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“Oh!  Excuse me!”  

Izuku startles when a hand settles unexpectedly at his elbow.  His jaw snaps shut in what must have been mid-mumble, and he finds himself scrambling a bit to avoid dropping the two bags of dried seaweed he’s been comparing for the past minute or so.  He somehow manages to hold on to the snacks as he turns toward the unfamiliar voice, “Uh-“

“Ah!  Yes!  It is you!”

The woman appears to be just shy of middle aged, and isn’t really any taller than he is.  Cascading strawberry-blond curls frame hollow cheeks, and she’s sporting a wide, toothy smile that draws her skin taunt, causing laugh lines and other small wrinkles to form near her eyes.  

All things considered, she seems perfectly normal, and maybe even sort of familiar, though he can’t place from when or where.  There’s just something about the way the bright, fluorescent lights drag shadows across her features that makes him take a step back, shifting his arm from her touch.

She doesn’t reach or strain to keep contact in any way as he questions, “Um, I’m sorry, do I-“

Her eyes are a golden brown, like honey, and they squint slightly as she chuckles, “You’re Izuku Midoriya, right?  I’ve had my eye on you since your first sports festival, but seeing you out of costume had me second guessing myself for a minute there!”

Oh?  But we didn’t wear-“

“And you’re just as adorable as ever!”  

Izuku knows that part of becoming a pro hero means he’ll have to deal with the public on the regular, but he’s not there yet, and her overbearing attention has him fumbling.  His social insecurities aren’t this woman’s fault though, so he really tries to pull himself together and offer a friendly smile.

Her own smile widens in response to his, eyes sharpening as she takes a step forward, further into his personal bubble.  He doesn’t like it, and he swears he can feel the phantom pull of One for All reacting to his distress, stirring itself up in the veins just beneath his skin.  He gets an unsettling sense of Déjà vu from this woman and he just doesn’t know why.  

He takes a deep breath and does his best to tamper down his growing unease, after all, having Blackwhip or Float act out because he can’t handle talking to a random stranger in the middle of a grocery store would be embarrassing at best, and disastrous at worst.  He brings one hand up to rub the back of his neck—which is stupid, because he ends up just smacking the side of his face with one of the bags of seaweed he’s yet to put down.

Whelp.  There goes his dignity, “Uh… thanks?”

She giggles, “Oh, you’re just so polite!  Not that I ever expected anything less of course!  Especially after our little interview during last week’s fire!”

He sputters a bit at her praise as his mind suddenly flashes back to his most recent internship outing.  A small-time crook with a low-grade ignition quirk had set an apartment up in flames when his fiancé threatened to leave him, trapping several civilians in their homes.  The heroes and interns were quick to the scene, but the complex was massive, so there was a lot of ground to cover.  Izuku had yanked a little boy out from under a collapsing beam with Blackwhip, just in time to keep him from being completely crushed—

His thoughts jump ahead, and oh , now he recognizes her-

“Uh, You’re the reporter-“

The woman had barreled her way right past the police barricades with complete confidence, catching Izuku just as much off guard then as she has now.  She’d shoved a mic right in his face while he was still hacking up a lung due to smoke inhalation because he’d given his respirator to the little boy.  Her hair had been pulled tightly back, and she’d been wearing thick rimmed glasses at the time—maybe that’s why he didn’t recognize her right away—and she’d been incredibly insistent in her questions.  He’d hardly been able to get a word in edgewise, and definitely hadn’t been able to focus on her as much as he should have as he rubbed the soot and ash from his face and eyes.   

Thankfully Fatgum had been one of the heroes on the scene, and quickly noticed what was going on.  He’d bodily blocked Izuku from view and explained to her that the interns were all very busy, and weren’t answering any questions for the press.  She’d argued for a few solid minutes, but eventually relented after expressing her interests in talking with Deku again, ‘Sometime soon, sweetie!”

The woman narrows her eyes, smile still creeping wider, “You do remember me!”

Izuku only realizes he’s taken another step back when his shoulder presses against the shelf behind him.

“Oh, uh yeah… I’m sorry Ma’am, I really need to-“  He tries to excuse himself as politely as possible from the conversation.  He really needs to finish his portion of the grocery shopping, and there’s just something about this woman that rubs him the wrong way.  He wants to go join up with the others outside—they’re all no doubt waiting on him by now. 

She shifts her stance a bit, unintentionally blocking his escape, “Oh, no need to apologize!  You really are such an anxious little thing, aren’t you.  I really don’t understand why though, you’re already such a big hero!  That little boy couldn’t stop talking about how kind you were when I interviewed him .”

“No, I, really it wasn’t-“

“And you’re just so humble !  I’ve seen your sports festivals, you know.  You’re so powerful sweetie , and very considerate.  Really, I’m surprised you don’t have more confidence in yourself.”  Her eyes are still boring into him, pupils like pinpricks that threaten to spear him in place, “Oh, how about we have that chat, a little one on one, since there’s no real emergency, and Fatgum’s not hear to stonewall us, hmmm?”

“Midoriya.”

‘Oh thank God.’   Izuku’s gaze snaps to the side, and he doesn’t think he’s ever been as relieved to see his homeroom teacher as he is right now—which seems a bit ridiculous, he thinks, considering all the life threatening villain situations they find themselves dragged into on a regular basis.  This is so… small in comparison, but he can’t help it.  This woman has him on edge, and he feels so boxed in and suffocated despite the fact that she’s so thin and willowy, and not any taller than he is.

Aizawa is slinking down the aisle with what appears to be a lazy gait, but Izuku can see the way his shoulders are pulled back, entire body tensed and ready to react instantly if the situation calls for it.  He’s got one hand in his pocket, the other pulled up and scratching lightly at the scar under his eye—and it takes Izuku a few sparse seconds to realize he’s not actually scratching, but discreetly posed to grab his capture weapon.

The man looks as apathetic as ever as he glances between the reporter and his student, but Izuku knows he’s not imagining the way Aizawa’s gaze lingers ever so slightly on him, “It’s time to go.”

“Yes sir.”  Izuku doesn’t have even the tiniest inclination to argue.  He just wants to get away from this woman as quickly as possible, even if he has no idea why being near her makes his skin crawl.  He gives her a quick bow, “Sorry.  Please excuse me, miss.”

He clumsily sidesteps to reach past her and put the snacks back on the shelf—hopefully Kaminari will forgive him for leaving them behind, but he just wants— needs —to get away -

The woman suddenly has her hand on his arm again, not gripping or tugging, just settled lightly at the crook of his elbow, but the shock of it still causes him to jerk his head towards her, and she manages to catch his eyes with her own, “Oh, sweetie, don’t be so nervous!  Are you sure we don’t have a few minutes for just a little chat?”  

There’s a sharp crack in the back of his skull, he thinks , but if it was ever really there it’s gone as quickly as it arrived, and Izuku can’t look away, can’t even blink.  Her smile has never left her face, and her eyes are so big, so bright, practically glowing hot molten gold in their furthest depths, and he’s completely drawn in, frozen in place-

Until he’s not.  He’s pulled to the side so quickly he almost stumbles, but the hand on his shoulder is heavy and grounding, keeping him steady while Aizawa shifts forward to completely break the line of sight between Izuku and the woman.  It’s so fast and smoothly done that Izuku doubts it looks like anything more than his teacher gripping his shoulder and urging him to leave.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t touch my student without his explicit permission.”  Aizawa’s voice is level, but Izuku is familiar enough with the man to hear the venomous undertone that practically oozes from between his teeth, “Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re on a schedule.”

Just as his teacher begins to turn, the woman tuts, “Oh, I recognize you .  Weren’t you that teacher who let one of his students get kidnapped?  I was at the press release before Kamino last year.”

Aizawa doesn’t rise to the bait, though Izuku does feel the fingers gripping his shoulder twitch slightly before migrating to his back, to give a gentle push to encourage him forward.  The woman doesn’t follow as they leave, but Izuku swears he hears her give a faint chuckle before she calls, “I’m sure we’ll get that little exclusive quite soon Deku !  I’m looking forward to it!”

***

“Give me your list when we get back to the dorms.  One of the teachers will come back later and get whatever’s been missed.”  Shouta’s sure that it’ll be him that comes back later, but Midoriya doesn’t need to know that.  He makes sure to keep his voice level and low as they exit the store, partially because he doesn’t want to draw any attention to himself or his charge, and partially because he doesn’t like the way the Problem Child at his side is fidgeting, fingers curling together and muscles pulled uncomfortably taunt.

Midoriya hasn’t said a single word yet, bringing one hand up to rub anxiously at his eyes.  He’s not crying as far as Shouta can tell—there’s no wet streaks pouring down his cheeks, no stuttered breaths catching in his lungs—instead, his movements are overly lethargic. Tense and exhausted in a way he hadn’t been before.

Shouta needs to know what’s happened, so once he’s sure they aren’t being followed by the woman—she’s obviously a reporter of some sorts, and even if she hadn’t brought up his Kamino interview, he’d recognize their brand of obnoxious zealousness anywhere—he ducks them into an alleyway, and quickly rounds about to face his student and block him from the sight of any curious onlookers that may pass, “Did she do anything to hurt you in any way?”

There’s not even the slightest indication that Midoriya has heard him at all.  Shouta cocks his head slightly to try and catch his student’s gaze, but the kid is distracted.  There’s a distant, almost glassy look in his eyes, so Shouta moves to gently grip both of his shoulders.

Midoriya flinches backwards . It’s a violent, full bodied thing that sets off every alarm bell in Shouta’s head, and he instantly recoils, pulling both hands up in a placating gesture, “Midoriya?”

The fogginess in the kid’s eyes doesn’t take more than a few seconds to pass, but it still feels like far too long for Shouta.  Midoriya’s brows draw up almost comically as he blinks in confusion, a faint, embarrassed flush painting its way across his cheeks, drowning out his freckles and darkening the tips of his ears, “Oh, Uh, Mr. Aizawa.  Sorry?  I didn’t catch that.  What did you say?”

“Are you alright?”

“What?  Oh, uh, yes, I’m fine.”  The way he’s got his arms wrapped defensively around himself says otherwise, and it’s clear he’s struggling to school his features into something resembling calm.  It’s a good effort, but it’s cracking at the seams, too disoriented and anxious to truly fool anyone paying close enough attention.  He’s stepped back, just out of Shouta’s casual reach, eyes darting towards the entrance of the ally as if he’s planning an escape of some sorts.

It’s frantic and over the top, even for Midoriya.

Shouta hates it with every fiber of his being.

“The woman in the store.  Do you know who she is?  What did she do?”

Midoriya blinks slowly, and gives his head a little shake, “She didn’t… she’s a reporter.  She was at the uh, the fire the other day…”

It takes every ounce of his willpower not to scowl at that—god dammed vultures —but he keeps his expression as neutral as possible for the sake of his student.  Midoriya has a tendency to absorb the negativity around him like a sponge—lets it saturate and condense and soak until he can’t possibly take in anymore, only to have it inevitably seep out at the slightest little touch and make an even bigger, dirtier mess of things.  He hides it well, with his big, toothy smiles and cheery disposition, but it’s there, festering beneath the surface It’s something Shouta knows needs to be worked on, but has no idea how to go about it.  That kind of thing is best left to Inui or Hizashi.    

So for now, he simply asks, “From your internship the other day?”

Midoriya nods, releasing a frustrated little sigh.  His shoulders drop a bit, the tension easing just slightly as he responds, “Yeah.  I don’t. I don’t really know why I got so worked up about it.  I’m sorry Mr. Aizawa.  I just-she really didn’t even do anything to me.”

“She touched you without your permission.”

“I mean, uh, yeah, but that’s-that’s not really a big deal…”

Shouta lets slip a little hum of acknowledgement, burying the lower half of his face in his capture weapon to conceal his expression as he muses to himself, ‘ and this is why I went fucking underground.’

He only realizes he’s muttered it out loud enough for his student to hear when Midoriya lets out a strangled choke, eyes widening incredulously.  There’s a cheeky little tug at the corner of his lips like he can’t decide if he wants to laugh, or feign ignorance.

Shit .  Well.  He can’t have that now, can he.  Shouta leans back and peers down at the kid, face still half hidden as he raises a brow, “You have something to say about that?”

Midoriya goes beet red again, hands waving so quickly they practically blur as he stutters in an awkward mix of embarrassment and amusement, “No, no, of course not Mr. Aizawa!  I wouldn’t-I mean-uh-you-“

Shouta hastily nips that in the bud, if only to save them both from the incoming onslaught of apologetic word-vomit-mumbling that Midoriya is oh so famous for, “Reporters shouldn’t be anywhere near you anyway.  You’re a student, with a provisional license .  You are not a professional hero yet, and above all that, you are still very much a minor.  That woman knows better, and should never have approached you like that.  Especially in your private life .”

 “But… I’ll have to get used to them eventually, right?”  Midoriya’s sobered at this point, though he’s started gnawing on his lip, “If I want to be a hero, I mean.  I’ve seen- er even you have to…”  He trails off for a moment before stalling out completely, jaw snapping shut as if he’s scared he’s going to be in trouble for pointing out the obvious.

Shouta really wishes he knew why that was, and how to fix it.  He’s a strict teacher, in a lot of ways, but he isn’t one to punish his students for asking reasonable questions.  

When the silence stretches too long between them, he decides to prompt, “Elaborate.”

“Like, after the uh, the training camp.  You had to deal with that press conference practically by yourself.”  And the expression on the kid’s face twists from meek and nervous to… oh, that’s concern , aimed at Shouta .  It’s weird.

It’s not the first time it’s happened either, and he really can’t fathom why his students all seem to care so much.

Midoriya clears his throat, “As… I’ve thought a lot about it since then, and, well, you said it yourself.  You’re an underground hero—it must have put you in a lot of danger to have your face all over TV like that.”

Shouta desperately tries but ultimately fails to bite back the sigh that worms its way through his teeth. He pulls out his phone to send a quick ‘ everything is fine, see you back at the campus’ to Nemuri, who’s no doubt been glued to her own phone waiting for an update.  

Then he takes the time to run a hand through his hair, brushing his bangs back.  This feels like it’s about to turn into a lengthy lesson, and he really doesn’t want to have such a nuanced conversation in the middle of a dingy alleyway, but Midoriya still looks shaken, and it seems like this could be important.  Maybe if they do this now, something will finally stick in that bafflingly over-active brain of his.

Shouta takes a few extra seconds to gather his thoughts, trying to decide what exactly he wants to say, only to have his fingers catch on a tangle in his hair.  He frowns, and tugs it free, “That situation was extremely unique.  I know you know that.”

“But-“

Shouta puts a palm up to silence his student before continuing, “To answer your original question… Yes, almost all spotlight heroes deal with the media on a regular basis, but they’re still entitled to their autonomy and privacy.  Heroes are still just people, Midoriya.  I know that’s hard for you to understand, but you’re just going to have to accept it.”

The kid opens his mouth like he wants to object—either to being called out, or to the point itself, Shouta’s not sure which—but Shouta doesn’t give him the chance.  Midoriya’s fanatical hero worship is well documented, and is quite frankly something that could be dangerous if left completely unchecked, “No amount of power or fanfare will ever change the fact that they are just as human as anyone else, regardless of how the public likes to pretend otherwise.  So, a lot of reporters, ” And Shouta makes sure to stress the word, “don’t give a damn about things like facts and human decency , and will do just about anything to unearth whatever flaws or scraps of gossip they can drudge up.  And everyone, hero or not, has flaws.  Different heroes have to learn how to handle these types of situations differently as a result.”

 Shouta almost snorts when Midoriya twitches like he wants to take notes.

“Think about it.  Present Mic doesn’t interact with the media in the same ways as All Might, right?”  He gives Midoriya a chance to nod, and Shouta can just about imagine the interview slideshow going through the kid’s head, “And neither of them interacts with the media even remotely like Endeavor.  Do you see what I’m getting at?”

“I think so?”  Midoriya is slowly nodding his head, fingers tugging at his lower lip before hesitating, as if trying to decide if his next question is worth asking.  He gathers up the courage from somewhere, and turns those big, inquisitive eyes up towards Shouta, “But, what about you?”

Well.  If he were being completely honest with himself, Shouta would say that he doesn’t like to really think about his situation much.  It eats away at him to know that his civilian identity, face, and failures have been so thoroughly picked apart and laid bare to the public, to be judged as if they had been there.

“You’re not wrong.”  Shouta begins, “As an underground hero, my privacy is instrumental to both my physical safety, and my ability to perform my job.”

Midoriya looks absolutely stricken.  

“But I’m not really a typical underground hero anymore.  I accepted the risks when I agreed to teach at the most famous and publicized heroics school in the country.”

And now Midoriya looks guilty.  As if Shouta’s decision to sign on the dotted line had somehow been his fault.

“Oh.”

“It is what it is.  One of my only saving graces at this point is that people in general aren’t as observant as you might think.  That in there,” Shouta vaguely motions in the direction they’d come from, “With that reporter?  That’s not the norm for me.  Changing my appearance even just a bit, like wearing my hair back, shaving and putting on that stupid suit, keeps me from being easily recognizable.”

“But you specialize in anonymity and stealth.”

“I do.  Which means if I’m doing my job right, the criminals I’m trying to take out shouldn’t ever see me coming.”  Shouta lets out another sigh, running a hand down his face to scratch lightly at his stubble, “We’d normally start addressing press and media relations next spring, but I think I need to talk to the principal and get that moved up.”

He doesn’t think he needs to elaborate any further, and the way Midoriya hastily nods just proves his point.  They both stand in silence for a moment, while his student quietly chews on the influx of new information.

Then Midoriya’s eyes go wide, bright green catching the sun in a way that almost makes them seem to be speckled gold for a moment, but the illusion is gone when he suddenly whips his head around, as if noticing his surroundings for the first time, “Uh, where… where’s everyone else?”

Shouta can’t help but roll his eyes.  So much for all those lessons on situational awareness. “Midnight decided to take them to the café down the street for bubble tea, while I went to find you.  They’ll meet us back at the campus.”

What Midoriya doesn’t need to know is that his classmates had been steadily growing more and more concerned and exasperated when he’d failed to join them, and were just about to converge on the convenience store like a rabid pack of dogs in search of their friend.  

Shouta had quietly urged Nemuri—who was dressed down and was hardly recognizable to the public—to distract them while he went and tracked down his most danger-prone student himself.  He’d had a nauseating feeling something had happened, and when he’d turned the corner to see that woman crowding into Midoriya’s space like a leech, it had taken every ounce of his willpower to refrain from flinging his capture weapon at her right then and there.  

Stealing a discreet glance Midoriya—who’s gone back to hunching in around himself and nervously gripping at his own arms—does absolutely nothing to quell his concerns.  He decides then and there that maybe a bit of research of his own is due.

“Let’s head back to the dorms, Problem Child.”

Midoriya follows without a word.

Shouta despises reporters.

***

 

“Oof,” It takes several seconds for Shouto to realize he’s been knocked back flat, smack dab in the middle of the hallway, and honestly, he’d like the license plate number of whatever truck just rolled right over him, please and thank you.  He’d like to file a complaint.

“Oh my god I’m so sorry!  I’m just really tired, and I didn’t-I wasn’t paying attention, and that’s my fault-“

Not a truck then.  Just Izuku.  Alright.  That tracks.  He still feels like he’s been hit by a semi, but ok.  

A wild mop of curly green hair shifts into view above him, followed quickly by a pair of glazed green eyes.  Shouto ignores it all for a moment, choosing to blink slowly up at the ceiling, as he regains his stolen breath.

“Are you alright?”  Izuku asks, hand waving nervously and brow creeping curiously towards his hairline.  It looks comical really, considering that from this angle, Izuku is upside down.

And Shouto almost says as much… until he hesitates an extra second to really take in his friend’s appearance.  

Izuku does look tired.  Very tired.  

Too tired.

There’s a tense set to his shoulders, and his skin is slightly pale, making the splattering of freckles across his cheeks stand out even more than usual.  The bags under his eyes are deep enough that they’d give Aizawa or Shinsou a fair bit of competition, and that’s almost impressive.   

Izuku hadn’t looked worn out this morning when Shouto had stumbled down to the kitchen to find his friend chittering away happily to a sleep mussed Kirishima, who had been absentmindedly nodding along like a zombie as he waited for his coffee to brew.  

He’d been wide awake then, obviously just back from his god-awful morning workout routine, and had beamed that wide, sunshine saturated smile of his when he’d spotted Shouto slothing himself into a chair.  

It’s a startlingly stark contrast to now.

“Shouto?”  Izuku bites his bottom lip, and holds out his hand—the one with the crooked, knobby fingers and deep, white scars.  

Something aches in Shouto’s heart, both good and bad.  

He shoves the familiar guilt aside as he accepts the help, and lets Izuku pull him to his feet.  He stumbles forward a bit, but his friend catches him with ease, hands resting on his arms, just above his elbows, as if worried that he’ll topple over again without the assistance.

Izuku isn’t always this tactile, some days he still cowers in on himself and flinches away from touch like he expects to be hurt—and who is Shouto to judge him on that?  He recognizes that pain, even if he doesn’t know where it’s from.  But the physical affection is becoming more normal as time goes on, and Shouto can’t say he objects.  

Not when it’s Izuku.  

He stares down at his friend for a moment, before he realizes that the hands on his arms are trembling, ever so slightly, and he doesn’t think it’s due to nerves.

He can’t stop himself from bringing his own hand up to cover one of Izuku’s, “I’m fine.   Are you ok?”

Izuku sputters for a second, the tips of his ears tinging pink, “Shouto, I’m the one that ran into you.”

“And like I said, I’m fine.  I’ve certainly survived worse than that.”  Shouto answers honestly, still holding Izuku’s hand under his own, “You didn’t answer my question.”

Izuku pauses, like he’s wondering if he can get away with not answering at all, then slumps defeatedly, shoulders hunching near his ears and head hung low, “I’m just tired.”

Shouto hums quietly.  He knows he’s not the best at the whole ‘support’ thing.  He still struggles with his own overly twisted emotions, and more often than not, it’s Izuku that helps him straighten out the wrinkles.  It’s difficult, but the least he could do is try to return the favor.  He wants to.  “Did something happen?”

Izuku winces, turning away slightly.  As he does, the light streaming in the windows catches on the glassy sheen of his eyes, and for a split second they almost look gold, rather than their normal forest green.  When he blinks again, it’s gone. “Not… really?”

And even as dense as he knows he is to social cues, Shouto can’t help but be utterly unconvinced by such a lackluster answer, so he can’t help but squint down suspiciously at his friend.  Unfortunately, Izuku’s got his head tilted so far forward at this point it’s practically resting at Shouto’s collar bone, so the unimpressed glare goes completely unnoticed—which is a shame, because he’s been told it has quite the effect on people.

He squeezes Izuku’s hand just a bit to try and get his attention, “You don’t sound very sure about that.”

All he gets in response is a tight little shrug.  Shouto feels a bit lost, because he doesn’t really know how to push the topic any further without making his friend even more uncomfortable, so he simply states, “If you ever need to… talk, or need help… I’m here.”

It’s so minute—the way that Izuku’s breath hitches and his frame stiffens—Shouto almost misses it. Then his friend sags forward and really does bump the top of his head against Shouto’s sternum, “Thanks, I just…”  

The way Izuku hesitates sets Shouto just a bit on edge.  He knows that Izuku hides things.  Secrets that dig in and tear at him in ways he’d never admit, and Shouto desperately wishes he knew what they were, so he could find a way to help rip them out and away somehow.

He doesn’t know if whatever happened to Izuku today has anything to do with those secrets—it’s just as likely it’s all completely unrelated—but either way, Shouto finds himself wanting to help.  

It’s a feeling that’s growing less and less foreign as time goes on, he finds, as his… friends— they’re his friends —all somehow find ways to slither past his hard-won barriers and into his heart.  Izuku just happens to be the most talented at it.

Though, Shouto can’t say it’s something he dislikes as much as he thought he would.

It’s nice.  To have someone who cares so much.

It’s also incredibly frustrating .  Izuku constantly puts everyone else first—taking on their burdens and carefully unraveling their ugly, fraying insecurities to help braid and weave them into something new.  Something beautiful and strong and warm.   All while he somehow skillfully dodges each and every attempt anyone else makes to do the same for him.

And a part of Shouto wants to snap at Izuku to just… stop it.  Stop deflecting.  Stop feigning ignorance.  Stop lying by omission.

Like right now.   He’s clearly in need of some kind of help-and how dare he butt his nose into everyone else’s business, only to turn around and- 

But unfortunately, Izuku doesn’t divulge anything.  Instead, he quietly murmurs, “Thank you for being my friend.  You too.  I mean, if you need to talk or need help or whatever.  I’m here too.  Always .”

Somehow Shouto feels both devastatingly disappointed, and pleasantly elated.  Only Izuku can manage to make him feel this conflicted with a handful of sincere words. 

***

Izuku  can’t remember the last time he’d felt quite so emotionally disoriented, and he has no idea why.

It’s not like he was lying to anyone when he’d claimed nothing bad had happened today—he’d run into a reporter who invaded his personal space a little.  That’s it.  

She hadn’t even been all that rude, really.  The worst he could claim was that she was a bit pushy?  Maybe?  That’s nothing.  His own classmates are way worse most of the time, and he deals just fine with them every single day!

And look, Izuku knows he’s socially… stunted? and easily flustered.   But this?  This is ridiculous. 

 

His brain feels like it’s short circuiting in his skull—like that time Kaminari discovered that dragging his feet across the cheap carpet in the common room and touching his classmates produced nearly dangerous levels of static shock, then proceeded to prank each and every one of them for a week straight, until Aizawa became an accidental victim, and well—Izuku’s thoughts are so jumbled and broken, and each step he takes towards his room feels like he’s trudging through quicksand.  

He just knew Aizawa had been watching him like a hawk all the way back to the dorms this afternoon too, even if he’d repeatedly failed to catch the man in the act.  The feeling of his teacher’s eyes boring into him every time he wasn’t looking was painstakingly familiar in the worst possible ways, and the entire situation just makes his skin crawl. 

He likes Aizawa just fine, but… It’s complicated .  In the past, whenever a teacher focused so much on him, it meant something bad was about to happen… 

But Aizawa is also a hero, a good hero, who’s done so much and sacrificed even more for them.  Izuku included.  

He trusts Eraserhead .  The hero.  

So yeah.  Complicated.

And all of that aside, he really feels terrible about ditching Shouto in the hallway, especially after he’d practically trampled him into the floor, but he’s just so tired.  Even that little bit of social interaction had quickly taken a turn for the overwhelming.

Izuku hates it.  He hates it so, so much, because being around Shouto has never really made him feel this way before—at least not since the sports festival their first year—and it’s killing him inside.  

Shouto is one of his best friends, and he loves hanging out with him, because he’s one of the few people Izuku feels like he can truly relax around.

Shouto is blunt, even downright rude sometimes, but he’s also relatable in his social isolation, and it’s obvious that he cares so much about everyone, even if he can’t always find a good way to express it.  Izuku is usually a bit nervous around overly quiet people, but Shouto’s particular brand of quiet is just different.  It’s like some kind of weird foil to Izuku’s impulsive need to fill the silence with words, and it’s honestly such a relief .   Izuku has never felt the need to try and impress Shouto to stay relevant, doesn’t think he has to.  They can just exist in each other’s space.

Izuku has thought a lot about it recently, and he thinks Shouto is the first person besides Kacchan he’s been seriously tempted to tell the truth to—the first person his own age anyway, since there’s always Aiz- no no no, that’s a bad idea. Izuku likes him, but he’s a teacher.

The thoughts just keep coming full circle in his head, and he can’t stop them.  He’s been through this same song and dance so many times.

He trusts Eraserhead. The hero.  

Who is also Aizawa.  His teacher.

Ugh.

Shouto.  He’ll tell Shouto first.  Shouto understands the need for secrecy, understands how knowledge and truth can be dangerous…

Not now though.  He’s still not ready, and he needs to talk to All Might first, but maybe soonish?  He doesn’t think his friend will take it badly… but-

But then he’ll know.  He’ll know Izuku used to be just a worthless, quirkless coward who—

Stop.  Stop.  He needs to just s t o p.

This isn’t the time or place.  He can’t keep going off on mental tangents like this, he’s working himself toward a nasty panic attack, he can feel it writhing and burning deep inside his chest, and he really doesn’t want to deal with that right now.  He also feels a tension headache coming on, all tight and prickly right behind his eyes.  He usually doesn’t get them like this, it pokes and prods, and teeters on the edge of too much.   He’s desperately hoping to smother it away by face-planting into his bed and sleeping straight through until class starts tomorrow morning.

So that’s exactly what he does.

***

 

Despite what his class may believe, Shouta is awake and alert, simply resting his eyes.  He’s given them a basic study hour, as they’d all done better than expected on their last practical, and today’s heroics training was slated to be both competitive, and all about physical endurance.  No need to torture them both mentally and physically… today.

Of course, most of his hell class has taken full advantage of their freedom, and are quietly chatting and slacking off.

It’s fine.  They’re behaving well enough, and It’s exactly what he expected to happen.  At the very least, it gives him a chance to discreetly observe the Problem Child, without drawing any suspicions to himself.

Midoriya has been eerily still and silent all day.  There’s been a distinct lack of incoherent muttering, no rapid fire scritch-scratch of pencil against paper, and instead of his usual hunched posture, his back has been straight, fingers laced together and sat neatly on his desk.

Then there’s the eye contact.

Midoriya doesn’t typically meet any of his teacher’s eyes while they lecture.  His gaze is usually off to the side, or aimed downward towards his notes, hidden behind his wild mop of curls.  It’s something that’s been mentioned offhandedly in the teacher’s lounge several times at this point, and Shouta probably should have questioned it a lot harder a long time ago.

Today the kid has all but stared the entire time, eyes tracking Shouta’s every movement, expression flat and uncharacteristically indifferent.

Every bit of it feels wrong.  And Shouta can’t say for sure, but there’s a nagging feeling in the back of his mind telling him it has something to do with the incident at the convenience store yesterday.  

He’s not the only one who’s noticed, if the way Midoriya’s little group of friends have been acting is any indication.  Uraraka’s tried several times to pull him into their light hearted conversations, and has been mostly politely ignored.  Iida has been giving Midoriya sideways glances every time he pushes his glasses up his nose, which is far less subtle than he thinks.  Midoriya has definitely noticed, but hasn’t mentioned it.  Asui’s been as blatant as ever with her wide-eyed gaze and faint croaking, and if Todoroki stares any harder at the back of Midoriya’s head, Shouta swears those green curls run the risk of spontaneously combusting.

Even Bakugou’s been on edge, sitting directly in front of Midoriya, shoulders stiff and teeth grinding.  He hasn’t turned around a single time to glare or snap like he normally would, and Shouta would almost say the kid looks nervous, though he’s doing a fairly good job at hiding it.

Just as Shouta starts weighing the pros and cons of leaving his sleeping bag and coming up with an excuse to drag Midoriya into the hall—and possibly recovery girl, depending on the issue—Ashido’s voice cuts across the room above all the other ambient noise, “Oh!  Hey, Blasty! Mido!  Did you see the thing about your old school?”

Both boys instantly snap to attention, their gazes shifting in near perfect synchronization towards their classmate.  It’s the first time either of them has openly acknowledged one of their classmates beyond sharp dismissals all day.  Shouta opens his eyes a little wider, hidden beneath his bangs, and gives the situation his undivided attention.  

The first thing he notices is that both students look extremely tense, just in completely different ways.  

Bakugou’s eyes are narrow, jaw clenched.  His entire body is practically vibrating with how alert and on guard he’s become.  He looks like an angry dog, ready to bite, but something is holding him back, as if in fear of being struck.  The reluctance is new- ish , but the anger is at least familiar from him.

Midoriya though… Midoriya’s face shifts quickly through a handful of complicated emotions—more than he’s shown all day.  There’s what initially looks like resentment— and shit, that’s not normal at all—followed by a wary sort of suspicion, before going icy and eerily empty once again.  None of it looks like Midoriya’s normal at all, and Shouta reminds himself to take a deep breath and stay calm.

“Yeah!  There’s this article that got released.  Some reporter did an interview with the principal and a few teachers because it’s the first time ever that two students got into U.A.’s Hero course, from the same school, in the same year.  I don’t know why they waited so long, like, they shoulda done it when you both got in, right?  But yeah, they’ve gotten a ton of recognition apparently?  Like, the article brought them a lot of attention and they’re getting lots of extra funding from the government now and stuff!  Isn’t that great?!”

Neither boy speaks a word.

Ashido, oblivious to the rapidly growing tension between them, continues on without a care in the world, “And they talked a lot about you guys—mostly you!”  She waves her phone in Bakugou’s face, and Shouta assumes the article’s been pulled up for him to see, “They didn’t really say too much about Mido, but they said a little bit!  Who knew you were such a softy, Blasty?”

Somehow, Midoriya goes even more impossibly still— is he even breathing? — and Shouta would almost say he was glaring at the back of Bakugou’s head, but there’s something about that stare, something about the hollowness of those wide, round eyes that sets every hair on the back of Shouta’s neck on end.  The only sign of any reaction from Midoriya is the way his hands are still clasped tightly together, knuckles straining white.

“What?”  Bakugou’s snarling as he lashes out to snatch the phone from his friend’s hand, “What the fuck are you talking about, Racoon Eyes?”

“Yeah, it talks about how you used to help Mido all the time, like, when he struggled with his schoolwork and stuff.  Said you used to help him train to get into U.A. too!  Like helped him learn how to defend himself and stuff!”

Bakugou looks about three seconds from blowing Ashido’s phone to hell, but nearly jumps, accidently dropping the phone to his desk when Midoriya snorts incredulously, which grows into a quiet chuckle.

It’s soft enough that it shouldn’t be heard above the rest of the student’s various conversations, but the sound is completely wrong, so it is , and the rest of the room goes silent as everyone turns to stare.  

It’s Ashido that breaks the silence, “Mido?  You ok there?”

The thing about Midoriya’s smiles is that they range wildly, from wobbly and nervous, to soft and subtle, to wide and bright as the sun, but they’re always, always sincere. 

The smile he’s currently giving Ashido though… This smile is flat, too big and toothy even for him, plastered across his face like he cut it from a magazine and taped it there.  It’s almost a perfect facsimile, but it’s skewed somehow in a way that has Shouta almost wondering if he should activate Erasure, just in case .

“Oh!  I’m fine Ashido!”  Midoriya soothes, “Can you send me that article?”

And the way he says it—it’s not actually a request.  

Ashido looks slightly unnerved by his tone, but she makes a commendable attempt to regain her composure under Midoriya’s eerily focused gaze, patting her pocket for her phone before realizing that it’s still sitting face down on Bakugou’s desk from when he dropped it earlier.

She quickly snatches it up and types out a message, and a moment later Midoriya’s phone vibrates in his pocket.  He draws it out, and Shouta can only assume that he’s started reading the article, and as Midoriya drags his fingers down the screen, his fake smile spreads a little wider, a little thinner, “Ah.  Thank you Ashido.”

Shouta really needs to find that article after classes let out for the day, if Midoriya and Bakugou’s reactions are anything to go by.  There’s clearly something important going on there.  

This entire exchange, Bakugou has looked as if he’s been chewing on something sour, and just as he seems ready to spit it out and say something, the bell rings, effectively ending the conversation in its tracks.

Shouta sighs, dragging himself to his feet as he runs a hand through his hair to smooth away the mussiness from being in his sleeping bag.  He sends a sweeping glance across the classroom as his students sit at attention, waiting to be dismissed to lunch, then heroics with Yagi.  He feels a frown pull at the corners of his lips when his eyes settle on Midoriya, who’s placed his phone face down on his desk, and is once again staring blankly at the back of Bakugou’s head.

 

He hadn’t been planning on attending their heroics class today.  He had essays to grade, and a lesson plan to write up, and had every intention of squirreling himself away in the teacher’s lounge to do just that. 

 

Something tells him it might be a good idea to put the grading off and observe Yagi’s lesson instead.

 

***

 

Toshinori can see the faint billowing cloud of his breath as he stands in wait.  He hadn’t expected it to be as cold as it is today, and his old bones are throbbing fiercely in protest.  He silently curses himself for choosing to run an outdoor exercise, but there’s nothing to be done about it now.  At least he’ll be able to warm up in the observation room once the exercise is explained.  Hopefully the students and their antics will help distract him from aches and pains, as they usually do.

The kids aren’t going to be wearing their costumes or heroic support gear for today’s exercise, though they’d been instructed to head to the locker rooms and replace their school uniforms with casual street clothes appropriate for the weather, before heading out to the training grounds. 

A few of the earliest arrivals are just now visible in the distance.  The sight causes something warm and comforting to bubble up from inside his chest—a balm that combats the cold.  It’s always nice to see them acting like teenagers, considering every hardship they’ve been through in their short academic careers.

It's a bit short lived, however, because Aizawa appears from seemingly nowhere, as he so often does, and makes his way to stand by Toshinori’s side.  

His colleague isn’t unwelcome by any meaning of the word, it’s just that Toshinori had been under the impression that he was going to be running this exercise on his own.  Aizawa had mentioned earlier in the week that he had an ethics assignment to draw up, as well as papers to grade, so he would be spending the afternoon doing so.  He wouldn’t be here just for the triviality of it… 

Before he can voice his confusion, Aizawa—as if he could read Toshinori’s mind—states, “I’m just going to be observing today.”

“Alright!” Toshinori does his best to give the man beside him an easy smile, but can’t help but let it drop slightly at Aizawa’s grim expression.  It’s hard to tell with him sometimes, just how he’s feeling, but Toshinori likes to believe he’s come to know the man at least a little over the last two years.  If anything, he feels as if they’ve come to an understanding of sorts, and the tension that was there at the start has melted away into some type of quiet, mutual respect, “Is something the matter?”

Aizawa’s gaze doesn’t leave the small gaggle of approaching students, and he seems to be weighing his answer for a moment before he lets out a sigh, “Just… a hunch.”

Well.  Toshinori doesn’t like that answer much at all.  Aizawa’s instincts are usually on point.  It’s a big part of what makes him such an effective hero and teacher, and while he’s good at acting like nothing’s bothering him, Toshinori has been reading people for decades, and there’s a tightness to his shoulders that suggests otherwise.  

Toshinori hums.  He wants a better answer than that, so he raises one brow and tries for a bit of levity, “So ominous.  Do you still have such little faith in my teaching?”

The man watches the kids just a second longer, before he barely shifts to look up at Toshinori, “That’s not it.  It’s a good exercise, and I think you can handle it.  I just have a feeling something is going to go wrong.”  He pauses, eyes drifting towards the clipboard that’s clenched tightly in Toshinori’s fingers, and inclines his head.

Toshinori passes it over with a shrug, and while Aizawa quickly shifts through the handful of pages, he pushes, “Why do you say that?”

Aizawa doesn’t answer, and Toshinori can see he’s stopped to scan on the final page—the team roster.   The man taps the page once, then twice more, and says, “It’s good you didn’t put them on opposite teams today.”

When Toshinori leans further over to see where Aizawa’s pointing, he finds himself having to bite back a wet cough… He doesn’t know why he’s even surprised, honestly.   Of course, Aizawa’s trepidation would involve his successor and young Bakugou somehow, “Did something happen between them?”

“I’m not entirely sure.”  Aizawa replies, returning his clipboard and ducking his head, hands shoving into his pockets just as the earliest students start lining up in front of them, the others becoming visible in the distance.   A clear indication that their conversation is not meant for curious, gossip hungry teenagers.

Toshinori waits a few minutes for the rest of the stragglers to arrive, discreetly trying to take in the two students in question under the guise of giving the entire class a sweeping once over.  

Bakugou is standing a bit off to the side, as young Kirishima hangs off one shoulder and talks his ear off about something.  There’s an unease to his posture that he’s doing an adamant job of hiding, but with Aizawa’s earlier warning, Toshinori manages to catch it.  For a split second he manages to meet the boy’s gaze, who’s brow narrows slightly before he scoffs, and turns away.  It looks almost normal, but something about it certainly feels off, and it takes Toshinori just a few seconds to realize that Bakugou’s eyes had flicked quite pointedly towards Izuku.

Who’s… quietly staring straight ahead, arms crossed and shoulders square.  He looks almost angry, but not quite?  Indifferent?  That doesn’t seem right either.  It’s odd.   Toshinori realizes he doesn’t recognize the expression on his successor’s face at all, and that… that sends a cold, violent shiver up his spine.  He tries to catch the boy’s attention, but Izuku doesn’t seem to notice.  Or if he does, he’s actively ignoring the attempt.  Which is very unlike him.

And suddenly Toshinori finds himself glad that Aizawa has decided to join him after all.

***

 

The exercise Yagi has drawn up is simple enough in its design, but has the potential to be intense in its execution.  It’s essentially a game of tag meets keep-a-way involving two teams of five—one team of six—with each student wearing a belt made up of three small tear-away flags.  The teams are both tasked with claiming and keeping a small ball away from their opponents.  If the student holding the ball loses a flag, they must immediately turn the ball over to the opposite team, and that student will have their movement restrained by their belt for a full ten seconds—it sounds like such a small number on paper, but when you consider that some of them have super-speed, well, the handicap speaks for itself in those cases.  Some of the students will find it much easier to deal with than others.

If the student loses all three flags, they’re out of the game completely, and their team must perform without them.  They can only steal flags from the person who holds the ball in their hands, and while they're encouraged and expected to use their quirks in creative ways to achieve victory, they’re penalized if they use any sort of unnecessary force against their opponent or surroundings.  The game continues until there’s one student left, or thirty minutes has passed.  If they meet the time limit, then the team still holding the ball wins.  Barring any accidents, they’d then rotate teams, and do it again.

 

The reason they’re in street clothes, rather than their hero costumes, is to demonstrate the idea that 'villain' attacks aren’t always going to be convenient, nor are they always going to be conducted by homicidal maniacs, regardless of how powerful their quirks may be.  Sometimes, a villain is just trying to steal something valuable.  Sometimes, they’re a desperate person on the run, cooperating with other desperate people who are also on the run.  In the eyes of each team, the others are the villains, while they themselves are the heroes that have been rudely interrupted on their day off. 

 

With Bakugou and Midoriya on the same team, that should mean potential for grievous injury will be relatively low. 

Shouta’s not an idiot though.  He knows low does not mean non-existent.  After all, overly eager super-powered teenagers semi-fighting their way across a dense faux cityscape has the makings for absolute chaos.  Recovery girl is on call nearby for this exact reason.

So he settles in beside Yagi to watch the exercise on the observation screens.  The ball is already pre-set in the direct center of the training ground, and the first two teams take their places.

 

Team A consists of Hagakure, Kirishima, Todoroki, Satou, and Ashido.

Team B is Jirou, Shinsou, Ojiro, Bakugou and Midoriya.

Yagi designed the teams well enough, Shouta supposes.  Jirou is an excellent counter to Hagakure’s stealth advantage.  The invisible girl is good at being quiet, but no one can be completely silent.  As long as Jirou is paying attention, she’ll be able to help her team avoid an ambush.  She’s not nearly as mobile as the rest of her team, however, so they’ll have to take that into consideration.  

If Satou remembers to handle his sugar intake responsibly, then he’ll have an advantage over Ojiro, but only in terms of sheer strength.  Ojiro is strong in his own right, and far more acrobatic with his tail.  He’ll be able to put up a decent fight if necessary, but has a good enough head on his shoulders to know when to run.

Meanwhile Ashido and Shinsou are both wild cards.  Shinsou is good at needling people to get them to respond, and Ashido is the ideal target for it.  She’s passionate and boisterous… but she’s a lot cleverer than she appears on a surface level.  If they were using their equipment, she’d be one of the few able to easily counteract his capture scarf, but they’re not.  Shinsou, on the other hand, will have to deal with a faster, stronger set of opponents, and will need to be cunning to win.

At first glance, Bakugou and Midoriya being on the same team might seem entirely unfair.  They’re both powerhouses, both extremely agile, and neither will back down from a challenge.  As long as they don’t fight amongst themselves, their teamwork is impressively coordinated and intuitive.  They can work well together to an almost frightening level of efficiency.  

Which is precisely why Yagi put Todoroki and Kirishima on the opposite team.  Todoroki is also a powerhouse, if not more technically skilled than the other two, with just as much stubborn bullheadedness.  Which means he can stand toe to toe against either Midoriya or Bakugou.  It would still be one sided, but with Kirishima acting on defense, who is especially good at handling both Bakugou’s personality and explosions, it evens the playing field some.  

It’s not a perfect match up, but it was never going to be.  If Shouta were to do anything different, he’d put one of the more tactical minded students on Team A to counteract Midoriya, but doing so could possibly cripple teams C or D, so he can see why things fell the way they did.  Not to mention that Bakugou will most likely make strategizing difficult for Midoriya.  Todoroki will need to be good about not steamrolling over his own team, all of whom are bright and talented enough in their own rights, but tend to be followers rather than leaders.

He watches the monitors as the two teams separate themselves and head to their designated starting areas.  They have until they get there to strategize and coordinate with one another, then another five minutes past that until the exercise will begin.

He tests his earpiece, and watches as Yagi does the same.  Both teams come in loud and clear, and the first thing he notices is the distinct lack of Midoriya’s voice amongst the chatter.  His team, sans Bakugou, are talking at him, asking him questions or launching ideas of their own, but Midoriya hardly responds more than an insignificant grunt or shrug.  Instead, he moves ahead, and leaves them to follow.

They look and sound stunned.  They aren’t the only ones.

“What in the world?”  Yagi asks quietly, to keep the rest of the students in the back of the room from listening in.   He leans forward to grip the console in front of him, weight resting on his hands, and turns his head slightly to face Shouta, “That is… not like him.”

Shouta can’t think of anything to add to that statement, so instead, he gives the man an agreeable hum.

They really should be listening to both teams, but Shouta finds himself tuning team A out while he focuses on whatever the hell is going on with Midoriya.  The kid is already at the starting gate, his team awkwardly surrounding him, rolling his shoulders and languidly stretching the muscles in his arms.  

Shinsou’s voice breaks through the silence, “So.  We’re just going to what?  Stand around?  What the hell, Midoriya?  Aren’t you all about teamwork and plans?  What’s with the silent treatment?”

“It doesn’t matter.”  Bakugou cuts in, “We’ll win without one of Deku’s shitty plans.”  

Midoriya just shrugs, “For once, I agree with Kacchan.”  

The entire team looks flabbergasted, eyes wide and rounding in on the green haired boy at their center.

Bakugou himself looks caught off guard, mouth gaping for a split second before his expression hardens, “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what it sounds like.”  Again, his words come out with a wicked edge that sounds almost surreal in Midoriya’s voice.  Shouta doesn’t have a good view of his face at this angle, but he’s got his head cocked slightly as he flexes his fingers and stares at the gate, “We’re going to win either way, so why waste time?”

“What makes you so sure?”  Jirou asks quickly, before Bakugou can truly blow his lid, “They’ve got a pretty strong team-”

Midoriya huffs a small laugh, and cracks his knuckles so loudly that it comes through the microphones.  Shouta can see Yagi wince out of the corner of his eye, “Sure.”

“Midoriya?”  Both Shinsou and Ojiro question at the same time, while Bakugou stands stock still, eyes narrowed dangerously and fingers curling at his sides.  His muscles are pulled taunt, one breath away from snapping like a dirty rubber band.   

“It’s really not that hard to understand,”  Midoriya still isn’t facing the camera, though his posture is casual and indifferent.  Less like an eager heroics student preparing for a fight, and more like a bored teenager sitting through the driest lecture on the planet.

The gate opens, an alarm ringing out to signal the start of the match.  Shouta is vaguely aware of team A sprinting into the arena with Todoroki in the lead, but no one in team B moves an inch.

Shouta can feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.  Yagi curses something in english under his breath, and leans forward even further.  His lanky body dwarfs the control console, and he glances at the automatic countdown before hissing, “Aizawa-”

But then Midoriya is talking again, voice calm and cold and calculated in a way that makes Shouta want to instinctively recoil from the source, “We’re going to win because there isn’t a single person here that’s actually strong enough to beat me.  They can’t win.

It’s said as if it's a matter of fact.  The sky is blue, the grass is green, and Izuku Midoriya is the strongest.

 

And then, in a flash of blinding green light, he’s gone.  Both he and Yagi scramble to follow him from camera to camera, while Bakugou’s enraged shout and subsequent explosions drown out the rest of team B’s shocked gasps, as well as the noise from the students behind them in the room.

 

Midoriya comes to a stop in a courtyard near the center of the training grounds, and Shouta uses the closest camera to zoom in on his figure.   Unfortunately, it’s stationed at an angle from a relatively tall building on the kid’s left flank, but it’s the best view he’s got at the moment.  

Midoriya’s head shifts slowly from side to side, presumably casing the area in an attempt to find the objective.  He moves forward a bit, but doesn’t appear to be in any sort of rush, hands stuffed in his hoodie pockets and shoulders loose.  

It doesn’t take too long before Bakugou makes his appearance, blasting over the problem child’s head and landing with a loud thud, immediately turning on his heel to snarl directly into Midoriya’s face, “What the hell was all of that, Deku?”

The responding exaggerated sigh comes through clearly, even with the lingering crackle of the earpieces caused by Bakugou’s explosions.  Despite that, and to his credit, the blond seems to be restraining himself, which is a far cry from what his actions would have been a year and a half ago.  

It doesn’t seem to matter to Midoriya though, who just shakes his head and replies, “You really can’t stand the idea that you’re just not needed here, can you?”

“What the fuck did you just say?”  He snags Midoriya by the front of his hoodie with both hands and tries to yank him forward.

Only Midoriya doesn’t actually move.  At all. “Let go of me.”

Shouta bites back a curse and reaches up to his ear to activate his microphone, “That’s enough you two-”

“What is wrong with you, Deku?”  Bakugou cuts Shouta off  “You’ve been acting like an asshole all day!”

It happens so quickly that between one breath and the next Bakugou finds himself fifteen feet away, dazed and eating dirt, blood seeping steadily from his nose with Midoriya’s heel pressed dangerously tight against the back of his neck.  There’s a familiar fading glow seeping from Midoriya’s skin, and it isn’t until he catches the strange golden reflection in his eyes that Shouta realizes that the kid’s turned just enough to stare almost directly into the camera.  “I told you to let go of me.”

“Midoriya!”  Yagi shouts into the mic at the same time that Shouta shoves himself away from the console and stands.

“Stop the exercise. Now.”  He leaves no room for argument as he turns to face the rest of the students, who’ve no doubt caught on to the commotion on the screens.  He’s not wrong.  They’re all staring in horror at what’s just happened, “All of you stay here and behave.”

As he throws himself through the observation room door and down the stairs, he hears Yagi frantically demand, “Stop this instant!  The exercise is over.”

A chorus of confused voices echo from team A, while Midoriya practically growls, “ Are you serious ?”

“Young Midoriya,”  Yagi begins, but the kid cuts him off with a quiet huff of laughter.

You are!” 

“Get- get the fuck off me, nerd-”  Bakugou rasps, “before I make you.”

Shouta pushes himself even faster, bursting through the door that leads outside, and flinging his capture weapon at the first building he sees.

“You’re certainly welcome to try, but it won’t do you any good. ”   Midoriya laughs—it’s an ugly, damaged sort of laugh that hurts as much as it taunts, “ It’d be better for you if you’d just learn your place , Katsuki .”

And Bakugou explodes.

***

The explosion rocks the foundations of the building that Shouto is standing on, even from the several blocks away that he is.  It’s massive and unconstrained, erupting up over the rest of the buildings in an untamed ball of fire and smoke, and the wave of heat strikes a few seconds later like a shockwave.  

He’s confused for a moment, because he’s pretty sure that was one of Bakugou’s explosions, but it’s overly aggressive, even for him.  Especially considering that the rest of Team A should be nowhere nearby, since their plan was to have Shouto use his ice to race ahead and be the forward scout. 

Plus, with All Might calling the exercise so quickly, there’s literally no reason for Bakugou to be fighting.

Unless something has gone wrong .  

Maybe it’s not Bakugou.  Maybe something got screwed up with the training grounds themselves.  Were the gas-lines actually hooked up?  He didn’t think so, but knowing U.A. and principal Nedzu’s penchant for taking things too far, could something have sparked?  He can’t help the spike of fear at the thought, considering the damage his fire could cause in such a situation.  

Or... maybe it’s villains.   Maybe someone’s in trouble.

It’s this thought that has him dashing off the side of the building in the direction the explosion came from, ice crackling to life beneath his feet to propel him forward and onto the next roof.  He tucks and rolls and continues his forward momentum, throwing his right arm wide so the next streak of ice forms in a way that will let him gain even more speed.

He almost falters when he spots a quick flash of glowing green lighting up ominously around a figure in the smoke, his heart stuttering in his chest.  Because that’s Izuku’s light.  If Izuku is in trouble, then Shouto needs to move even faster-

“Todoroki, stop! ”  It takes him a few seconds to realize that Aizawa’s voice isn’t coming through his com, and Shouto finds himself stumbling forward over his own two feet when his quirk dies from beneath him.  A band of white cloth tightly wraps around his center, pulling him backwards and into the arms of his teacher so that he won’t go careening off the edge of his half formed ramp.

As Aizawa gets the two of them safely situated, there’s another blinding flash, and green electricity scatters chaotically in every direction, peaking in a wide, wild arc above the house-like buildings.  The hissing, staticy sound of it is like nothing Shouto’s ever heard before, angry and violent and dangerous.  He’s overtaken by a primal feeling of fear and dread that’s settling deep in his bones, and it’s as if the air around him is being siphoned away, devoured by a brewing storm that's threatening to spiral out of control.

Another series of explosions rings out, these ones smaller and more frantic, sloppy in their execution compared to Bakugou’s usual level of finesse.  A sharp crack resounds, followed by a pain filled shout, and dust begins spewing from the side of a building.

“Are they fighting each other?”  Shouto has a hard time believing it.  Izuku and Bakugou aren’t always on the best terms, sure, but they’ve been a lot more cooperative over the past year or so, and even when they do clash, it’s nothing like this.     

“Fuck !”  Aizawa immediately releases Shouto, and scrambles to his feet, “Get out of here.”

“But-”

“Don’t argue with me, Todoroki!”  Aizawa orders, giving Shouto a small but firm shove backwards before turning away.  He doesn’t bother to check if Shouto’s listening, launching his scarf towards the railing of a tall apartment building before he’s gone, circling towards the smoking building with a frenzied desperation he’s only seen from his teacher a handful of times before.

Shouto hesitates.  He knows he should listen to Aizawa.  He’s been given a direct order, and he trusts his teacher’s judgement.  But… 

He doesn’t get the time to make his decision either way.  A few moments later the building that had been spewing dust into the air erupts into an inferno of shattered glass and mangled stone, and Bakugou’s form launches itself upward from the destruction like a meteorite bathed in smoke and ash.

A split second later, Izuku seems to materialize above Bakugou in a shower of sizzling green sparks, gracefully twisting through the air to deliver a devastating roundhouse kick to the blond’s side. 

To Bakugou’s credit, he manages to shift just enough to absorb the blow in a way that won’t leave him with a completely shattered rib cage, but he’s still violently batted out of the air like an insect, flung straight past Shouto.

And Shouto outright panics, because there’s not a whole lot he can do to help—It's not like he can catch his classmate with his ice—it wouldn't make any softer a landing than anything else, and his fire is absolutely useless in this situation.

Thankfully Bakugou manages to fling his arm forward at the last moment and let loose another small explosion, just enough to keep him from breaking his face open against the side of a building.  Unfortunately, it’s clumsy and uncoordinated, so it sends him off center and his shoulder smashes into the railing of a house’s balcony hard enough to rip the metal from it’s support.  It sends him rolling, then falling to the ground below.

Shouto turns and makes to rush towards him, but there’s no way he’s going to be fast enough to catch him, and before he makes it more than a few steps he hears Bakugou land with a hard crash.

There’s a soft thud from behind Shouto then, and he stops, slowly turning—

Izuku stands on the far side of the roof, head tilted slightly, and skin alive with the blotchy, heated glow that comes from using his quirk.  His shoulders are pulled back, hands in tight fists at his sides.  His ragged hoodie is smoldering slightly, probably from one of Bakugou’s explosions, but possibly from the amount of energy Izuku’s released from his own quirk as well.  He’s glancing out from beneath his bangs with a careless sort of look—A stranger's twisted expression on a painfully familiar face.  It’s wrong.

“Excuse me, Shouto.”  Izuku says, in a voice that’s light and cheerful, painted with a small smile, but the facade falls apart in Shouto’s ears because it’s too empty, too indifferent.  This is not the voice of his closest friend.  It’s w r o n g.      

So Shouto squares his own shoulders and spreads his feet defensively.  He doesn’t know what’s happening with Izuku, but he’s not about to let him do something he might regret.  He’s going to help him, going to find out how to fix this.

Izuku’s expression hardens, smile going thin and strained at the edges.  But before he can even take a single step forward, he’s suddenly ensnared, Aizawa’s capture weapon pinning his arms to his side as his quirk snuffs itself out.  

Aizawa lands between the two of them, hair flowing and goggled eyes never straying from Izuku’s startlingly still form, “I told you to leave , Todoroki.”

“Yes sir.”  Shouto answers.

Aizawa just takes a deep breath and exhales through his nose, “Go help Bakugou-”

Izuku, who’s been quiet thus far, lets out an incredulous laugh that’s cracking at the edges, head tilted forward to hide his eyes as his lips pull back in a feral smile that doesn’t seem to fit his face,  “Of course, when it’s him , you step in.”

The way he says it is thick with so much resentment, it stops Shouto dead in his tracks, feet frozen in place through no fault of his quirk, despite his every intention to follow Aizawa’s orders this time. 

Their teacher seems to be caught off guard as well, “ What?”

“You know, for a while I thought you might be different.”  Izuku states bitterly, though there’s a slight hint of remorse leaking out from between his words.  His posture is loose, as if he doesn’t even notice that he’s still wrapped tightly in Aizawa’s capture weapon, or that he’s missing his quirk, “But you’re really not.  You’re the same as every other teacher I’ve ever had .”

“Midoriya-”

“No.”  Izuku states, “It’s not fair.  It’s never fair Our entire lives Kacchan’s been allowed to step all over anyone he wants, to get whatever he wants, whenever he wants.”

“I’ve never allowed-”

Don’t .”  Izuku cuts in with an irritated huff, “It’s a lie, and it’s a bad one at that.”

“Excuse me?”

“Does anyone even remember our first final?”  Izuku hisses, “No?  Ok, how about our very first practical exercise?  He was never punished for either of those things, never even really reprimanded.”  

Aizawa stays quiet for a moment, and Shouto can’t see his face, but his hand is tightening on the strands of his capture weapon tightly enough that his knuckles have gone white, “That’s e nough .”

“I suppose it is.”  Izuku responds, and lets his body go completely slack, legs buckling from underneath him as he topples backwards off the side of the building.

It causes Aizawa to stumble just enough under the sudden pull of dead weight that there’s enough give in the capture weapon to allow Izuku to disappear over the edge.  His teacher curses loudly, trying to regain control of the situation and quickly pull Izuku back, and Shouto can’t help the shocked shout that rips itself from his throat as he rushes forward.

The side of the building practically disintegrates in a flare of snapping green electricity that burns so brightly it’s blinding.  Aizawa lets out a roar of frustration as his capture weapon goes completely slack, Izuku clearly having torn his end to shreds with the activation of his quirk, and Shouto loses his footing completely when the entire roof shifts, tilting forward as if it’s supports have been cut out from underneath them.

They probably have been.

Shouto can’t stop himself from slipping backwards when the roof completely caves in, but he does manage to kick his right leg out and catch both himself and Aizawa with a small column of ice before they plummet.

Aizawa shoots him an appreciative look, but neither of them get time to breathe, because in the next instant Izuku is just there.  He’s shot up through the rubble and hovers directly behind Aizawa, one hand fisting the man’s hair and yanking.  Aizawa doesn’t cry out, rather he smothers a sharp gasp as he tries to pivot around to lay eyes on and grapple Izuku—unfortunately, the ice doesn’t give him as much traction as he needs, and Izuku is floating so he’s got the high ground.   

Izuku quickly reaches around with the hand that’s not pulling hair to trap Aizawa in an awkward sort of choke hold—one arm tight around his extended neck and legs wrapping tightly around his torso—he somehow snags the front of the man’s goggles, which he proceeds to rip clean off his head.  There’s a startling crunch as he crushes them, before he tosses them over his shoulder.

Aizawa lets out a pained grunt as Izuku’s knees lock into place and the muscles in his legs tighten, and Shouto knows just how much power his friend has in his legs even without his quirk.  With his quirk though?  It’s got to be similar to being crushed by a steel vice.

“Izuku!”  Shouto shouts before springing forward.  He needs to pull Aizawa free somehow before Izuku breaks anything-

His friend barely spares him a considering glance before his body lets out a few crackles of energy, and a horrifying mess of black, twisting tentacles rip themselves from his arms.  They writhe and pulse and Shouto has always been just a bit off put by the ominous appearance of Blackwhip, but he’s never been quite this terrified of it before.  

They settle for a brief moment before some of them coil themselves around Aizawa, while the others cut through the air towards Shouto.

He only has a split second to construct a small curved half-dome of ice around himself before Izuku’s Blackwhip slams against the surface.  It holds for the most part, but a few of the tendrils manage to burst through, and a jagged shard of ice catches Shouto right across his cheek.

The whips pull back to rip the rest of his icy defense to shreds, before more are surging forward to wrap themselves around Shouto’s arms and legs, forcing him to kneel. 

Shouto is forced to watch as their teacher tries to roll backwards and slam Izuku into the ground, but Izuku just hovers even higher, forcing Aizawa’s feet to dangle.  It’s a testament to his skill and flexibility that even without being able to see Izuku, he somehow manages to maneuver his capture weapon just enough so that the two of them are now both trapping each other, Blackwhip and white binding cloth fighting for dominance.

“You’re a- a really good hero ,”  Izuku huffs out, voice starting to strain, “And obviously, you’ve got a lot more experience- You’d win, if this were- a- fair fight.” he grunts as Aizawa’s binding cloth tightens, so in retaliation he locks his elbow around Aizawa’s jaw and squeezes. 

“Let- let me go, Midoriya,”  Aizawa chokes out, one arm squirming free to reach up and back to grip Izuku’s curls much the same way that Izuku has his, “This- this isn’t- you.”

“But, it is.”  Midoriya retorts, “My quirk… it finally means I’m worth- worth something , and I’m tired of letting- letting everyone stomp all over me.   Especially Ka- , “ He inhales roughly when Aizawa’s capture weapon tightens even more, “ Kacchan.”

“Izuku, please-”  Even though the whips around Shouto’s arms and legs aren’t really hurting him, trying to wriggle free just ends with him bound even tighter.

“I’m sorry Shouto, I- I really am.”  Izuku’s eyes dart in his direction, and he gives Shouto a small, thin smile.  It’s still so wrong, and Shouto’s eyes feel wet, “I don’t want to hurt you - you’re my best friend… so just, stay out of my way, ok?”

“Midoriya!”  Aizawa bites out, but Izuku just shakes his head and glares down at the man in his arms, “The other teachers are going to be here any minute, All Might’s already- he’s called them.  Stop-stop this now .”

Izuku goes still for a moment, a painfully familiar, calculating look pulling at his brow before he coldly states, “It’ll take them at least another seven or eight minutes to make it from the main campus to the training ground, and that’s only if All Might called them right away .  He-he probably didn't.  None of them will have high mobility here, either, so add another few on for that.  They w-won’t want to be overly destructive, since that’ll put everyone in danger… the same way that you’re hesitating to go all- all out against me. ”  He pauses for a moment before his muscles tense, “It’s fine.”

Aizawa curses, and Izuku shakes his head and continues, “I won’t hurt them.  I don’t want to hurt y-you either.  I like you.  But, I’ve had enough- enough of teachers that-that lie .”

Izuku’s body flashes pink-red-gold for a moment, that hot, shimmering energy building beneath his skin before it breaks free in an absolute torrent of green sparks.  Aizawa’s binding cloth strains but doesn’t survive the way Izuku twists, arms and legs releasing Aizawa as he does a backflip in the air, Blackwhip acting like a snapping sling-shot that flings their teacher through the air and over the top of a tall apartment building a few blocks over.

Shouto gapes, and feels his eyes go wide as he prays that Aizawa somehow survived that.  

Izuku’s faced away from him, Blackwhip coiling and weaving through the air from their anchors in his arm and upper back, eyes trained in the direction Aizawa disappeared to.  His shoulders are heaving as he pants for the air that Aizawa’s capture weapon had been depriving him of.  

When their teacher doesn’t end up reappearing he slumps slightly, then lets himself lower so that he’s hovering just a few inches above Shouto’s ice.

Shouto really doesn’t want to do this, but he knows he has to stop his friend somehow.  Even tied down as he is by Blackwhip, he’s still settled against his ice, and he still has his quirk, so he pours as much power as he can through his right arm and leg and directs it into the pillar below him and targets Izuku.  If he can just trap him-

The ice below Izuku surges upward in a large wave of crystalline spikes, and he has just enough time before he’s encased to turn, eyes widening at Shouto as he lets out a surprised squawk.

The strands of Blackwhip wrapping around Shouto’s arms and legs tighten painfully, before finally breaking apart and disintegrating away in strange misty clouds of black and green.

He lets out a sigh of relief, and feels his muscles want to sag, but he forces himself to his feet.  He can’t leave Izuku stuck in there for long, of course, he doesn’t want him to suffocate or fall victim to frostbite, but he needs just a moment to think and breathe.

Unfortunately, it seems as if that’s wishful thinking. 

He hears it first—the loud, startling snap of cracking ice—then there’s a faint glow that’s steadily rising from deep within the frozen prison that reminds him eerily of his first sports festival.

The column of jagged ice shatters in much the same way as well—if not even more violently this time around—as Izuku expands so much energy it almost looks as if he’s been struck by lightning from the sky.  Dozens of strands of Blackwhip erupt from his back and wretch the remaining ice apart, tearing through it as easily as paper, and Izuku surges forward in a flash, hand outstretched to snag Shouto’s left forearm in a vice-like grip.

Izuku’s still hovering so that he’s looking slightly down at Shouto, and when he tilts his head his eyes manage to catch the sun and-

They flash gold.   It’s not a trick of the light, not Shouto’s mind playing tricks on him, there are foreign, glittering flecks of honey gold weaving through Izuku’s deep green eyes.

Then Izuku’s irises go that familiar bright green of his quirk, distorting at the edges slightly in a way Shouto’s only ever seen once or twice before, and the gold is overpowered by a toxic green glow.

“I told you to just stay out of my way.”  Izuku doesn’t shout.  His voice settles into something low and dangerous, even as his words crack in betrayal. There might even be tears in his eyes, “ Why?”

“Izu-”  Shouto’s hisses in pain when Izuku squeezes his arm even tighter, and he wonders if he’s imagining the sound of his own bones creaking under the pressure, “-Izuku, please.  We can talk about-”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”  Izuku stresses coldly, Blackwhip flaring out behind him like a cape,  “I thought at least you’d understand that-”

“Let go-”  Shouto know’s he’s practically pleading at this point.  This isn’t a friendly spar, or even a heated argument between the two of them.  He doesn’t want to be forced to fight back, but it’s looking more and more like he’s going to have to-

There’s only one way he knows of that wouldn’t give Izuku a choice in releasing his arm at this point, but even thinking of it starts to fill Shouto with a sense of dread.  It’s a last resort.  Has to be a last resort.  “You can explain it to me-”

Izuku doesn’t let go.  He slowly shakes his head, “Everyone always underestimates me.  Poor, little quirkless Deku .  It’s been that way since I was four years old, Shouto.”  Shouto slowly lets the heat build up deep within his core, steeling his own nerves for what he’s about to do to his best-his first - friend.  

“If it’s not pity, it’s disgust.”  Izuku continues, as if he’s describing something as mundane as the weather, “It’s one thing if it’s someone who doesn’t know me… I don’t care what they say.  It’s another when it’s someone who’s- when it’s someone like Kacchan.  He has to learn that he doesn’t get to keep bullying people.  He can’t be a hero if he doesn’t learn a bit of humility first.”

Shouto grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut.  He stutters out a choked, “I’m sorry.”  Before he releases his quirk and lets his left arm go up in flames. 

Only Izuku doesn’t let go.  His grip only tightens further as he lets out a startled cry.  Shouto pushes his flames to go even hotter, determined to constrain them to strictly to his forearm—he needs to restrict the amount of damage, knowns he has to burn but doesn’t want to completely mutilate his best friend, and oh god—he’s purposely burning Izuku.   

The fear and panic starts to make his control falter dangerously, and he struggles as he feels the stretched, scarred skin around his eye heat and spark, and his shoulder start to catch, the roar of the growing flames deafening him to everything else-

Until a shout of rage breaks through the torrent and Izuku is forcibly ripped away from him in a violent maelstrom of noise and smoke and heat and force -

He douses his flames immediately, pulling his ice to dance across his skin and bring his temperature back down to a reasonable level.  His eyes sting, the mix of ash and smoke and tears make it hard to see, but he drags them open anyway and forces himself to glance to the side.

Bakugou is standing on slightly unsteady feet at the edge of Shouto’s pillar of ice, hunched forward with one arm curled tightly just below his sternum, the other outstretched with his palm wide.  There’s a steady stream of blood seeping from somewhere above his hairline, coating the entire left side of his face a gristly layer of crimson red.

His entire body is trembling—probably a mix of adrenaline and pain—and he’s completely lost his jacket and shirt, down to a blood stained and tattered tank top.

“Bakugou-” Shouto breathes.

Bakugou grunts in response, then gasps out, “That ain’t enough-he’s-he’s not down.  Get us… get us off this f’cking ice, you idiot.  Solid ground ‘neath our feet.  Some-hah-where open.  Where b’ldings c-can’t come down on ‘s.  Rather face 'm head on an' see 'im commin' then get crushed.”

Shouto doesn’t hesitate, he quickly moves to wrap his arm around Bakugou’s waist—the blond wheezes in pain and spits out a pinkish glob of flem, but otherwise doesn’t comment—then carefully guides them down a hastily constructed ramp towards the ground that curls around the building directly to their right.  He’d remembered passing a large, mostly empty parking lot bordering a small park a few blocks back.  It was surrounded on two sides by single story buildings, and the apartment complex Aizawa had been tossed past was kitty-corner... 

They make it, but Bakugou doesn’t manage to stay on his feet through the landing.  Shouto lunges to catch him, but honestly, he’s not exactly the most sure-footed individual himself at the moment, and they both go sprawling right into the side of a car.

Bakugou lets out an airy cough, then grunts out an unintelligible curse as he struggles to catch his breath.  Shouto carefully shifts to try and lay him flat, but Bakugou’s eyes shoot open and he shoves Shouto away with an angry snarl, “F’ck-in let- m’go.  Half-half bast’rd.”

Shouto scrambles backward as Bakugou rolls to his side, then props himself up against the car at their back.  He’s clenching his teeth so tight Shouto wouldn’t be surprised if they started cracking at the roots, and even then, he can’t bite back the pained groan that rips itself from his throat, “Fuckin’ shitty l’ttle nerd-”  He turns to glance back at Shouto, “There’s s’mthin’ wrong with his eyes-”

“You noticed?”

“Of course I fuckin’ noticed.  It’s-it’s when the light hit’s ‘em.”  Bakugou waves his good-well not good , but better - hand in front of his own eyes in demonstration, “S’gotta be-hah-a quirk.”

“He’s after you .  Why?”  Shouto is just processing out loud, doesn’t really expect an answer, so he’s shocked when he gets one.

“How sh’ld I know?”  Bakugou gasps out between breaths, but then he hesitates, and spits out a quietly resigned, “ Fuck.”

“What is it?”

“The-the school.  The fuckin’ article.  R’coon eyes w’s wa-wavin’ round.”

“What? Why would-”

Shouto doesn’t get to question further, because an entire row of buildings at the front edge of the parking lot practically implode in a whirlwind of brick and mortar and rebar, blown in every direction.  A ground rumbling shockwave rips through the air around them and several cars that were settled near the front of the lot are flung over their heads.  Thankfully, the car at their back is heavy enough that it shifts, but stays.

The silhouette of a small, familiar figure appears in the dust, outlined in a halo of green lightning that’s bouncing and crackling wildly against the remaining debris surrounding him.  Shouto can feel the static in the air, can see how the hair on his arms is standing on end, can smell it—the rising scent of ozone—clean and crisp even above the nauseating smell of burnt flesh still clogging his nostrils.  Shouto usually likes the smell the energy of Izuku’s quirk gives off, but now it does nothing but make his instincts scream in fear .   

Bakugou makes a valiant attempt to struggle to his feet, but ultimately, he fails, and half collapses against the vehicle, slumped the rest of the way against Shouto’s shoulder.

Izuku is slowly coming closer, and soon, his figure is clear enough to make out despite the lingering dust and smoke that’s settled heavily in the air around them.  It burns Shouto’s eyes, but he refuses to look away.

His friend stops at the edge of the parking lot, quirk alive and pulsing across his skin with each heaving breath he takes.  His left arm is a mix of blistering red and mottled purple, while his palm is charred and nearly black.

He must have used his quirk at full power to destroy the buildings. 

His hoodie and t-shirt are in tatters, barely hanging on, and his jeans are ripped and dirtied in several places.  There’s blood dripping from his nose, but even as Shouto is staring, he reaches up with the back of his right hand and wipes it away.

His posture is almost casual, all things considered, and there’s a blank look on his face that's made even more eerie by the way his skin flits with light and his pupils shift and contort.  The energy from his quirk is leaking from his eyes and dissipating into the air around his head, his curls shifting and flowing as if in a breeze. 

“F’ckin Deku…”  Bakugou spits, “You-you have’n fun with your litt-little tan-trum?”

Izuku stills, tilting his chin forward to glare through his bangs, “Are you having fun hiding behind Shouto?  Are you that afraid to take me on, one on one?”

Bakugou’s jaw clenches, and he shoves his hand against Shouto’s shoulder and struggles to his feet.  This time he succeeds, but the way he shakes and slurs his words doesn’t leave Shouto with a whole lot of confidence in his ability to stay standing, “F-Fuck you, Deku.  I’m n’t ‘fraid of sh-shit.  ‘Specilly your p’thetic ass.”  He shifts, planting himself between Shouto and Izuku as best he can manage,  “G’t-Get th’ hell out’a here, Icy-hot.”

That last part directed at him is softer, more concerned, and it sends a spike of apprehension straight through Shouto’s heart.  Bakugou’s posturing ,  he knows it, Shouto knows it, and Izuku probably knows it too… and he’s clearly offering to sacrifice himself to allow Shouto to flee to safety.

Well… that’s not going to happen.  Shouto’s not about to abandon him, maybe together they can-

Izuku’s eyes go wide, and he half gapes, half smiles in disbelief before he huffs, “Oh, how altruistic of you, Kacchan.  So selfless… but you always have been, haven’t you?”

Bakugou lets out a quiet, contemplative sounding hum in response, and if Shouto wasn’t so close, he never would have been able to hear it.

“Wha-wh’t d’you w’nt me to say, Deku?”  Bakugou shrugs with one shoulder, the cockiness of his voice plastered on so thick it’s clear he’s purposely goading Izuku, though to what end Shouto has no idea, “Y-You needed all th’ special trainin’ you c’ld get.”  He spreads his arms out with a barely concealed wince, “C’me on, shit-face.  You cant ev-en take me at a hundred p’rcent of your power.”

Izuku’s aura flares, hazy green going nearly white at the edges, pupils vanishing from his eyes as they bleed a harsh neon-green light, “You don’t even remember what that might look like, and no one else has even really seen it!  At least not at my current level!”  He throws his arm wide, and the motion sends a shower of green electricity scattering through the air, “Think about it, Kacchan!  One for All grows exponentially!  It’s never constant, it’s always moving forward, always changing! As long as I continue to grow, it does too.  For all intents and purposes-”

Bakugou inhales sharply, and whispers in a sort of awed realization at the same time as Izuku speaks, “ There is no limit .”

“You can’t win, Kacchan.”

The blond is uncharacteristically quiet, “ Shit-”  His jaw moves, as if he’s chewing on his next words, and Shouto can see the way he’s swaying on his feet.  There’s a tense moment of hesitation before Bakugou exhales through his nose and murmurs, “ Fuck it…” 

Bakugou cocks his head and swaggers forward a step, opening his palm upward to let loose a chain of crackling little explosions, “F’ckin prove it then, you useless l-l’ttle quirkless freak.”

Izuku’s gaze narrows even further, and for the first time since this mess began, he really, truly looks and sounds enraged , “ Fine!”

There’s a moment in time where everything slows down and goes so agonizingly quiet that Shouto can hear his own racing heart pounding in his ears.  A sweeping sort of tingling static drags at his hair and clothes, slowly circling towards Izuku as if he’s drawing the very air in his direction, and hell, maybe he is. 

And then Shouto swears a bolt of lightning really does strike Izuku from the sky.  His entire body lights up, green-blue and gold, molten in the way the energy seeps and swirls across the expanses of his skin.  He takes a step forward and Blackwhip manifests once again in a mass of angry black tentacles that tear themselves free from his back, twisting and stretching, curling around whatever piece of the environment they can wrap themselves around.  Buildings, trees, cars, nothing is left untouched, and they pull him into the air and drag him forward like he’s some sort of eldritch monster, spindly and spider-like in their appearance. 

Then he moves in earnest, Blackwhip flinging him through the air as energy arcs off him to strike his surroundings in thick, crackling bolts of green-blue lightning that tear and devour whatever they snap against.  His feet plant themselves against a building, and the brick cracks beneath him before buckling, and then he’s bouncing off in another direction, moving so quickly it’s all but impossible to track, if not for the trail destruction and glittering green light he leaves behind. It’s a bastardized rendition of his normal, ping-pong like style of movement, his speed and power continuing to grow with each rebound. 

Like he's charging himself up.

And Shouto finally thinks he understands what Bakugou might have been thinking, because Izuku has gone absolutely supernova, and there’s no way that he’s not going to burn himself out.  

It’s like comparing it to an insanely magnified version of Shouto’s own quirk… Izuku’s expending so much raw, unfiltered power, it has to be feeding from somewhere, and that somewhere has to be him.  

Shouto only hopes that, like an actual supernova, he’s going to burn out quickly, and without killing himself in the process.

“H-he won’t last long with all tha' power inside 'im.  It's too much for 'im to handle...”  Bakugou growls, “B’t… he knows th-that too… be ready.”

It’s that moment that Izuku finally chooses to round in on them, kicking off the corner of building and shooting into the sky like a bullet, the shape of his body lost in a streak of light for a brief moment before he once again takes shape, Blackwhip stretching widely behind him, like a  shredded, writhing pair of wings.  

Shouto gathers every ounce of power he has left, in preparation to build the thickest shield of ice he can manage.  Frost creeps up his limbs and spreads across the ground as the condensation in the air begins to freeze around them. .  Bakugou is tense at his side, but he stands as tall as he’s able to manage with his injuries.  He spares Shouto a quick glance, and gives a single, solitary nod.

And just as Izuku rears his arm back to strike, lightning flying in every direction, something unexpected happens.  He suddenly jerks, mid-air, and lets out an anguished cry.  He grabs at his scalp, fisting his hair, and shouts, “NO!”

***

Shouta feels like his heart has beat itself right out of his ribcage, leaving behind an empty, gaping hole where it once sat, because Midoriya has just lit himself up like an atom bomb—a fission reaction coming to life and blazing bright beneath the skin of a barely seventeen year old boy.  It leaks like liquid from his pores, coats his skin, bottled lighting breaking free from it’s depths to strike anything that comes too close.  

Those glowing, oil slick black tentacles stretch ominously from his back, pulling, climbing, tearing—extra limbs spread wide and gnashing like the maw of some kind of lovecraftian horror, and for a a brief moment Shouta finds himself convinced that he’s no longer looking at a human being, but rather a monster worse than any Nomu he’s ever faced, set on devouring everything in its path.

But the moment passes, and he rips that thought straight from his head and throws it away, because it’s utter bullshit.  That’s his student up there.  Midoriya Izuku in the flesh, under the influence of some foreign quirk.  

It’s the only thing that makes sense—besides the strange flashes of gold he’s caught in the kids' eyes twice now , there’s also the fact that he knows his students, knows his Problem Child.  Midoriya is frighteningly powerful, yes, but he’s also incredibly kind and selfless, only turning that power on those that seek to do harm.  He’s seen Midoriya’s progress from barely able to stand on his own two feet to ranking top of his class.  The kid has cried and sweat and bled just for the chance to be a hero.  

Midoriya wants to save people.  He’d rather put himself in his own grave than cause undue harm.  

So when he sees Midoriya round in on Todoroki and Bakugou, on his friends , Shouta finds himself moving faster than he ever has in his entire life.  He tries to focus while he runs, tries to catch Midoriya with Erasure, but the kid is darting about so sporadically, and there’s blood constantly streaming into his eyes from a nasty cut on his forehead.  Not to mention how much dust and debris is flying through the air—his already dry eyes feel like they’re being rubbed with sandpaper.

Midoriya pulls his arm back to deliver a devastating blow, lightning charged around his form.  But then spasms in mid-air, and lets out a painstakingly horrific wail, hands shooting up to claw at his scalp, fisting his hair, as he shouts, “NO!” 

The energetic aura coating his form shifts and pulls away before snapping back into place, revealing skin and clothes for a brief second before he starts to plummet headfirst towards the ground, curling in on himself so tightly his knees almost press against his chest.  Lightning explodes from his form, snapping and crackling in every direction, charging the air with so much static that Shouta can feel the way his clothes cling to his skin.  Blackwhip flails, half the strands striking out wildly, while others begin to wrap themselves tightly around Izuku’s limbs, locking them in place.

One strand of Blackwhip lashes out uncontrollably towards where Todoroki and Bakugou are huddled against a car.  Shouta watches as they both tense, and Todoroki pulls his arm back, spreads his fingers and prepares to shield them both with his ice, but Shouta knows it won’t be enough, so he pushes himself to move even faster.

He somehow reaches them before Blackwhip does, and he tackles them both out of the way.  The three of them go sprawling, Bakugou letting out a pained wheeze, and Todoroki struggling to his feet.  The kid whips around to strike out, obviously having not seen Shouta coming, but his heterochromatic eyes go wide and he stops and breathes out a sigh of relief, “Aizawa-” 

And Shouta can’t help but tug them both a few steps further before collapsing against them, “Thank fucking god you’re both still alive.”

He hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but it slips out, and he doesn’ t really even care at this point because it’s the truth.  They’re still here, still breathing, and even though Bakugou looks like he’s suffering from several very concerning injuries—including a concussion—they seem, for the most part, whole.   

Bakugou just barks out a single, broken laugh, “You too, f’ckin’ hah-ho-bo teach.”

Todoroki, still slightly shell shocked, quickly reaches forward and snags something from Shouta’s hair, pulling back a twig between his fingers—and yeah, that tracks, considering Shouta had landed in a god forsaken tree after being flung half across the training ground by Midoriya.  He suddenly seems to realize what he’s just done, flushes, and says, “Sorry sir.  It’s been… a day.”

Before they can say or do anything further, there’s a violent crash from behind them, and they all scramble around to see that Midoriya has landed amidst a large, rippling crater of cracks and upturned asphalt.  Nothing of him is visible beyond the cocoon of Blackwhip’s turbulently swarming tentacles, a literal blanket of darkness that covers every square inch of him, trapping and strangling, even as he squirms and struggles against their assault.

“Stop it!”  Midoriya’s voice, distorted and muffled, still manages to break free, “It-it’s my quirk now!  You c-can’t !”

There’s a flash of bright green-white light that pokes several holes into Blackwhips defences, but they’re almost instantly smothered and snuffed out.  

Midoriya, not to be deterred, lunges forward, but Blackwhip digs in, several tendrils burrowing into the ground as the rest tighten themselves around his form even further.  It’s almost reminiscent of the first time they’d manifested, during the joint combat training exercise, except somehow, this is worse.  It’s like the individual strands of Blackwhip are coordinating specifically to subdue Midoriya, like they have a mind of their own. 

Shouta pushes himself away from the other two boys, wipes the blood off his brow and out of his eyes, activates his quirk, and does his best to focus on Midoriya’s form.  Unfortunately, there’s no part of the kid he can see beyond Blackwhip’s swirling mass, and that doesn’t count.  between the dust and blood, he can only keep his eyes open for a few spare seconds before he finds himself having to blink, “ Dammit!”

“Don’t you dare!”  The vague shape of Midoriya tries to leap straight up, but it’s futile, as Blackwhip stretches, pulls taunt, and then snaps back like a spring.  Midoriya slams into the ground with enough force to audibly knock the breath from his lungs, and he lets out a strangled groan.  

Todoroki shuffles forward then, eyes wide and mouth hanging slightly ajar.  Shouta has to snag him by what’s left of his collar to keep him from rushing towards his friend, “What’s happening to him?”

Bakugou has somehow managed to prop himself up on his knees, one hand supporting his weight while the other wraps around his center, fingers digging into his ribcage in much the same way that Todoroki is now clinging to his jeans.

“Stop! ”  Midoriya screams, but it sounds… off.  There’s a strange, unnatural warble to his words.  When he repeats himself a moment later, his tone is much quieter, but somehow seems to reverberate ethereally like there’s several other voices layered on top of his own, “ Stop, Ninth.”

And Midoriya does.

His body goes deathly still for a moment, and without the constant struggling movements, it’s easier to make out the shape of his form.  He’s curled on his hands and knees, forehead pressed to the pavement below him.  His next words come out in an almost soothing whisper, “ We’re sorry.”

Then, he stands, Blackwhip tuggings his limbs into compliance, and turns to face the three of them.  He makes jittery, broken steps forward, and Shouta feels his entire body tense, ready to move, to fight-

It appears to be unnecessary though, because Midoriya comes to a stop and drops to his knees.  Blackwhip begins to recede, pulling away just enough to reveal his face.  There are tear tracks cutting through his freckles, and his eyes are half lidded, but the light that leaks from deep within is iridescent in nature—white, with hints of every other color of the rainbow.  He speaks, and it’s quiet, laced with the gentle hum of an electric current, still the ghostly echo of multiple voices at once, “ You should erase us now.  While we have him.”

And Shouta has seen many things in his tenure as both a pro hero, and a heroics teacher.  But this?  Whatever all of this is?  This is something beyond anything he’s ever dealt with before, and he hates it.  He hates not having all the answers, not knowing what to do, not knowing how to help.

Midoriya, or whoever or whatever is kneeling in front of him now, stares up at him with empty fluorescent bright eyes, a charge in the air that feels as dangerous as a live-wire.  Shouta hesitates, because he doesn’t understand, so he asks , What have you done to Midoriya?”

And they speak again, “ We are... stuck. A stalemate.  He fights us still, but in calling us, he has given us power. We can not recede.  Erase us, and we will pull him to rest with us.”

Shouta sucks in a breath and levels a glare at the figure before him, refusing to drop his guard, “Whoever you are, I’m not about to let you hurt-”

Never.”  The voices say resolutely.  They almost seem to break apart then, as their next three statements are staggered, one barely out of Midoriya’s mouth before the next one starts- 

He is ours-”  

“-he is of us-”

 “-we love him.”

Shit.”  Bakugou struggles to his feet, pulling on Todoroki’s arm to give himself leverage.  His brows draw tight as he spares a calculating gaze towards Shouta, hesitating only momentarily before seemingly coming to a decision of some sorts,  “ One for All?” 

Midoriya’s head turns slightly, gaze focusing on Bakugou as much as a pair of empty, glowing eyes can, and the voices sound almost cheeky when they reply “ Hello, Kacchan.”

“Izuku?”   Todoroki questions quietly.  He doesn’t receive an answer.

Shouta finds himself side-eying Bakugou, because he refuses to let whatever is wearing Midoriya’s skin out of his sight.  His patience with this entire situation is running threadbare thin, and he can’t help the growl of frustration that seeps through his clenching teeth, “Explain.  What is this?”

Fuck-”   Bakugou draws out the word and it morphs into an almost incredulous sort of laugh.  “No.  I am not deal’ng w’th this shit.” He points almost threateningly at Midoriya, but there’s very little actual heat behind his words now,  “And F-Fuck you.  You don’t get to call me that.  N’t ah-after all this. ”  He waves to the destruction around them.

We did not cause this He was… not himself.

“No shit.”  Bakugou snorts, though his tone has turned melancholic.  He turns to face Shouta with a barely concealed wince, “Hah… y-yeah, you should l’sten to them.  Then talk to- to All Might.  ‘Bout all this.”

All Might.   Toshinori. ”  The voices hum contemplatively, “ Eighth .”

“Ye’h. ‘Swat I fuckin’ said, you freaky ghost fucks.”  Bakugou grumbles tiredly, and whatever bit of fight still remaining leaves him at once, even as his eyes never leave Shouta’s face, “They ain’t g’nna hurt the sh’tty nerd.”

Never.”

“We h’rd you th’ first time!”

And, loath as he is to admit it, Shouta realizes he’s just going to have to accept this for whatever it is right now, and deal with all his confusion and rising panic later.

Because Bakugou is practically dead on his feet at this point, and in desperate need of medical attention, Todoroki seems to be bordering a mental shut down, Shouta himself his hardly faring any better, and Midoriya is-

Well.  Midoriya is whatever the fuck this is right now .

He takes a deep breath, tilts his head back in frustration as he closes his eyes to gather his wits, and then opens them once more to look down at Midoriya's face.  Blackwhip is still rolling and churning across his form, and it trembles, as if it’s difficult to hold still.  

The voices give another hum, before quietly admitting, “ Ninth… Izuku. He trusts you, even if he does not remember that right now.  So we trust you.  Please.”

Against his better judgment, Shouta decides to return that supposed trust.  He crouches to meet Midoriya’s stare straight on, and he pulls the burning heat of Erasure to life behind his eyes.

Between one second and the next, Blackwhip vanishes, and Midoriya crumbles like a puppet with his strings cut.  Shouta quickly darts forward to catch him, to keep him from slamming his head against the asphalt, and then curls one arm around his frame to pull him back to chest, securing his hold without ever releasing his quirk.  

Todoroki falls to his knees beside them, hands hovering over his friend without touching, an absolutely terrified look painting his features.  His hair is mussed wildly, and he’s got several dark bruises forming up his bare arm.  Physically, he’s the best off of them.  Mentally… probably not so much.  

They're all going to need so much therapy after this.

Bakugou stays standing, and Shouta assumes that besides pure spite, he most likely can’t bring himself to sit or kneel, because once he goes down, he’s probably not getting back up again.  The kid’s prideful like that.  Stupid too, but it is what it is.

Midoriya’s entire left arm is mangled, a mix of bruises and blistering burns, and he has a collection of superficial cuts and bruises all over his body.  There’s a bit of blood caked in his hair, but it doesn’t seem to be actively flowing from any open wound Shouta can see.  His breaths are slow and steady, if not a bit shallow, but there’s nothing that is immediately concerning there.  His pulse is high.  Too high.

The problem child doesn’t stir, regardless of how Shouta manhandles him.   When he’s absolutely sure the kid isn’t going to suddenly awaken and attack them all again, he sighs through his nose and lets his eyes slide shut.

Not even thirty seconds later the rest of the teachers finally arrive. 

***

“I still can’t believe you spoke to them…”  Toshinori knows he sounds incredulous as he drags a hand down his face, but he can’t help it.  He and Aizawa have been at this for hours now, sitting at a small, square table with a bottle of scotch between them that Toshinori can’t even drink, but has somehow managed to find itself halfway to empty by sheer willpower of the man in front of him.  It’s nearing one A.M.

Aizawa and the students had all received medical attention, though besides Izuku, who’s yet to awaken—and probably won't for a while yet—it's only young Bakugou who’s been deemed necessary to stay overnight.  The boy is in his own room, having insisted that he wanted absolutely nothing to do with the impending argument that was bound to happen between Aizawa and himself.  He had, however, felt the need to impart Toshinori with a crude hand gesture and a parting sentiment through slurred words that amounted to, “Your stupid ass haunted quirk is bullshit, you’re bullshit, Deku’s even more bullshit, everything’s fucking bullshit. Leave me alone old man, I’m tired.”

He hadn’t even gotten a chance to question what any of that had meant before Aizawa had violently grabbed him by the front of his shirt and dragged him away to question him about One for All and Voices, and Midoriya being body snatched-

So Toshinori laid bare the secret of One for All, and its relationship to both himself and Izuku Midoriya, to one Shouta Aizawa, who, at some point over the course of the explanation, had actually slammed his head down on the table and demanded that Toshinori ‘ go and get me some god damned alcohol because I am too tired and too fucking sober for this shit, Yagi.’

Thus, the scotch.  The very expensive scotch.

There had been vehement words slung between them, half-hearted but semi-honest threats from Aizawa against Toshinori’s life, promises made, and deals struck. Aizawa demanded to be made aware of everything involving One for All, future developments included, and Toshinori had agreed, because after what had happened the previous afternoon-

He couldn’t deny that he needed help.  That Izuku needed help.  There was still so much work to do, would be even more now that they’ve all seen the true extent of what Izuku’s capable of- 

Aizawa is a bit too strict and stubborn at times, but he is a good teacher, and a better hero.  He’s proven how much he cares for his students time and time again, has let himself be beaten and broken for them, and would no doubt march through the fires of hell itself to keep them safe—even if he insists otherwise and grumbles about it the entire time. 

Toshinori has gained an immense amount of respect for his younger colleague over the last two years.  And maybe it’s time to change the ways he went about things.  Maybe it’s time to ask for help, rather than letting his world fall apart around his shoulders as he struggles to keep it whole.

He is so tired of teaching Izuku his bad habits.

Fuck.”  Aizawa breathes, eyes sliding closed as he leans back in his chair and drags his fingers first across his brow and then down his face to rub at his stubble.  He looks ragged, worn out from head to toe after everything that’s happened, but he was still here , dutifully dealing with the aftermath and watching over a slumbering Izuku, just in case he were to wake and lash out aggressively.  There’s a slight flush to his cheeks from the alcohol, and his throat cracks slightly as he speaks, “Talked to them through him.  They possessed him, like a god damned poltergeist.”

“They’re not going to hurt him, Aizawa.”  Toshinori reassures the man again, palms up placatingly.

“You’ve said that.”  The man retorts, an edge to his voice that’s as sharp as a knife, “Bakugou said that too, but you weren’t there, Yagi -“

“I’m aware.”  Toshinori struggles to pull back his guilt, knowing full well there’s nothing he could have done, but it still stings, “I’m sorry.”

He’d watched as long as possible from the command room before ushering the rest of the students out and back towards the campus.  They hadn’t needed to witness the way one of their friends had turned against their classmates and teacher, hadn’t needed to see the carnage Izuku had bore down upon the training grounds.

He’d watched the rest of the recovered footage later, while Aizawa, and the kids were being seen by Shuzenji.

Toshinori had sat for a long while in front of the screen, rewinding and rewatching, hand digging into the scar tissue on his side, grounding him, wondering how terrible all of that power could truly be in the wrong hands.  In the hands of someone a little less selfless, a little less empathetic, who had a little less restraint.

He appreciates now more than ever that chance meeting under a bridge, and will never take his boy's capacity for kindness or forgiveness for granted ever again.  Because he refuses to believe that it was Izuku causing all that pain and destruction.  It couldn't have been.  He knows his successor.  Knows his heart.

“No.  It’s- fuck. That’s not what I meant.

“I might not have been there… but I do know them.  I know One for All.  I held that power within me for decades , Aizawa.”

There’s a moment of silence between them, before Aizawa releases a drawn-out sigh and tilts his head to rest against the back of his chair, eyes drifting closed, “But it’s different for him. Changed .”

“It is.”  Toshinori relents, because the man is not wrong.

“Right.”  Aizawa huffs, opens his eyes to stare at the ceiling for a second or two, and then lazily rolls his head to observe the sleeping teenager across the room.  His gaze softens slightly, settles into something somber—maybe even a bit guilty—and he looks as though he wants to say something for a moment, but ultimately chooses not to.  Instead, he turns forward to glare back down at the mess of papers spread out in front of them, “We’ll just have to argue about that again later.”

Toshinori knows Aizawa means it too—it's a promise—but he also knows when he’s being offered an out.  He graciously accepts it, then leans forward to return to the work they’d been taking a break from.

They needed to figure out exactly what had happened to his boy, and neither of them were going to rest until they had done so.  Toshinori picks up a stack, and says, “The Aldera school system.  That’s what the article Bakugou thinks set Midoriya off was about.  It’s a fluffy, feel good piece about them getting more funding-“

“But it’s bullshit.”  Aizawa interrupts, “Not the funding—I have no doubt they’re getting buckets full of money for producing two U.A. hero students—it’s the rest of it.  The way they talk about Bakugou and Midoriya.  It doesn’t fit their profiles, at all.  The entire thing seems fishy, like a bad cover-up.  Nedzu is already on it.”

“Right.”  Toshinori agrees, “I still don’t know why this particular article would have sent young Midoriya over the edge, though, regardless of whatever quirk he’s been influenced by.  He’s certainly seen and heard worse things than this.”

Aizawa pours himself another drink, and raises the glass to his lips.  Just as he’s about to tilt it back, he pauses, a dark storm brewing behind darker eyes as he questions, “Who was the author?”

Toshinori feels a frown tug at the corners of his lips, and he flips back through the pages until he spots the name of the reporter in question, “Sumiye Kandou.”

The man in front of him sets his glass down and shoves a hand into his pocket of the loose hoodie head wearing.  After a moment or two he lets out a curse, and with a flustered air of resignation says, “My phone broke when Midoriya threw me.  Into a tree.”

“Oh! Right.  Let me just-“ Toshinori pulls out his own phone and opens the browser.  He types in the reporter’s name and then the two of them squeeze in and crowd over the table so that they can both see the screen.

The name brings up a link to what looks like a fairly average media outlet, and he navigates to their staff pages and scrolls down-

A small, unassuming woman stares back at them.  Cascading strawberry-blond curls frame hollow cheeks, and she’s sporting a wide, toothy smile that draws her skin taught, causing laugh lines and other small wrinkles to form near her golden brown eyes.

***

Izuku’s eyes snap open, and he’s surrounded by darkness on all sides, a vast void of nothingness that stretches in every direction, for as far as he can see.  He’s on his back -no-he’s floating -and the moment he thinks it is the moment the dizzying sense of vertigo hits, and his feet suddenly find themselves on solid ground. 

He stumbles, falling to his hands and knees, because his entire body aches- no-actually it doesn’t - and when he thinks that he realizes it’s true. 

Beneath his fingers the world is grey, soot stained and ashy, crumbling away to nothingness- no-it’s not - and as soon as the thought crosses his mind, the ground beneath him starts to spread, expanding exponentially into the pitch-black void- but wait, that’s not right either - and then there are stars.

He doesn’t know where he is.  Until he does.

The mindscape.  One for All.

As soon as he thinks it, the shadow of a figure falls across his fingers.  Izuku doesn’t want to look up, doesn’t want to face them, because there’s an agonizing feeling of betrayal-hurt-sadness-dread opening him up like a cavern, deep inside his chest, and unfortunately nothing he thinks about that makes any sort of change.

He tries to take a deep breath, but that doesn’t help, so he takes another, and another, and then he can’t stop, and it all hurts so much.  Each individual inhale threatens rip his lungs apart and spread his ribcage open until his sternum snaps in two- and no matter how hard he tries he can’t get enough air-

There are hands on his shoulders.  The fingers are thin, and long, and they cautiously press down into a grounding pressure.  Tears are already pouring from Izuku’s eyes, and he can’t remember when he started crying—doesn’t know why he started crying—he just knows that everything is wrong inside his head.  There are two warring versions of himself, and he could have sworn that they were both right, but he knows that one of them is so, so wrong.   He feels violated all the way down to his very core, his soul, and he’s disgusted with himself, because he’s done something terrible , and everyone else is going to be disgusted with him too-

Those careful, kind fingers gently pull him forward, and Izuku goes without resisting.  A pair of thin arms wrap around his shoulders and pull him close, one hand cradling the side of his head to press his ear against a slightly boney chest.  There’s not a heartbeat there—not exactly—the person here is long since dead, and the construct before him is made of up of a mix of spite and hope and willpower, with a dash of One for All, but there’s a quiet, reassuring hum that slowly pulses in a sensation that’s close enough to count.  

The fingers at the side of his head weave through Izuku’s curls, slow and soothing, and that just makes him want to cry even harder, because he doesn’t deserve this, he knows that, even if he doesn’t know why. 

“It’s alright, Ninth .  It wasn’t you.”

‘But it was!’ he wants to say, but he can’t, so he doesn’t.

They seem to hear him anyway, “It was not.  It may have been your body, it may have even been your mind, but it was not you.  You were born of your lifetime of experiences.  Your choices shaped you, and your hopes and dreams became your heart and soul—the very part of you that is a part of us.  We know it wasn’t you, because we felt it the moment something tore you away from usSomething foreign invaded you, perverted you, and it’s lingering even now.  But when you called on our shared power, we found you again, and now whatever it was has lost its hold.  Soon it will be completely gone." The vestige goes quiet for a moment, then tucks Izuku even tighter against himself before whispering,  "And we’re sorry, for being unable to stop it, and for what we did to you as well.  What we did was… We didn’t want you to do something you would regret when you became yourself again.

Izuku shudders, heaving breaths slowly shifting into quiet, painful gasps that he tries and fails to smother.

Together, they sit there, Izuku clinging and crying, breaking apart at the very seams of his existence, and the oldest ghost of One for All doing everything he can to firmly hold the pieces of him together.

 

***

 

Sumiye Kandou. 

That’s her name.  The reporter . The woman Shouta wants to string up from a lamppost and leave to rot for what she did to his student, for all the hurt she's caused.

But that would be excessive force, and that’s frowned upon.  So instead, he'd taken a night to drown his frustrations in booze, have his breakdown in peace, and then re-write his entire lesson plan on the right to bodily autonomy and media relations.

The next day he and All Might did some digging, of course.  Shouta may not have had the necessary clearance to access her personal information and full quirk registration, but All Might…

All Might technically didn’t have clearance either, wouldn’t have even when he was still Number One.  But the fact of the matter is that All Might has done a whole lot of good.   A lot of good on behalf of the government, the commission, the police, the people.  It's given him a lot of pull.  He’s quite frankly, one of the most powerful people in Japan, even without his quirk.  So when he calls in a favor to one of those people he’s done a lot of good for?  

People have no problem looking the other way.  Things get done. Legally, but only barely.

Shouta has to respect that.  Two years ago he never would have expected that poster-boy All Might would have been capable of such a thing.  Though maybe he should have, considering the circumstances.

Sumiye Kandou.  Age forty-six.  Five foot, five inches tall.  A reporter that works under contract for a mediocre-at-best social media platform that specializes in sensationalism and gossip.  She typically focuses on covering low-ranked and unranked heroes, but her employers had tasked her with writing a fluff piece about the types of kids that make it into the most prestigious heroics school in the country.

She apparently hadn’t wanted to do it at first—thought it was beneath her—but when she started interviewing the faculty at Aldera middle school about their two most prized graduates, she’d discovered some discrepancies.  The grades and personalities of the students didn’t match what the teachers claimed.  They highly praised one over the other, expressed shock and concern that both of them had made it past the grueling entrance exam, and whispered rumors of supposed quirklessness…

So, like any nosey, busy body vulture , she’d started stalking .

Katsuki Bakugou hadn’t been to her liking, apparently.  He’s already brash, and disruptive.  He had an explosive personality and quirk, and didn’t need any pushing or prodding to be made interesting enough for a headline .

Izuku Midoriya, however, had been the perfect candidate in her eyes.  Quiet, kind, and endearingly awkward.  Passionate about heroes, about his friends, about helping everyone , regardless of their circumstance.  His quirk had reportedly come in absurdly late, and he’d gone from barely able to control it to placing second place in his second-year sports festival, only losing on a technicality to, coincidentally enough, Katsuki Bakugou.

Her quirk is registered with the name Ego Switch .  She claims all it allows her to do is sense the true nature of an individual, and enhance it or subdue it, like a light switch .  Make an inherently kind person lean into their kindness, boost a person’s natural confidence, or sooth a person’s anger.  All it took was a gentle touch, focus on the specific traits she wanted to target, and unbroken eye contact. 

The only two parts of the entire explanation Tsukauchi had deemed even remotely true were the vague ability to sense a person’s core personality traits, and the activation requirements. 

What her quirk actually does is flip specific personality traits of her choosing.  She couldn’t turn a person ‘good’ or ‘evil’ , people are far too complex for that, but she could, perhaps , take a person lacking self-confidence and twist them into being over-confident.  She could rip away a person’s selflessness, their compassion, and they’d become selfish and indifferent.  Any trait that she could recognize and pinpoint, she could target.    

The kicker?  The stronger the conviction those original personality traits are in an individual, the more drastic the results would be.  Her quirk would take root, slowly branch out to invade the person’s mind, and then finally activate completely when that person entered REM sleep for the first time after being inflicted.  It would wear off again the next time they slept.  Of course, it has the added bonus of completely exhausting the victim as it settles in. 

Shouta wants to kick himself, wants to go back in time and shake his own shoulders and tell himself to 'pay attention, you idiot!'  Midoriya had looked so confused, so exhausted and lethargic in that alleyway , and he'd just… blown it off.  Stupid. Stupid!

The victims would leave her presence, go home and fall into a deep, uninterrupted slumber, none the wiser to what awaited them when they woke. 

The small, glowing flecks of gold that would sometimes reflect strangely in the victims eyes when they caught the light was the energy released by her quirk at work.

She uses it sparingly, targeting lesser known heroes who’s fame wouldn’t quite put them in the spotlight enough for the pattern to be noticeable.  Then, when they’d suddenly act out in a way they never would have normally, she’d swoop in, write an article about how the poor sap couldn’t handle the stress of the job and had tragically snapped, or offer inside interviews to their families, so that they could talk about how the person they had once known had changed so much.

It had been a bad idea on her part to target one of the most recognizable up and coming students at the most well-known school in the country.  A bad idea to target a child that meant so much to the former Number One hero.  A bad idea to target one of Shouta’s students.  His Problem Child at that.

Because now she is in jail, and would stay there, for a long, long time.  Tsukauchi had made sure of it.

He and Yagi were simply left dealing with the aftermath. 

There is just an awful lot of aftermath.

***

 

With the quirk exhaustion, and injuries he’d sustained, it takes just over three days for Izuku to finally wake up.  Shouto’s sitting by his bedside, doing his English homework for Present Mic, when it happens.

Izuku inhales, sharp and sudden, a deep breath that’s immediately followed by a stuttered whine and guttural sob.  He raises one arm to cover his eyes—the one that’s not covered in bandages from where Shouto had lit his best friend on fire —he'll never, ever forget the feeling of blistering, boiling flesh against his palm, the sound, the smell.  It will haunt him in his dreams, has already begun to -

-and then Izuku cries.  It’s loud, and ugly, and full of so much genuine pain and heartbreak that Shouto knows.

This is his Izuku.  Whatever that woman’s quirk had done to him really has subsided.  Recovery girl and their teachers had assured him it would have by now, but a not insignificant part of him had still been terrified that the Izuku he knows and loves was gone forever.

He doesn’t know what he would have done with himself if that were the case.  He wouldn't even be here if it were not for Izuku.  He wouldn’t be who he is now.  He’d be alone, closed off to the world with no friends, no motivation, and no hope.

He doesn’t want to think of a reality where Izuku had never forced his way into his life, never forced his way into his heart and soul.  Whichever Shouto may exist there must be a sad, lonely Shouto indeed.

Izuku takes another heaving breath, and it snaps Shouto out of his stupor.  He moves then, gently placing his right hand on his friend’s shoulder, “Izuku?”

The touch causes Izuku to startle, a choked gasp ripping from his throat.  Izuku lowers his own arm, slowly, carefully, as if he’s afraid to make any sort of sudden movement.  

Shouto can see that the skin surrounding Izuku’s eyes is already growing red and puffy.  Tears leak down his cheeks and dampen his curls, and his voice rasps from disuse when he whispers, “ Shouto ?” 

Shouto hums in response, and Izuku suddenly looks like he’s about to break apart all over again.  Carefully, Shouto reaches forward and takes Izuku’s scarred, knobby fingers in his right hand, and asks, “Are you alright?”

Izuku tries to pull away, but when Shouto shakes his head and grips just a bit tighter, he doesn’t actually put up a fight, and instead, curls his fingers around Shouto’s own.  

If he truly wants to pull away, he can, and Shouto will let him go without question… after all, Izuku isn't always so tactile. Some days he still cowers in on himself, and flinches away from touch.

Shouto will never judge him for that.

But he also refuses to let that casual abundance of physical affection that had slowly built up between them crumble away because some sick bitch with a mental quirk violated his best friend.  He refuses to let Izuku feel like he’s alone in this, to be overridden with guilt, to pull away because he thinks he doesn’t deserve kindness or forgiveness.

Because Shouto knows that’s exactly what Izuku must be thinking right now. 

I hurt you.  I hurt Kacchan.  And-and Aizawa…”  Izuku breathes, “I could have killed all of you.”

“But you didn’t.  We’re all still alive.  Bakugou and Aizawa were both in here earlier to check on you too.”

Izuku looks shocked, like it can’t possibly be true. “Why?  You should- I shouldn't- Why aren’t-why aren’t you afraid of me?”

“Should I be?” 

Yes!  I- Shouto , I can remember everything I did, and I don’t even know why I did it . It felt good, but I swear, I'd never-but I did!   I just- what if-what if it happens again, what If I- what if I’m not really me-”

Shouto knows he’s bad at this.  Bad at the encouragement and support and comfort side of friendship.  But for Izuku, he’ll try.  He wants to.  He wants to chip away and knock down those barriers his friend is so good at building up, braid and weave all those fraying insecurities into something warm and new, rip away the pain of all those secrets that dig and tear at him-

So he slowly releases Izuku’s hand and then carefully moves to sit on the edge of his hospital bed.  He reaches up, cupping both of his friend’s cheeks with his palms, careful to keep his quirk perfectly neutral on both sides, and leans forward to look him square in the eyes.  He tilts Izuku's head back, then slowly side to side.  Searching.

There’s not a speck of gold to be found.

Izuku's power is terrifying, sure.  Whatever had taken him over even more so... But so was his overwhelming capacity for love and kindness.  His drive.  His ability to sniff out problems and initiate change.  A small part of Shouto has, and probably will always be afraid of all of that. 

But Izuku himself?  

“That's stupid.  Don't be dumb.  You’re you, and I could never be afraid of you.”

Izuku begins crying in earnest again, and Shouto doesn’t really know what to do, just that he wants to do something.  So he thinks about what his friends have taught him since Izuku drew them all into his life.  He thinks of Iida’s small, warm smiles, Asui’s gentle, but firm encouragement, and Uraraka’s enthusiastic comfort.

He thinks of what they might do.  He thinks of what Izuku might do.

“Do you… would you like a hug?”

 Izuku goes stock still for a few seconds before shakily reaching up to slowly wrap his own, trembling arms tightly around Shouto’s middle.  A bit caught off guard himself, Shouto’s brain short circuits for a moment before he pulls himself together and slides his arms around Midoriya’s shoulders in response.    

“It’s going to be ok, Izuku.”    Shouto truly believes that, even if it's clear that Izuku does not.  That's fine.  Hell keep insisting it's true, as long as it takes, because that's what Izuku would do too, "You're you ."

He can feel Midoriya’s stuttered exhale against his skin, can feel his curls brush and tickle his cheek and the way his fingers fist the back of his shirt.  The tension doesn't quite bleed from Izuku’s shoulders, but he does sag a bit as he buries his face in the crook of Shouto’s neck and weeps.