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What We Cannot Undo

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There are many inspiring quotes about equality and justice floating around in the hazy sphere of “common knowledge” and many more buried in history tomes now rarely read. “All men are created equal,” in the Declaration of Independence, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice,” from Martin Luther King, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern,” in the Bible, “Injustice alone can shake down the pillars of the skies, and restore the reign of Chaos and Night,” from Horace Mann.


Crusaders of justice have been inventing these sayings for thousands of years. “Justice for all” hangs from the highest branch of a towering tree, a fruit we cannot seem to reach, no matter how many rungs we affix to the ladder with cries of protest, acts of compassion, and blood of martyrs. Always, as a new rung is fixed, the tree raises its fruit higher.


Whenever one group finally seems to have gained their rights and their sway, escaped from their demeaning stereotypes and spread their wings, the power structure rearranges to throw some other group into the meat grinder. Celts, Christians, Native Americans, Africans, Catholics, Chinese immigrants, Mormons, homosexuals, Jews, communists, trade-unionists, Mexicans, Muslims, atheist, quirked, quirkless… Rest assured that no matter who and what you are there is someone on Earth who hates you for it, and a society somewhere in time that would have ground you into the dirt for it. The downtrodden and oppressed will always be with us. The fight for the rights of the oppressed will always be with us.


It is our duty and our sacred trust to keep reaching for the fruit, keep striving and building, grasping for it. Turn a blind eye to an injustice to your neighbor and rest assured that one day, when you find yourself in a similar position, eyes will turn blind to you, but it is not merely a matter of tit-for-tat. It is a matter of “have you a human soul?”


The people who suffer on the nightly news from war, or terror, or hunger, or persecution are not just faces. Death tolls are not just numbers. If you came across a child bleeding in the street, would you ask them their nation of origin, their religion, their sexual orientation, their quirk before helping them? These are not things that should be considered, for in a very large universe this is a very small planet and we are not so different, you and I.
-Midoriya Izuku

 

Rain pooled on his eyelids until he blinked them open. The grim face of a thunderstorm gazed back, a purple arc of lightning cracking the sky. Thunder sent gentle vibrations through the asphalt. Why was he lying in the parking lot? Had someone knocked him out and left him there? That made no sense. Electric lights buzzed, casting a pale glow across the deserted school yard. No. Who would leave an unconscious kid lying in the street in the middle of the night?


The cold seeped through his uniform as Izuku crawled to his feet, ice pooling in his bones-where were his shoes? “Hello?” Silence, save the rhythmic tap of the rain. “Come on! This isn’t funny!” Was this even a prank? It wasn’t very funny-though a lot of pranks weren’t when the joke was on you. Nobody here. Head home, then? Gosh, his mother must be terrified if he’d never come home. Hopefully she hadn’t called the cops or something.


Izuku ran, leaping over puddles, zigzagging down an alleyway, skidding around a corner and bounding up his steps. “Mom?” he called, sliding through the open door into the warm light of the kitchen. She must have been frantic to leave the door open in the dead of night. Oh gosh, he couldn’t apologize enough for this. His mother, though, sat across from two men in fine suits. Cooling mugs of tea lay untouched on the table. The words were too quiet to make out, but it must be very serious business-he couldn’t interrupt.


When the group glanced up, noting his entry he presumed, Izuku waved to them, blushing and rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. The trio continued their quiet conversation and Izuku tiptoed away-mother would explain in the morning.


He made his way upstairs, sliding into his room. New clothes, then bed… or maybe just bed. The rain outside his window fell in torrents and he… wasn’t cold? That couldn’t be right. He was soaked, and he should be exhausted, too, but a glance at the neatly made bed stirred no thought of sleep. This was too weird. He had to go back down and interrupt them, no matter how important the conversation might be-and where were his shoes?


“You would be well within your rights to sue,” a white-haired man with sagging jowls told his mother.


“Like that changes anything,” she replied in a tone Izuku had never heard before-bitter, defeated. What made his mother sound like that? How dare they!


“Not for you, not for him,” the younger man said, handing over a set of business cards, “but for others, maybe.”


“Litigation can’t raise the dead.” She wasn’t crying anymore, but her eyes gleamed red with countless shed tears. What? Who died? Was it one of her friends from work? One of them had been ill with ulcers but what-?


“I am very sorry for the death of your son,” the older detective bowed. “If I never see another case like this it will be fifty years too late. Please seek some help when you need it. Call me if you decide to consider lawsuits, or if you need anything more.”


“Thank you, officers,” mother whispered to the men, showing them out. The door was nearly closed.


“What?” Izuku finally screeched. No one gave him a glance, save his reflection in the front window, stark against the black of the thunderstorm outside. Blood matted his hair and ran in ruddy rivers down his face, stains bright on his shirt, soaked though it was. He met his eyes, foggy and distant, no longer piercing emeralds. Fingers and left wrist were broken, twisted like wind-swept twigs. He clenched his fist-no pain, as if all this were normal now, his natural state. An engine broke the revelry, the officers departing-and Izuku stood, staring at his reflection in the window even as his mother turned out the last of the lights and sniffled herself to sleep on the floor by the couch. His eyes were the worst, that broken, empty gaze, fogged and faded. The blood constantly dripping down to his bare feet, an incessant stream like an infinite hour glass, was bad but the eyes (his eyes) were the worst.

 

Once he wrapped his head around the word “ghost” Izuku found he could pass through the door as if it were air, and the rain no longer soaked him. The rules of his existence were all in his head, clearly. Were ghosts real, then, or was this Izuku’s quirk? His very late but much better than never quirk? Were there any quirks like this? Some allowed a person to “be” or at least “seem to be” (and what was really the difference?) a mythical creature, and some allowed immortality or slow aging of a sort (though they were exceedingly rare) but he’d never heard of this or anything like it. Could ghosts just… be a real thing? It might not be a quirk at all. Which was more farfetched? Hard to say.


Izuku was back at school-the sun had chased away the rain clouds and the earliest students had just begun to arrive. This was as good a place as any, then, to look for “clues.” It could still be something else, right? They said he was dead, but he hadn’t seen a corpse (well-his reflection did look like one but that didn’t count) and this could all be a hallucination, still. Those quirks definitely did exist, and on the whole that seemed more likely than… whatever this appeared to be.


Izuku’s desk waited patiently. He took a seat. Kacchan arrived, a scowl glued on his face and two of his friends trailing close behind. “Guess the useless Deku couldn’t be bothered today,” Kacchan snorted, putting his legs up on the empty desk, but he had tells, an uncertain waver in his gaze, tension in his fingers. He was nervous. What for, then? Did he know about Izuku? Did he know who did this (presuming that this had really happened)? What befell Izuku yesterday in the long hours after breakfast that he couldn’t recall? Who smashed his dreams, took everything from him, and so much worse, made his mother cry all night? That had been an unspeakable thing to hear-Izuku had cried, too, begging the world to let him comfort her. He’d, well, he couldn’t do much, but someone was going to pay, someone had to pay! He couldn’t remember when he’d been angry like this before-fire crackled in his veins. His eyes must be glowing with rage.


Their teacher, mousy haired and looking harassed, shuffled in and herded everyone from their seats. “We have an assembly to attend. Get up now.”


Everyone filed out, making their way to the cafeteria which doubled as an auditorium, finding seats on the dilapidated chairs. The bushy haired principal, obviously exhausted and miserable, climbed to an elevated podium and sighed into a microphone. “As many of you likely saw in the news, a student passed away yesterday, Midoriya Izuku.” Izuku blinked. This much attention? For him? “It is to my great regret that I must inform you that this was indeed a suicide.” Izuku’s non-existent blood ran cold.


“Liar! That… can’t be right…” Izuku screamed to no avail.


The principal continued. “There will be counselors available to speak with students who feel the need. We are now aware that Midoriya Izuku was often harassed by other students. Expect to see changes in the norms here. There will be a zero-tolerance policy on bullying at this school. There may be a police investigation as well as changes in staff.” Which everyone knew was a polite way of saying “people are going to be fired.” “I would ask all staff to please cooperate with any law enforcement personnel. Students cannot be questioned without a parent present, but I would ask that students also make an effort to cooperate with investigators. I know this doesn’t feel the time for…”


Izuku missed the end of the canned speech. Kacchan had stumbled to his feet and fled the room. Amidst the general hubbub no one noticed, or perhaps no one cared. The blonde ran out of the crowd and kept running. Izuku chased him. Izuku wouldn’t have really hurt himself, would he? Why did Kacchan run? Could he have killed Izuku? No, it couldn’t be… an accident maybe?
Kacchan stopped at an alley and blew up a dumpster, then a rusty bicycle wheel, then a rat-eaten mattress which released a pungent, oily smell into the air as it smoldered. “Damn it! Damn it, Izuku!” he screamed before blowing up another dumpster. “Damn it I didn’t mean it! Why’d you have to choose yesterday to start listening to me? You never listen! God damn ray of sunshine!”


The despair returned-or rather its memory, the ripping turmoil of hopelessness, and Kacchan’s word in his ear telling him the way out… “swan dive”… the pain and the fear were more from the stress of the decision than the crushing weight of endless “tomorrows just like today” that forced his hand and sealed his fate. He stood in the eye of the hurricane when he finally chose, so calm he was almost numb. No one locked the stairs to the roof. They probably did now… The door slammed behind him as he peeled off his shoes. He wasn’t sure why- he just felt he had to. The breeze ruffled his hair as fingers found their grips in the chain link fence-metal hot from the sun-hoisted him up to see the world one last time. A few blackbirds flitted by below. Two little shrines peeked out from the foliage across a small park. It wasn’t worth it. He let go.


Izuku collapsed in a heap, gasping as the last few minutes of his life replayed in perfect clarity as if emblazoned in his mind with a branding iron.


Kacchan blew up garbage in the alley until someone shouted at him and threatened to call the police. He cursed the lady out and left, probably to find an alley with less attentive neighbors.


Izuku wandered aimlessly away, walking through fences, houses, trees, mailboxes and the occasional person. “Someone has to pay,” he choked. “That’s what I said. Someone has to pay for hurting me, for hurting her… didn’t realize I was talking about myself, though. I guess I deserve this.” He could remember how it had ended now, but the rest of the day he died was still a blank. Whatever made him choose that day to listen to Kacchan, he couldn’t remember what it was.

Chapter Text

It was two nights later that Izuku learned the subtle art of being a poltergeist. Wandering the darker parts of the city wallowing in regrets, misplaced hatred and misery, his mind felt like a drawer of socks someone had haphazardly dumped out on the floor with every intent of organizing them later just before winning the lottery and moving to a private island, never to return. He couldn’t go home-the very last thing he wanted to see was a familiar face. Let him forget for five minutes. Let him pretend.

He woke from his revelry to a mugging. The young victim, terror in his brown eyes and silvery ears flat against his head, backed closer to the dirty brick wall. A knife pressed towards his throat. Izuku felt a flare of protective anger-and abruptly wind rattled through the alley, every metal object shaking and ringing. The mugger drew back, waving his knife in front of him protectively. “Who’s there?” he growled.

“Me!” hissed Izuku and the mugger whirled towards him, eyes blown wide. He dropped the knife and ran. Izuku chased him, rage burning strong. He might be dead, but he was still Izuku. He never turned a blind eye to anything. He stood up to Kacchan on the playground and got burns for his trouble. He asked people who looked lost if they needed directions. He helped unsteady people across streets on rainy days.

The mugger smacked into a dead end, rattling a door and whispering, “oh please,” repeatedly under his breath. About them, the garbage lying in heaps rustled and rattled like it might come alive and bite. The mugger’s wild, silver eyes fixed on Izuku and clearly saw something-maybe he saw Izuku as he was, maybe not. The ghost stepped up to the would-be mugger and, following instincts he couldn’t comprehend, whispered, “She would have married you. She loved you, warts and all. But she would be so disappointed now. My, my. You’ll be dead when you see her next. They’ll call her to identify your corpse.”

Izuku left, somewhat bewildered, while the mugger screamed and begged and apologized. “I had… no idea what I was talking about, but clearly he knew what I meant. Is that part of it? Precognition? Some instinct for terrorizing people? Did he see me at all or was it… something else he saw? What does it matter, but if I could control it, I could see my mother and apologize at least.” He would never live down the shame of all those tears shed on his behalf. But his reflection-gods should he show her that? That bleeding corpse? Moot point. He didn’t know how, so he didn’t have to choose.

It didn’t stay moot for long, though. His powers were linked to emotions, but he could use them in any state of mind once he got a handle on them. Izuku could be visible or tangible or both at will. When he wanted it to, machinery malfunctioned in his presence. He could move objects without touching them. The larger they were, and the more he tried to move at once, the less control he had, though he would expand his limits with practice. He could also change the weather in a very localized area-about twenty meters square-and people started to “see” things in the shadows or mists near him, especially the mists. They clearly “heard” things when he was near, too, and he always knew just what to say to put the fear of god in the minds of the would-be thieves, assailants and murderers he met in the back alleys. They ran like the hounds of hell chased them.

On one occasion, a mugger ran right to the nearest police station. Izuku found himself laughing for the first time in… months… as the woman begged the officers to save her from her father’s vengeful spirit. The officers strained their eyes into the darkness and saw nothing before taking the “disturbed” woman inside. That was another caveat-Izuku was stronger at night. He could show himself by day, but was little good in a fight.

The self-hatred was not abandoned. The rage merely turned to sorrow. Izuku couldn’t hide from her any longer, not now that he could talk to her, explain something at least. He wished he could do something about his appearance, but that never changed, much as he bid it to.

He found his mother walking in the park on a Saturday evening. Bakugou Mitsuki was there, as well as several of Inko’s work friends. The dying light cast a halo of red and gold across their faces. He caught some of their discussion-the lot of them had attended a recent film screening-some kind of western maybe?-and enjoyed it immensely. Midoriya Inko looked happy. Without him. Not that Izuku’d ever want her to be sad, never, but… she hadn’t smiled like that in… years? She’d been so sad on the day he… died… but was it just a passing feeling? Did she not miss him? Sometimes (all the time) he seemed a source of despair, like he kept her from smiling, like he chased his father away, a useless waste of space just like Kacchan said. Worthless, and here she was, smiling, like she hadn’t smiled in years… the world really was better off without him. He turned around and paced back into the endless twists of the alleyways that wormed across the city. Let them forget about him-forget the name Midoriya Izuku, the worthless boy who threw away all of his chances and potential. He was dead, after all, and everyone was better off this way. Everyone.

For someone who had so often worn a fake smile over a pit of misery, Izuku was terrible at spotting such masks on others. He never strayed close enough to see the emptiness in Inko’s eyes, the hollowness of the upward-twisted lips, the deception that fooled none of her concerned friends.

 

The villain was a moron, but a very big and fast moron. A hefty paw, claws like a tiger and fur to match, raked inches in front of Shouta’s face, air whipping past his cheeks. The half-man-half-cat had tried to steal a vending machine-without any plan to transport it. Abandoned snacks lay strewn about the half-lit street, many packages split open, others stamped flat. The villain roared (an admittedly impressive noise) and lunged again-definitely stupid, but fast-and he hadn’t accounted for the tail, damnit! Claws flashed towards Shouta’s face as he rolled on the ground, raising an aching arm to defend-and a flowerpot hit the villain dead in the face, pottery shattering.

Who threw that? Catch breath first, then questions… Mist drifted over the asphalt. The few streetlights that had survived the hard lives in this part of the city flickered like diseased bees and died out, whispers of indeterminate origin, countless frightened voices, replacing the light. Something cold infested Shouta’s blood, the shiver impossible to fight away. Someone-the villain-howled “It’s not true! It can’t be! No, get away!”

“You know it’s true,” rasped the reply. There was a jarring crack and a thump as a body hit the ground. By then, Shouta had found his feet and stalked closer to the scene of the shadowy confrontation. This fit Specter’s MO perfectly. A vigilante who appeared in the area a few months ago, he seemed to have some kind of telekinesis or mind reading, only worked at night, appeared amidst mists and left his enemies screaming in terror. No one was able to give a useful description, save that Specter’s hair was “very green.”

A figure crouched over the fallen tiger villain, holding a ratty, faux-fur coat to a wound on the man’s head. “He tried to jump away,” said Specter in a soft, warm voice so unlike the earlier rasp, “and he smashed his head on that balcony.” The hand with which Specter gestured was transparent, and he was small, no, he was a child. What the hell did he think he was doing? He was bleeding. Everywhere, soaked in blood. How? Had he been mauled while Shouta was lying on the ground? It had only been a few seconds and he hadn’t heard a thing!

“You’re hurt. Stop that, kid. Lie down and don’t pass out on me.” Where was his damn phone? An ambulance would be useful about now.

“No. I always look this way.” What? “I’m not hurt. I can’t be hurt, as far as I know anyway.”

Shouta reached out for the kid’s hair-his hand passing right through. What the hell kind of quirk was that? “Here,” Specter was solid enough when he pressed Shouta’s hand to the blood-soaked cloth on the villain’s head. “Sorry about that.”

“Hey!” Specter was gone like he’d never been there, no sign save the bleeding villain at Shouta's feet. Damn. At least he knew what Specter looked like now… though he wished he didn’t. Why’d it have to be a kid? He looked younger than Shouta’s first years…

 

Metal shattered and circuits sizzled around him, shards embedding themselves in the walls of UA’s fake city. Katsuki reached for the next robot, crackling power itching to escape his fingers, but paused, confidence waning for a moment as it was prone to now-there was no one near to see him hesitate as the subconscious feeling seized control of his body. It was like that feeling when, half asleep, one flashes awake in a fright after falling from a cliff in some shadowy dreamscape. “God, there’s someone right there, in the corner of my eye, someone who will take shrapnel, could be hurt, could die because of me!” But he was alone. He’d made sure of it, and ducking beneath the three pointer’s jab he blasted it through a store front, glass flying out in an arc. Just his damn brain playing tricks on him. Piece of garbage. He needed a new model.

The street groaned as the zero-pointer staggered towards him. Katsuki stared, calculating. Too much, even for him. There were other robots left, combatants ignoring them as they fled. He chased the tin cans down and tore them limb from limb.

It was satisfying, something to hurt without the backlash of guilt. It wasn’t his fault. It really wasn’t. Words were just words. They didn’t make anyone do anything. They didn’t throw people off roofs. “Except when they do,” whispered a traitorous half of his mind. “Shut up!” Katsuki roared aloud and punched a robot square in the steel face. His fingers howled a protest. He turned his hand over and erased his enemy from the surface of the earth. “You erase a lot of things,” his traitorous brain whispered. “Shut up! Shut up!” Nothing left to destroy-Mic called time. Nothing left to turn his anger against… nothing save himself. What was he even doing here?

Katsuki got off the train early and walked, hands in his pockets and head bowed. There were all kinds of interesting stains on the sidewalk-but before long they all turned to blood and he focused his gaze elsewhere. A big black raven croaked at him, gazing down from a stone wall and tapping its feet expectantly. Katsuki fished through his pockets for a cracker.

In the early days of heroes, there had been a top-ten by the name of Morrigan who could turn herself into a great flock of ravens. An occult practitioner, she had, perhaps inadvertently, spread the legend that ravens were messengers of the underworld, and for a fee might carry blessings, spells and messages across the boundary of death. Katsuki didn’t believe in any of that crap, but he had given away a lot of crackers in the past months.

The bird snapped the cracker from his fingers. “Tell that moron… tell him his notes are damn good and I’m impressed.” The bird swept out its wings, air whispering on its feathers as it jumped over his head.

Katsuki went back, that miserable morning that the principal gave the news (after exploding enough dumpsters to open a police inquiry or at the very least start an urban legend) and found the nerd’s notebook, scorched and soaked but still legible. He read every page. Damn moron was frighteningly observant, always dead on target-could have been a tactical genius with the right training.
If only the nerd dreamed of something else, anything else. He could have been anything he wanted except a hero. There in the mists of “might have been” were the phantoms of Midoriya Izuku the military intelligence officer, Midoriya Izuku the detective, Midoriya Izuku the support company analyst, Midoriya Izuku the mayor, the lawyer, doctor, nuclear physics researcher, civil rights advocate, journalist, novelist. How could Izuku be so smart and so stupid at the same time? What a waste. The traitorous part of Katsuki’s mind supplied, “Depression is not logical you moron.” How dare he call himself names! Lord, he needed something to explode.

Chapter Text

Specter waited patiently beside Eraserhead. The underground hero could stay motionless for hours in the rain awaiting his targets. Specter often waited with him pretending he was a sidekick in training. It didn’t matter that his mentor hadn’t the slightest clue he was there.

The sickly yellow streetlights reflected through the heavy water droplets, casting an eerie glow through the night. Three stories down, women of the night waited on a corner, money changed hand in an alleyway and a bouncer turned away a young man who looked more lizard than “human.”

They were all wrong. Midoriya Izuku could have been a hero, maybe not front line, but underground certainly. You didn’t need a quirk to wait five hours on a roof in the pouring rain. You didn’t need a quirk to spin-kick an assailant in the face (or use a taser for that matter). Underground work was a game of cunning, patience and planning. Izuku might not have been brilliant at any of those things, but he had what it took to learn, and given that his true motivation was to help people and not suck up to the media, underground work would have suited him excellently.

The rain poured down, responding to the icy sea of regret into which Specter had fallen. Midoriya Izuku could have shown them all, proved everyone wrong. Specter would give anything to have his chance back. He’d give anything for one last chance to change his mind.

Eraserhead moved, a black and white blur lunging between balconies. Specter mirrored his moves clumsily, landing just as soundlessly as the hero who crouched like a viper ready to strike.
The Goose (the drug dealer actually called himself that) never knew what hit him. The creep’s blue eyes widened as he called on the lightning quirk that made him so formidable and found nothing. Specter stayed out of the way and marveled as the underground hero swiped the Goose’s legs from under him, tying him up in an endless scarf before cuffing and gagging him. The Goose didn’t get out more than a single yelp.

“That was amazing,” Specter said (although no one could hear him). Eraserhead dragged the soon-to-be-inmate behind a shed and whisper-radioed his location to the police. They’d been after this creep for months. If they could flip the Goose, they might bring down a sizeable drug ring. It wasn’t that the creep was hard to take down (for the right hero anyway) but he was always surrounded by cronies who amounted to a serious danger if provoked. Rather than risk collateral damage, the investigators waited to catch him unawares. The patience paid off. An unmarked police car fetched the downed dealer, the entire affair punctuated by only a few whispered congratulations, and then the alleyway was silent once again. Eraserhead clambered back to the rooftops and Specter followed. There were many hours yet before the sun returned.

About an hour later, Eraserhead broke up a fight outside a rundown bar and one woman, the instigator, still armed with a bloodied knife, slipped away in the commotion. Specter chased her. Mists closed in and rain pelted down on the cracked streets. He pulled a flower pot (he was very fond of them) down from a third-floor balcony with effortless telekinesis and threw it at the fleeing criminal. It clearly wasn’t a flower pot she saw flying towards her out of the fog, not if the blood curdling screams were any indication. She swiped wildly with her knife as the pottery shattered on her chest.
Specter walked up behind her, tapped her on the shoulder, and let her see him as she whirled around. With a howl of terror, she took off in the other direction, right back to the bar… where Eraserhead waited with bloodshot eyes and a twisted, dastardly scarf. Specter found he rarely needed to use the “words of fear” as he called them-which was nice because lord knew it made him uncomfortable. His “natural” appearance usually sufficed to send common criminals and small-time villains running for their souls.

A shout, a crash, someone being thrown through a window, more shouts, silence. Specter padded back to the underground hero, who picked glass out of his palm as he waited for the police. Eraserhead’s patrol was over now, and Specter would never be so disrespectful as to follow him after work. He bowed to the hero-invisibility was no reason to be rude-and turned away. It was nearly sunrise, anyway, and Specter ought to find a place to hole up and nap. It probably wasn’t really an equivalent to sleeping the day away like a lazy lion at the zoo, but it felt similar, even if he was never actually “asleep.”

“I know you’re here, Specter.” The vigilante whirled to face Eraserhead who gazed right at him. How could he see him? Wait. No. He couldn’t. The pro stared right through Specter, not at him. “What do you think you’re doing, kid?” Eraserhead pierced the silent air with his crimson gaze. “I want to talk to you, preferably before school starts next week.” School was starting? Boy, he’d sure lost track of time. The hero sighed. “Fine. Maybe you’re not even here, but I think you are. You’re gonna get yourself killed, kid, and I don’t want to be a part of it.” That was soul crushingly ironic.

With one more sigh, Eraserhead went home. Specter fantasized, as he made his way down to deserted Dagobah beach to snooze out the day in one of the less garbage-encrusted areas, about attending UA. A raven swooped low, talon dragging through Specter's intangible hair. He sometimes swore they talked to him. “Impressive words you have written,” this one seemed to say. Fat chance. Everything Izuku did had been worth nothing. Not even his mother had ever complemented any literary endeavor of his, not that she had seen many. Izuku had never had much to offer. Now he was dead, and Specter did have something to offer, meager and illegal though it was.

 

He’d thought the evening couldn’t get any worse, and with that in mind he’d told his father he’d had enough-well, he only said it in his head, but still-and vaulted over the compound wall to wander off into parts unknown. Somewhere along the way he’d acquired a bottle of… some kind of liquor from a guy in a trench coat who didn’t so much as think about asking his age once he saw some bills. Shouto wasn’t really drunk, much as he might like to be. Alcohol, as a general rule, was disgusting. He just couldn’t stomach enough to knock him out of reality.

It wasn’t anything physical that night, just things his father said that froze his heart and boiled his blood. He wasn’t even sure now what sidelong glance and snide comment it was that cut. Shouto downed another tablespoon of burning sludge, grimaced, and glared at the faded label on the muddy glass. Screw it for not doing its job.

Alright… where was he? The street sign blurred. None of this was familiar. He’d wanted to get lost, looked like he succeeded. Where was his phone? At home. On his bedside table. Well then… it was the middle of the night and he was lost and tipsy, and stupid, because how was this supposed to fix any of his problems? It made them all seem small in comparison, at least.

“Are you lost?” Who was that? He jumped a full 180 degrees in the air and landed… face to face with a transparent, green haired boy around his age… soaked and dripping with blood. “Oh my god!” How had he ended up this far away from the kid so quickly? His feet moved on their own.

“Oh! Sorry. That’s just my quirk. I didn’t mean to scare you, I swear. I always look like this.” The transparent figure rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment.

“I’m not scared, merely startled,” said Shouto carefully. Who was this guy? What kind of quirk made you look like that?

“Okay,” the figure didn’t approach, merely waited. “Do you know where you’re going?”

And what might this bloodied stranger do if he said no? “Of course I do.”

“Alright.” With a nod the phantom turned on his… bare heel and set off soundlessly down the street, past dozens of dark, identical, rundown apartments and not a single landmark… oh hell.

“Wait! I… seem to have lost my way a few streets back.”

The figure nodded, returning to him slowly, carefully, as if trying to avoid spooking a wild animal. “Yeah. This place is really confusing, even in the light. I can show you the way to the nearest rail station, or maybe straight home if it’s not too far.”

“Train station, please.” Like he wanted this person to know where he lived, know who he was.

“Right this way,” the boy beckoned and Shouto warily followed. In the distance, two furtive figures darted into an alley. “Keep close,” Shouto’s guide whispered. A bank of cold fog rolled heavily down the street-it made faces at him, twisted faces, and whispered things Shouto couldn’t quite grasp. He shivered and drew closer to the phantom. The entry to the alleyway passed by and the fog retreated as quickly as it had arrived. Shouto raised an eyebrow. His guide shrugged as if daring him to report the illegal quirk use.

“What’s your name?” asked Shouto after a minute’s awkward silence.

“Specter.”

“What kind of name is that?”

“The only one I have. Would you tell me your name?”

A first name was probably fine. “Shouto.” Specter smiled-which was terrifying though he likely didn’t mean it to be-the blood on his face running over his lip and staining his teeth. “Pleasure to meet you, Shouto.”

“So… what are you doing out here?”

Specter shrugged. More blood dripped sluggishly off his shaggy bangs. “I don’t have anywhere else to be. Occasionally I do some good out here.”

“What are you, a vigilante?”

Specter shrugged again. “Well, maybe. Places like this… where no one important lives and no one important dies, the frontline heroes don’t pay them any mind. The police don’t pay much mind, either. There are exceptions. Some underground heroes come through from time to time… people like me fit in pretty well-people who don’t have names or homes or families anymore. The lines between villains, civilians, and vigilantes blur. So… maybe. And what brought you out here tonight?”

None of your business… but Specter was helping him out, and they’d never meet again anyway. There was something liberating about that. He could say anything he wanted. “Running from my problems. I… had a fight with my father.”

Specter nodded. “Sorry about that. I barely remember mine. My father, I mean. He left when I was just a kid-he never said it but I think… well, I think he was ashamed of me.”

Shouto blinked. “Why? You seem perfectly… reasonable.” Maybe this wasn’t something he should ask-Specter’s appearance was probably off-putting even to a parent.

“Quirkless. I mean I used to be. They thought I was quirkless.”

What? Shouto raised an eyebrow. “Did no one notice the dripping blood or were you just a late bloomer?”

Specter shifted uncomfortably. “It’s… more complicated than that. There’s the train station.” Shouto squinted. There it was. “I suppose it’s at least something that your father sticks around to fight with you-crap I said that aloud. Forget I said that, please. It’s none of my business. Sorry. Anyway, I don’t want to come any closer to the station. I make people nervous. Anyway, goodbye, Shouto.”

Shouto shook himself from the stupor induced by Specter’s rapid-fire words. “Uh, wait! Thanks!” His guide was already gone. Going home… right. He’d wandered a shocking distance. The deserted coach trundled north, street lights flashing by in the dark.

It was something, perhaps, that his father kept him around, but he was kept like an object, not a person, a dog on a chain to be used as a weapon. Would it be better to be abandoned, like his older siblings were in turn? He winced… no. He’d rather be a dog on a chain than a puppy drowned in a sack. On those days when he felt absolutely worthless, like no one at all cared about him, he longed for his father to come yell at him. At least he was worth shouting at.

Speaking of shouting… his father flicked on the light and growled as Shouto tiptoed into the foyer. The two stared at each other before Endeavor said, perfectly deadpan, “You clearly need more aggressive stealth training. And where have you been?” What followed was a thirty-minute lecture and shouting session. Shouto bowed his head. Better to just take it… “Do you have any idea how stupid that was?”… “What would you have done then?”… “Good lord, have you been drinking?”… “I ought to just…” “I spent the whole night worrying, and I am quite busy tomorrow. As are you!” Did he just say he was worried… about Shouto? No, Shouto must have misheard.

Chapter Text

Tsuyu understood people well. This had always been the case, but even before class 1-A officially began its first lesson, she needed to amend that statement. Tsuyu understood reasonable people well. No one in 1-A seemed to be very reasonable.

A tall, blue-haired boy who moved like a robot was busily lecturing a short boy with purple balls for hair-apparently he’d been harassing female students. A young man with crimson red hair had decided to become friends with a prickly, bleach blonde who repeatedly screamed at him to “Go away, moron!” or something similar and then froze as if paralyzed by anxiety before muttering something along the lines of “Well, fine, if you really want to talk." A girl with vibrant brown hair repeatedly thanked a young man for rescuing her from the zero pointer during the entrance exam. The young man repeated, “Don’t mention it,” again and again, voice flat, lackluster purple hair and dark eyebags screaming "chronic insomnia." In the back of the room, a boy with candy-cane themed hair appeared to be calculating the life expectancies of his classmates-and apparently none of them had much time left.

A huge yellow caterpillar fell through the doorway to a collective shriek, removed his skin and revealed himself to be their teacher. He looked even more exhausted than the boy with purple hair. “Alright. Change into your PE uniforms and meet me outside. No questions. I was up all night chasing a ghost. I don’t want to hear it.”

“Do you think he meant that literally? About the ghost?” asked gothic-themed Jiro as she stabbed her earphone jack into the eye of the newly declared class pervert Mineta. The pervert had wasted no time in finding the “glory hole” beneath the poster in the locker rooms and attempting to spy on the girls. “I can’t tell if he was sarcastic…”

“I doubt it,” Yaoyorozu replied. “There are quirks that resemble ghostly legends, or he might just mean a very elusive or stealthy person.”

No, if Tsuyu read her instructor well, he’d meant it literally. “I think he meant Specter, kero.”

“Huh?” asked the invisible girl, Hagakure, as the group exited the lockers at last.

“Specter? Right,” Yaoyorozu was probably the most “in the loop” of the female hero students. “He’s a vigilante who became active around here a few months ago. There’s not much public information about him. His quirk doesn’t appear to make much sense, but it seems to involve weather manipulation, hallucinations and maybe invisibility or intangibility. No one’s quite sure.” The red and white haired boy had slowly moved closer as the conversation continued. Listening in, maybe? “He’s never badly hurt anyone, but apparently he’s scared criminals and small-time villains so badly they’ve run up to police stations in the dead of night and pounded on the doors, demanding help.”

“Freaky,” muttered Ashido, running a hand through her electric-pink hair.

“He’s only active at night and,” Yayorozu lowered her voice, “I’ve heard… unsubstantiated rumors… that he follows certain underground heroes on patrols sometimes.” That was insane. What kind of vigilante would do that? Tsuyu had zero experience being a vigilante, and even she could tell that was a terrible idea.

Aizawa called class into session. The blonde who kept flip-flopping between emotions (Bakugo Katsuki) walked to the front as requested and silently lobed a softball half-way to the stratosphere. The physical assesment-with stakes suddenly raised to expulsion for the lowest ranked in the competition-continued.

The scores for the fitness test were tallied and Hagakure was spared expulsion… it was all a “logical ruse…” or it turned out that way at least.

Tsuyu liked to think about people, trying to figure them out. Whenever someone drew a spectrum of personality traits-outgoing to shy-loud to quite-stubborn to spineless-she usually fell in the middle. It gave her a good view, made it easy to understand most people, but with a few exceptions-Ashido seemed straightforward so far-she couldn’t make heads or tails of her classmates.

Confusing though many of the personalities might be, Iida and Yaoyorozu seemed the obvious choices when they selected class representatives, and Iida proved their good judgement by calming half the school during an intruder alarm the following day.

 

Tenya panted, caught a toe and rebalanced by sheer willpower. He’d considered just borrowing the bus and driving back to UA, but he was probably faster than the bus over this distance, especially given that no one in his family really knew how to drive.

Everyone told him to run, yelled at him to run, but still, he wasn’t there and if anything happened while he was gone it might as well be his fault. The bus ride hadn’t seemed this long-maybe he should have taken the vehicle despite his lack of driving experience-or maybe it was just his racing mind running laps around him that made this journey seem to last for years.

Casting a glance back, Tenya watched the USJ-where his classmates and teacher fought for their lives against a villain sneak attack-shrink far too slowly. He leaned forward-pushed himself to a higher gear. How had they-the villains-even known his class would be at the USJ? How had they known All Might was supposed to be with them? And now his classmates had been thrown through some dastardly black portal and he had no idea where they were or if they were hurt or even if-no. he couldn’t think like that. Everyone would be fine.

Tenya sighted UA-the closest building at least-and the closest door. He had no time to go through more official channels-he would just shout for the nearest teachers. “Help!” he yelled, probably before anyone could hope to notice, let alone understand him, but seconds could be critical. “Help! There’s been an attack at the USJ!” Tenya shouted again, slamming open the double doors in a most disrespectful fashion-he would regret it later, when he had time. A few curious heads poked into the hallway to see what the commotion was.

Tenya ran down the hall-another disrespectful action to regret later-towards Principal Nedzu’s office. Nedzu-keen eared it seemed-was in the hallway waiting when Tenya skidded to a clumsy halt before him. “Sir! There has been an attack at the USJ! There are villains, dozens of them!”

Nedzu didn’t question him, merely opened a hidden control panel in the wall and spoke into an intercom, his voice resounding through the building at thunderous volume. “Attention: crisis response teams A and C to the USJ-prepare for heavy enemy presence. Teams B and D remain vigilant for secondary attacks. Facilities are now on lockdown.”

A moment later the hallways dissolved into a flurry of activity-pros running for cars-some had motorized transportation on campus-or just plain running. Metal shutters clattered as they covered windows and the intruder alarm blared for the second time in as many days. Nedzu-who had briefly disappeared-reappeared exiting a large closet in the driver’s seat of what Tenya would call “Nedzu’s tank” for approximately eight hours-when he told the tale to Tensei that evening, Tenya’s older brother would dub it “the UA Death Mobile.” The UA Death Mobile was a sleek, silver tank completely coated in spikes and rockets. Nedzu grinned from behind the missile proof glass-but the gleam in his eyes was sadistic rather than amused.

Tenya was forgotten in the hustle but he would never abandon his classmates. He slipped out the door behind Midnight and took off with the hoard of pros bound for the USJ. All Might flashed by-a streak of gold soaring ahead of the pack. They would make it in time. They had to.

 

The intruder alarm during lunch had been suspicious, but none of the teachers had considered it might culminate in something like this. Rescue training in the sky-scraping USJ was usually a calm activity-this was just not Shouta's lucky year. The dark portal in the center of the USJ poured enemies into the midst of the training simulator. Shouta was too damn tired for this, and All Might wasn’t here like he should be. Just him and Thirteen against dozens of villains? Those were wretched odds, but the consequences of failure were unthinkable.

“Thirteen, protect the students.” Shouta lunged down the stairs away from the firmly sealed main entrance. The first assailant fell to a single blow, the second flailed as she called on her nonexistent quirk. He caught her in his scarf and slammed her into the pavement. There were dozens of them, never ending waves of cannon fodder. What was the point of this? Even his untrained first years could handle themselves against this. There was a comforting thought.

Shouta knocked two heads together with a resounding crack, ignoring the burning in his lungs, no time for that, and faced the last two. The warp-gate villain was still harassing his class. Hopefully Thirteen was keeping that at bay. Hopefully someone had signaled for help. Any kind would do.

The leader said they came to kill All Might… the leader and his bird-headed pet were the ones planning to do it, then. None of the cannon fodder stood a chance. “You’re tiring,” commented the hand-covered corpse villain. The bird monster waited, patient and silent. “Nomu, get him for me.”

It was fast for its size. Shouta vaulted over the Nomu’s shoulder, landing just in time to avoid a punch in the gut-erasing the Nomu's quirk did almost nothing. Options then? Running was off the table. What did that leave-dying. The Nomu caught him, jerked him down as he tried to wrench himself free. Stupid, stupid, and now they were going to kill him, and then who knew how many of his students, and there would be absolutely nothing he could do about it, but first they were going to play with him. Maybe he could get them to draw it out, allow more time for help to arrive.

With a whisper of mist, the warper appeared. Shouta squirmed, threw his weight, and listened to “Shigaraki” rage at an “accursed” student’s escape. Heaven, please, let it be Iida. “Game over then,” growled Shigaraki. “No All Might… heroes on their way, a pile of unconscious small-fry… but we’ll leave them a message they can’t ever wash away.” Shigaraki reached forward and deftly placed his fingers, one by one, on Shouta’s elbow-someone had dunked his arm in molten lead-he stifled a howl, fixing Shigaraki with a withering stare. “Very impressive quirk… but I wonder… how long you can keep your eyes open.” Shigaraki placed his other hand on Shouta’s forehead, smirking beneath his five-fingered mask. This was going to be a really horrid way to die, and who was going to teach his class-presuming they were all still alive-they were. They had to be, because he couldn’t die unless they were all safe. Damn, there were a lot of things he never got around to, and he even liked this class though he’d never admit it to them. He wanted to see them flourish. He wanted to see them graduate.

Shigaraki reeled back, losing his grip as a foot smashed into his face. Shouta blinked gratefully, and found himself regarding a familiar head of translucent, green hair. “The hell are you?” growled Shigaraki as the boy before him snarled. Shouta realized, vaguely, that he’d never seen Specter physically hit someone before. He hadn’t known for sure that the vigilante could. What the hell was he doing here? Not that Shouta minded at the moment. Not being dead was always helpful, but did the kid not have parents or a school-probably not. In retrospect, he acted like he was homeless.

Shigaraki reached for Specter and Shouta flinched, preparing to activate his quirk, but Shigaraki reached right through Specter-who punched him, raking nails down the villain’s face. Shigaraki grabbed his enemy’s wrist, apparently still solid, but nothing disintegrated at his touch, like there was nothing there in the first place. Shigaraki snarled then threw Specter half a dozen meters away. The boy winced in both pain and surprise as he rolled to a stop. Seemed he could be hurt after all. This was way below Specter’s normal caliber of tricks, though. He never showed up in the day… maybe he could only do this much in the sunlight.

Specter got to his feet, charged right through Shigaraki’s skillful block, whirled around and kicked the villain savagely in the kidney. Shigaraki growled. “Nomu! Kill both of these NPC pests!”

The Nomu gripped Shouta and rose to its feet. Specter pounced on the beast's hand, prying and biting at its fingers until the monster swatted the vigilante away-a good fifty meters away. Specter rolled to a stop, struggling to stand, and All Might burst through the door-smiling like a moron as always-but he looked distinctly unhappy. A burst of wind. Small-fry villains flew in every direction. Shouta was freed.

The savage fight between All Might and the Nomu began, Shigaraki cackling in glee and happily monologuing to the number one hero about just how the beast had been custom engineered to kill him-multiple quirks? How could something have multiple quirks? Well, Todoroki had two, but that was extremely unusual. Regardless, Shouta could help with quirks, even if he was too light headed to stand.
A dozen seconds of erasure here and there quickly turned the tide of the fight-All Might would win promptly at this rate-something Shigaraki had noticed as well. The main villain’s glare as he stalked toward Shouta could freeze a hot spring. “I should have dealt with you earlier!” The world blurred as Shouta tried to stand-the arm wound bled like a sieve, the white bone showing through. If he played it right he could trip Shigaraki and pin him on the ground, maybe-

Specter appeared out of thin air like a firework on a cloudless night and smashed his elbow into Shigaraki’s hand-covered face. There was an audible crack-and from the intensity of swearing that followed it was Shigaraki’s nose, not a finger on his hand mask, which broke.

The Nomu went flying through the ceiling. Shigaraki screamed out a few more choice curses, pulling at his hair, before backing off. “Kurogiri!” The warper appeared. “Game over. Let’s go.” The two vanished and the USJ suddenly lapsed into silence.

Shouta rolled to his side, vaguely aware of All Might vanishing into the trees-moron needed to keep his injuries and time limit a secret, after all. Specter knelt by Shouta’s side, pulling off strips of ruined cloth from the black sleeve Shigaraki had mostly disintegrated. The vigilante bound them tightly about Shouta’s bleeding elbow. Flames of protest screeched from the nerves in that arm, howling at every increase in pressure.

“Not that I’m ungrateful for the bandages, kid,” Shouta rasped. Damn, he sounded terrible. “But what do you think you’re doing here?”

Specter grimaced, blood dripping off his bangs, and whispered, “I wanted to hear Thirteen talk. I really admire them…” The door of the USJ exploded open, a dozen furious heroes arriving at last.

Specter, true to pattern, evaporated despite Shouta’s growl of “you get back here, kid!”

A moment later, All Might (deflated) crouched by Shouta’s side, taking Specter’s place, checking for more wounds. “Who was that boy with you?” the hero asked as he helped Shouta sit up.

“Specter,” Shouta muttered. He couldn’t keep his words from slurring together. He sounded drunk. “He’s a vigilante who follows me around sometimes. I can’t stop him, or find him, really. He vanishes without a trace whenever someone starts asking questions.”

All Might hissed under his breath, worrying a lip. “He looked… very familiar.”

“You know who he is?” demanded Shouta, the dizzying haze clearing for a moment. He sounded less drunk than before.

“No… but I know I’ve seen him before… minus all the blood. Who did that to him? And now he ran off without any medical care!”

Shouta shook his head, then regretted it. Huh. All Might wasn’t being an idiot right now. Well, he was, but he was being a reasonable idiot, worrying about the things a reasonable person would worry about, things which Shouta would worry about if he did not have all the facts. “No. He always looks like that. It’s his quirk.”

“Uh… well, I’m sure I’ve seen him before, minus his quirk.” So maybe he looked "normal" in everyday life.

Recovery Girl arrived and began scolding Shouta as she attended to his wounds. All Might laid him back down, Nedzu’s distant voice declared all students were accounted for-safe-and Shouta abruptly woke up in a hospital with only a vague idea of what year it was. Present Mic snored in a plastic chair, hand buried in Shouta’s hair.

Chapter Text

What were the odds of meeting Kirishima here? From the raised eyebrow, Katsuki’s classmate was thinking along the same lines. The bundle of blood-crimson roses in the red-head’s arms dwarfed his chest. Maybe they could just keep walking, pretend this never happened. No such luck.

“Hey Bakugou.”

“What do you want?”

“Nothing, I just…” damn, he looked so sad-for heaven’s sake this was a graveyard, what kind of jerk was Katsuki, growling and screaming in a place like this?

“Sorry. Don’t… mind me.” He scuffed his boot in the grass, focusing on the acidic scent of last night’s rain and not on Kirishima’s face.

“It’s alright man. It’s always a hard place to be… I snap at people thinking about why I’m here.” The red-head paused, worrying a lip, then continued when Katsuki didn’t tell him to shut up. “My cousin, she was about my age, she passed two years ago. Leukemia… we used to do all kinds of things together, went to the same school and everything.”

Katsuki grimaced. He already knew enough sad stories. He didn’t need to hear another one but, well, Kirishima was different than most people. He wasn’t fishing for pity here, he was… just explaining that he understood-but he didn’t. Not really. A dozen expressions must have flashed across Katsuki’s face as he clutched the single daisy he’d brought. Kirishima looked at him with concern. “Don’t look at me like that!” Kirishima knelt by the rough, grey headstone of a lonely grave and Katsuki winced. “Sorry. I mean, I’m sorry for your loss,” he wanted to smack himself. Maybe he should just tape his mouth closed and do away with all this tongue tripping. Maybe he could ask Sero to do it for him at the start of every class. Kirishima knelt in silence for a time then stood and followed after Katsuki who had drifted towards another lonely grave, this one in the gloomy shade of a towering deciduous tree.

“Are you sure you’re alright man?”

“Of course, well…” why was he saying any of this? “We were friends, when we were kids, and then we weren’t friends and now he’s dead.”

“MIDORIYA IZUKU” gazed up at the pair along with a short carving in the stone “MAY YOU FIND PEACE FROM YOUR DARKNESS.” Katsuki lay down his daisy.

It had been a grim funeral, a scant dozen acquaintances from school cowering behind their parents’ legs as if to hide from some angel of vengeance. There wasn’t one of them who hadn’t laughed at, mocked, tripped, or otherwise tormented Izuku at least once. Auntie Inko’s work friends had attended, as well as an old police detective and two baristas from a nearby café. The baristas remembered Izuku as the green ray of sunshine who came by once a week looking for a pair of interesting confections to share with his mother at Sunday breakfast. No teachers showed their faces, but one of the janitorial staff and all three of the cafeteria workers came. Izuku had always been sweet like that, acknowledging those who were forgotten, offering kindness to those no one else would speak to. Katsuki finally realized, hiding behind his mother’s frame with his head cast down, that Izuku offered the outcasts kindness because he understood their loneliness and pain, because he didn’t want anyone else to feel absolutely worthless like he did. Damn nerd. Couldn’t he think of himself first for once? Why couldn’t Izuku have been a selfish bastard like Katsuki? At least he’d still be alive, then. They could have sworn at each other and beat each other up in the hallways and shoved each other into lockers and generally been horrible to each other for a good sixty more years at least.

“Heaven help the outcasts,” the priest-who looked like an angel in her flowing, white dress-said in a heavy tone that made it clear she’d overseen slightly different versions of this scene far too many times before, “the ones we don’t think about or talk about. The poor will always be with us, as will the outcasts. I ask you, in remembering a young life lost to despair, that you no longer turn a blind eye…”

“That’s rough,” Kirishima was saying. “There’s a lot left unsaid between you, I’m sure. Sorry, man.”

“It’s not just that,” why should he tell Mr. Scarlet any of this? “I was horrible to him. For years I was-called him names, hit him, wrecked his stuff.” Kirishima stared at Bakugou. What? Did he not believe it? “Because… he was just so damn annoying, always saying he would be a hero even though he was a quirkless nobody, like he was somehow that good-better than me. I just… it was everyone, not just me. We all treated him like dirt-and-” might as well spit it out, “he killed himself. Jumped off the roof. Right after I humiliated him in front of the whole class… right after I told him he’d be better off dead.” Wind whispered through the leaves above them. Two little birds screeched as they chased a hawk from its perch.

Kirishima stared at the simple stone, waiting. “Well?” Katsuki growled. Come on. Say it. Tell him he’s a murderer. Punch him in the nose. Do something! Someone ought to pay. Aizawa ought to find out and expel him. The police ought to hunt him down. He shouldn’t get away with it.

“What do you want me to say, Bakugou?” asked Kirishima. “What you did was messed up, but this was very clearly the last thing you wanted.” Kirishima tactfully didn’t mention the rogue tear on Katsuki’s cheek. Good. This was no place for a fistfight. “I think I get you a lot better now, though.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The way you snap and growl at people then suddenly apologize? If you’d made no effort to change… after what happened… maybe I’d have something more to say.”

The pair turned away, walking quietly towards the distant, ivy coated gate that designated the boundary between worlds. Across the lawn, a Catholic priest committed someone to the earth. What sort of life had that person lived that only four mourners came to acknowledge its end? After a spell of silence, Kirishima asked, “Have you talked to anyone about this? Not me, I mean, a professional.”

Katsuki didn’t need a shrink. “No,” he said coldly.

“You should consider it, man. Mental health is as important as physical health, especially in our future profession. Heroes have it rough, man, and we can’t do much good if we don’t take care of ourselves.”

Why’d he have to be so damn reasonable about it? “Don’t need a shrink.”

“No, but you might find that you want one. There’s no shame, you know.” Wasn’t there? “That kind of thinking, that… stigma I guess… hurts a lot of people. I needed someone to talk to when my cousin died,” just be quiet now, Kirishima. “Nothing unmanly about that, but I though there was, and I was feeling really awful by the time my parents made me talk to someone. You really should thing about it.”

“Fine.” Fine if you’ll drop the subject now.

Thankfully, Kirishima did. “Do you think Mr. Aizawa will be back in class by Monday?” asked Kirishima as they stepped out from the ivy-coated archway and back into the land of the living.

“Course he will,” Katsuki replied.

 

Shouta blearily blinked his stinging eyes. Mic was gone (for better or for worse) and someone else had taken his place. Hospitals were just the worst-the sooner they let him out the better. Maybe he could escape. His arm didn’t hurt much anymore. There was a window-clouds drifted past. Was it locked? He could force a lock.

A pair of misted, green eyes met his. “I tire of asking this, but what are you doing here, Specter?” Shouta’s voice sounded as dead as Specter’s gaze.

“I’m sorry,” the kid whispered. “I was there the whole time. I should’ve done something sooner, but I always try to keep out of the way.”

So the ghost child came to… apologize… to him… for not being a proactive enough vigilante. What a royal mess. It wasn’t Specter’s responsibility to save Shouta, but trying to get that through the kid’s transparent head would be like trying to drive a nail with a salmon.

In the meantime, the kid had taken the silence for reprimand and hung his head in shame. Well, it was time to be a manipulative bastard or Shouta’d never get any answers. “Answer some questions for me and I’ll forgive you.” He would need to wash his soul after this.

Specter nodded glumly, tears mixing with the blood running down his cheeks. Best get this over with. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Specter.”

“No, your real name.”

“I don’t have one anymore.”

What was that supposed to mean? Maybe… “What was your name when you had one?” Specter hunched in on himself in shame. Okay, fine. Forget the name. “Where are your parents, kid?”

“My father left us when I was five. My mother raised me, but she… shouldn’t have to deal with me anymore.”

Deal with him how? “She kicked you out?”

“She didn’t have to. I left… I made her miserable. I make everyone miserable.” His voice broke into a rasping sob.

Damn, now what? “Hey. Stop that.” Oh, very smooth, Shouta. Good job.

Specter coughed. “Sorry.”

Oh lord. He was not paid enough to deal with this. What else was safe to ask? “Where do you live, then?”

Specter shrugged. “Nowhere.”

“You must stay somewhere.”

“By the beach sometimes. In parks, in alleys, on top of buildings.”

A real street kid, then. “How do you eat?”

“I don’t.”

“What?”

“I don’t. Eat. Part of my quirk.”

Here was a good follow up. “And just what is your quirk?”

Specter’s eyes jerked up to meet Shouta’s gaze. “I’m a ghost.”

Specter seemed to think better of saying that and got up to leave. “Stay,” hissed Shouta. Specter worried his lip, furtively glancing at the door… and the walls. He was going to take off if Shouta pressed anymore. Keep him here. Find a safe topic. Build a rapport. “What did you think of the League of Villains?”

Specter’s foggy irises caught a spark of life. What followed was thirty minutes of rambling which only had a structure when viewed from a thousand meters up. The lightly bound web of information Specter dumped into the air included analysis of the fights, of the Nomu, of Shigaraki and Kurogiri’s quirks, and of the League’s psychology. The quirk analysis was very impressive and would have been more impressive if properly organized-brilliant kid, but likely completely self-taught.

“Shigaraki was in charge nominally, but he was immature, kept talking as if life were a video game. He was likely being manipulated himself. He clearly wasn’t the main villain behind the assault.” Shouta had come to a similar conclusion. “They have a sponsor, I think, someone big and nasty with foresight and as yet undisclosed motives. Kurogiri was too stable, too reliable to be anything other than a babysitter sent by the real boss to keep Shigaraki in line. Shigaraki reminded me of a mad dog, almost, abused until all that remained was hatred. He certainly didn’t have the discipline or foresight to make that Nomu or even find someone who could, and that can’t have been an easy job just any genius could do. I’ve never even heard of such a thing as multiquirk engineering, so someone clever decided this was a good idea, but it doesn’t feel, with all the cannon fodder villains and only Kurogiri, Shigaraki, and the Nomu as capable combatants, that the real boss was even trying to make this work, but Shigaraki really believed he was on a mission to kill All Might. So maybe the real mastermind was using this as a publicity stunt? A trial run? Teaching experience? It’s hard to say since we know nothing about who’s really in charge. Oh. Sorry… I’m rambling again.”

“No. It’s fine… interesting analysis.” Very interesting. “I think Principal Nedzu would like to speak with you.” Specter jumped. All the enthusiasm replaced by fear. It was like dealing with a skittish rabbit.

“He doesn’t bite, Specter, but he does like to analyze things. I think you two would get along… swimmingly.” The ghost did not look convinced. “At the very least, I want to speak with you again.”

“But… I’m a vigilante. The police-”

“Will stay out of it. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing anyone can do about you, anyway. Arresting a ghost is notoriously difficult. I saw the joke ending of the new Phantom of the Opera.” The alternate ending had been funny enough to get him to smile: the police force had not succeeded in arresting the phantom. There had been a similar joke in Ghostbusters 2040 which had been a terrible movie otherwise. Shouta still hadn’t forgiven Hizashi for making him watch it when the Specter business heated up.

Specter shrugged noncommittally. “I’ll be around.” He vanished.

“I’m sure you will.” Don’t get yourself killed, kid.

Chapter Text

Specter tapped a finger idly on the cold metal bleacher as he watched the set up for the UA Sports Festival. He was in the stands long before they opened the gates, smugly lounging on his chosen seat, waiting for the madness to begin. He had watched the festival on television every year for half a decade, but it was a whole different experience to watch it in person. Sometimes his fate had perks. Specter’s smugness was diminished by the awkwardness of the seat’s paying patron sitting down on him, but he managed to find another, unoccupied seat before the events began.

Kacchan came in first in the obstacle course, closely followed by Todoroki, who Specter still sometimes called Shouto in his head. That was how they had been introduced, after all. Uraraka, Shinsou, a crazed support student named Hatsume, and the class 1-B copycat, Monoma (who apparently didn’t hate Uraraka as much as the rest of 1-A) snatched the winning headband from Kacchan at the last possible moment during the cavalry battle, Shinsou somehow snake-charming the whole opposing team. Kacchan and his compatriots-Iida, Kirishima, and Tokoyami-still advanced to the finals with points from their own raids.

The crowd roared as Midnight cracked her whip and announced a break before the single combats began. Specter followed class 1-A down below the stands, stalking (or perhaps “haunting”) those he considered “friends,” although he’d never met any of them-with the exception of Todoroki and Kacchan. These “in person” friends were the two he sought out, mostly just to see how they were doing.

Following a flicker of fire light and sharp scent of smoke in the darkened hallways led Specter to an unpleasant conversation in an otherwise deserted corridor. Specter had never met Endeavour before, but he cut a distinctive figure, flames licking across his body in red-blue tongues. “You will never amount to anything if you don’t get over this childish tantrum,” Endeavour snarled. “You lost to a practically quirkless colleague, a girl who makes things float, a B-class maniac, and a support student! You have a duty to surpass All Might. Where do you think you’ll get behaving as you do now?”

Shouto, stony as ever, replied, “It’s not a tantrum. I merely refuse to use a power you have poisoned. I’ll win. I’ll surpass everyone and I’ll do it without your fire.”

“I’m disappointed in you,” the number two hero shook his head. “I really thought you at least had potential.”

So these were the kind of conversations that sent Shouto to wander the streets in the dead of night. The dual-quirked student turned away and walked back towards the 1-A preparation room. Specter followed Endeavour.

“Hello! Endeavour?” the brilliant grin of All Might appeared at the top of a stairway. Endeavour turned to him with a strong grimace.

On his last morning alive, Izuku met All Might. Specter remembered the conversation now. All Might had been kind and reasonable as he answered Izuku’s question after freeing him from the homicidal slime. No, he had said. Izuku couldn’t be a hero without a quirk, but he was “brave and resourceful” as evident by the fight he put up and his composure afterwards and would likely make a fine police officer if he wished to pursue a career of civil service… but it was just another blow-everything his peers liked to rub in his face repeated by the one he most admired. Specter didn’t blame All Might for Izuku’s fate anymore than he blamed Kacchan-it was Izuku’s decision alone-but there was some echo of sour emotion now whenever he thought of either of them. The irony, certainly not lost on him, was that Specter now had a quirk, but still couldn’t be a hero.

Back in the real world, Endeavour responded to All Might’s perfectly reasonable inquiry about his philosophy for “training the next generation of heroes” with a short, furious rant. “I don’t need your pity!” What was that about? “The next generation has been training for a decade already, Shouto first among them, and he is destined to surpass you. Your throne will not be safe for long. Want advice about teaching? Read a book!”

All Might’s smile never faded, even as Endeavour stalked away, even as Specter growled to himself and followed the number two hero down another secluded hall. Enough of that! Shouto was a good person, and the way Endeavour was going, he’d end up a wrecked weapon like Shigaraki, stripped of emotion and pointed on target-the parallels were nauseating. The way Endeavour treated All Might would be uncalled for at a comedy roast of the number one pro. Sometimes people need a wakeup call. It was midday, but Specter could handle that much at least.

Specter let the sound of his barefoot steps on the cold, metal corridor echo towards his target. Endeavour whirled around. “Who are you?”

Specter didn’t answer, merely spat out the words that came to mind. “What was it you said to yourself then? At your first Sports Festival? “I’ll show them. I’ll prove myself. I’ll make the world a better place.” I know you remember. Is it a better place, Endeavour, for what you do?”

“What are you even-”

“You sink your teeth just as viciously into the flesh of enemies as the flesh of allies. You abuse your family. You have no friends, only cronies. You will be number one soon enough, and you will still be number one when Touya kills you.” That got a reaction. “You have bred weapons where you ought to have raised children. You will find it very lonely at the top when the only thing you love is a number. What would your poor mother have said, seeing how you treated Rei, seeing you King of Nothing? The truly sad thing is you could have had it all, everything, if you hadn’t wanted it so much. You have sold your soul. “Remember that we’ll always have this, no matter where our paths may wander.”” Specter wondered who he was quoting. “You made that a lie. Enjoy your throne, live it up. The devil will have you soon enough, and there are many, many spirits in hell just dying to meet you.” He let himself fade from view as he spat out two dozen names. He recognized a few of them-villains Endeavour had sent to their deaths. The number two hero had lost his flames, staring about the hallway in consternation before composing himself and swiftly walking towards the stands.

Who was Touya? Specter really would like to know. Maybe he could ask Shouto? No… that was probably a bad idea.

Endeavour seemed like Kacchan taken to the worst possible conclusion, so obsessed with winning and being the best that he lost track of the real world, forgot that other things could be important. Endeavour didn’t seem to care about anything or anyone, not his family, not his country, not himself, loving only a number. Still, it had been petty to use the words on him… but Specter was sometimes petty-a few months on the wild side where society abandoned its write offs would do that to you-and maybe it would do some good. Sometimes frightening someone with the threat of losing everything, even things they never realized they had, was enough to refocus their attention. Specter was a prime example of that-lost everything and became a whole new person. But there was no real way to predict the effect the words would have… and it didn’t matter because the real point of using them was just to make Specter feel better… to get a little revenge on Shouto’s behalf. Anyway, the matches were about to start.

The matches went about as expected. Todoroki and Kacchan steamrolled the competition, although Monoma-who had no issue with copying and using Todoroki's fire-and Uraraka respectively gave nearly as good as they got. Shinsou won his first match but lost to silent Tokoyami. Kacchan was clearly nervous, pulling punches and backpedaling in his fights, but winning them all, none the less, until it came to the final match.

Shouto stood, shivering in place, stubbornly refusing to use a single lick of flame and Kacchan, not making any move to press his advantage and finish the fight, stood about fifteen meters away and screamed at Shouto, bawling out progressively louder and stranger insults related to Shouto’s refusal to use his fire. “Fight me like a real man you demented steam locomotive,” was one of the best. “You’re a disgrace to tanning beds everywhere,” was similarly amusing, as was, “Don’t’ make me come over there, ‘cause I will,” if only in the physical context. Specter’s childhood friend hadn’t changed that much-Specter was not surprised by the insults-but they were much more creative and bizarre than he had expected.

The match ended with a hypothermic Shouto and raving Kacchan having a quirkless fistfight that lasted the better part of ten minutes before both combatants collapsed in a pile of ice shards. Kacchan, still screaming bizarre insults, then crawled out of bounds giving Shouto the victory. Kacchan’s last comment on the matter was something along the lines of “if you won’t fight me for real then neither of us deserve that medal.”

Present Mic stopped announcing half-way through the final match, apparently unsure of what to say. The only commentary was Mr. Aizawa’s deadpan, “And now Bakugou is insulting his opponent. And now they are having a fistfight. Todoroki is now attempting to beat Bakugou unconscious with his torn shoe which has just melted out of the ice. Now Bakugou also has a shoe to work with.” It was brutal. And since when would Kacchan forfeit a fight like that? He had been different lately, but the whole final fight was bizarre.

 

 

“Come in,” not like he was trying to sleep in his office or anything. The door didn’t open, rather Specter stepped right through the stained oak just as if he were a normal, incorporeal student coming to speak to his instructor. “What is it, problem child?” just what he needed today.

“I’m worried about Iida,” Specter said. Well, that was a new one, but with all the horrid business with Tensei being maimed by the Hero Killer, there might be grounds to worry.

Sigh. “And just why are you worried about him?”

“He’s been isolating himself from his friends,” just how much time did the ghost spend in Shouta’s class? Was he always sitting there on someone’s desk listening, or maybe taking notes on some ghostly paper? “And I saw the internship he selected… it’s Hosu, and I can’t help but think he’s planning to chase after the Hero Killer himself. I can imagine,” he murmured, “how I’d feel if my brother were crippled… I doubt I’d be thinking rationally.” Did Specter mean he had a brother or was he just a particularly empathetic individual?

Shouta sighed again, rubbing his eyes. Revenge didn’t sound like Iida, but Iida didn’t sound much like Iida right now, either. “I’ll keep an eye on him… and I suspect you will, too.”

Specter smiled shyly. “Now… I have a question for you. Mind telling me what you said to Endeavour?” Shouta never liked the number two hero. All Might was a loud moron, but Endeavour was a cold, temperamental glory hound which was worse. However, Shouta had received an unusual call from the walking flamethrower about a week after the Sports Festival: Endeavour wanted to know if “the things Specter tells people are true.” From his tone, it was evident that the answer he was looking for was “no,” but Shouta had no idea. He might be “the person to call” about anything related to Specter, but he had no clear idea of how the littlest vigilante’s quirk worked.

Specter blinked, trying to recall a fuzzy memory. “All kinds of things.”

“Why?”

“He was being a bully.”

That sounded like Endeavour alright. “You actually scared him.”

Specter narrowed his eyes. “I meant to.”

“How did you know what to say?”

A familiar, blood-dripping shrug. “My quirk tells me.”

That explained it-the kid didn’t understand what he’d said, just knew to say it. “Are the things you say true, then?”

Specter tilted his head, thinking, or rather organizing months-worth of thoughts. “I think everything I say has the potential to be true from the perspective of the person I address; some things might be lies, but the person I am addressing cannot prove them false. So, if I say something about a person’s past, then that (usually) must be completely true because that can easily be proved true or false. If I say something about the present, it needs to appear to be true from the listener’s perspective as I speak. If I say something about the future-sorry, this is mostly speculation-it needs to be potentially true, but I don’t think it has to be true. I think it’s like a prophecy, sort of, which may not come to pass if people change, or if unlikely things occur.”

Hmm. That explained why it was so terrifying, perhaps. The truth is often more frightening than fiction. “But your… predictions… often are true.”

Specter nodded. “Some are harder to confirm than others, of course, but I once told a mugger he was going to be hit by a bus. He took off running before I even realized what I’d said. I chased him because he was running out into a major street… self-fulfilling prophecy, I guess. I felt horrid, but he didn’t die, at least not at the scene.” Specter shuddered. Shouta would not have to lecture him about being careful with excessive “force,” then. Shouta might need to lecture him about not blaming himself for accidents he could not have anticipated. “There was someone else who I… told him his cat didn’t really love him and would leave soon. A day later it ran away.”

Clearly someone didn’t know how to properly pamper a cat. Back on topic. “And what did you say to Endeavour that made him call me in the middle of the night?”

Specter squinted. Did this not leave a clear memory somehow? It could be a side-effect of his quirk. Maybe he could never clearly recall what he had said using this power. “I told him he would be number one soon, but he wouldn’t like it.” That didn’t sound particularly disturbing. “And I said he would still be number one when Touya killed him, but I don’t know who Touya is.”

Shouta did, though, and a bleeding ghost prophesizing your death at the hand of your son was certainly enough to give most people nightmares, and now Shouta would have to call Endeavour back and tell him that even Specter didn’t know for sure, but everything the ghost had said was probably true. That would be a horrid conversation.

“Nedzu would indeed like to speak with you sometime, kid.” Specter hesitated, thinking. The kid clearly trusted Shouta more now, but did he trust him enough to agree?

“Alright… though I really don’t understand why he’d want to speak with me…”

Oh, but Shouta did. Specter was interesting, and Nedzu could never leave something interesting uninvestigated, or unharassed in many cases. “After internships are over, I am sure you can find the time.”

“Of course, sir. Thank you and goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Specter.”

The ghost stepped out through the door. Well, it was a step up from just vanishing into thin air.

Chapter Text

Specter’s existence really did strongly depend on his expectations. For instance, his current answer to “what does it mean to be a ghost?” would vastly affect his day to day… life? Afterlife?

It was midday, and Specter had come down from the tree where he had been dozing and set off to search out some ice cream. Having reasoned that, though he had no need of food, he should be able to taste food given that all his other senses remained unchanged, Specter had found that he could, indeed, put food in his mouth and swallow it. He could enjoy the flavors and textures as if he weren’t even dead. He did feel stronger afterwards, too, and the energy from the calories had to go somewhere, so he assumed there was some benefit to eating every now and again.

Today, Specter wanted ice cream and, having found a crumpled and dust-crusted bill someone happened to drop on the sidewalk a few days previously, he could have some. Concentrating on forcing his figure to become entirely tangible-that was still hard-he fetched a torn hoodie and a pair of sandals from a hollow in his tree and pulled them on. His clothes-the bloodstained ones-behaved like a part of him. He’d think he’d removed them, but then they’d still be there and he would find nothing but air in his grip. An alternate solution to conceal his gory appearance had been found. If he made himself completely solid, he could haphazardly throw larger clothes over himself, hiding all the blood and broken bones and keeping the questions at bay.

The ripped hoodie that Specter pulled on advertised some technical college that he had never heard of. He had fetched it and his California-style sandals from a charity donation bin. He felt a little guilty for taking them, but he really did need them. The ghost stepped into a long line in front of his favored snack shop and licked his lips. He could really use some sugar.

Over the past week Specter had worn himself out-the fatigue a strange, numbing feeling. His nights were spent stalking relentlessly through Hosu, watching vigilantly for Iida… or Stain. By day, Specter wandered and rested, keeping an eye on other 1-A students with nearby internships. He wasn’t worried about any of them, not really, but it was fun to watch them, pretending he were one of them. Class 1-A were all his friends, even if they didn’t know it; well, maybe not Mineta. Mineta was creepy sometimes. Jiro kept stealing his pens during class, and the short boy deserved it.

It was Specter’s turn to order. “Strawberry, please.” He kept his head in the shadow of his hood and his twisted, broken hand out of sight as he passed the bill across the concession stand.

“There you go.” The vigilante collected his scant change and cone, thanking the attendant before weaving away through the crowd which had collected about the little creamery cart. The crisp, fiery scent of sugar in the air never failed to attract customers. That scent was how you knew it was going to be good ice cream.

Specter lapped the fruity sugar off the cone, trotting away down the sunny street. He didn’t have the right to be this happy, but he couldn’t help enjoying this anymore than he could help how miserable he had often felt for the last… some-odd years.

In the park at his right, two little girls chased each other up and down a plastic climbing wall playing “heroes and villains.” One of them was being All Might, the other some version of Godzilla (because why would someone play a real villain? That was creepy). One of them giggled, imitating the number one’s catch phrase. Kacchan used to chase Izuku around like that. Those were good times. Back then, Izuku never felt guilty about enjoying his ice cream. His very presence didn’t make people miserable. His parents were better off without him. It had been ages since he’d seen his mother, and what did his father even look like? He… couldn’t quite recall anymore. Glasses? Dark hair? There-he was thoroughly miserable now, so there was no need to feel guilty about these last few bites of ice cream.

Specter licked the last, sticky drops of sugar off his fingers. Now, back to his tree then on to see Tokoyami-“Deku?” Specter snapped his gaze up to meet the piercing red eyes of his childhood friend. Kacchan’s hair was comically styled, especially when combined with his slack jaw and eyes wide with disbelief. To his left, Best Jeanist-who really was fantastically amazing-spoke to an enthusiastic boy with silver hair. Oh, this was really bad. This was terrible-what were the odds?

Specter could find new clothes. He let himself vanish, losing tangibility. His sweatshirt fell through him, tumbling to a heap on his sandals. With any luck, Kacchan would just believe he was seeing things. Best Jeanist hadn’t seen Specter, after all. He could high-tail it into the park, lurk there, and come back for his clothes once the excitement associated with the pro’s presence died down.

 

 

His intern was… not quite what he’d expected. Tsunagu had expected a mad dog, someone who needed to be tamed and taught not to bite a friendly hand, but he found himself dealing with a deeply frightened individual, scarred by something that left him second guessing every instinct even while lunging, snapping and snarling. Tsunagu was no licensed psychiatrist, but no degree was necessary to realize there was something very wrong going on here.

Best Jeanist bid goodbye to a silver-haired child who had begged for an autograph and found his intern pale as a snowman, standing still as a scarecrow. A red and brown leaf had blown onto the teenager’s head giving him a comical, and unnoticed, hat. “Bakugou?”

“Did you see him?” came the strangled reply. Who? A villain? Tsunagu scanned the street. Nothing out of the ordinary.

“Who? Where?”

Bakugou coughed. “He was there,” the blonde pointed to an abandoned sweatshirt and sandals lying on the sidewalk. “And then he vanished.”

“Who?” It almost did look like someone had vanished out of their clothes, but Tsunagu had seen plenty of stranger things lying in the street, and why just a sweatshirt and shoes?

“A ghost,” Bakugou said, still impersonating a marble statue. What? “I swear it was him. I’d swear it on his grave.”

Interesting phrase. Tsunagu could see it catching on in certain, very specific circumstances. “Who?” Just spit it out already.

“Deku. I mean, Midoriya Izuku. He was my classmate in middle school. He…” a few concerned pedestrians trotted by, shooting the pro hero and apprentice sidelong glances while Bakugou decided what to say. “He killed himself.”

Well. That was the end of this patrol. Time to go home. When the interns start seeing their dead classmates, it’s time to take them back to the agency. “Alright. We’re headed in,” he grabbed Bakugou firmly by the shoulder and steered him back along their route, texting one of his sidekicks to take over the rest of the patrol.

The Explosion wielder paced in silence, shivering slightly even in the sun, hands tucked into his pockets. It was certainly possible that Bakugou saw someone with an illusion or hallucination quirk, maybe even a villain playing tricks on him, or that he saw his dead compatriot’s near perfect doppelganger who panicked at the unexpected attention and bolted, but given the context it seemed more likely that Bakugou had just imagined Midoriya Izuku, dredging up a nightmare from some pit of unresolved trauma. Tsunagu knew that feeling all too well.

Tsunagu dragged his still shaken intern into an elevator which played some kind of irritating pop song at them, then out of an elevator, then into a dimly lit conference room and closed the door. The fluorescent light buzzed. A water cooler bubbled in the corner. The whole place smelled like musty paper. It was the perfect atmosphere for secret meetings. “So,” Tsunagu began.

Bakugou shook his head. “I know, okay, it couldn’t have been him. I know he’s dead. I’m not delusional, but-” he slammed his mouth shut. Tsunagu waited. “But just for a second I was so damn sure it was him.”

The hero student rubbed his forehead. “I’m not crazy. There just must’ve been someone who looked a lot like him, some other green haired kid. Really. I’m… fine. We didn’t need to come back.”

The pro considered his charge. “No. We did need to come back. We are in a dangerous profession, Bakugou. There’s no room for emotional turmoil out on the streets.” Bakugou growled, glaring at Tsunagu. “Listen to me. Don’t growl. In this line of work, we all have seen things no one should see, lived through events that haunt us for years. That is, unfortunately, a part of our lives. If you let things fester, however, that can become a serious problem. I have no idea who or what you saw, if anything, but it is evident to me that the fate of your classmate has deeply affected you, and I think you know that, too.” Tsunagu’s intern was not stupid, that was evident. Stubborn, rash at times, but very clever.

Bakugou hunched his shoulders and turned away. “It was ages ago,” he said lamely, like that changed anything. The student shifted and clenched a fist. “If I’d just been nice to him for one goddamn day…”

Tsunagu winced. “You have no idea what would have happened or if you could have changed anything at all. I know the world of “might have beens” very well. It is no place to live your life.” What if he’d been there five minutes earlier? Who could he have saved? What if he had been there five minutes later? Who would have died? What if he hadn't taken an offered hand when he knew there were strings attached? That world was haunted by the smiling images of the dead and bloodied ghosts of the living. Tsunagu saw it in nightmares and bitter daydreams on rainy evenings.

“It was my fault!” the intern yelled, eyes flashing with the distant reflection of hellfire-not Endeavour’s quirk, actual hellfire. “What am I even doing here?”

Tsunagu couldn’t answer that. “You tell me.”

Bakugou growled, working teeth through a lip. “I don’t know. I always said I was gonna be a hero and everyone else always said I was gonna be a hero, for ten damn years, ever since I got my quirk, everyone’s been saying that and… what else would I do? I’ve always wanted that, to be the best, to prove it, show the world. But sometimes I feel like my whole life reads more like a first-rate villain’s backstory than a first-rate hero’s.”

Well. This might be above Tsunagu’s paygrade, but Bakugou, for all his rough edges and explosive personality, was straight forward and honorable. It was impossible to imagine him cheating on a test, breaking a promise, or taking something he hadn’t earned-for example, first place at the Sports Festival. “You would make a lousy villain, third-rate at best.”

“Hey! Wait…” Tsunagu hid his smile as Bakugou tried to work out if that was an insult or a compliment.

“In all seriousness, I think it important, at this point, that you speak with a mental health professional.”

The bleach-blonde glared then sighed. “Kirishima said the same thing.” Tsunagu recalled the name vaguely from the Sports Festival.

“Your friend gives good advice.”

“I don’t want idiots thinking I’m broken or something,” the intern muttered.

Tsunagu resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Society was savage like that, he knew all too well. Show one little tear in your fairytale life and the press would eat you alive. “First, you don’t have to tell anyone. Second, why do you care what “people” think? You never seem to have any problem… being yourself.”

Bakugou snorted. “Contrary to popular belief, I do actually understand that public imagines can be important.” Tsunagu raised an eyebrow. “I’m not stupid.”

“I am aware of that.”

“Fine. Okay. I’ll talk to someone.”

“I have suggestions if you are interested.”

Chapter Text

Tenya had never wanted to kill anyone before. It wasn’t a good feeling but it was insistent, a curling, vice-like grip that squeezed him as he dodged through the UA halls by day and as he tossed and turned in his bed by night. It was like a living thing that used him, drank his blood, sapped his strength, chilled his heart, turned him away from the concerned gazes of his parents, Uraraka, Asui, and Yaoyorozu. He didn’t need pity or help or a listening ear. He needed revenge, and he’d have it.

Manual, his mentor in Hosu city, saw right through him, of course. He might as well have written his intentions on a cardboard sign and stapled it to his face. All Manual’s words ran off him like water off steel. Tenya couldn’t rest until someone paid.

The Hero Killer preferred to work in dark little corners, like a cockroach. Amidst the chaos of Hosu, stricken by the arrival of Nomus and the rise of looters, Tenya slipped away from Manual and made for the realm of cockroaches. He kept to the shadows. He, too, was a criminal at the moment, but he was in the right. And when this was over, that unspeakable feeling would finally, finally, go away, rotting with Stain in Tartarus, or perhaps a graveyard. Either would do.

Tenya slunk deeper into Hosu’s shadiest district, watching every rooftop and shadow. One of the shadows moved. Tenya fell back into a fighting stance-but this wasn’t the Hero Killer. A wall of mist filled the alley as the boy stepped closer. Tenya kept his fists raised, heart pounding like a brass band in his ears. “Who are you?” Tenya snapped.

The boy stepped out of the fog he had summoned and let it melt away. The bloodied, walking corpse of a teenager cocked his head, fluffy, green hair falling towards his shoulder. Tenya took a step back. “Specter,” Tenya answered his own question. The vigilante was a common conversation topic among his classmates ever since Mr. Aizawa mentioned him once in class. This had been taken as a confirmation of the rumor that Specter followed Eraserhead on patrols and picked off the stragglers. “What are you doing here?”

Specter cocked his head to the other side. “I could ask you the same thing, but from one vigilante to another, the answers seem pretty clear.”

“I’m not a vigilante!” Tenya yelled back. Were the answers clear?

“You weren’t yesterday but you are now,” Specter sighed. “I’m not going to chew you out for doing something illegal, heaven knows I don’t have the moral high-ground there. I am going to chew you out for doing something stupid and cruel.” Before Tenya could protest, the ghostly figure continued. “Your brother had a decade of experience on you and still lost. You can’t reasonably think you can win alone, so you are going out to look for a fight where Stain is going to kill you.” How did Specter even know who he was? Let alone what he was doing here? Tenya took another step back. “And that is unspeakably cruel. Do you know what that would do to your brother? Your parents? Your classmates? Your teacher? What you’re doing is selfish, putting your pain above everyone else!” Specter hung his head as Tenya stared on in shock because… he didn’t want to admit Specter might have a point, several points. “Take it from me. Dying doesn’t solve any of your problems.” What? Was the vigilante implying he was actually dead? No matter. That didn’t make any sense, anyway.

“You don’t understand,” Tenya snarled. How could this crazy vigilante understand him? Tenya barely understood himself. “I have to do this. I have to avenge him. It’s my job, no one else’s. Now get out of my way!” Tenya stepped forward. Specter narrowed his hazy eyes.

“Don’t make me go get Eraserhead, because I will. I won’t see you on the same path as me! You and your friends deserve better.” Iida pushed past the ghost. “Fine. I warned you!” Given the chaos in Hosu, what were the odds Specter could even find Tenya's teacher? As he discovered ten minutes later, the odds were pretty good.

“Iida!” snarled a voice from the dark and Tenya whirled around, ready to run, but a white scarf wrapped around his chest, pinning his arms, and his quirk refused to respond to him. Aizawa glared red daggers at Tenya. Behind the teacher, Specter looked on with an expression of terror and despair. Perhaps Tenya had taken up the same expression, for he also felt that way.

“Give me one good reason,” growled Aizawa, “not to drag you back to Manual, call your brother to scream at you, and then expel you, and retroactively expel all of your extended family members as well.” Iida didn’t have a reason. Aizawa should probably do it. Fine! Expel him! See if he cared. If Aizawa wasn’t his teacher anymore, what grounds would he have to keep Tenya from his duty? Eraserhead waited, sighed, and dragged his student down the alley, boots scuffing on the asphalt. “Unfortunately,” the pro grumbled, “I have a good reason not to do that.” What? Tenya was already half-way through rethinking his career and vengeance plans… or was he just in denial? “Because if I toss you out and leave you to your own devices you’re certainly going to get yourself killed, and heaven help me I do care, and so do Tensei, Uraraka, Asui, and the rest of your troublemaking classmates.” The pro snorted and muttered something that might have been "meddling kids."

Tenya fought down a wave of angry tears, turning his face from Aizawa’s crimson gaze. “It’s for you.” Tenya started as Eraserhead pressed a phone into his hand.

 “Hello?” Tenya said hesitantly, voice cracking.

“Tenya.”

“Tensei?” Oh hell, Aizawa hadn’t been kidding about calling his brother, not that Aizawa ever kidded-logical ruses were not the same thing as kidding-but it was the middle of the night and Tensei should be resting-

 “You know I love you, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now please, please, stop being a suicidal maniac.”

Tenya started-his brother didn’t normally speak… quite like that. Tensei's voice slurred with pain medication and exhaustion. “But I have to-”

“No. You don’t! It’s not right and it’s not fair-I feel that more than you can believe, every second of every day, but you know what would be more unfair? Losing my brother, too, along with everything else.” What was that noise-Tensei was sobbing. Tenya’s eyes flew wide as he desperately yelled broken sentences, looking for words of comfort even though he didn’t have any positive emotions left to draw from. “Can you imagine,” Tensei whispered, “if you were me? If you woke up one day in an opioid haze to see on the news that the same person who nearly killed you had murdered me? Because I was trying to avenge you? Can you imagine how that would feel?” Tensei was not whispering anymore. Tenya held the phone away from his ear to protect his hearing and found that he was crying now, too, because he could imagine-he’d tasted plenty of despair in the past weeks. “Do you know how terrified I am right now just imagining this?” Tenya choked out a dozen blubbered apologies, one after another. “Come back, Tenya,” Tensei said. “And leave some of your misery in Hosu. I want to see you smile again someday, really smile, not just move your lips, and I want my funeral to be before yours, not after.”

“Okay,” Tenya said hoarsely. Aizawa took his phone back while Tenya stood trembling. Eraserhead steered his student back through the streets of Hosu to his hotel, stopping briefly to place a call to Manual and explain the situation.

Aizawa would have to leave again, plunge back into the burning chaos of Hosu, but not before making Tenya swear on his and his brother’s life that he would only leave his hotel room if “it is unsafe to remain, for example if the building is on fire,” before promising (in a tone usually reserved for threatening someone’s continued existence) to return for him the next day.

Tenya threw himself on the double bed, stared at the grey, popcorn ceiling, listened to distant emergency sirens, and replayed Tensei’s words again and again. Sometimes Aizawa’s and Specter’s mixed in. He couldn’t sleep. Every moment spent in this semi-rational headspace was filled with regrets. How could he be so stupid? Specter was right, too. He’d been cruel, not thinking of others. Every time he closed his eyes he saw his own death being reported by the bleach-blonde news anchor who did the morning headlines for Channel Six.

Eventually, as morning dawned, if only to convince himself his morbid fantasies weren’t real, he found the scratched old remote and turned on the television. He flipped to Channel Six-and froze, all emotion in his body converted to the same kind of overwhelming dread-terror as when he got that horrible call during the Sports Festival.

“Stain Apprehended! Student and Pro Gravely Wounded” read the ticker. The bleach-blonde elaborated in her horribly bubbly voice. “The Hero Killer: Stain was apprehended last night during the attacks on Hosu city, his capture attributed to Number Two Hero Endeavour. Pro hero Native and Endeavour’s youngest son, Todoroki Shouto, a first-year intern from UA, were both injured in the confrontation. Reports on Native’s condition indicate he will make a full recovery. Todoroki Shouto was reportedly gravely wounded and some sources report that he is not likely to survive, but this cannot be confirmed…” Tenya sank to the floor with his head in his hands.

After perhaps thirty minutes spent completely incapacitated by the overwhelming, crashing waves of mixed emotions, Tenya dialed a number that he thought might be Aizawa’s and asked something along the line of “Please tell me she’s an idiot!” which probably made little sense out of context, but Tenya’s teacher had seen the news, too, and figured out what he was asking soon enough.

 

 

 

Specter smashed a looter in the head with a telekinetically thrown two-by-four then rested, panting. After he fetched Eraserhead to talk Iida down from his own personal rooftop, the ghost dived into the madness which was Hosu City. He was really an “ambush predator.” He didn’t work well in long, drawn out confrontations. His quirk exhausted him quickly if he didn’t take breaks between exertions, but he couldn’t just sit down and watch Hosu burn and people steal from and abuse each other, so he pushed himself.

He made it rain on a house fire, driving his weather manipulation to the absolute limit. He threw things at villains until he was too tired for that and had to settle for punching them. Then he heard the screams.

Someone else heard them, too, so Specter and Shouto made their way to the Hero Killer’s chosen alley at more or less the same time. “Stay out of this, kids,” growled the crimson-clad villain, and good lord he had a terrifying presence. Specter himself was “scary” but this was another level. The night seemed to collapse in a cloak around Stain as if he were some sort of supernatural force rather than a man. Specter edged towards the unconscious form of the pro hero Native, but it wouldn’t do any good. He was too tired to carry the man either with telepathy or with his hands-he kept phasing through things without meaning to. He could barely make his eyes focus.

Shouto wordlessly swept a cascade of ice in Stain’s direction. It coalesced with an almost musical clatter as if all the members of a hundred piece orchestra had fallen down in synchrony. The villain dodged effortlessly, vanishing for a moment before reappearing as he sprung from the opposite wall of the alley. “You’re Endeavour’s kid, aren’t you?” Shouto stiffened. “Back off or die.”

Specter tried to throw a nearby chair, but found any attempt at telekinesis futile; he could barely hold a physical form properly. Neither the villain nor the student bothered to look at him. “Shouto you need to run!” said Specter.

Shouto glanced at the ghost with vague recognition. “No.”

Oh hell. Shouto was going to get himself killed. “Please! You can’t save Native if you’re dead! Grab him and run!” It might be possible.

Shouto fended off another charge. “No. I won’t lose. I won't lose this chance.”

His friend was going to die. And what could Specter do about it? Exhausted as he might be, no sword could touch him, and perhaps he couldn’t touch Stain, but Specter could speak to him. The Hero Killer gave Specter a curious look, stepping through the ghost casually as Shouto tossed an ice shield between himself and the other two combatants.

Specter opened his mouth, calling on the words that always hovered within his grasp, ready to send anyone, be they petty thugs or top ten heroes, crying to their mothers. He reached and found… nothing. It was as if he attempted to exhale with no air in his lungs. What? How?

Stain smirked as he caught a glimpse of the stunned expression on Specter’s face. “I don’t know what you just tried to pull, kid, but it didn’t work now, did it?” With another chuckle Stain turned away.

How could there be no words? Was this just due to exhaustion? That had never happened before, not even on the longest patrols. Was it possible that someone like Stain, someone who held that unbreakable aura of malice, was simply not afraid of anything? That he had fallen so far into some pit of anarchistic mania that no figment of the past, illustration of the present, or prophecy of the possible future could shake or sway him? Stain’s silhouette, dark against the reflected firelight of burning Hosu, brought a deep chill to Specter’s blood he had thought only the living could experience. The vigilante couldn’t fight, couldn’t win, couldn’t even help, so what could he do?

Run. Find someone stronger. Specter ran, crying for help as he did so, but everyone he passed-there were few enough-was busy with another emergency. Endeavour had to be around here somewhere, right? Shouto had been with him-there! Specter screamed at the pro, a snarling man engulfed in flames and rage, yelling that he found Shouto, that he found Stain, then turned on his heel and fled.

As Specter ran back to that horrid little alley, he didn’t dare look to see if Endeavour followed-he might be too late already anyway, and what would Specter do if the number two hero really had ignored him? Nothing. The ghost hadn’t done enough, but this would have to do.

Stain stood stark red against the shadows, sword inches from Shouto’s back-and Specter tackled him, scratching, biting, kicking, anything to buy a few more seconds-Stain tossed him aside like trash-Endeavour roared into the fray like Satan himself plunging into battle.

Specter extricated himself from the garbage bag prison into which Stain had flung him and pulled on Shouto’s shoulder-scrabbled really since his hands kept phasing through his friend’s flesh-and panicked at the ugly gash gaping like an open maw across Shouto’s chest and stomach. Staunch the bleeding. There was a cushion from an abandoned chair-that could staunch the bleeding-but damn it wouldn’t stay in his hands and how much blood had Shouto already lost-it was everywhere. The air reeked of iron.

Someone hit the ground and the shouts and roars of combat ceased. Endeavour snatched the pillow from Specter’s hands and roared some question or other but the look in the fiery hero’s eyes was terror, not rage.

Specter was barely aware of the brief conversation with the pro that followed, and even less aware as he trudged towards the hospital, chasing the retreating lights of an ambulance. He was in good company when he arrived. The wards, waiting rooms, and parking lot were overflowing, the air saturated with sobbing.

Specter kept having to move to new seats in the hospital’s waiting room. No one could see or feel him, so they sat on him which was weird, then Specter got up and left. It happened a few dozen times before Specter finally got the idea to sit on top of a vending machine. No one sat on him there. It was a hectic night at the hospital-thousands had been injured in Hosu-and the waiting rooms were cacophonic orchestras of frantic voices-except near Endeavour. The number two hero waited stoically in a corner, face stony and chin in his hands while everyone nearby whispered-usually something along the lines of “why is Endeavour here?”

Specter watched the flame hero place calls to “Fuyumi,” “Natsuo,” and finally, hesitantly, to “Rei.” Fuyumi and Natsuo arrived within two hours. The former was sobbing. The latter looked ready to start a public shouting match, gritting teeth and snarling, but Endeavour shot him a pleading look and Natsuo sat down abruptly, a puppet with the strings cut, looking shocked. Perhaps he’d never seen that expression from Endeavour before?

Others Specter knew began to arrive shortly thereafter. First was Aizawa towing Iida. Uraraka arrived next and immediately hugged Iida then commented on how unspeakably awful he looked. The class president did look like a zombie, pale and red-eyed. Yaoyorozu arrived half an hour later looking utterly bewildered. Kirishima followed. He didn’t look confused, he looked terrified. Bakugou appeared last accompanied by Best Jeanist who nodded solemnly to his fellow heroes before settling in beside his intern. Said intern wore an expression constantly twisting between terror, rage, and disbelief. Kacchan muttered something under his breath. “What?” asked Uraraka, glaring at the Explosion wielder-why was she glaring?

Kacchan gave a pitifully half-hearted glare of his own then relented. “I said: good gods if you have any mercy at all, don’t let me lose another classmate.” Wait… did he mean Izuku? “What did you think I said?”

Uraraka winced. “Never mind. I’m sorry.” Kacchan grunted and looked pointedly away.

It had been more than twelve hours since Specter arrived when a doctor finally trudged out to tell Endeavour that his son was alive but unlikely to stay that way. Half the waiting room paled. Some whimpered. Specter took advantage of his incorporeal status to howl like a banshee. After everything he did, everything he tried to do, he was still a worthless waste of space, couldn’t even keep his friends alive.

Endeavour and Shouto’s older siblings followed the doctor into the ICU. Aizawa pinched his nose, sighing so deeply Specter swore the world shook. “It’s time for us to head home,” he informed his students. Everyone began to protest. “There is nothing to do here but drive yourselves mad worrying.” The instructor looked pleadingly at Best Jeanist who blinked, nodded, and aided Aizawa in shepherding his class out of the hospital. Specter stayed.

Chapter Text

He had made extensive inquiries, often at times when he would rather have been sleeping. Villains were experts at trash talk. Enji never listened. Usually, his enemies never had the chance to talk. He was good at his job; no one dared deny that, not that smiling idiot, All Might, not the press, not his family. He never let anyone or anything get to him, but somehow the words a blood-soaked child hissed to him in the dark hallways beneath UA’s festival stuck in his mind like glue. He ignored them for a whole week-anyone could know about Touya’s disappearance. It was in plenty of public records. The rest, maybe the kid just guessed… but the words refused to fade. “The only think you love is a number.” “You could have had everything if you hadn’t wanted it so much.” “You will still be number one when Touya kills you.” Enji had seen that last scenario plenty of times now in shadowy nightmares, a scarred figure clad in blue fire staring down at him with hyena eyes. “You have bred weapons where you should have raised children.”

Enji began his inquiries with midnight web searches and finished his inquiries at stupid o’clock in the morning with a phone call to Aizawa Shouta. Specter, though well known in certain circles, was by no means better known than any of the secretive underground heroes who attempted to track him, and Endeavour had, at first, no idea who it was that had stalked him down beneath UA. An internet search for “green haired ghost student UA” had turned up nothing, so he was out of luck on that front. Replacing student with “villain” provided many articles about a nasty piece of work serving life in Tartarus. Replacing villain with “hero” was close enough for the search engine to turn up a variety of useless garbage, and one brief blogpost about Specter, a vigilante called a hero by some.

From there, it was not difficult to find out who would know something at least about the transparent menace. Unfortunately, Eraserhead hadn’t known a thing about Specter’s prophetic ramblings. Even more unfortunately, the underground hero eventually learned the answers to Enji’s questions. “The prophecies are likely all true,” the exhausted voice told him over the phone. “Everything Specter told you has the potential to be true. It’s likely that his predictions about the future are subject to change.”

Enji didn’t know how to respond to that. He wanted to say something cutting, something to distract himself from the feeling of the ugly pit spreading through his chest. Feelings like that were useless, distractions, weaknesses, but sometimes when he closed his eyes “Is the world better for what you do?” still echoed through his mind. Of course it was. What kind of question was that? And yet… he ended his conversation with Aizawa not with a growl but with a short “Thank you for your help. Goodnight.”

Enji thought he heard Eraserhead mutter, “I wish it were a good night,” as he hung up, but the flame hero couldn’t be sure.

What now, then? Enji tried to find Touya. He couldn’t put the motivation into words, but he needed to find his child now. He had never stopped keeping an eye out for Touya, but he had long since given up on actively searching. After the Sports Festival he brought cold trails back to life. However, some people won’t turn up no matter how many resources you throw into finding them.

Days ran by like stand in an hourglass and internships began.

Shouto paced behind Enji grudgingly. Given their more… recent interactions… Enji wasn’t sure why his youngest had chosen to intern with him. Perhaps it was solely a matter of prestige. That was logical enough.

The sun had long since set and it was time to head back to the agency. Endeavour didn’t work much at night. The real heavy hitters, the truly dangerous villains that called for his attention, were more often active in the day because they wanted to be seen. The media-hounds were always the worst, killing and maiming just for a prime spot on the evening news. Enji gritted his teeth at the impolite inner voice which pointed out that he might fit the description of a media-hound every bit as well as the criminals he fought.

Endeavour’s earpiece crackled. “Boss, you need to take a look at this…” The city exploded into chaos.

As if the Nomu weren’t bad enough, small time villains took the opportunities provided by the anarchy running rampant in flaming Hosu City to carry out some full-scale pillage. Not all of the “small timers” were pushovers, though.

Enji wrestled a thirty-foot python woman to the ground with considerable difficulty, burning her enough to keep her in line as some nameless pro hero cuffed her. If Endeavour had known it was going to be this damn bad, he’d have sent Shouto back to his hotel room. Wait-where was Shouto?

The store front of a jewelry shop exploded in a tangle of glass, all of which melted at Enji’s behest long before it could do him any harm. The flame hero tackled the villain responsible, smashing the man’s head into the sidewalk. “Did you ever choose the wrong store,” he muttered to himself. Any other shop in the entire city and the moron would likely have gotten away with the robbery, but the unlucky idiot just had to leap into the street and land within reach Endeavour. From the muffled groan which sounded something like “you gotta’ be kiddin’ me” the irony was not lost on the robber.

Alright. Where was Shouto? Enji called for him, the roar clearly comprehensible even above the din of shouts, structural collapses and blazing buildings. No sign of his intern. Damn. This was a terrible place to be separated, not that Shouto couldn’t handle himself, but-Enji whirled around swinging a punch as someone grabbed his sleeve, but his fist went straight through the figure’s head.

Familiar, dead, green eyes looked up from a face coated in blood. “I found Shouto,” Specter said, voice strained with what, fear? “Come with me, quickly, please.” Before Enji could bark out the expected “Why should I?” Specter continued, “Quickly, please! It’s Stain!” The child took off running without waiting to see if the number two hero followed, which he did.

Finally taking down the Hero Killer would be a huge achievement if the little beast were telling the truth-Enji spat that thought out halfway through as it turned to ash. It was Stain, and he had two victims lying in bloody heaps in a nondescript alley away from the focus of the chaos. One was the pro hero Native, the other Shouto. Native might be dead already-it was hard to say, but Enji found that felt rather unimportant at the moment.

Stain stood with one foot on Shouto’s back, a sword in one hand, ready to finish his work with a coup de grace-the only thing that had stopped him, delayed him a few precious seconds, was Specter clawing and biting at his arm. “We both know you’ve not the strength left to stop me, kid,” Stain told the child deadpan before firmly gripping an, apparently, solid wrist and tossing the vigilante aside like a sack of potatoes.

The Hero Killer raised his blade, and Endeavour slide tackled him-his vision glowing red, and not just from the light of his flames. “Don’t let him drink your blood!” Specter hollered from the patch of trash bags in which Stain’s throw had buried him. Enji barely heard him. Stain was good, frighteningly good, but no one on earth was good enough to compensate for blades warping and melting as they drew near enough to land a hit. Whatever plan the Hero Killer had that involved drinking blood was thwarted by the skyrocketing ambient air temperature. Enji had no time for this. No time for games. So what if he killed this bastard? How dare he… Enji grappled Stain into an arm lock, then a headlock, then slammed the villain face-first into the ground and stomped on him for good measure before cuffing Stain’s hands and feet. Always carry at least two pairs of handcuffs.

That took too damn long-Shouto-

Specter had flipped Enji’s unconscious child onto his back, revealing the dreadful slash across Shouto's chest and stomach from which dark blood welled up like water from a hot spring. Apparently at a loss for better material to stem the bleeding, the ghost had dragged a cushion off an abandoned chair and was attempting to manhandle it into place. The cushion, however, kept phasing through the vigilante’s hands as Specter whimpered in mortified frustration. Too exhausted to maintain any semblance of a corporeal form?

Enji barked an order for an ambulance over his earpiece then lunged to his son’s side, taking the cushion from the trembling ghost and applying pressure. Enji stared at Specter’s eyes, cold as foggy hell, at his blood-stained chest, skin corpse pale, at his twisted hand, and then imagined Shouto’s mismatched eyes fogged over like that-imagined his son wearing that bleach-bone skin, sporting those blue lips and nailbeds. Enji shuddered, screaming in fury to hide his weakness from the world. “What happened here?”

Specter swayed on his feet, nearly too tired to stand back up. “He heard the screams and came to help,” Specter rasped. “I saw-but I couldn’t help. Even if I weren’t exhausted, Stain isn’t someone I can beat, so I found you.” Damn crazy vigilante. It would do no good to hit the ghost, no matter how angry Enji was and… although the pro steadfastly refused to acknowledge it right now, he owed this menace. No hitting Specter, then. Enji could get up and kick Stain again instead, but Shouto was more important and it wasn’t the Hero Killer Endeavour raged at now, was it? He’d already beaten the bastard to a pulp for what he did.

Might as well ask something logical, then. “Is Native still alive?”

Specter nodded listlessly. “Just knocked out. Seems stable.” The flashing lights of an ambulance tore aside the darkness of the alley. Specter murmured, “I’ve gotta’ leave. Please be alright,” and vanished.

Enji definitely owed the ghost a thank you, but he doubted he would ever be calm enough to deliver it in person. Dozens of distracting emotions tangled up his chest in a knot that would have to be cut free-attempting to untie it would be futile.

The paramedics rushed Endeavour and he forced himself to relinquish Shouto to them. It wasn’t his weapon that he handed over to them, it was his child, and he must be thick skulled if it took seeing Shouto bleeding to death while the soul-chilling image of a dead boy looked on to remind him what it meant to care about someone.

There was blood on Enji’s hands and fire in his veins, and not from his quirk. Hellfire he called his quirk, but he was only now learning what real hellfire felt like. His child’s blood dripped off his hands and the ambulance slammed its doors, siren blaring as it took off into the night with two unconscious passengers.

What if he never saw Shouto alive again? When was the last time he said anything nice to his child? Did anything nice? Anything that wasn’t cruel? He envied Specter then for the ghost's ability to vanish into thin air. The burning in Enji’s skin rooted him to the ground, kept at bay any thought of returning to the chaos of Hosu, a city that needed all the help it could get. Maybe he could just die instead, make a bargain with the universe. Let Shouto walk away, let Stain stab Enji in his child’s stead. At least then he wouldn’t feel like this.

“It’s not worth it,” whispered Specter, fading in and out of reality to his left. The ghost looked like a broken television screen, marred by static and dark patches.

“What?” Enji snapped.

“Dying like that,” the boy said, slowly shaking his head. Had Enji expressed that death wish aloud? Ugh. “It doesn’t solve anything.”

The child vanished, this time for good, leaving Endeavour to pick his way through the physical and mental shards of Hosu city. There were Nomu to kill and fires to attend, but Shouto's father still found himself collapsed in a chair in the hospital’s soft-white waiting room long before the surgeons had any news.

Chapter Text

The flash of a blade-silver even in the dim light. A crooked smile. One step back, now two. Red-hot pain across his face-no. Across his chest-a screech of agony that might be his-someone being torn to bits and devoured-it’s him. A thousand teeth rip his stomach open. His vision blurs red. The street meets his face. Cold. Colder than he’s ever been, like there’s never been heat in the world. Darkness leeching through every crack in his shadowy awareness-chains binding his wrists and ankles, too heavy to carry above the surface.

Shouto dragged his eyes open. A rhythmic beep sounded in his ears. It was already driving him crazy. Everything ached. Even raising an eyelid was a nearly insurmountable task… and he had more sharp, pointy things in him than a pincushion. An oxygen mask covered his mouth and nose. His throat ached especially fiercely-he had probably been on a ventilator for a while…

Shouto’s father was passed out in a heap in a hospital chair which was much too small to accommodate Endeavour’s huge frame. It was comical on some level. Shouto snorted and coughed, a spike of white-hot steel piercing through his chest and stomach.

Endeavour’s eyes snapped open. “Shouto.” He tried to open his mouth. “Don’t speak. You’re lucky to be alive.” Lucky to be alive? Just how badly had he been hurt? The end of the fight with Stain was murky… “I tracked down an old classmate with a healing quirk,” Shouto’s father continued, which was rather out of character, but any distraction was welcome. “And paid him an obscene amount of money to come down from the Swiss Alps and fly here to help you. I may have also begged him and threatened his pets.” That… sort of sounded like his father? Threatening pets did. Begging did not. “You need to rest still. Go back to sleep.” Well… he didn’t feel like arguing today. “We’ll talk more tomorrow. A number of your classmates have asked after you. Some will want to see you in the next few days if you can handle that…” Endeavour said a few more things, but they all slipped from Shouto’s mind before he could analyze them. Why was his father being a decent person?

When Shouto next drifted awake, his eyelids were not so heavy and his father was still there in the little chair, this time doing paperwork. “What were you thinking?” his father said. Ah. That was more like it. “You could have died. You would have died if it weren’t for the crazy ghost.” Huh? Oh. Specter. “If I had been-not thirty-even ten seconds later you and Native would both be dead and Stain would have been long gone. You’re no good to anyone dead, Shouto.” Endeavour abruptly got to his feet and stalked out into the hall leaving Shouto in miserable silence. Even when he lay in agony in a crisp hospital bed, his father still ripped his teeth into him. Couldn’t he have a break?

“Don’t listen to any of that crap, Shouto.” What? Who? The dual-quirk wielder tilted his head with aching effort and found Specter perched on his windowsill. “He’s just saying that and making a run for it because he didn’t want you to see that he was crying.”

What? “What?” Shouto choked out, sounding like a strangled pangolin.

Specter nodded. And maybe Shouto ought to feel more nervous about the vigilante being in his room. “He was worried to pieces and absolutely miserable.” Specter looked like he was still worried to pieces and absolutely miserable. “He thought you were going to die. Everyone thought you were going to die.” Specter was crying now, too.

Why did this kid even care? They’d only met once before… it hardly seemed worth camping out in his hospital room. “Why’re you here?”

Specter looked shocked. “I was there. And I couldn’t help and… you’re my friend, even if I’m not your friend, and it doesn’t do anyone any good that I’m here but whenever I leave all I can think about is ‘What if he’s dead when I come back?’”

Shouto blinked. His father was crying and a vague acquaintance, too. Over him. How was he supposed to handle this? “Not gonna’ die.” And it was overwhelming to think he nearly had, that a few seconds was all that separated him from never having this conversation, from never having any conversation ever again. How could he even process that? It all seemed surreal, still. Maybe he actually had died and nothing here was actually happening at all. How would he know?

“Good!” Specter interrupted Shouto's spiraling thoughts then started as a knock resounded through the small room. “I’ll give you privacy.” The ghost stepped through the wall. Natsuo and Fuyumi lunged at Shouto shouting incoherent things. He tried to reassure them amidst the reprimands, the pleas, the sobs. He promised “not to do that ever again” to be “more damn careful” to “think of himself and them” and “take it easy.”

Classmates started visiting the next day. Shouto was never very… friendly in class. He didn’t really know how to be friendly, but had a steady stream of visitors none the less. The most memorable was Iida who begged his forgiveness for… something. Shouto didn’t really understand what was going on with his engine-quirked classmate. Endeavour came back to see him after two days, although Shouto had seen his father lingering vigilantly in the hallway several times when classmates entered and exited.

Endeavour again took a seat in a comically small plastic chair. Father and son stared at each other. “Shouto, do you want to be a hero?”

Shouto coughed. “What?” was his father doubting him after his injury? Had he given up on him? Decided he was broken now? Seen him starting awake from nightmares filled to the brim with maze-like alleyways and glittering swords and decided he wasn't worth the effort?

“What do you want to do with your life, Shouto?”

“Uhhh…” that had… never been a factor in his decision making before, not really. “Why?”

“You might say I had some small revelation when the surgeon told me you would almost certainly be dead the next time I saw you." Shouto shuddered despite himself at the thought of surgeons pawing through his chest and stomach trying to piece flesh together. His father paused, waiting for Shouto to regather some composure. "Numbers don’t fix stab wounds. I could be number one, you could be number one, All Might could be number one, and you would still be dying. I stood there trying to think of the last time I said something nice to you, and I couldn’t recall. I realized that I don’t really know who you are… or who I am for that matter.” There was a surreal silence. “So do you want this life, Shouto? Do you want to be a hero?”

Still too proud to apologize… but his father had never spoken like this to him before. “I’ll… think about what I want.”

“Please do. And whatever you decide I…” Endeavour turned away to hide his twisted expression. “I would like to know. I would like to know who you are.”

 

 

Todoroki looked no worse for the wear, aloof and professional as always, but Tsuyu knew a poker face when she saw one. No one goes through something like that and stays the same. The teenage glacier summoner was only alive now because his father had somehow managed to lure a reclusive, literal necromancer halfway across the world. There were injuries conventional healing quirks could not help with-repairing damaged organs, regenerating appendages-and the specialists who could do such things were few, far between, prone to failure, and plagued by catches in their quirks’ functions. As such, it was impossible for normal people to get a hold of professionals with such skills-even high-ranking heroes often couldn’t get a hold of them. Rumor had it Endeavour had offered an old friend more than two million euros to come to Japan and try to save his child.

Iida couldn’t meet Todoroki’s eyes. Most people didn’t notice, but Tsuyu wasn’t most people. She heard the high pitch in Iida’s voice whenever he spoke to his dual-quirked classmate. She saw the guilt in Iida’s twisted expressions but couldn’t understand it. Iida’s emotions about Stain were bound to be complicated after what happened to his brother, but why would he feel guilty?

Some walked on eggshells around Todoroki, afraid to reopen some barely sealed wound. Others tried, valiantly, to act like nothing had happened, Kirishima and Tsuyu among them. She didn’t want to constantly remind him of his recent trauma by acting strange. Bakugou yelled at Todoroki once and then stopped talking to him at all, acting like the ice wielder didn’t exist, but treating him like glass during sparring in an incredible contrast to his conduct during the Sports Festival. The class tried to “get back to normal” but “normal” proved subjective and elusive, especially given what happened during hand-to-hand sparing two days later.

The class watched each match, paying close attention as Aizawa gave feedback. It was hard to tell, as Todoroki and Sero danced around each other on the well-trod grass, whether the dual-quirked student was in pain or simply being careful, but either way Sero managed a few good hits, Todoroki leaping back each time, until the two tumbled to the grass, wrestling.

Torn clothing was commonplace in heroics class, but it was unusual for someone to have his shirt shredded entirely. However, when Sero taped Todoroki’s side to the ground-by accident as this was supposed to be quirkless combat training-and the ice wielder rolled to his feet, the fabric of his gym uniform tore with a growl.

Tsuyu didn’t mean to stare at the scar, but it was impossible to turn away. Ropey white lines snaked insidiously from Todoroki’s collarbone across his chest and down his stomach. It was a thick, irregular scar as if the skin had been shattered rather than sliced. Tsuyu shuddered and ripped her gaze away by force. Silence. “Todoroki,” Aizawa broke the glass atmosphere, “you may go get a new shirt.”

Todoroki strode stiffly away, hiding the token of his mauling like it was something to be ashamed of. Class resumed awkwardly. Kirishima, Yaoyorozu, Iida, and Bakugou were completely off their games, with Iida and Bakugou appearing to approach nervous breakdowns. Aizawa definitely noticed, and he noticed Tsuyu noticing him notice.

Tsuyu found Todoroki after class. He lingered in a shadowy corner in a manner reminiscent of something Tokoyami might do on a particularly emo day. Mismatched eyes met Tsuyu’s unblinking gaze. “Did you need something?” her classmate asked.

“I was at sea during internships.”

“Yes…?”

“So I haven’t had the opportunity to speak to you after Hosu. I wanted to tell you that I am very sorry for what happened to you and I am very glad you’re alright.” Tsuyu couldn’t even imagine what it would be like for her class… and for the country… if Todoroki had died in Hosu. Endeavour had been acting… very strange since his son's injury, quiet, and it seemed to have rubbed off on some other famous pros, too. Tsuyu had seen some very odd interviews in the last few weeks.

“Why?”

“What? Ribbit?”

“Why does everyone care?”

“Todoroki…?” What was that supposed to mean?

The glacier caller shook his hair out in a candy cane halo, raking nails at his face. “I hide in the back of class, say a word here and there-can’t remember the last pleasant, polite conversation I had with a classmate, or anyone really-and suddenly everyone’s so worried about me they’re falling all over each other! Why does anyone even care?”

So… he was a little cold. Some people are just like that. Did Todoroki just… think himself part of the furniture somehow? Having a restrained personality didn’t make someone a robot-a robot would never accuse Dark Shadow of being an eldritch horror, claim the 2087 Federal Reserve Heist was an inside job, or suggest Edgeshot was part of the Illuminati. A robot would not ask Tsuyu whether she hatched form an egg (no). She’d been asked before, but usually by prejudiced jerks, never by someone who was just curious and neutrally polite.

Tsuyu reached very slowly, placed a hand on one of Todoroki’s shoulders, one on his back, and pulled him into a hug. “Please don’t talk about yourself like that, kero. You’re a person, not a thing. You’re our classmate, part of our lives, and we care about you.” Tsuyu slowly released her stunned classmate, whose face revealed a storm of emotional turmoil. “I’m glad you came back, too. Some people would have dropped out of the hero course after experiencing something that terrible. You’re very brave to return, kero.”

Todoroki whispered, “I do want to be a hero.”

“Ribbit?”

“My father… asked me if I wanted to be a hero-when I was recovering, I mean. He never… no one ever asked before, but I realized I do. I do want to be a hero.” A light of fiery determination broke through the storm of chaos in Todoroki’s gaze. “I do want to be the best I can be, but more that that I want to see a world without people like Stain in it,” he spat the Hero Killer’s name with disdain, but his face grimaced into something akin to shame. “I want… to be someone people can look up to, someone worth caring about… someone who cares about others in return.” Tsuyu’s classmate shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “It’s just… there’re so many things flying around in my head and everyone stares and whispers and I…”

Tsuyu hugged him again. “You can’t expect things to go back to normal, kero. This is really hard on you. It’s hard on us, too. In a few weeks, things will settle down.” Hopefully. “Give yourself some time. Give us some time, too.”

Todoroki hesitantly returned Tsuyu’s embrace. It was like he’d never given a hug before. “I think I can do that,” he muttered.

“Good. Take care of yourself, kero, and remember,” she wasn’t completely sure if she had seen that flash of shame or not, but if she had she ought to crush it with a sledgehammer and if not, it did no harm to say this, “you didn’t do anything wrong. You are not somehow bad or weak because you were hurt. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Take care of yourself, kero.”

Todoroki stiffened as her words registered but then relaxed. Apparently, she had seen that flash of shame after all. Tsuyu imagined she would have to remind her friend several times that there was no reason for it. Why do the victims of the most heinous crimes always feel guilty and the perpetrators proud? Power, perhaps. The perpetrators take pride in their ability to do to others as they please. The victims are ashamed that they could not defend themselves. It is a flaw in the human psyche, one that Tsuyu would stomp flat into the ground like a pancake-or something thinner than a pancake. A crepe maybe.

The two classmates walked to the gates together, silently at first, but gradually they began to talk again. They chatted about useless things: class, news, weather, rumors. Apparently the 1-B copycat, Monoma, had been spending extra time training with Kayama and other students were-only somewhat in jest-commenting on his potential as a future 18+ hero. “It seems a bit early for him to make such a decision,” Todoroki pointed out.

“When did Midnight get her R rating, kero? Did she debut that way? I have no idea.”

It was nice. Tsuyu was somewhat disappointed when they parted ways.

Chapter Text

Abandoned churches were mystical places. There was always something mysterious in the air, a quiet kind of almost insidious energy. Candles fluttered in the breeze drifting through a tall, broken window of once impressive stained glass. Shadows danced in the bloody firelight. There was no atmosphere quite like this, no substitute. Fumikage could spend hours here thinking, reading, writing. For whatever reason, this mostly abandoned building was reasonably clean and, apparently, rarely visited by anyone else. Fumikage was very lucky to have found it.

Dark Shadow twisted and leaned to read over Fumikage’s shoulder, gently running claws through his partner’s feather crest. The preening was appreciated. “Are you done with this page?” his shadow asked and Fumikage flipped to the next section. “The Fall of the House of Usher” was an intriguing read, perfect for the current atmosphere.

A door squealed open and crashed closed. Fumikage looked up, his partner tensing on his shoulder. “Oh! Sorry… I’ll be going,” said the visitor’s voice from the dark.

“You have every right to be here,” Fumikage protested. The speaker sounded young, likely near his own age. This was public space… Fumikage need not be unfriendly, although he ought to be wary.

Quiet steps approached. A blood-soaked figure stepped past the pews and towards the old altar of ebony and stainless-steel inlay. Dark Shadow hissed softly. Fumikage shushed his partner. The gore spattered apparition stared at the altar and at the broken stained glass beyond as if all the universe’s mysteries were hidden there. “Are you injured?” Fumikage asked at last.

“No,” the apparition replied. Dark Shadow stretched out slowly, approaching the figure curiously. The stranger and the familiar stared at each other.

“I like him!” Dark Shadow said abruptly. “He fits the atmosphere.”

The apparition blinked. “Uhh… excuse me?”

“We’re reading Edgar Allan Poe… and ghost stories,” Fumikage said, trying to hide his embarrassment. This was, perhaps, a really strange thing to be doing in an abandoned cathedral in the middle of the night, and it was awkward to admit to someone who looked so much like a ghost. “Sorry about out lack of tact.” Because it was never just his familiar’s lack of tact but his own as well.

Surprisingly, the stranger’s forlorn expression quirked into a half smile. “It’s alright. I like you, too…” the teenager seemed to think for a moment about what to call Dark Shadow, “pretty bird. You also fit the atmosphere.” Pretty bird? Well, Fumikage supposed that was an apt description. His familiar was very pretty, ferocious, too.

“I do fit,” agreed the familiar. “I’m even spookier than you!”

Fumikage was accustomed to conversations going off the rails in interesting ways when he and Dark Shadow became involved, but this was a new level of strange. For once, neither he nor his familiar was the (sole) cause. “You are both very spooky.”

“Thanks. I think,” the stranger murmured.

“What brings you here?” Dark Shadow continued.

The apparition shrugged. “I needed somewhere to think about things…”

“We’ll leave you to it, then,” Fumikage shouldn’t let Dark Shadow bother the stranger, however the current conversation refused to die.

“About?” asked the familiar.

“Death,” the apparition provided. “And life, I suppose, and things in between.”

Dark Shadow puffed up at the mention of “things in between.” “Like me!” he declared, obviously delighted.

“You don’t think you’re alive?” the apparition, in stark contrast, spoke in a painfully sad whimper.

“Nope! No breath, no heart,” the familiar tapped his chest with a claw for emphasis. “I share with him,” Dark Shadow indicated Fumikage, “and I wouldn’t want anything else. He’s mine. And I’m his. And we like it that way. Who needs a life?”

“I miss mine,” said the stranger, the tone chilling Fumikage more than any of Poe’s lilting, macabre words.

The familiar cocked his head. “Oh? What happened to it?”

“Dark Shadow!” Fumikage hissed because that was enough and this conversation should really end now.

“He… I mean… I threw it away,” the apparition bowed his head.

Fumikage froze in place at the implication. Was any of this real? Maybe he’d fallen asleep on his book-it could all be a dream. He didn’t… well he did believe in ghosts, but didn’t really expect to ever see one. Could he believe in this bloodied echo of a teenager who took his own life?

“Why? If you liked it?” Dark Shadow cocked his head.

“He… I didn’t though… I was miserable all the time and thought… but it didn’t make anything better…”

“Are you a ghost?” Fumikage heard himself ask.

“I am.”

“That’s perfect!” Dark Shadow decided. “Come here! Come read ghost stories with us! It will be so much better with the real thing standing right here!”

The ghost and Fumikage blinked at each other, then the apparition shrugged. “I don’t have anywhere better to be…?”

Somehow Fumikage couldn’t stomach chasing the ghost away now. Why should he? Why not give some comfort when he could? He did not believe the apparition to be dangerous. And Dark Shadow was right, in a sense, that reading ghost stories with a ghost was a timeless opportunity. “Have you ever read “The Raven?””

The whole experience was surreal-a sentient shadow, a ghost, and a bird-headed teenager reading gothic horror by flickering candle light in an abandoned cathedral. If it weren’t for Dark Shadow’s assurances that he, too, remembered, Fumikage might well have written the events off as nothing more than fantasy.

 

 

When Todoroki returned to class, he awkwardly shuffled around his classmates and collapsed gracelessly into his desk. The young man was swarmed instantly by well-wishing, occasional admonishments (namely Bakugou yelling “Don’t you dare ever lose that bad again half and half! You hear me?”) and apologies (namely Iida, who, it seemed, blamed himself because he should have been there, he should have been the one maimed or killed-Shouta would have to talk with him again, and probably his brother, too). Many students walked on eggshells around their recovering classmate. Bakugou usually pretended Todoroki didn’t exit. A new routine was established, bit by bit. The echoes would be slow to fade, however, and Shouta would have to keep a close eye on his students. He kept a close eye on his vigilante, too.

The ghost was very sneaky-easy when one was transparent and incorporeal on demand, but he was also nice, very nice. Shouta was nearly certain that Specter had never followed him home after a patrol-though he used to take roundabout routes to try to lose his hypothetical, invisible pursuer-and thus Specter assumed that Shouta would extend the vigilante the same courtesy. As such, Specter had not bother to disappear again after punching a would-be jewel thief in the nose while Shouta was otherwise engaged.

From rooftop to rooftop Eraserhead crept, careful not to let so much as the squeak of a boot reach his quarry’s ears. Down another set of crooked streets, another left. Specter was distracted-visible but not tangible, wandering through solid objects, cars, trees… crying? Yes, Specter always wore his emotions on his (bloody) sleeves, but this seemed… different.

Shouta wasn’t concerned. He really wasn’t. A rain cloud gravitated over Specter’s head and began to pour icy water, the cloud extending in a ten-meter radius. So, Specter exerted significant local control over the weather, but not always consciously. Where was the kid even headed? Huh. A graveyard.

Old vines wrapped around an arching entrance of steel and stone which clearly conveyed “abandon all hope” to those who entered. Well, a rain storm was fitting for a graveside visit. Shouta stayed well clear, hidden by the shadow of a towering conifer, as Specter knelt before a lonely grave, running his now solid fingers over the name and allowing the rain to touch his hair so that the strands plastered onto his face. The green locks turned dark, near black, under the onslaught. Specter waited. Shouta waited. An hour passed. Two hours. Just go already. Leave and let Shouta see whose grave you knelt before, then let Shouta go home and sleep.

Specter got to his feet and trudged away still crying. Twenty minutes was enough time to be sure the kid was gone. What was the point in collecting information on someone if the other party knew you knew? Shouta made his way to the headstone. “May you find peace from your darkness… Midoriya Izuku. Now who were you to Specter?”

It was child’s play to find out. An internet search for the late child turned up an article series in a regional paper about quirk discrimination, bullying, and neglect in public schools. “… Despite complaints and numerous, obvious infractions, no action was taken by school administration or staff until the tragic suicide of quirkless senior Midoriya Izuku who jumped from the roof…”

Shouta grimaced. Sad deaths were a part of life for heroes, especially underground operators. Pointless deaths were common enough, too, but the suicide of a child never ceased to be a soul-crushing moment, as if the gates of Heaven had been thrown asunder and the only revelation to follow was “there is nothing here at all; there is no Heaven and Hell is on Earth.” It was physically painful to read the article.

No students were named as “bullies,” but Shouta found Bakugou peeking out from one photograph of a bustling hallway, a snarl on the student’s face and explosions on his palms. What were the odds that Shouta would find that problem child here? And Specter should be here, too. No one sobs before the grave of a stranger. Friend? Family? The article was no help. Midoriya’s fate was only a few paragraphs… a few paragraphs to sum up a whole life-sometimes Shouta hated his job.

The pro logged into the police database and pulled up the report on the suicide of Midoriya Izuku. Green hair, green eyes, five-foot-one-no. It couldn’t be. That didn’t make any damn sense. He scrolled to the identification section-a school photo on display-and Specter smiled at Shouta from the screen, eyes bright like emeralds-but that grin seemed fake. Obviously fake.

No. It just couldn’t be. Autopsy report-definitely Midoriya Izuku, definitely dead, definitely suicide. Security cameras at the school caught the jump-this was impossible! Or was it? “I’m a ghost.” Specter said that was his quirk. Did he mean it literally? It hadn’t even seemed a possibility-laughable at best. Not even Nedzu had suggested such a thing when they discussed the vigilante, but it was definitely Specter in those photos.

Shouta slammed his forehead into his desk, cringing against the grainy wood. “Of all the damn heroes in the whole damn world he has to choose me to follow around?” Because what was Shouta even supposed to do? To say? What consolation can you give to a kid who took his own life because his classmates tortured him day in and out? What can you offer? Hell, Shouta liked Specter. There. He admitted it-pure heart, stands by his friends, works carefully and quietly-but he did not want to deal with this unholy mess!

Shouta went through the motions of his lesson plan. Yaoyorozu, Asui, and Shinsou definitely noticed he wasn’t all with them, but it seemed the other students were fooled-no, Kirishima had caught on, too. Oh well.

Bakugou and Midoriya went to the same school. Maybe Bakugou knew him? Shouta could ask, but under what pretense? That death investigation was long closed. He could say they were reopening it… which in effect they were because the kid clearly didn’t stay dead. What an unspeakable legal mess it would be to get Midoriya back into the “normal” population… after Shouta caught up with him and tamed him, that was, and convinced him to turn his… new life around. Hell, the kid was legally dead. Did that mean he’d never have to pay taxes? Not such a bad deal, perhaps-no. No jokes about this. Too sad for jokes.

“Bakugou,” Shouta called, gesturing for his student to remain as the others filed out. The bleach blonde grimaced and stayed. “I presume the answer is no, but it would be useful for a reopened investigation if you happened to have known Midoriya Izuku?”

Bakugou stiffened, his face flying through a thousand different emotions-pain, anger, misery, guilt, fear, despair-before settling on hopeless. Yeah, Bakugou definitely knew the kid. The blonde seemed to consider lying then sighed at the futility-Bakugou knew he hadn’t schooled his expression enough for a lie to be believable. “Yeah. I knew him, but I wish I hadn’t.”

What was that supposed to mean? “Why?”

“’Cause I’m a bastard, and he had enough problems without me.”

“Language. Mind telling me a bit about Midoriya?” Where was this conversation going? Nowhere good, clearly, but anything would be helpful. They would come back to the “bastard” comment later.

Bakugou visibly winced. “We were neighbors, inseparable before they found out he was quirkless,” or rather had an invisible quirk. The kid was as far from quirkless as All Might. “He always wanted to be a hero. Never gave up hope until… well I guess he did give up in the end. He was shy, stuttered a lot. Really brave, stupidly so, at least when we were young, though I think we all beat that out of him.” “We all”-so Bakugou had been a tormentor rather than an ally. Not really surprising-disappointing though-and that explained the guilty look that had flashed across the student’s face and the “bastard” comment. “Didn’t beat the smarts out of him, though. The nerd was clever, really clever, liked to watch heroes and villains fight and take notes on them-abilities, strategies, the works. I… have his last notebook, actually. He… dropped it and… never came back for it.” Bakugou grimaced. “Damn, I should really give it to his mom… but he saw things I didn’t even imagine could be there, made leaps where I couldn’t even find the starting line, and you know I’m no slouch. Brilliant nerd.” With a hunch of his shoulders, the student spat, “Dead, brilliant nerd.”

The analysis skills definitely fit, then. Always wanted to be a hero? That fit, too. Being dead did restrict one’s access to higher education, and vigilantism was an attractive alternative when hero programs were out of reach. “Did Midoriya have family?”

Bakugou nodded. “Dad was a deadbeat-took off when we were around five. Mother is Midoriya Inko. Lives across the street from me, still. No siblings, no cousins, uncles, or aunts that I know of.” Why wouldn’t Specter return to his mother? That was a hard thing to comprehend-or did he live with her now? Did she know her son wasn’t really dead, that he was the new vigilante in town? But Specter had made it clear he was homeless, and Shouta was sure he hadn’t lied. So why not go home? Did Midoriya Inko not know about her son or did she not want him around? Or did he not want to live with her for some reason? Bakugou waited as Shouta mulled over his seemingly endless stack of problems and riddles. “If you’re gonna expel me just do it already!”

Raising an eyebrow, Shouta asked, “And why should I expel you?” though he could guess.

“’Cause it was my fault!”

It wouldn't do to have Bakugou think that. Being a bully was not the same as being a murderer. “Oh? Did you push Midoriya off the roof?”

“No!”

“Tell him to jump?”

“Yes!”

Oh. Shouta’d expected a “no” there. The two stared at each other for a tense twenty seconds. Shouta, of course, never lost a staring contest. Bakugou blinked and turned away. All these problem children. Oh hell, what was he supposed to do about this one? A lot of Bakugou’s behavior made much more sense upon finally discovering this bloody puzzle piece. “No. I’m not going to expel you. I’d tell you to go home and think about what you’ve done, but it’s pretty clear you’ve been thinking too much already. Thank you for your help, Bakugou.” The blonde left, shoulders hunched and head bowed. A dead, kid vigilante and the one who blamed himself for that death-what vengeful god had Shouta wronged? “What am I going to do with either of you?”

Chapter Text

Who was this scruffy man? He looked like he hadn’t slept in a week or showered in days. And that scarf was bizarre. Inko cautiously opened her door. “Midoriya Inko?”

“This is she?”

The man pulled a pro hero liscence from… some pocket. Aizawa Shouta, Eraserhead. What could he want with her? “May I speak with you briefly, ma’am?”

“Of course. Come in.” What else could she say? “No. Please leave. I am tired and miserable and lonely and wish to remain so” probably wouldn’t go over well. The hero she had never heard of stepped deftly into her home, bloodshot eyes scanning everything. She should offer tea, even if she just wanted this to be over. “Would you like some tea?”

“Not today. Thank you, but I should not trouble you long.”

Good. “What is this about, Eraserhead?”

“I am part of a confidential investigation into a vigilante called Specter.” What did that have to do with her? “We have reason to believe that your son knew him.”

Inko froze, like she did anytime someone mentioned Izuku, unable to grasp even at the strings of a reply. “How…?”

The hero sighed. “It’s complicated… and unpleasant. You certainly have more than your share of unpleasant already, so I’ll spare you the details.”

Inko shuddered. “Now I’ll just imagine them-that will be worse.”

The hero shook his head. “Details involving Specter are unpleasant, not details involving Midoriya Izuku. I apologize for giving you that impression, and I apologize for what you have been through.”

Not “sorry for your loss.” Strange. It was nice to hear something other than that tired cliché. “What did you need from me then?”

“If you could tell me about your son, please.” Blink. Tell what? Apparently, she was easy to read. “Just about what kind of person he was. Where he went. What he liked to do… if it is too unpleasant of course-”

“No. No.” Inko missed Izuku. Constantly. Loved him. Wanted to talk about him. “I knew he was unhappy,” no, don’t start there. “He always wanted to be a hero. He was quirkless, but never stopped dreaming. He used to watch fights and take notes.” She still had those notebooks of course. Aha. Here was one, on the side table. She handed it over. The hero narrowed his eyes, flipping through the pages before handing it back. “He really admired All Might, but what child doesn’t?” There was so much more to say, but how could she distill down fourteen years into a few sentences? All she had of him were words now. “He was a sweetheart. He would never leave someone in pain. He would always try to help, no matter who it was. He’d die before he left someone to suffer.” And he had died. And left her to suffer. All the pain could be boxed, tied shut with a ribbon and a fake smile, but of all the things she hid and hid from, she could not hide the shame. What sort of parent was she? You could fail your child a thousand ways, but to fail so miserably as to see your baby’s funeral? Worthless. She was worthless. How could she have never understood? Why didn’t she notice? Why didn’t she do something? She was crying now, too. What a mess. “I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” There seemed to be a lot of meaning wrapped up in that sentence. Something else was going on here. “I do apologize for upsetting you. Can you tell me about any of his friends? Enemies if he had any?”

There was a hole too deep to crawl out of. Inko’s breath hitched. “He always acted like he was still friends with Bakugou Katsuki, but I could at least see that for a lie. I don’t think,” and lord it was hard to choke out, “that he really had anyone but me.” But… there were all those others at the funeral, people whose lives he brightened if ever so slightly. “Some of the staff at his school, some workers at nearby shops, knew him… but I know, I knew he was ostracized by his classmates.”

But there wasn’t much she could do, especially when he wouldn’t talk about it-protecting her-always putting others first. He hid his pain from her to spare her and let it eat him alive rather than ask for help. Why couldn’t he be selfish just once? Just selfish enough to be selfless? Why couldn’t he see how she suffered from his secrets? Why couldn’t he think of her-the thousand tears she shed for every drop of his blood-but that was nonsense. She had no right to feel this way, no right to be angry with him anymore than if he were killed in a car accident. It was not his shame, not his fault. Repeat it. Stop blaming yourself. Stop blaming him. Have respect. For the living. For the dead.

The pro hero sighed. “There are countless empty platitudes I could offer you, but they don’t seem worth the time it takes to say them.” That was new. He was right, though, and she’d heard them all before. Everyone spat those hollow phrases, feeling they had to say something-but words couldn’t serve these morbid purposes. Silence conveyed the meaning better. “Thank you for speaking with me.”

A few last niceties were exchanged and the hero departed. Silence. It stretched through the house, through a sealed, dusty room where a child once lived, through her bones, through her mind. No more words.

 

 

“Damn,” he recognized the boy now as Aizawa handed over Specter's thick folder. Things hadn't clicked when Toshinori saw the vigilante at the USJ, but the boy's middle school photo was easily recognizable. Midoriya Izuku… Toshinori must have met him days… maybe hours… before he killed himself.

“You know him?” Aizawa narrowed his eyes. No one should be able to glare like that. Toshinori might deserve it this time, though.

“I met him once,” how could he explain this? Yet another child he couldn’t save, didn’t realize needed saving. “I saved him from a villain…” The kid fought like a devil, not that it made a difference-the slime would have certainly killed him, but it wasn’t-it wasn’t what? Florescent lights buzzed and a clock ticked. He was taking too much time to answer. “He asked me if he could be a hero even if he were quirkless.” Go for honesty. It’s worse to cover it up, and Aizawa is never fooled. “I told him no.” Aizawa narrowed his bloodshot eyes even further. “I also told him he was brave and would make a fine detective or EMT… I didn’t want to lie, Aizawa. Maybe some quirkless people have what it takes but he was small, light, not a trained fighter. I didn’t want to send him on a hopeless quest that would-” get him killed. Ugh. Heroes led very dangerous lives even with powerful quirks, but this poor boy would have been infinitely better off if Toshinori had spouted some inspirational nonsense about how “anyone can be a hero.”

Aizawa snarled. Toshinori sighed. He didn’t know what he should have said. All Might was supposed to be fearless, perfect almost, to always know what to say, what to do, but “I am here” doesn’t always cut it. “What should I have said, Aizawa?”

The underground hero started, narrowed his eyes further still- right down to pin-point slits, but it was clear Aizawa didn’t know, either. “He needed someone to tell him heroes aren’t all there is to life. We aren’t.” Aizawa curled his fingers around a pencil and squeezed until it snapped. “Someone to tell him he wasn’t worthless.”

Toshinori bowed his head-a few moments of silence then, for a lost child, and for the society that lost him. It might feel like this death was all Toshinori’s fault, but he knew it wasn’t. He had just played the role of the hundredth and final nail in the coffin. What makes humans treat each other so cruelly? Send each other to their undeserving, young graves? Decades fighting alongside heroes against villains and natural disasters, seeing the very worst and the very best humanity had to offer, and he still couldn’t hope to understand why people did the things they did.

It might be an irresponsible segue but why not get all the unpleasant conversations out of the way right now? “I suppose I could have told him I was born quirkless, too.”

It was Aizawa’s turn to cough in shock, although the younger man didn’t go so far as to cough up blood. “What? You’re not quirkless, what are you-”

“Not anymore. My quirk can be passed on from person to person.” He’d thought about approaching students without Aizawa’s permission, but dark and grouchy as the teacher might be, he had an unshakable devotion to his pupils and to his fellow heroes and Toshinori would never think of bypassing him. Eraserhead had taken on dozens of villains alone at the USJ to defend his students. He was ready to die for his class, and Toshinori would not work behind his back.

“Why are you telling me this? Why now?” Shrewd and frightening as always. Toshinori sometimes wondered how none of Aizawa’s students had suffered heart attacks yet.

“Because it’s time for me to give it up. I can’t really use it well anymore.” It burned to say it, to accept that, whereas the essence of All For one was hoarding power as long as possible, the essence of One For All was letting power go. Who was he, even, without One For All? What could he do? Something at least. Keep his successor safe, the other children safe, his colleagues, too-you don’t always need raw power to watch someone’s back-Nedzu was a fine example… Toshinori would give it everything he had left. “And I want to give it to one of your students.”

Stare, but not glare. Apparently asking permission had earned Toshinori a reprieve from the worst of Aizawa’s silent disapproval. “Who?”

“Asui Tsuyu.”

“Why?”

Wouldn’t he already know? Certainly Aizawa knew his students better than Toshinori. “She is straight forward, blunt, but kind. She takes initiative but is not reckless. She cares, deeply, about everyone, and fights savagely and creatively when need be. She takes care of her colleagues and she also takes care of herself.”

Aizawa nodded slowly, the hint of a smile visible beneath his ever-present scarf. “Is this power you plan to give dangerous?”

Ugh. Probably. “It’s… a different experience for everyone… it can damage unprepared bodies, though I never had an issue with that…”

Aizawa nodded slowly. “I’ll set up a meeting with Asui. If she agrees, we talk to her parents about it.” The grimace on Toshinori’s face must have been easy to read. “All will be sworn to secrecy of course. I’ve met her parents… I think they will agree if she does.”

 

 

“You want me to what?” Tsuyu must not understand what was being discussed. Before her, All Might stood as a sun-burned skeleton, coughing droplets of blood as if it were nothing new-good lord she hadn’t even fathomed he was ill-and she was supposed to do something about it-needed to-but what could she do?

“I would like you to be the next holder of my quirk, One For All. There were seven holders before me. I would like you to be the ninth. When a holder is ready to retire or… can’t use it properly… One For All is passed to the next generation.”

“Ribbit.” Tsuyu was proud of herself for managing even this pitiful reply. It was a lot to take in.

“It’s not something I would ask you to take lightly-and it could put a target on your back, but I think you would be the best holder.”

Why? What did she have that others didn’t? “But… why?”

“You’re persevering,” Aizawa cut in from where he had perched unobtrusively on a chair in the corner of the teacher's lounge. “You are emotionally intelligent, observant, honest, eager to learn, and good in a fight. More than that, you look out for others. I know at least two of your classmates would not be here if it weren’t for you.” Mineta and Shinsou at the USJ-she still shuddered at the thought-and it was fine to shudder. If she had reacted a few seconds later they would be dead; that was worth a shudder or two. “And I know that you’ve been helping Todoroki, too.” He’d noticed that? Of course he had.

A breeze drifted through the window. Tsuyu must be blushing like a tomato-Mr. Aizawa never spoke to anyone like that… had he ever given a compliment before? “The point is,” All Might coughed again, “there are many excellent reasons to choose you.” But wouldn’t someone else be better? “You can think about it if you like. I would ask you not to share any of these secrets just yet, though.”

It was a gorgeous day, sunlight catching on the leaves, glinting on steel fences and polished windows, lazy clouds rolling across a deep blue sky. How long would it last? All Might was a pillar of society-lord knew Endeavour could never take his place. People didn’t like the flame hero-and having met him and his youngest child, Tsuyu understood the public’s opinion. There were clouds on the horizon-ferocious storms she was sure-and what good would she be against them? She wasn’t the best in her class. During most of the USJ incident she hid, feeling both hopeless and helpless, but… if right then she’d had the power All Might spoke of-or rather the opportunity to have that power-she would have taken it in a heartbeat. Anything for the edge, for the strength to chase the villains away from her friends and drive them back into their dark, misty holes. She felt the fire in her blood, the distant roar of righteous fury, the unending call to the battlefield, to save and to fight.

“You would teach me, kero?”

“Of course,” both teachers replied, glancing at each other with inscrutable expressions when they spoke simultaneously.

“I accept… can I tell my parents?” They would worry, of course, but they would agree.

“We’ll be getting their permission,” said Aizawa. “In the meantime, there is extra strength training you will need to do to prepare yourself and some friends of All Might will come by to lecture you on how to wield your power safely.” Good… anything would be appreciated.

All Might cleared his throat. “I would like to hand One For All over slightly prior to final exams… I don’t think I will be able to use it much longer after that,” Tsuyu jolted as did Aizawa-perhaps he, also, hadn’t realized how close they were to the end of an era, “and I want to be able to train you at least a little while I still have One For All myself.” So he’d keep it after passing it on. Okay. Tsuyu could deal with this… maybe.

Tsuyu bowed her head. “Thank you for this honor. I won’t let you down, kero.” No. She wouldn’t let anyone down.

Chapter Text

Tsuyu kicked a microwave as hard as she could, wincing at the impact. A crescent moon gazed down at her casting a vague silver light over Dagobah beach in all its destroyed glory. As part of her extra training, she had been assigned to clean this place, restore the golden sands to their former beauty (to some extent at least-they didn’t expect her to finish before sometime next year and she was getting One For All before the training camp regardless). Her teachers trusted her enough to leave her to work alone provided she kept her phone on and checked in at regular intervals. One of them would drive her home once she finished for the night. Tsuyu pulled on a heavy pair of leather gloves in anticipation of the rust on a shredded chair in front of her, hefting it above her head and awkwardly stumbling to the dumpster by a rotting pier. Her body wasn’t really made to move that way…

Tsuyu hopped back to the nearest scrap heap, looking for a suitable item to move-and nearly ran into a confused teenager. “Eep!” squeaked the boy, leaping behind a mauled couch.

Tsuyu held her hands up in a placating gesture. What was this boy doing here? “Sorry, kero. Didn’t mean to startle you.” Eyes peeked out above the rotting upholstery.

“It’s fine-I was just… dozing and I didn’t think anyone else was gonna’ be here… what are you doing here?” His voice was soft, strange, an edge of nervousness on some words, confidence on others.

“I’m cleaning the beach, kero. Service to the community is important,” as is training muscles to survive One For All… “What are you doing here? Are you alright?”

“Fine,” the boy replied. “I just… nap here sometimes.”

Tsuyu sniffed and wrinkled her nose at the pungent scent of decay. “I can think of more pleasant places for that… many more pleasant places.”

“But it’s really quiet.” Something was really wrong here.

“What’s your name, kero?”

The boy ducked further behind the couch, then sighed as if he were giving up on life and clambered over the furniture’s back. “It’s Specter,” the bloodied figure told her.

No way. What were the odds? Well… what were the odds of Tsuyu being here? Inheriting One For All? Maybe it wasn’t so far-fetched.

“Mr. Aizawa’s pet vigilante?” That may have been too blunt. It was definitely him-Tsuyu got a decent look at the vigilante during the USJ incident. Specter, to her surprise, snorted a laugh.

“I think I may be more of a stalker than a pet… do you want any help?”

“I’m sorry?”

“With cleaning the beach.”

Oh. Well… maybe she could use some company tonight. Specter definitely could, poor thing. She had the nagging feeling he was sleeping here because he was homeless and friendless… she would be happy to ease that pain for one night, and she had no reason to believe Specter a danger to her. “Feel free to stick around. It would be nice to have someone to talk to.”

“Oh! Sure!” The ghost smiled, gesturing to a collapsed tent and puling it from the sand with some kind of telekinesis. He lugged it towards the dumpsters.

Tsuyu picked up a… something or other… and hopped after her new companion. For a few minutes, only the sound of smashing plastic and metal interrupted the night, but Tsuyu had questions. She couldn’t help but voice them. “Specter? How old are you, kero?”

“I would be about your age.”

“Ribbit?” What did that mean?

“It’s complicated.” Specter sighed.

“Sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.” He said it like it was someone’s fault.

“I’m sorry still.”

Specter quit telekinetically tossing things around and began dragging smaller items by hand. “Are you alright?”

The ghost smiled-that was gory. “I get tired quickly-which is why I hang around with Eraserhead a lot-we’re both ambush predators of sorts.”

“Hmmm… trying to push your limits tonight, then?” Tsuyu could feel her own limits right at her back as her muscles trembled from exertion.

“Yeah!” Specter grinned again. “Thanks for letting me follow you around, Asui.”

Wait… she never introduced herself. “How do you know my name, kero?”

“Oh! Sports Festival and… I sometimes stalk Eraserhead like I said.”

“At school?”

“Well it’s not like I can enroll officially…”

“Why not?” Specter squirmed.

“Complicated.” Curiosity or no curiosity, she knew not to press that issue. “Oh…” the vigilante fidgeted as the two, exhausted, prepared to call it a night. “Would you not tell anyone I was here?”

“Why?” Tsuyu had planned to tell Aizawa that she had found one of Specter’s hiding places. Presuming her seemingly-psychic teacher didn’t already know.

“I…” the ghost rubbed his neck, “don’t want people looking for me here. It’s quiet. I like it that way. And, well, I don’t want anyone feeling bad for me because I spend a lot of time in a garbage dump.”

Tsuyu should still tell someone, but… “If I told someone, would I see you here again?” The vigilante shook his head. Worried as she was for Specter and much as she would like to relay information to help her teacher, it was probably worth keeping quiet in order to assure that the disturbed teenager would keep coming here. The location of one of his “hideouts” was potentially valuable information if someone needed to find Specter in an emergency. “I won’t say a word.”

She saw Specter a few more times. They rarely talked of anything serious, rather gossiped about hero news, teachers at UA, Monoma becoming an 18+ hero, happenings in the underworld. The vigilante was a rambler, a lonely rambler, and Tsuyu was happy to let him talk.

 

 

At long last, there was a knock on the door. “Ah. Specter. Come in!” A hunched figure stepped through the door-literally-and slowly approached the desk. The bloodied child was clearly terrified. A sigh sounded from the hallway. The knob turned and Aizawa entered the room in the conventional manner. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Nedzu told the ghost. “Please have some tea.” And Specter did, deftly raising a delicate tea cup to his lips, sniffing the strong concoction and then sipping from it. Interesting.

“You wanted to see me, principal Nedzu?” Specter hunched in his seat, trying to bury himself in the velvet trim.

See you, yes. Terrify you, no. Sometimes there was nothing one could do, though, to appear less threatening, especially to an intelligent person. “He doesn’t bite, Specter,” Aizawa sighed, taking another chair. The quick glance Specter threw towards his teacher suggested he was considering getting back up to hide behind Eraserhead.

“I know. I know he doesn’t bite.”

Nedzu flicked his ears in amusement and twisted the conversation onto productive rails. “I’ve heard you enjoy analysis. So do I. So, tell me what you thought of the Hero Killer Stain.”

The ghost blinked and began slowly, hesitantly, to explain the analysis he had made during his brief encounter with the S-class villain. Neither Nedzu nor Aizawa had heard details of what occurred in the fight; Endeavour had merely reported the vigilante’s presence and aid. Specter explained how he determined Stain’s quirk and how he worked out that it depended on blood type. He then detailed the most effective potential countermeasures-intense heat, rain, agility rather than heavy armor, electricity quirks-“Kaminari could, for example, just keep a static charge across his body. If Stain ever touched him with metal he’d be electrocuted. Stain’s motives weren’t hard to understand-he pretty much screamed them to anyone who would listen…”

Nedzu felt a grin fly onto his face. Beautiful, all of it. Some points were wrong, others were unsophisticated, but the littlest vigilante held so much potential. Nedzu must have this one. If Specter had wanted to be a hero as much as Aizawa believed, it shouldn’t be too difficult to entice the ghost into the halls of UA-but Specter’s emotional state was a complete wild card. Nedzu could think of dozens of reasons why the boy had elected to let his death lie, never revealing his presence to family or friends, and some reasons were more likely than others, but Nedzu didn’t know Specter well enough to take more than a vaguely educated guess. If Specter were merely ashamed of what he had done, Nedzu would be able to offer him discretion and eventually the ghost could be convinced to reclaim his life. If Specter were legitimately unwanted by his mother and had no friends, Nedzu was sure Aizawa could be easily manipulated into adopting the vigilante (who likely wouldn’t put up much of a fight…) but if Specter merely thought he was unwanted, if the feelings that had driven him to his premature death remained, he might react very badly to any offer of companionship.

As he thought this, Nedzu offered up his own analysis on Stain and continued rattling off about other villains and heroes of days past. Specter stared at Nedzu with wide eyes, occasionally looking around for-ah. The principal pushed a notebook and pencil towards his guest who began scribbling down a whirlwind of notes.

Aizawa looked bored-well, he always did, but he looked more bored than usual. Enough then. “So, Specter, how would you like to come back and talk to me again? I’m not really so scary, now, am I?” Unless there is construction equipment nearby, that is.

“Uh… in what capacity?”

Might as well go for broke-but Nedzu had a bad feeling about this, the sinking feeling that the child would not accept his offer or any offer of help because he believed he didn’t deserve it. “I would like you to become a student here. I think you would fit in very well.”

Specter tensed, wide-eyed. “But… I don’t even exist. I can’t be a student!”

It wasn’t a no. “You do exist.”

“You don’t understand! Sir… sorry. I didn’t mean to yell.”

“I do not know everything about your situation, but I know enough. Legal tangles can be rectified.”

“It’s not that simple…”

One last card to play. “I believe it is that simple. You still have an identity to claim, Midoriya Izuku.” The child froze, a deer before an oncoming semitruck. “I do not understand why you have chosen to carry on as you do. I doubt anyone can understand. No situation quite like yours has ever existed before, but mistakenly filed death certificates are a part of, ahem, life, and there are procedures for rectifying such errors.”

The ghost just hunched his shoulders further and shook his head. “Shouldn’t be.”

“What?”

“Changed! It shouldn’t be changed. He is dead. Izuku is dead and he deserved it!” the ghost was crying now.

Nedzu bowed his head-worst case scenario, then. Aizawa stepped in, reaching out to place a hand on the ghost’s shoulder. “Specter. No one deserves to die like that, no one. Not Midoriya, not you.” But the conversation and emotions had spiraled out of control. Specter took off from his seat, lunging for a picture window, vanishing and vanishing through it.

Aizawa sighed deeply, collapsing in his chair like a misfolded origami crane. “That went about as badly as possible.”

“Not quite. Nothing is on fire.” Things could have been on fire.

“Perhaps we should have contacted his mother and brought her along…”

Nedzu shook his head. No. Specter would have bolted the moment he saw her and maybe never have been heard from again. The littlest vigilante might never come back as it was. “No. Quite the opposite, I should not have used his name. I should have merely invited him back for regular tea… I did not anticipate quite that level of psychological mayhem, though perhaps I should have.” Specter had seemed very intelligent and very reasonable up until then… “As best I can tell, his life was miserable. He felt useless, like a burden dragging down friends and family. Then he died and came back. Given the opportunity, he created a new identity for himself and made a scapegoat of his “old” self or… maybe he shuns himself for an entirely different reason.” Nedzu still knew so little about the child, but having spoken to someone once he could pick up thousands of little details to improve his profile. “I think he’s ashamed of how he lived and how he died, so resentful that he “threw away” his life that he prefers to think of himself as someone entirely new in order to escape the pain and self-reproach.”

Aizawa considered this and shrugged. “Seems as likely as anything else from what I’ve seen of the kid. What a mess. Now what?"

What to do now indeed. Nedzu was obligated on some vague level to inform Mrs. Midoriya of the situation-but what if Specter never came back? That would be unspeakably cruel, to dangle her dead child before her and then rip him away again. The boy would never speak to her right now, anyway. That much was obvious. Keep quiet, then. Send Aizawa back on his ghost hunt, hope Specter returned. There was no further discussion to be had here.

But Nedzu would have this one. It was just a matter of time. Have this one, save this one, same difference.

Despite Nedzu’s determination, Aizawa would not see Specter again for weeks.

Chapter Text

Specter pulled his arms close, whirling like a dancer, pirouetting on his toes. Thunder cracked like a whip, rain dumping in sheets on hair already soaked black as coal. Whirl, step-not too far-tight against the ledge-the forty-story gap yawned hungrily at him. Revel on the edge, bare feet cold as the pathetic iron rail meant to keep him back. Tango with an invisible partner, the roll of thunder leading the storm’s orchestra. Lights fluttered up from the world below-their world, not his. One step, two step, looking down-who’s looking up? Leap.

Arms spread, soaked hair pushed back, Specter plunged from his height-free like the birds for one brief moment before gravity bound him up again with a resounding crack.

Rain pounded him down-aches and howls of phantom pains unbearable, so he lay still. Waited for his body, such as it was, to remember he was dead. Pain seeped away into the concrete. A tangle of shoes stepped about and through him, little patches of respite driving the rain away as the owners of the shoes brandished their umbrellas against the downpour. Specter rolled over, staring up at the angry sky, water pouring into his eyes, fogging his vision, blurring the neon lights, twisting his already flawed world. No escape. What if he had to stay here forever? Immortal, untouchable? Just let him leave, move along, face whatever comes next. Give him peace, quiet…

A raven swept down to Specter’s side on whispering wings. It shook the water from its feathers, croaked, and cocked its head. The black eyes stared right at Specter, seeing him. Morrigan… Ravens as messengers, guides, shepherds to the afterlife… “You can take me there?”

“I can take you there.”

“Right here? Right now?”

“Right here. Right now.”

“Do I just… follow you?”

“You just follow me.”

It spoke without speaking, knew without looking, and Specter struggled to his feet, stepped forward, even as images flew unbidden into his mind: mother, Kacchan, Shouto, Tokoyami, Asui, Aizawa, people he’d fought, people he’d saved… too much unsaid, unfinished, undecided. He couldn’t. “Not just yet… later?”

“Not just yet. Later.”

The raven dipped its head in a bow and vanished, powering effortlessly through the maelstrom.

Not yet. Wrap things up… then go. But he could. He could be dead, really dead, anytime. Whenever he wrung the last of those haunting faces from his mind. What irony, that it was the dead who were haunted by the living.

Specter put his thoughts of oblivion aside once more and went back to work.

Analyzing fights is easy. Emotions not so much. Izuku had officially died months into Specter’s vigilante work, right after he started following Eraser around. Every time the name came up a great, miserable hole drained all the warmth from Specter’s soul-all the loss, the sorrow, the pain, the self-loathing fed by the flames of ultimate self-destruction. Izuku hadn’t been worthless, just thought he was, and so he threw all his worth on the pyre and that was a sin unforgiveable. Even the devils under the sea would turn up their noses at a soul like that. Izuku was nothing but a curse, a confused curse, making everyone around him miserable, so Specter laid him down in his grave and took his new name-changed himself and said, “I am blameless in all this. I can have some peace. Izuku deserved to be miserable, but I don’t.” He might not deserve to be happy-he had felt guilty about enjoying his ice cream and his late-night story session with Tokoyami-but he didn’t deserve to be miserable.

It was a brand-new world, as long as Izuku stayed dead. Specter could have “friends” in “class” where he often sat on someone’s desk listening attentively with the rest of 1-A, he could prowl the streets and call them his home, reinvent himself-but then they had called him Izuku. Nedzu and Aizawa. They were going to dig up his past life. Somehow they knew.

Specter took the bullet train as far away as he could. He stalked down criminals in the shadiest parts of unfamiliar cities, tried not to think, spent his days lounging on top of shelves at the library, his nights hunting scum. He moved again. No sense staying put long enough for the police to spot his MO.

Anonymous streetlights cast half-shadows through him, reflecting on the rain-soaked pavement like fire. He moved through the alleys and darted past the main streets, amidst the city but not part of it, amidst life but not immersed in it. He burned as he stared them down. Even the very least of them had a gift he could never have himself-breath-stolen by Izuku. They were lucky-the gawdy business people strutting to their glass sky castles-the homeless drug fiends roughing their nights under bridges-and everyone in between. Jealousy-that was it. He was jealous of them, especially since many didn’t even realize they had anything on them worth coveting. He didn’t know this city-these people-with their thousand carrot smiles and gemstone eyes. They weren’t his people, and where he should love and care-where he should be happy for them-he coveted things from them. It wouldn’t do to think this way-find a new city. Keep your distance. Remember who you are, what you love. Save people. Help people. Love people. Be someone. Be something. It’s hard to be a forgotten ghost. To be dead and have no connection with the living.

A new city, a new library. New scum. What if Nedzu told Izuku’s mother? He winced at the very thought, waking violently from a drowsy half-meditation. All good reasons to stay away-only one reason to go back-loneliness. Loneliness won out within another week. Dark streets blurred into one, everything a great, crushing weight on one who wasn’t sure anymore of even who he was.

 

 

It’s not special, just a stockpile, just another piece weaving into her own power. Frogs could be ferocious. Budgett's frogs would eat each other alive if given the opportunity. Mantellas and arrow frogs could deal agony with a touch. Cane toads dealt death to would-be predators. She was not so ferocious as they-or she hadn’t been, but the power that soaked into her now changed that. She felt her skin glow electric blue and black-an arrow frog’s patterning surging to the surface-an endless well providing energy that permeated every cell of her body. “That’s it, kid,” Gran Torino clapped.

Gran Torino, Aizawa, All Might, and Recovery Girl waited on the sidelines as Tsuyu pulled One For All to life for the very first time. Aizawa nodded to her slowly and Tsuyu lunged, energy flowing through her-far more than she had intended. She cleared the gym in an instant-far wall rushing to meet her-roll, get feet in front of you, break the impact like any other jump-her ears rang and bones jarred at the impact both of the takeoff and the landing. She was practically on the ceiling! “Ribbit…” she coughed out, gingerly sliding down the wall. Her ankle was sprained at the very least.

Tsuyu hopped over to her teachers. “Sorry, ribbit. I hurt my ankle on the landing… didn’t mean to do that.”

Recovery Girl sighed, kissing the student’s forehead. “Told you to be careful, dearie.”

She had tried. “May I try again?”

“Hmmm…”

“Once more,” said Aizawa. “Less power this time. I will stop you if necessary.”

Deep breaths… feel the power… don’t fight it… let it flow through and do no harm… she jumped, lunging the length of the gym yet again, the wall and floor lazily rising to meet her so she caught herself with ease. There was not so much as a twinge from her abused muscles and ligaments.

“Much better!” All Might called to her, breaking off with a cough. Tsuyu grinned. That was… fun.

She showed off in sparing the week before finals. There had been occasional comments from females in the class (and a few males) about “drop-kicking Mineta into the sun.” After the third time the pervert tried to grab her backside during their match, she decided to try it. The electric blue and black patterns crackled over her skin and Mineta’s eyes flew wide. She didn’t kick him in the traditional sense, rather pushed him with a foot-she was trying to scare him, not kill him.

“Woah!” shouted Sero, pausing mid-punch in his bout with Kaminari. Mineta bounced to a stop, tears in his eyes.

“Sorry, ribbit.” She wasn’t that sorry. Maybe it was overkill, but she wasn’t that sorry.

“That is so cool!” Kirishima gushed, running over to Tsuyu. “I didn’t know you could do that!”

She’d have to pass it off, for now, as just a part of her quirk. “It’s new, kero.”

“What else can you do?” asked Sero, Kaminari following behind him.

“Did I tell you to stop?” demanded Aizawa.

“No sir!” the lot chorused, getting back to work. Mineta stared in terror at Tsuyu. This was satisfying on some dastardly level. “Come at me, kero.” It was an enjoyable afternoon.

“I think you need to change your name,” Uraraka said as the girls changed back into their regular uniforms.

“Ribbit?” Uraraka… was talking about her, right? “Why?”

“Froppy is cute and reassuring, but it doesn’t bring across how…”

“Badass?” suggested Jiro with a slightly sadistic grin.

“Yes. How badass you are. You were always a good fighter but that was awesome!”

“The markings, too, like a dart frog, don’t quite fit the name,” Yaoyorozu agreed, “but these kind of choices are up to you, of course.”

“How about Dart?” No, definitely not. “Arrow?” Still too violent. That’s not something she wanted to call herself, whether she looked like a poison arrow frog or not…

“Mantella,” Tsuyu mused.

“Hmm?” asked Uraraka.

“They’re like… Madagascar poison arrow frogs, ribbit.”

“I like it!” Uraraka bubbled. Tsuyu liked it, too… maybe she would change her name after all. Her life was changing dramatically-perhaps her name ought to reflect that. She could be more than she ever imagined-faster, stronger-and if she worked at it she could be better, too. Too many people assumed “better” and “more power” were synonymous but Tsuyu knew better. She would be better-for Shinsou who nearly died before her at the USJ, for Aizawa who nearly died for her at the USJ, for All Might who trusted her, for her younger siblings who depended on her, for the people who might flourish or perish by her actions.

Chapter Text

“If you could turn back time… let’s say ten years max… and change one thing you did, what would you change and why?” it was Ashido’s turn in “the question game,” in which one person posed a complicated question and everyone else in class had to answer. It was a good way to kill time on the bus as it trundled away to the training camp.

Tsuyu hadn’t expected anything deep from Ashido. She had expected this question to be trivial, but that was not the case. Maybe she had misjudged the pink haired girl.

The game had numerous highlights so far, both good and bad. Mineta tried to pose “F***, marry, kill” as his question (it was vetoed). Jiro demanded “What modern political figure would you most like to see run up a flagpole?” (the current American and Brazilian presidents were popular choices). Sero asked “What is the silliest misunderstanding you’ve ever been involved in?” and Tokoyami replied “I am very fond of black tea. My mother told me I should cut out caffeinated beverages… in her defense I was up to ten cups a day. However, someone kept bringing me black tea in the morning during breakfast. When I thanked my father for it, he did not know what I was talking about, so I confronted my mother… she kept telling me not to drink so much caffeine and then kept giving me more… it turned out Dark Shadow was bringing me tea.” That got a host of laughs and an undignified squawk from the familiar in question who responded, “I was trying to be nice!”

Classmates began to chime in with answers to Mina. “Convince my past self not to get that crummy sixth-grade haircut,” said Sero.

“Get a subscription to a certain gym a few years earlier,” said Mineta. Maybe he wasn’t being perverted for once? No, there was probably some underlying meaning there which Tsuyu should just never think about.

“Report my first foster mother for child neglect,” Shinsou shut the whole bus up for a solid fifteen seconds.

Tsuyu always suspected he had an unpleasant past. “Are you okay now, kero?”

“Sure.”

Another fifteen seconds of silence. “Go with my sister on that trip to Russia,” Ojiro finally said.

“Warn the teachers about the USJ,” Yaoyorozu looked unamused, perhaps annoyed she was the first to suggest it, “so we could set up an ambush.”

Satou shrugged. “I don’t know. Avoid getting that one detention in middle school maybe? I didn’t even break the window, they just thought I did…”

Tokoyami sighed. “Avoid losing my first edition of At the Mountains of Madness.” That must have been expensive. Tsuyu winced in sympathy.

“Keep my little brother from falling off the slide and breaking his leg, kero.” What she wouldn’t do to spare him that pain.

“I once saw a car get hit by a train,” Uraraka said. “I’d warn the driver to get out, or maybe just pull him out, anything to get him out of the stalled car.”

Kaminari was going to expose a corrupt local politician and get him arrested before he could be elected. Jirou was going to avoid attending a certain, disastrous music festival. Hagakure wanted to transfer to a different middle school--apparently everyone had been just awful to her, like in the old movie Mean Girls, for the full first year. Aoyama wanted to avoid a fall from a bridge when he was in elementary school.

“Run away.” Todoroki had never sounded more sincere.

“Dude?” asked Kirishima cautiously.

“See what he thought of that.” The dual-quirk user pointedly turned away.

“I’d convince my cousin to get tested for cancer earlier. Maybe she’d still be alive,” Kirishima admitted.

Ashido winced, as did a majority of the class. “Sorry… I didn’t mean for this to be all… dark," she waved her hands, “and I’m sorry about your cousin.”

“Thanks.” More silence.

“Save Midoriya Izuku,” said Bakugou. Kirishima grimaced-he must know something. The rest of the class stared at the Explosion wielder. “None of your business,” Bakugou muttered. He probably hadn’t really meant to give such a sincere answer to Mina’s question. The stares continued. “Fine. He was my classmate and my neighbor. Threw himself off the roof during our senior year of middle school. There. Happy now?”

“No.” Tsuyu said. “No one is happy.” When the frog-girl squinted, for a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment, she swore she saw a silhouette standing in the aisle of the bus. Tsuyu shook her head--must be seeing things. “We’re sorry about your cousin, Kirishima, and your classmate, Bakugou.”

After a moment, the bleach-blonde muttered what might have been a “thank you” and turned away. The next few questions were carefully designed for lighter subject material.

 

 

It was the middle of the damn night, but someone was watching him. Katsuki cracked an eye open-where was the watcher?

“Why would you say that?” whispered a familiar voice. A dream, then, a cruel one. Katsuki had them a lot--deserved them, every one of them. “Say what, Izuku?” his voice was so slurred it might as well be a water slide.

“That you’d save me.”

Oh. That… dumb game on the bus where he’d said stupid crap. “’Cause I would.”

“What’s the point, Kacchan? You hate--you hated me. You told me to jump. I was useless, dragged everyone down--and I threw all my chances for the future away. Who does that? People who would take their own lives deserve to die! He--I mean I deserve it!”

Huh. Idiot. Same old Deku. This was new, though, no pleading, sobbing, berating, just Deku’s bloody, transparent corpse in need of some straightening out and some comfort. Okay, Deku. Katsuki could do that.

“You got it all wrong, ‘Zuku. Never hated you and all kinds of great, smart people killed themselves,” wow, he really was half asleep to be talking like that. “Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and countless other poets. Van Gogh, Romeo and Juliette… ‘cause they were sad, like you, ‘cause depression doesn’t work with logic and havin’ assholes like me around doesn’t help. They were smart, deserved to live, brilliant just like you. You’re not bad or wrong or whatever. You didn’t fail this world, this world failed you. Never gave ya’ a reason.” Katsuki reached up to pat Deku on the shoulder. “I’m a bastard and I’m sorry. Would you have forgiven me? If you could?”

The phantom was crying. Also textbook Deku. The ghost leaned down to Katsuki’s ear. “I forgive you,” he whispered. That… wasn’t at all what he expected to hear. Maybe the counseling was paying off after all.

“And yourself,” Katsuki told him. The specter turned away without a word--no promises, then. “Rest in peace, Izuku. Ya’ deserved better…” Weird dream…

 

 

As if he didn’t have enough problems and little enough sleep, the problem child was waiting by his door. That wasn’t really a problem per se so much as the solution to one. A truck load of anxiety dropped off Shouta’s shoulders. “Oh, thank god,” he heard himself say. The ghost blinked up at him.

“May I talk to you, sir?” Shouta nodded and shepherded the child into his room, closing the door gently and flicking on a soft-light lamp.

“I’m very glad to see you, but I do want to know why you came back, Specter, and what I can do for you now.”

Specter hesitated. “I was lonely. I came back a while ago… and then I heard Kac-Bakugou yesterday on the bus…” Shouta nodded. He had heard Bakugou’s comment as well and wondered yet again whether waiting to reveal Specter as Midoriya Izuku was the right choice. “And then I talked to him--he thought he was dreaming--but he said some things and I thought Izuku was a coward--that he got what he deserved--that no one would miss someone who was such useless, burdensome garbage--and I ought to leave him undisturbed in his grave, but…” Specter sank into himself again--wait. Let him speak in his own time. He needs to say these things, to have this out on the table. “But maybe that’s wrong?” That was it, all the ghost could choke out, but it would do.

Shouta reached out for the kid’s shoulder, feeling solid, fabric coated flesh beneath his touch, and pulled the vigilante forward into a half-hug, using one hand to pet the part of Specter’s hair which wasn’t matted with blood. The child stiffened, but didn’t draw away, clutching abortively at Shouta’s shirt. “Don’t want to get blood on you,” Specter muttered.

“I’ve been covered in more of worse things,” Shouta sighed. “You’re right, Specter,” he said carefully, have to be gentle with a flighty one like this, “in that you’re wrong. You are not worthless now and you never were. You do not deserve to be dead or to be miserable, and you are sorely missed. I know for a fact that Bakugou would do anything to take back what he said to you. I’ve met your mother, too. There’s nothing she wouldn’t give up just to see you again.” Specter trembled, eyes widening. “I’m not going to force you to do anything. I can’t as you’re well aware. My quirk doesn’t work on you, and even if I could force you I would not.” It would do much more harm than good to rush this.

“Okay,” Specter replied.

“But I will ask you to at least think about revealing your continued existence. A lot of people would be spared a lot of pain.”

“Not that many,” Specter whispered, “and what would they think of me, knowing I could have told them a year ago?”

“They’re in no position to judge you. No one is. Now please, please, stay here, okay?” Specter considered for a moment then nodded meekly. “You can sleep on the couch if you like,” Shouta told Specter. It was time to get the day over with.

Specter blinked. “I… I don’t really sleep…”

Huh. “So what do you do? Every day, I mean?”

“Well, during the night I patrol… and during the day my powers mostly fade so I find a place to doze… trees, beaches, abandoned buildings, public places… I hang out in libraries a lot, to keep up with studies.” Specter fidgeted. “Sorry.”

“For what?”

“Rambling.”

Sigh. “I am too tired for this… we’ll talk in the morning. Can I count on you being here tomorrow?” The ghost nodded again. “Thank you. Do as you please." You always do, so long as it doesn't make you happy. Poor thing. "I’ll see you in the morning.” Please let him stick around this time.

Chapter Text

It was going to be an odd day. Specter realized this when he opened his eyes and watched a… transparent Samurai in a fox mask walk past his tree. “What is this?” Specter asked no one as a… similarly see through medieval Christian monk (perhaps?) sporting a devil mask wandered into a jewelry store across the street.

“Samhain,” replied a crystal-clear voice, deep and old as the dark fathoms of outer space. The woman who spoke was pale as bone, black hair cascading down her shoulders and seemingly merging with her silky, deep purple cloak and obsidian hair. “The day when the boundaries between worlds are thinnest and the city of the living,” she gestured towards the towering, familiar downtown buildings of Specter’s home, “coexists with the city of the dead.” The figure waved towards the night… to a world which stood, every bit as real as Specter’s tree, yet completely beyond belief. It had certainly not been there the day before. A huge, gothic clock tower outlined in eerie green rose amidst spiraling castles, keeps, and mansions. A pitch-black sky punctuated by the brightest constellations imaginable, a starry carpet, gazed down upon the… City of the Dead. Spotlights occasionally arced through the dark lightening the gloomy atmosphere into something almost festive.

“Oh my—” Specter said, then squeaked as a troop of cutlass wielding brigands thundered by on horses. Both riders and steeds were decked out in Mardis Gras beads and sporting leopard masks.

The woman chuckled. “It’s a party unlike any other for us!”

“Us?” Specter jumped down from his tree.

“Yes. The dead, and those like you and me who walk the line between worlds.”

“Who even are you?”

“Morrigan,” Morrigan winked. “And I’ll just let you wonder whether I mean the ancient hero, the Celtic goddess of death, or both. Hmmm… I need a mask, and so do you. One does not simply walk into the City of the Dead on Samhain without a mask.”

The (possibly) death god pulled two raven-feather masks from beneath her cloak, fitting one over her face and offering the other. Specter took it—and he could really touch it—it was incorporeal as he was. The vigilante pulled the soft feathers over his face.

“Splendid,” Morrigan spread her wings. “I hope to see you at the ball.” She caught the wind beneath her raven wings and swept away on the breeze.

“Okay. Sure.” This seemed… much less real than even his normal life, which already seemed well beyond belief but… there didn’t seem to be anything dangerous about this situation, be it strange reality or wild fantasy.

The City of the Dead had encroached, sneaking up behind him so that a great, towering mansion of living (or perhaps un-living) oaks and cedars stood mere feet away. A cobblestone path pulled up to Specter’s feet like a bus waiting for him to climb aboard. He stepped onto the stones and cautiously made his way into the city.

A dark stone Taj Mahal on his left was illuminated by blazing bonfires and flickering torches. Hindu religious music and modern pop added to the festive atmosphere as dozens of vibrantly dressed figures danced.

“Come get me!” shouted a centuries-dead solider driving a ghostly tank down the streets. His enemies were in hot pursuit driving tanks of their own… but they seemed happy? Like all had been forgiven and they could laugh at, joke about, and even celebrate their hateful, tragic pasts.

The narrow streets opened up onto a broad plaza filled with shops, trucks, and carts offering luxuries from every era and every nation. Before he even knew what had happened, Specter found himself in possession of a chocolate crepe, dried meat on a stick, a silk scarf, and an alpaca. Was the alpaca dead? Or some kind of familiar spirit? What about the meat? Where did grain for crepes come from in the world of the dead? Maybe he was thinking too much. And he’d said that aloud.

“Indeed, dear,” said a woman Specter vaguely recognized—one half of the Water Hose duo—then her husband appeared, and they were lost in the crowd.

Specter and his alpaca wandered deeper into the wild square. They were covered in confetti. The masked alpaca now had a party hat. The entire experience was so bewildering that nothing surprised Specter anymore. In the distance, the great clock that overlooked everything struck noon.

“Nice alpaca,” chuckled a lilting voice.

Specter found himself facing a wild-eyed, blonde woman decked out in a witch costume standing on a green basilisk. The lizard had been enlarged to the size of an allosaurus. “Animal Witch,” Specter realized—a triple-S supervillain long dead but still infamous. She seemed terrifying in the old articles, but not so much now…

“That’s me! I’m the devil and I ride a dinosaur,” she reached down to scratch her lizard’s crest with a deeply fond smile.

Maybe it was rude to ask, but Specter really wanted to know. Animal Witch’s fate had been… mysterious. “What happened to you?”

The woman snorted angrily. “I figured out that Motivore had been shamelessly messing with my head for years—I told him to screw off—he knew I was going to snitch on him, so he killed me, then went after my friends, too.”

Specter grimaced. “Sorry. That’s… you mean he killed Ravel, too?” Animal Witch and Ravel, a pair of triple-S villains who often worked together—seemed best friends—had been reported dead on the same day. Specter had never heard of Motivore… he must have been a terror to behold, though, if he had ended both of those two.

“Oh he tried, but Ravel is not in this city. Motivore couldn’t take him down.”

“Huh… he sure disappeared then.” Without a single trace.

The ex-supervillain guffawed. Even her lizard seemed to chuckle, Specter’s alpaca, too. “Oh he didn’t disappear! He’s just not a villain anymore!”

Well, possible. No one really knew what Ravel looked or sounded like. Nice to hear he’d turned his life around. That didn’t happen very often. “What happened to him?”

Animal Witch stared Specter right in the eye. “You’d never believe me. Now. The ball should be starting soon… lasts until midnight! Want a lift?”

Well, why not? Specter and his alpaca clambered aboard the basilisk’s head and the de facto-dinosaur set off at a trot down the thinning city streets. Everyone, it seemed, was headed towards the massive palace surrounding the clock. Doors that towered five stories high had been flung open to admit the crowd into the ballroom beyond.

“We’re here.” The former femme fatale leapt from her lizard. Specter followed suit, catching his reflection in one of the towering mirrors that decorated the palace’s outer walls. He wasn’t transparent here, nor was he covered in blood. He looked normal, like nothing ever happened.

An orchestra set upon a balcony stage played a waltz, both soul chilling and festive at the same time. Tapestries draped every wall. Luscious red and purple carpets unfurled across the endless halls. Countless partners had already swept out onto the dance floors, other revelers finding their ways to the overloaded buffets. Delicacies of every nation towered precariously on silver platters.

A flutter of wings heralded the arrival of Morrigan and dozens of ravens. She walked across the dance floor like a queen, approaching a caped woman in the corner. “My most noble lady Shimura, may I have this dance?” The woman accepted.

“I don’t know how to dance,” Specter realized aloud.

“Neither do I!” a hyperactive girl about Specter’s age said as she bounded up to the vigilante. “May I have this dance anyway?” Her clothes looked archaic. When had this child died?

“Uhh…?”

“Of course!” Animal Witch shoved Specter on to the dance floor where he proceeded to trip over his feet for a good hour as other ghosts passed him from partner to partner. He did, eventually, learn some of the steps. Time moved strangely, stuttering, jumping, and starting, as if he waltzed through a dream.

Specter found himself raiding a buffet in a corner with a man whose head was a pumpkin (sure, whatever) as Animal Witch danced with Morrigan.

The great clock chimed six. The orchestra ended their sets… and a rock band of some kind stepped onto the elevated stage. The varieties of dancing changed drastically, but the quantity of dancing remained unchanged.

“Some party, huh?” shouted Animal Witch as she came to join him, wine glass in hand. The music nearly drowned her out.

“Yeah!” Specter screamed back as someone who might have been a legitimate were-wolf cartwheeled past. And was that creature a kitsune or just a normal fox?

“Too bad it’s almost over!”

“It is?”

“Nearly midnight already! Too bad! I was thinking of taking a trip out of the city to stalk Ravel but I guess it’s too late for that now!” Animal Witch shrugged. “There’s always next year!”

Specter hadn’t realized so much time had passed. Someone pulled him into the crowd for one last dance. The long, sonorous chimes of the great clock split the night. Absolute silence fell.

Morrigan stood up on the great balcony and spoke in a voice that sent shivers through the soul, “I’ll keep your secrets.” Nothing more.

The clock struck one more time. As the bellow faded away so did the ballroom, the city, the countless spirits of ages long gone. Specter found himself standing in a busy street, bloodied and barefoot as always. Not even the mask of black feathers remained. Perhaps he just imagined it all. Well, he could see if it happened again next year.

Chapter Text

Specter lounged in a tree watching Kirishima and Bakugou destroy each other. Bakugou growled, slamming explosions onto the red-head’s impervious skin, Kirishima dodging when he could, taking a hit when he couldn’t. It was a good distraction from the turmoil in Specter’s mind. Or was he Izuku? Was there a difference or did he just think there was? If he thought there was a distinction, did that mean there must be because this was all in his head to begin with?

They’d hate him if he came back, mom, Kacchan, everyone--hate him because he left--wouldn’t they? But… maybe people really didn’t feel the way about him he always thought they did--Aizawa said as much--ugh! He needed to work this out--no, ignore it--get advice from someone. Anything but this.

He settled for watching 1-A and 1-B smash each other flat like pancakes during training exercises. Asui utterly destroyed her sparing partners, the new aspects of her power on full display, lending her greater strength and greater confidence. She had used these abilities some during the final exam, but she had vastly improved in the short time since then. It was a little bit scary. What would she be like after another two and a half years of training? She'd make it into the top ten someday, no question about it.

Tiring of watching Tokoyami screaming into the void in a dark cave, Specter wandered off into the woods, getting the lay of the land and looking for a quiet place to doze until evening--he was plenty tired already. A barely-worn foot path led him to a ledge with an incredible view of the forest, a verdant sea spread out below. This would do. Specter settled against the wall, falling into a half-meditation, trying to quiet his still racing thoughts.

A shuffling of feet disturbed his rest and Specter groggily opened an eye. A young boy, maybe five or six, had taken up a perch ten meters away, pouting. “Stupid heroes… stupid quirks… all of it’s so dumb! Heroes, villains… everybody thinks it’s just fine when they murder each other…”

Specter knew better than to reveal his presence, much as he might like to talk to this child who seemed every bit as lost as the ghost--no one to turn to who could really understand. The cliff-mates settled down to wait as the sun crawled across the sky. The child had a novel with him which was, if his facial expressions were any clue, an excellent read. The boy left first, then Specter followed. The ghost had promised Eraser he would be back after dinner--not that he had ever really left.

Specter waited until things had calmed from the height of anarchy caused by feeding exhausted teenagers then went to meet Aizawa, knocking twice before walking through the teacher's door and taking a seat on the couch.

Aizawa put down the papers he was marking. “I’m glad you stayed.”

Specter shrugged. “I don’t know where else I would go… it’s lonely out there.” Those streets where neither he nor anyone he cared for had ever walked seeped into his soul like cold dreams.

“None the less.” Aizawa steepled his fingers. “Would you mind telling me about yourself?”

Blink. Why? Well… there were plenty or reasons but… “What about? My quirk, personality, my apparently numerous psychological problems?” he knew they were there, but they were just a part of him at this point, “Life history?”

“Life history,” the underground hero decided.

Specter tripped at first, summarizing from ten thousand meters when Aizawa wanted a summary from five hundred meters, so he told stories about himself--playing heroes and villains with Kacchan, learning he was quirkless--all the pity and the disdain, the apologies from his mother--the bullying in elementary school--Kacchan chasing him like a cat with a mouse in middle school, because “quirks make right” in hero society. The last year--how it never felt worth it to get out of bed, how he daydreamed about being hit by a car so he wouldn’t need to go to school, how he felt sick when his poor mother worried over him, how he still wanted to be a hero.

“I met All Might… he saved me from a noxious pool of living sludge, then I asked him if I could be a hero--he said no. He was plenty nice about it, but…” Aizawa rubbed his eyes and sighed deeply. Specter continued, “And then my teacher singled me out in front of everyone and they all laughed at me for wanting to go to UA--they didn’t even know--maybe I wanted to be in Gen Ed or business or support--and…” he shouldn’t say that. Kacchan didn’t deserve to get in trouble for what happened that day--Specter always glanced over the worst of the bullying. “I wished I were dead, and then I was, and I decided they didn’t want me back, so I started living on my own, following you around sometimes… You know about that.”

“Yes. I do.” Glare. Specter shrank down against the couch cushions. “You really need a license for that, problem child, or at least an internship offer.” Specter phased through his seat--mostly by accident--gazing up at Eraser from the midst of the upholstery. “Stop that… I don’t mean to scare you.”

“Okay?”

“But please, I know I probably can’t stop you, but if you’re patrolling with me at least let me know you’re there. It’s nerve wracking never knowing if my shadow is about.” Specter had never considered that, but it did sound unsettling.

“O-okay.”

Eraser mulled something over. “Are you willing to speak with Nedzu again?”

“Uh… maybe?” It hadn’t gone well…

“He will not press you about your identity again, although I might.”

Specter took a deep, faux-breath and let it out through his nostrils. Breathing was just a habit for him, but it could be calming if done correctly. “I can’t… keep any of that straight. It’s like standing in a typhoon--too much. I don’t even know who I am.” And it pressed at his mind every moment of the day.

“People don’t get better overnight,” Aizawa said gently, “and they don’t make any progress unless they push their limits, just a hair at a time. I already know you’re willing to try.”

“I’m through giving up. It didn’t get me anywhere.” It got him a lovely plot in a graveyard, injuries which would never fade, and a taste of miserable regret that no one else could ever understand.

“Good. Would you like to meet the Pussycats? Officially this time.”

They were so cool, of course he’d like to meet them. “Yes! I mean, if they’re okay with it and won’t tell…”

“Wait here for a moment.” Eraser strode silently through the halls. He returned and gestured for Specter to follow. “They’d be happy to speak with you.”

 

 

It was amazing how quickly things can go horribly wrong. Specter had just settled in for another night of quiet discussion with Aizawa and stalking 1A during their “challenge of fear” when the forest lit up like a morbid, blue Christmas tree, unnatural flames spreading voraciously through the woods.

Specter, despite the temptation to go scare people out of their wits during the challenge of fear like some kind of Hollywood ghost had stayed invisible in the clearing with the Pussycats as the game began, but he couldn’t stay with them now. There were villains everywhere. It was the USJ all over again and last time when he hesitated Eraser nearly died.

“Kouta?” Mandalay called… and where was the child? Probably out at his cliff, and Specter was the only one who knew about that. The hero students could handle themselves. Specter had to get Kouta.

The vigilante sprinted through the trees, moving weightlessly and effortlessly. Physical endurance was a limitation of the living, and this invisible, incorporeal movement taxed none of his stamina. He could run like this, skimming over branches, stones, and leaves like the wind, until the end of time. A shriek split the night--a child’s shriek.

Specter whirled around a bend to see an enormous, ugly mound of muscles laughing and chasing Kouta towards the cliff edge. “Hey!” Specter shouted, fading into view between the child and tormentor. He called up a towering wall of mists and a ferocious wind to tussle his bloody hair.

The villain snarled and smashed Specter—or rather smashed through Specter—with a clenched fist. “What?” the villain growled, robotic eyes glowing vile red. “I don’t know you, but you’re not that Bakugou kid, so I can just kill you ‘cause the boss doesn’t need you alive. It looks like it’ll be a fun time, much more fun that smashing this brat.”

What an absolute worthless, vile waste of protein. Picking on a five-year old? What kind of cowardly, vicious, psychopathic murder-dog does that? “We’re coming for you,” Specter crooned. “Remember me? We’re coming for you! Under the bridge in the full moon’s light you buried me. I haven’t stayed there! On our last birthday together you took my gifts and then my life. Together born, together dead. I’m coming for you, brother!”

Huh. So this villain murdered his twin? Who Specter was now impersonating? The villain took a step back, another, and because Specter was still so furious that his stale blood might boil, he snatched the terrified villain in his telekinetic grasp and hurled him off the side of the mountain. The practice on the beach with Asui had definitely paid off—he couldn’t have moved something that size two months ago. “Serves you right!” the ghost shouted after hearing a crash and distant groan.

Kouta stared at Specter, trembling. “Wha-who are you?” the child stammered.

Specter banished the mist and adopted the most disarming posture possible. “I’m Specter. I’m going to take you back to camp.”

“Wha-why? I don’t know you!” That Specter was every bit as frightening as the villain he’d just tossed off a mountain went unsaid. Kouta calmed himself, though. “You’re a hero?” the slightest note of disdain seeped into the final word. Well, they were all entitled to their issues, and this wasn’t the time to try to resolve any of them.

Specter grimaced. “Uh… not exactly.” Kouta gave him a look that didn’t translate between their mental languages. Perhaps he was glad to hear Specter was not a hero, perhaps he was terrified. “Look. I can’t leave you here. The woods are full of villains. I’m not going to hurt you, I swear to M--to a god.” Kouta glared warily but made no further objections. Hesitantly, the child followed Specter at a jog down the little path towards the lodge. The vigilante scanned every rock and tree with his keen night vision. He found an owl and two salamanders, but no more villains.

“Eraser!” shouted Specter, racing into camp with Kouta close behind. “They’re after Bakugou!” The underground pro’s eyes narrowed. “I’m going to tell Mandalay!”

“Specter. Take a message to her. Everyone is authorized to defend themselves. I’ll take the heat for it!” Eraser snatched Kouta and ran back into the building complex. Specter raced back towards the Pussycats to deliver his messages, then continued into the forest to find Kacchan. It would be a long night.

 

Chapter Text

The “test of courage” was officially the scariest damn thing Katsuki could remember. He’d been afraid at the USJ--not a word was said on it of course. He’d been afraid when Todoroki nearly died, not for himself, but for his classmate or… maybe for himself in a sense. Losing someone was a wound that never stopped weeping blood. It hurt and he didn’t want to feel like that again, or let any of his… friends feel it either--or his frenemies for that matter. Even that jerk Monoma shouldn’t have to feel like that.

Katsuki was terrified now not because Mandalay sent out a message warning him that he was a kidnapping target but because his current companion Kirishima (who had managed to barely pass the final exam and join them for the courage test because his partner in the exam, Yaoyorozu, was brilliant) wasn’t a target so if the villains came they might just kill the red-head and be done with it. So what if the freaks grabbed Katsuki? Heaven knew he deserved worse, but if someone died because of him, again--he didn’t want to think about it. And he knew Kirishima would die before he let a villain mess with one of his friends. Why did everyone have to be so selfless?

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Katsuki growled, making sure Kirishima never left his line of sight. Kirishima kept pace with Katsuki as they jogged through the forest. The distant blue fires eating the trees cast enough light to make out some vague shapes and shadows, but not enough to risk running flat out--this was no place to break an ankle.

An eldritch screech of rage--a clatter of metal--holy hell those were that thing’s teeth! Kirishima hardened his skin, raising a wrist to defend against the razor-steel gushing from a villain’s mouth. Katsuki blasted the… teeth near him to smithereens, but they were already growing back.

Another screech--it wasn’t tooth face--Dark Shadow exploded out of the trees sending wood flying like shrapnel in his fury, talons ripping at the toothed villain--and everything around it--Kirishima slammed Katsuki into the dirt, lying over him protectively as steel and wood snapped and cracked in a maelstrom of destruction.

“Light!” Asui screamed, flying past Katsuki in a radioactive blaze. Mantella would be a good new name for her. Light he could do. Katsuki rolled Kirishima off and snapped his fingers, calling up a barrage of explosions, advancing as Dark Shadow retreated. Step by step, he dug Tokoyami out of the mountain of darkness. With a final hiss, Dark Shadow retreated and Tokoyami collapsed, sobbing in the relative quiet.

“I’m sorry,” bird head heaved out.

“It’s alright. We understand, at least a little, kero.” Asui picked her classmate up without further fanfare. “We need to get back to Mr. Aizawa.”

“Right,” said Shoji. When did he get there?

“And we need to keep an eye on Bakugou.”

That rubbed Katsuki’s feathers the wrong way. “Shut up, Kirishima. I don’t need babysitters.”

Asui sighed. “That’s not what he meant. You know he’s just worried for you. Now come on.”

They set out through the dark. Every shadow required scrutiny--every crack of a stick called for instant silence and attention. Any hope at stealth went out the window after that fight with Dark Shadow and toothy creep, but if they weren’t quiet, how would they notice someone sneaking up on them?

Something cracked and someone--two someones--fell out of a tree. Katsuki lunged forward at the sight of an adult’s frame—villain--and skidded short at the sight of a child’s frame—no--not here! Was he really hallucinating? Right now at the most utterly inconvenient time possible? The group scattered at the sight of a transparent, bloodied Midoriya Izuku beating the stuffing out of some kind of evil stage magician.

Asui put down Tokoyami and lunged for the villain, overpowering him with ease as ghostly Deku relinquished control to her. Mantella picked up the magician by the shoulders and kicked him… well, far enough that he wouldn’t be much of a threat when he came to if that miserable groan were any indication.

“Specter. What are you doing here?”

Specter? The vigilante? What? Where? Asui was looking at the ghost--who looked exactly like Izuku down to the damn junior high uniform.

“What the actual hell?!” Katsuki screamed so the forest shook even as his compatriots shushed him. Oh god he was crying a little now, too.

Specter (if that’s who he was) raised his fogged eyes. “Hey, Kacchan… I wasn’t going to… show up like this but then I saw the magician guy and then we had a fist fight and fell out of the tree…”

“But why are you here, kero?”

“Still following Eraserhead around.”

What? Asui knew Specter--and he’d said Kacchan--no. That didn’t make any sense because “Izuku you’re dead!” screamed Katsuki.

“Hey, not cool. We don’t have time for more fighting and what’d he do to you?” asked Shoji.

“No! Literally! You’re dead! I was at your damn funeral!”

“Ribbit?”

“Later!” hissed… Specter? Deku? Izuku? Someone. “I want to be the only dead person here when the night ends, so we need to go! I can see in the dark, so follow me.”

The gobsmacked group exchanged bewildered glances but eventually Asui picked up Tokoyami and set off after… someone. The rest followed.

Katsuki was shaking. Adrenaline did that, of course. Kirishima, bless his sunshine heart, didn’t say a word, although he gave Katsuki a bewildered, concerned look--right, he knew about Izuku, too, knew the whole damn, putrid story. This could be a villain’s trick, a really psychotic one, but Asui recognized the guy as Specter and Specter supposedly did follow Aizawa around and… Aizawa had suddenly asked Katsuki about Izuku out of the blue--no. Just none of this made any sense at all and he couldn’t blow it up and he shouldn’t yell at it ‘cause who knew what might be listening--they were back.

“Mr. Aizawa,” Asui leapt ahead, a look of supreme relief on her face.

“Go right inside,” the teacher said after checking Tokoyami for injuries. Their teacher was, evidently, about to leave again. “There are still students in the woods.”

The Deku thing said, “I’ll come,” chasing after the teacher who sighed but didn’t try to protest. Katsuki stumbled into the classroom, put his head down on the cold wood of the nearest desk and proceeded to have a nervous breakdown--or he assumed that’s what was happening--the whole world was spinning, his head was in the clouds, he might or might not be sobbing--nobody better say anything--and he couldn’t tell if he was asleep or not. Could he just be imagining it all?

Whispering. Kirishima perhaps? “Bro?” the red-head’s distorted voice called softly. Katsuki didn’t answer.

“What’s wrong with him?” whispered Ashido.

“We met Specter. He was out in the woods. Bakugou recognized him… We should give him a few minutes, kero.”

Why’d she have to say anything at all? Too much noise--too many voices--and flashing lights--sirens. The EMT’s had arrived. Someone threw a blanket over Katsuki's shoulders. Kirishima shepherded the two of them through the chaos.

Gradually the world came back into focus. Mr. Aizawa appeared before him, kneeling to meet Katsuki’s gaze--the explosion wielder had slumped into a heap on a bench after being triaged. “What the hell?” Katsuki offered up. He gestured wildly, almost like Iida might, and hoped the point got across.

His homeroom teacher sighed deeply. “I didn’t work out who Specter was until a few weeks ago. When I revealed that I knew, he disappeared and only reappeared at the training camp.” The first night… had Katsuki really seen that, then? That half-remembered dream wasn’t a dream? “As you probably guessed already, Midoriya Izuku wasn’t actually quirkless. His quirk allowed him to return as a ghost after his death. I’d never heard of anything like it.”

“Me neither,” Katsuki heard himself say. “Can’t be real… oh hell, does auntie Inko know?” None of this made any sense. Why wouldn’t Izuku come back if he hadn’t really died? Or hadn’t stayed dead rather? A whirlwind of horrible explanations collapsed inward in his mind.

“No,” Aizawa replied, “and I am quite sure he had no intention of revealing his existence to you tonight. He has been of the opinion that everyone is better off without him… and possesses a long list of psychological problems well above my pay grade.”

Katsuki nodded numbly. “They can’t possibly pay you enough to deal with this.”

“Very true,” the underground hero sighed, tossing rogue strands of hair from his eyes.

“Where… is he now?” where had his beautiful numbness gone? Now he felt like someone was strangling him with fear and self-loathing.

Aizawa shrugged. “He helped find and carry unconscious students--telekinesis is useful for potential spinal injuries--then disappeared. He might just be exhausted or he might have panicked about revealing himself to you and decided to disappear again.”

“I’m here,” came a soft voice.

Izuku faded into bloody existence a few meters away--then he was suddenly a lot closer because Katsuki lunged at him--what was he doing? Katsuki tackled the ghost, crushing the middle-schooler’s frame in his arms. “You absolute moron!”

“Kacchan! You’ll get blood all over your shirt!” Deku protested weakly, waving his arms about.

“I don’t give a damn about that!” the blonde spat. “Why would you do this? Do you know what you’ve put us through?”

“Sorry. I’m sorry…”

“No! Stop that! You shouldn’t be--I mean you should--just accept that other people are assholes sometimes, okay? Not everything is always your fault!” Oh no. He’s crying again--and of course Izuku starts too while begging “Kacchan” to stop crying and apologizing again and Katsuki can’t believe he’s crying like this and Deku needs to stop saying he’s sorry--

Aizawa steered them back inside away from curious gazes attracted to the commotion. “Thank you, Specter,” the teacher said.

“For what?” the ghost phased out of Katsuki’s grip as he stumbled on the carpet.

“Not taking off at the first sign of trouble.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Katsuki got a grip on himself shortly. “You’re gonna’ tell auntie,” was the next thing out of his mouth.

“But-”

“You’re gonna’ tell her!

“Kacchan-she’ll have a heart attack!”

That was probably true. “Fine, you moron. I’ll help.”

Aizawa, returning form one of his countless conversations with emergency responders, overheard the last comment. “Bakugou?”

“Yeah?”

“You need to let me and Nedzu handle this.”

“Why should I? You don’t even know auntie!”

Aizawa stared at the two boys until they wilted. “Lawyers.”

“Oh…”

“They’re taking the critical cases to the hospital right now. You’ll both be picked up in half an hour or so. Sit tight for now, both of you, and don’t do anything insane.” The underground hero strode back into the fray leaving the two former classmates alone.

“Why didn’t you come back?” Katsuki croaked at last, sounding far too defeated. Aizawa had already said, but it still didn’t make sense.

Izuku shifted nervously. “Well, it’s not like I really felt much different?”

“The hell does that mean?”

“After I killed myself, I felt just as miserable and worthless and destructive as I had before I… I still feel that way--like I ought to just stay gone--so you’ll be happy, so mom will be happy, so I don’t drag anyone down with me.” Izuku curled in on himself as he spoke, seeming to shrink.

“You think we’re happy without you? Deku! Sorry,” and he really felt it like a hammer blow when he used that name by accident. “I have been miserable. Auntie has been miserable. People who barely know you have been miserable!” He hadn’t been the only one jumpy during senior year of middle school--at least two students had been treated for PTSD. Katsuki hadn’t even realized you could get that just from hearing about something awful. The more you know the darker the world seems. “You… look. Just stop it. Please stop it. I’m a bastard, okay? We were all assholes to you for whatever dumb reason but we were wrong and you were wrong and you’re still wrong. The things I said when I was semiconscious the other night? In retrospect you were being super creepy there--but it was all true, so believe me, please.” No reply.

Well… this had been a wild day--and the universe had just ripped up all his plans but, at the same time, tossed a second chance on a platter like a juicy steak. Everyone else on the bus, while they played their stupid question game, had no chance of ever rectifying their past mistakes or misdeeds, but Katsuki did--even if he didn’t feel up to the challenge. He’d failed before in the worst kind of way. Maybe he was just destined to fail every time.

Chapter Text

The fire hydrant exploded like a rocket, soaking a small-time hero and smashing down a street sign with the force of the geyser. Witch wasn’t going to stop to steal that sign, though. That was Ravel’s thing—stealing street signs. No one had any idea why, not even Ravel, but they were all entitled to their quirks (heh).

“See you around!” Animal Witch cackled, leaning forward to hold onto her familiar’s mighty crest as Afrit took the next corner at a break-neck pace. The longer she worked with Afrit, the scarier the plumed basilisk became in this enhanced form. When they were both kids, he could barely smack around an alligator—now he was a verifiable dinosaur and easily a match for a top-ten pro.

A crowd of civilians in a crosswalk screamed and scattered like leaves in the wind, some running in circles amidst the pandemonium, smarter ones making for the shelter offered by nearby shops… most of which had locked their doors and shuttered their windows the moment they saw a cackling woman decked out head to toe in (very stylish) black body armor barreling down the street on a thirty meter lizard.

They’d been around this block already—there was Phalanx still laid out in the flower bed where they’d left him. The kid thought he was a real hot-shot making it into the top fifty heroes at his age, but Witch had handled him herself--no need for Afrit--with a Molotov cocktail, a well-aimed punch to the nose, and a series of wicked cuts to a few key tendons. It was a nasty thing to do, sure, but he’d tried to impale her on a dozen spears. When the heroes fought to kill, she fought to maim and humiliate. A decent healer could probably fix him up with no harm done, anyway.

It would be their last time around the block. Ravel exploded through a third story window, electric blue hair streaming out behind him, hefty briefcase in one hand. Blue and black body armor coated him from head to toe, not even his eyes visible beneath the tinted visor. What was visible? The epic hair, two dozen knives, an assault rifle, and an intimidating set of grenades.

Ravel landed on Afrit’s back, rolling to a stop nimbly and giving a thumbs up for “complete success.”

“Hell yeah baby! Let’s get out of here Afrit! There’s gonna’ be so much amazing sake tonight!”

Afrit took off for the river, leaping over one cop car and swinging his tail forward to casually smash another out of the way.

“Any trouble on your end?” Ravel asked.

“Some top fifty idiot with a god complex got creamed. And you?”

“Just small fry.” It was impossible to say for sure what that meant. Ravel was a master of classy understatements. He might mean “two or three security guards” or he might mean “the entire Roman empire.” “But what do you want with this briefcase anyway?” 

Oh. Did she forget to explain? Well, she did only decide to rob this place an hour ago… and she’d only called Ravel like thirty minutes ago. It had been a great conversation. “Hey man! How are you? Wanna’ rob a physics lab this afternoon? Great, great. Two o’clock sounds fine.”

Anyway. Why did she want it? Oh, right. “Lasers!”

“Lasers?”

“Supposedly, this research lab you just trashed was working on hyped up lasers for “science” they say. You have the experimental model in that case! If it works, we are totally robbing that bank next month, you know the one with the super thick vault door? Yeah. We can just melt the damn thing!”

Ravel cackled as Afrit leapt over a confused civilian and smacked down a speed limit indicator. Ravel reached for the piece of flying sheet metal (which definitely indicated that they were speeding) but it was a bit too far away. Seriously, didn’t he have enough stolen street signs by now? “You think that one month is enough time for the pros to forget we have this thing?”

“Oh yeah! So long as we keep causing our usual level of chaos and destruction…”

“They’ll figure it didn’t work out and we went back to our usual games. I love it.”

Screaming drowned out their attempt at conversation as Afrit crashed through a picture window into a big-box clothing store then leapt through the sback wall of the store and down a steep embankment into the river, vanishing beneath the surface.

A number of pros, including someone in the top-twenty, rushed through the remains of the window, took a look at the anarchy, and split into two groups. One attended to the injured civilians and another chased after the supervillains and their lizard.

The lights sputtered and died, the entire store cast into darkness as the heroes saw to the injured—there wasn’t anything more serious than a few cuts and scrapes. The chaos, however, was sufficient that no one took any notice of Animal Witch as she stepped out of a ruined changing room, staring around the darkened store in a feigned daze before walking right out the front door.

She liked to play a different part every time she left a scene. Today she was the disgruntled business woman, briefcase in hand, hair up in a neat bun. She wiped the dust from her disheveled suit and screamed into her phone at an imaginary coworker who was, apparently, an absolute moron. This outfit easily covered and obscured most of her body armor. The rest, as well as her weapons (those not concealed in her boots) fit neatly in her briefcase.

Ravel, who liked to come heavily armed and often needed to carry a backpack or gym bag filled with loot rather than knives and explosives, typically tossed most of his weapons at the end of every operation. She caught site of him walking into a coffee shop across the street. Cops sprinted past him without lending a single glance. He would meet up with her later tonight.

Afrit—who had by now shrunk down to the size of a normal basilisk to evade pursuit—would rejoin Witch at his earliest convenience. Sometimes no one chased him and he was back within minutes. Sometimes it took him hours to ditch the aquatic heroes on his tail, but he was an absolute beast. She didn’t worry about him any more than she worried about Ravel. Both of her boys were just as good as her—they could go toe to toe with the biggest of the big and the baddest of the bad (presuming the number one and number two heroes didn’t suddenly take an interest in hunting them down).

Witch took a page from Ravel’s book and stopped at a café across the street to ask for some water for her “parched throat.” That’s the first rule of evading unwanted attention after pulling a badass stunt like this: take your time and imitate the behavior of the crowd. Everyone here believed the danger had truly passed them by: businesses were still open, some people who had been eating lunches at outdoor tables had returned to their meals, there was no stampede. People who had planned to be in this area today were not revising their plans or returning home—morons. How did they know she wasn’t still around? Or planning to come back? They ought to be running for their lives. People were insane (and they called her crazy). None the less, she’d pretend to be one of them—one of the “citizens.”

Witch power walked back to “work,” still on the phone with an imaginary coworker. She passed Ravel--who was ordering a sandwich--without a glance.

Witch made her way back to their base of operations over the course of the next two hours after making absolutely certain no one was tailing her and changing her outfit into something more “working class.” She padded up the rusty metal stairs to the unassuming warehouse (“Hardware Supply Depot” if you believed the sign) keyed in the code, stepped deftly past the trip wires, circumvented the lasers, jumped over the deadfall, pushed open the secret door on the left wall and slid down the ladder into the basement. It was like a game of hopscotch to get in here.

Fluorescent lights illuminated a large, scantly decorated hall with polished linoleum floors. There were plenty of sketchier rooms in this place, but this finished and furnished area was where most of the actual work got done. There was a television in the corner with a fridge, arm chairs and futons. Tables covered in weapons, half-assembled bombs and support items, and evil plans were scattered about the place seemingly at random. In one corner, a variety of weapons and practice mats were available for sparring. Ravel would probably want to fight when he got back. It didn’t look like the lab security gave him much of a workout. He was like a border collie, seriously, always in need of more exercise.

Motivore’s silky sweet voice echoed from the holding cells in the room to the left. There were only two cells and rarely were they occupied. Motivore kidnapped for ransom very occasionally, but usually the cells were only inhabited for a few hours at a time while the silver-tongued villain sweet talked hapless fools into making horrible decisions.

Kidnapping and killing were two things that Animal Witch didn’t do. It wasn’t just because those crimes were things that high-class heroes had to pay attention to and the fact that Ravel and Animal Witch didn’t commit them meant that they were automatically a lower priority, always on the back burner. It was more: crying, miserable, scared people were something to avoid, whether they were crying, miserable, and scared because they had just been kidnapped or because someone they cared about had just been killed. Moreover, funerals were awful and Witch hated the idea of causing them. Ravel’s opinions on abductions and murders were even more vehemently negative than hers. Ravel and Witch were such badasses that they had easily lived it up as agents of chaos and destruction for years without a single fatality ever directly attributed to either of them (if some hopelessly out of shape, voluntarily unhealthy guy had a heart attack watching Afrit knock over a tree, that wasn’t really Witch’s fault). Motivore had tried to talk Ravel into snatching some chick for him once and Ravel had told him quite plainly that if he ever asked again he’d lose a finger.

Witch liked running wild, smashing things, destroying cop cars, beating up idiot heroes with her giant lizard, and making off with expensive loot. Ravel liked blowing things up, causing chaos, stealing street signs, plotting complicated mayhem, and fighting with really high-class heroes (and villains). Motivore liked mind games, fencing and buying luxurious items, manipulating enemies into doing his work for him, and spreading a quieter, more insidious kind of anarchy. He was certainly an extraordinarily useful ally, especially since he was intricately connected to dozens of underground crime rings, but some of the things he did really rubbed Witch the wrong way.

“You really do want to tell me the combination. Honestly, you hate your employer. He’s a jerk. You’ve been waiting years to screw him over. He’s such a demanding, pompous oaf. I hate him too. I’ll screw him over for you, just give me the combination.”

“Hell yes!” snarled the man behind the bars. His eyes were wide, pupils dilated, teeth bared. “He’s the worst! Steal all his savings! Make him cry! I’ll tell you the combination! I’ll tell you anything you want to know! Then I’m gonna’ go slash his tires!” Apparently this poor, sharply dressed fool had forgotten he was still locked up, but people often seemed to lose track of the context when Motivore was cranking their emotions.

“Thank you, sir! Here, write it all down.” Motivore passed a notebook and pen to his raving captive. “Animal Witch! Did you have a good afternoon?”

“It was awesome,” she laughed. “I beat up this idiot hero, smashed cars, Ravel jumped out of a third story window like some action movie scene, and then we totally destroyed a department store!”

Motivore raised an eyebrow. “Did you actually steal something or was this one of you “fun” things?” Animal Witch rolled her eyes. Motivore just couldn’t appreciate “fun.” He never seemed to do anything unless there was a big heap of cash waiting for him at the end of the road.

“We stole something. Once the heat’s off we’re gonna’ rob that bank. You know the one? Yeah. It’ll be so great.” She was really looking forward to that. “You help us get some information from the bank staff and you’ll get a piece of the action.”

“It would be my genuine pleasure,” Motivore purred. He was a big man, much taller and bulkier than Animal Witch or Ravel. Black, silky locks framed his sharp features and beady eyes. The metal gloves he always wore had huge, razor claws that could easily rip a person to pieces. Similarly intimidating spikes accented his hefty armor which was probably four times heavier than that Witch wore. Motivore didn’t need to be fast, after all. Unlike Witch and Ravel, he relied almost entirely on his quirk in fights. Had he ever come out of the shadows and started involving himself in confrontations, he certainly could have earned a triple-S rating himself in a matter of weeks. It wasn't that hard to do.

Animal Witch had earned her triple-S by taking down three heroes, national ranks 25, 17, and 13, in a single fight. Ravel had earned his by smacking the number five around until the hero couldn’t stand anymore then literally running the guy up a flagpole. It had been unspeakably awesome. They’d all got together that night, watched the news and laughed then had “triple-shots for the new triple-S supervillain.”

A patter of little feet announced the arrival of Afrit. “There you are!” Witch lunged to meet her familiar who enlarged himself to the size of a grizzly bear in anticipation of the fierce hug he had coming. “You are such a beast. I love you,” Witch nuzzled the smooth scales of Afrit’s throat. “Anyone chase you?”

“Nope,” he replied telepathically. The empathy they shared meant words were rarely needed to communicate. In fact, words often seemed to muddle things. Sometimes the two of them went weeks without “speaking.”

“Good show.”

“Hey nerds,” called the grouchy voice of Pigeon. Of all the villain names the teenager could have chosen, why had she chosen Pigeon? No one had the slightest idea.

“Lovely to see you my dear,” chuckled Motivore, waving to the thin, rattily dressed girl. Pigeon was a drug dealer in the worst kind of way, but incredibly smart and quite rich even after a scant two years working in the underground.

“I need your help with this shipment, Vore,” Pigeon grumbled, slouching and shuffling to meet him. “My usual dock isn’t available ‘cause some nutcase with a fire quirk decided to find out whether diesel fuel is explosive.” Witch guffawed. Sounded like her kind of fellow.

Motivore raised an eyebrow. “Of course. Let’s chat.” They went into a side room, and Witch stayed nearby. It wasn’t that Pigeon couldn’t take care of herself… it wasn’t that Witch didn’t trust Motivore… she just ought to stay nearby. Afrit seconded the decision. Witch made a show of fussing with her familiar’s face scales, rubbing at the scuffs. She ought to get some polishing oil out for him. Always look your best while doing your worst, and make sure your giant lizard looks his best, too.

The teleporter, Anonymous, stopped by to pick up lunch, raising an incredulous eyebrow at Animal Witch who was still rubbing non-existent dirt off Afrit. Witch shrugged. Anonymous stuffed a sandwich in his pocket, pulled his tan cowboy hat back on and vanished into thin air, off to tell some big shot something on some other big shot’s behalf or maybe make some sketchy delivery. It was always weird to realize that Witch was a big shot herself now. She didn’t plot or coordinate as much as either Ravel or Motivore, but she had more than enough infamy, contacts, and influence to call herself a big shot. Had for years.

Motivore and Pigeon concluded their chat. Afrit and Witch started wrestling to distract from the fact that they had obviously been waiting by the door. Pigeon was clearly unimpressed, but she just kept walking like the ultra-suave mob boss she was on track to become.

Motivore turned his dark eyes on the two wrestlers. “You know that kid, Bluebell?”

“Yeh,” Afrit let her up and Witch dusted herself off.

“I’m absolutely sick of people like that sticking their noses in our business. Who does he even think he is?”

Witch snorted. Who did he think he was? The guy was always up to something, moving in on their turf. “He clearly thinks he’s a big man.”

“I’ve been thinking someone ought to teach him a lesson about respecting other’s territory.”

“I couldn’t agree more. I have some time this evening.” Well, she had plenty of time almost every evening. That was one of the real perks of supervillainy, flexible working hours. Make full time or part time money, be your own boss, and no need to join an MLM! Actual pyramid schemes pay much better than fake ones. “I could beat him senseless and toss him in a dumpster if you happen to know where he’s gonna’ be.”

“In fact I do know where he’s going to be,” Motivore smiled suavely. “Here’s the address.”

“I know this bar. Great place. They have a karaoke machine and a mechanical bull. Maybe I’ll get a drink before I smash Bluebell flat.”

“I don’t understand why you insist on mixing business and pleasure like that,” Motivore sighed.

“You need to loosen up,” Witch pocketed the address. “I’ll head out in an hour or two.”

She dressed to kill. This wasn’t going to be a serious fight (she’d hit the road if any real heroes showed up) so there was no need for heavy body armor, merely a bullet-proof vest under her shirt. She dressed up in high-heeled motorcycle boots, black leather pants and a long, blood-red, jean jacket. Black leather gloves and a scarlet hat straight out of Carmen Sandiego finished the look and obscured her face. She’d pull on a balaclava instead when the actual fighting started. Hats don’t stay put in fist fights. She might lose it in the shuffle, but she could always buy another one. Five knives, two stun grenades, and a pistol were concealed in her boots and various pockets.

Afrit, now the size of a regular basilisk, clambered up Witch’s outfit, nudging her hat aside and curling up on the top of her head. “You’re still a bit big for that,” Witch told her lizard, but they’d make it work. Time to rock and roll.

Taking public transportation to commit a crime was always fun. Witch sat smugly in the back of the train car, trying to stifle the laughter that kept threatening to bubble out of her throat. The sun cast its last, ruddy rays of light across the land then dived below the horizon. This was her stop.

“The Grey Salmon” was a quaint little bar… where at least one fight broke out every single day. Today there would be at least two fights, because Witch was going to start one.

Bluebell, perched on a bar stool, stared forlornly at his drink. Apparently, his bad day was just going to get worse. He was a slim kid with icy blue eyes, and gossamer, chocolate hair that floated about his face like a halo.

“Hey moron,” Witch said, walking up to her target.

“Uh…?” Bluebell scanned her up and down and blushed. He probably thought she was hot and probably didn’t think she was about to throw him out the window. She should pay for that. This place was fun and probably didn’t have much insurance.

Witch slammed some bills down on the bar top. “For the window,” she said.

“What?” asked the exhausted bar tender—someone with a snake mutation.

Witch picked up Bluebell by the collar, spun him and threw him through the side window (the front window was too far away—the side window was right there—and she didn’t have enough cash on her to cover replacing the front window anyway). “Have a good night,” she told the bar tender then vaulted through the void where the glass once was.

Bluebell rolled shakily to his feet even as Witch lunged for him and landed a hit on his shoulder. The kid was probably a fair bit older than Pigeon. Maybe around Ravel’s age—presuming that Witch had guessed Ravel’s age correctly.

Bluebell got into a defensive stance, even as a look of abject bewilderment flooded his features. “Who the hell are you? Why are you doing this?”

“You ought to learn to keep to your own turf. I know there’s no “How to be a Supervillain” manual and all that, but this lesson is just plain obvious. You step on my toes, or Motivore’s toes, we grind your face into the dirt. That’s how it is.”

Bluebell threw a punch, fingers crackling with purple lightning. It didn’t land. Afrit tossed aside Witch’s obscuring hat and leapt out into the fray. By the time his feet touched the ground he had grown to the size of a tiger. Bluebell’s eyes flew wide as Afrit’s mighty tail smacked the back of his knees and sent him to the ground. The lizard leapt on him, pinned him down, claws digging into his shoulders. “Learning your lesson yet?” Witch lilted. Bluebell’s fingers lit up with electricity again—Afrit hissed and leapt back to avoid burns. Witch kicked Bluebell in the head eliciting a yelp of pain—

“Hey!” growled a rough voice. Hero. How annoying. Witch knew this one—underground heroes weren’t always as sneaky as they liked to think. The girl’s name was Torrent, a completely counterintuitive title based on her anti-quirk field. It wasn’t that no one could use a quirk near her, it was that any standing effects of quirks were “washed away” when she came near—hence Torrent.

How irritating. Afrit shrank back to a basilisk’s natural size as Torrent approached, her pale costume ghostly in the dim light. No matter. Torrent wasn’t a match for Witch in hand to hand. Neither was Bluebell, and one more kick and the little creep would be out of the fight—

Wait. What? “What the hell am I doing?” Witch asked, staring at Torrent. The whole world had just shifted on its axis. Why was she here? She barely knew Bluebell, couldn’t have cared less what he was doing with his time. There was plenty of room in the underworld for drug dealers and pirates and ne’er-do-wells. Why was she beating him senseless in a dark alley?

Torrent stared at Witch in confusion, modified quarterstaff held in hand. Afrit was just as confused… apparently their telepathic bond didn’t count as a “standing effect” and they could still communicate as normal even with Torrent right there. Afrit should get out of here, gain enough distance to make a lasting side-shift  and then lead the pursuit astray. Witch should run, too… she could take these two, but why should she? Something was really, really wrong, and until she figured out what it was, run.

Dark roads, apartment complexes, fences, fire escapes, public parks, abandoned shrines. She had lost her pursuit long ago, weaving through the shadows, becoming a part of the night, then a part of the crowds, running and then walking.

The rage seeped into her blood like poison before she consciously realized what had happened. It was obvious, and she should have seen it coming. How many times had Motivore done this to her? Or to Pigeon, or Anonymous or Ravel? It was impossible to say… Should she even go back to the warehouse? If he realized that she knew… his powers allowed him to sense emotions as well as manipulate them. He’d know how angry she was, the betrayal to the authorities which she plotted as revenge… but there wasn’t any real choice. There were things at their hideout that she couldn’t part with—incriminating or precious for other reasons—and that was where Ravel was planning to meet her this evening. He had to be warned, too. Motivore ought to be gone by now; he liked his beauty sleep.

Witch circumvented the warehouse traps by reflex, leaping down into the dark. Ravel wasn’t back yet—he would have been lounging on that couch like king of the world, smirking at her. What was there to do? There were phones to fetch, a stash of cash and jewelry (the easily fencible kind) to grab, blueprints…

“What are you doing?” Damnit. Why was Motivore still here?

“Just grabbing some things for a heist.”

“No you’re not,” the traitor glowered at her, his frame menacing in the half-light. “What are you doing, Animal Witch?”

Rage bled through onto her face, and Witch couldn’t tell if it was her rage or not. She couldn’t trust instincts, emotions, thoughts with that bastard in the room. She couldn’t trust her own personality. Would she have been a straight up different person if she had never met him? Was she a different person now? Who was Animal Witch, then? She always knew who she was, what she wanted, or she thought she did. Was any of it real? Had she really ever lived at all?

Motivore glowered and growled. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Witch hissed, snatching the last of the items that could possibly be traced to her from a case beneath a table.

“You noticed,” the traitor took a step towards her. Witch stood her ground.

“Back the hell off,” Witch snarled in return, blood boiling. “How dare you. How dare you! I thought you were someone worthy of my respect, even if you did rub me the wrong way sometimes! You son of a bitch!”

The traitor snorted. “It’s amazing how naïve you are given you’re only a few years younger than me. Do you really not get it? This is how the underworld works. There are no friends. No allies. Everyone is using you.”

“Bah!” Absolutely wrong. Honor among thieves was a fantasy invented by idealist children’s writers who wanted to make the world seem like a happy place, but friends among thieves were common enough. A majority of the most successful villains had battle teams or partners they trusted with their lives. She had Afrit and Ravel… and Motivore used them and leeched off them and abused them.

“You really think you have any high ground to stand on? You’re no better than me, Witch. If you had my power you’d be doing the same.”

No she would not. Witch clamped down on the fury and stalked away, keeping an eye on Motivore as she did so. There was no turning one’s back on someone like that. It was a good thing she kept him in view.

She’d been dropped into icy water, panic stifling her along with the liquid as she fought to breathe—this fear wasn’t her own. Motivore lunged. Animal Witch ran.

His armor slowed him down and the artificial panic made her fast. Second door on the left—stairs up to the factory level. She took them four at a time, slamming the door open and fighting the feelings: she did want to get away. She didn’t want to be caught. That desire was not her own. The fear was not her own… oh gods where was the door to get out of here? She knew, she’d been here for years. It was—it was—couldn’t think.

Witch ducked under a conveyor belt, sliding among the shadows—god they were moving like snakes. Were they moving? They couldn’t be. That didn’t make sense. Hold still. Quiet. She wanted to run, or did she? That could be what Motivore wanted. She lay still.

“Come out, come out wherever you are,” Motivore’s sing-song whisper drifted through the shadow maze cast by the dim glow of the skylights. Where was he? The echoes off the skeletal machines and cracking concrete walls buried every clue. He could have lost her—he could be right behind her. Was this what a rabbit felt like pinned beneath the eagle’s gaze? Lie still, lie still, pray he didn’t see you move, pray he doesn’t spot you now. You could run, but he could catch you. Keep still.

“You’ve always been so damn annoying,” Motivore continued. “You and Ravel both. There were so many times when it would have been convenient for you to kill people for me, but you took to that suggestion like cats tossed in a bathtub, like you’re both somehow above murder, when I know for a fact people have died during your little raids. Heart attacks, car accidents in the chaos, someone jumped out of a window because he thought Ravel was chasing him…”

Was he right? He was right. No. He wasn’t. He just wanted her to think he was right. She wasn’t like him. “Shut up,” oh gods she’d said that aloud.

“Speak up! I didn’t quite catch that!” He was right there reaching for her—

Witch tackled the traitor. “I said you need to shut up!” she screamed, voice distorted into a banshee’s wail of terror and fury. That fury, at least, was her own.

She swung at his nose. He ducked. It was impossible to see clearly in the darkness, but he could predict her movements from what she was feeling. Just like Ravel always knew where you were going to try to land a hit almost before you did. Motivore caught her next punch, his talon-gloves slicing into her wrist. He’d left himself exposed. Witch kicked him between the legs. Low blows were what he deserved, after all. Motivore howled in pain and rage but his armor took most of the force and his claws were back at her throat in an instant.

Some strategy besides running—what could-what could she—what could she do if she couldn’t even think? Every thought dripped into a maelstrom of hate and fear and self-loathing that bordered on suicidal mania. Worthless. She wanted to die here, terrified in the dark like a snake crushed underfoot. That wasn’t her desire, though.

Instinct saved her from the next two blows, her muscles reacting to the flash of those deadly metal claws raking through the ink even though her mind had taken a vacation to hell. There was no winning like this—run. She managed the presence of mind to toss a stun grenade in Motivore's face and her enemy roared in fury.

Motivore composed himself and gave chase. She was still faster. The door was on this side, wasn’t it? No. There was nothing here but more of the same broken-down conveyors and storage crates. Why hadn’t they removed all this junk? They could have kept Ravel’s street sign collection up here! That would have been a better use of this space and it wouldn’t look like a cyborg graveyard. There were enough nightmares in her mind without the tricks the shadows played. She could have sworn some of the conveyors were inching forward, some of the old machines stuttering along to life, their shadows dancing in macabre slow motion. Where was she? Had she made a wrong turn? What turn had she meant to make? Everything looked the same. Her eyes wouldn’t focus through the glaze of misery and terror.

Where was she? Where was Motivore? She couldn’t hear a thing. His armor wasn’t meant to be quiet, why couldn’t she hear—

“Hello sweet heart,” claws raked across the back of her neck, Motivore’s whole weight crashing on top of her as they fell to the ground. She reached back, clawed at his eyes. He screeched and sent fire running through her every nerve, digging knife points through her shoulders and chest and neck. She managed to twist and punch him in the nose, but it was a weak blow, eliciting nothing more than a grunt, and Witch was too dizzy to try again.

Hot blood pooled around her on the floor, her already fuzzy awareness fading, leaking into the ground, back to the earth from whence it came.

“You first, then Ravel, and probably Anonymous, too, and a few of the others… just the morons,” snarled Motivore in her ear, “the ones that can’t handle a bit of manipulation. The ones that can’t look the other way when someone gets a well-deserved knife in the back.”

Motivore stood up and kicked Witch once more in her side, but she was already numb… physically and emotionally. Maybe all the chemical signals her brain had on hand had been used up already. She couldn’t feel anything at all. She was never going to see Afrit again and she didn’t even care. Death gaped at her with wings spread wide, cold and deep and dark as the most mysterious of ocean trenches. She stared into its jaws serenely. “Ravel is going to kill you,” Witch said. She never heard Motivore’s reply, so in the end she had the last word.

Chapter Text

Nearly everyone had been fetched by parents already--those who were cleared to leave the hospital anyway. Kacchan was still pouting in the waiting room, Specter collapsed in a daze beside him. The blond was busy interrogating Aizawa about the status of classmates and the “who, what, and why” of the whole attack.

“So they stole Ragdoll?”

“We’ll get her back,” Eraser replied, but Specter heard the worry in the hero’s voice.

“And they were after me at the training camp because…?”

“I can’t really say.”

“Like hell you can’t! What, were they holding a grudge or did they think they could turn me?” Specter knew the look on the teacher’s face. Roughly translated from Aizawa-speak it meant: “don’t ask questions you don’t want answered.”

“Oh my god they did…” the blonde abruptly deflated. “Morons.”

Specter winced at the hollow tone--something had hit a nerve. “Kacchan…?”

“Not now.” The blonde turned away. “You have your own problems anyway.”

“Uh… what?”

“Telling auntie before someone does it for you. She deserves to know. I don’t care if you’re scared. You know you have to do this.” It appeared the threat of “lawyers” could only control Kacchan for so long.

“It would be a wise decision,” chirped a familiar voice. Specter turned to find Nedzu watching him with eyes of glittering obsidian.

Specter murmured. “I can’t just… show up. Like I said, she’ll have a heart attack.”

“Aizawa and I will be perfectly happy to help you as soon as we… resolve this current predicament and speak to the proper legal professionals. Aizawa, if you please, I need to speak with you.” The heroes walked away.

Aizawa called over his shoulder. “I’ll be back for you as soon as I can make it. Please be here when I get back.”

Kacchan, face twisting between guilt, rage, and mortified hopelessness, shooed Specter away so he wandered the halls checking on injured students, wishing he could have somehow spared them the pain. Kacchan was gone when he returned, his parents having finally fetched him. It took them long enough.

Specter occupied himself watching the news in the off-white waiting rooms, usually invisible, sometimes not. Hours passed. Had Nedzu and Aizawa forgotten about him, then, running off to deal with this next crisis and leaving him to his own devices again? He could leave, of course, wander back out into the streets and vanish into the underworld again… but that felt like taking a thousand steps backwards. Aizawa wouldn’t forget him. He would be back just as soon as he could get away. The rest of the day passed in a melancholy blur.

UA was getting a lot of press--and not the good kind. Specter started as Aizawa and Nedzu appeared with two other teachers at a conference table, fielding a thousand angry questions from reporters. A nurse who passed Specter by snorted and muttered derisively at the answers--but what did she know?

Specter made another round, carefully checking on his admitted friends. That took perhaps an hour, maybe closer to two, and yet when Specter returned to the waiting room, the entire world had changed in his absence.

“Disaster in Kamino Ward” the news ticker read. An intrepid reporter with a goat’s head was shouting over the roar of building fires and the scream of emergency vehicles--it looked like solid city blocks had been leveled. “…the villain responsible, All For One of the League of Villains, has been apprehended. Hundreds of reports of casualties have already been filed and more are still coming in…” as if on cue, gurneys began to hurtle past Specter, people shouting all kinds of medical jargon the ghost couldn’t begin to understand. “The aftermath finds number one hero All Might seriously injured and likely forced into retirement. Dozens of other pros have been injured. Numerous are in critical condition. Number four hero, Best Jeanist, was reported dead on the scene…”

Specter swayed and sank backwards into a chair. A square kilometer leveled, All Might off the ranks, Best Jeanist dead, all in the course of an hour? Specter felt the world shaking beneath him, every given falling apart, a revolution leaving only uncertain anarchy in its wake, and here he was on the periphery--part of the tectonic shift but helpless to steer--because the villains were steering now.

Specter drifted down to emergency--watched a blood-soaked gurney rush by. An unusual figure ran after it. The man was pale and tall with a great, black mane of feathers down his back and half a dozen ravens perched on his head and shoulders. He reminded Specter of a certain black winged lady… This was Alta White. Specter had never seen him before but he was mentioned in old hero forums. His quirk was called Necromancer--he could manipulate corpses, thus repair almost any fresh damage done to a dead body. When combined with a conventional healer’s quirk, blood transfusions and a defibrillator, he could save people who simply couldn’t be saved any other way. This was the man who fixed Shouto, piecing Specter’s friend back together while Shouto lay dead on the table during his third surgery. Alta White hadn’t had a long hero career. He was harassed for his “creepy” quirk with its rare applications and high failure rate, had a nervous breakdown, and moved to Switzerland where he, reportedly, spent a lot of time alone with his birds--familiars. Right, they were considered familiars because they were a part of his quirk somehow. He needed them in order to work, which was why they were allowed in the hospital.

One of the ravens winked at Specter--who was still invisible--as the (ex?)-hero rushed by. Specter waved back with a grim twist on his lips, wondering who was being rushed to the OR ahead of Alta White. “Wonder if he could have put me back together,” Specter mused sadly.

 

 

“I’m sorry, ribbit,” Tsuyu cast her eyes down. All Might blinked at her.

“For what exactly?” he proceeded to cough up blood, staining a section of the bandage on his left wrist. He probably shouldn’t be walking given it had been less than eighteen hours since he faced down All For One… but he kept insisting he was fine.

Tsuyu sighed. There was no reason to blame herself for any of this, but she still felt like she should. “I’m sorry you got hurt. I’m sorry you lost One for All. I’m sorry for all the casualties in Kamino Ward. I’m sorry Edgeshot nearly lost his arm, I’m sorry Mt. Lady broke her leg and I’m sorry Best Jeanist got killed. And even though I couldn’t have been there and shouldn’t have been there,” she knew her place, her limitations, and the law, “I feel like it’s my fault because I wasn’t there.”

The waves crashed against Dagobah beach, seagulls screeching. Nearby, one of the gulls watched them curiously as it picked through some dry seaweed. The sun, though its light was just as brilliant as always, didn’t seem to warm the world anymore--as if the laws of physics collapsed along with the pillars of society.

All Might shook his head. “The best heroes always feel that way, even though they shouldn’t. I’ve always felt that way, like I couldn’t possibly do enough, like if I wasn’t there and something went wrong then the outcome was on me.” The retired hero gripped Tsuyu’s shoulder gently. “I don’t think you’ll ever shake that feeling, but just keep reminding yourself, every day, that it’s wrong to think that way. You can’t be everywhere. You can’t know everything. You can’t save everyone.”

The seagull took flight, vanishing into the encroaching fog which drifted up from the sea. “You’re levelheaded--you’ll be able to keep that feeling in check. Let it drive you to aspire to save everyone, but don’t let it consume you.”

Good advice. “What happens now, kero?”

All Might raised an eyebrow. “Now that I’m retired you mean?”

“Yes.”

The ex-number one shrugged. “I will remain a teacher at UA. I’ll keep an eye on you and do what I can to see you reach the full potential of One for All with minimal pain… it’s not always an easy road.”

“What do you think of the dorms?” Tsuyu had mixed feelings about leaving her family. It could be fun, though, to live with her classmates. They had all become tight friends.

All Might shrugged. “It will certainly help with security just…”

“What?”

“I worry still, particularly about student’s families.”

Tsuyu’s blood ran cold. “That… never even occurred to me.”

“But it’s a problem for all pros--I just worry more now--times are changing, becoming more dangerous. And a lot of that is my fault.”

“Ribbit?”

“I allowed, even encouraged, people to rely on me totally, making the number one slot into a larger than life symbol that I couldn’t live up to, and there’s going to be a major world shift now--everyone’s totally unprepared for it.” Endeavour couldn’t hope to fill that role. “I’m somewhat worried about Endeavour, in fact.” It seemed they were taking similar trains of thought.

“Isn’t he always a major jerk to you, kero? Why worry?” Let the flame hero have his just deserts. Tsuyu had disliked him immediately when they met briefly at the Sports Festival, and the more she heard the less she liked. Todoroki Shouto’s expression when he told his classmates that if he could turn back time he would “run away” had been raw and haunting.

All Might snorted a half-laugh. “Oh yes. He is rude to me at the best of times, and I know he’s worse to other people--I’m not blind, merely in the habit of holding my tongue. Endeavour is a nightmare to work with, but that’s no reason not to worry about him.”

Asui wouldn’t be so forgiving. She’d have to work on that. Holding grudges did no one any favors. But there were some things, of course, that could never be forgiven. Some people she would always despise. Like All For One. That hatred would never fade and the memories would haunt her for years…

Tsuyu grimaced, watched the waves, and shivered as the images of Kamino Ward filtered up through her mind. She had watched it live--on an internet stream known for zero editing and pulling no punches--unable to turn away from the screen, frozen and shaking as the spot lights lit up the rubble-strewn streets, the bodies, the rescue heroes working valiantly to save lives, her mentor fighting to save his own life, Mt. Lady prone and pale, face warped with the pain of a fractured femur, Best Jeanist splayed out limp in a heap of debris and blood, eyes closed and shredded ribs displayed for the world to see, Mandalay carrying Ragdoll’s battered form, tears mixing with blood on her face... Tsuyu would never get those images out of her head.

“Young Asui?” A hand on her shoulder shook her from her thoughts.

“I wish I hadn’t watched,” Asui said. “But I couldn’t turn away. I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing someone die, but I couldn’t stand the idea of someone dying if I weren’t watching, either--like it would be a betrayal not to see someone’s last moment--a betrayal to hide my face and not watch someone’s sacrifice.”

All Might stared at her, weighing a reply. “It’s not a betrayal. Heroes don’t go to life-threatening situations demanding to be watched and appreciated. That’s not the point--you know that, and it would make heroics a pretty lousy career choice if it were the case. Dying for TV ratings does not sound fulfilling to me. So remember to care about yourself, Asui. No one wants to see you miserable because of something you saw happen to them. I don’t want you to feel that way.”

She knew. She knew that being watched and appreciated wasn’t the point, but sometimes you needed to hear someone else say even the most obvious things in order to believe them. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Every time he was starting to get his damn life together the whole house of cards came crashing down to the ground again. So here he was blowing up dumpsters. Izuku wasn’t alive, but he wasn’t dead per se, but now All Might was gone and Best Jeanist was dead--he felt like he’d traded one awful reality for another. Katsuki still didn’t know what to say to Izuku or do for Izuku to make anything right--‘cause even if Izuku really did forgive him like he said in that not-dream at the training camp that didn’t clean a slate, didn’t make it okay, and now Katsuki had to try to deal with this Kamino fallout garbage on top of everything else. Emotions were not his thing and he didn’t want any more of them! As if his head wasn’t broken enough already.

Katsuki kicked a rusting metal box out of the way and lit up another trashcan with a satisfying crack. This neighborhood was so crummy no one would even notice his rampage let alone yell at him for it--too busy hearing nothing and seeing nothing in case the cops came by asking questions.

Thunder rumbled in the distance. The sun had long since vanished behind a grey haze. Fitting. Maybe it could pour--soak him to the bone--would serve him right.

He’d very much got off on the wrong foot during his internship; the whole agency just drove him crazy at first and his hairstyle was perfect already, thanks, but… fashion freak actually cared about him, wanted to help him be better--feel better, too, and accepted his stupid, broken brain like it was fine. In retrospect Katsuki probably really had seen Izuku during his internship, but Best Jeanist didn’t know that and hadn’t cared.

The whole Kamino Ward mess happened because they took Ragdoll at the training camp and that felt like it was Katsuki’s fault because the League bastards were chasing him first and Ragdoll seemed to be a consolation prize. And the bastards were after him because they thought he was steps away from becoming one of them, so Kamino Ward, through this--perhaps twisted--logic, was at least partially his fault, so All Might was crippled and Hakamata was dead because of him.

It didn’t ache quite like it did with Izuku who he’d known all his life and tormented right to the edge. The guilt didn’t eat him up like a cloud of piranhas, more like a swarm of locusts. There was the same kind of fury, hot and sharp, but mostly directed outwards rather than inward, and there was the sorrow--deep and tinged with the disappointment of slain “might have beens.” Hakamata kept in contact after Katsuki’s internship, checked on him. Katsuki was thinking seriously about returning to work there next year, and he was sure he’d have been welcome.

Katsuki wandered down a narrow side street. A great black bird cocked its head as he approached. Did he have a cracker? Yes. “Hey,” he sighed. “I suppose I don’t need you to take messages to the nerd for me anymore, but could you tell fashion freak something for me?” The raven cocked its head, stared at the offered cracker, and turned pointedly away. “What, am I not allowed to talk to him or something?” Silence. “I’d just like to tell him I’m sorry--‘cause no one should have to go out like that--but fine. Just take the cracker, no strings attached.” The bird snatched its offering and hopped away, air hissing through its feathers as it took flight.

Maybe they were right--hand creep and all his minions. Every time Katsuki was around good people got kidnapped and killed. Perhaps he really was meant to be one of the villains. All the self-hatred twisted and festered, no one to speak to about it and for once, he’d really like to talk to someone. Even though he had a therapist who occasionally got him to cough out a few sentences about difficult topics he didn’t have anyone to talk to, because the only person to whom he’d ever revealed these shameful, dirty fears was dead now, and he couldn’t make himself spit them out again... and, unfortunately, mental health professionals were not magic. They couldn’t help you with your problems unless you were willing to talk about them.

Did people have destinies, then? Are certain people… meant… for some purpose? Fashion freak said Katsuki’d make a “third-rate villain at best” but Best Jeanist could have been wrong. Clearly Hakamata Tsunagu made mistakes, fatal ones, so maybe he’d been wrong about that, too.

And, god, what was Katsuki going to do about Izuku? He wanted to avoid him forever and also never let him out of his sight again. Maybe he should write a letter--he couldn’t imagine choking out another conversation with his old friend now that the shock of the ghost’s appearance had worn off--but he wouldn’t know what to write. Maybe he should ask Kirishima? But somehow he couldn’t stand the thought of that conversation, either. Maybe he could just ignore it all--walk around town whistling a jaunty tune like everything was fine--until it didn’t hurt so damn much.

 

 

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, your honor,” Nedzu had not--although it probably seemed he had--manipulated events so that it was Judge Kirishima he spoke to on this matter. There would be little advantage in doing so. He knew her reputation well enough--whatever her son may have told her about recent events, she would be impartial.

“It’s not so much agreeing as you’re on the docket,” snorted the raven-haired, shrewd-gazed woman. “And you want to… reform a vigilante?”

“That is correct, your honor.”

“In what sense, Mr. Nedzu? Normally I would have read all the paperwork already but somebody…” A judicial aide scurried up to the woman with a folder, an embarrassed blush on his face, and vanished again through heavy double doors which swung shut behind him with a bang. The judge flipped through her papers. Nedzu waited. “Oh my god,” Judge Kirishima spoke nearly deadpan, but her eye twitched. She closed the folder. “So… you have a ghost vigilante, an actual ghost.”

“Yes.”

“Who killed himself because he was tormented for years because he was quirkless.”

“Yes.”

“And now he follows one of your teachers around like a lost puppy.”

“Yes.” Midoriya did remind Nedzu of a lost puppy sometimes.

“And his mother doesn’t know about any of this.”

“Correct.”

The judge gazed back at Nedzu, eyes slightly glazed. It was a lot to take in. “So what, exactly, do you want to do about this?”

Nedzu grinned. “It is detailed on the next page, your honor. In short, I want to make him a heroics student at UA; if he’s licensed then the “vigilante” part of the problem disappears. Beyond that, I believe my staff and I are far better equipped to reintroduce this child to society than any kind of juvenile detention or rehabilitation facility. As may be evident, Midoriya cannot be restrained by any conventional means. I believe we could convince him to agree to stay at UA and agree to the other terms in the proposal.”

Judge Kirishima perused the contract, scrunching her nose. “If you want to deal with this mess, Nedzu, be my guest. This is just… such a disaster. Every time I think I’ve seen it all…” Nedzu agreed, but the situation was still salvageable. He’d see to that. “This needs the district attorney’s signature as well.”

“He has already agreed,” Nedzu grinned.

Judge Kirishima nodded. “Excellent.” She scribbled her signature across the paperwork. “If you can get Midoriya… and his mother… to agree, he’s all yours. I do hope you get that agreement, because I don’t really want to think about what we’ll do if you don’t,” she cocked her head thoughtfully, “mostly because I have no idea. It would require many long, unpleasant meetings and likely garner few results.”

“You can count on me, your honor.” She could. He would have this one, and the world would be at least marginally better for it... and Nedzu would have a lot of fun teaching this little agent of chaos how to wreak havoc on his enemies. It was a win-win scenario.

 

 

Chapter Text

The scruffy hero was back… with a mouse? Weasel? Bear? In a suit--a bear in a suit. She’d go with that. “May I… help you?” Inko asked, shifting from foot to foot.

“If we could speak with you, please, we have some important information for you,” said the… bear. Inko could deal with this.

“Of course. Please, come in. Tea?”

“Please,” said the bear, “but allow me first to introduce myself. I am Nedzu, current principal of UA.” That was why he seemed familiar--Inko must have seen him on television. “You already know my underground friend Aizawa.”

Tea appeared on the table living room table as the three sat down. Inko must have fetched it, but her mind was elsewhere. What could these two possibly want with her?

“Ma’am,” said the underground hero. “When I previously spoke with you I was not entirely honest, but I think you will understand why when this conversation is over, though you are not obligated to forgive me for the information I withheld.”

Inko must have paled because Nedzu cut in immediately. “We have good news, not bad. It will be very hard to hear and very upsetting, but it is good news.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Inko stared into the swirling darkness of her teacup. It matched the swirling darkness of her thoughts.

“What we have to convey is very shocking. We are assuring ourselves that you are prepared to hear it.” Nedzu gestured to Aizawa who rubbed his eyes, grimaced and commenced.

“Ma’am, Midoriya Izuku was not quirkless but rather hand an “invisible” quirk.”

“Alright, but… how do you know this? What happened? What did he do?” And how could this possibly be good news as opposed to irrelevant news or bad news or simply painful news?

“I know this because I met Midoriya Izuku several times, although it took me a very long time to identify him.” Where could Izuku have crossed paths with this underground hero? Had there been even more pieces of her child’s life Inko had known nothing of? What kind of parent was she? “I was shocked when I found out he was dead.” Inko had been shocked, too, but what was the point of torturing her like this? She burned her tongue on the tea, letting the physical pain drive the mental away. “I was especially shocked because I met him several months after the recorded date of his death.”

Inko choked on her tea. What? This… what did that even mean? “W-what?”

“Your son has some brand of immortality quirk which makes him, in essence, a ghost. For the last year or so he has been known as Specter, one of the busiest vigilantes in the country.” Inko put her cup down numbly--her fingers shaking too much to hold it up for another sip. She would likely just choke again, anyway.

“Why--why would you say this? It can’t be true; he would have come home,” no matter what, he would have found a way to return to her. Inko felt as if scabs all over her had been ripped open anew. “Why would you do this to me?”

“Specter?” called Nedzu softly--and the world blurred around the figure hiding around her corner, peeking out at them from beneath--a dish towel? He was covering his head with a dish towel--and good god it was Izuku--and maybe she’d be furious later that he didn’t come home, that he left her so long, that Eraserhead didn’t tell her all those weeks ago, but right now who cared about any of that? She flew at him, grabbed the transparent figure and pulled him to her. He hugged her back as she sobbed and Izuku was sobbing, too--but he wouldn’t meet her eyes. When she caught a glimpse of them, all she could see was sorrow--sorrow and shame--buried in the foggy gaze of a corpse. She was tired of those emotions--all she saw, all she felt, for so long. Enough of that! She grabbed him, towed him back to the couch and sat slowly with shaking legs, never loosening her hold. She might never let him go again.

“Thank you,” she whispered to the heroes before her, “for bringing him home.”

Aizawa looked unsettled, worrying a lip, whereas Nedzu was grinning ecstatically--like a mad scientist who had just discovered nuclear fusion in his basement. “We will need to speak with both of you at length about what happens now, but that can easily wait as much as a week if you like.” Good, because Inko couldn't imagine discussing anything more complicated than basic arithmetic right now.

“Please… give us a few days,” Inko choked out. “Tuesday afternoon should do…” She was off work then.

“If you have no immediate questions we will give you privacy. Call one of us if you need,” Nedzu passed a pair of business cards across the table then whirled towards the door.

Aizawa gave Izuku a deep look as the two pros departed--Inko couldn’t begin to guess what it meant. She looked over her child--transparent flesh, mangled hand, and that dishtowel covering up who knew what… she didn’t care. Couldn’t care. She knocked the dishtowel off her Izuku’s head and ran her fingers through his hair, petting and caring little when her fingers came away bloody. “Izuku, my Izuku--why didn’t you come back?”

Her child stiffened--at the name, she realized--even before he heard the question. “I… everyone seemed happier without me… and then I didn’t know--” he fell silent, blinking helplessly against tears.

Never. He couldn’t get away with thinking that ever again. “No! Never! It has been unspeakable and every moment I’ve missed you! Don’t you dare, don’t you ever think like that. Not again. Never do this to me again.” She shook her head, gripping his shoulders fiercely with bloodless fingers.

“I’m sorry,” Izuku whispered.

“Me too,” Inko replied just as softly, continuing to pet her child’s hair... because what happened to Izuku wasn't his own fault. He never asked to be tortured and ignored for years on end... and Inko should have seen the pain. Someone should have seen it. But no one looked but her, and she was blind. “I love you. Never leave me again. Never again.”

“And… I know it’s… could you not call me Izuku?”

Inko blinked. “What?”

“I…” he fidgeted and bit his lip, “when I was talking with Hound Dog, he told me I shouldn’t try to rush back into my old life… and shouldn’t try to shake off all the coping mechanisms I have, no matter how unhealthy they are, right at the same time. I…” her child scuffed his bare feet on the floor. “I’ve been thinking of myself as Specter and everyone’s called me that for a year. I… don’t feel like Izuku yet.”

"Who is... Hound Dog?"

"The counselor at UA. I talked with him for a few hours yesterday to help me... get ready to come back."

Inko bowed her head in thought. There was little point in thinking. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand, but she would follow the advice of those who wished to help her son. “I can call you Specter… for now. But someday,” she stared into his eyes, looking past the fog to the piercing green that burned somewhere beneath, “I will call you Izuku again.” She would call him Specter aloud, but never in the privacy of her own mind. Izuku nodded slowly.

Tears eventually turned to sniffles then to silence. Neither quite knew what to say now. Inko watched her child like a hawk. Did he still eat? She could at least ask. “Do you want some dinner?”

Izuku perked up. “If it’s no trouble. I don’t need to eat, but--”

“Trouble? No, it’s not trouble!” Lord, she’d cried so many nights as she cooked for one--forgot so many nights and stared emptily at the second bowl prepared for nobody. It was an unimaginable relief to cook for two again.

Izuku nibbled awkwardly at the rice then at the pork, still obviously uncomfortable, and Inko felt the unease, too. Izuku had changed so much; she had changed so much. They were like long-lost family members meeting again--they were long lost family members meeting again. “Will you tell me?”

“Huh?”

“What happened? Everything.”

Izuku grimaced and shrank in his chair. “It’s… a lot of it isn’t nice.”

She didn’t expect it to be nice--it would be ugly, the ugliest and most painful story she ever had to hear--but she needed, desperately needed, to know. “Please.”

Her child told her how, bit by bit, her world--and his--collapsed--and how, bit by bit, it returned, pieced back together like a shattered mirror repaired with masking tape. And here they were, together again when it had been impossible. It was a nothing short of a miracle.

 

 

 

Well, he was number one now, whatever that meant, and this was never the way he’d wanted the position--he wanted to become better, rise above his own limitations, not exceed All Might only when his rival was torn to shreds and nearly killed. This turn of events seemed to imply that the rest of Specter’s prophecy was likely to come true as well. Wonderful. If he intentionally dropped a rank, handed the number one spot to Hawks, would that break the prediction? Probably not, and he didn’t think he could make himself do that…

Enji lay on the polished floor, staring up at a skylight and wondering whether he should start putting his affairs in order--or maybe he'd started already? He had sent more apologetic letters in the past months than in the rest of his life combined.

Rei had received one about two weeks after the midnight call when he told her their child was likely mortally injured. He hadn’t expected a reply--lord knows in Rei’s place Enji would not have replied--but he received one. The letter was long, truthful, harsh and yet… vaguely forgiving somehow. He’d loved her--he still loved her, he’d just forgotten. Japan was overflowing with women (and men for that matter) with powerful quirks who would say “I do” for the right amount of cash or prestige--and he’d chosen Rei because he lost his senses whenever he met her gaze, felt enchanted by her words. Perhaps… she had liked him too, once… or could have, if he hadn’t been such an idiot. Asshole. Whatever. The label didn’t really matter.

Enji and Rei were exchanging letters moderately frequently now. He had another to answer tonight. He never quite knew what to say--and not just to her. He was trying to growl less--he ought to make his last impressions count--but didn’t really know how to fill the newly available airtime.

A shuffle of feet. “Father?” Enji opened his eyes to meet Shouto’s bewildered and somewhat concerned gaze. “You’re covered in blood.”

Enji dragged himself off the floor. He had no right to worry Shouto. “It’s not serious.” It really wasn’t, nothing more than a scratch.

“Uh… my teachers are here… to talk about moving into the dorms…” and Enji was currently covered in blood. How inconvenient.

“Do you want to move to the dorms?”

Shouto blinked, clearly still not accustomed to Enji caring what his children thought. “Uh… yes.”

It was the expected answer and for the best. “Fine then.” Shouto would be better off far away from this place where reality shifts were occurring two decades too late.

Shouto padded back to meet his teachers, then returned. “You have to, uh, sign something.” Well, UA teachers were all pros--they could handle some blood.

Eraserhead and… All Might were waiting, the latter looking decidedly uncomfortable, the former decidedly exhausted. Enji always knew the former number one’s smile was fake, but the reality of the man beneath the mask was still a shock. Enji probably looked about as awkward as All Might right now--he couldn’t begin to untangle the web of confused jealousy, resentment, and remorse that came to mind when he saw his former rival. Who were they to each other now? Who should they be?

“There’s something to sign?” asked the new number one, pushing all other thoughts aside.

“Are you aware that you are bleeding?” the underground hero asked deadpan, handing over a sheaf of papers.

“It’s fine.” Enji signed on the line and handed the sheaf back. “Have a good afternoon.”

He followed the teachers to show them out. Niceties were exchanged then, unexpectedly, All Might leaned forward to whisper, “take care of yourself, Endeavour.” The heavy oak door thumped closed. Did All Might… legitimately care? Even after everything? God, he knew he could never forgive like that.

 

Chapter Text

They were still reporting on Kamino Ward. Likely they would be talking about it for years. He had never seen the likes of All for One--and All Might was off the rankings now--and various, sensational stations had hysterically reported far worse outcomes. “Could you please turn that television off? They keep saying I’m dead and I’m not and it’s annoying…”

A scarred hand flicked off the television--not a nurse? Tsunagu had thought it was a nurse. He squinted--Bakugou Katsuki. “Bakugou? What are you doing… here?” And where was here? He was coherent enough to realize reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated, but the world was so blurred (presumably by obscenely powerful opioids) that he couldn’t figure out which hospital he was in, so “where is here” was a good question.

“I… believed them when they said you were dead,” Bakugou shifted uneasily. “I wanted to see for myself that you weren’t--most of the stations have it right by now. Damn idiots. They should all be fined for reporting that wrong--it’s been days.”

“Why did everyone think I was dead?” Tsunagu muttered. It was rare for the media to reach such a bizarre, incorrect consensus. It was almost like back before heroes when huge numbers of fans became convinced that Paul from the Beatles was dead when in fact he lived on into the next century. The fiber hero almost smiled at that thought.

“They had… a really gory picture of you circulating.” The student snarled, shifted from foot to foot. “Creeps. Could show some damn respect.”

“Huh?” How very eloquent. Tsunagu really shouldn’t have a conversation when he was this high. This was also the first conversation he’d had since... he got here. He had been conscious for some time, but not really aware that he was conscious, staring into space like a bad video game waiting for user input. He could still feel the press of the darkness when he closed his eyes, although darkness wasn’t the best word for it perhaps.

Color is a concept that requires some amount of consciousness to appreciate, so a color could not be assigned to the place he had been. The closest idea to the lack of a color, black, described that reality well enough. That world was numb--so cold that all feeling had vanished, taking the idea of “cold” with it. All of this could only be appreciated in retrospect. No thoughts could enter that place--it would be like light escaping a blackhole.

Tsunagu shook away his musings on blackholes as Bakugou finally answered him. “You’re gonna have to get used to the fact that half the country has seen you with a hole straight through your chest and stomach, and not a small hole, either.” That… explained the depth of the grinding, burning ache that plagued his every waking moment--and vague nightmares as well--but still--

“I don’t feel nearly lousy enough for that…” Or dead enough for that…

Bakugou’s face turned abruptly into a tiny expression of relief, or maybe smugness. “Overheard the doctors talking. That superhealer who pulled Todoroki Shouto through was still in the country. They think you’ll make a full recovery.”

That was… he almost couldn’t believe that, believe he’d be anything but crippled or death-bound. When he took All for One’s attack he’d never expected to wake up--falling into the dark of blood-loss-induced unconsciousness too quickly for more than a few closing thoughts on his life: “There’s no way I’m going to live through this,” “I haven’t done enough,” and “I’m never going to see any of my friends again.” There hadn’t even been time to wonder if he’d managed to save Ragdoll--the attack he thought had killed him had been meant for her… as a public execution, a vile equivalent of screaming “if I can’t have her no one can!” The news had informed him that she was fine--so the media was still good for something at least. Much as he wished he could claim to have thought of her in those final moments, there had been no time for selflessness before the soul-crushing darkness closed over his mind--a brief flash of heat burning through to his endless, inky well when someone futilely tried to cauterize his injuries--probably with a superheated knife.

Tsunagu shuddered against his will--you never want to think of yourself like that, but you’re just a collection of muscle, tendon, blood, and bone like everyone else and all those things are painfully, terrifyingly easy to destroy. A wave of nausea crashed through him at the idea of a slice through his muscles and shock wave of pressure rending bones asunder, ripping and tearing deeper and further until it punched all the way through. The phantom image of broken ribs--white among ground meat--twisted muscles and shredded lung tissue brought another shudder through him--he was helpless to stop it, and the idea of literally millions of people seeing him like that--in pieces--he’d only been this twisted up and ashamed once before. God, he felt ill, and it wasn’t because of the drugs or the pain.

“Hey! Snap out of it! You’re okay!” Bakugou punctuated this by flicking Tsunagu on the forehead which… sort of worked as intended.

Tsunagu sighed--or tried to. It turned into a hiss of agony. He couldn’t even keep it together in front of his former intern. What he wouldn’t give for thirty minutes to sob on Kuugo, or someone else who knew it all and understood and didn’t… need him to be alright. “Sorry. I’m fine,” Tsunagu choked out. He wasn’t going to win any acting awards for that…

Bakugou stared at him, slowly sinking into a white plastic chair and crossing his arms. “You’re really not, are you?” Bakugou growled and mussed his own--already disastrous--hair. How hard would it be to find a comb in this hospital…? “Hell, you shouldn’t be fine, no more than Deku or icy hot. I…” the student paused to glance up at Tsunagu, “can’t wrap my damn head around what any of you have been through. Dying’s gotta suck.”

“Huh? I’m still not dead. Stupid Channel Seven anchors…” Bakugou gave him a look which clicked after a few seconds. “But I was clinically dead when they brought me in…” of course he was, and that was nightmare fuel for another day, “and it doesn’t matter that it didn’t stick because Kuugo is going to kill me.” He could see hours upon hours of lecturing in his future--and he really hadn’t meant to say most of that aloud… Wait. “Who’s Deku? And icy hot?”

“Icy hot is Todoroki Shouto,” Tsunagu almost laughed, though he knew he never would have shown it if he were sober, and it probably looked bizarre. He was wearing a medical mask, but that still revealed more of his face and throat than he liked and Tsunagu wasn’t quite sure, after so many years of hiding them, exactly what kind of impression he gave when his expressions were visible. “Deku--and I didn’t mean to call him that and won’t do it again--is Midoriya Izuku, my dead classmate who, as it turns out, had a quirk that brought him back as a ghost.”

“You’re… serious?” Tsunagu had seen weirder things, not many though.

“Yup,” Bakugou said, leaning back so the chair creaked dangerously. “Not like it changes anything. I still drove a classmate to kill himself. Doesn’t matter that he didn’t stay dead.”

“I thought we already talked you out of this pit?” Tsunagu could vaguely recall that conversation. “What changed?” Well, besides the classmate in question rising from the grave which had to be a shock to the psyche.

“They were looking for me,” Bakugou hunched his shoulders.

“Huh?” he was saying that an awful lot.

“Sorry. I shouldn’t be dropping this on you… you still look like a dead cat.” Nice deflection, but Tsunagu wouldn’t let it stand.

“No. What are you talking about?” because he wouldn’t leave this stone unturned.

“At the training camp--where a bunch of my classmates were poisoned and beaten up and Ragdoll was kidnapped and tortured--the villains were looking for me. To turn me.” Oh. Well… Tsunagu picked Bakugou as an intern based on a similar impression of the student’s temperament, but it was a stupid mistake. “And then Kamino Ward happened and All Might got hurt… and you got killed.” Oh. Right. It had somehow slipped his mind that he wasn’t the only one likely to be upset about that… "And I thought I was over this, but it feels like it was all my fault, and it’s all back worse, and I feel like what if they’re right? What if I really am just destined to always be a villain or if not a villain just a bastard--and it’s so damn hard to talk about, even with counselors, ‘cause I can’t stand thinking it let alone saying it.” But Tsunagu and Bakugou had already had this discussion, so they could talk, and Tsunagu--despite being high as kite--would be damned if he didn’t wring this stupid idea out of Bakugou’s head.

“You’re wrong. About all of that.”

“Oh?” growled the blonde.

“First, nothing All For One or his cronies did was your fault. That’s like… victim blaming twice-removed.” That phrase sounded better in his head, but hopefully he got the point across. “Second, nobody’s destined for anything--I take the wildcards to work with because I know nothing’s set in stone like that.” His voice was slurring again--he didn’t feel tired but he must be.

“How can you know that?” Bakugou whispered, sounding broken. Tsunagu hated that tone. He heard it far too often in his line of work.

Then Tsunagu said more things he didn’t mean to. “If I can be in the top ten then anyone can turn their life around--nobody can use that “I’m too far gone to change” excuse, and certainly no one can be “destined” to be bad.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” The student sat up rod-straight in his chair.

“Why do you think I chase after the worst looking of the bunch? Chasing my own reflection, trying to keep others from making the same mistakes I made. You think you made bad decisions?” Tsunagu scoffed--why couldn’t he stop talking? He didn’t want to say any of this and he was really going to regret it later. “You have nothing on me.”

Bakugou had frozen solid as this went on. Tsunagu stared at the white wall opposite his bed, listening to the sounds of buried secrets--screaming, laughing--him laughing and others screaming. The memories were a blackhole every bit as deep as the icy, blood-deprived gravity well from which he’d so recently escaped. Sometimes when he looked back on old memories it was like another person--a beast wearing his body like an overcoat--had done all those things. It had felt like that monster was all he could be, like it was his miserable destiny, like he could never care again about anyone or anything outside his little mayhem-wreaking clan… and like he had to love that life. It was a filthy state of mind, worse than anything else he’d ever felt--failure wasn’t nearly as disgusting as not even trying.

Bakugou had caught up with the conversation while Tsunagu reveled in the memory of being a write-off, a lost cause no one lent a glance to. “You used to be a supervillain.”

“Sometimes,” Tsunagu whispered, “you have to find out how bad you can be before you learn how good you can be. It’s an ugly road, though, and it’s not for you. You belong on this side of the lines. Take it from a former member of the enemy vanguard--you wouldn’t fit in there.” Damn, he hadn’t meant to say any of this, though it probably did some good to say it to a kid like Bakugou, but Tsunagu knew he wouldn’t have told him if he were perfectly lucid and Tsunagu couldn’t imagine ever looking Bakugou in the eye again--the shame of revealing himself to be former supervillain ranked about equally with the shame of being torn to pieces on national news. He closed his eyes and turned away.

A warm hand pressed against Tsunagu’s shoulder. “Hey,” Bakugou growled. He had the right to be angry after everything that was hidden from him. “Look at me!” Tsunagu reluctantly met the student’s ruby gaze. “Now listen, fashion freak. I didn’t come here prepared to give a pep-talk… was kind of hoping to get one… which I guess I did… but there are a few things I need to straighten out so I’ll try to channel Kirishima and give it a shot. There’s no shame in being an ex-villain, hell that’s gotta be much harder than being a straight-shot hero,” oh, he was certainly right about that last part, “and there’s no shame in being hurt or killed in a fight with a villain who can apparently level cities, so knock it off!” Bakugou exhaled sharply.

That… wasn’t a particularly long or conventional pep-talk but it was a lot more perceptive than expected from this living firecracker, although it wasn’t so much losing a fight that was galling to Tsunagu as images of his shredded corpse being broadcasted across the whole country. He really, really needed to stop thinking about that. It would have been nice if Bakugou had miraculously acquired enough tact not to mention it, although Tsunagu did have to find out sometime… “Of course, I’ll keep your secrets, fashion freak. Sorry I wrung 'em out of you. You’re wasted and I can’t imagine you’d've said any of that if you weren’t. Really, I shouldn’t be bothering you after all this crap.” Bakugou clasped his hands and stared at the floor. A clock ticked above the door. Tsunagu could see where the hands pointed but couldn’t quite make sense of what time they indicated, not that it mattered. “And… thanks. I needed to hear that.”

“You didn’t… you didn’t do anything wrong by talking to me… it was nice to talk to someone.” I’m glad you came went unsaid.

“Whatever.” Awkward pause. Tsunagu might be about to black out again, and he had to remind himself forcefully that it wasn’t for good this time, that he need not be afraid to close his eyes. “Who knows? ‘Bout your secret past life I mean.”

Tsunagu roused himself as Bakugou squeezed his shoulder. “Kuugo... he knows everything. Nedzu probably figured it out--black-tie weasel always gives me this look. A few police officers and judicial officials sworn to silence, a couple of conspiracy theorists on Reddit, possibly one MIA supervillain, and now you--wait. Are you laughing?”

Bakugou was laughing quietly, shaking his shoulders and trying not to burst into guffaws. “Black-tie weasel? Oh my god! I think I like you when you’re high. Get some sleep, fashion freak, and… I’ll be back, if that’s okay.”

“Yes. It was nice to see you.” He meant it.

Bakugou left and all Tsunagu had to do was doze, try not to think about Kamino Ward, and wait for Kuugo to come yell at him. It was a legendary shouting when it happened, and Kuugo made sure Tsunagu couldn’t tune any of it out. “I thought you were dead for eighteen hours!” his friend roared (indoor-voice roared). “Do you know what it’s like to walk off a field knowing your best friend died there?” Yes, he knew. He knew what that felt like--he could understand why Kuugo was yelling at him. “You idiot, you reckless, crazy idiot!”

Protesting that, under the circumstances and with his limited knowledge of the enemy, he hadn’t done anything reckless or stupid and in fact played right by the book was utterly futile. He was wearing heavy body armor; Ragdoll was in undergarments. He could move; Ragdoll was cuffed and shackled. Against any other villain, he would have been able to tackle her out of the way and roll clear… It was all by the book, but Tsunagu was getting the full lecture, whether he deserved it or not, because this wasn’t about him--this was about his friend who had been scared out of his mind and grieving.

Eighteen hours was a very long time. Some of Tsunagu’s friends had probably received “condolences” cards and ordered flowers sent to funeral homes on his behalf. Requesting refunds would be awkward. “…Unbelievably irresponsible! And all the news channels kept saying you were dead and that awful picture was plastered all over the internet--and oh god I’m sorry.” Gang Orca was now petting Tsunagu’s hair and there was nothing the fiber hero could do about it, and it probably would have looked utterly ridiculous to anyone who drifted by. Fortunately, all the windows were frosted glass. “You moron. I’m so glad… I am going to send Alta White something very expensive.” Tsunagu had similar plans. “I like you much better with your ribs inside your chest. Keep them there.”

Tsunagu snorted a half-laugh then fought a wave of nausea as the humor turned to misery like milk curdling in the sun. “I’ll see what I can do. It’s high on my priorities.” What does it say about your life when you add something like that to your priority list?

“How about top of your priorities,” the orca growled. “If you ever complain again about anything I ask you to do I am going to remind you of that time you made me think you were dead for eighteen hours! By the time I worked up the energy to answer my personal phone the next day I had over one hundred messages. Do you know how long it took me to listen to them all?” Well, that was inconvenient, but how was that Tsunagu’s fault? Because Kuugo was too miserable after Kamino Ward to answer calls? “I think you owe me a new phone at the very least. And you also owe me for twenty-five thousand yen of rum!” Hopefully it had just been an expensive bottle and his friend hadn’t spent the day after Kamino in some shady bar surrounded by a towering pile of empty shot glasses. Ugh. This was just god awful, and chances were the repercussions would drag on for years… Tsunagu would probably have to give interviews about this and answer insensitive, prying questions about it for the rest of his life.

It seemed Kuugo was through with the shouting for now. “I know what it’s like to lose a best friend to a psychopath,” Tsunagu slurred out while Kuugo played with his hair. “You feel helpless. Furious. Being the one who dies…or almost dies… it’s just like that but amplified, because I was going to lose all of you to a single blow--and I bet any time I run an internet search on my name now that damn photo you’re all talking about’s going to be there and I’ll never, ever be able to forget that feeling because I’ll never escape that reminder.”

The lecture abruptly changed from “tell Tsunagu not to be an idiot and nearly die” to “try to convince Tsunagu that everyone’s okay and yes, Kuugo will still be here when Tsunagu wakes up again because everything is fine.”

It was really not fine, but Tsunagu had always built his life on the ashes of horrific sins and failures. It would be fine.

Chapter Text

Specter curled against his mother’s side while she petted his hair. Eraser and Nedzu sat across from them. Nedzu sipped his tea. “Would you prefer I continue to call you Specter? Or will Midoriya suffice?”

“Specter is fine,” Specter replied--he still couldn’t think of himself as Midoriya Izuku, the coward, the traitor.

Nedzu didn’t comment on this, which was appreciated. “Alright. As you are both well aware, vigilantism is illegal.” Specter didn’t flinch--illegal or not, he didn’t feel he had done anything wrong. This, at least, he need not be ashamed of, but he felt his mother stiffen beside him. “I have a… proposal… that will make the vigilante problem disappear, and remove a number of other, subtle issues at the same time. Overturning a death certificate is not so hard to do, but there is quite a bit of paperwork.” Nedzu handed over a hefty packet which Specter’s mother took gingerly. “Both the district attorney and the necessary judicial officials have agreed to the terms given here. If you find them acceptable, we can have the forms signed and notarized today.”

“What,” Inko began, “exactly are these… terms?”

“Your son would agree to cease all vigilante activities and become a student at UA.” Specter fell through his seat, his jaw drifting open. That… couldn’t be, could it? That was like a reward not a punishment... but was it supposed to be a punishment? “I would take Specter as a personal student. He would also join Aizawa’s class 1-A and, likely, be provisionally licensed with the rest of those hero students. Your son would be required to attend psychotherapy for the next three years, probably twice weekly at first. In return, his police record will be sealed and he will be reinstated--officially--into the land of the living.” Specter occupied his racing mind by climbing out of the couch--this all seemed too good, like there had to be a catch. “No catch. This isn’t meant to be a punishment. This is meant to help you--no one in the justice system wants to deal with a situation like this. I can do what I want within reason--and I want to help you. I’ll admit to being selfishly motivated. I like smart students; I like happy, smart students, even if that first modifier may be years away.”

Specter met his mother’s wide eyes. None of this could be real, not after… everything… It must just be a pleasant dream… “You would probably need to move to the dorms,” Nedzu continued, “but we could make an exception if necessary. Do you need time to think about it?”

“Specter?” asked his mother. He must be comatose for her to use such a tentative tone.

“Can’t be real,” Specter whispered.

Aizawa spoke up. “Kid--this is as real as it gets. I know you’re not used to anything going right for you, but things can go right.”

Could his past just... wash away? Never. No matter how much he might want to hide it, run from it, obscure it, that world over his shoulder could never disappear. It would never be forgotten, but… if he could learn to live in spite of it, learn to forgive, then maybe it just didn’t matter that much. Maybe he could find his way. Maybe there was no need to hide, to sweep away his history. And if he could find his way, he of all people, then anyone could--for a brief moment the whole world glowed a few lumens brighter. “Where do we sign?”

They first had to drive to a notary, which somewhat undermined the drama of Specter’s last statement.

 

 

“You’ll keep an eye on him?” demanded Midoriya Inko.

“Of course. He will likely keep an eye on me, too,” with a nod the woman stepped aside and her child slipped past shyly, a black hoodie pulled over his head, dark gloves over his hands. It would hide the blood and never show the stains. The ghost shouldered his messenger bag, shifting nervously from foot to foot.

“Bye mom,” the littlest ex-vigilante said and scurried after Shouta, taking a place in his back seat and snapping on a seat belt, presumably out of habit. What was the point of wearing a safety belt if you were a ghost?

It was a beautiful day--brisk with occasional clouds and a brilliant sun--and UA would still be blessedly quiet for a few more days. Hopefully that would be enough time to get Specter--Midoriya--accustomed to campus... because they would shortly be siccing hundreds of curious students on him. Midoriya shrank closer to Shouta’s side as they walked past the school’s towering gates.

“There are a few tests for you to take, physical and academic… then tomorrow Nedzu will likely keep you all day.” Shouta shuddered to think what mischief Nedzu and Specter might get up to.

Midoriya sighed in relief as they finally arrived in 1A’s homeroom. The ghost phased out of his hoodie, gloves, and shoes, sliding his bag under the designated desk. “What was that?” asked Shouta suspiciously as the kid picked up his jacket and folded it.

“It’s okay,” said Midoriya as if that answered the question.

“So…?”

“My abilities aren’t very strong during the day. I’m… lethargic and holding myself completely corporeal to wear a jacket is a bit of a strain if I do it for very long.”

Shouta knew some of this already, but it was inconvenient. Nocturnal students had been accommodated by UA in the past, but it posed challenges. “Huh. We’ll discuss that more later. First,” Shouta grinned, “you have some assessments to complete.”

While Shouta napped in the corner Specter muttered to himself and flipped through dozens of pages of text-based misery. The ghost handed in his work after the expected time, the pages covered in the expected amount of drying blood. The kid didn't remember to wipe away the accumulating red in his hair when intensely focused. Shouta flipped through the pages--the quality of Midoriya's work was much higher than expected. Shouta knew the kid was smart with a crazy knack for analysis, but that was no reason to expect top of the class performance given Midoriya hadn’t been in school for about a year. Well, officially in school. Chances were he’d attended Shouta’s class nearly every day. As the teacher flipped through the answers, Midoriya collapsed on his designated desk like a sleepy puppy. It would be a sin not to let him rest a while, so Shouta took his time reviewing his new pupil's work.

“Hey. Come on,” Specter jumped up with a start and trotted after Shouta, muttering something about one of the harder test questions. Catching himself, the ghost fell silent--perfectly silent. There was no rustle of fabric, no pad of bare feet on linoleum, no whisper of breath… It was unsettling.

Shouta was never one to go easy on any student--sob stories wouldn’t sway a villain’s heart nor stop a bullet--but there was a difference between being soft and being gentle, so while Specter was given exactly the same quirk assessment test as all the other students, Shouta occasionally said vaguely encouraging things to the ghost. Mid afternoon seemed a particularly bad time for Specter--in none of the tests did he show any telekinetic abilities--but the kid was no one trick pony. Specter could jump a lot further than expected, perhaps because he didn’t really weight anything? It was hard to say. Shouta had never tried to pick the vigilante up. Specter’s physical strength was not particularly impressive--average for a kid his size who had been in a lot of fights and grappled along a lot of rooftops--but his endurance was to die for--that was in horrible taste. Squash that metaphor. Midoriya sprinted along the track without a sign of tiring for the better part of an hour before Shouta gave him infinity on that portion of the exam. The ghost’s performance on the repeated sidestep was similarly impressive, and the kid was remarkably flexible as well. Even without the most useful and powerful aspects of his quirk available, Midoriya's score placed him in the middle of the class.

“We’ll have to find a time to repeat some of this at night,” the pro decided. “Although I already have a good idea of what you can do in the dark.”

“Alright,” the sleepy ghost said.

Shouta shepherded the kid back home, Specter’s appearance once more hidden beneath a hoodie, but Midoriya now looked so miserably tired that Shouta carried the student’s bag for him. “You don’t have to…”

Shouta waved him off halfway through the sentence. “I don’t want you to hurt yourself,” the pro said. He’d promised Midoriya Inko he’d keep an eye on her son and implied he’d keep him... healthy... as well. He never broke a promise... at least not when it was physically possible to keep his word... unless a logical ruse was involved. But typically no one complained when he failed to keep his promise to expel someone.

Specter snorted, snapping Shouta back to cold reality. “It’s a little late to worry about me hurting myself.” Shouta winced, both at the words and at the flat, resigned tone. “Sorry. I shouldn’t say things like that… makes everyone sad.”

There were so many things Shouta could have said to that, should have said to that, but he couldn’t think of any way to put them into words. The pair were nearly to the car before he finally came up with something. “I know, or knew, a lot of people who deserved better than they got,” Shouta could name dozens. “You’re one of them. Sometimes the universe deals bad hands, sometimes no hand at all. Nobody gets a reason why.” It was no legendary speech--no one would ever be inspired by Eraserhead's words--but it was the best he could offer.

“Thank you,” Specter murmured.

Chapter Text

Ravel lounged on the plush couch in the half-light of a silver floor lamp. Animal Witch and Afrit should both be back by now. There was no reason to worry about them. Really there wasn't. They made a clean get away after the heist; they could take care of themselves... but they were always back before him. Ravel rubbed his fingertips through the soft upholstery, allowing his awareness to bleed into it until the oh-so familiar piece of cloth clicked into place among his senses like an extra limb. Even this didn't distract him from the anxiety, though.

The laser case he had brought from the robbery lay tucked underneath a nearby table... and there were other things that should be on that table... Witch always had all kinds of weird knick-knacks and papers lying in disorganized heaps on that table. Where were they? The villain caught sight of a familiar candle holder lying in a sack in a corner. Ravel lunged over the top of the couch and pawed the bag open. All of Witch's important things were lying here in a pile.

Had the whole basement just dropped ten degrees in temperature or was it just his imagination? Ravel pulled his body armor out of the sleek briefcase where he had stowed it. His quirk was finicky--even with these years of... unconventional practice... he knew he hadn't begun to hit the limit of what he could really do. But just with the surface he had scratched, his abilities were quite useful for changing clothes with superhuman speed. The mane of silver-blue hair most assumed was real fluttered over his shoulders. This served as a further identity shield--and it was very cool.

Ravel'd ditched most of his weapons at the site of the laboratory raid that afternoon, but this base was where he stashed his extras. Now where did he keep that spare assault rifle? The harsh lightning-crack of a gunshot reverberated through the ventilation system. Ravel snatched a pistol and three knives--they were the only things in easy reach--and sprinted for the stairs.

Stealth was not his strong suit. He tried , but running with Witch--the living embodiment of a burning express train barreling through a refinery--had not encouraged the development of subtlety as a skill-set. Whoever fired that gun probably heard him catch a toe on the stairs.

Ravel stood ready behind the heavy, steel door at the top of the stairs and reached out like he did in close quarters combat, feeling for his enemies' clothes, registering the way muscles moved against the fabric--because everyone telegraphed badly, whether they were aware of it or not--you just had to look, to feel , for the right details. He couldn't feel anything behind the door, which didn't necessarily mean there was no one there. Some fibers were harder to sense--and it was impossible to register those awful leathers Motivore liked. Ravel then pressed his ear to the metal--not a sound.

Turning the knob and stepping to the side, Ravel pushed the door open, leaping back and flattening himself against the wall in preparation for a spray of bullets--which didn't come. That was something at least. Ravel ducked to the ground and slid out onto the factory floor like a greased weasel.

Once upon a time--like, three months ago now--Ravel and Animal Witch had released two greased pigs into a shopping mall. They had painted big black numbers on them: “1” and “3.” Ravel spent hours nibbling on ice cream at a food court as he enjoyed the initial chaos then watched mall security frantically search for pig “2.” Witch had elected to watch the show with a crepe rather than ice cream, Afrit tucked into her faux-fox purse. Ravel occasionally saw the lizard peek his little nose out to admire the anarchy. It didn't seem that funny now because Ravel was suddenly mall security... and it was a very dark, twisted mall... and the pigs had guns.

Footsteps. Ravel ducked under a rusting conveyor belt. Why hadn't they taken all this junk out of here? It was probably worth something to someone... and then Ravel could have kept his street sign collection up here. Well, that was an idea for next month, once this was over. Whatever this was. Heroes? Villains? Vigilantes? Rival gangs having a shoot out? Not enough gunfire for that... just one shot. Confused vampires? Doubtful. Could be.

Motivore?” Ravel whispered, having finally found the dark silhouette of the footstep-generator. “What's going on? I heard gunfire.”

Nothing much.”

Right. Everything was fine then. Ravel might as well turn around and go back downstairs. This was anticlimactic. He got nervous and worked up for nothing--the iron tang of blood in the air, a brush of familiar fibers against his sixth sense--everything was not fine--why would he possibly think that?

Ravel dived for cover just in time to avoid the bullet that flew towards his head. Motivore just--why? What was going on? Ravel's armor would take a bullet that caliber, no problem, but his... former ally... had quite nearly put the shot between his eyes and that would almost certainly knock him out, maybe fracture his skull--shock absorbing materials can only do so much. That thought shouldn't terrify him like this. He had been in dozens of fights where someone was trying to kill him--he was used to it. He shouldn't feel like this, so why--he was such an idiot. Of course. Motivore.

The familiar fibers were still there, brushing at his senses. A shard of moonlight filtered through a terribly inconvenient skylight as Ravel dived out of the way of another bullet and hid behind a rickety drive belt. Animal Witch. His best friend, in a stunning outfit she didn't wear nearly often enough, lay face-down in a pool of congealing gore. Her eye--the one he could see--stared, glassy and fogged, into the darkness. Great, jagged claw marks marred her back and her neck. Beside her lay Anonymous, the teleporter's beloved cowboy hat flattened on the floor and a bullet hole right between his unseeing eyes--oh god, that was what he had heard. He'd been here, in the damn building , when Motivore did this! He'd been here! And he hadn't known, he hadn't come, not until it was all over. Why? Why would Motivore do this?

Why?” Ravel screamed like a banshee, rage solidifying into tempered steel in his hot blood, overpowering the shock, the fear, the disbelief.

Motivore growled and fired another two shots. Neither hit. Ravel dashed to safer cover as the murderer monologued like a cartoon character. “Because neither of you goody two-shoes wannabe villains have what it takes to be useful! All these years,” he sounded less like a monologuing villain now and more like a whining two year old, “I've asked and asked, pushed and pushed, and you never have what it takes to be serious! She came back here, feathers all fluffed up over a little bit of petty manipulation, ready to turn me in.” A wild shot ricocheted off a robotic arm and pierced an ancient dustbin. “She started this fight. I'm just finishing it.”

Waves of terror, hopelessness and misery cascaded across the room, but those waves would never be enough to douse the rage that sent Ravel leaping over a disintegrating railing and careening into Motivore's side, long knife in a reverse grip in his left hand. The news always said Ravel fought like a whirlwind, that he always knew how his opponents would react before they did... He excelled in hand-to-hand, the fact that his opponents' clothing disintegrated in bizarre ways, tripping and stunning his enemies, was just the icing on the cake. Motivore could be buck naked or decked out in jousting armor and Ravel would still stab him to death, because this bastard deserved to be ripped to pieces! Anything Ravel could ever imagine he would be willing to do (and several things he didn't dare imagine) he would be willing to do to Motivore.

Ravel disarmed the traitor in two seconds flat. It became a talon and knife fight, because there was no easy way to get those awful, clawed gloves off Motivore's hands and Ravel didn't remember until many hours later that he had a pistol of his own shoved in a pocket... The two of them danced around each other, Motivore depending on his armor to protect him from Ravel's swift blows, Ravel depending on his speed to keep him out of the traitor's filthy, bloodstained claws. Oh gods, it was Witch's blood on those claws, dried and crusty and falling off in flakes as the villains dueled in the half-light.

Ravel was a quiet fighter. Motivore was not. The filthy animal constantly screamed insults, psychological barbs and other things he hoped would enhance the effectiveness of the emotional mayhem dredged up with his quirk. Ravel ignored the shouting, and reminded himself again that he was too angry for Motivore to ever strip it all from him, that no amount of sorrow or terror or hopelessness could take away his desire to lay Motivore out on the floor beside Ravel's dearest friends, to see Motivore cold as ice and glassy eyed... and hopefully so disfigured that the cops would have to run a DNA test to find out who the corpse belonged to.

Motivore grunted as Ravel kicked his enemy's knee out and lunged to make his very first kill. Something changed.

Ravel was halfway across the factory floor, running for his life when he finally came dizzily back to himself. Motivore was screaming in agony, howling to split Ravel's aching head. Quirks can only be pushed so far... everyone has things they aren't meant to do... and Motivore had just attempted a forbidden art.

Everything was lovely and filthy, hot as magma and cold as deep space, unspeakably painful and unbelievably pleasurable--Ravel's mind tore itself to bits at the dissonance. If, say, a thousand first graders tried to play an opera on recorders and penny whistles, the horror might approach the repulsiveness of this disharmony.

Blood dripped down Ravel's chin, down his back, his arms--he was vaguely aware of the pain from a dozen cuts, but couldn't remember how he got them. The villain lunged for the side door, nearly ripping the old contraption off its hinges in his haste to escape this place because he had to get away , had to find something, someone--anything, anyone.

Ravel staggered then sprinted towards the Narrow Bridge. Gorgeous--horrendous blue lights illuminated the clumsy concrete structure. Get to the bridge. Get help. From who? Someone. Heroes? That was the worst idea--best idea. Ravel didn't care about being caught--would do anything to escape.

Trying to make decisions based on logic wasn't going to cut it right now, clearly.

Ravel jumped up onto the bridge deck--there were heroes there, as he had hoped there would be--dreaded there would be. This bridge was the sight of lots of petty crime and drug deals so heroes sometimes hung around at night to keep an eye out. Ravel didn't recognize the first two costumed wonders--menaces, but the third, dressed all in camouflage and leather, was Earthbreaker... Ravel put his hands in the air, called to the three that he surrendered and screamed for help at the top of his raw lungs.

One of the two he didn't recognize, an older woman in blue, took a step towards him, looking warily to see if anyone chased or accompanied him. “Keep your hands up! What happened? Who's after you? Are you hurt?”

But before the hero could make her way to the fleeing villain, the bridge shook, a single pillar collapsing as Earthbreaker raised his hand and furrowed his brow. The earth quaked beneath one support and a ten-meter section of the bridge deck plummeted towards the river with Ravel the sole passenger. The few civilian night owls had scattered... at least Ravel wasn't taking anyone down with him. Witch wouldn't have liked it if he had... she was good at heart, just wild, misunderstood, and cast out for no good reason. Society lost her in the shuffle just like it lost Ravel, like it lost Anonymous, like it lost Pigeon... each of them could have been something, could have been someone. If it weren't for dumb luck. If it weren't for dumb decisions. If it weren't for people like Motivore. If it weren't for people like Earthbreaker.

 

It was too cold for shivering. Everything felt icy now, not cold and hot at the same time, so whatever Motivore had done to Ravel must have worn off. The villain sighed and opened his eyes to find himself sprawled out in a muddy river bank. A tall thicket of evergreen bushes hid him from potential witnesses. Not that he cared if anyone saw him, or shot him for that matter.

What good could come from being alive now? He ought to just close his eyes again and lie his face back in the mud and freeze to death. The moon had crawled down the sky--it must have been at least an hour since he fell... and how did he get here? Someone must have dragged his unconscious body out of the river.

A soft hiss at his side--Afrit? “Afrit!” Ravel coughed out through his nail-encrusted throat. “But she's--how can you--?” Witch and Afrit were tied as one, so how could Afrit still be here? Could Ravel have been wrong? Could Animal Witch still be alive?

The answer was all too clear in the tiger-sized lizard's golden eyes. “I'm not staying,” that foggy gaze said. Ravel could see starlight glittering in those pupils, down beneath the layers of mist.

So this was it. His very last friend taking eternal leave. Ravel clumsily grabbed the lizard's neck, pulling Afrit into his arms. Afrit wasn't like a real exotherm--never seemed to mind the cold, always felt decently warm to the touch, even in winter--but the basilisk was icy now beneath Ravel's fingers. If the cold flesh wasn't enough to signal impending death, the ragged, shallow breathing left no doubt.

What's the point?” Ravel asked. “What's the point without you? Maybe, maybe if I'd won--” there would be a point in living on, finding new friends, robbing that bank Witch was so interested in, collecting towering, shiny piles of stolen street signs. But Ravel hadn't won. He'd lost, decisively. Motivore got away with everything. Witch was dead, Anonymous was dead, Afrit was dying, and who knew how many more corpses Motivore would lay out before he sated his bloodlust and slaked his paranoia? It was safe to assume that Ravel didn't even have any acquaintances left, let alone friends. And he'd (at least vaguely) trusted that murderous bastard. He'd trusted him. For years he'd trusted him. They worked together, laughed together, drank together, gave and took each other's advice... and Ravel let Motivore play havoc with his mind the whole time, whether he knew it or not. Gods, even if Ravel ran away to another galaxy and took a job as a coal miner he'd never escape the shame.

What kind of person was Ravel really? And who would he be after all this? If he decided to be anyone at all? It didn't take much self-awareness to realize that Motivore had broken something in Ravel's head with that last, desperate attack... and even if the bastard hadn't gone with the low-blow, Ravel would never be the same after seeing Witch like that, after Afrit dying in his arms.

Ravel laid his head down beside the basilisk's crest. There just wasn't any point in getting up. Afrit raised a sluggish paw and slapped Ravel's cheek--that hurt way more than it should--Motivore must have cut deeply there. “Who killed her ?” The lizard's voice hissed in Ravel's mind, deep, clear, powerful, and furious. Since when could Afrit mind speak to anyone like that? Was this like a swan singing one time before it died?

Motivore,” Ravel coughed out. “He killed Anonymous, too, and I...” couldn't do anything. Should have died with them for all the good I've done. Should be with her already. Should be waiting for you.

Afrit hissed, a pathetic sound like a coughing kitten. "Make him pay!"

I can't. I tried.” Worthless. He couldn't even win the one fight in his life that really mattered.

Afrit gave him a look that always translates clearly no matter what species are involved: “you are an absolute moron.” “Given how much you know about coats, you ought to easily learn to turn yours.”

What?”

“Turn him in, Ravel! Sell him out!”

The heroes wouldn't help...” They threw him in the river... Earthbreaker destroyed an entire bridge just to kill him. What the hell?

Heroes... they're all talk.” Except the woman in blue on the Narrow Bridge. She was different.But with the kind of information you can offer, I guarantee the cops will listen. Afrit's breath hitched and his eyes nearly fluttered closed. The last few words sounded like semi-conscious musings. “Sell him out. Sell them all out. Tell the cops how to end Motivore and wave more information in their funny cop faces until they let you walk away free as a basilisk. Then go live a life worthy of her grace...”

Afrit didn't speak again, though it was perhaps twenty more frigid minutes before he stopped breathing. The last of Animal Witch's power faded with his death, and Ravel found himself holding the corpse of a perfectly ordinary plumed basilisk.

It still didn't seem worth getting up. If Ravel could have switched places with Afrit he would have... but that wouldn't be fair, forcing the poor lizard to live on without someone who was not just a best friend but a living piece of him. And it wouldn't be fair to Afrit if Ravel just stayed here to freeze to death. Ravel would be damned if he didn't see to his friends' last wishes--because Motivore had mentioned that Witch had the same ideas--and they were beautiful ideas. Motivore might have abandoned their usual warehouse after this bloody night, but Ravel knew about plenty of other hideouts, stashes and dirty secrets.

Make him pay .

Chapter Text

“Come in!” at long last, Nedzu was triumphant! Specter nudged the door open, hoodie still drawn over his crimson bangs, and shuffled into the room. “Good morning, Specter.” It was evident that this was still the name to use. The ghost relaxed slightly after the greeting. “Tea? And feel free to remove your constricting garments.”

“Uh yes, please. The tea, I mean.” Specter phased through his over-clothes and, picking them up, deposited them on, or under, Nedzu’s eccentric hat tree. The shining, gold tree was overloaded already with coats, scarves, cloaks, bowler hats, cowboy hats, ties, and a fez. Nearby sat half a dozen umbrellas and a pair of neon orange mountaineering boots. People had an odd habit of leaving things in Nedzu’s office. Over the years it had become an informal lost and found for the faculty… or maybe more of a “take an item leave an item.”

UA’s principal finished pouring tea for himself and his guest. Specter took a seat and sipped the brew deftly. Nedzu tried to avoid grinning maniacally. Specter was skittish. Nedzu had to be careful, gentle, on this first day… which meant diving right into things before Specter had a chance to over think the situation. “I believe in learning by doing,” the principal began, “so today you and I are going to defeat a mafia boss in Atlanta, Georgia.”

Nedzu’s newest coconspirator blinked. “Uhh… what?”

“Not in person of course,” Nedzu steepled his paws, “but his career will be beautifully doomed by the time we finish our work and go home.” The principal fetched two copies of a thick folder from his cabinet. It looked like a normal filing cabinet but the lock was biometric--keyed to his paw print--and access also required a very long password. The system was carefully designed to explode in a white-hot conflagration if someone attempted to force it open. “Read through this then we’ll get out the whiteboards.”

Nedzu did not keep his maniacal smirk hidden for long. Specter was grinning soon, too, and jumping up and down at times so his fluffy hair flew out in a halo… and spattered a few drops of blood on the files. So be it. Specter, however, grimaced whenever he noticed the droplets. It was obvious he hated his appearance, perhaps viewing it as a curse, a judgment upon him in retribution for his supposed transgressions. Nedzu should ask around, see if he could find someone to help with this issue… the physical one, not the psychological one--matters of the mind he would leave to Hound Dog. Quirks related to the dead were few and far between, but there were a handful of people Nedzu could talk to about how Specter might change his appearance.

These thoughts did not long dampen the mood. New students were the best--wild, learning so quickly and so eagerly. This was more fun than breaking into an illegal fireworks factory with a flamethrower. “Ooh… but what if we place a call to Mr. Esbit and tell him Miss Black can’t attend? And intercept her mail so she doesn’t get the invitation?”

Nedzu considered it. Creative. Dastardly, however “keep it simple” was a key in complicated webs like this. “It would certainly cause some beautiful chaos, but would likely have secondary effects not easily anticipated. There is a simpler way we can drive a wedge between these parties…” Specter grinned his own maniacal, bloody grin and the two moved to a new whiteboard.

This job was like being a conspiracy theorist in that it was the opposite of that--they were the conspiracy--and here they were putting the wicked web together in the same way incredulous bunker-dwellers with too much time on their hands would someday try to take it apart. Specter easily had the raw talent for this; the ghost was a diamond in the rough and his facets had already begun to glitter. This child would someday make a tactical genius. It would take years of patience, but Nedzu was nothing if not patient. Conspiracy thrived on patience.

“Given his background, we could probably convince him it’s a literal act of God,” Specter pointed out as the pair finalized their plans. Specter and Nedzu both snorted, glancing at each other in confusion a moment later. Nedzu immediately understood after meeting the ghost’s eyes, but Specter could not analyze the principal's expressions yet. Soon enough Nedzu would have the ex-vigilante reading people like cheap thriller novels and playing them like tambourines. In the meantime, Nedzu would have to explain.

“You and I have very different stories,” the principal clasped his paws, continuing carefully, “but I see we have similar scars. We have both, for many years, been treated as less than people, unworthy of respect or empathy, due to circumstances beyond our control. What talents we possess, what feelings we have, were discounted as worthless and meaningless because we were viewed as “what” not as “who.”” Specter, wide-eyed, clearly didn’t follow the thread of the conversation yet, but he would. “People like us know there is no God.”

“Not an infallible one anyway,” murmured Specter. “Or maybe for someone else, just not for us.” The ghost stared at the anarchy of their last whiteboard and chewed on his lip. “I sometimes think there may be a devil, though.”

There might well be a spiritual devil of some kind, but as far as Nedzu was concerned the Devil was real and his name was All For One. Nedzu had good reason to fear that man, as did Specter. By stealing quirks All For One stole souls. To Nedzu or Specter, losing their quirks would mean losing their lives as well, one literally, one figuratively. Nedzu wasn’t sure precisely what would be left of him if he lost High Spec, but it wouldn’t be Nedzu anymore, and Specter… would just be dead… though given that Aizawa couldn’t erase Specter’s quirk, it was possible the Devil wouldn’t be able to take it. Quirks were, after all, part of someone’s physical body, an aspect of DNA, and although Specter was here, his body was ashes beneath the earth.

“Anyway, shall we place a call to the FBI and explain their best course of action? I will do the talking this time. You listen and afterwards, tell me what you think of the agents in charge.” One was brilliant, the other a twit. Specter didn’t pick up on all of that. Oh well. There was plenty of time for the child to learn.

The look on Aizawa’s face when he came to fetch Specter at the end of the day was priceless. Nedzu could practically hear the underground pro thinking: “Oh my god now there are two of them” as he looked over their conspiracy boards.

“I will see you tomorrow!” Nedzu bid his new student farewell with a yawn. It was quite late already.

“Thank you!” the ghost smiled as he trotted after Aizawa. Yes… this would work out beautifully. Nedzu was always triumphant in the end.

 

 

 

Aizawa walked in with Specter. Tsuyu blinked in astonishment. Murmurs of surprise and recognition arose from her classmates. “This is Midoriya Izuku,” Aizawa told them, shooing the transparent, bleeding ghost towards a desk in the back of the room. Midoriya only wore part of the school uniform--he was just carrying his shoes--but even Iida didn't comment on it. “Some of you know him better as Specter. Please continue to call him that and don’t pester him about it. He is your classmate now and will be attending the licensing exam with you.” Licensing exam? Was UA trying to get the hero students their provisional licenses as first years? “Yes, we intend to see you all licensed as first years. Given recent developments, I want all of you to be able to defend yourselves legally.”

Tsuyu grimaced. Yes, it was necessary perhaps, but very unpleasant. The haunting images of Kamino Ward returned to her yet again--and it could have been so much worse.

All Might retired but he survived. All For One was in Tartarus. Mt. Lady was back in action already. The Wild, Wild Pussycats were returning to the field. By some miracle, Best Jeanist wasn’t actually dead and would be back to work within two weeks--which was still somewhat hard to believe. The new number three had actually been forced to hold a press conference which started with the legendary announcement: “No, I’m not dead. Obviously, because I can call a press conference.” The hero’s expression as he said this (what could be seen of his expression anyway) was so perfectly exasperated it had become a meme. Other notable quotes from the conference, perhaps even more meme-worthy, were: “No. I am not a shapeshifting impostor,” “I don’t have any siblings, let alone a twin,” and “It’s almost like you don’t want me to be alive given how loathe you are to accept it as fact.” The conspiracy theories had still not been quelled. Shapeshifters, twins, aliens, and holograms were apparently plausible explanations for the return of a hero some were still convinced was KIA. Todoroki supported the shapeshifting alien theories.

Tsuyu shook herself from unproductive thoughts and got to work taking notes. Aizawa had (no doubt intentionally) started a complicated topic the moment Specter had taken his seat so that the poor boy was not immediately subjected to the scrutiny of the whole class. Despite the notes to take, Tsuyu couldn't help but scan the faces of her classmates, cataloging reactions.

“Mystified” and “concerned” were the common denominators among the students' expressions. A few of the more... squeamish--Koda, Aoyama, Kaminari and Mineta--looked horrified or nauseous. Yaoyorozu seemed to be deep in thought, though Tsuyu couldn't begin to guess what went on behind her brilliant classmate's eyes. Shinsou had a similarly contemplative expression. The brainwasher was always painfully insecure about how villainous his quirk appeared, and here was someone with a quirk that was--at first glance--far more “unsuited” to hero work than Shinsou's. That must be a lot to chew on. Todoroki, always difficult to read, had evidently broken his pencil sometime in the last few minutes--the shards lay across his desk and he now had a sturdier writing utensil in hand. Iida had shrunk into his seat wearing shame like a label across his forehead. Shame? For what? Had Iida even met the ex-vigilante before? Bakugou, rod straight in his seat, stared at the board without comprehension; he was taking even worse notes than Tsuyu. Kirishima occasionally shot his best friend concerned glances but paid attention to the board--someone would have to give Bakugou the notes, after all.

Tokoyami was tying Bakugou for worst note taker; he was thoroughly occupied with taming Dark Shadow. The enthusiastic familiar wove between desks around the back of the classroom in his quest to get to Specter... who exchanged shy waves with the bird before leaning down to whisper something. Dark Shadow sheepishly retreated. By this point, Tokoyami had put his head down on his desk in exasperated surrender. The familiar, returning at last, tapped his partner's shoulder nervously.

Aizawa, through ignoring the commotion, whirled around to stare at his students. “Is there a problem?” Dark Shadow vanished. No one said a word. “Good.”

What had happened to get Specter a place in 1-A? Adding a 21st student in the middle of the year was beyond unusual; it was unheard of. Who really was this Midoriya Izuku? When they met in the burning woods, Bakugou said that Midoriya was dead, literally, but that seemed... well, Specter did look like an actual ghost. Hadn't Tsuyu heard the name Midoriya Izuku before? Before the disaster in the training forest, maybe on the bus driving to camp...

Tsuyu dropped her pencil and sat frozen for a moment as Aizawa lectured about... something. Bakugou's classmate who killed himself was Midoriya Izuku. Good gods. That was what Yaoyorozu was thinking about--the class vice president was so clever with such a good memory--she must have realized in an instant who Specter really was.

“Tsu?” asked Uraraka, leaning close to whisper. “You okay?”

“Fine.” Tsuyu found her pencil, returned to taking notes, and tried to keep her mind on topic--but that was somewhat hard to do knowing her beach cleaning buddy and new classmate killed himself. Specter always seemed so lovely, awkward but sweet--why? Why would he--? Who was she to judge? What did she know? And she wouldn't go prying. She prided herself on speaking her mind but she could recognize an occasion to keep her mouth shut. If she could be Specter's friend, if he would tell her what happened, that was fine. Otherwise, by inquiring, she was rooting through dirty laundry in a way that no amount of curiosity could excuse.

Specter left quietly--completely silently in fact--after attending two classes with 1-A. “Where's he going?” asked Kaminari as math ended. “Special lessons. With Nedzu,” said Ectoplasm in a tone of voice that translated to: “you should be afraid--very afraid.”

Tsuyu couldn't find Specter at lunch--maybe he didn't eat, or maybe he wanted to avoid all the stares. A transparent student soaked in blood was bound to attract a lot of attention, even in a diverse school like UA.

Bakugou and Kirishima weren't at lunch, either, but Tsuyu caught sight of them through the meshed window of an empty classroom. Bakugou had his forehead down on a desk, arms wrapped around his himself, Kirishima squeezing his shoulder. It was impossible to comprehend how Bakugou must feel about this. The frog girl tiptoed on her way.

Tsuyu found Specter outside the principal's office. It seemed Nedzu's private class with the ghost had run late. As UA's principal opened his door, Tsuyu caught a glimpse of massive whiteboards covered in notes and photos. Specter smiled and--surprisingly--cackled as he bid Nedzu farewell. The small mammal grinned in a manner which raised concerns for the sanity and safety of the world's population.

Specter, noticing Tsuyu, smiled shyly. “Hello again...”

“What's so funny, kero?”

“Running guns.”

Huh. Maybe Tsuyu shouldn't ask. She changed the subject as they headed back to class. “I'm glad to see you. I think you'll make a good hero.”

The... literal ghost shifted nervously. “Maybe,” he mumbled.

Another swing and miss. “Is there something bothering you, kero? Or am I bothering you? Should I go?” Maybe she was making him nervous.

Specter waved his hands. “No! It's okay I just... I don't quite know how to act around so many people anymore... who can see me... and are around everywhere, all the time.”

Ah. A reintegration issue--the newest member of 1-A had been living alone for a long time. “Don't worry about it, kero. Social interaction is a skill. It takes practice. Please, don't just decide it's not worth it and clam up.” Or worse, decide it's not worth it and disappear again.

The ghost stuttered for a moment then beamed. “Thank you.” It wasn't a frightening smile by daylight, especially when Tsuyu could see the happy gleam in Specter's eyes.

“Have you moved into the dorms yet? I don't believe I've seen you.”

“Not yet,” Specter replied. “I'm moving in another few days... my mom wants me close by right now after--after everything.” The ghost's smile fell.

“Sorry.”

“Huh?”

“I don't know what happened to you, but I can easily guess how sad and unpleasant it was. So I am sorry.” Was Tsuyu overstepping? Hopefully she wouldn't scare her poor classmate off.

“Oh.” Specter gave her the barest ghost--oh, everyone was going to have to watch those figures of speech from now on--of a smile. “Thank you then.”

Chapter Text

Aizawa brought Specter to spar, the ex-vigilante trotting behind their teacher shyly. On the previous occasions Shouto encountered Specter, the ghost had seemed... confident, self-controlled, not shy. Interesting.

Be gentle with each other,” Aizawa said, keeping a close eye on them even as he critiqued other pairs. How should Shouto start? He owed Specter his life--what was the etiquette involved in fighting someone like that? This must happen to pros all the time. Would it be weird to ask Aizawa or another teacher to advise him on how he ought to behave?

His classmate wasn't caught up in a knot of thoughts. Specter pounced, leaping on Shouto's head then phasing through him when reflex responded in place of consciousness and Shouto tried to claw his classmate off his face. The ex-vigilante was behind him--Shouto shot a very small glacier in Specter's direction... which his opponent, of course, hopped straight through.

Specter fought without style, employing a chaotic mixture of dirty tricks learned on the streets as a vigilante. Shouto countered by interspersing dirty tricks of his own with the controlled, fluid style of hand to hand he had practiced for most of his life.

The ex-vigilante always managed to phase out of Shouto's grip before the glacier-wielder could land a heavy hit, but Specter wore down as the fight continued. No endurance. Abruptly, Specter vanished then reappeared tangled about Shouto's ankles. Before the glacier summoner recovered, his opponent had him on the ground, arms twisted behind his back. Brain catching up with the situation, Shouto surrendered.

Specter phased through the glacier-wielder to let him up, but Shouto pounced on his classmate a moment later, the smaller boy squeaking in surprise. Shouto couldn't “pin” his opponent, but by the time they were through, Specter couldn't hold a tangible form anymore and simply lay, exhausted, on the mat.

Aizawa switched Specter for Bakugou and sent the ex-vigilante to sit in a corner where he muttered to himself, took copious notes in a little book, and stared eerily at his classmates. Shouto didn't manage to glance that way often, though--Bakugou was in a murderously bad mood.

A few minutes later, Aizawa sicced Specter on Tokoyami and swapped Bakugou for Ashido.

I got you!” Dark Shadow cackled, snatching the transparent student's wrist. Specter vanished completely but, even so, only became somewhat permeable to the familiar's grasp. It was bizarre to watch Dark Shadow clawing at a piece of air, desperately trying to keep a grip on something that wasn't really there. Specter eventually slipped away then reappeared dramatically, leaping down on Tokoyami's head with a cry of, “now I got you!” Those three just seemed to be having... fun? It was as if they were already friends. Had they met before? Dark Shadow never behaved that way with anyone; if your name was not Tokoyami, Dark Shadow did not want to associate with you.

Shouto refocused when Ashido smacked him in the chin.

He never knew what to say. Maybe it was a side effect of living with a man allergic to the phrase “I'm sorry,” but Shouto never knew what to do when he made a mistake, when he was less than perfect. He was getting better, but the thank you and the apology he owed to Specter seemed beyond him right now. Maybe he could ask Tsuyu about it? She might understand. She might know what to say.

 

 

 

Supermoves... it sounded cheesy. Tsuyu, still not completely at ease with how Frog interacted with One For All, wasn't really sure what she should be trying to do. All Might had warned her away from emulating him--One For All was hers now... her mentor was off speaking with Kirishima and--surprisingly--giving more excellent advice.

Bakugou, practicing an impressive new move, carved up a rock as if he were a laser cutter, stone shards flying across the gym and several larger pieces hurtling towards All Might--the Explosion wielder shouted a panicked warning and lunged towards the teacher, but he was too far away. Tsuyu leapt without a moment's hesitation. She caught one of the large chunks with her tongue, whipping it away towards the stone spires Cementoss had erected where it shattered like an egg. She smashed the other pieces in midair with a solid kick and landed half way across the room. Bakugou sighed in relief and made his way to a more isolated corner to continue practicing. All Might smiled and gave Tsuyu a thumbs-up. Was that enough of a “supermove” then? Or should Tsuyu focus on the new skill she'd recently discovered by accident? Most of her strength was in her legs--if she gave the ground a sturdy, One For All enhanced kick, she could crack the earth and send nearby classmates toppling like bowling pins... hmmm...

Specter was in the corner speaking to a blonde, third year student by the name of Mirio who was, apparently, trying to teach the sleepy ghost how to make items intangible; the ex-vigilante's quirk had a good deal in common with Mirio's. As Tsuyu tirelessly worked to become an earthquake, a third student joined the party in the corner, the crazy support student. Hatsume... that was her name. Tsuyu just called her “the crazy support student” same as everyone else.

Half an hour later, Tsuyu's ghostly classmate walked through one of Cementoss's pillars wearing a fluffy red top hat. He looked immensely pleased with himself. “That's great!” Tsuyu told him, taking a break from destroying the floor.

“Thanks!” Specter walked back through the pillar with his hat and continued chatting with Mirio and Hatsume.

In another corner, even stranger things were afoot. Todoroki was... blowing smoke and steam at people, a great, impenetrable cloud of it. He held his hands so close together they almost touched and either used both his abilities at once or alternated between the two so quickly that Tsuyu couldn't spot when the flame stopped and ice began. The majority of the class had paused to stare. They'd seen plenty of weird and terrible things, but this was a new kind of weird. It was just... unfathomable. This was not the sort of “supermove” expected from a powerhouse like Todoroki--not that it wasn't useful, but still. “Huh,” Tsuyu said to no one.

“The hell is this?” muttered Bakugou as the room filled up with acrid fog. Todoroki, no longer generating the stuff, looked about with evident concern. This wasn't his plan, then. Had he been trying to make smoke and just made too much of it or had he been trying to do something different entirely?

Tsuyu waved her hand a half meter in front of her face--she could barely make out the electric blue glow of One For All curling about her fingers.

It was at this point that the fire alarm went off. Half the class shouted disbelief--it was hard to imagine UA had not anticipated and planned for this kind of training situation... Iida demanded, “all students move towards the exits in a safe and orderly fashion!” Tsuyu could imagine him karate-chopping the air as he spoke, but had no chance of spotting him through the haze. She dropped to all fours and hopped towards a side door.

Aizawa was not amused. Tsuyu stayed well clear of him and instead found herself standing in line with a bewildered Specter and blushing Todoroki as Iida counted the class twice. “All present!” the president reported.

Nedzu appeared moments later with Powerloader, the latter looking exasperated, the former on the verge of laughter-tears. “In the future,” Nedzu advised, “it might be prudent to practice skill sets of this nature outside, but don't worry! I'm sure we can modify the alarms in the building to filter training exercises from actual emergencies.” Powerloader shrugged. Nedzu grinned like a ravenous shark.

Training was evidently over for the day. Murmuring students dispersed. Shouto stared at the ground to avoid the gazes of his classmates, some of whom were glaring, some of whom were laughing. “It was nice to see you using your fire,” Specter said softly to Shouto.

“Oh... uh... well. Thank you. For everything. For... you know what.” Tsuyu did not know what, unless it was something to do with Hosu? Details of the incident were never released, but it was common knowledge in hero circles that Specter had been in the vicinity when Stain found his last victim.

Specter stood perfectly silently for a moment then whispered with just barely enough volume for Tsuyu to make the words out, “I hope you all live forever.”

Tsuyu sometimes wished she wasn't so nosy because she could have gone without hearing that. Hopes and fantasies aside, no one lives forever.

 

 

Specter moved into the dorms in the dead of night. Nearly everyone was asleep by then. The class had spent a long day working on supermoves in anticipation of the provisional license exams and most students had gone to bed with the sun.

Fumikage started as the front door flew open without any apparent cause and Specter trotted in, a half dozen boxes bobbing after him like ducklings pursuing their mother. Aizawa followed looking... amused? Frightening? Those words were nearly synonymous when describing their homeroom teacher.

“He's the room next to us!” Dark Shadow whispered loudly in Fumikage's ear.

“Yes.”

“It seems wise to put the nocturnal students together,” Aizawa said dryly as the ghost skipped up the stairs.

The 1-A rumor mill had promptly spread the... disturbing news about their new classmate. Ashido had recalled that Midoriya Izuku was the name of Bakugou's classmate who killed himself and she did not recognize her situation for what it was: an occasion to hold one's tongue. Everyone in 1-A, and likely many students in other classes, knew the gruesome tale by now. Chances were several other 1-A students, certainly Yaoyorozu with her eidetic memory, had immediately made the connection as well, but the class's vice president had enough emotional intelligence to keep quiet about Specter's past.

Fumikage heard the story from Ashido at the same time as Iida and Todoroki, both of whom reacted as if they had been punched in the throat, speechless and agonized. Fumikage, of course, had learned Specter's fate weeks and weeks ago by candlelight in an abandoned church. Hearing these gruesome facts from Ashido was like reading about the Titanic--the magnitude of the tragedy was common knowledge, so learning the details added little to the sorrow. Dark Shadow, however, still did not comprehend the situation; Fumikage's companion had been confused about... suicide when they first met the ghost in the cathedral, but the familiar had dropped the topic after a time. Now, however, the discussion could not be indefinitely swept beneath the table; Fumikage dreaded the coming conversation--at some point he was going to have to explain to his partner why someone would take his own life. And how could he explain that? He didn't understand it himself.

Specter walked through the front door with another set of boxes. Fumikage shook his head and blinked. He definitely hadn't seen the ghost leave so Specter must have jumped out of a window... or walked through a wall... or made himself invisible and left in a conventional manner for the sole purpose of disorienting his audience. Aizawa gave a long-suffering sigh. “What's wrong with exiting through the doors, Specter? They're perfectly nice doors.”

The ghost shrugged and disappeared up the stairs again. Aizawa, whose work was apparently complete, locked the front door--for what it was worth--and vanished back to his lair.

Fumikage returned to studying. If he was going to be up in the middle of the night at the fickle whims of Lady Insomnia, he might as well do something productive with the time.

Specter sat in a chair across the common space staring at a computer screen and occasionally fiddling with his earbuds. When did he get there? There hadn't been the slightest sound. “How long have you been here?” asked Fumikage.

Specter glanced up. “Half an hour maybe?”

“What are you watching?”

Specter shrugged. “An old hero documentary. It... reminds me of what things were like before...”

Fumikage felt an overwhelming urge to change the subject. “Have you finished your classwork already?”

Not quite... but since I really never sleep I figured I would work on it in the morning.”

“The very early morning I presume?”

Specter smiled softly, but there was a hint of a mad grin hiding deep in his expression; you could tell the ghost had been spending time with Nedzu. “Exactly.”

Dark Shadow was sneaking up on Fumikage's transparent classmate with all the subtlety of an armored assault vehicle. “I don't understand you,” his familiar said and Fumikage winced as Specter blinked in surprise. This conversation was going nowhere good, “but I definitely still like you.” Oh. Maybe this was not going to go downhill as quickly as expected. “We should all read spooky stories again. Has Todoroki ever accused you of being an eldritch horror?”

“Uh... no? I mean, if Tokoyami wants to read again that would be... I mean it was great--the ghost stories were fun but no to the eldritch horror thing.”

“I'm sure you just have to give it time.”

Uh... give what? What? Give Todoroki time to accuse me of being an eldritch horror?” Fumikage should really put a stop to this before it got more out of hand, but he didn't know how to stop it without seeming rude.

“Yes. I'm sure he'll come around. Then we can be eldritch horrors together!”

“Dark Shadow. You are not an eldritch horror and neither is Specter. Todoroki has... an overactive imagination.”

Dark Shadow turned to stare Fumikage in the eye. “You are no fun.”

Why did this comment bother him? “I am fun.” Of course he was fun... he was just a particular kind of fun. Why would Dark Shadow say he wasn't any fun? “We have lots of fun!”

Specter giggled. “I think he's joking about the eldritch horror thing, Tokoyami.”

Fumikage stared his familiar in the eye. “Are you... joking?” Had that ever happened before? Dark Shadow did... not usually behave this way. Maybe it was just that the familiar had never really liked anyone before--anyone who wasn't Fumikage.

Dark Shadow raised a finger to his beak. “Shhh... It's not funny if you explain it. See? No fun at all.” Specter kept giggling... and Dark Shadow winked at Fumikage with a triumphant gleam in his eye. Was that the point, then? Was he just trying to get Specter to laugh? Well, Fumikage could get behind that.

I did bring some of my books with me to the dorms,” Fumikage said. “I have mostly finished my homework now. Would you like to read some tonight?”

Specter slammed his laptop shut, wincing at his own excessive enthusiasm. “I would love that.”

I will be back momentarily with “The Masque of the Red Death.”” Fumikage stood and snorted dramatically at Dark Shadow. “And you said I wasn't any fun.” Dark Shadow squawked in mock indignance and Specter giggled again. It was a lovely sound.