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to hold a tiger by the tail

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Midoriya Izuku’s daemon has always been small, and Bakugo Katsuki’s has always been large.

That isn’t to say that Nabiru couldn’t be as large as Aieta – certainly the green haired boy’s daemon relishes in transforming into wolves and large birds. It is simply that Katsuki has long since forgotten their childhood bond, if there had ever been one there to break apart, and Aieta’s favourite form is to become a fox and taunt Nabiru’s bunny.

When Izuku turns five years old, upon learning that he is quirkless, Nabiru remains a mouse for a full month and does not leave Izuku’s collar. Children, who can be cruel and vicious at times, would point and jeer, and say that even his own daemon had left him for his freakish mutation. Naturally, this isn’t true, and even when they see Nabiru, this does nothing at all to change the children’s mindset, for children are children, and facts are little more than fairy tales.

At age six, playing alone in the park, his only real friend is Nabiru, who whispers to him that she knows he is more special than the others. Those children, and their little ermine or bird daemons as they often became, blend into the background quickly. Izuku is always at the forefront of people’s minds, and though it certainly isn’t for the best of reasons, it is reason enough.

They often allow their birds to peck peck peck at Nabiru and jeer on until she finally forms an ocelot and snap right back, but that always ends poorly for them. Teachers always blame Nabiru for escalating the situation and causing possible harm to another pupil’s daemon. It matters little, or nothing at all, that she only ever acts in defence.

Aieta likes to change into big animals whenever she gets outside; she likes to show all the other daemons and their humans that her human is the one in charge, that he could destroy them if needs be, and that is why when she settles, she’d settle into something large and powerful, an enormous eagle, a huge wolfhound. Everybody knows it – it is an irrefutable fact.

Katsuki is going to become a powerful hero, and most heroes have powerful daemons.

Of course, this is but a childish misconception; hero daemons come in every shape and form. Even the Symbol of Peace has a bird for a daemon, a fitting, beautiful dove. The flame hero Endeavour has a salamander, and the largest daemon for any hero, Izuku knows, is the hero Fatgum’s hippopotamus daemon.

To walk down the street, most people will never run into anything larger than your average domestic canine, perhaps a greyhound, or a German shepherd. In fact, Izuku and Nabiru had never, ever met anything larger than a Labrador himself, and that belongs to his neighbour.

It is a guarantee that Katsuki will one day have a large daemon - that much became clear as the boys aged together.

Teachers have always treated Katsuki kindly, but they soon move the desks, giving his daemon space to stretch out. Aieta takes a wolf form for the majority of school time, occasionally changing into a wolfhound when she was outside, but it seems that Aieta is very fond of her wolf form since so many derivations came of it, almost all in the canine family.

Nabiru remains in her mouse form for long enough that children begin to look at him with pity.

Look at the little quirkless boy, they would sigh. Look at his pathetic daemon. Quirkless, and might as well be daemonless too, don’t you think?

But Izuku has always had ambitions taller than the Tokyo tower, a hunger for heroism that defied even the most avid of fans. Perhaps he could be rivalled only by Katsuki and his confident wolf daemon, though Aieta has yet to settle.

So that is how Izuku knows that despite how she keeps herself as small as possible to hide from Aieta’s maw, she will settle into something larger. He hopes for a somewhat respectable settling. Perhaps a lizard, or a bird if he were lucky, though he is fairly certain that Nabiru would settle as a jackrabbit.

He ponders often in his daemon analysis notebooks, analysing his own traits, and considers the various different forms she may perhaps take.

Of course, Izuku has never been an arrogant child, instead humble and honest. This unfortunate trait of his makes him blind to all the greatest parts of himself; his protective instinct, his companionship that would be worth diamonds and gold should he ever share it, his willingness to go above and beyond for any and all that may need his help. His unbearable ferocity that had yet to rear its head, having long since learned that Katsuki’s temper could break even his own.

No, Izuku will one day grow into his own daemon, one that will surprise and inspire many thousands upon thousands of children; his daemon will protect, his daemon will fight, and most importantly, his daemon and he will be united as soul and soul, half and half, yin and yang.

Being the older of the two boys, Katsuki’s daemon settles first.

Izuku knows this because when he comes to school, a week before Izuku’s own birthday, he is thunderous and enraged, his daemon traipsing behind him almost ashamedly, only reaching halfway up his shins at most.

She is beautiful.

Aieta settled into a wolverine, and it is clear that Katsuki is beyond livid that she hadn’t settled into the wolf that she had promised him, and yet her settled form encapsulates Katsuki so wholly that Izuku just can’t help himself.

He rips a page from his daemon notebook, and scribbles and scribbles and scribbles.

A wolverine is the epitome of ferocious bravery, their aggression often unmatched in their prey, are formidable predators in their own right and hopes Katsuki will be able to find it in himself to forgive his daemon for something that she and he both represent in their entirety.

Of course, Katsuki hasn’t taken kindly to Izuku since they were too small to remember, and slams him against the wall not long after he receives his less than anonymous letter.

“When your daemon settles as the pathetic bunny she is,” he curses. “Aieta will eat her up alive.”

Nabiru confesses to him, as they walk away, that Aieta had looked displeased at her human’s words, felt herself unable to align with him as she knew him to the depths of his very core, and knew that he truly did not mean it.

Nobody turns on Katsuki after his daemon settles; after a few days, he does nothing but gloat about her, having read and taken Izuku’s letter to heart even if he would never admit it. She’s fierce, he told their classmates. She’s strong. He’ll be the strongest hero with a daemon like her.

It’s unexpectedly reassuring to Izuku, like taking in a hearty breath after lungs had been left gasping for too long. Katsuki could change, and he certainly would given half the chance.

Then, naturally, Izuku’s settling comes to fruition. There is rarely anything special about a daemon’s settling, no grand plume of golden dust spewing across the room like often portrayed in the media, just a final, singular form that both daemon and human alike recognise as theirs.

Usually, it is clear to the daemon that the settling would occur somewhat soon, though there was little to no control over the form – often disputed, but never proven.

So Nabiru stops Izuku in the doorway after he finished dinner with his mother one evening, and declares that she senses one final change left to undergo. Enthused, Midoriya Inko yanks her son down onto their sofa and held him tight, Icaro flitting about with his hummingbird wings, imitating a heartbeat that he hopes will live on forever.

Nabiru takes some time to pace in her canine form, to walk, to settle carefully onto the other seat before sliding off and pacing further. She hurries to the kitchen in quick march, paws scratching against the tile and leaving Izuku and Inko to twist around and watch with wide eyes as the gold dust overtakes her.

In its wake it leaves an ethereal, enormous tiger.

Astonished, Izuku rises to shaky feet and falls to his knees before her, fisting his hands in her scruff. There resounds an understanding, reverberating deep inside his bones as he feels the dust in his soul link up to the crescent of his daemon’s connection.

This is her final form, he understands, closing his eyes and dropping his face into her soft fur. This is who he is, what he stands for.

 

Daemon Analysis Notebook number four; Bengal Tiger.

The physical manifestation of a desire to protect and fight. Found in people with strong quirks and/or wills [see Quirk Analysis volume six].

Unbridled ferocity, but shares traits with the common feline settlers. Independent and intelligent, playful, but strong, fast, and powerful.

Exceptionally rare daemon form. Found most commonly in those from generations preceding All Might. Interpreted by many to be a symbol of hope in those in their common circle, and considered to be an omen of good fortune and power.

 

She is his daemon.

He is going to be a hero, and his soul is the proof.

When he arrives at school the following morning, he holds his head high as the other students stare, beginning to frown and whisper as they question the status of his new daemon. His mother had had the settling paperwork ready for several months now, and she had been all too eager to sign her name at the bottom declaring Nabiru’s status as a Bengal tiger to be permanent.

He hands it in curtly at the office, though the man raises a sceptical eyebrow at him. Izuku is a notable character to all staff – and students – in the school. Being quirkless put a target like that on one’s back. But quirkless daemons rarely settle as anything larger than a small dog. A tiger would require far more than just suspension of belief.

Still, the man purses his lips and sends Izuku on his way. He knows what they are all thinking as he heard the man turn to his colleagues and murmur under his breath. He’s lying about his daemon to get special treatment, but they see through it. It would be proven easily enough that he’s telling the truth, though time is the only way he could do so.

Easy doesn’t mean quick, after all.

He is the last to enter his class, and his teacher made to chide him before she catches sight of Nabiru, not lapping at his heels, but biting at his middle.

“Midoriya,” she sneers with displeasure. “You know you aren’t permitted to let your daemon take on a form too large in the classroom.”

It’s a particularly twisted truth; had Katsuki been the one who entered with a tiger daemon, the class would have been in uproar, and there would have been nothing but graciousness on her expression.

“I know,” he bows politely. “Nabiru settled last night. This is her final form.”

There is a beat of silence before he got the uproar he had been expecting, not nearly as kind as he longed for. The class falls apart into peals of laughter, pointing and screeching. Izuku refuses to back down though, staring his teacher in the eye as she begins to redden in fury.

“You expect me to believe that?” she scoffs. “Tell her to change to something more acceptable.” Her own daemon, a prickly porcupine, waddles over to Nabiru, where she was settled on her hind legs and waiting patiently for the judgement to end.

“I can’t do that,” Izuku replies shortly, though trying to be as diplomatic as possible. “She has settled. I’ve turned in the necessary paperwork.”

Nabiru converses with the porcupine, and though Izuku had never gotten a read on that particular creature’s expression, he’d guess he looks unhappy. His teacher looks stricken for a moment, even as the class’s laughter dies down, unease whispering through the classroom as the silence stretches on and on.

“Sit, then,” she barks at last. “If I find out that you’re lying to me, you can be sure there will be repercussions.”

He bows to her respectfully and takes his seat. Nobody moves out of his way, and Nabiru’s tail knocks into table after table as she follows him dutifully. He was at the rear of the class, fortunately, so she was able to keep her vigil at his back without forcing anybody to move.

Nobody would, of course.

Katsuki looked like rage and fury had absorbed into every atom of his being.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” the other boy demanded after school, pressing him against the wall in spite of Nabiru’s growls at Aieta.

“I don’t think I’m anything, Kacchan,” and he tries not to feel sad about the truth to it; were he able to choose for himself, he’d have chosen a jackrabbit or a bunny, as Katsuki had insisted he be. “This is who I am. Aieta can feel that it’s true. There’s no point in fighting this. There’s no way to fight it.”

He’d never felt calmer when handling his once friend, now… Izuku hesitates to call him a bully, but... something less friendly.

“Don’t think this makes you a hero,” Katsuki spits, shoving him further into the wall as he releases the lapels of Izuku’s coat. Aieta trails after her human, and Nabiru grooms hers with her tongue. Her height towers over his when she stands on her hind legs, and he hopes he’ll grow into her size, one day.

His teacher looks more and more displeased with every passing day that Nabiru remains a tiger. His class begins to whisper, and Izuku would believe it to be awe were it not for the thunderous looks Katsuki shoots him day in, day out.

More and more classmates’ daemons begin to settle. There is a small dog, eleven types of bird, though a twelfth shares one with her seat mate, and three lizards. Izuku is happy to note these down in his daemon notebook when he gets home every day, losing himself to the monotonicity of analysis. Birds have always been the most common daemon, with almost forty percent of the population having some type of bird.

Birds are also the most common daemon for hero work, since it often involves moving quickly from place to place, and daemons are susceptible targets for villains. Being able to take flight and protect other daemons, or humans depending on the bird, is a common aspect of hero work for daemons.

Most people don’t look far beyond the surface when their daemon settles, though. It is why so many people long for a lion, and settle for a poodle, disgruntled but otherwise unbothered. But a person’s daemon represents every inch of their human’s personality, all of the good, and all of the bad, all of it there and all of it together and unapologetically human.

Nabiru is a solid comfort day in day out, when people lost doubt that he was lying about his daemon’s settling and instead turned to confused glances out of the corner of his eye.

A tiger is the apex predator; everyone knows that.

So why does he deserve a tiger, when Katsuki hadn’t even deserved a wolf? Some are brave enough to speak to him sometimes, and for however brief their conversations are, they are stunningly meaningful to a lonely Izuku. Daemons rarely like to play with Nabiru, but they are happy to speak with her, or climb atop her furry head, so long as nobody could see them.

One day, a journalist arrives at the school, having heard reports of a tiger daemon entering school grounds day in day out. His teacher is smug and bitter as she sits him down opposite the man with cameras for a quirk (and doesn’t Izuku try his hardest to get his own questions answered there) and a badger for a daemon.

The first question out of his mouth is “So, kid, what’s your quirk?”

Izuku instantly understands the contempt that his teacher’s face had so haughtily held onto.

“I’m quirkless,” he mutters in response, but the man doesn’t look at all deterred, only intrigued, probing further and further, deeper than anyone had ever cared to ask about him before.

The paper never publishes his article, and it hurts more that he isn’t surprised.

He’s used to that.

It doesn’t matter that Nabiru was the type of daemon that Katsuki had insisted so fiercely would belong to him. He didn’t think a quirkless deku deserved to even apply to Yuuei. Izuku might not even have applied, if his daemon weren't permitted in the exam.

But she is. She is fierce, she is strong, she can help where nobody else could, and she knows that.

Katsuki still tries his hardest to threaten Izuku, even when Nabiru snapped at Aieta with nobody there to tell her to stop.

Katsuki still tells him to jump off the roof, and it is Izuku who had to hold Nabiru back, and to his surprise, Aieta growls at her human. Katsuki gives her a look of distaste as he walks away, laughing with his cronies as their bird daemons twirl around their heads.

“It’s alright, Nabiru,” Izuku whispers to his daemon softly, looking out of the window at his undoubtedly ruined quirk analysis notebook. “He didn’t mean it. You saw Aieta.”

“I’d prefer he never said it at all,” she rumbles in response, her pacing making Izuku a little nervous. “I don’t like how he treats her. How could you do such a thing to your own soul?”

“He’s confused. He’s never hurt her. He would never hurt her.”

“If he did…” the threat trails off as they left the building, but the shadow in her eyes is echoed in their bond, and he does his best to shake it off.

Nabiru reaches the pond first, grumbling at the fish that were eating his notebook.

“It doesn’t look ruined,” he mumbles, throwing water everywhere as he tries to shake it all out. “No harm done.”

“Except psychological,” Nabiru huffs, her paws clacking against the ground as she trotted alongside him. He still isn’t sure what he’d done to deserve such a beautiful daemon. He can reach out and bury his fingers in her fur whenever he needed comfort, as he does now; her fur is warm and soft and reassuring, everything a daemon and her bond should be.

“I’m fine.”

“There is no lying to that which makes you whole, Izuku.”

He rolls his eyes at her, knowing that she felt it down to her very core.

“Why do you need to be like this?” Izuku sighs. “It could be so much easier if you really didn’t keep hounding Aieta.”

“I am not hounding Aieta,” she counters sharply, the rumbling of her throat threatening even to him, her human. “How pathetic of a human must you be for another boy’s daemon to intervene?”

“You know it isn’t your place to come between them. She is his daemon. He loves her, as I love you. He just doesn’t like that she’s so reluctant to be something he clearly despises.”

“You see far too much good in everybody, Izuku. If you aren’t careful it will be our downfall.”

“That doesn’t mean you get to be so pessimistic, Ru.”

“It isn’t pessimism. I tell you only truths that reside so deeply in your core that they live on within me. Who am I to decide what truths I cultivate?”

“You do this deliberately,” he accuses, rolling his eyes. “I can never live in peace with a daemon like you, can I?”

“Oh you’ll make a fine meat suit!

“Izuku!” Nabiru roars, but it’s already too late.

Whatever had happened, happened, and he’s encased in slime so thick and viscous that the very feel of it against his skin disgusts him, makes him want to retch and vomit if only he could breathe enough to do it. Nabiru roars, louder and louder than any lion he’d ever heard, all while pouncing and scratching at the slime that suffocates him, quickly forcing itself down his throat.

Light begins to dim in his eyes, and he feels Nabiru and his bond begin to pull taught and deteriorate, and he’s scared, he’s so scared, because to die alone here, without Nabiru, without ever having made a name for himself is so utterly karmic and bitter that it feels like the work of some vengeful deity.

Please, he cries out, with all the strength he can muster, agony contorting the bond with Nabiru as he begins to slip. Someone, please, anyone… Kacchan…

Someone listens, of course.

In a great, big world that would one day belong to a man and his tiger, a hero and his bird listen.

When Izuku awakes to a dull throb encompassing his body, he wonders if that is what death feels like. But Nabiru rests atop him, as does an enormous blond man smacking his cheeks to rouse him to consciousness.

Of course, it is certainly no ordinary blond man.

And he is certainly no ordinary boy. Ordinary boys don’t just attach themselves to heroes’ legs as they fly away.

And certainly does no ordinary boy mistakenly leave his daemon behind.

Agony courses through his veins as he realised they were getting farther and farther from his daemon, all the while trying to convince All Might not to push him off; he’ll certainly die from a fall this height, won’t he?

When they land on the roof, All Might makes for a quick escape, but the glassiness of Izuku’s eyes and his sharp breaths must call for him to stay.

“Are you alright, my boy?” he asks, and Izuku can tell he is trying to be gentle, but he had tried the hero’s patience enough.

“My – my daemon,” he hiccoughs, strained and choking, but the bond grows less taut by the second, sensing relief as his daemon approached and their bond gains slack. Tigers are fast, and she is swiftly approaching. “Too – too far…”

“That was reckless, boy,” All Might chides, and Izuku would care more for that tone had he not been under the most duress he’d ever felt, even as it did lessen by the second. “Any further and your bond may have snapped.”

“That’s a myth,” he gasps, his bond reverberating with the melancholy melody of near insurmountable distance. “Bonds don’t snap, they don’t even break unless they’ve undergone a specific incision, and the practice was outlawed decades before quirks even arrived in Japan…”

All Might blinks down at him, and for a moment, Izuku thinks that perhaps he looks like he was smoking. That can’t be right, though.

Nabiru’s roar echoes up to the top of the building, the bond goes slack as she leaps over the roof, crashing to his side and growling protectively at All Might.

“Now that your daemon is returned,” All Might says shortly, raising an eyebrow at Nabiru even as his own daemon seemed to be clucking at him. “I need to go. Bang on the door for a while, and somebody will let you in.”

“Wait!” Izuku, now overladen with energy thanks to his tiger, the adrenaline of the past three minutes not yet wearing off, jumps to his feet. “I have – I have a question, please, I need an answer.”

“I don’t have time-” and had Izuku not been so wrapped up in his own little head, he’d have perhaps noticed the undue strain in his idol’s voice.

“Can someone without a quirk become a hero?” he asks desperately, his eyes meeting Nabiru’s; his soul’s reflection looks back at him with a deep sympathy that only a part of his heart could truly give. “Everybody – everybody says that I won’t amount to anything. They don’t even believe that Nabiru’s truly settled. They said – they said a quirkless loser like me doesn’t deserve a tiger daemon. But – but I think that, that maybe I was given a tiger daemon so – so I could prove everyone wrong. I want to be a hero, just like you – who the hell are you?” he screams, losing track of everything he’d ever  wanted to say to All Might when faced with this – this skinny, rag and bones man that looked like a small breeze would knock him over.

Not-Might sighs heavily, dropping to the ground and giving Izuku a dark look.

“I assure you kid, I am All Might,” and there is something different about his tone, now, something more relaxing and soothing, not theatrical at all like his All Might voice had been. He outlines some ridiculous metaphor about sucking it in like muscular men at the beach, but it all goes over his head.

“But… how?” he asks weakly, falling to the ground besides Nabiru and circling his arms around her neck.

“A big fight, five years ago.”

“Toxic Chainsaw?”

All Might looks surprised at that, and his daemon chirps though he shakes his head. “You know your stuff, but no. This one… I did my best to keep it quiet. Which means you don’t get to go blabbing to all your friends about this, got it?”

“Understood,” he assures his idol, firm despite the shakiness to his tone. The adrenaline is finally wearing off.

“But to answer your question, kid…” All Might looks conflicted, shooting a heavy sigh directed towards Nabiru. “It doesn’t matter how your daemon settles. It’s an extension of who you are as a person. But your quirk… a quirk is what tends to make or break a hero. To not have one would make you a liability in the field. So no. I don’t think you can become a hero without a quirk.”

“Oh,” and he’s choking, bile rising in his throat that tastes disgustingly like that slime villain that All Might had apprehended because he was too weak to do it himself.

His idol, the number one hero in all of Japan… doesn’t think he could become a hero.

He doesn’t even care that he had a… a special daemon. Doesn’t care in the slightest. He’s another face. Another person.

A quirkless liability.

“-police, they get a lot of stick from the public but it’s a fine profession. Now I should go.”

He leaves, then, and Izuku tries not to feel so heartbroken when he realises Nabiru hadn’t even had the strength to defend him.

There is no defending him from a truth they both knew, after all.

Nabiru rarely minced her words with him, but she shared his hope. She shared his dread.

She shares his utter crushing disappointment, now.

He makes his way back down the building, Nabiru not speaking, and him collecting his thoughts in his head as he wipes away tears. Deep down you knew this, he scolds himself. You knew this would happen, Izuku. Now you have no choice but to accept it. So do it.

A loud explosion erupts, not too distantly, and interest roars in his veins before he forces it down. What good would his hero notes be now? Why does he want to bother looking at people he couldn’t even aspire to be anymore?

But Nabiru, still silent but supportive, nudges him in the direction of the blast, and he shoots her a grateful smile.

One last time. For old time’s sake.

As he approaches, however, there’s a roaring dread that pulses through every heartbeat, making him feel as though the earth itself had slowed down around him as he turns the corner and identifies the source of the blast.

The sludge villain.

Understanding strikes through his bond with Nabiru, clock striking twelve, and the nightmares coming out to play.

This is his fault.

Izuku must have knocked the bottle free when he was stupidly, naively chasing a child’s dream.

He’s responsible for all of this.

But All Might can’t even fix it. He’s out of time. And that is Izuku’s fault too.

In trying to chase his child’s dream of being a hero, he’s turned himself into an unwitting villain.

Tears springing to his eyes, he moves to run, goes to leave before anybody could connect this to him, but – but then –

He catches sight of terrified red eyes, and starts to sprint but it’s in the wrong direction, and then Nabiru is roaring at his heels and the crowd parts as he runs beneath the barrier, calling out for Kacchan, panicking when he realises he can’t see Aieta.

Nabiru is ahead of him. She paws and claws and scratches and bites at every inch of the sludge villain she can reach, easier now she isn’t being choked herself by the villain’s quirk. Izuku throws his backpack at the villain, catching him in the eye, making him blink and screech, and he scrabbles at the villain uselessly, crying I couldn’t just watch you die.

The world goes white, and it begins to rain.

The heroes call him reckless, but they eye his daemon with childish wonder, and they don’t admonish him too much, even as they shake their heads. Their eyes seemed to shout, he has a tiger daemon, but she isn’t worth anything at all.

Katsuki doesn’t look at him, doesn’t speak, but Aieta presses her head to Nabiru’s, darting away before her human can scold her.

He looks angry, but he didn’t speak to his daemon, either.

The walk home with Nabiru is painfully silent, All Might’s rejection a dull pain layered on top of the fourteen years of ache that had coded itself into his cells.

When All Might rescinds his rejection, he bestows a far greater blessing.

“You can become a hero, my boy,” he smiles, his form emaciated but still warm. “I think perhaps you were gifted a daemon as special as her for this reason alone.”

All Might’s dove flies above their heads, circling them in a wordless, joyous dance, and then she settles atop Nabiru’s head, and chirps a melody Izuku will remember until his breath stutters it’s last.