With many thanks to Greed720 and HardwinPotter for keeping this story from going completely off the rails. This story wouldn't be the same without you two.
Endeavor stood in the middle of the highway, arms crossed, flames billowing out as he fought back the chill of the autumn morning. The wide lanes of concrete had been deserted, families holed up in their homes and businesses boarded up. Everyone battened down for the hurricane about to sweep through the country, and with the airports closed, there was nowhere to run.
A distant rumble disturbed the unnatural silence. Endeavor's eyes narrowed as he saw the first Detnerat truck crest the small hill a mile down the road. More trucks arrived and pulled over, their members spilling out and grabbing their weapons, while the first truck continued forward. As Endeavor lit a fire in his palm, wondering if the truck intended to run him over, the brakes screeched, and the truck lumbered to a stop within inches of his chest.
The driver lumbered out. Bedecked in a Detnerat uniform, the short, beady-eyed man stared up at Endeavor with a scowl. "You're blocking the road."
"I can't let you bring those weapons into the capital," Endeavor said coldly.
The driver snickered. "You can't legally stop us. None of us have committed any crimes, and all of our merchandise was legally purchased. Now, step aside."
"You're right," Endeavor admitted. "I don't have a warrant, and attempting to arrest you without court approval would cost me my job."
The driver spat at his feet and grinned. "Glad we came to an understanding."
As the driver turned, Endeavor grabbed him by the neck. Hoisting him by one arm and letting the flames around his wrist lick at his skin, Endeavor growled, "I already lost my job, remember?"
With a single twitch of his arm, he engulfed the body in flames. The man didn't even have time to scream before his body turned to ash, so thoroughly burnt that not even bones remained. Endeavor winced, ashamed at how easy it had been to erase the man from existence. He tried to brush his hands clean, but the gray, greasy smear on his fingers refused to come off.
Endeavor heard the back of the truck slam open. Condensing fire in his fist, Endeavor unleashed a concentrated torrent of fire at the truck. The windshield vaporized, and the flimsy trailer wall melted instantly. Shrieks of agony came from the truck as burning men and women scrambled onto the pavement. Endeavor burned them all until they fell silent.
While he dealt with the first trailer, dozens more had formed a barricade across the highway. A disorganized mob, armed to the teeth with Detnerat's support gear, formed an incohesive wall. Angry shouts rose at the sight of the burning truck, and their ranks broke apart as the mob sprinted towards him.
Not giving them the chance to come close, Endeavor sent another Hellflame Fist at them. Sweeping left to right, Endeavor burned them down until his flames met resistance. Several water-based Quirks banded together to douse his flames, kicking up a huge plume of steam. With a grunt of effort, Endeavor used his other hand. More screams rose as the superheated steam boiled the MLA members like lobsters.
The water distracted him long enough for the rest of the MLA to get into range. Seeing all the support gear pointed at him, Endeavor bit down the urge to wreath himself in protective flames and kept up the attack. His faith in Nezu was rewarded with confused stares and frustrated thumps on their defective gear.
As Endeavor incinerated his way through the bulk of their forces, the Meta Liberation Army broke and ran. Years of hero work urged him not to strike down the fleeing survivors. Endeavor burned every single one he could find. The back of his throat burned, though whether it was the heat of the fires around him or the bile creeping out of his stomach, he couldn't tell.
After scorching the last of the trucks, Endeavor made a phone call. "It's done."
"Good," Nezu said hurriedly. "Lay low, and I'll call you if I need you."
"Wait, is Shoto still-"
The line went dead. Endeavor slowly lowered the phone and stared around him. Cracked asphalt, the charred wrecks of vehicles, and a landscape of swirling ash surrounded him. Covered in the black, sticky grime of the countless bodies he had just burned, Todoroki Enji snuffed out his flames and walked home.
Curious smiled as, all around her, her media contacts spun out the story of All Might's fall. A scowl crossed her face as Deku clashed with Re-Destro. Even with clever cutting between cameras to diminish the Quirkless hero's performance as much as possible, focusing instead on Re-Destro's face and how every attack of his threatened to crush the smaller hero like an ant, Curious didn't like how much the fight dragged out. He had long passed the point where one could chalk up the hero's continued existence to theatrics.
Still, if the story was already perfect, Curious wouldn't have a job. She could trim out some of the missed punches, cut most of Izuku's futile kicks, leaving just one to emphasize how outmatched he really was, and drag out the single punch that clipped him. That was the art behind mass media. Show the masses choice cuts of the truth, and you could make them believe whatever you wanted.
And if the truth didn't have any snippets for her latest story, she'd make her own. The bombs she littered around the parliament building, hero agencies, and every other place of importance she visited under guise of her job as a reporter would see to that.
A bump on her shoulder snapped her out of her thoughts. She whirled and sent a glare at the unkempt, hunched-over technician carrying a tripod.
"Hey! Watch it, you oaf!"
The technician turned and stared at her with dull, tired eyes with bags under them. "Sorry ma'am. Camera's heavy."
"Drop it and I'll have you fired before you can blink."
"Understood. If you'll excuse me."
Curious ground her teeth at his insolence, but before she could call him back, gasps from the camera control techs caught her attention. Her eyes widened as she saw Re-Destro plunge the needle into his neck.
"What are you fools doing?" she snapped. "Cut to camera four!"
Too little too late. The two-second clip of Re-Destro using Trigger went live to the rest of the world. Curious cursed her leader under her breath, cursed him for insisting that the world watch everything unfold and cursed him for using the last resort, reserved specifically for All Might, against a Quirkless runt.
"That fool. He's ruining the story." Her mind whirled around possible cover-ups. Later clips of Re-Destro's victory will have that moment cut, and piles of bigger news stories will push her leader's slip-up out of their heads.
Curious felt drowsy. Pushing off the sudden exhaustion, she squinted at the cameras. Her vision felt fuzzy, and each breath came heavier than the last.
One technician pitched forward, landing limply on his shoulder. Around her, more and more people fell out of chairs and slumped onto keyboards.
Curious drove her nails into her arms in a desperate bid to stay awake. With a thought, she sent out a command to detonate the bombs she had scattered around the building. Nothing happened.
As her eyes drooped shut, the last thing she saw was the intense red gaze of the sleep-deprived technician, who now sported a gas-mask and a gray scarf.
Skeptic stared at the computer screens in front of him with a sensation of sinking dread. The convoy carrying the bulk of their forces went dark after reporting Endeavor's presence, and Curious missed her check-in two minutes ago.
"No matter," Skeptic told himself. "The old power base has already been swept away. All that remains is to fill the vacuum. Dismantle enough of the hero industry's digital infrastructure, and they'll be powerless to resist."
One computer screen went dark. Skeptic's fingers froze over his keyboard. One after another, more of the screens showing video feeds, financial transactions, and city maps blinked out of existence. Once only darkness remained, the screens lit up, revealing Nezu's face.
"Hello there!" Nezu said brightly.
"Nezu," Skeptic growled. "Nagant killed you."
After a slight pause, Nezu chuckled and said, "Don't feel too bad. The League made the same mistake."
While Nezu spoke, Skeptic eyed the exits. WIthout his security feeds, he couldn't know for sure if anyone was waiting, but he had cameras all around the MLA's headquarters. He had ten minutes at least to slip away and make for one of their safehouses.
"You didn't go through all this trouble to gloat. What are you after? Are you calling to surrender? Offer terms? You have to know that the current administration has already sunk, and the heroes are shackled to its oars. Work with us, and we could make arrangements."
Halfway through Skeptic's offer, Nezu made a show of picking at his claws. As the silence stretched out and Skeptic's patience wore thin, Nezu suddenly looked up and asked, "Tell me, Tomoyasu-san, how long do you think you have to flee? Five minutes? Maybe ten? You do have quite a few cameras set up."
Skeptic felt his stomach sink. Without caring what Nezu saw, Skeptic shoved his laptop into a suitcase and made for the door. When he opened it, the smell of blood stopped him short. Backing away, Skeptic looked down and saw Nezu, standing calmly outside the doorway. His suit had splatters of blood on it, and more dripped from his soaked paws.
"A recording?" Skeptic asked numbly.
"I had to keep you occupied while I cleaned up the rest of your personnel," the recording said. "I know those sewer hatches are too narrow for most people, but you really should've put some motion sensors in there."
"B-but," Skeptic said, face ashen and hands trembling. The suitcase slipped from his fingers with a heavy thump. "You're not supposed to kill, the law-"
"A necessary move on my part, I'm afraid." The real Nezu stepped forward, relishing in Skeptic's panicked movements away from him. "If there's to be any stability after this mess is done, every trace of your wretched army needs to be scoured from this country."
"You can't keep the people oppressed forever," Skeptic snapped. "They will rise again."
"I don't doubt it," Nezu said, nodding. "I only hope that, next time, they'll rise for the right reason. Now, as riveting as this conversation is, I have a war to finish, and I still haven't avenged Power Loader's death."
Once Nezu dealt with Skeptic, he hopped onto the MLA's computers and sifted through the data on the screens. Cracking his joints, Nezu grinned and said, "Time to deal with the rest of you."
Finding Nagant was supposed to be the hard part, Hawks reflected as he crouched behind a giant AC unit. It was pretty hard to miss the gunshot when she shot All Might in the back, from a building just a block from where he had dropped off Ragdoll. She didn't even try to hide either, instead watching him charge straight at her with a storm of feathers trailing in his wake.
Subduing Nagant was supposed to be the easy part. Metal screamed as a deluge of bullets tore into Hawks' flimsy cover. He had noticed the black vial in her arm almost too late to dive below the opening salvo of her mutated machine-gun arm.
The slender, elegant barrel had writhed and split apart into a multi-barreled machine gun monstrosity. Nagant's hair grew as well, billowing out until it dwarfed her body and spooling directly into her arm. And as if the minigun weren't enough, Nagant's other arm sprouted its own barrel, a pistol with nowhere near the rate of fire, but plenty enough stopping power to shatter his feathers.
As a sniper, Nagant never missed. As an anti-air gun on steroids, Nagant couldn't miss. Not when she had enough bullets to instantly blow away any shield he tried to make for himself.
One bullet tore all the way through the AC unit and gouged out a small chunk of his shoulder. Taking his cue to leave, Hawks rolled forward and dove off the roof. On instinct, he dipped his wings and crashed through a window. Moments later, bullets rained down where he had fallen and continued pouring through the ceiling. Sprinting past abandoned cubicles, Hawks reached out to his wayward feathers and brought them up through the building.
"Yo Ragdoll," Hawks panted into his radio. "Any advice on taking down Nagant?"
"Yeah, hold on. You could jam the barrel if you snuck something into her hair, but - wait, hold on, she changed something."
The bullets stopped. Hawks felt a sinking dread in his gut as the office building went deathly silent, aside from the occasional patter of drywall and concrete crumbs falling to the floor below.
Hawks raised his feathers around the sides of the buildings and concentrated. Nagant's multiple barrels had all fused into one, massive artillery piece, but she wasn't pointing it down at him. Instead, she aimed towards the ruined plaza where Re-Destro and All Might had fought.
Hawks frowned. All Might was already out of the fight, wasn't he? So, who was she aiming at?
One stray feather sent him the answer. Izuku Midoriya fought carefully, keeping out of Nagant's line of fire, but that hardly mattered when Nagant could punch straight through a bunker.
Abandoning stealth, Hawks gathered every feather he had and shot towards the roof. Swift as a falcon, Hawks drew his longest, sharpest feather and dove towards Nagant.
A gunshot rang out. Hawks plummeted as the bullet from Nagant's left hand, which she fired without even looking at him, ripped through his right shoulder. The plumage at his back dispersed, his control over them broken. He slammed into the roof shoulder-first, and the impact tore through his mangled shoulder, ripping his arm off and sending the sharpened feather sliding across the roof.
Even as his vision blurred and the pain brought tears to his eyes, Hawks rolled forward, letting his forward momentum carry him towards Nagant. Mustering every ounce of willpower, Hawks called out for a feather, any feather. His fingers clumsily closed around one, and its sharp edge dug into his fingers.
A second shot rang out from Nagant's left hand. Blood gushed from the hole in Hawks' stomach, but still he ran forward.
Nagant hesitated, turned back to look at him. With a bloodied smile, Hawks jammed the feather into her hair. As it got sucked into her shoulder, Nagant fired her right arm. The feather, wedged into the artillery round, got caught on the edge of the barrel. Sent careening off course, the oversized bullet ricocheted off the inside of her arm. Bone shattered, and Nagant's arm burst apart. Blackened blood gushed out as Nagant vainly tried to gush the wound.
"A dog to the Commission, even to the end?" Nagant asked faintly.
Hawks sat next to her and grimaced as his own wounds got jostled. "Nope. Just doing my part as the Number Two hero." He looked down at his mangled body and sighed. "I hope they let me retire after this."
He looked over at Nagant, but she never answered him.
Izuku moved before Re-Destro threw his first punch. A giant black fist rocketed past his chest. Taking advantage of how Re-Destro overcommitted, Izuku slashed along his arm and repositioned behind him. The backhanded blow as Re-Destro whirled nearly took Izuku's head off his shoulders.
As Izuku scrambled away, no longer having the luxury to worry about Nagant's line of sight, he realized that Re-Destro now moved too fast to dodge, and one blow, even a glancing hit like the one he took earlier, would almost certainly kill him.
He needed to predict every one of Re-Destro's punches in order to survive. The irony of the situation wasn't lost on him.
Thanking Nighteye for giving him lessons, Izuku concentrated on Re-Destro's body movements. As bloated and exaggerated as all his features became, twisted by the drug coursing through his body, Re-Destro still showed the classic tells of his next strikes - eye movement, the positioning of his feet, and the twitches of muscle groups as they readied the next blow.
Izuku sidestepped an uppercut and jabbed at an eye. Re-Destro instinctively backed away from the sharp, pointy object and growled, fueling his Quirk with yet more anger. The blows came faster, but they also came sloppier, bigger windups, clumsier steps, and wildly shifting balance.
Izuku took every opening Re-Destro gave him, striking shins, knees, elbows, and face, probing for any sign of weakness. As Ragdoll predicted, none of his strikes worked. They only made the MLA leader angrier, and the blows kept coming faster and faster.
"Deku, get clear!" Nezu said through the earpiece. "We're dropping the payload!"
Without looking away from Re-Destro, Izuku fired a grapple up behind him. As he hurtled away from the ground, a ring of metal canisters embedded themselves in the ground around the villain. A spray of white smoke, so cold it formed a circle of ice around the area, engulfed Re-Destro.
"Liquid nitrogen," Nezu said cheerily. "With a cocktail of other chemicals to absorb even more heat. If the lack of oxygen doesn't make him pass out, hopefully the extreme cold will slow him down."
When the fog cleared, Re-Destro stood encased in a layer of frosty ice. Izuku grappled closer and warily examined the ice. After a few moments, he relaxed and turned towards the police line.
A sudden snap came from behind Izuku. He threw himself aside, and the building behind him exploded in a shower of glass shards.
"Your petty little tricks don't mean anything in the face of meta-Abilities," Re-Destro growled as he brushed powdered ice off his shoulder.
"Three minutes to the next payload," Nezu said. "Keep him busy until then. We'll hammer him with everything we got until he goes down."
Izuku wasn't sure he'd last one. Sweat ran down his back and arms in rivulets, and his legs shook from the strain of keeping himself on his feet. Each breath felt searing hot and bitingly cold, and his mouth felt dry and sticky. His swords hung low, each one a leaden weight dragging down his shoulders.
Izuku grit his teeth and pushed through his exhaustion. Feinting sideways, Izuku darted forward and struck again at Re-Destro's face. His blade slid across the bulging cheek muscle and stuck inside Re-Destro's nose.
Enraged by the unexpected attack, Re-Destro roared and slammed both arms down. A spray of stinging gravel showered Izuku , and he dropped the hookblade in his haste to scramble backwards.
As Re-Destro straightened and rolled his shoulders, blood dripped down from his nose. At first, Izuku wondered if internal tissues were less durable, but he realized that blood came from both nostrils, not just the one he struck.
Re-Destro wiped underneath his nose and gaped at the blood on his fingers. "You dare…" he rasped. "How dare you make me bleed! I'll kill you!"
As the veins bulged on his head, the trickle of blood turned into a river. Izuku froze as inspiration struck him all at once. For a moment, he hesitated, wondering whether acting on his suspicion would be the right thing to do. He looked around, at the strewn buildings and the spatter of blood where All Might had fallen, and he made up his mind.
"Cancel that payload," Izuku told Nezu. "I have an idea, but I can't have anything distract him."
"Understood. And Midoriya, whatever happens, you've done U.A. proud."
Taking a deep breath, Izuku grinned at Re-Destro. "All that talk about how powerful you are, and I'm not the one bleeding."
Re-Destro threw a wild haymaker. Izuku ducked underneath and rolled under the villain's legs. He almost saw the falling building too late. Grappling onto a streetlight, Izuku slid across the broken ground, picking up scratches and bruises along the way. He barely made it clear as the twisted steel structure slammed into the ground.
The mob, formerly watching from a safe distance, broke into a panic as Re-Destro hurled steel beams in a frenzied rampage. The police formed a barricade of squad cars to shield themselves from the debris, while heroes scrambled to save people. They could only save so many with entire buildings falling onto the panicking masses, and several people disappeared under piles of rubble.
Izuku cracked a grapple at the back of Re-Destro's neck. "Over here!"
"Keep taunting me, you little runt." Yotsubashi grinned as blood spewed out of his nose. "You're only making me stronger."
Izuku darted sideways. A single twitch warned him with barely enough time to grapple. Re-Destro shot forward in a black blur, kicking up a dust cloud in his wake. A fist collided with Izuku's left ankle, sending a sharp lance of pain up his leg. Izuku rolled, came up on his right leg, and gingerly tested his wounded ankle. Another burst of pain told him he wouldn't be walking on it anytime soon.
"Finally got you," Re-Destro snickered. "No more running away for you." He rubbed his temples and muttered, "Stupid headache. Can't stop now."
Izuku ran through his options. While he could still grapple, his right arm was busted from earlier. He'd be vulnerable every time he landed. Once Re-Destro figured that out, a single punch would destroy him. The single hit would make his stress levels fall. If Izuku had any chance to win, he had to push him over the edge.
Izuku stood up straight and put as much weight as he dared on his broken ankle. He tried to think of someone good at making people mad and getting under their skin. Mineta came to mind. Copying his cheeky, snarky attitude, Izuku said, "What, you mean that little slap? I thought I ran into a moth."
"You dare mock me?" Re-Destro roared.
"I do. You punch like a girl." Izuku flinched and slipped out of his act. "Well, that's actually pretty rude, and I know plenty of girls that can punch really hard, like Kendo, have you ever gotten punched by a fist the size of a semi truck? Makes me wonder if she's increasing her mass in addition to-"
"Stop ignoring me!"
Izuku was startled back into reality by the villain's shout. "Whoops, my bad." Re-Destro's nosebleed had largely stopped, but he was breathing hard, and his body wobbled erratically. He knew he was close. Just one more push.
"Why don't we settle this now?" Izuku threw his sword aside and spread out his arms. "I'll give you one free punch. Go right ahead. If you think you're so strong, let's see what you can do!"
Re-Destro shook his head and snarled. "I don't know what trick you're trying to pull, but you can't beat me! All Might couldn't beat me! You might as well give up and die!"
As Re-Destro wound up his punch, Izuku swallowed nervously. Every fiber of his body screamed at him to lunge aside, but he knew that it would only delay the inevitable.
Re-Destro struck. Despite himself, Izuku closed his eyes. A blast of wind hit him. Seconds passed. Cautiously hopeful, Izuku opened up an eye and found Re-Destro staggering sideways.
"What… how… what did you do?" Re-Destro's eyes had an unfocused glaze to them. "That smoke. What did you put in it?"
"Nothing," Izuku told him, any trace of mockery gone. "The nosebleed, the headaches, the dizziness, you did that all to yourself."
"Ugh, my ears are ringing." Re-Destro doubled over and gagged as his stomach tried to upend itself.
"Your Quirk increases your stress response, elevating your blood pressure. Trigger enhances every part of your Quirk, including that blood pressure elevation. Combine that with Trigger's own side effect of raising blood pressure, and it rises exponentially. Your body couldn't keep up."
Rikiya Yotsubashi shrank in on himself. Shaking violently, Rikiya knelt and squeezed his head. "Please, just make it stop!"
"People are more than your Quirks. They're personalities, dreams, goals, feelings, and on the more physical side, heart, kidneys, lungs… and your brain. If you hadn't focused so much on your Quirk, this wouldn't be happening to you."
"Shut up! I won't let you win! You won't hold us back anymore!"
"Your Quirk is killing you, just like mine was," Izuku said as he called for an ambulance. "I gave mine up, but you kept clinging to yours."
Seeing the fight over, a group of policemen flanked by heroes ran up to them and worked to stabilize Rikiya's condition. A hero offered him a shoulder, but Izuku sidestepped the offer, instead limping over to his discarded hookblade. Using it as a makeshift cane, Izuku hobbled over to the strewn wreckage of a building. Piece by piece, Izuku shuffled the rubble aside.
The other heroes looked taken aback, glancing between the rubble and the remnants of the angry mob hovering around the edge of the disaster zone. The policemen had their attention split between Rikiya and the other captured villains and maintaining their perimeter around the parliament building.
For a minute, Izuku toiled alone. Then a set of footsteps came up to him. Izuku glanced aside and met the gaze of the serpentine woman he had saved only a couple days ago. He gave her a curt nod and went back to work.
A scraping sound told him that she started moving rubble too. As they worked together, another man from the mob walked up and hefted a block of concrete. Two more came forward, one shining a light from his forehead into darkened crevices, the other splitting rocks in half with a tap of his finger. More people trickled out of the crowd, each using their own Quirks to help. The heroes stepped in and organized them into groups, coordinating their Quirks together.
A woman called out, pointing at the dusty, limp arm buried under a floorboard. Izuku hobbled over and helped the others ease the man out of the rubble. After a few rescue breaths, the man's eyelids fluttered open, and he gasped for air.
The cameras never stopped rolling. Across Japan, angry mobs and cowering civilians alike saw everyone stepping forward, using their Quirks to clean up the destruction wrought by the MLA. The riots stopped, and though Japan would not rebuild itself in a day, its citizens laid the first brick of their new foundation.
Izuku Midoriya no longer knew what the future would hold. But, as he helped the buried man towards an ambulance, even with his ankle and shoulder throbbing painfully, he finally felt that he no longer had any need to know.
A/N: it's been quite the journey. Over 2 years and 250,000 words. Hard to believe it's finally done. In hindsight, there's a fair bit I would do differently, but the overall structure of the story, Izuku losing his Quirk, that was almost always a part of the plan.
I had a different vision for the ending when I first conceived the idea, a Deus Ex Machina moment where Izuku used his Quirk to send One for All back in time to himself to lay the smack-down on All for One. As I laid the groundwork for the story, however, I felt that the original ending didn't fit the rest of the story. With a core theme of one's worth without a Quirk and free will, it didn't make sense to me that the story would hinge on a pre-determined, Quirk-driven outcome.
So, instead, I made a new ending, one that pitted Izuku against an antagonist that, more than anyone else, espoused the idea that one's Quirk determined their worth. What did All for One care of someone's Quirk, when he could redistribute them at will? He never struck me as the right foil to the story's theme, whereas Re-Destro fit the mold perfectly. And the chief reason the story kept going after Izuku lost his Quirk was to fully demonstrate that his life and his career didn't end when he lost his Quirk. Even cutting the story there and making a sequel would buy into the idea that his Quirk made the entire story what it was. This story isn't about the Quirk – it's about breaking free from it.
I got quite a few reviews criticizing me for breaking away from the Quirk, for making Izuku weak and vulnerable instead of the hardened badass his Quirk made him. To a point, the criticism for the change in tone is fair. Izuku's development, however, I won't budge on. I thought long and hard about how someone in Izuku's position, with his personality and Quirk, would develop over time, being crushed by a railroaded future that kept him from saving anyone, himself included, and what a sudden dose of free will would do to them.
There's certainly room to polish up the story, no doubt about it. I should've gotten beta-readers from the start at the very least, a lesson I have taken to heart. But how the story turned out? Where it ended? I don't regret it. I put every ounce of skill as a writer I had into this story, and I'll take what I learned and apply it to next time.
Which segues nicely into my next topic. What's next? Deku Ex Machina will continue, of course, but what's the next big project? Well, let's just say I'll be sailing the high seas next, and Izuku will be bringing a storm with him to U.A. I'll give myself two months to hammer out an outline and some chapters. July 31st will mark the next installment of Izuku and Mei's Excellent Adventure, including a rewritten 1st chapter.
I hope you all enjoyed this story, and thanks for the thousands of follows and favorites!