staring at his hands, and his gaze isn’t quite seeing what’s right in front of him. “Thank you,” he finally chokes out.

 

Izuku wants to ask. But he doesn’t. He nods and reaches beside him to run a hand over Shrimp’s back. Their silence isn’t as comfortable as it was, but it isn’t tense. An understanding hangs between them not to talk about it, though.

 

Another hour passes. The two of them decide to take a nap. Hawks wraps him into his wing and pulls him close to his side. His wing, which serves almost like a warm blanket, hides his view of the world around him. It’s the perfect place to fall asleep.

 

So he does.

 

He doesn’t wake back up until he hears the door open, and Hawks’ wing peels back. Fresh, cold air hits his face, and he blinks groggily.

 

“Hey, Izuku. You feeling okay back there?” Tsukauchi asks kindly. “I know that it was a long drive.”

 

Izuku nods slowly as Hawks scoots himself out of the car. Izuku follows out after him, stumbling only slightly. He reaches back in to grab Shrimp, stalling for enough time so Sixth and Third can get out of the car. Shrimp doesn’t twitch or struggle in his arms as much as Izuku expected him to. It’s nice though, and he pets the rabbit’s head as they start to slowly make their way to a building.

 

Now that Izuku actually has the chance to look around himself, his eyes widen. He’s never seen so much nature in one place before. Large trees tower over him, and there’s only a small, dirt trail that runs through the trees. Izuku assumes that that’s where they arrived from, and the police car sits at a clearing. There are several new buildings, large but not very tall. They only sit at a single floor, which is a vast change from the never-ending skyscrapers of the city.

 

There are a lot of dark clouds that hover over the sky. Sansa makes a passing comment that it’ll rain later today. Izuku only half-listens as he looks around him. It smells… nice. The air is light and it’s not as thick with smoke and pollution as he’s used to it being.

 

They don’t make it to the doorway of the largest building before it slams open, and a blonde woman with blue eyes hops out into the light with a big grin on her face. She's really young. She must only be in her early to mid twenties, now.

 

She's followed by another woman with short, bobbed auburn hair that frames her eyes nicely. She looks to be around the blonde's age as well.

 

"Ah, Tsukauchi!" the blonde calls. "You finally came! I thought you had gotten lost or something."

 

Tsukauchi laughs good-naturedly. "Tsuchikawa I'm half an hour early."

 

The blonde, Tsuchikawa as Izuku now knows, places her hands on her hips. "Sorry! I can't help it, you know how I just couldn't wait to meet my new friend." She licks her lips. "Now, where is he? I've heard word that he's adorable and I'm not missing out on this."

 

The woman with the brown hair sighs and shakes her head. "Sorry about her, Tsukauchi. She just gets a little too excited sometimes." Placing a hand on her chest, she continued, "I'm Sōsaki. It's a pleasure to meet you guys."

 

Tsukauchi takes his hat off and bows his head to them. "You already know who I am, ladies, but it's a pleasure to finally meet you outside of work."

 

The winged teen, who's been hovering in front of Izuku, finally speaks up. "Uh, you guys can just call me Hawks."

 

Tsuchikawa glances at the teen, and her eyes widen. "Ooo, birdie," she mutters under her breath. There's an odd look on her face.

 

"Sansa," the other police officer says warmly. Almost immediately the other two react.

 

"Oh my god. Sansa, would you like to join our team? I love your face. Please. Your mug is adorable and—"

 

Sōsaki places a hand on the blonde's shoulder. "Tsuchikawa, now's not the time."

 

Izuku stares at the two as they devolve into their own conversation. Tsukauchi sighs, clearly tired, while Sansa looks caught between being embarrassed and flattered.

 

Hawks, thank the lord, is the one who solves the problem. "Oh, ma'ams, here's my friend. He's the one who's doing the community service work." Hawks steps aside, and Izuku finds the attention suddenly on him.

 

Blinking once, he holds Shrimp tighter to his chest. "I'm… I'm uh." He struggles for a second, and Hawks places a firm hand on his back. It'd been a while since Izuku had met new people. The last time was when the police officers and heroes had been assigned to protect him. He'd been nervous then, too. Even though he was the one to go out of his way to spend time with them, often bringing them drinks and whatnot, he was still shy and it took a bit of working with him to get him talking. "I'm Izuku," he finally says.

 

“Awww,” Tsuchikawa says, and she holds her hands against her cheeks. “He really is a cutie!”

 

Sōsaki shakes her head at the antics of her friend. “It’s nice to meet you, Izuku. I hope you can have fun in the little time you’ll be here.”

 

“Oo! Oo! Come come, you guys should meet the other two!” Tsuchikawa says, bouncing on her feet. “And on the way we can give you a little tour!”

 

Izuku ducks his head into Shrimp’s fur and nods. He follows slightly behind Hawks as the four of them follow the two young women. Sōsaki is the one who explains a bit of the history of the buildings and the area, while Tsuchikawa occasionally buts in with an exclamation or two.

 

Izuku learns that the grounds were incredibly popular and used to be used for fun activities that kids would sign up for over the summer. It went as far back as before the arrival of quirks, but then disaster struck and the place had to be abandoned. Because of it, the land—although rich and plenty of space—was never touched. Cleaning and fixing everything up (almost a whole quarter of the forest was burned down) seemed like a nightmare and a half, and it wasn’t until in the recent decades that wealthy business owners were starting to eye it.

 

That’s when the four of them—Tsuchikawa, Sōsaki, and two of their friends—stepped in. They wanted to preserve the lot, and so they gathered together all they had and made a plan. It took a bit of convincing, but they managed to convince a wealthy school to give them the money they needed to buy and clean the area up in return that they would open it to their students. Izuku had wanted to ask what the students would be there for, but decided that he’d rather not know.

 

The cleared area is nice and well done, but the women point out to him from one of the windows at a specific part of the treeline. Immediately, he notices how most of the trees are small, and there are faint scorch marks in the soil that look way older than even him.

 

“We’ve been doing a lot of work, for several years now, but it’s hard with only four people to both maintain all of our facilities and restore this place to how it was. Especially since the four of us are pretty busy at times with our other jobs,” Sōsaki explains. “But our budget is tight. We hired people to help us at the beginning to get us going, and right now it’s good enough that it’s functional—enough so that the school isn't breathing down our necks, anyway—but now progress has steadily grown smaller."

 

"Which is why we set up the volunteer program," Tsuchikawa explains, unusually serious. "Unfortunately…" She trails off, looking sheepish.

 

"It doesn't exactly attract much attention," Sōsaki finishes. "But we're working on it. Oh, and here's the kitchen."

 

The doorway is large, just like the rest of them. Probably to account for mutant quirks, Izuku thinks. There's no door, so they peer into the large space. It's about quadruple the size of the kitchen at home, maybe even more.

 

"You need more space to feed a bunch of hangry children!" Tsuchikawa says. "So it's really big. Awful trying to clean it up though."

 

Their tour continues. They eventually come across large rooms separated by gender for the groups of kids that come to stay there. Further down there are smaller rooms, and Sōsaki tells him that he'll be staying in one of them with Hawks. Sansa and Tsukauchi will be taking the larger room across the hall, which has a desk for Tsukauchi to work at.

 

“You said that you’d be coming and going, right, Tsukauchi?” Sōsaki asks. “I know that even with the distance you’ll probably be busy working on cases, so if you need more room or deskspace, just tell us. We have a large office in the back that you can use.”

 

Tsukauchi smiles, though it’s slightly pained. “Yes, thank you. It is much appreciated.”

 

Work never sleeps, Izuku remembers. That’s what Aizawa had told him before. Tsukauchi had to pull a lot of strings to come himself, but that didn’t mean he managed to avoid his work completely. Working from afar would be just as taxing as it was before, if not a million times more frustrating from the lack of communication.

 

“We have Wi-Fi if you need it!” Tsuchikawa says. “Just give us the word and we’ll do everything we can to make your life easier, my friend!”

 

“Chatora should be bringing your bags any second now,” Sōsaki says, “so don’t worry about those. He knows which room to put them in. Now, come along! Everyone’s favorite part are the hot springs.”

 

Izuku looks down at Shrimp. The rabbit stares right back at him.

 

He’s never been in a hot spring before, but judging by the way Hawks is vibrating from beside him, they must be nice.

 


 

“So Izuku,” Sōsaki starts once their tour is over, “where do you want to start? We have a bunch of activities that we would love your help on, but it all depends on what you can do and what you can learn to do. We have to do a lot of work in the facilities since we have two new classes coming next week, if you’re sensitive to the sun. Most of it is just simple cleaning until it’s spotless. We also got a new batch of trees that we need to plant. And I think the bushes came in too, though they’re super late. We’d have to plant them quick if we don’t want them to die…”

 

Izuku realizes that they need help. A lot of it. And they don’t have enough hands to do so. “I’ll do whatever you need the most help with,” he says, because these women have grown on him quickly and he really wants to assist them in the best way he can.”

 

Sōsaki smiles. “Why don’t we start cleaning up inside? The school just recently ordered some goods for us, and they’ll be coming just a day before the kids arrive. It’ll take some time to unload it all, so we should probably clean all the facilities beforehand. If we get done early we can move outside and help Chatora, Tsuchikawa, and Shiretoko.”

 

Hawks, the bright, kind soul that he is, jumps to Izuku’s side. “I can help you guys too! I’m technically supposed to be guarding Izuku, but standing there the entire time while you guys clean would make me feel bad.” Hawks scratches his cheek bashfully before clapping his hands together and holding them out. “So please, let me help!”

 

Sōsaki just laughs. “You’re an energetic one, aren’t you? Sure, I don’t see the harm in it at all.”

 

Sansa hums. “I might be able to help as well. Unfortunately, I take the night watch, so I’m not sure how much help I can possibly be when I’m supposed to be watching over someone asleep…”

 

“It’s alright Sansa,” Hawks says. “You just being there is enough.”

 

Izuku smiles at them. Sōsaki has a grin on her own face.

 

“Aw, how sweet of you,” Tsuchikawa interrupts. “Now then, it’s lunchtime! Who wants what?”

 

Sōsaki brushes the nonexistent dirt off her clothes. “I’ll go get Chatora and Shiretoko so you can meet them.”

 

Tsuchikawa beins to push them in the direction of the dining room. Izuku sits down first, and he places Shrimp on the table in front of him. Tsukauchi sits to his one side, Sansa sitting on the detective’s other. Hawks sits to Izuku’s right while Tsuchikawa takes a seat in front of them.

 

“So, kiddo, working here isn’t going to be a piece of cake.” Tsuchikawa has a grin on her face that doesn’t look all too innocent. “You’re going to be so tired that you’ll be dead on your feet. But we didn’t drag you all the way out here for this to be straight hell. We have several activities that you might find fun, yeah?” She leans forward. “I just need to know if you can swim.”

 

Izuku blinks. “Uh, I’ve never learned before. But I would like to.”

 

“I can teach you!” The voice is new, and Izuku glances behind him to see a young woman with lime green hair and wide yellow eyes. She twirls on her feet before she comes to a stop at their table. “I’ve taught a bunch of kids who’ve come here, even the scaredy cats!”

 

“Izuku, this is Shiretoko,” the blonde in front of him says.

 

A large man with bulging muscles introduces himself. “I am Chatora. Nice to meet you, Izuku.”

 

Izuku smiles. “Hello.”

 

It’s introductions all over again, and by the time they finish, Tsuchikawa is practically bouncing out of her seat. Sōsaki comes by, carrying multiple plates of food on her arms. Izuku doesn’t know how the dark-haired woman managed to both contact the other two and whip something up in the short minutes that they were there—maybe it was her quirk?—but the next second, a plate was set in front of him.

 

Izuku is used to eating lunch alone, and it’s an odd experience to have so many others there. But the four owners of the camp are incredibly fun and nice to be around. They ask about him and Shrimp, and they seem genuinely interested in his answers. He likes that.

 

“So you’re staying for two weeks?” the green-haired woman asks. “We can have so much fun in that time!”

 

Izuku’s not sure the next two weeks will be fun. Not with the warning he got from Tsuchikawa.

 

In the background, he can see Sixth giving him two thumbs up. “Good luck buddy!” he calls, not afraid that he’ll be heard by anyone else but Izuku.

 

Izuku’s pretty sure he’s gonna need it.

 


 

Izuku, Hawks, and Sōsaki spend the next day doing nothing but cleaning, wiping, dusting, mopping, sweeping, and organizing. It leaves Izuku’s arms tired and him sweaty. He’s glad that he’s in the air conditioning, though—he couldn’t imagine doing it outside, where it’s hot and humid.

 

Hawks’ quirk turns out to be their savior. Though he doesn’t have full control over his feathers yet, at least not with so many at once, it’s still extra ‘hands’ that help them get the job done. He’s still not sure what Sōsaki’s quirk is, if she even has one but it must not be too useful when cleaning. Either way, every inch is either spotless or sparkling by the time dusk falls.

 

“Thanks for both of your guys’ hard work,” Sōsaki says, not looking tired at all. “It’s such a time consuming task, even if it’s not that physically demanding.” Not physically demanding? Then why do Izuku’s arms feel like they’re about to fall off? “It would’ve taken me four days just to do it myself.”

 

Izuku’s not surprised. There’s just so much space, some of which he totally missed the first time they toured the area.

 

Tsuchikawa is grinning when they arrive in the dining room. A few plates of food are set aside for them, and Izuku immediately latches onto one. He’s starving.

 

“So, I heard the good news!” Tsuchikawa says. “You guys managed to finish cleaning all the facilities in a day, huh?”

 

“That’s never happened before!” Shiretoko squeals. “You guys are totally awesome. How’d you do it?”

 

“Hawks’ quirk allows him to control his feathers,” Izuku says from around his spoon. “So he can hold and carry objects with them, or move them around. It was really helpful.”

 

“Oh really?” Chatora peers down at Hawks. “That’s some fine control over your quirk you have. Impressive for a hero-in-training.”

 

Hawks smiles, though it’s a little strained. “I do a lot of training outside of school.”

 

“Which is why you were picked to look after Izuku even though you haven’t even graduated, right? That’s super impressive, kid!” Tsuchikawa points at him with the end of her spoon. “You’re sixteen, right? I’m calling dibs on you.”

 

Hawks blinks, and he slowly flushes from his neck to the tips of his ears. “Huh?”

 

“Wait, wait, wait, but we’re forgetting something!” Shiretoko says, and her wide yellow eyes look earnestly at the woman with dark bobbed hair. “Sōsaki, how was Izuku? He’s the one who technically signed up to do the work in the first place, right? I want to hear how he did!”

 

Izuku swallows the bite of curry that he had just been chewing. It suddenly tastes bitter in his throat. To be fair, he didn’t do much. He tried his best to be as helpful as possible, but he’s too small to reach a lot of the places that needed to be cleaned. Sōsaki also wouldn’t allow him to get anywhere near any chemicals, which left him standing awkwardly in another room while Sixth and Third doodled on one another’s arms.

 

It was amusing, but not because they were bad at drawing. In fact, Sixth was actually really good at drawing intricate designs while Third specialized in drawing animals. Birds were his strongest point, which was… not odd but definitely not expected.

 

Because Sixth had bandages that wrapped around his arms, and his outfit pretty much covered him from chin to toe, Third had to resort to drawing a bird on his cheek while Sixth doodled a mandola on the back of his hand. Izuku had asked them if it would wash off, and they shrugged and laughed it off.

 

“Who knows,” Third had said.

 

Sixth, who had a small rabbit drawn on his nose, blanched. “If this doesn’t come off,” he swore, pointing a finger at Third even as the two were grinning broadly, “I will not hesitate to murder you.”

 

Third had just hummed and started adding designs to the bird’s feathers. His smile was soft as he leaned closer to Sixth’s cheek, and strands of his dark, wine-red hair fell into his eyes. He’d later pull his hair back into its perfect ponytail, but to be honest, Midoriya kind of liked the loose, slightly-disheveled look.

 

“He was great!” Sōsaki says, catching Izuku out of his thoughts. Out of everything he’d expected her to say, that wasn’t it. “My back always hurts if I try to get into those tight, cramped places or if I bend over too often, so Izuku helped me by getting all the lower parts.”

 

“Looks like there is a use for your height, eh kid?” Tsuchikawa asks. “By the way, what is your quirk exactly? I forgot to ask and you never really said.”

 

Izuku freezes.

 

Shiretoko hums. “Yeah, I’d love to know! Could you tell us, please, please?”

 

Izuku suddenly wishes that Tsukauchi or Sansa is there with them. Tsukauchi is still in his dorm, though, probably handling a bunch of paperwork he brought with him, and Sansa is still sleeping from taking the night shift. Out of everyone here, they are the only two that know about his quirk… or lack thereof one.

 

Izuku licks his lips. He’s a little more confident than he used to be about revealing his quirk—Aizawa and everyone else he’s told are always so supportive of him even without one, so why shouldn’t he be? But he still remembers Kacchan’s leers and how his teacher avoided looking at him when his friend pushed him over.

 

He frowns and quietly says, “I’m quirkless.”

 

A lot of things don’t happen for a moment. Hawks pauses mid-bite, his eyebrows shooting high up his forehead. Sōsaki blinks. Tsuchikawa stares at him, her blonde bangs falling lower over her face. Chatora hums, and it’s a sound that reverberates deep and low in his chest. And last but not least, Shiretoko tilts her head, her yellow eyes concerned.

 

“Are you sure?” the green-haired woman asks. Her voice is just as light and bubbly as it usually is, but it’s not as… hyped. Excited.

 

Izuku has to bite his tongue from retorting something mean. “Yes. I was diagnosed when I was around four and a half when my quirk hadn’t appeared.”

 

Shiretoko purses her lips, in which her bottom lip is striped with softly glowing yellow marks. She has several yellow and green bands that wrap around her left wrist and forearm. “Izuku,” she starts softly, “my quirk is called Search. It allows me to monitor and observe up to one hundred people at a time, and it also lets me know their locations and potential weak points.” Her gaze is sharp as she looks down at Izuku, and she reaches out her hand to grab his much smaller one. He catches a glimpse of a small teardrop outline along the inside of her wrist. “In all my life, every time I’ve come across a quirkless person I would know. Search tells me so. Not because being quirkless makes you weak,” she reassures, “but because it puts those who are at a disadvantage. Izuku… you’re not quirkless. Search hasn’t told me you are. And I don’t think it will.”

 

Izuku stares at her blankly for a long, long time. “But… the doctor—”

 

“Can be wrong sometimes,” Sōsaki says gently. She’s got markings on her eyelashes—a rarity. Her eyelashes swirl with color, shifting between dark slate gray and all its gradients to a much lighter, softer gray. Burgundy stripes that match her eyes and hair run along the curve of her ears, and she has matching bands to Shiretoko’s on her right arm, except it instead runs from her shoulder to her elbow.

 

The news should make him happy, but he just feels… empty. All those times that his classmates laughed at him, all those times Kacchan called him Deku, all those times he’s been ignored or mistreated…

 

It was all for no reason?

 

He must’ve mumbled it out loud, because Tsuchikawa’s blue eyes darken and grow stormy. The baby blue stripes that wrap along her middle and ring fingers—identical markings on both hands—brighten momentarily. There are two half-circles, which are set only slightly apart, that rest comfortably between her two collarbones, and they too light up.

 

“Kid, whoever this Kacchan person is doesn’t matter,” she says, and that guarantees that he mumbled something like an idiot. “What matters here is that you’re you and whether or not you have a quirk, we don’t care. We just want you to be at your full potential.”

 

“What is it that you can do or see that no one else can?” Chatora asks, straight to the point. “If you’re struggling where to start, begin there.”

 

If Izuku was smart, he would mention the blue bands that wrap from Tsuchikawa's left knee and up her thigh, or Chatora's orange stripes on his right leg that run from his knee and down his shin to his ankle. If he was smart he would mention Hawks' freckle-like markings that so faintly don his cheeks and nose like tiny little rubies. Like someone sprinkled a bad rendition of pixie dust on him when he was little and most of it has faded away with time.

 

If Izuku was smart, he would mention the two figures in the background, looking worriedly at him. He would mention Third, whose wine red hair sometimes looks more like plum purple when it's pitch black and there's only himself giving off any light. He would mention Third's stable and straightforward nature, and his newly found mischievous side. He would mention Sixth's skin, which is so pale that he looks like a china doll, with his oversized clothing hiding his too-thin form. Maybe he'd even mention how Sixth changes when he thinks Izuku isn't looking, when his gaze grows icy and expression so cold and his mien so serious and dark that if he really was a china doll, Izuku is sure that his face would crack from the pressure in his electric cobalt gaze.

 

But Izuku’s scared, and he has no idea whether or not Second would allow him to reveal anything to his new friends. So he doesn’t say anything.

 

“The reason I wanted to know so badly,” Shiretoko begins, “is because the only weakness I could find from you that might relate to you quirk is time. Or a lack of it.”

 

Izuku remains silent.

 

A lack of time? he thinks. And then it hits him.

 

Time. It takes time to meet his friends. Time he may not have if he’s not careful. But his friends themselves? They all have their own strengths and weaknesses, but each and every one of them balance each other out. Each of them cover for another’s faults—or, most of them, anyway. They’re a team, even if they are at one another’s throats more often than not.

 

And that… that’s impeccable.

 

Izuku, he suddenly realizes, is a very, very lucky person.

 


 

Hisashi is tired.

 

Everest is silent and comforting from beside him. She’s curled up like a cat in her seat, and he threw a blanket over her shoulders a long while ago. He’s at his desk in his room at the moment, trying to tie together the few leads he recently had landed on his doorstep. He was hopeful that it would finally lead him to finding the bastard he’s been looking for, but it’s a few weeks later and he’s tired the leads out.

 

He’s starting to lose hope that he’s ever gonna come home to his son and wife.

 

In the other room, he can hear Chameleon and Dilute arguing again. Chameleon is young and a little too hot-headed for his liking, but she’s brilliant and strong to boot. Too brilliant, really, and he wishes that she hadn’t graduated from hero school so early when she’s not even a legal adult. But there’s not a lot that he can do to change it now, not when she’s been on his team for just under a year now. And she’s helpful, which might be the worst part of it. She fits in just nicely.

 

Dilute still acts like a kid even though he’s nearing his mid-twenties. He had been Hisashi’s first partner, and it’s true that Hisashi treats him like a son. (Dilute’s quirkless, after all, and for all the flack he was given growing up, Hisashi personally sought him out for how good he is with electronics and hacking. Unfortunately, due to Dilute’s lack of a quirk, he grew up in a foster home all his life. Hisashi hopes that he can be the parent that he never had.)

 

Hell, all of his ‘partners’ call him dad. It’s a little unsettling, mostly because he has a son at home that he feels as if he’s done a terrible job at parenting. He hasn’t even met Izuku, nor heard a word from him, and yet he converses with these three on a daily basis…

 

Yeah. It’s unsettling, and it guilt trips him to no end.

 

Chameleon calls him dad just because her own parents can be overbearing, and not in the fond way. She still talks to them a lot, but she says that she needed out as soon as possible. It’s easier to have a bond when they’re not actually in the room. It makes sense that that’s why she was so quick to blow through her studies, but it doesn’t make it any easier on Hisashi, who sees a teen who should be more worried about studying for hard exams than a man keeping her at gunpoint.

 

As for Everest…

 

She’s young. She’s barely eighteen, and she’s only been on his team for a few months. Quiet and shy, she doesn’t talk much about her background. She’s only called Hisashi ‘papa’ on two different occasions. She seems hesitant to open up, and it’s a work in progress, but they’re doing their best to make her feel comfortable. Hisashi has a feeling that she hasn’t had the best childhood, given her ghost-like quirk, but he doesn’t ask and she doesn’t tell. It’s a silent agreement.

 

She does sleep like a cat, though. And she loves sneaking into the kitchen and stealing the chocolate chip cookies that Dilute often bakes. And she likes to sit on the counters silently and watch people go by.

 

When a particularly loud thump causes Everest to jump right up in her seat, the fight in the other room growing louder, Hisashi steps in.

“Guys!” he says in his raised ‘dad friend’ voice. He knows they can hear him through the wall. “You two, behave!”

 

The fighting stops. Hisashi sighs in relief. Everest quietly glances around the room and back at him, her muscles tense. Eventually, she finds it in herself to relax and curls back in her seat, pulling the covers back over her.

 

“You should take a break,” she whispers, slightly muffled by her covers. She blinks lethargically. “You never take a break.”

 

It’s true, even if Hisashi wishes that she wouldn’t point it out. Due to his age—he’s nearing his forties now—he has a lot of experience to offer, and that means he’s always in action. Even when his three partners take break days, he can’t. He promised his wife and son that he would work every moment that he could, and that meant on his own birthdays, on holidays, and on all his breaks. (This meant that the government also owed him a goddamn hefty check after this, especially since it’s been almost a decade since he accepted the case. They told him he’d be on it for less than half that time at the most, and if they don’t pay up, he’s going to be a very, very angry man.) When the government finally gave him partners, it came with a cost. They helped him, enormously. In ways he couldn’t even imagine. Emotional support, company, and all the little things when on missions when they go wrong—

 

But they also take time to train up. There are many nights that he has to forgo sleep in order to keep up with his schedule of training these kids and making the progress he had been before on top of making sure they’re mentally stable. Being on a case like this is… not easy.

 

“It’s fine,” he assures. There’s a permanent ache behind his eyes from wearing his prescription glasses for too long. He’s going to have to up their strength soon, he can barely read the tiny lettering of the papers in front of him. (He can’t wait for when he doesn’t have to read another report again. When he finally retires, if he has to do any more filing it’ll be too soon.) “I just need to finish reading this and then I’ll go to bed. And you too. We have a mission to do tomorrow. We’re breaking into what I believe is an information bank in downtown Tokyo disguised as a corporation building, which was recently bought by the owner of a chain of sister companies with the same criteria. I think the guy we’re looking for is either the owner and is establishing his monopoly on criminal data, or he’s their main patron. Either way, I think he’s involved. An information bank sounds right up his alley—”

 

“Hisashi, you’re mumbling ‘gain,” Everest says kindly.

 

Hisashi flushes red. “Ah. Sorry, my bad. But you get the point, it’s a high-stakes mission. Even if it’s not related to the guy we’re looking for, it’ll still cripple organized crime in that area and others if it’s truly the jackpot I think it might be.” The amount of information it’s probably gathered there is enormous. The corporation had always been suspicious, somehow staying afloat despite its less than stellar business decisions. It was getting enough money, though Hisash had always been stuck on how in the decade it's been open. He’d first brushed it off at first as the work of the deep lined pockets of the many previous owners, who may or may not have actually cared about the potential revenue of the business itself, but the new owner’s bold in his actions. Perhaps too bold, since it had finally attracted Hisashi’s attention to several glaring errors that are now obvious under scrutiny.

 

Everest opens her mouth, probably to tell him that he’s mumbling again when the door to his room bursts open. Dilute is there, panting and wheezing as he’s bent over. His hands are on his knees.

 

“Dilute?” Hisashi’s immediately on his feet, everything on high alert. “What’s the matter?”

 

No alarms had been pulled. Hisashi’s never been one hundred percent confident in the government-lent building they were given, even with all its protective walls and security measures, but he had finally relaxed recently. He had thought that they could finally be safe here, even though the man they’re looking for could very well flatten this entire apartment in the blink of an eye, security measures or not.

 

His quirk is bubbling in his chest, ready to let out a burst of flames on a drop of a dime. He’s tired and it’s been a long day, but he’s commanded his team on worse conditions. They can make it out alive if an emergency strikes—

 

Chameleon bursts into the room just a second later. She’s also panting. Hisashi realizes, faintly, that Dilute had outran Chameleon, their hardest and fastest hitter. She’s the most athletic and strongest out of all of them, and Dilute is the exact opposite, all brains and almost no brawn. How on earth did he—?

 

“Dad,” Dilute pants, “you know Naomasa Tsukauchi, right?”

 

Naomasa Tsukauchi. Naomasa Tsukauchi. The name sounds eerily familiar, and something squirms in the back of his head. Naomasa Tsukauchi. Where does he know that name?

 

“He’s the lie detector detective dude,” Dilute supplies, and Hisashi blinks.

 

“Oh, yes. Yes, I know him. Why, does he have important information for me? Is there an emergency? Has he been targeted?” Hisashi asks, one question after the other. He’s known a lot of detectives—too many of them have been killed in action in some way or form. Tsukauchi’s a nice man. He doesn’t want him to have died too.

 

“Yeah, so, uh, I mean— so things are a bit different now and so yeah it’s uh gonna be a little weird when I say this don’t freak out and uh cool this was really cool uh hi?” Dilute stutters.

 

Chameleon wacks him upside the head. “Fudging— Hisashi, Tsukauchi came by to personally deliver this to you. He bypassed security measures, the interrogations, the detectors— all of it. He said he wanted to give you this as soon as possible. He didn’t even forewarn the guys with an email or phone call.”

 

“And he got away with it?” Hisashi asks. No one gets away with stuff like that— at least, not before. Hisashi sure hasn’t.

 

Dilute splutters. “I don’t know how, but…” He shoves something right into Hisashi’s line of sight. “It’s really important. Please. You gotta read it.”

 

Hisashi stares at it. It’s...

 

“A letter,” Everest whispers.

 

Hisashi’s never gotten a letter before. Not in almost a decade. Not since he took up the case. Not since…

 

He reaches out and takes the letter. His hands are trembling, ever-so-slightly.

 

It could just be a letter from Tsukauchi about another lead, he tells himself. He doesn’t— shouldn’t get excited. Or it could be a letter from the authorities that if he doesn’t show another progress report, he’ll be fired.

 

Hisashi swallows thickly as he runs the pads of his thumbs over the front of the letter. It’s thick, and the envelope looks like it’s about to burst from whatever’s inside. He stumbles over to his desk, and he falls back into the seat he had taken before Dilute entered the room.

 

Dilute mumbles something like, “Come on, let’s give him his privacy.” Everest disappears, and they close the door behind them. It’s darker without the light from the hallway filtering in.

 

Hisashi stares at the letter for a moment. The silence feels deafening.

 

After a moment of hesitation, he turns it over to the back. Slowly, he peels the flap off. It rips in a few places where he doesn’t pull it quite right. When he reaches inside the letter, he pulls out a packet of paper that’s folded several times.

 

It’s stapled together. Just in case, though, there’s a number written in the corner of every paper that numbers it in order.

 

Hisashi avoids reading it. He places the packet off to the side and tries to read the file he was supposed to finish that night. Despite how many times he rereads the same lines, he can’t find it in himself to comprehend what he’s even read.

 

After half an hour, he gives up. He reaches back to the packet from the letter, which has folded back over, used to its position. He gently smooths it out with shaking fingers.

 

He’s waited for this day for almost ten years. For three thousand, five hundred and sixty-eight days. For eighty-five thousand, six hundred and thirty-two hours.

 

He forces himself to read the first line, and he almost cries. He does.

 

Dear Dad,

 

Hey. Hi. Uh, I don’t know how to start this, so I’m sorry if I sound awkward. I’m sorry for not writing you a letter sooner, I… well, let’s just say that I didn’t actually get to read any of your letters until about a week ago. If I knew about the letters, I would have written to you a long time ago! I promise you that.

 

Also, thank for leaving them behind. It’s a nice reminder to know that you’re there, even if you’re… not. If that makes sense. I’ve reread all of them a couple of times now, I think.

 

Anyway, Mom and I are doing great! We’ve had a bunch of friends over recently. And there’s a lot of them. They were originally just there to protect me because I got kidnapped, but I made friends with all of them! (And no worries, I was only taken for a little bit. Some really nice people saved me and Tsukauchi (he’s a detective) set things up so a bunch of heroes and police officers would be routinely protecting me. There’s a bunch of nice people there, you might have heard of them? Sansa Tamakawa is one, he’s a police officer. And then there’s Eraserhead, though his real name is Aizawa Shouta. He acts grumpy but he’s actually really nice. Oh oh! There’s also this hero-in-training that they brought in. He’s really cool, his name is Hawks.)

 

Anyway, the company is really nice at home. It used to be kind of quiet, but since there’s always someone there, it’s really joyous. I would tell you about some of the stuff they’ve done, but then if this letter ever gets into the wrong hands, they might be able to figure out the pattern of my protection. (That’s what Tsukauchi says, anyway. He’s overseeing me write this letter, by the way.) So I can’t say. But they were all there for my ninth birthday party! It was really sweet.

 

They also gifted me my rabbit Shrimp! I’ll have to get you a picture of him sometime. He’s the cutest thing you’ll ever see. He’s also really calm. Rabbits are supposed to be kind of finicky when it comes to getting attention and are easily scared, but he’s really chill. I don’t know why, but Shrimp’s also an older rabbit, so he might be used to the attention. So maybe the giant stuffed rabbit isn’t necessary when you have a real one.

 

So, at the moment I’m actually at a camp with these really nice people. School is making us all do something over the summer so we can make a presentation of it when we get back from summer break, and most of the kids signed up to do a one-day field trip to the aquarium. I didn’t manage to make it into the top fifty that were allowed in, and since I was the last to choose, I got stuck with a volunteer opportunity for this camp. I’m actually really glad I’m here, though.

 

There are four owners of the camp. Their names are Sōsaki, Shiretoko, Tsuchikawa, and Chatora. They’re all really nice. Hawks, Sansa, and Tsukauchi are there with me at the moment, though Tsukauchi is leaving in a couple days with this letter to do some business. Hopefully he’ll be able to deliver the letter while he’s out. Anyway, the first day was mostly touring and getting to know the area and setting everything up. The second day, Sōsaki and Hawks and I spent the whole day cleaning up the facilities. The last few days have been doing nothing but planting a bunch of trees and weeding and watering and trimming. Though Shiretoko is also teaching me to swim! That’s really fun. We’ve also played a bunch of games, and they even have a zipline. It’s really cool. It’s tiring, but I’ve definitely not been bored at all.

 

Also, you asked about vacations. I honestly don’t mind where we’d go if we did go someplace. It doesn’t really matter to me. Anywhere we go sounds nice if it’s with the family.

 

I know you haven’t asked about my quirk, but I thought I’d answer it anyway. I actually thought I was quirkless for the longest time. Shiretoko though, her quirk can tell I’m not. So now I’m trying to figure out what it is. I was wondering if any of your family members had a weird quirk that might explain why it’s so hidden? I’m asking Mom when I get back home too, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

 

Hey, Dad? I really do love you. I’m so, so sorry I couldn’t tell you that sooner. I mean that, from the bottom of my heart. ❤⃛ヾ(๑❛ ▿ ◠๑ )

 

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot more pages after this one. I thought I’d respond to a couple of your letters specifically. I’ve tried to answer everything I could, but there are probably some things that I missed. Just tell me in your next letter, okay? I want to tell you all that I possibly can about what you want to know. But this is nearing the end of this letter, I’m afraid.

 

Oh, one last thing: don’t break yourself, okay? I know that you want to get home as soon as possible, and I really miss you, but it’s gonna be alright. I don’t want you to hurt yourself if you push yourself too far. Being careful is one thing, but being okay is another. I’ll wait as many years as it takes for you to come home. Please remember to take care of yourself too.

 

Love you,

Izuku ₍՞◌′ᵕ‵ू◌₎♡

 

Hisashi reads the letter twice, and then eight times. One by one, he gets through the letters. He’s about to fall asleep when he gets to the bottom of the last letter.

 

P.S. Tsukauchi wanted me to give this to you. He said it was important, though I don’t know why. But he wants me to tell you that there’s multiple of these in our house.

 

Hisashi’s brow furrows as he looks at the small, black round object taped to the letter. It takes him a second before he recognizes it. He’s on his feet in a flash, eyes wide and heart thumping in his ears.

 

Holy shit.

 

It’s a microphone.

 


 

The four camp owners seem nervous and are clearly dreading the moment the students step foot on their grounds and to their facilities. Izuku learns quickly to read between the lines of what they say and mean, and Izuku knows that when the students are over, they don’t get any work done. Not to mention that the students make more problems than solve them, which causes additional work for them to complete.

 

It’s also when the four finally reveal their ‘other jobs.’

 

The four of them dress in matching outfits that Izuku now recognizes as the Wild, Wild Pussycats hero group, which takes longer than it should. There are plenty of accessories that they have to put on themselves, and the women all have markings they expertly draw on their faces. Still, they manage to do it in record time. Izuku’s not sure he could’ve finished putting everything they have on in double the time, but he supposes that they’ve had years to practice with the gear.

 

When the twenty-seven or so students arrive on the grounds, however, Sōsaki (or Mandalay as she’s called) visibly blanches. “Weren’t there supposed to be thirty-five?” she mumbles, eyes wide.

 

“Not when you have Aizawa as your teacher,” Tsuchikawa (or Pixie-bob) reminds her under her breath. “Didn’t you hear? He expelled even more of his students just recently after their second year exams. Apparently some were cheating while others were belittling general education students who were transferred into the hero course. Aizawa was livid.”

 

She sounds sad as she says it. It makes sense. The four of them helped train those students the previous year while they were second years. Not all third year classes are required to come back a second time, but those classes that are lagging behind in strength—or that the school’s worried about dying the minute they set foot out into the real world—have to come back for extra training. This particular group of third years is one of those classes. The second years will be coming a week after the third years leave, starting the cycle all over again.

 

Shiretoko (Ragdoll) jumps in before any of the students notice their side talk. Izuku stands in the background beside Chatora (Tiger), Hawks on his other side protectively. “Hello students! It’s been almost a year since the last time you’ve been here, huh?” She twirls on her heel, her smile wide. “I hope you’re ready for another back-breaking camp. You may be third years with your provisional licenses already, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve!” She pumps her fist into the air. “You’re still babies in our eyes, kiddos! So get ready to be pounded into the ground!”

 

She sounds too chipper when she says that, Izuku thinks, shuddering. Then again, all four of them are a little eccentric, Shiretoko being the worst out of all of them. It’s not a bad thing, certainly. It’s just… different.

 

The kids groan, but some of them look happy to meet the Pussycats again. Izuku would be too.

 

One of the girls points to him, and he flinches. “Hey, who’s the kid? Is he one of yours?”

 

“Of course he’s one of ours! Look at the cute little kitten!” Tsuchikawa says, wrapping her arms around him. (He has a headband with cat ears on his head, and Chatora had carefully drawn whiskers on his face. He doesn’t quite look the part of the others with his very normal clothing, but they’d tried their best.)

 

“He’s not actually one of ours,” Sōsaki corrects. “But he’s going to be here for another week with you guys.”

 

Another, familiar voice speaks up from the back. “In other words, be nice or you’ll be wishing you were expelled.”

 

Izuku brightens like a lightbulb. He has to keep himself from leaping from his spot to hug the grungy looking man who walks towards the Pussycats. His long hair and bloodshot eyes are almost exactly the way they were before, if only slightly more pronounced. The third years must be giving him gray hairs. Vibrating in place, he waves widely to the man who changes his approach last minute. He ruffles Izuku’s hair as he passes by, and Izuku can almost ignore the stares that are levelled on him.

 

“Holy shit…” he hears someone mumble.

 

Izuku doesn’t pay them any mind. He doesn’t think he can bring himself to care.

 


 

Izuku is sweeping up the cafeteria-esque room after the students had their lunch when Loki appears for the first time. Loki is furry and large and is longer than the length of his shoulders, even when she doesn’t stretch. She crawls in through the open window and jumps onto his shoulders, her weight heavy against his neck. Her cold wet nose occasionally brushes against his bare skin when she sniffs him, but she’s relaxed, even when splayed across his shoulders.

 

Being extra careful to make sure that she doesn’t slide off, he carefully finishes sweeping up the floor. He dumps everything he swept up into the garbage can and then moves to wipe down the counters in the kitchen. (Suddenly, he has an appreciation for all the janitors in his school. Children are disgusting, and there’s only a couple dozen kids here. He can’t even imagine what it must be like in a room of over two hundred kids constantly bumbling through. Luckily for him though, the Pussycats are soon going to make the students cook and clean up for themselves, which will free his hands.)

 

He’s about to leave the room and sit outside, hopefully watch the students practice with their quirks and fight. There’s so much to do that he won’t be given a lot of time, but half an hour is all he needs to get a few quirk entries in.

 

Loki rumbles and purrs as he sets the broom back into the closet it was shoved into. He pads his way until he’s peering outside the door, and he watches as the Pussycats cheer (demand) the students on.

 

“Where the hell did you get a savannah cat.”

 

Izuku turns and blinks innocently to Aizawa and Sansa, who are both holding their respective coffees in hand. He shrugs.

 

“I don’t know, but she’s cute.”

 

“She?” Aizawa raises a brow. “How can you tell her gender?”

 

Izuku pauses. How did he find out, anyway? He shrugs again.

 

Sansa sighs and picks Loki from Izuku’s shoulders. (Now that he thought about it, when did her name become Loki?) A growl rumbles deep in her chest as she bares her teeth. Sansa sighs before quickly checking for himself, his nose crinkled in disgust—maybe because he’s partially a cat as well. The man-cat raises a brow.

 

“She’s a she, alright,” he mutters. “How’d you know?”

 

Izuku shrugs again. He takes Loki back, and the cat’s spotted fur immediately settles. He sets her on top of his head. He’s pretty sure that’s where she wanted to be placed. He doesn’t know how he knows, just that he does.

 

“What’s her name?” Aizawa grumbles.

 

“Shotgun,” Izuku says without thinking, even though her name is supposed to be Loki. Loki preens at her nickname. Am I supposed to call you Loki or Shotgun now? “Her name is actually Loki though,” Izuku corrects himself. “But she wants to be called Shotgun. It was her tribe nickname or something.”

 

He doesn’t know how he knows that either. The world is a bit fuzzy, and there’s something swirling in his chest that makes him not want to question the information being planted into his head. It reminds him of how he acted when his ghost friends first popped up, when he thought it was just his imagination.

 

Huh.

 

Loki remains sitting on his head. The weight hurts his neck after a while, but the pain’s muted. It’s not too bad to bear through.

 

Third and Sixth stare at him questioningly when he enters his dorm room. Hawks is taking a little cap nap, worn out from overusing his quirk the night before when he should have been sleeping. (He felt bad for the Pussycats too and wanted to help the best he could. Unfortunately, trying to finish a lot of the ongoing projects the Pussycats were still working on in the middle of the night drained much more of his energy than he’d clearly planned on, the lovable idiot.)

 

“Are you going to keep the cat?” Third asks, the same time that Sixth blurts “Where the flippity flap did you get the cat, from the dark recesses of Aizawa’s soul?”

 

Izuku shrugs. Again. He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to react. He just feels… dizzy. Tired. Fuzzy. He can’t think straight. There’s static piling behind Izuku’s slowly-closing eyelids, and he needs time to register everything. He’s tired, for some odd reason.

 

“Izuku?” Third asks, and two gentle hands settle on Izuku’s sides as he starts to tip to one side. Third’s palms are warm. If Izuku wasn’t so tired, he’d probably do something embarrassing. Instead, he leans back into Third—he never does that. Third’s nice and warm and comforting, but Izuku’s never gained the courage to get so close to him before.

 

There’s a first time for everything, he supposes.

 

He feels himself get jostled around for a moment, and then he’s being laid down on something warm and soft. Blankets, he thinks, are pulled over him. He feels feverish. In fact, he doesn’t feel well at all. He’s not sure when that happened.

 

The bed dips suddenly, and then something small curls up to his side. Loki.

 

Sixth—he can tell it’s Sixth because whenever they touch him, a buzzing, humming feeling burns under his skin—brushes his bangs from his face. The hand rests on his forehead for a moment, and Sixth hisses softly. “A fever,” he hears Sixth say quietly. Izuku hadn’t known that they could still feel temperature even though they’re more spirit than flesh and bone.

 

Third replies something as another small weight is settled beside him. It takes him a minute, but he recognizes it as Shrimp. Shrimp and Loki. Snowball Destroyer and Shotgun.

 

Huh. Surprising that they actually get along well enough to not kill one another.

 

Izuku hears someone coughing—Hawks, maybe—as something cold is placed on his forehead. Maybe Hawks woke up. Maybe Hawks is seeing something very crazy at the moment that cannot be explained. Izuku should get up. Izuku should reassure him that it’s nothing and that he’s seeing things.

 

But he’s warm. He’s so comfortably warm, so he falls asleep instead. Maybe Hawks won’t freak out. Maybe he will.

 


 

He’s sick.

 

Sōsaki worries sick, no pun intended, over him for a bit. Aizawa openly fusses at him, quickly getting meds for him to painfully swallow. (His throat is sore.) Hawks keeps watch over him for a bit, wings twitching.

 

The first twenty-four hours are the worst. He works through it, sleeping restlessly for the most part. He’ll wake up every once in a while in cold sweat, and once Loki wasn’t there. He felt sad then, but the next time he wakes up she’s there again. She must have had to use the bathroom or something.

 

It’s the day after when his fever has broken enough that he feels well enough to leave his bed. He shuffles with a blanket wrapped tightly around his shoulders. He leans so some of his weight is on Third, who takes it gracefully. In his still-feverish state, he stops in a secluded area and cries. His emotions are all a jacked-up, storming mess in his chest, but he knows that he misses Second, Fifth, and Mom. He wants to go home.

 

The fresh air does wonders for him, and he feels better. He manages to find the students working on their quirks in the back. Some of them are screaming from the pain of it all. They all look kind of dead, but to be fair, the work is rigorous and excruciating. He takes a seat at a small bench and places the notebook he had hugged to his chest on the table in front of it. Slowly, he makes note of a couple of the kids’ quirks while sniffling. The Pussycats tell him to take it easy when he stands up after a few entries. So he sits back down and writes some more.

 

The students turn out to be incredibly kind. They ask him if he’s feeling alright and offer him a bowl of food to eat. It’s not as good as the Pussycats’ work, but he’s thankful. He only eats a little bit because the food doesn’t quite settle right in his stomach.

 

He still feels a little detached from himself when he returns to bed, though it’s better than it had been. Hawks is quiet for a little bit while he adjusts his covers, and when Izuku curls up on his bed, pulling the blankets closer to his chin, he finally speaks.

 

“Dude, I don’t want to freak you out or anything, but… after you knocked out, there were these spirit thingies, invisible people or whatever taking care of you. They were like, moving these wet rags and putting them on your forehead and were constantly adjusting your covers or some shiz, you know? And I dunno if that was just me trippin’ or…”

 

Izuku nestles his face further into his covers and lets out a deep exhale. “Those were my friends,” he mumbles, trying to keep back the nausea.

 

“Friends?”

 

Izuku waves one hand vaguely without opening his eyes. “Yeah. Friends. Their names are Third and Sixth. They’re…” A yawn escapes him. “—really cool. They’re not here right now, but they might come in here later. Just…” Izuku trails off, exhaustion clouding his thoughts. “Tal’ to them if you wan’. Just yell in the air for them to write you a note or s’mthing…”

 

Izuku falls back asleep. He’s tired.

 


 

They’re sitting side-by-side on a dock the next time.

 

The woman’s face is still unclear, and he still can’t bring himself to comprehend all of it, though this time he can make out that she has dark eyes and hair.

 

“Hey, kiddo.”

 

“Hello ma’am,” he replies, because he has to be polite. Mom told him so.

 

“You seem a little lost,” she says. “Are you alright?”

 

Izuku shrugs. “I don’t know.”

 

The woman smiles. It’s blinding. A small breeze comes and gently hits their backs, washing away the steadily-building heat on his neck. A couple strands of her dark hair come and fall into her face. She’s pretty, he thinks.

 

“Your quirk is an odd one, isn’t it?” the woman says. “Don’t worry. Ask Third. He knows best how it works. Second, though, he knows a little too.”

 

“About what?” Izuku asks.

 

“About why they’re there. About what they’re there to do.” The woman tilts her head back, drinking in the sunlight. “Ask them about it. Ask them what they’re willing to do for you. You want to be a hero, don’t you? They can help.” She looks curiously down at him. “You know… you’re the first to ever manage to bring so many of us back in one place. You’re really special, aren’t you?”

 

“I haven’t done anything though,” Izuku says.

 

She smiles. “But you will. One day.”

 

Izuku reels back like the woman had slapped him in the face. He opens his mouth, as if to say something, but nothing comes out. For a moment, he just continues to open and close his mouth like that. Like a fish. Izuku wishes that he was a fish and could just leap into the water and swim away in its cool, murky depths forever. “How?” he chokes out instead. “I can’t— I can’t ask them. I can’t ask Second. Not right now. He’s… he’s so far away. I can’t.”

 

The woman reaches out to him and pushes his hair away from his face. “But you can. Just close your eyes and reach out to them. And when you do, they’ll reach back.” Her eyes, dark like onyx stones or oil, shimmer with an untold knowledge and hope and faith. “You can do it. You can do anything, Izuku. Just put your mind to it and know that we’ll always be here. For you.” Her smile makes her eyes crinkle the corners of her eyes. “It’s always you, Izuku.”

 

Her hand is heavy on his cheek. It doesn’t send tingles down his skin like Second, nor does it feel so warm and heated like Third, or cool and dewy like Fifth, or buzzing and humming like Sixth. It’s… weird. It’s like she’s made of water, and it certainly feels that way, but her hand is still warm. It just doesn’t feel… solid. It feels like that waterbed that Aizawa once brought over to their house, except lighter.

 

Izuku stares into the eyes of the woman who looks at him so kindly and gently.

 

“You’re going to be okay. You’re going to do great things one day,” she promises. There’s a moment where her eyes brighten, and her smile grows gentler. “Just remember to always smile, kid.”

 

Izuku wakes up. Slowly. He blinks blearily. He sits up and looks beside him. Hawks is asleep, drooling on his outstretched arm. There’s a notepad in his hand. Third’s neat, loopy handwriting and Sixth’s cramped stilted one catches his eye. The two aren’t there though.

 

He thinks, quietly, to himself, that he’s not tired anymore.

 


 

He’s recovered by the time the final full day for both the students and himself has rolled around.

Shiretoko practically bawls on him early in the morning. Tsuchikawa has to grab her and fling her onto Chatora so Izuku doesn’t have to deal with the (very) uncomfortable situation any longer. Hawks is nestled into his side. He looks tired. He must’ve talked with Third and Sixth for too long last night.

 

When everyone has finished eating breakfast, they clean up after themselves and head outside. Sōsaki places a hand on his shoulder and smiles brightly at him.

 

“Today we don’t have to worry about looking over the kids,” she says, and her dark bobbed hair rests around her face like a halo. Her eyelashes swim with constantly changing color, and for a split second, they hover at a light gray—light enough that her eyelashes look white. She’s pretty, he thinks. “My cousin and her husband are here at request. They’re heroes too, and they’re going to be working with the kids. In the meantime, why don’t you and I finish the last bit of adding the gravel to the trail? Chatora’s going to finish filling in the potholes, and then we can go and have fun with the zipline again. Though Chatora wants to go birdwatching with you later if you want—”

 

“Sōsaki! Sōsaki. Sō—” Shiretoko was bumbling down the hall, red in the face. Tsuchikawa grabs her by the back of her costume, her usually immaculate blonde hair slightly frazzled.

 

“Sōsaki,” she says, much more calmly—though she’s out of breath. She must’ve run here too. “You and Izu-chan. Come. You gotta see this.”

 

The two quickly rush after the two young women. They don’t even make it down the stairs to the open grounds before they pause in their tracks, shocked. The four of them stare at the open grounds.

 

“Whoever was here knew what they were doing,” Tsuchikawa murmurs, as if she’s still in awe. “They did it to the exact measurements. I don’t know who did it, but… they did everything on our to-do list. Everything and more. They must’ve found the blueprints from our rooms because Chatora said they were shifted slightly, but… last night, they completed practically everything. We’re four weeks ahead of schedule now in one night.”

 

Izuku is frozen, if just for a moment. But then he smiles.

 

Third and Sixth are softies, truly. Heroes at heart. They don’t sleep, not really, so they did all of this…

 

With Sixth’s quirk, he must’ve been able to time everything just right. Found the best way to knock everything out of the way in the least amount of time with only four hands. He’s still not quite sure what Third’s quirk is, but maybe it helped too. Maybe it didn’t. Whatever the case, the two men are now laying side by side on the gravel path, sunbathing.

 

Third’s wine red hair is down for once, and it’s sprawled around his face like a halo. Sixth is curled on his side like a cat, his cheek pressed up against Third’s shoulder. He looks… younger, like this. Without the dark look in his eyes and with the peaceful, relaxed expression on his face, he looks his age. The bags under his eyes are lighter, too.

 

It’s… nice.

 

Something warm and soft rubs against his leg, and he looks down to see Loki. “Hi, Shotgun,” he says. The cat jumps onto his shoulders before shoving her face into his own. Her wet nose touches his, her soft purrs warm and welcoming.

 

“I guess… we should just have fun, then? Take the day off while the Water Hose Duo take it from here?” Tsuchikawa wonders.

 

“I guess so,” Sōsaki says. “I mean, we were still going to after finishing that last bit… but since it’s already done…”

 

Shiretoko waves her arms about. “Come on come on I wanna go swimming with Izuuuuu, come come come! Hurry hurry hurry!”

 

Sōsaki and Tsuchikawa are quick to follow after the other two as they bound down the hall, yelling at them to keep it down and make sure not to break anything. Hawks, who had been silently staring at the scene from behind Izuku, is frowning lightly.

 

“Your friends are really nice,” he murmurs. His eyes are cloudy. “They really care about you, and they always look after you…”

 

Izuku stares at him, mouth parted slightly. Hawks sometimes is sad, even when he tries not to be. He looks wistfully at the area, as if someone acting with such generosity is something he longs for. It makes Izuku feel sad, too. It makes him want to hit his head with the palm of his head, because how could he forget?

 

Hawks has wings that let him fly so high up in the sky, so far away from people who can hurt him.

 

But does that really mean he’s free?

 


 

The Water Hose Duo are very kind people. They’re all bright smiles and hearts of gold. It’s nice. When the kids are shooed off to bed early, the two of them peel off their costumes and have a late night swim with Izuku and the rest of them. Then they go and watch the stars. The female of the Water Hose Duo points the stars out to them and names several different constellations. Izuku’s glad that he could learn about them.

 

The day ends and Izuku’s glad that he’s going home tomorrow, as fun as the trip was. Everyone’s wonderful, it’s just a lot to deal with at one time.

 

As Hawks and him settle into bed, the teen asks him if it’s okay if he continues to talk to Third and Sixth when he comes over. Izuku looks at the other two, and they nod. He says that of course it’s okay, except he might end up talking to Second or Fifth instead. Hawks’ jaw drops.

 

“There’s more!?” he exclaims in a hushed tone. Izuku laughs.

 

Long after Hawks eventually talks himself to sleep, Izuku finds himself staring at the ceiling. Quietly, he lets the gears in his head turn and whir as he nibbles on his lower lip. Shrimp is curled up on his chest, and he slowly pets the rabbit’s head. Shrimp’s ears are especially soft, though he squirms if Izuku has too much prolonged contact with them.

 

“Are you alright, Izuku?” comes a familiar voice. Izuku turns his head to see Sixth crouched by his bedside. His outline is softer, muted almost. Sparks still glow and flicker from his lithe frame, but it’s slower, calmer.

 

Izuku purses his lips. “Sixth?” he starts, quietly as to not wake Hawks. “Who did you pick to be your successor?”

 

Sixth’s eyes widen, and his brows raise. “Who I picked by successor to be…?” he echoes. “Oh. Well, that’s a good question.” He leans his head back so he’s staring at the ceiling too. The moonlight that filters through the window rests lightly on his face, making his already-pale skin look sheer and ghost-like. “I picked Seventh because she’s… strong. In her drive, I mean. I’ve always tried my best to reach for what I can see, for the future that’s possible, but… sometimes, I see too much. I get scared. I have trust issues, too many. It’s kept me from being the person I’ve always wished I could be.”

 

He looks back down to Izuku, and there’s a small, sad smile on his face. “I see trial and error and crave it, but sometimes I’m just not strong enough to go through with it. And that’s cost me. A lot.” He reaches forward and runs his fingers along Shrimp’s furry cheek, who twitches slightly at the new touch. “I needed someone who was strong enough to smile in times of darkness and despair. I needed someone who could give hope to others and encourage them rather than myself, who pushed everyone away and looked at everything with eyes carved from pessimism herself.”

 

His irises swirl with dark mesmerising blues. “Seventh… she blew me away, every time I met her. I didn’t trust her and pushed her away too, but she kept on coming back. She inspired me to the point that I… tried being a better person. A better hero myself. It occurred to me one day that she’d be the perfect successor, but she was so close to my age and I wasn’t sure if that would really be useful. I wanted to add more power to One— to it, and only pass it on when I was getting too old. But if I chose Seventh to be my successor, she’d probably retire a couple years after me and have barely any time to add her own strength to it. So I was stuck on whether or not I’d choose her or chance my luck with a younger, upcoming generation. I didn’t know what to do.”

 

Izuku was interested now. Seventh sounded… amazing. Izuku’s pretty sure Seventh is the woman in his dreams, and he thinks Sixth would be proud of how she turned out. “What managed to convince you to pick her? What changed?” he asked, feeling like he was on the edge of his metaphorical seat.

 

“Well, I died.” Sixth says it so bluntly that it doesn’t register with Izuku for a second, and when it does, it feels like a baseball bat had been slammed into his lungs. All the breath in them leaves, and Izuku stares at Sixth with wide, wide eyes. “I was twenty-three. She was twenty-five,” Sixth says, and he sounds distant. “I’d… I’d been Fifth’s chosen successor since I was twelve. I wasn’t meant to be chosen so young, but Fifth… he didn’t have a choice. He’d met me and planned for me to be his successor when I got older but…” Sixth sighs. “Fifth didn’t live long enough to bless me with the childhood ignorance and bliss he’d meant to promise me.” Sixth shrugs. “So I did my best in the decade or so I’d had it. From my young age, I became a hero-esque vigilante. Society wasn’t quite at the point where they had enough heroes to outlaw vigilantes for good, so I managed to sneak around my young age in favor of helping people legally. So I did the best I could as a kid and a young adult. And then I died. And then…”

 

“Seventh took the mantlepiece,” Izuku whispers. Sixth nods.

 

“She made me so proud,” Sixth says wistfully. “I wish I could see her again.”

 

Izuku is quiet for a moment. “I think I dream of her sometimes. She talks to me.”

 

“Really?” Sixth’s eyes are shining. “What’s she like?”

 

Izuku tilts his head in thought. “She’s… encouraging. And really nice. I don’t know how to describe her though.”

 

Sixth laughs. “That sounds about right. I could never find the words to describe her either.”

 

Something warm settles in Izuku’s chest. He slides back down on his bed, and his hands rest on his stomach. Shrimp squirms a little from the constant movement but quickly finds his comfortable spot, and he falls right back asleep. Izuku’s sure that he’s going to quickly follow him in that respect.

 

Sixth falls silent, and a comfortable quiet settles over them. Izuku stares at the ceiling for another second. He thinks about what Seventh had told him, and he bites his lip for a second.

 

She told him that he can contact Second even with the distance. All he has to do is “reach out,” though Izuku has no idea if he can do that. Is it really that easy, to talk to Second like that? How would he even reach out? By thinking about Second?

 

A split second image of Second comes to him. Second’s dark, spiky hair and amethyst eyes speckled with vermillion red and burning orange stare back at him. There’s a pull in his gut as he thinks about his normally reserved deep and soothing tone. His hand and arm suddenly feels weird, like he’s sticking his arm through a brush or into a pool of some strange substance. And then he hears it.

 

Guys help I don’t know what’s wrong with Izuku. Something’s going on in his head and he randomly asked about Seventh and now he’s really quiet but he still looks as worried as he was before and I have no idea what to do.

 

Oh my god, Sixth, didn’t you ramble to him? That always helps, usually he takes the information like a dog to a bone and chews on it till he goes to sleep. What do you mean he’s still as worried as before?

 

I don’t know Second! I’m trying but I don’t know what’s wrong, he won’t talk to me!

 

Should I step in? He’ll talk to me, usually.

 

Oh my god, Third, you’re a lifesaver. Please help, I have no idea what this little munchkin needs. He’s so out of character right now and my analysis quirk can only do so much.

 

Third, make sure that you ask him directly. I know you’re pretty straightforward when it comes to a lot of things, but I’m just reminding you to take that straightforwardness and apply it here too. Izuku seems to respond pretty well when you’re honest and blatant with him.

 

Yes, I know Fifth. I’ve caught onto that. The only one here who might try to play the subtle game to get answers is Second.

 

Oi, don’t call me out like this Third.

 

A small lull in the conversation falls over them, and Izuku blinks. He’s a little glad—as cool as this new experience is, the voices are so… close. The sound sits close in his ears, and it echoes and rings in his ears long after they’re done talking.

 

Before Third can approach him, Izuku makes a move that he knows he might regret later.

 

You guys never told me that you could speak mentally.

 

Silence.

 

Oh fuck.

 

Second! Language!

 

Fifth, shut it, we’re aborting mission now. Abort, abort, we’ve been found the fuck out and we gotta zoom.

 

Sixth, stop. Guys, calm down. Everything’s fine. Third’s voice is calming. He’s levelheaded as always. Izuku, how did you find… this? You’ve never mentioned it before, and we didn’t think you could hear it.

 

Izuku glances over at the two in his room. Sixth is twitching like he got electrocuted. Third looks very confused, understandably.

 

I’ve been getting dreams about this woman. She has dark hair and eyes, I think. I can’t remember a lot. But I think she’s Seventh, and she told me… that I could talk to Second even if there’s distance between us. She told me to ask Third and Second about my quirk. Something about Third knowing the most about it, and Second having a little bit of knowledge on it? I don’t know. She was kind of vague.

 

Everyone’s quiet for a moment.

 

Later, Second ‘says.’ When we’re together. It’ll be easier to explain in person.

 

We’ll tell you everything, Third adds.  

 

Are you sure we should tell him? Sixth sounds nervous. That’s… a lot of weight. He’s still so young. And we ourselves aren’t sure why all of us are here so early…

 

We owe it to him, Sixth. Fifth is gentle as he explains it to the younger male. He’s been with us for years. The least we can do is tell him and be honest. How else is he supposed to trust us?

 

I do trust you though, Izuku says weakly. He’s not used to being talked about like he’s not there. Not with his friends, at least.

 

Oh, Izuku… Third’s voice is so incredibly gentle. We know you do. It’s just…

 

Fifth is the one who completes his sentence. There are a lot of factors out there, kiddo. Trying to make sure that you’re okay both mentally and physically along with everything else has been a struggle. Sometimes we forget that you’ve been so patient with asking us about things. We just want you to get the full picture before you end up being dragged into something you don’t want to be a part of.

 

There are things that I wouldn’t ever dream of telling a young teen, let alone what we eventually have to tell you, Second adds. But we need to, Izuku. Because there are a lot of things about us that you don’t know and should before things really blow up. We don’t want to put you in a situation you aren’t comfortable or willing to be in just because we didn’t tell you the full story. You deserve to know what it means to have us around.

 

Sixth purses his lips. Izuku sees it from the corner of his eye. God… I wish it wasn’t like this. I wish I could just be your friend and help you become a hero without all the consequences that comes with this…

 

It’s gonna be a-okay, Fifth soothes. Don’t worry about a thing.

 

Izuku tries not to. He’s not sure how well he succeeds in that endeavor as he falls into a restless sleep.

 


 

Tsuchikawa hugs him tightly.

 

“Always remember that you’re welcome here, okay?” she says, and she pulls back to look at him in the eye. “It was great to meet you, kitten.”

 

Shiretoko picks him up and whirls him around. Sōsaki pulls him into a much gentler hug. “Our door is always open. Come by the next time you have a break, yeah?” Chatora claps him on the back, his strength making Izuku stumble. The Water Hose Duo give him high fives and tell him that they can’t wait to see him again.

 

Izuku almost gets teary eyes from how heartwarming their goodbyes are, but luckily for them, he doesn’t cry. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to stop.

 

They pile into the car and Tsukauchi starts to drive them home. Izuku desperately grips the keys he was given before he left until the jagged edges dig too harshly into his skin. When they said that he was always welcome back, he wasn’t expecting them to give him access to all the facilities.

 

Since they left around the afternoon, they don’t get back home until late in the evening. They’re welcomed with the smell of Mom’s cooking. Hawks practically melts on the spot as he’s given a warm bowl of katsudon. Izuku quickly devours his own helpings and slowly runs his hands through Hawks’ wings again. Hawks will leave tomorrow, and he might as well help the poor teen as much as he possibly can before then. Izuku promises his mom that he’ll sweep up all the loose feathers and throw them away later, so she doesn’t seem to mind too much.

 

She also doesn’t seem to mind Loki too much either. Her cheeks puff up as she sees the cat, but she sighs at Izuku’s wide pleading eyes and doesn’t argue. She resignedly comments that she’ll pick up some cat food the next day.

 

When he’s in private, Fifth scoops him up and squeezes him tightly. Second ruffles his hair, which is probably the best that Izuku had been expecting. They missed him, clearly.

 

Izuku waits until the house goes to rest. He tells Second, who’s watching over him that night, that he’s going to talk to his mom. After two weeks, he thinks it’s time to talk about the fact that she hid his dad’s letters from him. Second frowns but nods.

 

Izuku hesitates in front of Mom’s door. After a second, he finds it in himself to open it. He doesn’t knock.

 

He quietly pads his way into the room, which is almost pitch black except for the little bit of natural light that the moon provides. Mom notices him only when he tugs on her sleeve as she’s adjusting the covers on her bed. “Izuku, is something the matter?” she asks, quick to check over him to see if he’s hurt himself. Izuku hasn’t done that in a while. “Did you have nightmares? Or did you need something else?”

 

“I wanted to talk to you.” It comes out colder than Izuku’d like. He sees from the corner of his eye how Second flinches. He hasn’t ever used that tone with any of them before.

 

Mom blinks. “Yes, sweetie?” she asks, her voice so soft.

 

Izuku frowns. “I found the letters in your closet.” Mom tenses, but Izuku doesn’t notice it beyond the annoyance and hurt that boils in his chest. “Why did you hide them from me? I know that he’s not home, but the letters are so kind. I… I really like them, Mom. I don’t get why you would hide something from Da—”

 

Izuku had expected a lot of reactions, but his mom quickly placing a hand over his mouth was not one of them. Immediately, he stops talking against his better judgement. He looks at his mom, really sees her for the first time since he entered the room. Mom’s skin is pallid and pasty, and her bloodshot eyes dart around the room. The bags underneath her eyes seem to run so much deeper, as if they haunt her thin face. Mom is dead silent as she raises a single, shaking finger to her trembling lips. She’s quivering like a leaf in a hurricane.

 

After a moment of silence, she tugs Izuku close to her chest and wraps herself around him. Her breathing is ragged and uneven. She’s scared, Izuku thinks. She’s openly scared and he has no idea why.

 

There’s a long, tense minute of quiet movement. Mom pulls herself to sit on the bed, and she sits rigid and taut. Izuku holds his breath. He doesn’t know why Mom’s acting the way she is, but it scares him.

 

Mom moves her head until her mouth is right beside his ear. “Izuku,” she mumbles, so quiet that even with the close proximity he has to strain to hear her. “I’m so, so sorry. But you have to understand. I had no choice.” Her breath hiccups, and a tremor runs through her, shaking him slightly as a result. “Your father… god, I love him,” she mumbles, “and I wish I could’ve given you the letters that he mailed to you. But Izuku…”

 

She gulps, and her hands grip the back of his shirt. “Izuku, there’s a dangerous, dangerous man out there. A man who’s looking for your father this very instant. Your father and him have been playing a game of chess, and your father’s too smart to let any traces of him exist for him to be found, but… this man has been looking for him. And he has the resources to find him, should any contact of Hisashi exist.”

 

Bile rises in Izuku’s throat. He feels his stomach churn uncomfortably as he freezes in place.

 

Inko leans her weight even more heavily on him. “Your father is dangerous to this man, Izuku. Your father has been finding too much about him, and this man… he’s doing everything in his power to find him. The only thing that Hisashi can be traced back to, though, is the letters he’s mailed to you every month. I… I’ve hid them because if even a word is spoken to hint it, the man’ll find out. He’s left bugs, microphones all over the house… I found them when you were three.”

 

The realization crashes into Izuku too late. That’s when… When she stopped reading the letters to me.

 

“I broke all of them, combed the house up and down. I was planning to go to the police, but he stopped me. He told me…” Inko shudders. “He told me that he had to find out if Hisashi was the man who’s been looking for him. He’d bugged several other houses around the country, and we were on his suspect list. If he found out that we’d tried to contact the police or that your father was the one investigating into his presence, he’d…” Inko hiccups, her entire frame shuddering as she cries. “He told me he’d kill you, Izuku. He’d told me he’d kill you in the most horrifying way possible and would leave me your remains… I couldn’t let that happen to you, Izuku. I couldn’t let that happen to you.” Inko’s voice cracks, even though she speaks as quiet as she does.

 

Izuku shakes with her. “H-how… how did you manage to keep the letters a secret, then…? If they were coming in every week and month…”

 

“When your father’s friend was delivering the letters, it was much easier to pass by as a friend helping us out,” Inko croaks. “But I didn’t have a chance to do anything until you were around five.” Her voice is weak. “I tried multiple times to break the hidden microphones, but they would always be replaced the next day. It was pure luck that had me bumping into Tsukauchi on my night shift at the hospital after a girl had been attacked. I told him about my situation, or as much of it as I could. Tsukauchi promised me that he’d do his best to find a way to hide the letters. So he contacted the agency Hisashi worked at, and Hisashi’s letters would only come through once a month. It would be hidden in my monthly deliveries of my medication. They would hide the letter in another envelope with my medication information.”

 

The sleeping medication she takes every night that sits on her bedside table. The bottle of pills for her anxiety that hides in the corner of her room. The antidepressants she takes in the morning that sits in the back of a small, small cabinet.

 

Mom’s shaking has slowed, if only slightly. “I… I’m so sorry. I know I should’ve told you, I should’ve let you seen them, but… I was so scared.” Her breath catches in her throat. “I didn’t want to risk it. I didn’t— couldn’t let you be hurt because I wasn’t careful.” Her grip on his tightens. “Tsukauchi and your father have been working hard to get the man away from us. I thought… I thought when he was finally gone, I could show you the letters, but…” Her shoulders start to shake, and her voice is thick with tears. “Then he sent his team to get you, and—and…” Her hushed voice cuts off as she struggles to stay quiet. “I think… I think he tried to get a reaction out of your father. But your father was never alerted to your kidnapping, so I thought he would finally leave.” Her voice grows anguished and tight with pain. “But for some reason, on that night, he grew interested in you for something else. And he won’t leave. I don’t know what he wants from you, but— but I can’t let anything happen to you. That’s why… that’s why Tsukauchi’s so interested and invested in your case. That’s why you’re so protected. Because it was all I had the power to do,” she croaked.

 

Izuku is frozen into silence. He doesn’t move, doesn’t speak as his mother silently cries over him. She peppers kisses over his face and runs her fingers through his hair.

 

He wonders how many times she had to cry by herself. He wonders how hard it was to know that someone so powerful and terrifying was staring over you every night. He wonders how difficult it must have been for her health to keep it entirely on her shoulders and still try to smile. He wonders how she didn’t just break.

 

He understands, now. Why there’s a blue marking on her chest. Why she took medication that forced her to sleep so she didn’t wake up when he was kidnapped.

 

How can you live, knowing that someone who can kill you and everyone you love, is watching your every move while in your own home?

 

How can you sleep?

 

As Izuku crawls back into bed, Second running his hand in comforting circles on his back, he realizes the answer.

 

You don’t.

 


 

Izuku knows what he’s doing is stupid. But he can’t help himself. It’s either this or continue suffering, and Izuku doesn’t want that.

 

It takes a bit of sneaking around to find it. The hidden bug he finds rests on the underside of the lip of the counter. He snatches it up and hides it in his pocket with as much grace and stealth as he can. Fifth, who is looking over him for the day, does not notice, too enraptured with the cat. To be fair, though, Loki has warmed up to him spectacularly, unlike Second, who she hissed at endlessly when he got within a range of a foot of her.

 

Izuku waits until it’s dark out and Fifth and Third are about to change rounds. “I’m going to go to the bathroom,” he tells Fifth. It’s the only place and time he’ll ever get any privacy. Fifth nods and cuddles with Shrimp and Loki some more.

 

Izuku heads out to the hallway and turns on the light and closes the door from the outside. It’s not much, but it’s enough to signal that he is—or should be—in the bathroom. He then silently crawls down the steps and peeks out the windows. He spots Third jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Any minute now he’ll start his new loop and he’ll be out of sight for just long enough before he returns back to the household. Izuku waits and counts to three before he slips out of the house. Hawks, who was supposed to go home that day (for some reason he couldn’t) startles from his perch on the front porch.

 

“Izuku?” he asks. “What’re you doing out here so late at night?”

 

Izuku points down to the street. “I was going to go on a walk. Second’s with me, he said he would take me.”

 

Hawks pales. Izuku knows that Second intimidates him. His personality can sometimes scare people, and Izuku’s planning on using it to his full advantage.

 

Hawks glances around near Izuku’s face, as if wondering if he could somehow see Second. “Okay,” he says slowly. “But be back soon, okay? It’s late, you should go to bed.”

 

Izuku nods. “Of course, of course.” He turns on his heel and hurries down the stairs. Third will be here any minute now. That, or Fifth will realize something’s up. He walks down the multiple flights of stairs of the apartment complex before leaving from the front. He tries to act normal as he walks down the sidewalk, but the minute he turns the corner and is out of sight, he starts to run.

 

Down one sidewalk he goes, and then he turns again, and then again, and then he crosses the street. Within a few minutes, he finds himself near the treeline for the forest he’d visited so many times. He ducks under, giving himself no time to let himself adjust to the pitch blackness. Several times he stumbles over roots and loose branches, and his knees get scraped and muddy when he falls down. He scrambles right back up, though. He doesn’t have the time to ponder over the stinging of his minor injuries.

 

The silence is deafening around him. The only sounds are the faint rustling of the branches and leaves when a faint breeze passes through and the snapping of the twigs underneath his feet. His breath is ominously loud, too loud. He needs to be more quiet, but when he tries to muffle and slow his breathing, he doesn’t get enough oxygen in his lungs.

 

When he reaches the small clearing, he halts in his tracks. Something like dread pools in his stomach. He can’t make out any lights with the lights of the city so bright, and so the dark, inky sky seems to almost swallow everything whole.

 

Everything’s very, very quiet.

 

Izuku reaches for the small microphone in his pocket. The round object is cool in his sweaty palm, and he shivers for a moment with trepidation. Licking his lips, he slowly brings the microphone up to his face.

 

“Hey,” he says, his voice wobbly. “I know you can hear me.” He takes in a shaky, shaky deep breath. His knees are shaking. He feels like he’s about to collapse. “Leave my mom alone. She has nothing to do with whatever you want. So stop stalking her.”

 

The words are cutting when they leave his mouth, but Izuku isn’t even sure he can really hear himself. Nausea is bubbling in his gut. He… he needs a minute. To sit down. And breathe.

 

He stumbles over to the rock, and he collapses onto it. His breathing is coming in too fast but trying to hold the oxygen in his chest makes him want to throw up. Curling up into a ball on the rock, holding his hands in his hair, he blinks rapidly. He can’t believe he just did that. He can’t believe he just did that. He can’t believe he just did that. Oh god, what if the man retaliates and hurts his mother? What if he just made things worse? What if—

 

A large snapping sound shatters Izuku from his thoughts. His breathing stops entirely, and his lungs feel like they’ve snapped or shriveled up in his chest. He stills completely, eyes frozen on the area where the sound was coming from. More snapping of twigs and branches. Louder, louder, louder.

 

It stops.

 

The shadows don’t move. Everything is still.

 

“Izuku, is it?” The voice rumbles deep and murky from somewhere in the trees. It echoes back to him, making the words bounce around the area and in Izuku’s head. The hair on the back of his head stands straight up. “I must commend your bravery for coming out here… all by your little lonesome.” He says each word slowly, savoring each moment. “Where are your friends? I thought you weren’t allowed out of their sight for a moment, but…” A sigh. “I guess I was wrong.”

 

Izuku crawls further back up the rock when he hears more twigs snapping. He’s getting closer. Izuku can breathe, but only slips of oxygen can make it past the tightness in his throat. He’s shaking. The snapping of the twigs stop.

 

“My my, are you scared of me? And why’s that?” the voice purrs so gently.

 

Izuku loses the feeling in his fingers and toes. Terror grips him as he trembles from head to toe. “Y-you’re a villain. Y-you’re hurting my mom.” It’s a childish answer, he thinks. This entire thing was childish. How could he have been so stupid to think he could help?

 

The disembodied voice is silent for a moment. When it speaks up again, he sounds hurt. “Now, that’s no reason to be scared of me, is it? After all, one of your friends is a villain too.” The twigs start to split and crack again. Snap, snap, snap. Izuku’s breath catches in his throat. He’s scared. Oh my god, he’s so scared. “And I’m sorry that I hurt your mother. But she’s hurt you too, hasn’t she? If I remember correctly, you were seven when she became so distant with you that you barely even exchanged a word for months on end.”

 

“Y-you hurt her,” he repeats, as if it explains it. “Th-that’s why.” Terror strikes at his gut, making bile rest at the back of his throat and on his tongue. Fear burns his face and the back of his neck. The voice seems closer, louder, and the shadows grow closer. Something shifts in the dark.

 

“It’s fine,” he reassures. “She’s going to be okay. You, though?” He feels something icy in the shape of a hand cup his face. Izuku opens his mouth to try to speak, to scream, to do something, but all that comes out is a whimper. “You’re not going to be okay. Not soon. Have they told you, yet? About what it means to be associated with them?”

 

The voice is soothing and warm even though the hand on his face makes Izuku quiver so badly that he almost slips off the rock. The voice comes closer, almost as if carried by the wind, and the hair on Izuku’s arms stand on end as goosebumps crawl up his arms. His words are placed right beside his ear, and they crawl quickly inside and take their home there. There they echo and bounce back and forth, back and forth, and they block out everything else that he could possibly hear as it slithers deeper inside, out of reach. He can’t hear anything but what the man says, and it makes the bile in his throat grow more acidic as tears well up in his eyes.

 

“Come on now, Izuku. I know just how smart you are.” The words burn inside his ear, and he shudders but they won’t go away. “Surely you can see how dangerous those friends of yours are. Have you ever taken a moment to question them? Have you ever taken a moment to ask if they’re really there because they care?”

 

There are tears streaming down Izuku’s face. “Th-they care,” he chokes out in a whimper. “Th-they care, s-stop it.”

 

“Do they, though?” Izuku hiccups and the tears run faster. The wind is icy and cold on the salty tear tracks left behind. “Have you ever wondered if they’re not there for some ulterior motive? After all—” Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it stop it stopitstopitstoptit “—why else would they stay for you?”

 

Izuku can’t breathe. His chest heaves as he sobs louder. He can see the shadows shifting, moving, and from it comes a figure that he can’t see. Izuku tries to get enough oxygen in his chest to get his thoughts straight, to get his body to move even an inch, but the man is twenty feet away from him and still has him pinned to the rock in fear.

 

“I know it’s hard to think about, truly,” the man soothes. “It’s okay, though. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to make you feel pain. You are special to me, Izuku. I think it’s such a shame that people are using you just because of who you are.” The man grows closer, closer, closer, and then he’s standing only ten feet away. Izuku can’t breathe. “I just want to help you. Call me a villain all you’d like, but when it comes down to it…” The icy hand tightens on his face. “I just want people to see what it truly means to live. And I can’t have anyone getting in my way.”

 

The man is standing only a few feet from him, now. And then it’s not a few feet but only one, and then a large hand is placed on his side where his rib ends and soft, vulnerable skin and organs start. “Don’t you want to be wanted, Izuku?”

 

The world pauses. The forest is silent. Izuku’s mouth is dry as sandpaper. His limbs feel like lead and jelly at the same time, unable to resist. Izuku’s last tear gets caught in his eyelashes after he blinks, and something in his chest calms. The burning in his ear becomes calming, palliative in a way it shouldn’t.

 

A disk glowing bright red surges past Izuku’s head and lands on the man’s chest, creating a shockwave that blasts him backward. The trees blow and tilt with the motion, swinging with the sudden blast of wind. A rain of leaves flutter and float to the ground, broken loose from their branches. Before either the man or Izuku can react, dark ebony streaks pummel him in the chest, slamming him into a tree on the opposite end of the clearing. The tree’s trunk begins to snap bit by bit, groaning as it tilts over and lands on him.

 

There’s a moment where nothing happens, a split second of calm before the tree bursts into a shockwave of tiny wood pieces broken down into splinters. The man starts to lazily stand back up, expression still shadowed and unclear. A small lithe form wreathed in blue crackling electricity whizzes quickly toward him from behind, landing brutal double roundhouse kick to the back of the man’s skull. Sixth’s expression is dripping with contempt and icy hatred. It doesn’t change in the slightest, even when his ankle is grabbed while mid-air and thrown across the clearing. Sixth’s limbs get the brunt of the damage, though his ankle clearly twists in the wrong direction as he rolls back into a crouch in front of Izuku.

 

A red blur steps on the young male’s back to jump up and forward, gaining height advantage—It’s Second. His palm is outstretched and flat, and something moves along his arm and forms there. Several blindingly quick blasts whip across the clearing, lighting up the trees and the leaves and creating entirely different shadows that disappear in a moment. The blasts are blocked with ease from their opponent, and Second ducks into a roll. A blade forms in his hand as he eases right back up.

 

“Fifth, Third, go. Get Izuku out of here.”

 

Izuku looks back to see dark swirls of jet-black veins of pulsing power swirling around Fifth’s large palms. Third’s eyes are narrowed, and he reaches forward and plucks Izuku from the ground. He doesn’t fight it, knowing that if he probably tried to fight it himself he’d collapse from the fear still chewing at his insides.

 

“How annoying,” the man drawls. The shadows around him grow darker and longer, covering him from behind. “I guess there’s no point of me sticking around…”

 

“Don’t you dare you son of a—”

 

And then he’s gone. Steam rises from the place he just stood. A part of the tree trunk remains upright, though it’s burnt and ripped and it looks pathetic and sad. Second is panting, his shoulders hunched and shaking. His grip on his weapon’s handle is tight. Sixth stares at where the man just was, and he looks down at his hands. There’s a bruise forming on his brow. He gives a disappointed tch before standing up from his crouch. All the happiness from Fifth’s face is drained and gone, and he solemnly looks at the place where the man was. Third’s expression is blank.

 

Izuku is slowly let down to stand on his own feet. He sniffles, and he still trembles slightly. His heart his jackrabbiting in his chest, but it’s slowing down, bit by bit. Second twirls on his heel and stomps over to the three of them. He looks at Izuku with so much anger that he’s never seen directed at him before, making him flinch. Pointing one finger at him, he says, “Don’t you dare ever do that again, you hear me? Never. Again. The next time that happens we might not be there and—”

 

A hand on his chest shoves him back. “Second, stop being an asshole for a second, won’t you?” Sixth snaps. “He’s just gone through something frankly traumatic, keep your anger in check. You can scold him later for god’s sake but let him fucking breathe.” Sixth shuffles forward after sending a glare to Second, and he scoops Izuku into his arms. His face is buried into his hair, and his fingers grip him so tightly that Izuku’s sure it’ll bruise later. Faintly, he can feel Sixth tremble as he sucks in a deep, shaky breath.

 

Fifth lumbers over to the rock and collapses onto it. He stares at the sky, eyes tired and expression haunted. Third rests a hand on the man’s shoulder comfortingly.

 

When Sixth doesn’t let go of him, even a few minutes passing in, izuku gives a muffled apology to Second. “I’m sorry,” he says. His tongue feels too big for his mouth, and his eyes are sore and dry. “I… I won’t do anything like that again.”

 

He hears Second sigh. He peeks out from over Sixth’s shoulder, and he sees the man run his hand through his hair and pull on it. “Yeah. I know. ‘m sorry for losing my cool.” He slowly exhales from his mouth, exhaustion clearly peeking from his features. “We should probably head back now.”

 

Izuku glances away toward the treeline as Sixth lets go of him. It’s cold and empty without him there. Something in his ear squirms, and he remembers the burning hot words that the man had earlier spoken.

 

After all, one of your friends is a villain too.

 

Izuku has to take a deep breath to settle the nerves deep in his gut. His stomach churns unpleasantly. Finally, he manages to choke out, “Which one of you was a villain?”

 

Sixth startles. Fifth looks at him with concern etched into his eyes. “What do you mean?” Fifth asks, a gentle, hesitant rumble.

 

Izuku’s shaking again when he speaks. “When I said that I was scared of him because he’s a villain,” Izuku says, voice strained and weak, “he said it shouldn’t matter because one of you is a villain too.”

 

Second scoffs. “Kid, he was probably talking about me. God forbid all the times I’ve had to kill a person or committed crimes as bad as him in order to make sure that he wouldn’t come into power. He’s probably just throwing around the word villain to make you feel bad about spending time with us. He’s a manipulative bastard.”

 

There’s a moment of quiet. Izuku still feels sceptical, still feels his nerves shot and whizzing under his skin, and it’s Fifth who confirms his fears. “Second, All for One has always considered you to be a vigilante. He’s never seen you as a villain, not really.”

 

All for One. So that’s his name?

 

Second grimaces. “Doesn’t mean he’s willing to bend his own rules, Fifth. You know he’d do anything to get someone on his side, manipulation of a kid be damned.”

 

“No,” a whisper comes. “He’s right. You’re not the villain here.”

 

Izuku freezes. His stomach turns to lead and then drops to his feet. It loops back up to sit in his throat. He glances over to the owner of the voice next to him.

 

Third looks small as he stares at someplace above Izuku’s head. Parts of his hair has come loose from his hair band, and it settles in front of his face. He shuffles closer to Izuku, head bowed, and says, carefully, slowly, “It wasn’t Second. It was me.”

 

Izuku stares at the man in front of him, someone he’d admired and respected so deeply. Someone who always reminded him of being kind and cordial and the word rescue. Someone who had been there for him since the day he’d been kidnapped. Someone who he could rely on.

 

“I was the villain,” Third murmurs. Something hot and burning runs through Izuku’s veins as he trembles violently on the spot, lips pressed together in a thin line. “I’m sorry. I… I should’ve—”

 

Izuku isn’t sure he’s in control of his own body when his hand strikes Third across the face. The blow echoes around the forest and in his own ears, his palm stinging with the impact. Third is entirely still for a second, and then he reaches a shaky hand to his cheek.

 

Izuku turns, still shaking violently, his face crumpling. He barely manages to barrel past Sixth before he starts crying again, his vision growing blurry. He leads the way back through the forest, arms hugging himself. Second follows right behind him, while Sixth lags behind slightly.

 

Izuku does not look back once. He wishes the dark, pitch black sky could swallow him whole.

Chapter Text

Hawks is, understandably, very concerned when Izuku stomps up the steps to the apartment, face tear-stained and eyes red. 

 

He knows he should give him answers, but he can’t bring himself to. Izuku grits out a sharp, “I’m fine” before he hides back in his room. Huffing and puffing, he slips into a comfortable pair of pajamas and sits on the edge of his bed, holding his hands in his hair. The trembling had stopped some time ago, leaving behind something ugly—a mix of regret and anger and shock and sadness. 

 

There are voices outside his bedroom. After a moment he can make out that one of them is Second, a hint of concern there that he doesn’t usually have. The other is spoken too softly for him to figure out who it is. 

 

After several achingly long moments, the door to his bedroom is pushed open. It creaks slightly, though Izuku doesn’t look up from his lap. He isn’t sure he can. His body feels like it’s frozen, too far away to touch and control. Fog clouds his head, makes his sense of touch feel fuzzy and far, far away. 

 

Large cool hands gently pull Izuku’s hands from gripping his hair tightly, and the small boy looks up to see the giant form of Fifth. An air around him of solemnity still hangs heavily, so serious and unlike him. 

 

Izuku sniffles and looks away from his pointed, dark eyes. He looks back down at his scraped knees. A low, rumbly sigh can be heard from above him, and he flinches at it. 

 

The large hands around his wrists fall away, and one moves to rest on the side of Izuku’s bicep. “Come on,” Fifth whispers. “Let’s get you to bed. You’ve had a long night.” 

 

Izuku doesn’t resist Fifth’s careful pushing. They’re silent as Izuku pulls the covers over his legs, and Fifth’s hand on his back is comforting. Izuku remains sitting up even though every nerve in his body tells him to go to bed. Everything’s muddled. He should sleep. 

 

Fifth sits beside him, so very big in Izuku’s so very small bed. The bed creaks and the mattress sinks beneath his weight. 

 

Silence. 

 

“You want to talk about it, kid?” Fifth asks. 

 

“No.” 

 

Fifth nods. “Okay.” He goes to stand up, but Izuku’s hand latches onto his sleeve. Fifth hesitates.

 

There’s an awkward moment where no one does anything. Izuku doesn’t look at Fifth even though he knows the man is staring at him. 

 

“Things are complicated in there, huh?” Fifth murmurs. He gently pushes Izuku’s hair from his face. “I’m guessing you want to talk about it, but you also don’t.”

 

Izuku pauses and then nods.

 

“Alright,” Fifth says. “Is it because of Third?” 

 

A shrug. 

 

“Is it because you’re mad at him?” Fifth says bluntly. 

 

Izuku flinches again and wilts under the—correct—accusation. “I just wish he’d told me,” Izuku mumbles. 

 

Fifth hums. “Third is and has been incredibly self-conscious about himself and his past life. He’s not the person he used to be. He’s changed the best he can. The entire reason he avoided talking about it was because of his fear that you’d hate him.” Fifth is straight to the point, his words carefully said but frankly put. “Tonight shows that his fears were, in fact, valid, which he feared beyond else. He’s been crying into Second’s shoulder for the past half hour.” 

 

Izuku flinches. He knows that Fifth can be blunt at times, though not often is he this… indelicate. 

 

Fifth sees him flinch, and his tone is softer when he continues. “Are you mad because he’s a ‘bad guy’? In that case, shouldn’t you be mad at Second? You heard him, he said that he’s no good guy either. He also yelled at you last night.” 

 

Avoiding Fifth’s gaze, Izuku wrings his hands. “Second only gets mad when he gets scared,” Izuku mumbles. “When someone he cares about can be hurt or lost forever.” Which isn’t many and Just like First are left unsaid. 

 

Something minutely changes in Fifth’s expression. “You aren’t hurt because Third is a villain, am I right?” Fifth says. “It’s because it was Third of all people.” 

 

Izuku wipes at his eyes, which start watering again. Stupid Mom and Dad for having the stupid crying gene. “I was expecting it to be Second. Or Sixth. Or you. Anyone but him,” he croaks. He hiccups and hides his face in his hands. “Villains are s-supposed to be mean. And you should be able to know they’re villains.” That’s childish, a voice similar to Second’s scolds in the back of his head. He ignores it. Another hiccup jolts his small frame. “Third doesn’t act like a villain. He d-doesn’t scare me, Fifth. Th-the other villain scared me. Why doesn’t Third scare me?” Izuku’s full on crying now. He wishes he could stop. “What happens if I’m friends with a villain who’ll hurt me? What happens if I don’t notice? What if s-someone like All for One comes and hurts me again?” First the kidnapping, now this? “What am I supposed to do?” 

 

The large hand on his back starts to rub circles into his back. And something in his head goes oh, because now it makes sense. Because Izuku, for all the therapy sessions he’s gone to—which used to be daily at one point—is a scared nine-year-old who’s confused and young and doesn’t shouldn’t understand the gray area that is good and bad yet. Relentlessly, he’s been trying to get past his fear of getting hurt, and now one of the people who’s sworn to protect him turns out to be something like them… 

 

Fifth tries not to wilt and slowly eases Izuku into not crying any longer. “Villains have… reasons for being who they are,” Fifth starts slowly. “And not all villains are bad people necessarily. Third too was an unconventional—uh, unusual, I mean—kind of one.” Izuku’s sniffling starts to slow. “The man you met, though… he’s a bad villain. A really, really bad one. They’re the kind of people you need to be protected from at all costs.” 

 

The hand on his back disappears, though Fifth’s shoulders are still brushing with his. Or, more accurately, Izuku’s shoulder is bumping with Fifth’s lower bicep. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to tell you why Third became one,” Fifth murmurs. “That’s… not my job. Or my story to tell. I think this is really a conversation you should have with him.” Fifth’s eyes softened. “Also, Izuku… all of us are here to make sure you won’t get hurt again, okay? You’ve gotta help us out too, though. No going out and approaching villains until we say you’re old enough, mister.” There’s a light, joking tone to what he says, and it makes Izuku giggle through his tears. 

 

“I won’t,” Izuku says. He’s had enough villain action anyway. 

 

Fifth tussles his hair and then stands up, leaving Izuku’s side suddenly cold. The door to his room creaks open, and his there’s a ringing of a bell as something quickly scurries inside. Something hops onto the bed beside him, and he startles as he realizes who it is. 

 

Loki. It’s Loki.

 

The cat crawls up further the bed, yellow-orange eyes glowing in the dark. They stare at him curiously as she pauses, as if she’s unsure if she’s allowed, and her tail swishes. Shortly after she plops next to his legs, still staring up at him. Izuku gently pets her head, and her nose twitches, much like Shrimp’s does. 

 

Quietly, Izuku slips further under the covers, careful not to disturb Loki. He stares at the ceiling. 

 

Fifth’s right. He should really talk to Third. 

 

He sniffles again, reminding him that he’s still riding the wave of crying from earlier. No wonder the skin around his eyes feel so tight and dry. 

 

It takes a bit to fall asleep, and when he does, it’s not as restful as he wishes it could be. But it could be much worse, he supposes. 

 

After all, there’s a small black circle on his windowsill. All for One’s here, still. Not physically, no, but he’s here and always has been. Izuku’s not safe. 

 

Izuku’s never safe. When will he ever be? 

 


 

“You remind me of my brother.” 

 

It’s not the first thing Izuku’s expecting to hear when he awkwardly approaches the bench that Third’s sitting on, but he supposes it’s not the worst. Although he made sure to let Third talk first, he forgot that Third—although blunt and straightforward—could talk for hours about certain topics and go on tangents if not stopped. He liked to sometimes talk about things at the wrong moment. 

 

Izuku’s not sure if this is one of said moments, but he wouldn’t be surprised if it is. 

 

Hesitantly, Izuku steps closer to the bench, though he doesn’t sit down. It doesn’t feel right to do so. Like he shouldn’t until he has permission. 

 

Permission does come after several long moments of silence, Third staring at something in the distance with cloudy, watery eyes. (It’s odd, almost painful to see him like this. He’s usually never teary-eyed. Even Second commented not too long ago how unfair it is that he’s more likely to cry than Third is.) His permission comes in the form of a hand patting the wooden slats beside Third, and Izuku slowly sits beside the other. He’s careful to leave a bit of space between them, just because he isn’t sure if he’s ready for any sort of contact. 

 

After another awkward stillness, Izuku licks his lips and speaks to Third for the first time since he slapped him… which, now that he thinks about it, wasn’t but less than a day ago. It’s a little hard to think about. It feels like it’s been ages. 

 

“Why do I remind you of your brother?” 

 

It comes out stilted, much more so than he’d have liked, but he’s… not good at this. He hasn’t lost his temper at someone like this in. Well, in forever, right? He threw a handful or three temper tantrums as a child, but that was before his mother took a downturn in her health. Having dozens of adults as friends didn’t help matters either for his personality, especially since his ‘friends’ had been extremely hardened by the jobs they held. Whining about little things seemed silly and stupid when his friends were talking (re: whispering) about a series of kidnappings and gruesome murders. 

 

Heck, now that he’s even taking the moment to think this through… Third had a brother? Since when? And wait, what does Izuku have to do with his brother? 

 

Third glances over to him, and Izuku gets a moment to see the exhaustion that rests on his face. The man slumps over and slides further down the bench. Another oddity. Third is usually so refined in his actions, so careful and elegant. Now, though… 

 

Ah. He’s an absolute, total, giant mess. 

 

Third runs a hand down his face. “You and my brother are both reckless idiots who think they can tackle things they very obviously shouldn’t.” Something in Third’s usually-immaculate and smooth expression shifts as he turns and squints at Izuku. “Speaking of which, were you scolded? You weren’t scolded, were you.” The next thing Izuku knows, something quick and sharp darts into the corner of his vision, and he flinches back just as his cheek is pinched lightly. 

 

It, of course, stings like crazy, and Izuku sucks in a deep breath through clenched teeth as he rubs at the sore skin. Third just levels an irritated glare at him as he jams a finger into his direction. Izuku notes, faintly, that Third’s outline looks jagged and unsteady compared to its normal immovable state. 

 

“You should not be going after insane psychopathic crazies with a death wish in mind,” Third scolds. “I’ve seen that man kill too many people, Izu. I—” He pauses, something vulnerable passing over his face. “There’s a reason we’re all wary of him.” 

 

Izuku blinks. “Did he kill all of you?” 

 

Third flinches, and Izuku takes that as a solid yes. He gets confirmation anyway when Third curls back into himself, back to looking as tired as he was before. “Brutally,” Third finally says. 

 

A silence falls over the two of them. Izuku rubs at the tender skin of his cheek. Most of the stinging is gone now, just a dull throb remaining. In normal circumstances, Izuku’d probably be mad. But he’s pretty sure he deserved the light punishment this time. 

 

Finally deciding that the silence wouldn’t do either of them any good, Izuku brings up the conversation once more, deciding to get straight to the point. “How come you were killed too, even though you were a villain?” 

 

Third sinks further into the bench. “I was… a weird villain, comparatively.” 

 

Fifth’s voice from last night comes into mind, and Izuku hums as he turns his body so his legs are on the bench. He folds his legs and wraps his arms around them, keeping himself warm and comfortable. A voice in the back of his head that sounds much like Aizawa dryly says, ‘So I’ve been told.’ Because Izuku has nothing better to say and he doesn’t want to sound stupid (he’s nine and for as smart as Tsukauchi says he is, he still hasn’t quite perfected adult talk) he parrots the voice from the back of his head. It works out perfectly in his favor if the way Third squirms is any indicator. 

 

Izuku is a very intimidating nine-year-old. He’s pretty sure it’s the crossed arms that does it for him. 

 

(When he’s older, Third will tell him that no, sorry bud, it’s not the crossed arms. It’s the pout and the disappointed look that had killed the poor man from the inside out of guilt that day.)

 

Third opens his mouth, looks as if he’s about to say something, hesitates, closes his mouth, and repeats the process two times over. If it were about anything else, Izuku might be a little more impatient waiting for Third to finish, but he’s thought about this for most of the night and all morning. He’s not going to mess this up if he can help it. 

 

“It’s… a long story,” Third finally settles on. “I’d have to start at the beginning.” 

 

Izuku shrugs. “I have all day.” 

 

When Izuku had been reassured that he’d eventually be told the story of his friends and why they’re with him, he hadn’t realized just how… convoluted it is. 

 

Third starts the story off with a pair of brothers at the beginning of a quirked society. The eldest had the power to take and give quirks at will, while the younger was physically weakened, seemingly quirkless. The elder brother is gifted the name All for One. Riding the wave of the appearance of quirks and their backlash, he sits at the top of the world. 

 

And then he slips. He makes his first mistake. It comes back to bite him when it turns out his brother wasn’t as quirkless as they had thought. 

 

One for All is born. First survives. And then he doesn’t. 

 

Chin resting on his tented fingers, Third looks solemnly out into the distance. “I don’t know how First died,” he confesses quietly, “but it nearly killed Second. He was a shattered man when he took in my brother and I. There was practically nothing left of him. Just pent-up, self-destructive feelings of agony and rage and a lot of blood on his hands.” Third shifts, clearly uncomfortable with the turn of the story. 

 

Izuku’s brow is furrowed as the older man pauses in his story. It’s… a lot of information to digest, and he takes it in slowly. They still haven’t even gotten to the reason as to why Third became a villain, and Izuku isn’t sure he can handle so many painful mouthfuls of information at once. 

 

“So,” Izuku starts slowly, “Second took you guys in when you were…” 

 

“Seven and ten. My brother was older than me.” Third’s answer comes clipped and short. 

 

Izuku frowns. “And he did it because he wanted to train you to be the next holder for One for All…?” Izuku still can’t wrap his head around the idea that a quirk can be passed down genetically. 

 

There’s a split second where regret obviously crashes into Third, and the man closes his eyes tightly. He exhales long and hard through his nose. “No,” he says, expression lined with pain. “My brother and I were fighting on the streets to survive. Second only took us in after he found us looking for food nearby one of his… jobs. He pitied us.” 

 

Suddenly, Izuku’s morning breakfast of pancakes feels too heavy for his stomach. “... And then he wanted to train you? After he took you in?” He’s grasping at straws because… something’s missing. There’s something obvious, right in front of him, that he’s missing. That he’s not getting. 

 

What is it? Why does he not understand? 

 

Third still hasn’t opened his eyes. His shoulders are taut, and agony is written in every crease in his face. 

 

“Izuku…” He starts, quietly, hesitantly, like he doesn’t know where to start. “My Representation. Rescue. It’s… it should be about selflessness. About saving others. But you have to understand, I’m not… I’m not that. I’ve never been that. Rescue, for me, has always meant a very selfish thing. I’ve been trying to change that recently, but...” 

 

Izuku feels stupid for thinking that Third’s ‘rescue’ meant just that. Second’s ‘kill’ means to sacrifice, Fifth’s ‘capture’ means to feel, and Sixth’s ‘see’ means to live. All of their Representations mean much more, often something surprisingly different, than what they seem to mean at the surface level. Third had no reason to be different. Why did Izuku assume so, then? 

 

“I understand,” Izuku says, because he’s not sure what else he’s supposed to say. 

 

Third doesn’t say anything for another moment. Izuku’s pretty sure he’s taking that time to figure out what he’s going to say, but he can’t be for sure. Out of all the people Izuku thought he’d have the hardest time reading, Third hadn’t been one of them. 

 

“One for All was never meant for me.” Dead silence. Izuku stares at Third with wide, wide eyes. 

 

It’s in that moment that Izuku realizes that Third’s story is not a happy one. 

 


 

Third and his brother hadn’t meant to find out Second’s secret. 

 

It was a year after the man had taken them in, and they had noticed the mysterious absences he would take almost every night. Then there were the weird contraptions and machines that the man would obsess over every night. 

 

Make sure all the locks are pulled shut. Make sure the weapons are active. Make sure the tripwires are all in place. Make sure, make sure, make sure. 

 

It was his brother that had suggested they sneak into Second’s room. Third was never really the type to go snooping, and he was content with having three full meals a day in his stomach and a warm place to sleep. Why ask questions when he was safe and happy? 

 

His brother, though? Not so much. 

 

They found the journal on his desk. It was written in some kind of code. His brother didn’t understand it, but Third did. Second was always writing something in code when he was home, often in books with pictures of men and women in them and names scratched out. The man wasn’t touchy-feely, and he didn’t spend a great deal of time with the two boys, but he did let Third watch him work over his shoulder. It didn’t take long for Third to grow invested into trying to decode what was being said, and Second would encourage him when he got frustrated, often giving him hints and other help. 

 

So while Third didn’t get all the words, he knew what was being said. He was the key to cracking Second’s codes. And so when his brother handed him the journal, asking him to read it for him, Third couldn’t refuse. Not to his brother. 

 

It was much more personal than the previous books he had lying around. It was a story of two brothers, one of which happened to be Second’s husband, and a quirk able to be passed down. It told of Second’s hard-made decisions, of his nightmares, of the blood on his hands and the hard-won battles he’d never truly wanted to fight. 

 

Third told his brother very little of what he actually read. Just enough to get the gist of it. When Second got home at around one in the morning, steps light and cautious but weary, Third was waiting for him. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he told the amethyst-eyed man. “I promise I didn’t tell him everything.” 

 

Second had looked at the book in Third’s hands, and then his bag slipped off his shoulder and crashed onto the ground. He stared at the young eight-year-old for a long, long moment, and then he slowly kneeled in front of him. His hands reached out to grab onto Third’s, his journal completely ignored in favor of Second staring at him. 

 

“What did you learn?” he asked, voice ragged. 

 

Third had stared back at him quietly, guilt hanging deep in his young face. “Everything.” 

 

Time, if just for a moment, remained frozen. And then Second fell forward, his forehead resting on Third’s shoulder. His fingers stayed by the nape of Third’s neck, fingertips warm and heavy. 

 

(It was the most intimate Third had ever seen the man be.) 

 

“I’m sorry,” the man had said ever so quietly. “I tried to protect you.” 

 

The next morning, Third’s eleven-year-old brother huffed a breath and crossed his arms and said, “Hey, don’t you need a successor or somethin’?” 

 

His brother was much more confident and nosy than Third ever was. Third ate his breakfast in silence, ready to drop the subject entirely. 

 

Second stared at the boy with a blank hard expression. It was almost amusing with the pink apron wrapped around his waist. Second grunted and pointed to a seat at the table. “You won’t be getting pancakes with that kind of talk, mister.” 

 

His brother looked incredibly offended at the threat, which was amusing. Third giggled into his own pancakes. 

 

It should have been the end of the subject, but it wasn’t. And when his brother was handed a small vial of Second’s blood several months later, Third’s stomach dropped to his feet. 

 

“What is this?” his brother asked. 

 

Second’s eyes were as cold as always. “My blood. My DNA.” His brother stiffened, and Second took it upon himself to flick the boy’s forehead. “Don’t you dare think about taking it. Consider it an emergency back-up if anything ever happens to me. I’ll be renewing it every few months, so throw the old ones out, alright? Also, you don’t have my permission to take it until you’re an adult, mister.” 

 

His brother complained and whined that he was old enough. But he took the bottle anyway. On Second’s way out the door, just as he was pulling on his leather jacket, Third had tugged on his sleeve. 

 

He had stared at the man with wide, scared eyes. What will happen to my brother? he wanted to ask. What if he tries to take it too early? 

 

The man ruffled his hair. “It’ll be okay,” he had said. “I’ll make sure of it. Just make sure he doesn’t do anything dumb, the reckless idiot.” He had said the last part fondly, so Third knew not to get defensive of his brother. And it was true, his brother could be… rash, sometimes. 

 

“Okay,” Third had said. 

 

He hadn’t realized, not at the time, what he was signing up for. His brother was going to be a hero—one of the first in society, and he was training hour by hour by day by day with Second to become one. Whenever Second had free time, that was all they were doing. Training. Fighting. Training and fighting and training. 

 

Third’s brother was going to be a fantastic hero. All he’d ever wanted to do was help people, and it seemed like he was going to do just that and more. And Third? 

 

Third was training. Not to be a hero, no, not like he’d always wanted to be. He was training to support his brother. 

 

“You’re upset,” a weary Second said after a long day of training. He was speaking to thirteen-year-old Third, who just happened to be in the basement, knuckles bleeding from punching the sand bags too hard. 

 

Dark eyes glared up at him. He was frustrated. Frustrated that his brother was chosen to be the successor, frustrated that he was chosen for One for All. Frustrated that because of it, Second and his brother were oh-so close and Third was… not. 

 

Left in the background. Left to coddle his brother as he went out into the world to do what Third wanted so badly to do. 

 

“Why do I have to be stuck with only being allowed to fix my brother and his mistakes?” Third didn’t mean to be rude, but he furiously spat the words out like venom. Furious that he was being treated like a support item. Furious that he was becoming something he didn’t want to be. Furious that his brother hadn’t even noticed. Jealous because his brother and Second were so close and it felt like Third was being left behind. “I know I’m only training because he’s your successor,” he had said. “And I’m sick and tired of it.” 

 

Second had stared at him with careful, calculating eyes. He sighed, and then urged him to sit down. Third did so with anger carved into his features. 

 

“In a perfect world, I would not have trained either of you.” Second began just like that. “I would have kept you in the dark. I would have found someone else. But this isn’t a perfect world, and you’re right, I’m training you to be your brother’s support.” Second glanced at him with sad, somber eyes. “I chose you because of your brother. But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect you.” Second took one of Third’s hands in his own, and he squeezed it gently. Third startled in realization that Second was touching him so intimately. (He never was so close like this to his brother.) “I chose you because of your brother, and I chose your brother because of you. Your brother is one of the most hard-headed people I’ve ever met, and it’s only his quirk that convinced me to give him a chance. But I can’t trust him with One for All. Not alone. Not unless he has someone responsible by his side. Not unless he has someone I can trust.” 

 

The declaration left Third reeling, but the man he’d reluctantly admitted to be a sort of father figure to him continued speaking. “In a perfect world, I could have raised you to both be fantastic heroes, fantastic people, without worrying about losing you both. But I can’t. So yes, I’m training you to be nothing more than your brother’s support, but know that it’s not because I’m looking down on you.” Second ran the pad of his thumb over the back of Third’s scabbed hands. “It’s because I trust you so much that I’m putting this responsibility with you. It’s because you’re so strong that I’m entrusting you with One for All. I’m sorry it couldn’t be in the form of the quirk itself.” Second’s eyes soften. “But it’s there, in the form of its legacy. It’s in the form of your brother. And I could not ask for anything harder of a job than yours. It’s why I picked you to do it. Not because it is a perfect world, and not because it’s a decision I won’t regret. But because I know you’ll continue to stand no matter what happens.” 

 

In a perfect world, Third would have been a hero. In a perfect world, Third would not have a healing quirk. 

 

“Now,” Second had said, “please. Take care of yourself.” His fingers gently grazed over the wounds of Third’s knuckles, and the teenager winced. 

 

Slowly, after a moment to digest Second’s words, he ran his fingers over each opposite hand. A thin layer of magenta-colored crystals formed over the open gashes of his skin, cool and gentle. 

 

“Okay,” Third said very, very quietly. 

 

(Third is entrusted with his brother’s life. To heal him every time he gets hurt. To save him every time he falls. But Third’s quirk is weak compared to his brother’s. 

 

Third is thirteen, and his quirk can only heal scratches and bruises. He’s not good enough.

 

Not yet.)

Third was seventeen when the world came crashing down. 

 

“Stay here,” Second ordered, eyes like fire and voice like ice. 

 

His brother was on his feet in an instant, bright red hair hanging low over his eyes. “No! You can’t go without me! You’ll die!” 

 

There were alarms ringing. Red lights were flashing. Second was tense, on edge. He whipped around to face his eldest son, eyes full of age-old fury not quite directed at them. It was lined with fear, and Third knew. Knew that he might die tonight. Knew that he didn’t want it to happen to his brother. 

 

Second placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “No,” he ground out. The alarms were still ringing. It was giving Third a headache. “You. Stay. Put. Do you hear me? That’s an order, kid.” 

 

Second was gone in an instant. Third’s brother was left behind, standing in the middle of their dining room, frozen still. The TV was turned on, and Third watched as a familiar-faced man in the middle of a bloody riot turned his quirks loose. A crash. A building collapsed. Checkmate. Explosions and fire. 

 

And, of course: All for One. 

 

“We have to stop him,” Third’s brother said. 

 

Third glared up at the twenty-year-old. “Stop acting childish. You heard what he said. And you know as well as I do that you’ll just get yourself killed.” 

 

“So what?” His brother threw his arm out to the side, towards the television. “We just let the one person in the world who cared for us die? Is that what you want tonight, huh?” When Third remained silent, he huffed. “Fine. You stay here. But I’m going.” 

 

So of course, Third followed after him. 

 

It was a disaster waiting to happen, but Third sucked it up and walked side-by-side with the one family member he chose to swear his life to. Since the day they were on the streets, five and eight, Third gave his heart and soul to their brotherhood. Nothing could keep them apart, no matter how badly Third wanted to stay in their apartment. 

 

And Second was dying when they finally arrived on the scene. 

 

They were hiding in the alleyway. There was blood everywhere, and Third had a hand over his mouth, tears threatening to fall. His brother was grinding his teeth, and then he flew out of their hiding spot. No! He’d wanted to shout. His hand whipped out to grab his brother by the back of his shirt. He missed. 

 

“I’ll kill you, you son of a bitch!” his brother roared. 

 

“No.” There was blood dribbling from Second’s lips as he struggled to his hands and knees. “No,” he wheezed again. “No, no, no, I told you to stay back— you idiot, get out of here!” 

 

All for One laughed. His foot came hard, grinding Second’s face into the ground. “No worries,” he had purred. “I’ll make it painless for him too.” 

 

Third’s brother charged, and, of course, All for One retaliated. 

 

And, of course, Second took the hit for him. 

 

And, of course, Third was still in the alleyway. Alone. 

 

Without any sort of protection, without a mentor, with nothing blocking All for One in his path, there was little surprise of what ended up happening. 

 

Third had his brother’s arm wrapped around his shoulders, and he was heaving the older, taller, heavier male across the room, back in their apartment. He was crying, of course he was crying, of course he’d been so stupid to not try to stop him. Why? Why hadn’t he tried harder to stop his brother from walking out that door? 

 

“It’s okay. I promise. It’s okay.” Third had bloody hands cupped around Second’s face. They were shaking, not really holding the man’s head up from Third’s lap. “It’s okay. I promise you. I— I’ll protect him. I’ll save him, just like you asked me to. I promise, okay?” With quivering fingers, he gently brushed some of Second’s hair out of his eyes. Third’s voice was thick with emotion. 

 

“It’s gonna be okay. I’ll… I’ll handle it from here. It’s okay. You— you don’t have to worry about us anymore. I’ll—” A building nearby shifted, ready to crumble. Third startled. He turned away, just for a split second, and when he turned back, he realized that Second wasn’t listening to him anymore. His eyes were glassy. 

 

“It’s okay,” Third mumbled, again, and he leaned down and kissed Second’s forehead. “I-it’s okay Dad, I promise.” His hands slowly let go of Second’s face, and the back of his head was dropped gently on the ground. 

 

“It’s okay,” Third tried to reassure himself. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay—” They bumped into a counter. Third stumbled and collapsed. His brother did not make a sound, barely conscious. Third cursed and then scrabbled up, dragging his brother back onto his feet. 

 

It took too many precious minutes to log their way through the basement and into the small room they called an infirmary. Third dropped his brother onto the bed before bustling around the room. One cabinet, open, no no no, it’s not there where is it, slam it shut, go to the next, hook up the IV, find the blood for the transfusion, where the hell are the needles!? 

 

It’s okay, he mumbled to himself. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay. 

 

His brother’s shirt was removed, and then his hands hovered over his stomach. There was blood everywhere, soaking into the bed. Come on, come on! His quirk came to life as he gently pressed his hands onto the wound, and his crystals formed over the jagged gash. Third moved back, ignoring the blood all over his shaking hands. 

 

And then the crystals cracked. 

 

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck—”

 

Third rushed over to the other side of the room. Bandages, bandages, where the hell were the bandages—?

 

Third was seventeen, and his quirk was weak. He could heal scratches and bruises and sometimes deeper cuts, but not— not this. Not this. 

 

He stemmed the bleeding with one hand, ignoring all the towels and rags that were slowly soaked red as he formed coat after coat of his crystals. They were so weak, though, so weak and they shattered and fell away the instant their healing properties were pushed too far. The wound was closing, sure, but it was too slow, far too slow. His brother was bleeding out, Second was dead, and Third couldn’t save the last person on earth who mattered to him because his quirk was too weak—

 

Third’s hands had been in his hair when he froze, a thought striking him. 

 

No, he argued with himself. No, this is wrong. This is so, so wrong. 

 

It didn’t stop him from twisting on his heel, dashing through their apartment to reach his brother’s room. 

 

He was breathing quickly, too quickly, far too quickly—

 

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay—” He didn’t feel okay. He slammed his brother’s door open and immediately rushed over to his desk, opening the drawers, rummaging through his belongings and privacy. The inside of the drawer was freezing cold to preserve what was inside. No, no, throw that out, move along, move along— 

 

His hand caught on a vial, and he snatched it up. For a second, he held it in front of his face, holding the glass between bloody fingers. His red fingerprints remained stained on the clear surface. 

 

It was Second’s blood. 

 

One for All can only be passed down willingly. 

 

He willingly gave it to his brother. Would it still work, then, if Third drank it instead? 

 

It’s okay. It’s okay, I’ll give it to him after he’s healed. I’ll give it back. It’ll be fine. It’s okay, I’ll be fine. 

 

With fumbling, shaking fingers, he undid the cork and brought it to his lips. The iron taste burned his tongue like bile, and he gagged on the taste as he forced it down. He let the vial drop from his fingers and fall back into the drawer, and then he twisted on his heel and rushed back through the apartment. His breath was coming in short and shallow gasps. He needed to calm down. He needed to stay level headed. He needed to—

 

His brother was deathly pale when he dashed back into the infirmary. “Oh my god,” Third said. “Oh my god. Oh my god.” 

 

He had anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour before One for All was fully developed in his body. He could wait that out. He could do it. He could— he could prolong his brother’s life for just a little longer. 

 

Right? 

 

He knew he was hyperventilating as he started to fumble around the room. Fuck, he’d forgotten to set up the transfusion. The blood. Where were the blood packets? In the cooler. They were in the cooler. Where was the cooler? 

 

He stumbled around the room, his vision spinning. One step at a time. The anti-septic needles were across the other side of the room. Where were the tubes? The stand? Oh fuck, his brother was still bleeding out. 

 

His hands found his brother’s side again, and in a desperate haze, he called up his crystals again. He was going to have a nosebleed at this rate. The glittering magenta rocks crawled up his brother’s side. He could faintly see how the edges of the injury were already starting to heal over. 

 

His brother’s face was relaxed. 

 

Third was prepared for a lot of things, see. But not everything. Not this. 

 

See, Second had warned them about the authorities. 

 

Corrupt. Liars. Biased. 

 

Many were followers of All for One. 

 

So when the hands of the clock whizzed by, and a loud knocking from the front of the apartment echoed down the hall and into the infirmary, Third felt panic overcome him. There was dried blood under his nose and on his upper lip, and he was almost as pale as his brother. He was shaking. 

 

He knew that knock. 

 

Third stumbled out of the room, dashing down the hall. Everything was dizzy and fuzzy. He found himself in the entrance room, and he pulled open the doors to a small closet hugging the wall. He groped forward for the button off to the side, his fingers flicking it upward. 

 

The monitors inside flickered to life. Third stared with wide, panicked eyes at the camera feed, at the police officers grouped outside the closed apartment door. At the front was a man with a long scar over his face and slicked-back gray hair. His arm was pulled into a sling. 

 

No. No. He— he was killed a week ago. Second had killed him last week. He was the biggest thorn in their sides, and Second had finally gotten rid of him, so why—

 

Why is he still alive!? 

 

Third’s breathing began to pick of speed. He stumbled over to the front door, and he flinched as the pounding began to pick up speed. With shaking hands, he grabbed onto the locks and grunted as he heaved them close. The keypad attached to the wall blinked to life, and Third shakily pressed the numbers of the emergency code into it. Second’s inventions came to life, slowly creaking across the room. 

 

Third turned on his heel and ran back to his brother, ignoring the clinking and clanking that followed behind him. His brother was pale, and the heart monitor beside him told Third that his heartbeat was faint and slow. 

 

Shit, shit, shit, stay with me! 

 

Third tripped over his own feet as he reached his brother’s side, exhaustion seeping into his bones, causing him to fall to his knees. Jolts of numb pain raced up his legs. Crystals were already eating away at his nerves as they prepared to form. 

 

As they shot from his hands before he could stop it, he felt something noticeably different. The fierce headache that usually formed after was muted, and the usual tinkling sound that echoed as they formed was lighter and softer. 

 

What the—?

 

It hit him. In response, his body started to shake, unable to digest the information handed to him on a silver platter. 

 

He turned his hands so his palms, covered in dried blood, were facing him. They were trembling, and small, lilac-colored crystals hung heavily from his fingers. They gleamed in the white lights overhead. 

 

He did it. 

 

(One for All was officially passed down.)

 

Third was startled out of his realization that he had— he had his brother’s power when a loud pounding of the door to their apartment could be heard. Snapping back into focus, he jumped back to his feet, cold and sweaty and aching all over. His brother was, oddly enough, starting to get some color back into his face, but he was still ghost-like and unmoving. 

 

Third bounded to the other side of the room. He needed to replace the blood packet, needed to keep the transfusion going, needed to—

 

The banging on the door got immeasurably louder, making Third flinch and stumble over his feet. Second’s third-worst enemy wouldn’t hold still for long. There was only a matter of time before he ordered his men to break the door down, and no matter how long they hesitated, it wasn’t enough for Third to save his brother and escape. 

 

It doesn’t have to be enough , he thought. 

 

Of course. Of course. 

 

People have to make sacrifices. He was no exception to this rule. He had to make them too. He had to… he had to… 

 

Sudden silence. Third knew. He knew. 

 

Double checking to make sure that the lavender crystals were firmly in place, Third turned back on his heel and went down the hall. 

 

(He didn’t run.) 

 

The door to Second’s room was wide open. Third stood in the doorway, unable to bring himself to move. 

 

Did you have nightmares? 

 

A loud, sickening crack. They were trying to break down the door, now. 

 

Okay… Would you… would you like to sleep with me, then? I know the bed isn’t that big, but… 

 

Third stepped slowly into Second’s bedroom. It was dark. His notebook was laying wide open on his desk. 

 

It hit Third. 

 

He’s dead. 

 

He didn’t have time to mourn. It didn’t change the feeling of a hand reaching into his chest, slowly twisting, squeezing, tearing his heart from the safe spot of his ribcage. 

 

He’s not coming back. 

 

Though there was a hard burn pressing against the back of his eyes, he couldn’t find it in himself to cry. Instead, he slowly reached his hands out. The tips of his fingers ran across the walls as the crack, crack, crack! of the door to the apartment echoed. It was slowly folding under the will of several hard blows. 

 

It wouldn’t be long, now. 

 

Third’s finger snagged on a picture frame, and he slowly pulled it back. He was greeted with cold steel. There was a small reflective box pressed into the surface, made of layers of glass and hair-thin wires, and Third pressed his bloodied thumb onto it. 

 

A click, and the steel door fell. 

 

Third’s breathing picked up. It didn’t stop him from reaching for the contents inside. His fingers brushed cold, harsh metal. Something bumpy. Something hard. 

 

He was no stranger to guns. Second had trained them— trained them both on how to wield one. 

 

But it wasn’t supposed to be like this. 

 

Not like this. 

 

(Third was seventeen the first time he held a lethal weapon with the intent to kill.) 

 

There was a burning in his throat as he doubled back on himself, looking into his brother’s room. His brother’s face had grown some color back. Third’s eyes glanced down to his wounded side, which was previously covered in thick, cloudy crystals with a soft purple hue. 

 

He only saw red marred skin, an ugly scar- a wound just healed. 

 

His reaction was immediate. His shoulders slumped in relief. The tears building in his eyes finally spilled over as he ducked his head. They quietly ran down his cheeks. His fingers, which had been tightly gripping the gun, loosened as they started to tremble. 

 

And then the door to his apartment broke. Crash! 

 

They’re here. 

 

Third quietly stepped out of the infirmary, shutting the door behind him. His brother would be okay. He was always the strongest. He could… he’d forgive Third for doing this. 

 

Maybe. 

 

All of the ringing alarms in Third’s head were telling him to grab his brother and get out of there. To haul out of the back and run far, far away. But he knew better. There’d only be so far they could go before they’d get caught. His brother might survive tonight, but his injuries were gruesome. Not to mention that the instant he was recovered just enough, he’d demand One for All from Third and go straight back onto the streets. 

 

He couldn’t let that happen. 

 

His brother was strong, but so, so impulsive. Escaping would be the first of too many problems. 

 

So Third was going to stop them before they started. 

 

Quietly, Third hugged the wall as he padded on quiet feet down the hall and around the corner. He could hear orders being called from where he was standing, and rummaging too. 

 

Third pressed his back against the wall as he fingered the cool trigger of his gun. The pad of his index finger rested heavily there. 

 

He took in a silent, shaky deep breath. He could hear the man Second supposedly killed not but two weeks ago spit angrily at someone else in the room. Whoever it was, Third didn’t know, but he had a feeling it was one of his underlings. 

 

“—ind him. The moment you see him, shoot. He said that he’d already killed his mentor, so there’s only him left. He’s injured and alone, so let’s finish what he started.” 

 

Third sucked in another deep breath before sliding down the wall. Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, he willed himself to peer around the corner. 

 

Eight. There were eight of them. 

 

Third pulled himself back behind the wall. Slowly, with one hand, he reached up to the small flap above him. His hand roamed for the latch, and he undid it with nimble fingers. Second’s inventions should already be into place, but they required the emergency code to be put into one of the keypads around the house at least one more time to initiate execution protocols—

 

Suddenly, a man was turning the corner. He froze and blinked at Third, who was still crouched. 

 

Third didn’t even remember pulling the trigger, but the man was alive and then he just— wasn’t. He fell like a sack of potatoes. Thump. Crumpled. Fell oddly, body twisted in a way it shouldn’t have, but unable to change position. 

 

Gone. Dead. Not alive. 

 

Third doesn’t remember much of what happened that day, still. There were brief flashes that’d randomly come to him on days he’d least expect. Then, right there, curled on the floor of his old apartment, blood on his hands, there was dizzy, fuzzy static that hogged all the space in his head, that pressed against his skull and made it hard to see clearly. 

 

He thinks he remembers a yell, and then his fingers ghosted over the keypad. He punched in the emergency code, he thinks, and then there were screams. Silence followed, though maybe it was just that he couldn’t hear anything over his loud, labored breaths. He was shaking. 

 

The man with the sling around his arm and the long silvery hairy slicked back into a low ponytail was laughing. 

 

“Come on now kid. You’re fatally injured and cornered. My boss just killed your mentor. You have nowhere to go, nowhere to run. It’s only a matter of time.” 

 

The man, though Third did not realize it, was holding his arms out wide. He had a brazen grin spread across his face, ready for any attack. 

 

Third didn’t, and still doesn’t know what quirk the man had. It must have been something useful for him to be such an important piece to All for One—not a pawn, but a bishop. 

 

Whatever it was, Third had known the man was dangerous. So in his fuzzy, scared, seventeen-year-old mind, he pulled the pin to the grenade and threw it without a second thought. 

 

Third does not tell Izuku this. Does not tell how he held his hands over his ears, how his chest shuddered and heaved as the explosion rang out loudly and how the reinforced walls of Second’s apartment shuddered and shook and how the screams rang in his head for hours after. 

 

Izuku may have experienced horrors, may be mature for his age, but he is a child. 

 

Third does not tell Izuku a lot of things. Like the blood from Second, and his brother, and the man who was at the wrong end of his gun, and All for One’s right-hand man. He does not tell Izuku a lot of things. 

 

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t remember. 

 

“They thought there was only one of us,” Third says, voice empty and without inflection. “So I gave my brother another transfusion, hooked him up to an IV, cleaned his wound, and then hid the infirmary from view. And then I ran. Ran so they would come after me and not him.” 

 

Izuku’s face is pale and solemn. It looks odd on a face as youthful as his. “What if something went wrong? What if… what if your brother needed further help? What if he got an infection…?” 

 

Third glances over at him with tired, tired eyes. Ah, he had forgotten that Izuku had been in the hospital for a while. And that his mother’s a nurse. Of course he knows these things. “Then he would’ve died,” he said simply. 

 

There’s silence between them for a long, long moment. 

 

“So you rescued your brother,” Izuku says, “but you killed many more.” 

 

“Yes,” Third replies. 

 

There are many details that Third will probably tell him. When he’s older. But, for now, he’s young. Too young. So Third glosses over the details. Glosses over the fact that reinforcements were sent after him two hours later, cornering him in a popular area. Glosses over the fact that not a day later, people were calling him Vermillion Riot for the sixty-seven murders and complete destruction of the downtown plaza in broad daylight. 

 

Glosses over the fact that he became a villain because it was so much easier than being a hero. 

 

It’s disappointing to have to break it all to Izuku. That he doesn’t act with the poise and careful grace with a smile because he’s a Prince Charming, but rather because he’s a villain. That he was scared that he’d die to All for One for being a hero, just like Second, so he became a villain instead. 

 

Organized villainy was almost laughably easy. 

 

“What changed?” Izuku asks. 

 

Third sighs. “A lot of things,” is the easiest answer he can settle on comfortably. “The men and women under me had a much different point of view of the world that directly clashed with All for One. Many people were stuck between both sides, and forced to ally with someone they didn’t agree with. As soon as I came out with my own ideas, I… basically stole a chunk of All for One’s forces. And plenty of other people who were trying to make it out on their own.” Third rubs the back of his neck tiredly. “I found my successor, too. Fourth was head of the military forces. Or, about to be. He was going to be elected within the next four months. So I made a deal with him.” 

 

It was a deal he’s starting to regret, especially for the long-term effects he’s starting to notice in modern-day heroics. “My intel was telling me that they were noticing fractures in All for One’s forces, and there were rumors that they were transporting children with special quirks into their care.” Experimentation. The beginning of the trials that would later become Nomus. “So I made a deal with Fourth. When he accepted Chief Commanding role, he would create a program of select people to legalize vigilante-esque figures.” The first government-sponsored heroics program. “In that program, I would be handing my finest men and women over to him to be trained into future heroes. At least, those who didn’t want to be involved with a suicide mission. I only gave them those two choices. It was received… badly, of course, but it was less painful than I thought it would be.”

 

“Wait, what?” Izuku’s brows are furrowed. “I don’t… what? What do you mean by suicide mission?” 

 

Third huffs a breath. “I’m getting to that.” Though I really don’t want to. “I had some people working on the inside of All for One’s regime so… I was given a time stamp not too long after of when the children would be transported across the country and into All for One’s care. Because All for One was getting more risky, and because my group was slowly becoming more and more involved with political issues, I knew that it was only a matter of time before the government essentially adopted the policies we wanted. Except we weren’t going to be in the picture, and the government would take the credit.” Third frowned. “So I gave my men and women a choice. They would willingly involve themselves with the heroics program— or they would help me in my mission to intercept the children’s transportation and free them. At the same time, raids led by the military and police, as well as vigilantes already conditioned into legal hero-ing, would attack All for One from all sides. After my people freed the children, we would go and help the rest of them.” 

 

A suicide mission. Each person he managed to bring under his wing knew what it meant. Destroy as much as you possibly can before you get killed. It was brutal, and he was sending his own people to a massacre, but many would much rather do that than live as a hero. Concerning, but not surprising. 

 

At least they gave All for One one hell of a run for his money. 

 

“So…?” Izuku doesn’t seem hopeful about the ending to Third’s story. 

 

Third sighs and leans his head back on the back of the bench. His ponytail is coming undone. He should really fix it sometime soon. “So I sent about a fourth of my people to become heroes that my successor would train. And then I prepared the rest to destroy as much of All for One’s empire as possible. We waited several months, and Fourth became head of the military, and I passed down One for All to him.” 

 

He had met up with the taller, broader man in his office. He’d had a smug smile on his face as Fourth scowled at him and poured the two of them a cup of tea. They’d talked for a bit about… well, about a lot of things, and then Third slipped a blade out of his sleeve. Without warning, he’d made a small, small cut on his palm, and then let a drop of blood fall into the chief’s cup. 

 

“You expect me to drink that now?” Fourth had asked, cold as ice and gruff as rock. 

 

“Oh, but of course,” Third had said smugly as he pulled his glove back over his hand. “If you want us to see eye to eye, you will.” 

 

God, Third had been such an ass. 

 

“When we got confirmation that the children were found and were being moved, we struck.” Third’s expression sours. “You might know it as the Night of the Crystal Children.” 

 

He waits. Patiently. Waits for Izuku’s expression to morph into confusion, and then wonder, and then realization. Horror strikes deep into the muscles of his face. 

 

“No,” Izuku whispers. “You… you were Crimson Riot?” 

 

“Close.” Third crosses his arms. “But no. My name was Vermillion Riot. Unfortunately, they couldn’t let the name of a big-time villain grace the public as a hero, so… they chose the closest person they could find that looked like me.” 

 

“Your brother,” Izuku whispers, eyes widening. “He was there, wasn’t he?” 

 

Third purses his lips, still avoiding Izuku’s gaze. “Yes. He was. It was… the first time I’d seen him in almost seven years.” Third released a shaky breath. “He was one of the first heroes conditioned and given legal permission to act and use his quirk, so… He also knew that I was planning to go after All for One that night.” 

 

The redhead’s eyes had been soft as they stood outside the entryway to the warehouse. Third had stiffened, then, ready to backtrack and get the hell out of there as soon as he could, but his brother wouldn’t let him. Third hadn’t so much as turned to the side before large, familiar warm arms wrapped around him. 

 

“I missed you,” his brother had said. 

 

Third regretted— correction, regrets a lot of the things he’s done. But if there was one thing that he didn’t regret, it was returning the hug just as fiercely. 

 

His brother knew. Knew that no matter how hard he was going to fight, no matter how hard he tried… 

 

“I love you. No matter what, kiddo.” 

 

Third was going to die that night. 

 

“What are you going to debut as?” Third had asked, instead of returning the verbal affection. 

 

His brother had pulled back and given him a warm, warm smile. There were bags under his wet eyes, and there was something matured and toughened in the fine lines of his face. 

 

“Crimson Riot,” he’d said with full confidence. “I know it’s a name that makes people fear, but I don’t want it to be that way. I want it to be something people can look up to and think, “He’s a hero.” It’s not much, but…” At that, his brother took his hands into his own and gently ran the pads of his thumbs over the back of his scarred knuckles. “I thought it’d be the least I could do for you,” he ended simply. 

 

“Why?” Third had asked. Seven years of solitude, of brain games and tense silence and manipulation and corruption could not prepare him for his brother’s smile and kindness. “I took One for All away from you.” 

 

His brother smiled then, so wide that it crinkled the corners of his eyes. He squeezed the younger’s hands tightly. “No,” he said, and his voice had a tearful, happy edge to it. “No. You took what was rightfully yours.” His brother tucked a loose strand of Third’s wine-red hair behind his ear, just as Second always used to do when he was still alive. “And I couldn’t be more proud of you for it.” 

 

A moment of silence. His brother’s colleagues were respectfully keeping their distance, and Third allowed himself to lean further into his brother’s warmth. 

 

A large hand cupped the back of his head as he rested his chin on his shoulder, warm and heavy and grounding. “Don’t you dare die on me tonight,” Crimson Riot had said, a light teasing lilt to his otherwise serious tone. 

 

Third had stared at something far, far away over his brother’s shoulder. Slowly, he had said, “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

 

At twenty-four years of age, Third had murdered over two hundred people, had saved his brother once, and liberated a few dozen kids from experimentation. At twenty-four years of age, Third became a hero. 

 

And at twenty-four years of age, Third died. 

 

Izuku stares at him with those stupidly wide green eyes that always seem to see right through him. And, Third thinks to himself, he knows. That light in his eyes says everything. He knows. 

 

“So,” Izuku starts very, very slowly, “you mean ‘rescue’, which is supposed to be a selfless act, even though you’ve murdered more people than the person who means ‘kill’...?” 

 

Third snorts without humor. “Ironic, isn’t it?” He runs a hand over his face. “It’s stupid. I know it is. But I’m… trying to figure out why. I was given a second chance to fulfill that meaning, before I met you, and… I’m trying to make it. Make it mean something to me. Something more than the selfishness that it is.” 

 

“Third—”

 

“I know,” he says, and he immediately feels a little bad for interrupting. “I know. I’m sorry. I should have told you. I was just… really scared.”

 

“I—”

 

“I was scared that you’d hate me, and I know I just made it worse for myself, but—”

 

“Third!”

 

Third startles out of his reverie, and he sheepishly blinks at Izuku, whose expression is just a smidge annoyed. 

 

A sigh. “Third, I’m… not mad at you.” And then, with all the seriousness a nine-year-old can have, he says, “I can’t be mad at someone who is willing to change. That’s just… rubbing salt in the wound. And anyway, you had reasons for doing what you did. I can’t just wave them off like it’s worth nothing, you know?” 

 

For a moment, instead of seeing Izuku in front of him, Third sees Second’s face instead. It’s warm and inviting and forgiving. 

 

People change all the time, kid. We just have to hope it’s for the better. 

 

Third is tackled into a hug. He hears the words “I love you” into his ear. 

 

Oh. 

 

Third blinks. Carefully, oh so carefully, he returns the hug. And this time, because he regrets too much and doesn’t want to regret again, he says, “I love you too.” 

 

There’s another long moment of quiet. The air is warm, not quite humid. The tips of Third’s fingers run gently over the small of Izuku’s back. Something about the scene is intimate, something close that Third hasn’t experienced in a long time. 

 

“You…” Third hesitates, grimacing at how he interrupts the calm silence. “You can let go of me now.” 

 

“Do you want me to?” Izuku’s really warm. “I can if you want. But if you’re just saying that because you feel like I shouldn’t be hugging you, then no. I like hugging you.” 

 

Oh. 

 

Third nods because… this isn’t normal. Yeah, he’s used to this treatment when he was all sharp and fluid movements and prince-like smiles, but behind that he’s just… 

 

Really, really awkward. 

 

Izuku hums in his chest quietly. “Sorry for slapping you,” he mumbles. 

 

Third blinks. “Oh. Uh. Yes. Of course, you’re forgiven. I apologize for not… coming clean about my history sooner.” 

 

Izuku nods into his chest and then squeezes him tighter, and they fall into comfortable, warm silence. He notes faintly that Third’s outline is stable again, unmoving. Unchanging. 

 

When enough time has passed, and they start walking home, Izuku’s smaller hand in his own, the boy breaks the silence again. 

 

“What did you mean by a second chance to make rescue mean something, before you met me?” Izuku’s eyes are wide and green and curious, and he skips ever-so-slightly to keep up with Third’s pace. Third is reminded in that moment that Izuku, for all his serious, solemn moments, is nothing but a young, bright child burdened with problems beyond him. 

 

He takes in a deep breath and looks up at the sky, his eyes wandering on nothing in particular. “One for All… is a special quirk. At the time, I had assumed that the powers of the previous holders were merely passed on, but that’s not all it does.” Third’s lips quirk downwards into a small, contemplating frown. “The people too—the holders themselves—are passed on to the next person as well. However… the quirk does seem to have its own… odder effects.” 

 

Izuku tilts his head. “You mean… why you’re here? With me?”  

 

Third nods. “Somewhat, yes.” Licking his lips, the man continues with his explanation as they turn a corner. Luckily for the two of them, no one seems to be around. “For some reason, some of the past holders can manifest into real life. To protect the next potential holders for One for All—presumably until they’re ready to take the mantel. Those who are chosen to receive it, I mean.” Third squeezes Izuku’s hand lightly. “I died that night, on the Night of the Crystal Children, but a couple years later I manifested. But oddly enough, it wasn’t to Fourth or anyone else. It was to my brother.” 

 

Izuku stopped in his tracks, eyes wide as saucers. “Huh? But— I thought he wasn’t chosen for One for All. Wait—” 

 

“He was chosen for One for All,” Third reminded him gently. “But I took it instead.” 

 

Izuku’s brow is furrowed. “So… your quirk— One for All misunderstood who the next receiver would be, since technically your brother was still chosen but he never got it—wait—you came back, to protect your brother?” 

 

“Yes.” 

 

Izuku blinks. “And did you?” 

 

Third’s eyes softened. “Of course I did.” He smiles lightly. “My brother went out into the world and became a loved hero. Crimson Riot. And Vermillion Riot disappeared into the background. And I became a ghost, healing my brother when he went to go do something stupid and when he got himself hurt.” 

 

Izuku’s smiling now. “So you rescued your brother. Just like Second asked you to, when you were little. It all worked out.” 

 

Something sad flickers in Third’s eyes, but his smile holds strong. “Yeah,” he murmurs, glancing at their interlocked hands. “I guess you’re right.” 

 

Izuku starts to skip along again, and they move slowly. “So,” Izuku asks, “what happened after? What changed? Even now, no one’s quite sure what happened to Crimson Riot, so…” 

 

Third’s still got that somber glint to his eye. “I’m not sure myself,” he admits carefully. “He told me, after about a decade of us together, that I had future One for All users to save. That there were people I needed to help outside of him. We loved one another, but… he needed to let me go. So I could protect the people that mattered to the future.”

“And then?” 

 

Third shrugs. “I floated for a bit. Felt like someone important to me was in danger. Opened my eyes, and Second and Fifth were there. And then… I rescued you.” 

 

“So, you just have feelings on what to do? Uhm, like uh, instincts? And you just follow them?” Izuku’s eyes were bright. “That’s really cool! Is that how you learned to do the mental conversations thing and whatnot? Wait, didn’t you say Second had some experience too? Did he manifest sometime before as well? What—”

 

“Izuku, one question at a time,” Third chides gently. “And yes, it’s mostly feeling.” Third’s nose scrunches up, like he’s not sure how to describe what he’s gone through. “We don’t sleep, as you know, but sometimes we’ll have brief flashes of memory and for a couple seconds, we’ll be in a sleep-like state. It happens rarely, and most of what I know now was gathered from my time with my brother, but… we do get flashes of knowledge on occasion. As to how we manifest. And why. And what we can or cannot do in this body. About what we should do in the future. Vague references and words to guide us.” 

 

“So like having an invisible tour guide,” Izuku suggests, and Third nods. 

 

“Exactly like that.” His eyes gain a small, mischievous glint. “As to Second, well… There’s a reason Sixth and him don’t get along that well.” 

 

Izuku gaped at Third for a second, eyes wide. “You mean… you mean Second manifested for Sixth?” he asks in a hushed whisper. 

 

“Mhm.” Shrugging, Third’s smile grows strained. “Unfortunately, there’s no way for us, as of right now at least, to actually tell where the next One for All user is. We have feelings of what may be happening to them, but it’s only when we know they can see us that we know who we’re supposed to protect. Or, in my case, just look for my brother and happen to stumble across the right person.” Third shakes his head. “But Second didn’t have that, and Sixth refused to talk to anyone unless necessary. Second saw Sixth, repeatedly, as did vice versa, but they never figured it out until after Sixth died, and Second was forced to move on.” Conspiratorially, Third covers his mouth with his hand. “Don’t tell Second I said this, but he felt really bad for not noticing Sixth sooner or helping him when he needed someone most. But he can’t bring himself to admit it, so instead he just picks arguments with Sixth instead in hopes that Sixth won’t notice.” 

 

Izuku holds a hand up to his face and giggles. “No worries, I won’t tell a soul.” 

 

“Good,” Third says. “Because Second would skin me alive if he knew. He only got teeny tiny bits and pieces of information of how he was there and why. By the time he had some clue what was going on he disappeared and he re-manifested to protect a different holder.” 

 

“Oh really?” Izuku’s looking at the pavement beneath him, making sure he doesn’t step on any of the cracks. “Who?” he asks. 

 

Silence. Izuku looks up after Third doesn’t say anything, only to see that the man is pursing his lips. 

 

Huh? 

 

Izuku wracks his brain to think of something offensive he could have said. Who was after Sixth? There’s the nice woman, Seventh, and then Eighth, but Second mentioned back when Izuku was kidnapped that Eighth was still alive. Which one of them could have Second manifested to, then, before he finally appeared to Izu—

 

He freezes in place. Although he doesn’t say it out loud, Third must have been expecting the reaction, because he stops not but a second later. 

 

Izuku’s staring at the nice blue sky, only small wisps of clouds visible to the eye. He’s staring at it, but he’s not really seeing it as something clicks. 

 

“You manifest to protect the future users of One for All,” Izuku echoes hollowly. 

 

Bobbing his head, Third says, “Yes.” 

 

“I’m the next user.” 

 

The taller, lean man squeezes his hand comfortingly. “Only if you want to be,” he assures. “We’ll stand by you no matter what. No matter what path you decide to take.” He shifts, and he places a hand lightly on Izuku’s small shoulder as he crouches in front of him. “I could not ask for a better person to look after. Whether you want to take up the role of One for All is entirely up to you.” His expression is gentle and open, and Izuku can ignore the crashing realization to take comfort in it. “You’re going to be okay. I promise, we won’t let anything happen to you.” 

 

Izuku thinks back on the scary man in the forest, and how he murdered all his ‘imaginary’ friends with a smile and in cold blood. 

 

Does he really want One for All, if it means he’ll be facing him? 

 

“He can see you,” Izuku chokes out. “All for One. He can see you. That’s why he’s so interested in me.” 

 

Third pulls him into a hug, and then he lifts him up further as he rises to his feet. Lean, muscular arms wrap around Izuku’s back and underneath him, giving him all the support he needs to rest comfortably against Third. 

 

“Yes,” Third says quietly. “That’s why we were so scared. But… I promise you, Eighth is working on it right now. It’ll get better, I promise.” 

 

Izuku blinks. “Okay,” he says quietly. 

 

They don’t speak until they reach the apartment. Izuku’s too busy trying to digest everything that he’d been told, and Third is too awkward, trying not to accidentally overstep their recent boundaries. 

 

“Do you want to dance?” Izuku finally asks, shy as Third drops him to his feet. The man smiles. 

 

“Of course. I’d love to.” 

 

When Izuku closes his bedroom door behind him, his mom’s ears not in range, he asks, “Who taught you how to dance, exactly?” 

 

A shrug. “Someone close to me,” he says vaguely. 

 

Third is the same person he was before. He’s still blunt, still cool-headed, still stable and kind and warm. He still likes to dance, still is mysterious and charming and easy to talk to. 

 

Villain or no, he’s still the same person, and that means more than anything else to Izuku. 

 

Izuku doesn’t ask him who taught him to dance. Doesn’t pressure him into saying. 

 

One day, Third will tell him. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. 

 

But someday. 

 


 

Izuku’s in class the next day, biting his lower lip, and he stares at the pages of his history book. 

 

The Night of the Crystal Children. The beginning of heroes and progress to a more organized society, though it’d take decades before actual healing was made. It started with Crimson Riot, the lead hero, saving the children there with his crystal-based quirk. 

 

It’s all wrong. He knows this, now. It was not Crimson Riot but rather Vermillion Riot, his friend, Third. 

 

But it’s alright. 

 

Izuku doesn’t know a lot of things, but he knows this. Knows the real hero of the day, a villain, someone who disappeared into the background, never to be remembered for what he did. 

 

One day, he’ll set it right. 

 

It’s on his way to the ice cream shop with Sansa that he finally asks the question bugging him for a while. 

 

“Why do you mean rescue, Third?” 

 

He says it quietly, just a whisper under his breath. His strawberry ice cream is starting to melt under the hot sun, but he ignores it in favor of staring at his friend.

 

Third closes his eyes when he hears the question. Breathes in deeply. Lets his hands drop to his sides, leaving his hair to come undone and curl around his face. 

 

“Because, right before I died,” he chokes out, “I rescued myself from becoming something I wasn’t.” 

 

Izuku nods and licks his ice cream. 

 

No, it’s not selfless. It’s not admirable. But… 

 

Izuku smiles. “It fits.”