WE COME TO ANOTHER CHAPPPAAATAAAAH. Which I almost forgot to post. I'm a dumb butt.
Either way, this is an unusually... fluffy chapter for me. Almost like I'm prepping ya'll for something...
Ahh well! Read on ma peeps!
Izuku woke earlier than the rest of his classmates. Well, it was hard to really say he woke earlier. It was more like he got about four hours of sleep before his body woke up and decided it was refreshed enough.
What bothered him wasn't that he had woken up so early, it was that he knew he didn't need any more rest. The amount of sleep he had been getting was slowly tapering off, bit by bit.
He knew this was bound to happen though. Their path to true unity would result in changes to his body, changes he couldn't stop.
And maybe changes to his soul, too.
He lay there for some time in the communal bedroom, surrounded by the still sleeping bodies of his male classmates. He had dared to look to his phone in that time even though Aizawa-sensei had issued a very stern 'no phones after lights out' rule.
Though he wondered if it counted if Aizawa himself was asleep.
By the time five-forty in the morning rolled around, he decided he'd had enough of dank hero memes and decided to get up. He could do some morning meditation and prepare himself for the day. The sun would be rising soon, and he had always meditated to its morning rays.
Besides, might as well get it in now while it was still quiet.
He moved like a ghost through the pathway of sleeping bodies and had almost gotten to the door before he heard movement. He quietly cursed, even though he'd been sure he hadn't made a sound.
Izuku turned back to see Fumikage slowly stirring. He had been placed closer to the sliding door than Izuku and through the dark Izuku could see him easily.
Though maybe that was because from the second he had woken up he had felt Nemesis wash into his blood, a gentle fire that settled into every atom of his being. It was like that every morning. From the second their eyes opened, their work on true unity began. Nemesis would not leave his system, not for anything.
And Izuku didn't want them to. Not anymore.
Fumikage sat up, rubbing his eyes before suddenly noticing the dark, horned, and tailed figure standing by the door. For a moment, his crimson gaze widened before he relaxed and looked around.
"Why are you awake?" He hissed as loudly as he dared.
"Why are you awake?"
Fumikage frowned before climbing to his feet, carefully avoiding the snoring Denki right next to him, "Let's get outside first."
Izuku nodded and, a moment later, the two boys had slipped out of the sliding door and into the dark corridor. As they walked away from the sleeping students, they began talking again.
"So, you didn't answer my question."
"I wake early each day to meditate and balance my soul."
"Oh!" Izuku's eyes widened, "Me too! We should do it together!"
"How long have you been practicing?" Fumikage asked as they approached the main door.
"Not too long, it's part of Hawk's 'soul calming' routine. I do Tai Chi too."
Fumikage nodded and gave him a small smile, "I see. If I had known, I would have told you to take it up far earlier. I've been practicing the ancient arts since I was a child."
Izuku smiled back as they opened the door and the two were greeted with the twilight world of the pre-morning forest. The air was crisp and sharp and smelled faintly of the morning dew. Already birds sang in the distant trees, and there wasn't a cloud in the vast open sky.
"It wouldn't of worked, I needed to come to terms with Nemesis before-"
They both stopped and looked forward, their eyes wide.
Before them was a very still Ibara.
Even in the near-gloom, Izuku could see the sudden move from shock to anger in her eyes. She seemed to be wearing little more than a loose t-shirt and some sweatpants, without even wearing shoes, though that didn't stop her from turning on the two with her hair whipping out around her.
"What are you doing here?" Her voice was cold iron, though Izuku's pointed ears twitched as he picked up something extra in her tone.
This wasn't her usual irritation at his very existence. This was… something more. She was annoyed that they were here. Now.
He frowned just a little as he processed this.
"It seems we're not going to be allowed to meditate in peace." Fumikage spoke loud enough for Ibara to hear, but his voice was still a low, irritated grumble, "Will I get no peace for my troubled soul for the next seven nights?"
"If you're here to stop me from my morning exercises I assure you I will not stand for it."
Izuku sighed, even as he felt Nemesis angrily flare within his blood. While Izuku had come to tolerate Ibara, Nemesis had never quite come around.
Though without her faith, she was far less threatening.
"Look, I'm just here to do my meditation and Tai Chi." Izuku put his hands up, "We're not here to pick a fight, it's way too early for that."
"He speaks the truth." Fumikage added, with a nod, "Balancing the soul is essential on the road we walk. It helps mediate the light and the dark. Surely even your God would agree such a thing is worthy of praise."
"You two practice Tai Chi?"
They both nodded.
She made a low, exhausted sound, screwed up her eyes, and pinched at the bridge of her nose. "The damned seem intent on destroying the practices of the good."
"I don't think Tai Chi is good or bad, I think it's just… a thing? People can do?" Izuku offered with a wobbly smile before a quick, and deadly look from the girl shut him up.
She said nothing. For a moment she simply stood with her vine-hair curling around her and Izuku wondered if she would form a weapon to attack or storm off in disgust.
He was shocked when she did neither. Slowly she straightened up, her hair relaxing, though it didn't relax completely. Izuku was sure that Ibara was truly incapable of relaxing completely. It seemed a constant state of war-readiness had been drilled into her, like a soldier who had returned from the front line and didn't know how to re-adjust to civilian life.
"… fine. Do what you want. I will find a different spot to exercise."
"No, you won't."
The new voice cut through the crisp morning air like a thrown dagger and the teenagers turned to see Aizawa by the door. How he'd opened the door without them hearing or noticing, well, no one was quite sure. Especially not Izuku who would have thought he'd hear him coming a mile away.
Though perhaps he had been outside the entire time, just hidden from sight.
Either way, his tail twitched as he thought about what his teacher could have heard.
"Strictly speaking, no student should be out of their beds at this hour." A small, sly smile cross his face as he walked over to the three of them, his hands in his pockets, "However, since you're all here to perform a task I happen to know a lot about, I suppose I can make an exception."
He stopped before them and Izuku felt his eyes lingering on him for a moment.
Did he know? How could he know? No, surely, he didn't. This was just Tai Chi, people did it all the time for a thousand different reasons.
"You can meditate and do your Tai Chi under my watch. I might even offer suggestions on where you can improve, should I see fit to do so."
"Aizawa-sensei." Ibara took a step forward, her hands clasped together as if in prayer, "I implore you, please do not let me work alongside these… nonbelievers."
There was a momentary pause as Aizawa's eyes narrowed. "Does being a Christian stop you from working with others? Would you say that to a Muslim? Or a Jew?"
"No, of course not! It's just- well-"
"You will all go through your routines here. It's-" he glanced at his wristwatch, "ten to six in the morning. Mao time. Lay out your space and start your exercises."
Izuku felt a flutter of fire within his blood and had to suppress a wolfish grin as he saw the irritation on Ibara's face. While he didn't say it out loud, he internally agreed within his inner self.
"Serves her right, stuck up Evangelist."
Aizawa had watched carefully as the group moved through their forms. He knew them well, they were beginner forms, but his students seemed familiar with them. They had been doing this for some time, it seemed.
He had said nothing as they had flowed gracefully through each movement, though when they were finished, he bluntly told Fumikage to tighten up his grasping bird's tail, Ibara needed to focus on her single whip, and Izuku seemed too eager to slide through his creeping snake pose.
But overall? He was rather impressed and instructed them to be out again by the next morning, where he could continue to instruct them.
He had been surprised to see any of them out that early, though in his time at UA he had become used to waking up early to hunt down students who thought they could get away with some rule-breaking before the others woke.
He'd caught students smoking, drinking, and more than a few lovers with their shirts off. He knew they were teenagers, and teenagers were prone to hormones, but at a summer training camp? Seriously?
He'd expelled them all on the spot, of course.
This, however, was the first time he'd ever found three students sneaking out to do Tai Chi, and had he would quietly admit to himself it was a pleasant surprise.
At least he didn't have to expel them.
After they'd finished, he had volunteered them to go help him set out the breakfast tables, which the three students looked positively thrilled to do. And by thrilled, they were clearly exasperated.
Well, they had to have some punishment for sneaking out.
Either way by the time the sun was finally starting to rise above the tree line, the other students were piling, sleepy-eyed, and exhausted into the canopied eating area. Once they had filled their stomachs, class one-A and class one-B were sent their separate ways as Ken lead his students to one area and Aizawa to another.
He knew what Kan was like. Methodical and strict. His methods were based on proven structures and harsh discipline, though Aizawa had always believed that such teaching methods made uncreative and inflexible heroes.
Kan meanwhile pointed out that Aizawa's more improvisational and personalized methods produced unruly and chaotic heroes who often clashed with the system they were being trained to protect.
Aizawa quietly believed his method was superior. The ability to think outside the box was becoming increasingly important in a world where All Might was slowly fading, if only behind the scenes. Eventually, these kids would have to take up that mantle, and they had big shoes to fill.
He led his students, most of them only half-awake, through the forest to an open spot where several pieces of equipment were set up.
"Throughout the year we've been teaching you the fundamentals of teamwork, basic hero operations, and preparing your mind and bodies for the work ahead. However, we've kept off refining the use of your quirks. Until now."
Aizawa couldn't stop a small grin forming on his lips, "Here, we're going to stretch your quirks to their absolute limits and beyond. You're going to make them stronger, one way or another, and it's going to be done through blood, sweat, and tears."
He noticed many worried looks in the class, though a few were excited. His eyes landed on Izuku Midoriya.
Izuku seemed… thoughtful. A surprise. He would have thought Izuku's seemingly innate lust for fighting would be overjoyed at the thought of pushing his terrible quirk to its absolute limits, despite the danger in the task.
Yet, if anything, the boy seemed almost distracted.
His eyes narrowed. Well, hopefully, he'd fix that.
He soon directed the students to their various pieces of equipment. Shoto was to continually use his ice and fire as quickly as possible in order to strengthen his ability to switch between the two. More physical-based quirks, like Eijiro and Sato, were sent to go literally smash rocks. Momo was sent to go consume food while mass-producing items and Tenya was sent to run. Constantly. At full speed.
He had a flicker of pity for Fumikage, who was ordered into an almost pitch-black cave and told to use Dark Shadow to better control him in the dark. The boy seemed absolutely terrified of the prospect until Aizawa had pointed out a switch on the wall which he could use to turn on a series of halogen lights that lined the cave.
That at least seemed to provide some minor comfort.
He had saved his most troublesome, and troubling, student until last.
"So where do I go?" Izuku asked, "I could train with Eijiro or do what Shoto is doing or-"
"No." The teacher shut him down quickly, "Come with me," and he beckoned the boy with one hand. Dutifully, Izuku followed behind him, his long, black, pointed tail bobbed as he walked and his ears twitched to the sound of the forest.
He caught his expression, one of confinement and concern, especially as Izuku glanced back at his classmates before, together, they vanished into the forest, becoming truly isolated.
After a few moments of silent walking, they came out onto a small, grassless copse with several raised stone plinths. A long line had been drawn in the dirt, and with a quick command, Aizawa told Izuku to stop.
The boy did as he was told, looking on with a confused expression.
The teacher walked over to behind one of the plinths and began to draw out three small candles.
"You use your fire like a blunt weapon. You need to fine-tune it. Therefore, you're going to spend all day standing right where you are now and use your quirk to set the candles on fire."
Quirk. Why did that always sound so wrong on his tongue when it came to Izuku?
"… that's kind of easy," Izuku quickly announced before panicking and adding, "I mean, I'm not arguing or anything! But, like, lighting three small candles?"
Aizawa held back a smirk. "Try it."
He moved back to Izuku's side and stood with his hands in his pockets.
Izuku held out his arm and Aizawa watched as that strange shadow-skin grew across his hands and up to his elbow. His hands shifted into those demonic-looking claws and instantly his scars turned that bright, unholy blue.
It was so easy for him to attach words like 'demonic' and 'unholy' to Izuku. He tried not to blame himself, after all, the boy seemed to have embraced it. His costume was something ripped out of Paradise Lost, along with his naturally impish appearance.
And his hero name, Morningstar. It all seemed to support the dark hero theme that Izuku was aiming for.
Izuku let out a sudden blast of fire that tore across the air before him. Even standing beside Izuku, Aizawa could feel the wash of heat that came from the blue flame. It hit the first candle with a boom, though the plinth remained standing.
The candle, however, did not.
It was not just blown off, but utterly melted and splattered across the ground behind it.
"… ah, well, that was just a warm-up!" Izuku looked back to his teacher and flashed a nervous, yet sharp-toothed, smile. "I'll get it!"
"You have the rest of the time here to get it. The goal is a more precise and focused control over your flame. Get to it." With that, he turned and went to walk away. He had other students to monitor after all, even if the Pussycats were lending a hand.
Yet, before he had taken even three steps, he paused and looked back over his shoulder.
He watched as Izuku held out his arm, his palm up and his eyes narrowing in focus. There was another burst of flame and the fire leaped out, but again, like a hungry swarm, it blanketed the candle reducing it to nothing more than a pile of melted wax.
The teenager huffed in annoyance and aimed for the third one.
"Remember your Tai Chi."
The boy almost stumbled in surprise before turning and looking at his teacher.
"Tai Chi is all about flow. You're trying to increase the intensity and accuracy of your fire. Use that flow to assist your aim," Aizawa turned to face him properly. "Didn't Hawks teach you that?"
"Well, I mean, he was helping me get the basics down," Izuku admitted as he looked back to the candle. "I guess I still need to fine-tune everything."
"I'm not going to lie, I was considering moving you to general studies if you didn't improve over your work placement," Aizawa announced in a cold tone, causing Izuku to look back to him with wide eyes. "And when you came back I was pleased to see you'd made significant progress. However, I wondered how Hawks had done it."
He moved back beside Izuku and looked to the last candle on the final plinth, "Tai Chi and meditation. I didn't think it would be that simple. I still don't."
Izuku's mouth dropped open. He was clearly shocked. Good. Aizawa wasn't going to accuse him of anything, not right now. He had no evidence of anything, after all.
However, he would probe him.
He had tried spying on Hokori the day before the trip. After all, if he were going to meet up with Izuku that would be the time, but it had come to nothing. Hokori had entered his apartment block and had apparently not left it. Aizawa thought he saw him leave but it was some woman with similar colored hair.
And he couldn't imagine Hokori going as far as to wear a dress to avoid him.
So, when he found out Hokori had made his way to the police station after Hitoshi's run-in with Shigaraki, he was shocked. He had somehow escaped the apartment despite Aizawa's monitoring of every exit. He must have known he was being watched, but how?
And of course, Toshinori had told him everything Hokori had said to him. The man was playing games with them both and seemed to be getting bolder with his statements. Yet Izuku remained the mystery. Did he know, or didn't he?
He refocused on the student beside him.
"Not that I'm discounting it. You needed something to center you and if it helps then fine, do whatever you need to do to get a handle on your quirk. However," He looked back to the boy, who hadn't paled but he most certainly did not look calm.
His eyes were hard and dark.
"I don't think that's all of it. So, problem child, want to tell me what it was?"
Izuku remained silent, and part of Aizawa's heart sank. It wasn't an admission, but it was something. It was silence. And silence almost always meant one thing.
He knew. He was involved.
He was almost about to demand an answer, purely out of some deep-seated anger that one of his own students had been compromised by some… secret which was corrupting him.
That, and a fearful disgust that history was once again repeating itself before his eyes.
But then Izuku spoke.
"I had to talk to Nemesis."
The answer was so surprising that Aizawa almost didn't believe it. Yet the fierceness in the teenager's eyes spoke more than volumes.
"I had to… I had to come to terms with it. With myself. I'm not going to tell you how, I'm sorry, sensei, but that's between me and Hawks. But that's what I needed to finally turn everything around. It was always on me, always. Everything I ever did before was just… it was my fault."
"No, sensei. It was my fault. All the pain I caused. All the hurt, all the damage. But I had to accept that, I had to accept all my failures because without doing so I couldn't begin to learn and understand and heal."
Aizawa's eyes narrowed. This was not the kind of wisdom a teenager should possess and he could almost hear Hawks speaking the words to him. Yet he couldn't deny it made sense. All of it did.
"That's what Hawks truly taught me. To accept myself for who I am." He sighed and his eyes looked over to the way they had walked in. "Even if… even if it makes me different from everyone else. Even if it sets me apart…" There was another moment of silence before Izuku looked back to his teacher, "I'm sorry if I worried you, sensei. I didn't mean to hold anything back."
"Hawks is very protective over you," Aizawa replied in a toneless voice, hiding the mixed emotions he felt within him. "He told me so. He seems to think you'll change the world."
"Yeah, well," Izuku shrugged, "people keep saying that. I just want to be myself and do what I can to help fight the darkness."
Help fight the darkness. Not fight crime, not defeat villains, but fight the darkness. It sounded like something Hawks would say. It sounded like something Hokori would say.
But he knew he had pushed his luck as far as it would go.
Besides, he was quite serious about getting Izuku to focus on the use of his fire.
"Alright. Just so you know, I don't hold what happened in the past against you as long as you're learning from your mistakes. Keep working, I'll check up on you in a while. You can replace your own candles. I trust you'll only use your fire from this spot. If you run out, find me or one of the Pussycats."
He turned and walked away, back towards the main group of students. Behind him came the wooshes of flame firing out of the hand of the young hero.
For some reason, that word didn't sit quite right with Izuku. Not much sat right with Izuku. He was truly the dark star of the classroom, a shadow force that operated with different rules, maybe even different values, but ultimately for the same goal as the others.
What truly worried Aizawa, deep inside, was that it wouldn't matter what lessons he taught to Izuku. It wouldn't matter how hard he tried to shape him into a hero, into someone others could look to for protection or hope.
It wouldn't matter, because, as his hand drifted over the Star of David hidden under his shirt, it felt as though Izuku's destiny was already being carved out for him.
And it was one that would lead him far from those around him.
By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted. Even Izuku felt exhausted.
And much to his annoyance, not a single candle had been properly lit. Throughout the day he had become more and more frustrated, though his aim had become narrower and more accurate. What was bothering him was that every use of his flame was like a devastating blast. Even if it was a very focused blast, it was still a blast.
When he had finally let a deeply irritated Nemesis retreat into his blood, he had felt a wave of low-grade nausea wash over him. He was almost tempted to let Nemesis reinvigorate him with that endless, unholy energy, but knew it wouldn't help.
It'd only make him feel worse later on, and it was better to simply endure it now and recover over the night.
He'd been more than eager to meet back up with his friends again. Working alone had felt… isolating, which was a feeling he had grown out of the habit of experiencing. He didn't like being alone with the sounds of others echoing in the background.
Though the thought had crept over him that this was how the future may well turn out. He was being pulled further towards the world of the Celestials, and away from the world of humans.
And he wasn't resisting.
But… he didn't want to leave his friends behind, even if the thought had occurred to him that maybe he wouldn't have any choice.
When he had heard the final bell, he had practically sprinted back through the forest despite the tiredness he felt. His friends looked similarly drained and Fumikage especially looked shell shocked, though he had, when asked, said he had made some progress in harnessing Dark Shadow in the darkness of the cave.
Though Izuku couldn't help but notice he did not bring his demonic familiar out for the rest of the night.
They had been forced to cook their own meals with the ingredients being helpfully provided for them. Both classes participated, and it turned into something of a competition thanks to Neito's loud commentary.
Either way, they both ended up making curries, and while a few friendly students from either class debated and compared the two, class one-A's was spicier while class one-B's was more hearty, it didn't seem like either side truly cared.
The curry was consumed with the hunger that only the hard-working could know.
Izuku himself shoveled food into his mouth with an eagerness that surpassed even the people around him. He had wondered if being half Fallen meant he could somehow eat more, after all, could certainly drink more, and he had put that theory to the test to mixed results.
Next time he met up with Lucifer, he would be sure to ask.
Soon they were packing up, after being told that they also had to pick two students clean the dishes. Thankfully, this was, again, separated by class. So, while he could spot Setsuna and Neito, he didn't have to directly interact with either of them.
He and Hitoshi had been chosen to wash the dishes for their class. Which was fine by Izuku as it meant he wouldn't have to do it for the rest of the week. Might as well get it out the way now.
However, as Izuku handed Hitoshi another wet dish to dry, he couldn't help but notice the dour look on his friend's face. Glancing to the others, who were happily chatting away, he hissed, "What's wrong?"
Hitoshi seemed to look up as if coming out of some daydream before blinking at Izuku and shaking his head. "It's nothing."
"Dude, come on,=." Izuku raised an eyebrow as he handed him another dish, "Are you taking things out of my playbook now?"
"You're the one who's refusing to talk about your feelings." Hitoshi frowned, "You've barely mentioned what you and you know who got up to over the weekend."
"Because that was private," Izuku hissed back, a slight flare bouncing through his blood before he sighed it back down. "Seriously, we just talked and hung out and… stuff. Boring family time things, you know?"
He certainly wasn't about to admit he had maybe, but not really, but maybe agreed to torture the demon who had almost kidnapped him as a child as a twisted form of father-son bonding.
Hitoshi didn't respond for a moment before stating, "That kid, Kota, the young one, with the Pussycats? I saw him leave halfway through dinner."
Izuku blinked at this. "… where'd he go?"
Hitoshi shrugged, "I dunno."
Izuku thought for a second, "Maybe we can take him some curry."
The taller teenager seemed to pause at this, as if considering Izuku's words before nodding, a tiny smile ghosting his lips. "Good."
"For a moment I wondered if I'd have to go out there on my own. It would have taken me a while to search the entire forest for one kid."
Izuku couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Like I'd let you go walking around alone. I'm not that evil. Even if I'm half-Fallen."
There was the sound of a dropped dish from the other side of the canvas and the two boys looked over to see Neito hissing something at Setsuna, who seemed to be missing an ear.
"… and we should probably make sure they don't find a way to spy on us."
They set off not long after. Sure, it was technically sneaking out, but they had some free time before bed and no one would suspect they had wandered off so long as they were back before Aizawa wrapped up his extra lessons for the students who had failed the exam.
Even as they made their way to the exit Setsuna had made an 'I'm watching you' gesture with her fingers, which Hitoshi had simply made back in turn. She had then shrugged with an unimpressed look on her face.
This was then followed by Setsuna detaching an ear and an eye, which began floating after them.
What followed was a bizarre chase before the two had dived out a window and dashed into the safe darkness of the forest, finally ditching the creepy spying appendages.
Surprisingly, it hadn't taken long to find Kota, not with a small boost from Nemesis.
Izuku had stood still as he, for only a second, had listened to every sound in the forest. Every fall of a leaf, every crunch of paw on grass, every flicker from the flowing streams and burrowing insects.
… and there, far off and distant, the sound of shoes on rock.
So, with Hitoshi carrying a bowl of food, they had set off into the dark. Izuku was, again, tempted to allow Nemesis to flow. To boost his eyesight so he could see the dark as clear as day. But he found he really didn't need to. Spending a lifetime in the gloom had caused his eyes to adjust naturally.
Or maybe that was just one of the more permanent side effects of being half-Celestial.
It helped that the distance wasn't too far either. Only a couple of minutes from the Pussycats HQ. It was a fair climb though, a steep uphill tick until they got to what looked to be the edge of a sudden cliff drop.
The wind was stiff and sharp there, rushing up the bare rock to wash over the top. Yet the night above was clear, with distance stars twinkling and the waning moon above casting a haunted, yet to Izuku welcome, glow over the world.
The young boy heard them coming and was on his feet as the two teenagers rounded the corner. There was a small area, enough that maybe two or three people could stand together comfortably. Behind Kota was what looked to be the entrance to some small cave, with a split in the cliff rock serving as an entrance.
Above it, carved into the rock, was a simple and childishly done 'Get Lost'.
"Hey! What are you doing here?" The young boy's hands gripped into fists and his surprisingly dark eyes blazing in the shadow of the moonlight. His gaze seemed to linger more on Izuku, and Izuku found didn't have to have super-vision to see the boy was cautious of him.
"We brought you some food," Hitoshi began. "Thought you-"
"Can't you read?" Kota cut in suddenly. "The sign says get lost!"
"Well we couldn't read that from the bottom of the cliff," Izuku said, unable to stop himself. "But, you know, if you're hungry, you can-"
"I don't want you here!" The boy snapped again, "So just go away!"
"Fine," Hitoshi replied with a shrug. "More curry for us I guess."
In the past, Izuku might have thought Hitoshi was seriously giving up. His tone of voice was almost unreadable at the best of times. But he knew Hitoshi, he knew his tricks.
And this was one of them.
Thankfully, Izuku had also learned to play along.
"We'll just get going," Izuku replied flatly. "Hey, Hitoshi, maybe I can fly us back to-"
"Wait, you're just leaving? Just like that?" Kota asked, causing the two teenagers to look back at him. His eyes were still angry, but now clearly confused. "I thought you were trying to be heroes or something?"
"Yeah?" Hitoshi raised an eyebrow. "And?"
"Heroes don't let people starve."
"Oh, so you do want the curry."
Kota went to reply, but his stomach growled so suddenly and so loudly that a blush ran across his cheeks. "That's not- look just- just leave it and go!"
"You know it's cold, I can warm it up for you," Izuku offered, taking the opportunity with Hitoshi to move closer to the boy.
"… fine," Kota grumbled.
Hitoshi gave a small nod to Izuku and held the bowl out to him. Izuku took it and then held another hand under it. While he couldn't focus his flame enough to light a candle from a distance, he could hold it in his grasp for a few seconds before it became bothersome.
And, usually, that was all he needed.
"This'll only take a few seconds-"
As he had held his hand out, he'd allowed Nemesis to spread unlight over his skin. It was only expected, after all, otherwise, he might burn himself as he had done in the past.
However, the second his minor transformation had happened, Kota had reacted sharply. He bolted back, moving towards the cave entrance, his eyes wide and staring as he looked to Izuku.
And Izuku's heart sank as he recognized the undeniable look of fear.
"YOU'RE A MONSTER! YOU'RE JUST LIKE HE WAS!"
Izuku felt an old hurt punch into his gut and even as he backed away, he felt the disbalance of his soul. It was almost a physical sensation, like a knife driven between his ribs.
"How dare he-"
"Izuku, stand back," Hitoshi quickly stepped forward, putting an arm out in front of his friend.
"Dude," Hitoshi fixed him with that look. The look that spoke of an understanding and awareness that Izuku knew he lacked. It was his hero look, the one that made him seem so grounded and strong.
Though it did little to stop the hurt and bubbling anger deep in Izuku's core.
He handed the bowl back and stepped away, holding his hands up in surrender as the unlight faded.
Though his tail curled in irritation behind him.
"He's not a monster." Hitoshi announced as he stepped towards the boy, "He's my friend. And he's going to be a hero."
"But- but he- he looks like…" Kota trailed off, his eyes still wide and staring at Izuku before he fixed his gaze onto Hitoshi, "He looks like the monster that killed my parents."
Izuku's anger vanished. In its place was a terrible, awful dread. A dread that knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that this child had become another victim of the throne he was set to inherit.
The world of shadow had clawed lives from the world of light and left its rending scars on a child barely old enough to go to school.
Hitoshi took another step forward and knelt before him. "He's not that monster. He's not any kind of monster."
"My name is Izuku Midoriya," Izuku suddenly cut in, refusing to stay silent, refusing to let another defend him. Not at least when he could at least try to defend himself. "And I'm…" What was he? The Prince of Hell? The Morningstar Reborn?
So much of his identity was now wrapped up in the shadows of Hell.
He had taken so much of it into himself, that he had forgotten what Hell was to most people. A place of the damned, of darkness, of fear.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry to hear about your parents."
"You know they were heroes?" Kota snapped as he looked over at Izuku, finding his courage so long as Izuku stayed back. "HEROES! And they died! They died because a thing that- that had that shadow-quirk like yours killed them!" The boy pointed as he shouted, but to Izuku, it might as well have been a spear to the chest.
"It is not our fault if his parents fell prey to a demon," Nemesis hissed through his mind. "We cannot be guilty for him."
No, he didn't feel guilty for it. Only sadness. Sadness for the loss, for the child's life, left to simmer in resentment.
For a hurt he couldn't heal.
"If- if they hadn't tried to help, they'd still be here. And now I see someone like you working to be one of them." Kota practically shook with anger as he glared at Izuku. "You're all pathetic! Running around, killing one another! Heroes and villains with your horrible, awful quirks that make you into monsters! You're all just… pathetic!"
The wind howled up the bare, craggy cliff face.
"I don't think it's pathetic for monsters to want to be heroes."
Izuku turned, just as Kota did, to look at Hitoshi. The teenager stood tall, his hair rustling in the wind but his eyes almost glowing in the dark. A deep, royal purple, the color of kings and emperors.
The color of leaders.
"I think it's admirable. Imagine if you were born with a quirk that made you look like a monster, or maybe a quirk that was so horrible you never wanted to use it because you feared what it would do to people. Would you hide it away forever? Always scared of what might happen if you dared let it out for a second? Or would you work your hardest to master it, to make that terrifying part of you something strong and good. Something that could bring hope to others, even in their darkest moments?"
Kota was silent. Izuku was silent. Nemesis was silent.
Hitoshi sighed suddenly and looked away from the boy, his eyes scanning the great valley that opened before them. "Sorry, but I just think you're wrong to blame Izuku for something he can't help. You're wrong to blame quirks because quirks alone don't make people who they are. Hearts do. Souls do. But not quirks. Quirks are just another part of the equation. And if someone uses them for good or evil, well, they can never say 'my evil quirk made me do it', because humanity isn't a quirk. Humanity is just something you have or something you don't, and if you keep thinking quirks are evil, well, you might just be throwing that part of your humanity away."
Kota seemed gobsmacked. He looked at Hitoshi with wide, staring eyes, and honestly, Izuku felt much the same.
It was moments like these that reminded him why Hitoshi was the chosen one, the successor to All Might.
He doubted anyone else deserved it more than Hitoshi Shinsou.
"Come on, dude, let's go. Hanging out on a cliff ain't my scene," Hitoshi announced as he placed the curry down, turned, and walked back towards Izuku. "Let's leave the kid in peace."
"R-right." Izuku barely spoke the words as Hitoshi walked, calmly, past him. Izuku gave one last look to Kota, who seemed to be standing, glaring at the both of them, before following after his friend.
"What do you mean you lost them?"
"They ran out of a window! And it's dark out there. I can't see in the dark, you know," Setsuna lay onto the floor, her hands under her head and her eyes closed with a frown fixed on her brow. "I'm good but not that good."
"They could be doing anything to that poor child," Ibara sighed softly and raised her hand up, her finger pressing against her lower lip thoughtfully. "The agents of darkness never cease their wicked work."
"Or, here me out, they could just be taking that kid some food," Neito offered. He was leaning against the wooden wall, his hand resting limply on his raised knee. "You said yourself he's not as evil as you thought he is."
"He's evil," Katsuki grumbled out. He was sitting crossed legged, his arms folded tight. "I've seen it myself."
"He is on the side of Hell, yes," Ibara mused without looking to any of her friends. And yes, they were her friends, despite how new and odd that sounded to her. "But he is… different. I cannot figure out his motives."
She had decided a while back that she needed to call them her friends, even if they were the most rag-tag group of friends anyone could ask for. But they were her rag-tag group of friends. The Ecclesiarch Rion would have never approved of any of them, except perhaps of Katsuki. But Ecclesiarch Shizuka, as she had been promoted following the death of the old Ecclesiarch, had already told her she wanted to meet all of them.
They had yet to make the trip to the Church. She was still… considering it. Especially since Setsuna was such a recent addition, though she had been closer to her than most other classmates before she had officially joined the group.
Was she really thinking of it as a group now? Oh Lord above, she was in too deep.
Outside the night sky was black, a void in which only the twinkling sparkles of stars could be seen. They had an hour before lights out, and while most students seemed to spend it talking about their day, mingling with their friends or texting their families, the small group of Ibara, Katsuki, Neito, and Setsuna had taken to hanging out within the class 1-B boy's communal sleeping room.
If only because right now, it was completely empty. She knew they could get in trouble if people caught them there, but they needed privacy and besides, it wasn't like they were doing anything improper.
"He does Tai Chi. I don't know if I'm right in assuming this, but I'm going to assume most demons don't do Tai Chi," Neito chuckled and looked to Ibara. "Unless it's really popular in the underworld."
Ibara paused as if considering the question, before seriously replying, "I'm not sure."
"Hey!" Setsuna sat up, grinning suddenly, "Can I do Tai Chi with you? Maybe I can find out something about him!"
Ibara shook her head, "I don't believe-"
"If anyone's doing Tai Chi with her it's me," Katsuki demanded with a growl. "I don't give a fuck if he does Tai Chi, dancing lessons, or fucking slam poetry, I want to know all his moves so I can kick his ass when the time comes."
Neito grinned wide, "Oh, I am so glad you joined our class."
"No way!" Setsuna cut in, "I'm the information girl! I should-" She paused, then her grin became truly wicked, "Oh I see."
"You and Ibara, doing all those fancy moves together as the sun rises behind you?" She sighed and clasped her hands together dramatically, "It's so romantic."
Katsuki turned a bright shade of red, as did Ibara who seemed redder because of the green of her hair. Neito however just burst out laughing.
"How dare you-"
A vine suddenly whipped up and went to slap the back of Setsuna's head, however before it could impact the head popped off at the neck and the vine missed completely. Ibara glared at Setsuna's laughing, floating head before breathing deeply and pushing her embarrassment down.
Whatever she felt for Katsuki, and she did indeed feel… things for Katsuki that were not very Christian, she knew that the mission came first. The mission always came first. That was the goal, that was what she had been raised to do.
Protect the innocent, the weak, and the righteous. Punish the evil, the cruel, and the unholy. Suffer not the demon to live. Even if she was having her... struggles with God, she still had her core values.
"If you wish to join me tomorrow morning, you may," Ibara spoke softly, calmly, and with regal grace.
It helped cover up the sudden butterflies she felt in her stomach.
Katsuki looked to her, his gaze the color of softly glowing embers. For just a second, her eyes traced his scars. She'd heard some of the other girls in class say his scars ruined his good looks. Ibara disagreed. She thought they enhanced them. They gave him an edge of battle-worn danger that any true soldier would appreciate. Looking at them reminded her of his bravery in standing up to evil.
Of course, she felt many things whenever she looked at him, many things she quietly and coolly pushed down into very small bottles and stored on the shelf inside her heart.
"… well, I guess I'll be there," He all but grumbled out before looking away. "Someone's gotta keep an eye on that monster."
"Excellent!" She smiled and it threatened to turn into a grin. She made sure it didn't. "You won't regret it! Tai Chi and meditation have always helped me calm my soul before the day's training. And besides, his form is atrocious and it's greatly amusing to watch him and his possessed acolyte stumble around like children."
"Well can I-"
Neito went to speak, but Setsuna's hand suddenly clamped over his mouth, "Don't ruin this for me, blondie!"
"You're not spying on us, gecko." Katsuki snapped at the girl, apparently having to turn his awkwardness somewhere that wasn't Ibara, "You sleep too late for that anyway."
"I do not!" The girl took her hand from Neito's mouth and put it over her heart, "I am hurt by such an accusation! We cold-blooded types rise bright and early, gotta soak up that warm sun, you know?"
"I had to literally pull you to your feet this morning," Ibara said as a tiny, tiny amused smile graced her lips. "You sleep like a crocodile. And you snore like one too."
"No, I don't!" Setsuna snapped back, flashing her sharp teeth, which really didn't help her case at all. "You lie! And lying is a sin and you're not allowed to sin!"
"She's not lying," Neito chuckled. "I could hear it through the walls. Granted they are rather thin."
This caused even Katsuki to scoff in amusement, and Ibara smiled as she watched Neito and Setsuna bicker at one another.
Her friends. She finally had friends. She had never thought she would be weak enough to need friends, but she had come to realized something. Friends were not a weakness.
Even the Prince of Hell had friends and his friends gave him strength. But that clearly wasn't everything. He had evolved and become something more since returning from his work placement.
She had wondered just what the third rank hero had taught him. Ibara had suspected, at first, that perhaps Hawks was a demon in disguise, perhaps even one of the dreaded Fallen themselves.
But no, in the brief time she had seen the man up close, she was pretty sure he wasn't one of them. He seemed too… regal for that. He had a sort of inner light that she couldn't place, yet still recognized. She had made a mental note to have the Church look into him. Just in case.
She looked to the window for a moment, her heart feeling a little colder for thinking back to that dreadful night. A night which she had paid for by the rose-blossom scar she now had on her shoulder. A permanent reminder to never let her wrath overtake her again.
Sometimes it still hurt. She wasn't sure why.
"Hey, Ibara?" She looked back to see that in her daydreaming, her friends had stood to their feet.
And Katsuki was holding out his hand towards her.
"It's going to be lights-out soon," Neito yawned loudly. "You girls need to get moving. Can't be caught back here, after all." He grinned again, "It wouldn't be very Christian of you."
Ibara frowned at this, but then took Katsuki's hand.
His touch was warm. It was always warm. Comforting and strong and warm.
He pulled her to her feet, and she brushed her dress down. "Neito, if you continue to mock the very belief that saved you from-"
"Hey, wait!" Setsuna suddenly grabbed her around the shoulder and pulled her close. Her hand detached and flew before them, her phone held within its grasp. "One picture of all of us! Before the week starts kicking our ass for real!"
"This is fucking dumb," Katsuki turned to march away. "Get out of the room before I kick you out."
"No way Mr. Grumpyface," Setsuna flashed her wicked, crocodile grin. "You're part of the crew get in here."
Before he could stop him, Neito grabbed Katsuki by the arm and practically yanked him into the picture. There was a click before anyone had a chance to pose and the girl darted away suddenly, "YES! The first official Holy Brigade picture! This is going on the 'gram, baby!"
"Setsuna, you can't just-"
"Here!" Ibara's phone pinged suddenly. "The picture is sent to the group chat!"
"Fucking fine, whatever, now get out of here!" Katsuki demanded as he grabbed onto Setsuna and began dragging her towards the screen door, "You're gonna get us shitcanned, gecko."
"Nighty night, Ibara!" Neito waved as Ibara began following Setsuna out with far more grace than her lizard-like friend.
"Goodnight, Neito," She paused at the door, looking to Katsuki. A tiny smile grew at the corners of her lips, "Goodnight, Katsuki. I'll see you in the morning."
"… whatever. Night." The blonde spoke harshly, though he averted his eyes before drawing the screen door closed.
As they went back to their own common sleeping room, with Setsuna chatting away in her ear, Ibara looked to her phone and the picture that her friend had taken.
There they were, the four of them. Ibara looking quiet and reserved, Setsuna with a huge grin over her face, Katsuki looking pissed, and Neito his hand held up in a peace sign with his arm looped around Katsuki's neck.
And they were hers. Her friends. Her very first friends.
She closed her phone, and with a soft smile, vowed to put aside her worries and fears, just for one week. For this week alone she could focus on her training, on herself, and maybe, just maybe, having a little fun for once.
A tiny part of her heart even wondered if it would be here, amongst the leaves and trees and grass, away from the walls of the Church she now found so tall and stiff and old, maybe she could find the conviction, the true, undeniable faith she had lost.
The forest was God's majesty on display without the complication of humanity. It was a place of growth, a place of renewal, and life.
Why couldn't it be so for her, too?
Setsuna runs a God Squad instagram. It's full of crusader memes and pictures of the crew doing stupid stuff. Ochaco, Hitoshi, Tenya, and Izuku follow it. I don't even know any more.
Also, how did ya'll like Hitoshi's speech? That was one of those one-shot things that I wrote and was like "... wow this came out GREAT". Hitoshi doubts himself, but without knowing it he shows his worth. You can see how this is all shaping up, or so I hope.
And of course, I had to rob the Blue Exorcist 'light the candles' thing. Having those Blue E callbacks is super fun when I can squeeze them in.
SO, another chapter in the bank. Next chapter is still being heavily tweaked but is probably in the alpha stage of being finished. Just some minor things to line up. Also the Heralds attack, small note there. But more importantly, Hitoshi and Izuku talk about aliens. I mean that's why you're really here, right? For the intense alien discussions.
Till next time peeps, thank you for reading, and keep safe!