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under my skin

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Izuku was always keenly aware that, some day or the other, his soulmate was going to try to choke him out. It wasn’t exactly the meet-cute he hoped for, being the hopeless romantic that he was, but he really couldn’t think of any other reason for the dark soulmark to show the shadow of a hand wrapped around his neck.

The marking first appeared on his skin at the age of six years—not long after he had been diagnosed as quirkless. Most soulmarks are known to appear a year or two before one’s quirk manifests, so Izuku had, for a long time, resigned himself to the belief that he was to be powerless and alone.

When he awoke one morning to the sight of an ashy black hand-shape on his skin, he leapt with joy to tell his mother of the news. She hadn’t handled it with quite as much enthusiasm. That morning, Izuku was given a long talk about personal safety and the idea that many lovers, even soulmates, can hurt each other very, very badly.

From that very first day, Izuku had known that his soulmate was probably not a very good person.

He spent more time than he was willing to admit thinking about it—how the meeting would go, how his soulmate might respond, how they would move forward. A million possible scenarios looped endlessly in his mind as he waited for the fateful day. Most of them were mid-battle, or perhaps in a dark alley late at night. None of his imagined scenarios were set in broad daylight in a crowded mall on a school trip. They also never featured one of the most wanted criminals in the country, but life has a way of throwing curveballs at you, as it seems.

He sat there now, on a bench in the center of the mall, desperately trying to catch his breath as the villain disappeared into the crowd of patrons, leaving Izuku with a million spiraling thoughts and nothing but the comforting presence of Ochako to keep him from falling apart in the chaos.

Shigaraki’s hands were tucked in his pockets as he had walked away. How long until he noticed as well?

Would he feel the same dread as Izuku felt in that moment? 

It took Ochako walking into his line of sight and jostling him by the shoulders for Izuku to snap out of his daze.

“Deku,” she called, and her voice helped ground him even as world felt tilted on its axis. “Are you okay?”

It was a loaded question, to say the least. “He didn't hurt me,” he said, reassuringly.

“I can see that,” she said. “But that's not what I meant.”

Izuku knew that, but he couldn't bring himself to answer her real question, so instead, he reached a hand up to point at his neck, to the spot he had always known to be an ashy black. All his life, he had hated the sight of it, and now, he desperately hoped it remained there unchanged. “It’s him, isn’t it?” He knew there were mirrors in nearly every store around them, but he couldn’t bring himself to see on his own.

Ochako was silent for a long time, contemplating how to word her answer in a way that would cause the least harm.

It was all the confirmation he needed.

“Let's take this one problem at a time, alright?” she offered. “I’ll call the cops. Maybe they can—”

“No!” Izuku swiped her hand as she reached for her phone, startling her and knocking the device to the ground with a clatter loud enough to alert a family as they passed by.

Izuku picked it up, thankfully unbroken, and turned his attention back to Ochako as she stared at him incredulously.

“People can't know about this,” he explained quietly, the endless chatter around them creating a cloak of privacy even in such a crowded space. “If word gets out that he’s my soulmate, it could jeopardize my whole career.”

“Are you insane?” Ochako’s voice rang loudly through the open space of the mall, and it took all of Izuku’s self restraint to not slam his hand against her mouth in that moment. Thankfully, they didn’t seem to gather any more attention than all the other loud teenagers in the area.

“I can’t disappoint All Might like that,” he pleaded, and it seemed to be enough of an explanation to satisfy Ochako in the moment.

She complied with a nod of her head, hesitantly as it may be, and Izuku lowered his hand with a sigh of relief. “Fine,” she said, “but we’re still calling security. I have an idea.” The determined look in her eye, the look she always wore when faced with any sort of challenge or danger, softened as she took his hand in hers. “And, Izuku… you’re not disappointing anyone, okay?”

Izuku and the brightly colored patch of skin on his neck would beg to differ, but the way Ochako squeezed his hand and held his gaze made it abundantly clear that there was no room for argument, so all he could do was give her a gentle smile and a quiet, “thank you.”

 


 

Izuku hadn’t a clue how he managed to power through giving a statement to the police in the state he was in. He sat on a cold metal chair in a room with too-bright fluorescent lights and the air conditioning turned up higher than it had any right to be. His gaze remained fixed on one point on the detective’s desk as he recounted the events, toeing the line between saying too little and saying too much.

All Might sat beside him throughout the process, giving gentle encouragement and kind words, neither of which Izuku felt he deserved in that moment. He praised Izuku for handling the situation so calmly and carefully. Izuku didn’t know how to explain that calm wasn’t quite the right word—it was more a matter of being far too tired to panic any more than he already had—so he accepted the praise with a meek smile.

“And lastly,” Tsukauchi began, his fingers still hastily typing out the exchange, “did you notice anything else worth noting that might help us find him?”

Izuku tensed, his hands fisting against his knees as he resisted the urge to reach up to the scarf wrapped around his neck. His lips parted slightly as he attempted to formulate a response, but no words came.

“You can take your time,” All Might spoke, gently patting his back.

Kind, patient, understanding as ever.

Izuku didn’t want to sat that his presence only made this so much harder. 

“No,” Izuku answered in the end, “there was nothing else.”

Detective Tsukauchi’s gaze lingered on him curiously for the briefest of moments, and Izuku nearly cracked under the pressure before the look was quickly replaced with a kind smile. “All right then,” he said, “that’s all, young man. Thank you for your help. I’ll show you out and have someone escort you back home.”

Izuku’s body moved on autopilot as he followed the man out the police station. All Might trailed beside him, apologizing profusely for not being there to help, praising him for handling everything so well, and lord knows what else. Izuku was ashamed that he merely allowed the words to come in through one ear and out the other, but his mind was already so full of unprocessed thoughts that it was impossible to make sense of the words he was being told even if he wanted to.

It was taking far more effort than it ought to just keeping those thoughts from spilling from his lips in a flurry of mumbling (contrary to popular belief, Izuku had some self awareness about that old habit).

The moment he stepped foot out the door, he found himself caught in his mother’s crushing embrace, and held her back just as tight. He felt something wet fall onto his shoulders and had to fight back his own tears from falling as well. The last thing he wanted was to worry his mother any more than he already had.

When they finally pulled away, her eyes quickly fell to the dark green scarf he wore, connecting the dots within seconds, even with the soulmark hidden away.

“Oh, Izuku…” Her voice hitched as another sob escaped her, and all Izuku could do was wipe away her tears.

“Can we talk about it at home?” He whispered to her. Ideally, they wouldn’t have to have that conversation at all, but he knew his mother needed the reassurance that he would handle this with care, that he wouldn’t allow himself to get hurt again. “I’m okay,” he said. He wondered if Tsukauchi could sense the lie from where he stood.

“Officer Sansa will escort you back safely,” Detective Tsukauchi reassured, gesturing to the uniformed officer with the appearance of an orange tabby cat. “But first, would you mind if I have a quick word with Izuku? Just forgot to give him a quick form to sign. Please, Ms. Midoriya, feel free to have a seat in the car and we’ll be out in a moment.”

Inko didn’t seem too keen on the idea of leaving her son for even a moment after such a long day, but she nodded her head hesitantly and followed the officer to the vehicle.

From the corner of his eye, Izuku noticed the tall figure of All Might follow her, no doubt reassuring her that Izuku was in good hands—both with the detective and with U.A.

The detective led Izuku back up the stairwell to the second floor, where they again sat at his desk. “Just sign here,” Tsukauchi instructed, holding out a pen and the statement that Izuku had just given.

Izuku did as he was told and was about to stand up to head back out, but found himself frozen in place when he locked eyes with Tsukauchi staring at him intently. “Is there anything else you need?” Izuku asked, attempting to keep his voice leveled. Playing dumb was a good choice, right? Probably not, but he wasn’t really in the best headspace right now, and he was never good with secrets to begin with.

“I can tell there’s something on your mind,” Tsukauchi began. “I thought maybe you’d feel more comfortable without the pressure of All Might listening in. Now: are you sure there’s nothing more you know that can help the case?”

Great, so he did pick up on it. “It’s not crucial to the investigation,” Izuku said, and he knew that much couldn’t be a lie.

Tsukauchi nodded, "In that case, don't worry about it. But," he shot a supportive smile to the young man across from him, "I can tell you want to say it."

Damn him and his over efficient truth quirk.

Izuku shifted restlessly in his seat, supposing there was no way to get out of this without the truth eventually coming out. He reached his hand up and tugged the edge of the scarf down revealing the blue-green soulmark coloring his neck.

He only let it show for a moment, feeling both ashamed and exposed without the scarf hiding it, but it was more than enough for Tsukauchi to catch on.

“Oh,” was all he could manage.

“Yeah,” Izuku muttered.

“He’s your—”

“Yes,” Izuku interrupted, because he really, really didn’t want to hear the word again.

“Did he say anything to you about it?”

Izuku shook his head. “I don’t think he noticed before he left.”

“I see.” Tsukauchi mulled over the new information. He cleared his throat, and continued in as formal a tone as he could with such a sensitive subject, “I believe it’d be helpful to station a few more officers around your neighborhood. In case he tried to contact you again. And, of course, it wouldn’t hurt to be more vigilant. Avoid going out alone or at a late hour as much as you can.”

Izuku gave him a small nod and a thank you. He began to stand, but stopped midway to ask, “You won't tell All Might, will you?”

“No,” he answered. “It’s a personal matter, and I won't get myself involved any more than necessary, for your comfort.” Whatever comfort Izuku got from that claim was quickly washed away as he continued, “But I do think it's something he ought to hear from you.”

“I know that,” Izuku said. His hand subconsciously rubbed at his neck through the layer of fabric. “I‘m just scared of how he’d take it.”

“For what it’s worth,” Tsukauchi reasoned, “you’ve told one person, and it didn’t go so bad, did it?”

Izuku couldn’t help the small smile on his lips. “No,” he said, “I guess it didn’t.”

“Exactly.” Tsukauchi gave his messy hair a pat, and the strands of hair that had been pushed down quickly hopped back in place. “All Might will understand.”

Izuku wanted to find comfort in that but… “I’m just worried,” he admitted before he could stop the words from falling from his lips, “that he’ll regret picking me.” 

“Why do you say that?” Tsukauchi asked, leaning closer in his seat so as to allow for some semblance of privacy in the open bullpen.

“A soulmate is supposed to be your perfect match. Your other half,” Izuku began. “And the fact that he, of all people—someone so evil, and corrupt—is mine… what does that say about me? Having no soulmate, I can handle. But knowing that it’s him…”

Izuku hadn’t noticed the tears spilling from his eyes until Tsukauchi gently slid a box of tissues toward him.

“I see where you’re coming from, but I think you may be jumping to conclusions,” he countered gently. “All Might told me exactly why be chose you. You're a good, caring person, Midoriya. Everything you do is to keep the people safe and happy. You're everything that a hero ought to be."

The stream of tears slowed then, and Izuku smiled weakly in response.

"Being his soulmate doesn’t change who you are," Tsukauchi continued. "These things work out in complicated ways. However this goes, one way or the other, you’re going to be better for it." He spoke slowly, afraid of stepping on a land mine in such a serious discussion, but there was a firmness in his tone that Izuku knew he could trust.

"You think so?"

"I do. And I know you're a good kid. And that All Might didn't make a mistake with you."

The stream of tears came back just as vigorously as ever. Tsukauchi seemed distressed that he may have said the wrong thing, but Izuku's squeaky, "thank you," reassured him that these were good tears.

"Jeez, kid.” He gave an exasperated sigh, but the slightest hint of a smile lay beneath it. "Toshi wasn't kidding when he said you're an emotional one. Come on, I'll show you to the restroom. Wash up before meeting your mom."

Through his tears, Izuku gave a sheepish smile. “Thank you, again,” he said, voice wobbly and quiet. “I’ll talk with him soon.”

“Take your time,” Tsukauchi repeated. 

Izuku wasn't sure how much time he'd need to take or how long he'd be able to put it off before he's inevitably found out. His soulmark wasn't exactly discreet. Maybe he could find a concealer to keep it under wraps until the time was right. However long that would be. Really, how long could he keep the secret up? How long should he keep it up?

“Uh. Kid?" Tsukauchi's voice broke him from his thoughts. Izuku looked up to see the detective was already standing a few feet away, pointing towards the bathroom. "You gonna keep sitting there mumbling to yourself or...?"

"Right!" Izuku hopped up off the chair and jogged after him. "Sorry!"

 


 

“And... we are... done! Voila, as Aoyama would say.” Ochako dusted the remaining powder off her brush and placed it back into the makeup bag beside her on the counter. With her hands on Izuku’s shoulders, she angled him towards the mirror hanging on the wall of the school’s bathroom. “It's all waterproof, so you don't have to worry about it coming off during training.”

“I really don't deserve you,” Izuku sighed as he looked into the reflection. On his neck, the heavy concealer covered the blue-green marking and several layers of black eyeshadow created the illusion that his soulmark remained unchanged.

Ochako was quick to retort by hitting him lightly over the head. “Don't say that. You deserve the best and that's exactly what you got.”

Izuku shrugged at that comment. “That definitely holds true with the friends I have. Soulmates, not so much.”

Ochako, angel that she is, was quick to respond to Izuku's endless whining with a sympathetic smile. “I'm really sorry it turned out like this. No one could've seen this coming.”

Izuku gave another shrug, keeping his eyes on his reflection’s neck. "I guess I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up about it. I was always destined for one of those tragic soulmate stories, huh?"

To this, Ochako didn't seem to know what to say. All she could do was nod her head solemnly and gently rub circles into Izuku's arm in a comforting gesture.

As it stood, Ochako was the only person, barring the detective, who knew of the situation, and her endless support was what kept him going. He refused to carry the unpleasant mood throughout the training camp; he knew just how much she looked forward to it, and he wasn't about to ruin it for her by moping the whole way there. So, he took a deep breath to steel himself and flashed a bright smile. “But hey! The training camp will be more than enough to keep me busy! By the end of the week, I'll have completely forgotten about this mess.”

The light quickly returned to Ochako's expression. “Exactly! You'll be too busy kicking ass to worry about junk like this.” Hopping off the counter, she shoved her makeup bag into the old duffle bag she had packed in preparation for the trip, leaving only a small thing of concealer, a dark eyeshadow palette, and a brush for Izuku to pack away for himself. “You ready to head out?” She asked, tossing the bag over her shoulder.

"I’ll catch up with you in a minute.”

Ochako, punctual as ever, was already halfway out the door as he spoke. “Don’t take too long or Iida will blow a fuse!”

Izuku didn’t doubt that for a second, but he knew Ochako would gladly stall for as long as needed if he happened to be late. “I won’t, don’t worry!”

The door clicked shut behind her, and his smile fell as soon as he no longer had incentive to keep the act up. With a sigh, he began packing away the makeup into his own luggage. For some who hated lying so deeply, he sure did have a lot of secrets, didn’t he?

Chapter Text

 

 

Izuku's wish that the training camp would take his mind off everything came true. It was, in fact, a little too true for his taste. The class had barely been at the camp for a few hours, and the aching of his empty stomach quickly replaced any thoughts of Shigaraki and of the League. He was pretty sure he could feel every individual tear in his over-exerted muscles cry out for him to rest. Also, getting punched in the sack was very high up on his list of the worst pains he’s ever felt.

The cons probably weighed much more than the pros, but at least he had a whole new set of problems to distract him from the old ones, right?

Izuku refused to consider the possibility that he should maybe, possibly, pick up some better coping mechanisms. After all, training until his muscles gave out and his mind lacked the energy to flood itself with anxiety was working out just fine.

Or at least, it was, until all his problems came rushing back to haunt him on the third day of his reprieve.

The black smoke flooding the forest instantly left a bad taste in his mouth—he didn't know what had caused it, but it certainly wasn't natural. None of the students or teachers had fire-based quirks but Todoroki, and his flames didn’t look like this. The only explanation was that there was someone else here. It being isolated U.A. property, far from any hiking trails, he could be certainly this wasn’t caused by a civilian who lost their way.

Izuku found himself running toward the mountain before he could even process the situation properly, his instincts kicking in. Everyone at the camp, he trusted, was strong enough to hold out on their own for a while, or to at the very least be near enough to the teachers to get by. All except one—Kota. Izuku could feel the ground beneath him shake with each step fueled by One for All, desperately hoping that no attacker had found the child yet.

Following recent trends, his luck continued to be the absolute worst. By the time he reached the ledge Kota liked so much, there stood the large figure of a villain looming over the young boy.

The villain must have been at least three times Kota’s height and had no trouble holding him up by the arms like a ragdoll—painfully, judging by the tears welling in Kota’s eyes. He threw kicks at the man’s face that just barely landed. The manic grin on his lips as he watched the boy struggle made Izuku stop in his tracks.

He was enjoying this.

It took only a moment for Izuku to regain his composure. “Let go of him!”

The villain looked over at him, the same grin only growing in intensity. “If you insist,” he said, cheerfully, and tossed the boy off to the side.

If Izuku hadn’t darted to catch him, there was no doubt he’d have fallen right off the cliff. The boy clung onto him with a deathly grip and a pleading, scared look on his face that lit a fire in Izuku. He held him back just as tightly. “Are you okay?” he whispered, but his question went unanswered.

“You need to go,” Kota said instead. “He’s here for you.”

And just like that, everything suddenly made a lot more sense.

Somehow, he managed to suppress the swears that tried to escape his lips. “I’m getting you out of here,” he promised. “You’re gonna be okay—we both are.”

Before he could move a muscle towards the path down the mountain, the villain stood before them, blocking the path and cornering them between himself and the cliffside. He squinted his eyes, locked on Izuku. “Wait, hold on—you’re Izuku Midoriya?”

Izuku didn’t answer, but the man’s eyes fell briefly to examine his neck, and it must have been answer enough.

“Oh, wow,” the villain laughed. “You’re so much tinier than I thought you’d be! It’s a real shame Shig said he wants you alive. It’d be so damn easy to just snap you in half.”

It took all of Izuku’s effort to maintain his composure. Careful to keep his voice low and even, he asked, “What do you want from me?”

The man shrugged. “That’s all up to the boss. I’m just here to bring you to him.” With that, he made a show of cracking his knuckles. “By force, if I have to.” From his tone, it was very clear that was what he’d prefer.

Izuku knew he was in no state to fight—after such a long day of training and running on nearly five hours of sleep over the past thirty-eight hours, the chances were firmly against him. His priority lay in getting Kota to safety, first and foremost. All he needed was to get behind that man, and he could make a break for it from there. If he himself was the target, he could get Kota to safety and lure the man away.

Keeping his grip tight around Kota, he brought to his mind the image of the egg in the microwave. Carefully channeling a fraction of One for All to his legs, he crouched down, ready to jump and—

The villain lifted his leg up and stomped down onto the ground with enough force to rattle the ground and cause Izuku to lose his footing, falling back on his back with Kota on top of him. Bits of debris fell as the edge of the cliff crumbled.

Heavy footsteps sounded as the man walked over, that same manic grin on his face. “See, now you’re making it fun for me!”

“Stay away from him,” Izuku warned, scrambling to his feet between the villain and Kota.

The villain made a show of whimpering in mock fear before barking out a laugh. “Then make me, kid. Come on, show me what you’re made of! What’s so special about you that the League of Villains wants you so badly?” He spread his arms out, taunting Izuku with a clear shot.

And Izuku knew that if he didn’t fight back in that moment, the man would show Kota no mercy. So, despite all the aches in his body, he channeled his quirk through his arms and legs and struck.

One hundred percent. Whether it would incapacitate the man or not was up in the air, but it was his last hope to carve out a window of escape.

He could sense dozens of breaks and fractures and tears ripple through his arm the moment it made contact with the man’s stomach. Could hear every snap of his bones. He bit back the cry of pain hard enough to cause the inside of his cheek to bleed.

Then, there was silence.

With a gulp, he glanced up, and through the tears prickling in his eyes, he saw his bruised fist pressed against a wall of pure muscle.

The man’s boisterous laugh rang out again. “What, that all you got?” His hand gripped at Izuku’s hair and pulled him back roughly, forcing him to meet his eyes. “You’re lucky I can’t have more fun with you. Now, are you gonna come, or—”

The man’s gaze dropped to Izuku’s arm.

“What the fuck?” He said, voice losing all hints of amusement. “Did you seriously break your arm from using your own quirk?”

Izuku was already having a pretty rough week, and he really didn’t need judgement from a villain who took joy in terrorizing children to add to his list of problems, thank you very much.

“Fucking fantastic,” the man groaned, as if Izuku’s broken arm was a major inconvenience to him personally. With all too much ease, he used his grip on Izuku’s hair to throw him off to the side where he fell heavily on his unbroken arm.

By the time Izuku regained some semblance of composure through the pounding headache and the sharp pain in his arm, the man already held a firm grip onto Kota’s forearm. This time, Kota didn’t fight back—instead, he held firmly onto the man’s wrist as he was dangled over the cliffside. His nails dug into the villain’s skin, but he didn’t seem to pay it any heed.

“Alright,” the villain sighed. “Since we’re gonna have to do this the boring way. Come with me, don’t put up a fight, and I’ll consider not dropping this brat to his death.”

The nonchalance in his voice, the carelessness with which he held the boy, and all his actions previous were more than enough reason for Izuku to know that there was no bluff there.

Izuku held up his unbroken hand cautiously as he stumbled to his feet. “Okay, okay,” he said slowly. “Just don’t hurt him.”

The man seemed wholly unsatisfied with the agreement, but he pulled Kota closer until his feet were firmly on solid ground. Still, he held him in place as he dug through his pocket for what seemed to be a burner phone.

As the man fumbled with the device, no doubt contacting whoever is in charge of their escape, Izuku kept his focus on Kota. He had tears now streaming down his cheeks and his chest heaved with heavy uneven breaths. It was all Izuku could do to give him a hopeful smile and say, “You’re gonna be okay. I won’t let him hurt you anymore.”

It broke his heart to see the boy grow even more distraught, as if the idea that Izuku could care so deeply for him was just unthinkable.

Before he knew it, a dark purple mist rose off to his left, forming an oval shape about the size of a door. It was not unlike the portals that the villain Kurogiri had used during the League’s first attack at the USJ.

“Go on then,” the villain said, gesturing to the portal with a tilt of his head.

“Let go of him first,” Izuku demanded with a firmness in his tone that surprised even himself.

The villain didn’t seem to appreciate the attitude but he complied nonetheless, pushing Kota away and making him stumble to catch his footing.

And with that, Izuku trailed ahead towards the gateway with his hands held up in surrender. His gaze as he walked was fixed on Kota, who was thankfully unharmed save for some minor scratches and bruising, and he was surprised to find that he felt no fear or panic then—only relief.

 


 

In spite of everything, in true Izuku fashion, he observed the effects of the quirk—the transition from the dimly lit forest to a pitch darkness—with utmost fascination. Even now, with his arm aching and tattered up, he felt an urge to reach into his pocket for a pen and notebook and jot down his theories on this person's quirk, but in his rush, he’d left it back at the camp.

Oh, and now probably isn't the time, what with his life being on the line and whatnot.

The portal disappeared quickly behind him, and he found himself far from the mountains of the camp and instead standing in the middle of an old bar. It was old enough that he knew it must have been abandoned long ago, but tidied up enough that he knew it had been the base of operations for the League for some time now.

Behind the bar stood the same wispy figure Izuku recognized from the attack on the USJ. This time, however, he wore a well kept suit that showed the clear outline of his body rather than appearing as a floating mist.

Bright yellow eyes turned to him. “That was quick work, Muscular,” he commended, the comment clearly addressed to the other villain despite his gaze lingering on Izuku.

“Wasn’t too hard to get him to cave. These hero types are too easy sometimes. Kinda boring at this point, honestly.”

The slits of Kurogiri’s eyes narrowed at Muscular. “You were told to bring him back uninjured.”

“I was told to bring him back alive. Last I checked, he’s breathing, ain’t he?” As if to prove his point, he slammed his hand against Izuku’s back, making him gasp at the sudden jolt. “Besides, he did that all on his own. The kid can hardly handle his own quirk. Why do you want him anyway?”

“Tomura won’t be pleased with this,” the Kurogiri said, entirely evading the question. He stepped around the bar, approaching Izuku. A misty hand reached out towards him, and Izuku’s fists clenched as he braced himself for another fight, but the touch was… oddly gentle. Grounding, in a way. “Follow me, son, we’ll get you patched up.”

Izuku was too taken aback to do anything but comply.

As he guided Izuku out the door, he called out to Muscular, “Don’t go causing a ruckus, will you?”

“Yeah, okay, dad.” Izuku didn’t need to look to know that Muscular was rolling his eyes as far as they go.

Izuku could just barely make out Kurogiri’s mutter of, “So disrespectful,” as he was guided ahead.

He let himself be led into a room off to the side of a hallway—a small makeshift treatment room, where he was directed to sit at the edge of a bed as Kurogiri rummaged through the drawers of the counter for some medical equipment. Izuku couldn’t tell if it was his ringing ears fooling him, but it almost sounded like the man was humming as he did so. Eventually, the man found all the necessary equipment and instructed Izuku to take his shirt off.

 “No need to be so tense, you know,” he said, not missing the way Izuku’s eyes watched him like a hawk even as he began wrapping the plaster bandages around Izuku’s arm. “I meant it when I said we want you uninjured and in good health.”

Izuku was fairly sure that was a blatant lie, but he couldn’t find a compelling argument as the man handled his broken arm with the same care and gentleness that Recovery Girl herself often would. So, instead, he merely asked, “Then what do you want me for, if not to kill me?”

“You’re quite the cynical one, aren’t you?”

Izuku had never considered that word as an accurate descriptor of himself, but he supposed it fit for the context. “There isn’t a lot to be optimistic about when you’ve been kidnapped.”

This made the man chuckle lightly in response. “For what it’s worth, I apologize for the way it’s all worked out. I insisted Tomura try a subtler tactic, but he was never the patient sort. He’s really giving an awful first impression, isn’t he?”

As far as Izuku was concerned, Shigaraki had already firmly established his awful first impression at the USJ attack, and only further cemented it by choking him out in the middle of the mall, so this really wasn’t too far off from Izuku’s expectations of the man. He chose to keep that thought to himself, though.

“Your neck,” Kurogiri pointed out after a long stretch of silence. “Why is it still black?”

Izuku didn’t see a point in hiding the reality of the situation. “It’s makeup,” he answered. “No one knows that he and I are…”

“Soulmates?” Kurogiri finished with no regard to Izuku’s state of denial.

Izuku nodded, keeping his gaze firmly glued to the ground.

“You and him both,” Kurogiri sighed, as though they were just children acting out. “You’re still thinking of each other as enemies. It’s about time you consider the wild possibility that you’re more than that.”

Izuku knew his life wasn't in the best place right now, but he was definitely above taking love advice from a known criminal, so he had that going for him. Instead, he opted to ask, “Does it have anything to do with why I’m here?”

“It’s certainly part of it,” Kurogiri said, “But I believe it’s best to hear it from him.” As he gave a firm squeeze to the plaster against Izuku's arm, he said, “This should be good for now. I apologize we can't do much more than this. Not exactly the highest grade medical technology here, I’m afraid.”

“I didn't exactly expect you to do anything at all so… thanks,” Izuku said awkwardly. He wasn't keen on thanking a villain who had kidnapped him for anything, really, but something about the air of the man before him demanded a certain level of respect, oddly enough.

Without missing a beat, the man transitioned to the next concern. “Are you hungry? Tired?”

Izuku shrugged. “Probably, but I think I'm running on enough adrenaline that I couldn’t say.”

It was a perfectly honest response, but it must have been funny enough to get a chuckle out of the man. “I'll take that as a yes.” He helped Izuku up and placed a gentle hand against his back as he guided him along.

Once again, Izuku allowed himself to be led out into the hallway, because what other choice did he really have?

Kurogiri was the first to break the silence. “I’m sure you’re aware by now that Tomura has… a bit of a temper at times.”

Izuku was never the snarky type, but he found himself struggling to resist the urge to counter that, oh, not at all. The man who choked me out in the middle of a crowded mall is just a sweetheart!

“But,” Kurogiri continued, “I assure you he means you no ill will. He is a bit riled up from recent events as I’m sure you can understand. Don’t worry; I’ll be nearby in case anything happens.”

“That… kind of just gives me more reason to worry, you know,” Izuku said.

Kurogiri seemed to ponder this. “I suppose there isn’t much I could say to put you at easy, is there?” He seemed far more distressed by the realization than Izuku had anticipated.

Somehow, that alone offered Izuku a sort of comfort. For better or for worse, the man really was making a genuine attempt at kindness here. “For what it’s worth, this would all be really hospitable under different circumstances,” Izuku offered, and briefly wondered why he was making an attempt to comfort a villain. He chalked it up to second nature. Regardless, it seemed to work, so that was a plus. Probably.

Once the two reached the destination, Kurogiri knocked on a plain wooden door. No response came. He knocked again, louder this time, which earned a frustrated call from the inside. “What do you want?”

Izuku wasn’t sure how someone whose face consisted of a cloud of mist could look so exasperated. “The target’s been acquired,” he answered.

Judging by the speed at which Shigaraki opened the door, Izuku could take a guess that the man was just as anxious as he was about this whole mess. The gentle hand against his back pressed firmly against him, and he followed the two inside

He had been anticipating some sort of dungeon, some cell, some place dark and awful and scary. The last thing he had expected was a plain old bedroom. It lacked any sort of notable décor — a stark contrast to his own bedroom covered ceiling to floor in posters and merchandise — but it was cozy in its own right.

Shigaraki stood up from his seat at the desk in the corner and was in front of Izuku before he knew it.

Today seemed to be chock full of surprises, because the first words out of the Villain's mouth were, “Are you injured?” He sounded terribly concerned, as if he hadn't threatened to take Izuku's life just a week ago. Within an instant, his tone turned colder, angrier. “They were supposed to bring you unharmed, those idiots.” His gaze turned sharply to Kurogiri. “Where the hell are they?” From the way he flexed his fingers, it was clear he had much more in mind than a nice chat.

Kurogiri placed both hands on each of Shigaraki's shoulders, firmly holding him in place. “I will handle it. Don't worry about that. You just focus on Midoriya here for the time being.”

Tomura seemed to bristle at the contact, but as he crossed his arms, Izuku realized that, in his own way, he was placated.

Taking a few steps back, Kurogiri added, “I'll give you two some privacy. Call if you need anything.” With one last lingering look, he stepped out, leaving Izuku alone with the specific problem he’d been desperately trying to avoid.

He shifted awkwardly in place, and Shigaraki didn't seem to fare much better. His hand reached up to his neck almost on instinct, lightly scratching the already scarred up skin.

Shigaraki gestured to a couch at the back side of the room. “Sit,” he ordered, his tone commanding despite his anxious body language.

Izuku followed, because what else was he to do?

If he expected anything exciting to happen, he was sorely disappointed. Shigaraki merely pulled his desk chair closer, right in front of him, and stared at him as if he were trying to dissect him with his gaze alone.

From the way his mouth twitched at the corners repeatedly, Izuku could hazard a guess that he didn't quite know where to begin even though he had a lot to say. Izuku himself was quite familiar with the experience.

He decided to take one for the team and start with the most pressing question on his long list of inquiries. “Was anyone else hurt in the attack?”

Shigaraki shrugged. “They weren’t told to target anyone else.”

Izuku repeated, more firmly, “But was anyone else hurt?”

“I’ll let you know when the others report back in,” Shigaraki answered, his tone even and guarded. “They were told to pull back as soon as you were brought in. I doubt they got to anyone else in such a short time.”

It wasn’t much of a confirmation, but it at the very least gave Izuku some level of peace of mind. The attack didn’t last very long, after all.

“You really care about them,” Shigaraki noted.

Izuku saw no reason to deny it. It was hardly an outstanding observation. Nor was it a very difficult idea to grasp. To Izuku, his desire to look out for everyone he came in contact with came as naturally to him as breathing. And yet, Shigaraki looked at him as if he were speaking a foreign language and he couldn’t place what it was to begin with.

After an extended silence, during which Shigaraki’s inquisitive eyes never left Izuku, he asked, “Why did you come here?”

Izuku blinked. “Because you forced me to?”

Shigaraki didn’t seem to satisfied with the answer. “You’re not fighting back. You chose to come here. Chose to comply. Why?”

Suddenly, Izuku understood what Shigaraki was looking for. “He threatened to hurt Kota. He’s just a kid—I couldn’t let anything happen to him.”

For a long stretch, there was no response. Shigaraki merely watched him with that same pondering gaze. “I don’t understand you,” he said. Izuku was struck with a strong sense of déjà vu.

“What’s there to not understand? This,” he said, gesturing between them, “was a fluke.”

Shigaraki seemed to be torn between laughing and scowling. “You know as well as I do that’s now how this works. Mistakes like that don’t just happen.”

“Look, I don’t know how this happened!” Izuku hadn’t intended to raise his voice—knew it was probably a bad idea to rile the man up—but the words came out as such without his go-ahead. “All I know is that I’m a hero, and you’re a villain, so this can’t mean anything.”

“You and I both know it’s not that simple.” Shigaraki's eyes flickered down to the covered-up marking on Izuku's neck. “Though I see only one of us has accepted it.” As though to prove his point, he lifted his right hand up, showing his own marking. Something in the way the light caught it made it seem to almost glow in the dim room. It was mesmerizing—light greens and blues dancing around each other with traces of white. It brought images of frothy sea-foam and summer afternoons at the beach.

Under different circumstances, he’d call it beautiful. 

Shigaraki’s voice broke him out of his daze. “There’s something about you, Izuku,” he said. “Something that's meant to draw you to me. Something that makes you different from the rest of the scum out there. Something that lives under your skin that you refuse to acknowledge.”

Izuku could feel crimson red eyes boring through him, searching relentlessly, and turning up nothing. Shigaraki sighed and leaned back in his seat. “I don't know what it is,” he confessed, “but I intend to find out. And I intend to make you join me.”

If this wasn’t the most terrifying day of his life, Izuku would have laughed at the idea. “That'll never happen,” he said, not as a taunt, but as a simple fact.

“You're still not getting this, are you? You don't get any more of a say in this than I do.”

Deep down, as much as he hated to admit it, Izuku knew he was right. A soulmate bond was not something that could be broken or pushed aside. Izuku knew he was not the first to try, but he’s yet to hear of such attempts being successful. One way or the other, the two always find their way to each other. And in this case, there were only two ways: either Shigaraki leaves his current life behind, or Izuku does.

Izuku really didn't like to gamble with such odds.

“You were quirkless once,” Shigaraki stated after a long silence.

It was almost by default that he spoke the well-practiced lie. “My quirk took a long time to—”

“Cut the crap,” Shigaraki interrupted. “I know about One for All.”

It took all Izuku had to keep the shock from his face. “I don't know what you're talking about,” he lied.

“Playing dumb? You’ve gotta be able to do better than that.”

That bit never seems to work out for him, does it?

“I know the whole thing,” Shigaraki explained. “All Might, your powers, all of it. So, save us both the trouble and be honest.”

Izuku supposed there was no point pretending anyway. “Fine. I was quirkless.”

“I don’t imagine people were particularly kind to you after you found out.”

Izuku could name dozens of such memories off the top of his head, but the first image that flashed in his mind was his parents arguing in the car ride back from the doctor’s office. It was one of the few memories he had of his father. “What game are you playing?” he asked, dodging the question with the grace of a ballerina on two broken legs.

“They weren’t right to treat you that way, you know,” Shigaraki said, ignoring his question. “There’s no excuse for anyone to put you through that.”

Izuku was getting exceptionally good at denial, but even he couldn’t deny that hearing those words was a comfort—even from a villain. “That doesn’t mean I would ever hurt any of them, if that’s what you’re getting at.” 

That statement seemed to throw Shigaraki in for a loop. He stared at Izuku long and hard, his questioning gaze boring through him, before seemingly giving up. “That Bakugo kid,” he said, changing gears, “who is he to you? Was he kinder than the rest?”

Izuku couldn’t help but chuckle at the question. “No, god, not at all. He was probably the worst one, other than—” He stopped himself abruptly before tracing back and continuing, “He was my best friend as kids. I still think of him as that, but I doubt it’s mutual. He’s amazing in so many ways, but—” he shrugged— “after his quirk manifested, and mine never did, he just… got meaner and meaner over the years.”

“And yet you risked your life for him once.” It wasn’t a question, but the confusion in the tone was evident.

“He needed help, and I was running toward him before I even knew what I was doing,” Izuku admitted.

“But why?” Shigaraki asked, each question making his calm demeanor crack at the edges. “It makes no sense. Why risk so much for someone you know doesn’t deserve it?”

“Because that’s not something anyone should have to earn. Everyone deserves to live safely, no exceptions. And a good Hero does what they can to protect that.”

Something about that statement seemed to be the last straw for Shigaraki, who by now was scratching so viciously at his neck that Izuku could just barely see traces of blood trickling down his skin. Even as he addressed Izuku, he muttered so quietly under his breath that Izuku could hardly make the words out. “God, do you even hear yourself? I don’t know why I expected—”

Before the interrogation could devolve any further, a knock on the door interrupted Shigaraki’s musings. “What?!” he snapped, and the door was gently pushed open to reveal none other than Kurogiri himself, holding two steaming bowls of mapo tofu.

The man nodded toward Izuku and said, “I see you’re still in one piece, so I’m assuming Tomura’s behaved himself?”

Izuku gave him a nervous smile. “More or less.”

“Usually less,” Kurogiri said, which earned him a kick to the calf that he dodged with ease.

Before heading out, Kurogiri gave a pat to Tomura's head, and Izuku was both surprised and a little startled when he received the same affectionate gesture. “Eat up, you two. And calm down a bit; you look so tense and that's not helping anyone now, is it?”

“Don't tell me what to do, old man,” Tomura snapped, to which Kurogiri quickly turned his head and shot him a piercing glare. Tomura returned it with twice as much fervor, but after a few moments, sighed loudly and still lost the stare-down. He shifted his attention to Izuku and asked, “You like video games?”

Izuku blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I got Psycho Godfather War 3.”

“What?!” Izuku repeated with ten times as much fervor and for a completely different reason. “That isn't supposed to be out for another two months!”

Shigaraki gave a shrug, but underneath it, he was clearly pleased with the reaction. “I have my ways.”

Logically, Izuku knew that such a statement coming from Tomura Shigaraki of all people ought to be very suspicious, but also, it was Psycho Godfather War 3, the game he'd been keeping an eye on since it first was announced a whole two years ago. He'd been saving up for it for ages. So sue him, he was gonna play it!

He dashed his way over to the computer and tried to reach for the controller before realizing—

“Nooooo, come on!” He cried out as he was quickly reminded of his arm wrapped up in tight bandages, down to the tips of his fingers.

Being the awful, cruel, immoral monster that he is, Shigaraki laughed at his misfortune and picked up the controller, dangling it casually as if to taunt him further. “You can just watch me play if you want,” he offered.

Izuku's pout persisted for a long moment but he eventually conceded. “Fine,” he muttered. “I’m more into it for the story anyway.”

Shigaraki raised an eyebrow at that. “It's a first-person shooter.”

“The gameplay is great, but that's not all there is to it! So many people overlook how much effort the writers put in to the story because so much of it is told in the notes and books scattered around the world. They end up missing whole sections of every level just because they rush through it and don't look thoroughly enough. If you remember the underground level in the second game, there was a whole subplot they introduced about the emperor’s love affair with the empress’s handmaiden. And there’s been a lot of theories about who the child was but I think they were actually the assassin that later went on to kill—”

“Do you always do that?” Shigaraki interrupted, and Izuku suddenly realized just how quickly and quietly he had begun muttering his thoughts. He hadn't even noticed Kurogiri exiting the room or Shigaraki pulling up a second chair for him.

With a nervous laugh, he sat down and said, “Kinda. People say it's creepy.”

“Oh, it is,” Shigaraki said nonchalantly, and Izuku deflated at the words. “But you're not gonna find anyone here who's too bothered by that.”

Izuku couldn't help but smile at the statement. “So you admit that you're all creepy too?”

“Maybe except Kurogiri.”

“Nah,” Izuku said, “he's creepy by association.”

Izuku never really considered himself funny, but his words pulled out a laugh from Shigaraki and—

Oh.

Oh wow. He had a really nice laugh. Y’know, when it’s not all scary and murderous.

He cleared his throat loudly and stuttered out, “R-right, so! Let’s start up the game!”

 


 

“Stop killing the pedestrians! They haven't even done anything!”

“They could alert the guards,” Shigaraki argued as his sword slashed through another pedestrian.

“You don't even play stealth to begin with! Why would you care about that?”

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” Shigaraki said, just as he equipped the grenades and began aiming the weapon at the gaggle of uniformed officers defending the entrance to the next zone of the level.

“Wait, wait, wait!” Izuku threw his unharmed arm at the man beside him, making him lose his grip on the controller.

Before Shigaraki could yell at him for the sudden interruption, Izuku pointed back toward the group of officers clustered together. “Zoom in on them.”

Shigaraki made a show of rolling his eyes, but to Izuku's surprise, did as he was asked. Once the spyglass adjusted onto the group, the programmed dialogue began among them.

“Can't believe they called all of us out here at this hour. What are we even here for anyway?” The first of the guards said.

“Idiot,” groaned the other guard. “Don't you know the Duke's here on official business? These aren't the safest parts, you know.”

“You can't tell me you actually believe that's all that's going on here, do you?” The first guard responded. “The Duke comes every other month and there's never this much security. There's gotta be more to it than that.”

“I think you're onto something,” the third joined in. “I heard both Hanami and Kaya's squads were stationed way down at the docks, even though the Duke came in from near the station.”

“You think they’re hauling something valuable they don’t want people to know about?”

“You kidding? The Duke always wants people to know about his money. He—”

“You three!” A higher ranking officer walked up from behind. “You're officers, not gossip reporters. Stop yapping and get back to work!”

With that, the little scene ended and the guards all began walking about the courtyard in set patterns.

Izuku turned to Shigaraki expectantly.

“Shut up,” the man groaned, and Izuku could swear he could see a pout on his lips. “It's probably not even much loot. It's not hard to find gold in this game, you know.”

“True,” Izuku agreed, “but if I'm right about the Duke working with the witch, then it's possible there's a bunch of runestones there.”

This seemed to pique Shigaraki's interest.

“You could finally get that power upgrade you were eyeing. But, if you're really not interested…” Izuku trailed off.

Shigaraki turned his character around quickly and began sprinting towards the docks. “Shut the hell up,” he said before Izuku could even hazard a smile at his victory.

Izuku watched as Shigaraki slashed his way through the dozen or so guards at the docks and scanned the area in search of some hint of where the hypothetical runestones could've been snuck through.

After several minutes of searching, Shigaraki groaned and began aimlessly slashing his character's sword. “See? That was all a waste of time.”

“No, no, I know the way the writers think. There's gotta be something.” Izuku mulled over it before suggesting, “Try jumping over the dock. Maybe there's something under?”

Shigaraki looked at him as if he'd suggested running headfirst into a volcano. “Getting a little desperate there.”

“I'm serious! Trust me, I'm sure of it.”

He wasn't, really, but he could already tell Shigaraki was the type to do something stupid just in an effort to prove him wrong.

It only took two seconds of deliberation before Shigaraki made his avatar jump over the railing and fall into the water. It didn't take long to notice the hidden entrance to the mansion from beneath the docks. The character swam through the entrance, eventually coming up into a storage room in the basement of the mansion filled with—

“Yes!” Izuku cheered. “I told y—”

“I'm gonna kill you,” Shigaraki said nonchalantly but made no move toward him, and Izuku knew it was an empty threat.

“Hey, I helped!”

“Yeah, but you were annoying about it.”

Izuku made a show of crossing his arms and pouting at those words.

“That’s so strange…” Shigaraki mused as he looted the chests boxes of runestones. “They must have brought in this shipment with a submarine or something. What are they doing here that needs this much planning and secrecy?”

“Oh now look who's invested in the pl—ot,” Izuku began to tease, but whatever sarcastic tone he tried to carry was lost as a yawn interrupted his words.

“Are you tired?” Shigaraki asked, a subtle concern in his tone as he proceeded to loot the area. “You can take the bed, if you want.”

Izuku shook his head vehemently, partly in response to the question and partly to shake off the sleepiness that attempted to overtake him. “I wanna see the rest!”

As he pulled up the save menu, Shigaraki said, “Just get some sleep. I'll do something else and we can finish this level tomorrow.”

Izuku had about a half dozen questions about the strangely kind gesture, but he settled on asking, “Are you not going to sleep?”

“Someone's gotta keep watch on you,” Shigaraki said, and Izuku suddenly recalled that, right, he was technically kidnapped and ought to be trying to escape, shouldn't he? Between the video games and the delicious food and the snarky jokes, Izuku seemed to have forgotten that he was, in fact, in a terribly dangerous situation, no matter how at home he felt.

“R-right,” he muttered and made his way over to the bed.

As he was kicking off his shoes, he heard Shigaraki ask, “Did you need a change of clothes?”

It was another one of those commodities he didn’t expect to get in a hostage situation, but he supposed he was growing quite uncomfortable in the same clothes since his fight with Muscular. “Oh, uh, sure! That’d be nice,” he said.

Shigaraki made his way to the dresser and fished out an old black button-down shirt and a set of checkered black pajama bottoms, which he tossed over to Izuku before turning back around to face the wall.

Izuku was probably a size or so larger, but Shigaraki seemed to have a preference to baggy clothing, so everything fit quite comfortably on Izuku’s frame.

“Thanks,” he said as he set his folded old clothes on the top of the dresser.

He could feel Shigaraki’s eyes lingering on him for a long moment, but the man turned and walked off to his desk again before Izuku could question it.

Izuku tucked himself into bed as comfortably as he could, laying on his left side as avoid pressing into his injured arm. The moment his head hit the pillow, he was overcome with the realization that he was terribly exhausted. He thought back to that morning when he woke for an early run before the official training session for the day even began. It must have been less than twenty-four hours ago, but it felt like a whole week has passed since.

Within seconds, he was already on the precipice of sleep, when he heard the words, “Good night, soulmate,” uttered from across the room.

It was teasing and light, and he would deny the blush rising high on his cheeks until the day he died. “Good night, Shigaraki,” he said in response, his words muffled into the comforter.

“You can call me by my first name, you know. Might as well, considering… y’know.”

The words sounded almost… shy, but Izuku was too tired to dissect the meaning behind that. Instead, he merely repeated, “Good night, Tomura,” too tired to push down the smile on his lips.

Chapter Text

No one told her how tired she would be.

They told her she would be looked at with love and admiration. Adoring crowds would cheer at the sight of her. She would have riches beyond her wildest imagination. She would help anyone and everyone who cried out for help. She would find her purpose. She would feel invincible.

But she was so tired. She only wanted to rest. She wondered if any of those promises held any meaning to her anymore. She wondered if the answer even mattered.

No, she decided. It doesn't matter. So, she does not dwell on it, and continues to do what she must. Keeps her eyes and her mind firmly focused on the ding as the elevator carries her up, floor by floor.

The apartment was a mess. She would take care of it, she promised herself, but not tonight.

On the couch lay a sleeping boy, a little thing whose adult teeth have yet to set in.

She was careful as she carried him. He stirred from his sleep anyway. He'd been waiting for her to return. "You're back!" He was all too thrilled to see her. She did not know what she had done as a mother to deserve such love.

"You didn't have to wait up so long for me, you know." She pressed a kiss to his forehead. "How was your day, baby?"

"I made a new friend," he announced gleefully.

For such a pleasant announcement, the response it was met with was terse and cautious. "Who was this friend, baby?"

Whatever excitement he felt in that moment quickly faded as he watched her expression. "The boy who lives across from us," he answered. "His mom came to drop off cookies and say hi. She made us lunch, and we played together most of the day."

She gave him a smile. "I'm glad you had fun, honey. But remember what we said about stranger danger?"

Of course, he remembered. She did not make it easy to forget. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No, no, not at all sweetie. But for now, just try to find something to play on your own, okay?"

He pouted, but knew better than to argue. It would make no difference; safety always comes first.

 


 

She darted up the stairs two steps at a time, scrambling up when she lost her footing at the top. The door could hardly cling to its hinges as she kicked it open.

Two boys, both just barely in their teen years, abruptly stopped the game they had been playing.

"Mom? Is everything alright?"

"Everything's gonna be fine, baby." The frantic tone of her voice said otherwise. She turned her attention to the other child. "Akio, darling, I think you should go home. And lock your doors, okay?"

She didn't offer an explanation as she pushed him out the door. He'd left his comic books lying on the floor. She would return them soon, she thought, but she had bigger problems now.

"Mom, seriously. What's going on?"

She knelt down to meet him at eye-level, and gave him a smile. That smile seemed to comfort all the people she rescued, but he saw through it. She was afraid.

"I need you to pack your things as quick as you can."

He knew the drill by heart by now. "How long?"

"Just a couple days," she promised, "and we'll be right back."

He nodded his head in understanding, and he flashed a smile. He hated those stays in safe houses in the far reaches of the city. She knew he did. But he smiled anyway. His smile was so much like hers.

 


 

She was told it would be safe. Miles out from the city and so far out in the middle of nowhere that no tracking device could possibly find it. Even she herself struggled to find it. She wondered how she would find her way back. Every inch of the woods managed to look identical, nearly impossible to navigate.

Not that it mattered one way or the other. The safehouse was already being ransacked by the time they arrived.

They crouched behind a large tree as the sound of stomping feet and smashing furniture reverberated. Voices called out, taunts and threats meant to lure them out.

She held her son to her chest, her hands tightly over his ears. He still flinched at the loud crashing noises, but at least he couldn't make out the words. And she smiled. She always smiled. She knew he saw right through it, but old habits die hard.

Just a little longer. She only needed to hold onto him for a little longer and then—

In the distance, between the trees, she could just barely make out the bright yellow hair of her pupil. Two long strands stood up from his head, impossible to miss. She didn't dare breathe a sigh of relief yet.

"Kotaro, baby," she whispered, quietly as her voice could go, into his ear. "Do you see Uncle 'Toshi over there? I need you to run toward him as fast as you can. Don't stop for a second, and don't ever look back, okay?"

She made to nudge him forward, but he held onto her. "You said dad was here."

It was the one thing she hoped he wouldn't say.

"No," she lied. "Dad got away. He's safe. Now go; I'll take care of this and be right back, okay?" She wondered if that, too, was a lie.

He looked her in the eye, past her bright hopeful grin, and just before he ran, he smiled back at her. It was strained and forced and it did not reach his tear-soaked eyes, but it was all she needed.

 


 

Izuku awoke with a start to find two hands pushing him firmly down onto the mattress. Above him was the face of Tomura, looking equal parts worried and surprised. “Are you okay?” He asked, breathless, as if he’d been struggling to wrestle him down even as he slept.

“Yeah,” Izuku answered on instinct, but his thoughts were crowded with lingering traces of his dream. He wouldn’t go so far as to say he was okay, but he wasn’t hurt, at least. He found himself unclenching his fist, surprised to find it was braced to attack in the first place. “What happened?”

“Your quirk must have activated while you were asleep,” Tomura answered as he sat back, giving Izuku his space.

Izuku stared up at the ceiling as he attempted to calm himself, even as his heart beat hard enough in his chest to ache. He was no stranger to nightmares, that was for sure, but he’d never woken quite this distressed. Vague images flooded his mind as he recalled the events of the dream with a muddy quality. He found himself clutching onto the memories as they rapidly slipped from his mind. He couldn’t quite say why, but they felt important.

“Bad dream?” Tomura asked, breaking Izuku away from his daze.

“Yeah,” he answered with a sigh. He gave an embarrassed laugh and added, “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it. It happens.”

Tomura held out a partially gloved hand, and Izuku moved to grasp it before his brain could even give any input. Tomura pulled him up into a seated position, and placed a gentle touch along his injured arm. Izuku flinched at the sudden jolt of pain that ran all along his right side.

“Looks like you tore up the bandages pretty badly,” he observed. He then hopped off the bed and began lazily making his way toward the door. “Come on, I’ll get you fixed up.”

By now, Izuku knew better than to question the unexpected act of kindness, and merely stumbled out of bed to follow him through the hallways as the space grew steadily more familiar to him.

He was led back to the same treatment room that he’d been in earlier, sitting on the same bed as his arm was wrapped up with the same roll of plaster bandages.

“This too tight?” Tomura asked, pausing his work for a moment.

“No, it’s good,” Izuku answered, and the two fell back into silence as Tomura proceeded.

It was odd, being in such close proximity to him. His touch was feather light and delicate, hands moving with a care and precision that Izuku had never imagined on him in his wildest dreams. He had only ever known Tomura’s hands to be a destructive force—nearly lost his life twice this far for getting too close. And now, here he was, taking care to keep one finger off Izuku at all times, even with the gloves providing a barrier between them.

“Must be scary,” Izuku muttered before his sleep-addled brain could filter the words out.

Tomura looked at him with a quizzical look. “What?”

“Oh, uh, nothing. I was just thinking,” Izuku fumbled, gesturing awkwardly with his free arm, “your quirk is really strong and cool, but you can’t turn it off, can you?”

“No,” Tomura said with a tone Izuku couldn’t quite decode, “I can’t.”

“It must be scary, then,” Izuku repeated, “for those times when you don’t want to destroy something.”

Tomura shrugged, keeping his eyes firmly away from Izuku’s own. “Not that often that I don’t want to destroy things. It works out.”

Izuku watched as Tomura tucked the end of the gauze in between the many layers wrapped around his arm, and he gave a hum in acknowledgement. He made to push himself off the bed, but not before Tomura pushed a hand onto his shoulder, keeping him in place.

“Hold still,” he ordered. After drenching a cotton ball with a liberal amount of alcohol, he used his free hand to firmly tilt Izuku’s chin up.

"What are you—"

The long stream of questions running through Izuku’s mind halted instantly as he felt the cool cotton press against his skin, rubbing away at the concealer. Tomura’s movements were slow and deliberate, and if Izuku didn’t know any better, he’d think the man was intentionally letting his touch linger against the mark binding them together.

When he finally moved away, the white cotton had turned ashy in color.

“What was that about?” Izuku questioned as he awkwardly wrestled his shirt back on. Did the room somehow get ten degrees warmer, or was it just him?

Tomura tossed the dirtied cotton ball away with a shrug. “It’s not like you have anyone to hide it from around here. Does it matter?”

Izuku was firmly of the belief that, yes, it mattered quite a bit. But he didn't know how to explain that, so he resigned to pouting about the fact as if it would fix anything.

Not that it made a difference, because Tomura was quick to change the subject. “You didn’t get much sleep. Did you want to head back?”

Izuku turned his gaze to the clock off on the side of the wall. 5:13 A.M. He shrugged. “I don’t think it matters. I’ve still got a lot on my mind.”

Tomura watched him carefully for a moment, seeming to debate what to say. Eventually, he landed on, “Do you want a drink?”

Izuku blinked. “I’m fifteen,” he said.

“What? No.” Tomura groaned, but there was a subtle undertone of humor in it. “I meant tea or something.”

“Oh! Yeah, that sounds nice.”

“C’mon then.” Tomura opened the door wide and gestured for Izuku to go ahead. “I know I’m wanted dead or alive, but do you really think I’d give booze to a minor? You think so little of me?”

“Well, I—” Izuku paused to consider the words, dumbfounded. “I mean, yeah. Wouldn’t you?”

He turned his gaze to Tomura, whose lip was quirked in a telling smirk.

“You’re messing with me,” Izuku said with a pout, and his small, tired voice must have been hilarious from Tomura’s reaction.

“Of course I would,” he said, all too pleased with himself. “It wouldn’t exactly be the first law I break. Or the most serious. You should’ve seen Toga on her first night here. Pretty sure she was still hungover when they went off on the mission.”

For the sake of his own sanity, Izuku chose to ignore the first part of that statement. “Who’s Toga?” He asked instead.

The question, apparently, warranted a long, exasperated sigh. “Someone who’s intolerable until she’s had seven drinks. After that, she’s out like a light.”

As they entered the kitchen, Izuku slid onto one of the rickety chairs at the table. “I take it you two don’t get along well?”

Tomura shrugged. “We only tried to kill each other once so far, and we never went through with it, so we get along better than we do with other people.”

“You have a really macabre sense of humor, you know.”

“Right. Humor.” Tomura turned to face the counter and began filling the kettle with water from the tap. “Anyway, tea?”

Izuku made the conscious choice to not think too hard about the implications of Tomura’s words and simply answered, “Some green tea with a bit honey would be great, thanks!”

Tomura shot him a look that was just bordering on a glare, filled with equal parts exasperation and confusion. “So damn polite. Has anyone ever told you you’re a little too nice sometimes?”

“A lot of people, actually.” He wasn’t of the belief that there really was such a thing as being too nice, but he may have been a bit biased on the matter. “But you know, technically you’re the one here that’s being nice right now.”

Tomura seemed to be fully prepared to counter the claim, but he quickly realized he didn’t exactly have much room to argue as he held the box of green tea bags in his one hand and a bear-shaped squeeze bottle of honey in the other.

“Why are you being nice anyway?” Izuku asked. “Is it just some ploy to butter me up, get me to join you?”

“If it was, I wouldn’t outright tell you. You’re real bad at this whole hostage thing, aren’t you?”

“Well, it's my first time," Izuku said, a slight smile tugging at his lips. "Be gentle, okay?”

Tomura turned around to look at him with a mix of shock and amusement, and Izuku was all too pleased with the reaction. "You're handling it pretty well if you're making dumb jokes like that."

“You still haven’t answered the question, though.”

“First off, I’m not nice,” Tomura stated firmly. “But if I was, just now, a little kinder than you’d expect, it’s because…” He trailed off, pursing his lips as though he knew the exact reason, but not whether he should vocalize it or not. With a sigh, he quickly finished, “I used to have nightmares that bad, too.”

Izuku tried not to let his surprise show on his face. “So he is capable of empathy,” he noted, only slightly teasingly.

“Oh, don’t look so pleased with yourself.” Tomura seemed almost offended by the claim. “You looked pathetic and you were about to smash the wall in with your dumb quirk, so I stepped in.”

It was either because Izuku was severely sleep deprived or hopped up on painkillers, but the words that slipped from his mouth were a cheeky, “My hero.”

Tomura looked about ready to disintegrate him right then and there, but he was luckily saved by the kettle whistling loudly and diverting the villain's attention away.

The pair was silent for a while, as Tomura poured them each a mug of tea—Izuku's own with just a dollop of honey, just as he'd asked. In spite of everything, it felt strangely peaceful, sitting together in the dim light at this odd hour. Watching a known criminal so peaceful and at ease, and at the same time sharing in that comfort, left a strange feeling in Izuku’s chest that he couldn’t quite describe, no matter how hard he tried. On a surface level, he knew there was a long list of reasons why building a comradery with this man was a terrible idea, and yet he couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that this was… for lack of a better word, just right.

They had to have been soulmates for a reason, he figured.

“Does that usually happen?”

The question broke Izuku out of his reverie. “Does what usually happen?”

“The nightmares,” Tomura answered. “You were thrashing around and nearly broke the wall. Does that happen a lot?”

Izuku shook his head. “Not really. I don't think I've ever had a nightmare that bad before.”

“What about when you first got One for All?”

Izuku tilted his head. “You think they're connected?”

Tomura shrugged. “Trying to see what sticks. It triggered your quirk, so maybe that has to do with it. I know you don’t have much of a handle on it yet, but has it ever gone this much out of control?”

Izuku wasn't sure if he was really interested in having a villain psychoanalyze him, but he was just as stumped about it all himself, so what's the harm, really? “This hasn't happened before, so I can’t be sure, but… it did feel different from a normal dream.”

That must have piqued his interest. “Different how?”

“I wasn't in it,” Izuku said. “It was like watching a film, or something. Like I was watching it happen to someone else. At one point, I think I realized I was in a dream, but I still had no control over anything. Like it was all fixed in place."

Tomura seemed to consider this for a while. “Did you recognize anyone?”

Hard as Izuku tried to wrack his brain, he couldn't quite recall the fine details, the faces of the people in his dream. All that was left was small moments and the emotions. “I'm not sure,” he answered. “Why?”

“One for All is a weird quirk," Tomura said, "the way it links you together with the predecessors. There's a decent chance it's a lingering memory, maybe?”

“You… might be onto something there,” Izuku said. "I can't remember much of it, but the woman was so afraid. And so tired. Like she'd been fighting a losing battle that just wouldn't end. She was trying over and over to save someone, but she never could. I don't know if she ever did in the end.” He was taken aback when he felt a prickling at the back of his eyes as they quickly grew wet with tears. He bit roughly at the inside of his mouth to keep them at bay.

Did she ever save the boy? Why did he so badly need to know?

Tomura seemed unaware of the miniature-crisis Izuku was having as he spoke. “Guess that sounds like something a Hero would dream up.”

“But it doesn't make sense,” Izuku mused, and Tomura raised his brows in question. “Why would this only start up now? I've never had anything like this happen before.”

"Have you been feeling that way? Like you're fighting a losing battle?”

Izuku mulled over the suggestion for a moment. “Maybe in a way,” he said. “It’s all really fuzzy, though."

“Let's just hope it doesn't happen again,” Tomura said, and Izuku was almost grateful until he continued, “You look like shit on four hours of sleep.”

Izuku threw a kick at Tomura's leg from under the kitchen table, but he dodged it with ease and retaliated with a kick of his own—just hard enough to cause Izuku to yelp in surprise but not actually hurt too bad.

“You're an ass,” Izuku pouted.

“That's what you get for calling me nice earlier.”

“Okay, fine, I take it back. You're the worst. Absolutely despicable. Just a big ol' stinky pile of doo-doo.”

“Well, now you're just trying to hurt my feelings.”

Izuku huffed playfully and leaned back in his chair. “There's just no pleasing you, is there?”

“No,” Tomura answered, with that smile that was growing all too familiar to Izuku. “But it's fun to watch you try.”

It was all Izuku could do to take a long sip from his mug to hide the smile on his face.

 


 

Unexpected as it may be, his stay with the League was pleasant. After finishing their tea in a comfortable silence, the two eventually began to head back to get a few extra hours of sleep. When he woke up, thankfully not from a nightmare, he was offered a hearty brunch and some coffee.

"Something tells me this isn't exactly very standard for a kidnapping," he joked as he set the empty mug on the bedside table.

"It helps that you're being cooperative," Tomura responded.

"How much longer do you intend on keeping me here?" he asked instead. "Can't promise I'll be this cooperative forever."

Tomura didn't seem very keen on answering the question, instead averting the subject altogether. "Would you be comfortable meeting the others today?"

"Does it matter if I'm not?"

"Of course it does," Tomura answered without hesitation. "It'd make my job a hell of a lot harder."

"And here I thought you cared about me," Izuku sighed, falling back onto the bed dramatically.

He braced himself for Tomura to reach out, attempt to force him up for whatever it was they had planned for him, but it never came. Instead, he felt the edge of the bed dip as Tomura sat across from where he lay.

"You didn't answer the question," he said. "Will you come meet the others?"

Izuku rolled over on his side and propped his head up against the crumpled-up blankets, facing the villain. "Will you tell me what this is about?"

"I already told you. It's a recruitment effort. We can't promise you the wealth and status that come with being a hero but we can offer you—”

"It's more than that," Izuku said. His eyes dropped to Tomura's hand, the soulmark just barely peeking out from beneath his folded arms.

Tomura seemed very keen on avoiding eye contact with Izuku, but he didn't need to follow his gaze to know what he was referring to. "I'm as confused as you are," he admitted. "I can't force you to join us. Don’t want you to if you won’t be loyal anyway. Just stay long enough until we make sense of this."

It was tempting. The mark against his neck, hidden or otherwise, lingered at the back of his mind ceaselessly despite all his efforts to keep it out. Maybe he, too, needed the closure.

"Can I take a shower first?"

"Of course," Tomura answered. "Get up. I'll show you where the bathroom is."

 


 

After what must have classified as at least the third most eventful day of his life, Izuku was thrilled to be able to finally wash off the sweat and grime that had accumulated over the past 24 hours. He'd probably wasted a third of their reservoir of hot water, but in his defense, there was a lot he needed to process, and what better time to do so than in the shower?

His hair was still dripping wet when he found himself sitting back at the bar on a high stool, surrounded by eight of the most wanted criminals in the country. They were all scattered across the room, some leaning against the walls or sitting on the couch or the floor. Tomura sat closest to him on the adjacent stool.

After Izuku was acquainted with them, Tomura asked him to reach around to the remote right beside him and turn on the TV. It was a hunkered old thing, but seemed to function just fine in spite of its age. As the device flickered to life, he saw none other than two of his own teachers and the principal, each wearing stuffy-looking suits and surrounded by more microphones than Izuku could count.

A press conference, he realized, about the attack. And consequently, about him.

Brutal was perhaps too kind a word to describe it. The reporters were hounding them, tearing them apart in ways Izuku had never known anyone speak of the prestigious establishment. Thinly veiled accusations of neglect, carelessness, and poor management were flung in the form of jabbing questions and angry voices. Given the circumstances, his teachers could do little more than bow their heads, admit to their shortcomings, and make promises to improve the safety precautions taken to ensure the students' protection.

He was relieved to learn that he wasn't missing any school days, as teaching operations had been temporarily suspended.

He was, strangely enough, a bit less relieved to learn that they were directing all manpower towards tracking and retrieving him.

And of course they would be. He was supposed to be back home, with his mother, with his friends. He was supposed to be going to classes and training stupidly late into the night and passing out with a textbook over his face and a cramp in his neck.

He was not supposed to be here, he reminds himself.

The conference stretched on. Izuku was pleased to learn that the attack was short, and few students were hurt in the duration of it. Most were recovering well or even already out of the hospital and staying comfortably and safely at home.

But not Midoriya, one reporter reminded. There were many theories and questions as to why he himself was targeted. Was there a ransom note sent? Does this have any connection to the previous encounter he's had with the League at the mall? What are the chances that the League hopes to corrupt and recruit him?

That last question prompted a whole barrage of queries into the treatment of the students at the school; perhaps the students were treated so poorly behind closed doors that the League felt they could even turn the students against their own teachers in retaliation. They cited the high expulsion rates, the exclusionary enrollment practices, even a few odd cases of U.A. alumni turned rogue. What were they doing to these children? Who's to say we should trust them?

And so on and so forth, the questions came until the clock hit 2:25 P.M. and an abrupt closing statement was given by Principal Nezu, who spoke with all too much clarity and confidence in spite of the overall shit-show they'd all been through.

Suddenly, the screen went dark, and Izuku turned his head to see Tomura calmly fidgeting with the remote in his hands.

"Why were the Heroes being criticized?" He looked at Izuku as he spoke, but the words were directed to the whole group. And good thing, too, because where Izuku could only fumble with his words, the others had answers at the ready.

"They were too slow."

"They practically left the students to fend for themselves."

"They were just plain weak and incompetent. Their one job was to protect the students and they couldn't even do that."

The criticisms came unfiltered, laced with varying degrees of rage and all too much hatred. How the students were put in unnecessary risk. How little was done in protecting them. How they all were so awful at their jobs that it was all they could do to make the students fight on their behalf. The names of his teachers and role models dragged through the mud mercilessly.

Until eventually, Izuku couldn't take it anymore.

"How is it fair to blame them?" He cried out, interrupting what Magne was just about to say. "It was all of you who planned it. You're the reason my closest friends are in the hospital right now, and you expect me to blame the Heroes for that? They're the ones to thank for getting everyone out of there alive."

And now, Izuku knew he hadn't considered his audience before spouting his thoughts, but wow, that really didn't fly well with the group.

Spinner, most of all, was frustrated by his words. "How do you manage to miss the point that badly?" He pushed himself off the wall he had been leaning against, and Izuku found himself leaning back in his seat. "It's not about who's to blame! It's about the fact that these people are demanding respect and money and admiration for doing absolutely nothing when people were in danger. We're not the good guys here, we know that. But they sure as hell aren't either."

No matter how hard Izuku tried, he simply couldn't see the logic in that. "Then why are you doing this? Why are you trying to prove a point when you don't even care about the people who were hurt to begin with?"

"You're still not getting it," another villain—Dabi—spoke. "Our main goal was to get you, but the attack was meant to garner attention like this. We're not trying to save everyone who's in danger; we're whistleblowers. We're here to expose Heroes for who they really are. It's unjust for them to have all that fame and fortune when they're no better than your average thug."

It hardly swayed Izuku's stance—if anything, it only served to confuse him further as to why these people would do this. "You can't fight injustice with more injustice."

"You're just the perfect little fucking Hero, aren't you?" Tomura didn't say the words so much as he spat them.

Izuku knew it was in his best interest to not engage with it, but he couldn't help the frustrated huff that escaped him.

Tomura didn't seem to mind the silence as he continued, rambling into a long-winded monologue like the walking stereotype of a villain he is. "But there's got to be something," he said, leaning in his chair and examining Izuku as though he wanted to commit every part of him to memory. "Something you hate about them just as much as we do. Maybe they're just a little too violent for your taste. Or maybe it's the way they talk down to anyone who isn't quite as strong as they are. Or they're too careless with the damage they leave behind. But you're not like them. You can't be like them." It was less of a statement and more of a prayer.

"What am I, then?"

And in spite of all his careful observation, all Tomura could offer was a simple, "I don't know yet."

"I don't think they're perfect, you know," Izuku said before he could stop himself. "I know there's always room to be better and stronger, and that goes for all of them. But this… it's excessive. They do their jobs as well as they can, and most of them really care. They're not perfect. But they're enough."

Tomura didn't seem convinced. None of them did. "If they were enough, why are we all here?"

This time, it was Izuku's turn to say, "I don't know yet."

In those words was a promise that, eventually, he would. And Tomura heard it, if the small smile peeking behind the hand on his face was anything to go by.

Chapter Text

The recruitment effort, if you could even call it that, went on for another hour or so. As Izuku predicted, the attempts to sway him to the villainous side failed miserably, and they grew more desperate and far-reaching with each minute, but not quite in the way he predicted.

When his back started aching from sitting on the stool, he moved to a more comfortable seat on the couch by the coffee table, this time with a plate of cake in front of him. It was the closest they’ve gotten to getting through to him thus far, but he chose to keep that thought to himself. “This is really yummy! How'd you know lemon meringue is my favorite?”

Don’t get him wrong; it was great cake, but not “leave your life behind and become a villain” levels of great. A+ for effort, though.

Before their frustrations could grow unmanageable, Kurogiri called for the recruitment effort to be put on pause for the night, giving them a chance to get dinner and some rest before tackling it again the next morning.

It wasn't long before the room was nearly empty as the villains filtered out to do… well, whatever it was that villains do in their spare time. He never really spent too much time wondering about that up until now. Sex and drugs? Gambling? Murder?

Oh god, were they out murdering someone?

His thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a bowl of fried rice being set on the table in front of him. He looked up to see both Magne and Toga beside him.

"Thank you," he said with a polite smile.

Toga plopped down on his left and grabbed his wrist before he could even reach for the spoon. "Can we paint your nails?" she asked with a childish glee.

"Excuse me?"

"Can we paint your nails?" She repeated without missing a beat. "Red nail polish would suit you!"

"I still say green is better," Magne countered as she sat on his other side.

"I don't have any green though," Toga said with a pout.

"I think I do, if I can find it."

Toga bounced excitedly in her seat, shaking Izuku's hand up and down with her. "Let's do it then!"

Izuku realized he never really gave them a proper go-ahead, but they seemed pretty keen on it, and he wasn't too opposed anyway. "Uhm, right now?" He asked.

"No, you should eat first. We're gonna be keeping an eye on you tonight, so we got plenty of time," Magne said, giving him a pat on the back. It occurred to him then just how physically affectionate many of the league members were. He realized with a start that he actually kind of liked it.

The three sat together on the couch as they ate. On either side of him, Toga and Magne chatted up a storm while Izuku silently listened to their chatter. He was surprised to learn that, in spite of how close they appeared to be, they have only known each other a little over a month when Toga first joined. Magne, on the other hand, had worked with the League on and off for years now.

He was hoping to get some sort of relevant intel on the villains, that maybe one or the other would slip up and mention something that could be of use, but so far all he's learned was where Dabi kept his stash of weed, that Kurogiri definitely had eyes for Compress, and that one time Twice nearly knocked himself unconscious when he tried to sing all the different parts of Bohemian Rhapsody and hardly took a single breath for the full six minutes. Somehow, very little of that information was surprising, but it was entertaining enough to hold his attention. He'd always imagined groups like this to be a sort of free-for-all, where each member only cared for themselves. As it were, they all were getting along almost as well as his own friends did, in their own weird way. He only wondered…

"What do you two think of Tomura?" He asked as their conversation lulled for a moment.

The question must have taken them aback, considering how quiet he'd been up until now, but Magne went ahead and answered, "He's a bit childish sometimes. Threw a hissy fit when Toga and Dabi joined. Remember that?"

The question was directed at Toga, and the two chuckled at the memory. Izuku distinctly recalled Tomura mentioned something about the two nearly killing each other at one point, and it dawned on him that the women were most likely talking about the same incident. "Hissy fit" sounded like an understatement, but it was clear the villains lived in a very different world with some very different standards.

Magne went on, "But he's been different lately. More collected, I guess? And definitely more contemplative. I'm not sure if he's making more of an effort to think things through before he does something, or if he's just too conflicted to know what to do anymore."

That much Izuku could see very easily. Memories from the attack on the USJ were still fresh in his mind. He recalled being surprised a man like Tomura was in charge of the whole operation to begin with—not for a lack of strength, but for a lack of organization and composure. But there was a sort of dissonance between that memory and the Tomura he was coming to know now.

"He's definitely still fussy, though," Toga added. "I think he and Spinner are still arguing over whether or not Spinner cheated during their last match in Mario Kart."

Izuku couldn't help the chuckle at that. It certainly sounded like the sort of thing Tomura would do. "When did he start acting different?" He asked.

"About a week or two ago, maybe," Magne replied, and the answer only brought with it a dozen more questions. She must have noticed his confusion as she asked, "Why?"

He gestured up to his neck, where the soulmark no doubt still lingered, drawing far too much attention to itself.

The new context didn't seem to confuse them quite as much as it did him. Magne merely stood up with a sigh and began piling up the empty bowls and dirty utensils. "Come on," she said to him and walked off before he could even question it.

He and Toga both trailed behind her, making a quick detour to place the dirty dishes in kitchen, and ended up in a bedroom, with two beds on opposite sides. It was still quite a bit barebones, but he could hazard a guess that the right side was Toga's, if the extensive knife collection on display was anything to go by.

After digging through a drawer in the cabinet and finding a container of green polish and a number of other tools, Magne plopped down onto the bed on the other side and patted the space next to her.

Izuku shuffled his way over, confusion written on his face in bold font.

"Alright," she said. "Tell me about your boy problems."

If Izuku had felt even mildly chilly before, he now felt as though his whole face was set on fire. "I'm sorry?"

"That's what this is about, right?" She asked. "You wanted to know more about him. You're soulmates. No one gets it. We're all confused, so maybe talking it out will help make some sense of it."

Izuku fidgeted in his seat. "Is this another weird recruitment tactic? Getting me to divulge personal information?"

Toga plopped herself down on the ground beside them and rested her chin on the edge of the mattress. "What, we can't just be a little curious about the soap opera happening right under our noses?"

"You don't have to tell us anything. It's not in our job description or anything to get this out of you, if that's what you're worried about," Magne reassured as she reached for his left hand and began filing his nails into shape. "We won't tell him anything either."

Izuku watched as her hands worked deftly, mulling over her words. In the end, what did he really have to lose by telling them? And he wasn't opposed to possibly getting more information on Tomura…

"It's like you said," he spoke after a long silence. "I'm confused. I don't know why on earth he and I of all people could be soulmates."

Magne nodded in understanding, looking up from his hands briefly to shoot him a sympathetic glance.

"And I don't get how he's responding to it. What this all means to him. I mean, as soon as he knew we were soulmates, his first thought was to kidnap me! What's that about?"

Magne chuckled and nodded again in response. "Not the romantic gesture you were hoping for, huh?"

Toga asked, "What does it mean to you?"

Izuku found himself struggling to answer. Ever since the day he found out about it, he'd been trying to ignore it as best he could, and that option isn't really viable anymore. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "I always knew I'd have a strained relationship with my soulmate, but maybe I held out some hope that we could find common ground. Wanted us to be able to have a life together, you know? I always dreamed that my soulmate could be someone who understands me, makes everything less lonely, you know?" He shrugged. "I just kinda gave up on that idea since I found out. I don’t know what I want anymore."

Magne set the filer down and dabbed some too-cold chemical on each of Izuku's nails, gently rubbing it into his cuticles. "Wanna know what my guess is?"

Izuku nodded his head quickly, perhaps a little too desperate for answers.

"I think he hasn't given up that hope, and seeing you already throw in the towel is just a little disheartening."

The words sank like a heavy stone in Izuku's stomach, leaving him with a sense of guilt and leftover frustration at the whole situation. “He's crazy to think this is how to go about it,” he said. “You all know I'm not going to join. If he really cared, why not try to meet me halfway?"

"What is halfway in this situation anyway?" Toga jumped in again, asking the difficult questions. "If you're not gonna stop trying to be a hero, and there's no way he's gonna ditch the League, what's left?"

No matter how much he mulled the question over, what angle he tried to look at it through, he came up empty. "I don't know," he admitted. “I know there’s a reason this is all happening. There has to be. But this doesn't feel right.”

"I think he knows that too," Magne said. "But no one knows how to handle it yet, and maybe he's grasping at straws right now. If you ask me, there was already so much he was conflicted about. Adding this on top of it all must be throwing him in for a loop. Just too much on his plate, y'know?"

Both Izuku and Toga were equally as confused by the claim. "What do you mean by that?" Toga asked.

Magne mulled the question over and hummed in thought, struggling to find the best words. She spoke slowly as she pushed back the cuticles on Izuku’s nails. "Well, he's already been struggling to grow into his role as a leader. All for One keeps giving him more and more responsibility and power over the League's resources, and I don't think he really knows what he wants to do with it yet. He's always known how he's felt, what made him angry, and what he believes in. He's strong and he's got a lot of conviction. But he didn't know what to do about that. There's all this passion and not very much direction. Then you show up, Midoriya, and now it's more complicated than ever. It's not fair to blame him for feeling lost right now."

The reality of it hit him harder than he'd expected. Caught up in his own issues, he almost failed to recognize the way the whole situation must be weighing on Tomura himself.

"I'm not saying it makes what he's doing fair to you," she continued as Izuku remained silent, "but I am saying that maybe you shouldn't give up on him so fast."

In his heart, Izuku knew she was right, knew that this new information would no doubt change the way he looks at Tomura, but that doesn't stop him from squinting his eyes at her and playfully accusing, "So this is just another attempt to recruit me.”

With a dramatic gasp, she turned to Toga and said, "Our cover's been blown, he's onto us!"

"Looks like we have no other choice," Toga said in response, a dark tone underlying her words. "Sorry, Deku."

Before he could even respond to the sense of dread in the pit of his stomach, he was knocked back in his seat by a pillow attacking him.

With one hand tightly bandaged up and the other wet with nail polish, he couldn't fight back without causing himself a great deal of pain or creating a mess. It was a dirty trick, attacking a helpless victim, but Toga and Magne showed no remorse as they laughed heartily.

Izuku tried his hardest to kick them off with his legs, but it was no use. "Have some mercy!" he cried out, and he found himself laughing alongside them.


The night went on like that, with Izuku feeling oddly welcomed and comfortable among the villains once again. It was only well into the evening that he even remembered that he wasn't, technically, a guest.

Himiko flopped down onto her bed with enough force that she bounced up on impact even against the cheap, too-stiff mattress. “I’m craving boba.”

“Now that you say it, that does sound good,” Magne agreed. She turned to Izuku and said, “Hey, if we all go get some, you won’t try to run away, right?”

“I—I’m sorry?” That was certainly not the turn he expected this to take.

“Like, we’ll kill you if you do, and you’re a smart kid, so you wouldn’t try to.” She said it so nonchalantly that Izuku couldn’t quite place how serious she was.

“Technically we can’t kill him, but I can cut the tendons in his legs if he tries to run,” Himiko suggested, and Magne seemed all too pleased with the idea.

“Alright, perfect!” She said, and hopped up from her seat to throw on a jacket. “Come on.” She gestured for Izuku to follow, and he really had no clue how much say he had in the matter, so he obliged.

“Wait,” she stopped suddenly just before they exited the room. “Someone might recognize you,” she realized, seeming terribly bothered by the idea of not being able to get bubble tea lest someone recognize their hostage.

“Oh, I know!” Himiko made her way to the dressed and dug through it for a plain black mask. She hooked the loops behind his ears and adjusted the mask such that it covered most of his face, up to his freckles.

With that, they tossed an oversized hooded jacket over his shoulders and seemed satisfied enough to start heading out.

The main exit, it turns out, was the simple wooden door in the bar area. Just as Himiko propped open the door, another member that had been sitting in the room—Spinner—called out.

"Hey, where are you guys taking him? Isn't he supposed to stay here?"

"We're just getting some drinks," Himiko answered cheerfully. "Wanna come?"

"And you're just taking him with you?" Spinner asked, and Izuku was glad to know he wasn't the only one confused by the situation. "Are you allowed to do that?"

"No," Magne answered simply.

Spinner stared for a long stretch before saying, "Cool, I'll come too."

Seeing the building he was being held in from the outside was a strange experience. It was just a few blocks down from one of the busiest shopping areas in the city and seemed to blend in perfectly. Izuku wondered how many people have driven right past it, completely unaware of what was really going on inside. The whole time, Himiko hooked her arm with his own unbroken one, and he could feel the hard outline of the knife sheathed against her thigh—a constant reminder of his fate if he attempted to escape.

It was an eerie feeling, left him a bit sick to his stomach, but at least he didn't get to sit with it very long, as it quickly came his turn to order at the store.

"Uh, could I please have the strawberry bubble tea with half the sugar?"

"Of course! That'll be 600 yen," the woman working the cash register said cheerfully.

Izuku, naturally, chose this time to remember that he didn't exactly have any money to his name right now. It didn't seem to matter, though, because Magne stepped him and placed the right amount on the counter.

"Thanks," he spoke on instinct.

"'Course, you're our guest," she shrugged.

"I… don't think that's quite the right word."

She just waved a hand nonchalantly, as though the difference was irrelevant, and in that moment, Izuku found it kind of hard to argue with her.

"Oh, should we get something back for Tomura?" He found himself asking and was reminded of all the times he'd been called "a little too nice." It suddenly felt like quite a fitting label.

"He's probably gonna flip his lid the second he realizes we let you come anyway, so we should try to butter him up," Spinner agreed.

Izuku turned his head back to the menu. "He seems like a cinnamon tea with lychee kind of guy," he suggested.

Magne shrugged. "Well, you are his soulmate, so you oughta know." She reached for another 600 yen and put in the order with the woman at the register.

"Is that the real soulmate test?" Izuku questioned with a hint of a smile behind his mask.

"Oh absolutely. Universal fate is one thing, but if you can't even get his boba order right, what's the point?”


The eerie feeling from earlier still lingered within him as the group walked back, but it was dulled slightly by the sound of pleasant laughter and the taste of sweet strawberry in his mouth.

Back at the bar, Tomura sat on one of the high stools, sipping clear drink from a glass tumbler. He looked calm and thoughtful in a way that Izuku hadn’t seen on him before—there was no aggressive scratching or jitteriness. He held that same sickly pale hand that often rested on his face, staring intently at it, as if it would answer all the questions floating through his mind.

He didn’t get any such answers, partly because whoever that hand belonged to was long dead, but mostly because the gaggle of villains burst through the door, chattering loudly amongst themselves and startling the life out of him.

He looked about ready to chew them out, but when his eyes fell on Izuku innocently sipping on his pink drink, his frustration turned near-murderous.

“You idiots let him out?!”

“We wanted boba,” Himiko answered cheerily. Izuku couldn’t tell if she was unable to read the room or if she simply didn’t care to.

Before Tomura could say anything in response, Izuku interjected hastily, “We got you some too!” He fumbled with the tall plastic cup, the seal decorated with a cutesy panda sitting next to a small campfire in the woods, and miraculously managed to not drop his own drink in the process.

Tomura stared at him incredulously, and Izuku really couldn’t blame him, because he, too, was surprised which side he was on here. Eventually, though, Tomura huffed and snatched the drink and straw from him as if the gesture was a personal offense.

"You're all fucking ridiculous," he muttered under his breath, and no one could really argue that. He unwrapped the straw and stabbed it straight through the little panda on the seal.

“Nooo!” Izuku cried out before he could stop himself, because he was too passionate about this issue for his own good. “You’re supposed to stab it somewhere else! Why would you hurt the poor panda?”

Watching Izuku’s distress seemed to bring the man just enough joy to distract him from the anger he’d felt moments ago. “What, like you’re any better? You stabbed it right through his fire. Now he’s gonna die of hypothermia. What kind of hero does that?”

Izuku looked down at his own cup with a little too much panic in his eyes for the situation to warrant and felt an overwhelming urge to get a red marker and draw in a little fire.

“Glad to see you two getting along!” Himiko called out from the other side of the room, already halfway out the door to the hallway along with the rest of the group. Izuku hadn’t even noticed them slipping past.

“Hey, get back here!” Tomura called after them. “You still have work to—” He stopped himself abruptly with a groan. It was clear they were intent on leaving the two alone, and there was no point calling after them.

Instead, he redirected his attention to Izuku again, studying him closely. “You didn’t try to run away? Even with that opening they gave you?”

Izuku shrugged it off, keeping his eyes pointed anywhere besides Tomura’s eyes. “They didn’t give me much of an opening. I couldn’t sneak away with all of them keeping a close eye on me, and there’s no way I’d be able to get through them all in a fight without letting anyone else get hurt.”

At least, that was how he rationalized it in his mind. But truth be told, there was a large part of him that enjoyed spending time with them. And from the look Tomura gave him, he wondered if the man could see right through his lies.

“Do you like the drink?” Izuku asked, quick to change the subject.

Tomura took a long sip from his straw, chewed meticulously on the lychee jelly, and contemplated the taste for a long while before giving his review. “It’s disgusting.”

Izuku frowned. “Oh, I’m sorry.” He held out his own drink. “Uhm, do you wanna maybe have mine? I already drank some of it but maybe you’ll like strawberry more?”

“Awh, you’d do that for me?”

“Of course, I—”

Tomura wore that same cheeky grin from earlier as he watched Izuku fumble with his words.

“You’re teasing me again,” Izuku whined.

“Oh no, not at all,” Tomura insisted, entirely unconvincingly. “In fact—” he reached his hand out to carefully grab Izuku’s cup and took a sip of it— “I think I do like this one more.”

“I don’t buy that for a second.” Izuku made to grab the drink back, but Tomura responded in kind by raising his hand up as high as it would go.

Izuku didn’t notice how much the other towered over him until he was made to hop up and grasp wildly with his unbroken arm in an attempt to grab his drink back. It needn’t be reiterated, but Tomura was an ass who took way too much joy in watching Izuku suffer, so he merely held the cup high up and laughed at the sight of Izuku on his tiptoes.

Izuku would be a lot more frustrated by it if the man’s laugh wasn’t so contagious. “Give it back!” He demanded, trying and failing to hold down his own giggles.

“Hey, now,” Tomura spoke with a lighthearted, easy air, “what’s the magic word?”

“You’re being a butthead!” Somewhere in his mind, Izuku was well-aware that wasn’t the most jarring insult he could throw out, and it probably was a little too tame for a wanted criminal, but it was all his mind could supply and it was accurate enough for the time being.

Through his smile, Tomura feigned offense. “How vulgar. What happened to the polite, kind-hearted hero that I knew?”

“His drink was stolen and he's out for revenge. Now give it back!”

“Only if you stop being a little brat.”

Izuku stopped his reaching and gave a loud groan to firmly establish that this was a cruel injustice that he did not condone, but begrudgingly complied. “Please.”

Tomura didn’t seem satisfied and kept his hand high up. “Come on, you can do better than that,” he said, sounding somewhere between encouraging and condescending.

Izuku bit back the second groan that threatened to fall from his mouth, because he’s been under a lot of stress lately and a nice sugary drink sounded really nice right about now. So, for purely selfish reasons, he schooled his expression and looked up at Tomura with big doe eyes that he’d been told on multiple occasions were impossible to say no to. “Please, Tomura?”

It must not have been enough, because Tomura simply stared at him with a slack jaw and an expression that Izuku couldn’t place.

Izuku waved a hand in front of the man’s eyes. “Tomura? Is that a no?”

The question seemed to snap him out of his daze with a start, and if he hadn’t looked away so quickly, Izuku could’ve sworn he’d noticed a faint blush on his face. Regardless, he got his drink back, for what it was worth.

“Thank you,” he said politely, even though it was his own drink to begin with. He watched as the man made his way to the bar counter, scratching absentmindedly at the skin of his neck.

“You should probably catch up with Toga and Magne,” Tomura said, his tone shaky and the slightest bit nervous as he replaced the pale, stiff hand back on his face.

“I will,” Izuku said, even as he lingered behind. “But first," he decided to test his luck, "can I ask you something?”

Tomura seemed taken aback at the sudden change in his tone. “You just did.”

It wasn’t a no, so he went ahead anyway. “You said you wanted to know what gets under my skin. That it’s the key to getting me to join you.”

“Yeah, and?”

“Well, what is it for you?”

Tomura was caught off guard by the question that Izuku had assumed to be a natural thing to wonder by now. “Does it matter?”

“How else are we going to make sense of this with only half the story?”

Tomura didn’t seem pleased about the direction the conversation had taken, but it wasn’t like he could argue that point. “It’d be easier to name the shit that doesn’t get under my skin. So far, it’s All for One, Kurogiri on a good day, and that strawberry boba you’re so selfishly keeping to yourself. That answer your question?”

Not really, but it certainly goes to show how short a fuse the man has. And how tightly closed off he was. Izuku, reckless as ever, probed further. It was only fair, after they spent a whole three hours attempting to pick his brain.

“What about me?” he asked. “I get under your skin?”

Tomura huffed, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Don’t even get me started on you.”

The words stung, strangely enough. “Here I thought we were becoming friends,” Izuku admitted.

“That—” Tomura pointed, like Izuku hit the nail right on the head— “that right there is the problem. I actually like you! And I hate it. People like you are everything I hate in the world, so why the hell do I like you?”

Izuku took a wild guess. “Cause I’m nice?”

Tomura didn’t seem convinced by it. “Nice people also get under my skin.”

Izuku wanted to be patient and understanding, but he was simply at a loss. “Why? Why do you get so pissed off about the fact that I care about people?”

About you, he wanted to add, but held the words back.

“Because you don't!” Tomura exclaimed. “How can you? How can you sit there and call yourself a Hero, go through all their bullshit training, talk with them every goddamn day, and still not realize how scummy they all are? How can you honestly believe that they can do no wrong? They don’t give a shit about protecting people. Either you're too dumb to see it, or you're lying to yourself and don't care any more than they do. I don't know which one pisses me off more.”

If Izuku were a more volatile person, he may have given in to the temptation to throw a punch at the man's jaw. Might have raised his voice, defended himself, questioned what a villain would know about such things.

But he didn't—couldn't dare to lose his chance at understanding. He needed to know. They both did.

"I didn't ask for a lecture," he said instead. "I asked about you."

The words must have thrown Tomura in for a loop, because the frustration that had been steadily building seemed to dissipate in an instant. "If people like you really cared," he spoke, "then none of us would be here."

And as Tomura peered at him behind the pale hand covering his face, Izuku finally recognized it. That silent cry for help in his eyes. It was different from the other times he'd seen it—it was not the look of fear in the moment someone stared into the eyes of death. It was a pain that had been building for many, many years.

But it made no difference. Izuku still found himself moving towards him before his conscious brain could stop it.

Slowly, watching for any signs of discomfort, he reached up and pulled away the pale hand covering Tomura’s face.

He didn’t fight back. Didn’t resist it. Just watched, seeming equal parts confused and distraught, like the very notion that Izuku cared for him tilted his world on its axis.

“Tell me, then. Why you're here.” Izuku needed to know—for his sake and for Tomura’s.

“Izuku, I…”

Izuku waited patiently for him to find the words.

“I think you should go meet with the others,” Tomura said, gently pulling the hand away from Izuku and replacing it onto his face. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

And with that, he backed up and made his way to the opposite hallway.

Izuku, done pushing his luck for the day, sighed and grabbed his drink that he’d left on the counter. “Before you go,” he called, “be honest. Do you like the drink or not?”

Tomura huffed a small laugh and took a long sip of the cinnamon tea. “It’s good,” he answered. “Thanks.”

It was a small development, but it still brought a bright smile to Izuku’s face. “Good night, soulmate.”

“Good night, Izuku.”

Chapter Text

When Izuku opened his eyes, he knew he was not truly awake.

He was not at home, nor at the League's base. He was nowhere. As far as his eyes could see, there was a white nothingness stretching endlessly. It wrapped all around him, at every corner of the world, even the ground beneath him where he lay. But it felt solid enough, supportive enough, and comfortable enough, so he merely shut his eyes again without a care.

Calm was a feeling he had quickly forgotten amidst all the chaos. The past few months had been nothing but one disaster after another. He'd known for a long time now that he was standing at the precipice of change, that things would never be the same anymore. That was a comforting thought once, but now the uncertainty haunted him. Even his sleep had been restless at best and filled with terrors at worse. But here, in the endless expanse of this void, he felt at ease, as though he was finally allowed a moment of rest.

"Excuse me," a voice called out from above him.

He opened his eyes once again to see a woman, wearing what looked to be a Hero costume; a dark bodysuit, with a hooded white cape held in place around her shoulders with a golden clasp.

She looked familiar, but he couldn't quite place why. Maybe it was her smile. Or the dark beauty mark just at the corner of her lip. He knew he'd never met this woman, but something about her presence felt like visiting an old friend after decades of being apart. He gave her a wave in greeting.

She waved back. "Mind if I join you?" She asked.

He gestured to the spot beside him. She gave a nod of her head in thanks. Before she lay beside him, she unclasped her cape, letting it fall to the ground. The metal chain rattled pleasantly as it fell.

"You're the woman from my dream last night," he said. He remembered only few snatches of it, but her voice was one of the few things he recalled with perfect clarity.

"I am," she confirmed.

"Am I dreaming again?"

"You're asleep," she said, "but no. You're not dreaming."

Her statement, logically, didn't make very much sense, but he understood nonetheless.

"Why did you show me those things?"

"I didn't mean to," she said, her smile faltering for a moment. "The memories came flooding in, and I couldn't stop them. I'm sorry. It must have been overwhelming."

"You don't have to apologize," he said. "I imagine it was more overwhelming for you to live through them."

It brought a knowing smile back to her face. "You've always been an empathetic one, Izuku."

"How do you know my name?" He asked.

"Same reason that you know mine."

Izuku blinked, caught off guard by the odd statement, but he quickly realized that it was indeed true. "You're Nana Shimura," he said. The seventh holder of One for All.

Suddenly, the world around them felt much more solid as the pieces fell into place in his mind.

"It's nice to properly meet you after all this time, Deku," she said. A smile tugged at her lips, but it looked weary, like she was smiling more out of habit than anything. "Watching you has been interesting, to say the least." She made no effort to hide her glance down to his scarred up arms.

Izuku pouted at the gentle teasing, but even he couldn't help but chuckle inwardly at himself. "I can't tell if you mean that as an insult or a compliment."

"It's nostalgia more than anything," she said. "We were all a little too reckless as rookies. Maybe we never really stop—just get good enough at the job that people think we know what we're doing, even when we make stupid, risky decisions."

Izuku found it hard to believe that All Might and his own predecessor didn't know what they were doing, but maybe that only goes to show how far along he's got to go.

"Can I ask," he began, fighting back the uncertainty in his tone, "those memories, meeting me here… why is it only happening now?"

"The connection was always there," she said. "You've always felt it, deep down, but we've all chosen to keep our distance for some time. Let you grow into your own hero before we interfere in any way."

But he was not there yet and he knew that. He still had leagues to go before he could consider himself worthy of being called a real hero. "What's changed, then?"

"Can I give you the long version?"

She asked the question out of politeness, but Izuku knew that she needed to say it, and she knew that he needed to hear it.

He nodded his head.

"When I found out I was pregnant," she said, "I didn't want to keep the baby."

It was, without a doubt, the last thing he would have expected. His shock must have shown on his face, judging by the chuckle she gave. It was a bittersweet sound.

"I never made him or anyone ever feel that way, but it's true. I spoke with my agent and tried everything in my power to keep it under wraps until I could get the abortion. But word got out, and once it did, it wasn't a personal decision anymore—it was a PR decision, and too much rested on my shoulders. I could either be known as a superhero mom, or I could be the hero who killed her own baby." She spoke with little emotion in her tone, as though time has numbed her to the harshness of it.

Izuku wanted to interject—say that it wasn't her fault, that she was not a bad person, that her choice should be respected—but he stopped himself. No matter how awful it was, it happened, and it was over. There was nothing he could do to change that reality. Nothing but listen to her now.

"So I had him," she went on. "And don't get me wrong; I loved him with everything I had. But I still regretted it. Not because he wasn't perfect, but because he was, and I wasn't. I couldn't commit nearly as much to my work as before, and all the villains in my city knew that. I forced too much on Toshinori too early in his training because I couldn't juggle it all. And I couldn't keep Kotaro safe. I needed to be a great hero, a great mentor, and a great mother, and I ended up terrible at all three."

Izuku knew that to be untrue. The way All Might sang her praises like she held up the world with one hand was a testament to that. Under her circumstances, anyone would crumble. But she carried on with a grace and resilience that Izuku dreamed to have.

Something told him that she didn't need to hear that, though.

"After his father was killed, I couldn't handle it anymore. He'd already lost his childhood because of me, and then he lost his dad. I couldn't risk him losing any more. So I put him up for adoption and moved to a whole other city. Cut off all ties with him and asked all my hero friends to do the same. Anything to keep heroism out of his life.

"And it worked out. He'd moved on to lead a totally different life. I did everything in my power to make sure he would be untraceable by any villain trying to get at me. And that was the last of it. I never saw my son since he was thirteen.

"But I cheated, a little. Asked a close friend to keep an eye on him from a distance. They would check in every few years, at least for as long as I was alive. He had a good job, a nice house, a loving wife. And he had…"

Her voice trailed on, then, as she bit her lip and took a shaky breath. "He had a son," she said. "Named him Tenko. But that's not the name you know him by."

In that moment, it became abundantly clear why she looked so familiar. It wasn't that he saw her face on a piece of vintage hero merch, or an old photograph at Gran Torino's house.

"You're Tomura's grandmother." It was not a question so much as an attempt to let the information process in his mind.

"I'm sorry to dump it all on you so soon," she said. "You're still so young. God, the most you should be doing right now is chasing after a purse snatcher."

Izuku shook his head. He didn't need an apology—knew this was crucial for him to know, and keeping secrets would do him no good. What he needed was answers. "What happened to him?" How could so much change so quickly?

"I don't know," she answered, like the words hurt to say.

"What can I do?" He asked, and it sounded far too much like a cry for help. "How can I fix this?"

And much to his dismay, she could only shrug her shoulders and sigh in defeat. "I don't know," she repeated. "I don't know even what I'm asking of you. He's gone down a path that neither of us have ever had to face, and I'm terrified that he's gone too far to ever come back. All I know is that the kind of hero I tried to be wasn't enough to reach him. Maybe what I'm asking you is to be a different kind of hero."

A different kind of hero?

Izuku had never considered there to be such a thing. There were Villains, and there were Heroes, and there were the civilians they saved. But suddenly the lines blurred, and all he's left with was a sinking feeling in his chest and the lingering fear that, no matter what he choose to do, someone will be hurt in the process.

"I'm sorry, Izuku," she said, again, and Izuku understood all the weight behind those words.

Try as he did, he couldn't force out any words in response. The words were stuck in his throat as he tried to force down the sob that tried to force its way out.

"Izuku?" She tried again, sounding more concerned with each passing moment.

The emptiness of the void in which they lay was no longer comforting. It felt like a prison. Not the kind that cages one in a confined space, but the kind that he could run through for the rest of his life and still never escape.

"Izuku?"


"Izuku?"

When he finally managed to pry his eyes open, he found himself no longer in the endless white void, but rather in a dimly lit, clustered room, with the figure of Toga kneeling beside his bed. In the dark, he couldn't make out the look on her face, but he could tell from her hushed voice that she was concerned for him. It made him feel safe as he reached his hand up to grasp hers where it rested on his shoulder as she shook him awake.

She re-positioned her hand to entangle her own fingers with his and gave a small squeeze. She didn't ask him if he was alright or anything of the sort—just offered him a gentle, caring presence without judgement. With her free hand, she grasped the hem of her cardigan and dabbed away at the tears he didn't realize he'd been shedding.

They stayed there for a long while as Izuku got his bearings back together. He wondered if her knees were beginning to ache on the rough floor, but she didn't complain.

"Could I get some water?" he asked, voice scratchy and throat dry.

"Of course." She stood up and pulled him along with her. They walked out the room, through the halls, and she never let go of his hand. He couldn't tell if it was to help guide him through the dark of the unfamiliar space or to provide an emotional support, but he was grateful either way.

When they got to the kitchen, she was sure to turn on the lights, and Izuku squinted his tired eyes in as the fluorescent rays attacked them.

There was an odd sense of deja vu as he sat at the table, taking slow sips from a tall glass, across from a known villain. The calmness and the serenity felt both out of place and, oddly enough, perfectly natural. He tried to rationalize it away, remind himself that this girl was no doubt just as morally dubious as any of the others, but the calmness never swayed. Underlying it was a sense of unease and confusion, but he felt safe around her nonetheless.

Eventually, he spoke up, if only to interrupt the spiral his mind was quickly going down. "Hey, Toga?"

She gave him a bright smile and a hum as he caught her attention.

"Why are you here?"

"I wasn't here long, and it's not a really fun story," she answered nonchalantly. "I met this old guy named Giran who said he'd heard of me and said he knew a place where my "talents" would be appreciated. He said it'd be a chance for me to be just like Mr. Stainy, and so I agreed. Honestly, I don't think Tomura really cares about Stainy at all, but Magne and Jin are fun, so I stuck around."

"I meant before all of that," Izuku clarified.

Toga looked as though she was deep in thought as she mulled the question over. "Well, when a man and a woman love each other—"

"No, not that far back." Izuku couldn't help but laugh. "Somewhere between that and now. You must have had a home, a family. What happened?"

She didn't look mad at the intrusive question, but she didn't wear her usual cheerful expression either. "A word of advice," she said, "no Villain actually likes talking about their origin story."

"Are you saying all those cartoons lied to me?"

She gave a solemn nod of her head. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way."

The two shared a laugh at that before once again falling into a comfortable silence. Izuku was in the middle of debating with himself whether he should ask again when she spoke up.

"I didn't really have a rough childhood, by most people's standards," she started. It was strange hearing her usual cheery self so vulnerable. "I had a roof over my head, and a nice school, and lots of friends. Everyone around me seemed happy about it all, and I guess I was supposed to be too, but…"

She crossed her arms over the table and rested her chin atop them, making her cheeks puff up as she pouted at the memories. "Most of the time, I was just pretending to be, just to satisfy everyone else. Because if I didn't, then they'd get mad and they'd do anything to make me go back to pretending. But I never understood why they were so mad, or why they didn't like it when I was being myself, and it's really hard pretending when you're not even sure who you're supposed to be. Eventually, I got tired of it, and I stopped pretending altogether. The nice thing about the League is that no one is mad about that."

The answer wasn't nearly enough to sate Izuku's curiosity. He wasn't sure how far he could push, so he cautiously spoke, "Can I ask why you had to pretend for them?"

The flat tone of her voice didn't change as she spoke, but there was a flash of anger in her eyes. "They said it was my quirk. That it's not "proper" for a young lady, or it's creepy, or villainous. But it was so much more than that. They made it feel like everything about me was wrong. The way I loved, the things that excited me, everything I wanted to do or be—it just wasn't right for them, and I never even knew why."

Izuku hummed in understanding. "It couldn't have been easy living like that."

"It wasn't. That's why I don't regret leaving. I was on my own for a long while, and it was really lonely, but it was still better than lying all the time."

"What about now?" Izuku asked.

Her smile returned then. "Honestly, everyone here's made me feel more accepted than any of my family or classmates ever did."

It was a strange thought to process, but it made perfect sense in his mind. He'd seen how they treated each other and how close she was with the entire League despite knowing them for such a short period. Contrary to all his expectations, the Villains were almost like a tight-knit family. He still didn't know what to do with that newfound information, but he knew he wouldn't be able to look at them the same way again.

Rather than linger on that, he asked, "What exactly is your quirk anyway?"

The change in topic quickly brightened her mood as she explained, "If I drink someone's blood, I can turn into them. One cup of blood is enough to hold the form for a full day. I can even copy their clothes and mimic their voice."

Izuku's eyes widened at that. It was morbid, certainly, but he still found himself saying, "Honestly, that's one of the coolest quirks I've ever heard of."

"Right?" Toga exclaimed. "I wasted so many years hating myself for it, and for what? My quirk gives me the chance to take walking in someone's shoes to another level. Not just understand someone, but become them—be closer to them than anyone else ever could be. Isn't that romantic?"

It wasn't quite the word Izuku would use, but he couldn't help but smile at how excitedly she spoke about it. "That's… actually a really lovely way to think about it. You're right to be proud of it," he said. "I'm sorry people made it so hard to realize that."

Her smile never faltered, but hearing the words brought a melancholy look to her eyes. "You know, Izuku," she spoke, voice barely above a whisper, "I wish I'd met you earlier. I think we would've been really good friends. Could've saved me a lot of pain."

Could he, really? Was that enough to change the course of one's life so drastically? Was the line between the scared schoolgirl and the Villain before him just one act of kindness?

His mind spiralled with questions, each one adding a weight onto his chest until it ached. But the one question he found himself able to voice was, "Do you think there's a still chance we could be friends now?"

"Why couldn't we?"

There were approximately a million reasons for that, but she spoke with such conviction that he couldn't even bring himself to list even one.

Taking his silence as agreement, she held up a pinky to him. "Let's make up for lost time, then. Friends?"

He smiled and allowed her carefree attitude to draw him in as he hooked his own pinky to hers. "Friends," he said.


Time flew by faster than they had expected, and soon it was too early in the morning for anyone else to be awake, but too late to justify going back to bed. So, instead, they opted to just chat and goof off in the kitchen. Eventually, they landed on a classic game of Fuck, Marry, Kill: Hero/Villain Edition.

Izuku didn't really have much of a say in it, as Toga jumped into the game and forced him to play along against his will. But, after a few rounds, he quickly learned she had a great sense of humor, and soon he was laughing too hard to deny how fun it was.

"Come on, stop lying to yourself," Toga said between bouts of laughter. "There's no way you've never thought about it even once."

"She's my teacher," Izuku argued, trying to sound firm despite the clear amusement in his tone.

It only backfired on him, as Toga waggled her eyebrows and said, "And doesn't that just open up so many possibilities?"

"Stop," Izuku exclaimed loudly to drown out her voice. "New ground rule: no mentioning my teachers in this. I'd like to still be able to look them in the eye after this."

Toga eloquently expressed her disagreement by blowing a raspberry right in his face, but she conceded regardless. "Fine. But, just for the record, I would personally fuck Midnight without hesitation, because I know for a fact that her strap game is unmatched."

Izuku couldn't make any argument against that, but he didn't want to linger on the subject for any longer lest he accidentally scar himself. "Noted. Can you just pick someone else now?"

"Okay, okay. Uhm—" Toga's eyes wandered as she thought long and hard about a different option for the round.

He could see the exact moment her face lit up when the idea popped in her head, and he felt a sense of dread upon seeing the mischievous look she gave him.

"Okay, I got it. Pandora, Kamui Woods, or Tomura."

God, how is that even worse?

Before Izuku could complain, she piped up, "No take backs! I already switched it once so stop pushing your luck."

Despite his pout and pleading eyes, she didn't budge, and after a few seconds, he accepted his defeat. "Fine. Uh, kill Pandora, I guess." It was the easiest option. She was a known villain that had been causing all sorts of trouble in the last few years. The real hard part, though…

"For Tomura," he mused, "I guess he's universe approved for me, so marriage should the right choice. Right?" He said the words with some uncertainty, but the more thought he gave it, the more it made sense.

"Besides," he continued, "he is admittedly really fun to hang out with, even when he's being mean. He teases me all the time and it should be annoying, but I kind of like it. He gets this obnoxious smile whenever he does it, and it's honestly too contagious to be hate. But he still manages to be really sweet when it matters, whether he'd admit it or not, and he's easier to talk to than I ever would've expected. Weirdly enough, it feels safe being with him. And it'd be nice getting to know him better."

Izuku blinked as he caught himself rambling. He hadn't even realized how many reasons he had to want to spend more time with Tomura.

Toga seemed equally as surprised, albeit much more happy, about it. "I didn't know you two were that close."

He wanted to deny it, because they definitely weren't that close. But he couldn't bring himself to do so, because he wanted them to be that close. The realization hit him harder than any villain he'd ever fought.

Rather than face the mountain of emotions that brought up, he simply shrugged and said, "Not like it matters one way or the other."

She nodded in agreement, despite not looking too happy about it. "Fair enough. That's why I honestly expected you to chose to sleep with him, no strings attached. Sounds like a lot less work."

Before he could stop the words from coming out, Izuku said, "Well, that does sound nice, too."

His hand flew up to cover his mouth, and he dropped his forehead to the surface of the table to avoid making eye contact with Toga as she laughed her heart out at his accidental confession.

While Izuku was spiralling with questions about the nature of his relationship with his soulmate—and what he wanted the nature of their relationship to be—Toga seemed all too proud of herself for pushing the answer out of him.

"I'm so glad you've finally stopped denying it! You're so clearly into him."

"This conversation stays between us," Izuku demanded, despite the nervous tremor in his voice. "I don't think I could handle the embarrassment if he knew."

"You can't stifle true love, Izuku," she teased.

His head shot up at that word. His face already felt hot, but now he was on the verge of spontaneous combustion. "No one said anything about love! It's a maybe-crush at best. It's probably Stockholm Syndrome or something, right?"

"I'm pretty sure that's not how it works."

Okay, so maybe he was grasping at straws, but why did she feel the need to point it out?

Luckily, she decided to take some mercy on him, even if she was clearly enjoying every second of his panic. "Okay, okay, stop freaking out. I promise, I won't tell Tomura that you want him to absolutely w—"

Izuku slammed his hand across her mouth, because it takes about one full day of knowing Toga to know that she didn't have any sort of filter, and he didn't want to know what sort of image she was going to paint there.

"Don't," he pleaded.

"Oh, no, please do."

Izuku's head spun around so quickly it was a miracle he didn't break his neck right then. Sure enough, there was Tomura standing at the door frame. His hair was disheveled and his voice still gruff from waking at such an early hour.

"Tomura! Good morning!" Izuku said in a perfectly normal voice, at exactly his perfectly normal pitch that he uses in any perfectly normal scenario.

Or, at least, he tried to, but the look both Tomura and Toga shot him were enough to know that he did nothing to throw off suspicion. If anything, he only fanned the flames.

"What the hell were you two talking about?"

Toga pried Izuku's hand off her mouth and answered, "Depends on how long you've been standing there."

"Long enough." It was too vague of an answer to give them much to work with, but it was plenty to convey how frustrated he was getting with the conversation.

Izuku decided to take the plunge. "We were talking about how it would be really great if you were to maybe w—" he spoke slowly and stretched out the last syllable as he tried to find the right words— "wear some lip balm?"

What?

"What?" Tomura's words echoed Izuku's own thoughts at the unconvincing lie.

Regardless, he raised a hand to press against his lips, feeling the rough texture. He shook his head and muttered a dismissive, "Whatever." Izuku couldn't say with any amount of certainty whether he got away with it, but Tomura seemed content with leaving him be. He simply made his way to the cupboards to grab a glass and fill it with water. "We're meeting at the bar in three hours," he announced and began to make his way out of the room. "Try to act less weird by then."

Izuku gave him a thumbs up and, in a wobbly voice, answered, "Yes, sir."

It, once again, earned him a bemused look, but Tomura must have reached his limit, because all he did was roll his eyes and walk out without saying a word.

A few seconds passed as his footsteps faded, and once he was out of earshot, Toga stopped holding back the fit of laughter she'd been containing.

"That could've gone worse, right?" Izuku asked, despite knowing the answer.

Rather than answer, Toga simply mimicked his voice, nervous wobbling and all. ""Yes, sir?""

If she was as good at impressions as her quirk would suggest, then Izuku definitely made an even bigger fool of himself than he'd thought.

He sunk his head onto the table, letting the embarrassment eat him alive while Toga patted his hair. The gesture would've been a lot more comforting if she wasn't still giggling at the whole interaction.

"So," she started, her voice cheery as ever, "are you ever gonna tell him?"

Izuku lifted his face, resting his chin on the table as she continued to play with his hair. "Obviously not."

She pouted at that, clearly disappointed with the answer, but still nodded. "Okay, fine. Baby steps."

"No!" Izuku was quick to argue. "No baby steps. There's no steps ahead of me to take. It's just the edge of a cliff, and if I keep walking, I'm gonna die."

Maybe he was being a little melodramatic, but it's been a long week, and it's not exactly an easy situation, and he doesn't have a blueprint for how to respond to all of it. So, sue him, he was going to be a little melodramatic.

Toga was kind enough to not chew him out for acting as such, but not so kind that she'd let him wallow in his own denial. "So your plan is just to be miserable and deny yourself any chance of being with your soulmate?"

"Yes," he answered, without hesitation.

She swore under her breath, sighed, and then tried another approach. "And you're totally okay with knowing that your plan is going to make him miserable and deny him the chance to be with his soulmate?"

This time, he couldn't bring himself to answer her directly. "He wouldn't be miserable."

"Maybe not," she agreed. "But it's lonely, knowing that the one person who's meant to love you unconditionally isn't willing to make that leap for you. I may not have met my soulmate yet, but I know how it feels, and it's not great."

Izuku sunk deeper into his seat as he let the words sink in. She was right, and he had no retort against it.

When he said nothing, she went on to fill the silence. "I know we're all just Villains in your eyes, but I don't see how the right thing to do is just give up on someone. Are you really going to call yourself a Hero when you're so willing to hurt another person?"

"No," he answered, the word spilling from his lips before he could stop it. "I don't want to do that to him. I just didn't think it'd hurt him as much as it would hurt me." His own well-being was optional at best, but he'd never want to do anything like that to another person.

"Why would you think that?" Toga asked with a tilt of her head, like it was the most unusual thing in the world.

And honestly, Izuku didn't have an answer. He'd just assumed, right from the beginning, that Tomura saw their soulmate bond as a means to an end. That it meant Izuku could possibly be a spy for them among the Heroes, or that he might be another Villain to help their achieve their goals of… well, whatever Villains were interested in.

He never entertained the thought that Tomura wanted what every other person wanted in a soulmate—love, belonging, and stability. He'd taken it for granted, but the moment that his assumption was called into question, he couldn't find any rational way to defend it.

It struck him that the only real reason he could have for jumping to that conclusion is that he simply saw the Villains as a little less human than he was. His own soulmate included.

Suddenly, he had an answer for Toga's question. "Because I'm a terrible person, apparently."

Toga cooed and continued to pat his head soothingly. "Awh, don't say that. You're just a little stupid."

He snorted a laugh at that and shrugged, accepting her assessment. "Fair enough."

He found himself thinking back to the dream he'd had earlier in the night. In Toga's company, he'd managed to stop thinking about it, but the memory of it was crystal clear in his mind.

The questions muddled his thoughts, still unanswered and still weighing on his chest. He didn't know what kind of Hero he needed to be or even if it was possible to fix the mess they'd found themselves in. But, at the very least, he knew what the next step was, and he was willing to take it.