A/N: So two years after it all began, after three lockdowns in the UK and pretty much all of my friends (and my brother) getting it before me… ya boy ended up with Covid. I got it so late, it's almost unfashionable.
Symptoms-wise, I've been absolutely fine for the most part. My nose ran like Niagara on the first day I had it, but that was the only reason I tested; part of me had just written it off as hayfever at the hottest time of the year. It's the stuff that comes after that gets you, I tell ya. I've been fatigued as hell, and incredibly sleepy, so… I'm sorry in advance if this hasn't come out quite as well as I had hoped it would.
I'm equally sorry to those whose reviews I have not been able to respond to. My AO3 audience will know that I don't respond to comments on Incident Zero over there, not least because it's a public forum and I can't discuss potential spoilers and risk ruining someone else's reading, but I like responding to FFN reviews in PMs. I'm sorry that I haven't yet for the last couple of chapters, and I promise I will, because I couldn't be more grateful for the support of this fic. 1,250-plus reviews and nearly 2,500 followers is far more than I ever expected this fic might achieve!
Still, Izuku is the focus this week after Tenko's brief adventure into protagonist status in the last chapter, so… who wants some more class training?
No matter how much the activity had been a clever idea from Snipe, and no matter how obvious a possibility it had been, Izuku still wasn't exactly happy with how things had turned out.
Snipe had wasted no time once the activity had been explained to the class, ushering them out into the corridor and pointing them in the direction of the locker rooms to get changed for combat. It was amazing to Izuku how much had changed inside barely two weeks; it was absolutely no different to their preparations before the Battle Training, or before Midnight had beasted them with the Quirk Apprehension Test. But there was one key difference… the USJ.
For Izuku certainly, and almost most of the rest of Class 1A, this was their first time getting into costume since the Doctor had turned their world upside down. It was no wonder there were a few looks of trepidation on people's faces, the second they stepped through the door out of sight of Snipe. Izuku didn't miss the brief grimace on Monoma's face as he walked past the sealed locker Awase had claimed, containing a costume that would never be seen in action again. Nor did he need Shigaraki's brief mental nudge to see the hand Tetsutetsu clapped on Kirishima's back, the gesture telling a thousand words about the redhead's need for reassurance (having nearly left UA himself) and the strength of the bond between the two essentially-twinned boys.
Izuku himself wasn't immune to that. It had been a strange feeling, opening up his locker and finding… a variant of his costume. He remembered what Melissa had told him when he'd woken up, how she would make sure the one made by his mom and Tenko would be fixed up for him and stay the same, and how she would give him an upgraded version. It was better in some respects to see the little note that had been left in his locker, to know that he had something to work with besides the one which had so much meaning, but it was still weird.
Pulling on the new jumpsuit, it felt like it was made of a different material to what his mother had used; that wasn't surprising given what the Support Course must have at its disposal, but it was still slightly jarring at first. So too were the lightweight arm bracers which had been made out of metal and left in the locker. Izuku hadn't requested them, but after briefly flexing his fingers inside them, Shigaraki made the point about the grim reality of why they had been included in the new costume.
They've made them because of the injuries you suffered last time, Izuku. It's the same with this costume… feel that chest area? They've treated the fabric, reinforced it with something. All for your own good.
'That's…' Izuku paused, unable to really describe how he felt about having a permanent reminder of how close things had been when fighting Nomu. 'I don't know-'
I'm not surprised if you don't want to wear it. Of course it will feel strange. But you may just have to get used to it. Remember… Shigaraki made a little noise that Izuku couldn't decipher the meaning of. You don't know if and when the dear Doctor will show up again. And these might just save your life.
Even if that hadn't been nice to hear, Izuku couldn't fault that logic. And at least Melissa hadn't ended them with gauntlets, and shut off his ability to use Air Force to its full potential… she clearly had done the best job possible for him. He would just have to get used to the extra weight, and adjust his fighting style accordingly.
Good thing you now have Muscle Augmentation if you need to beef up, eh Izuku?
He'd chosen to ignore that comment.
They'd all made their way to Ground Beta once again, the sprawling fake city where Himiko had thrown herself out of a window to win them the Combat Training exercise. Izuku had almost been hoping and praying that he would end up with her again, because even if she had been out at night testing herself in fight clubs, she would be perfect to team up with in this sort of exercise and an absolute nightmare to face.
Random chance had other ideas.
Snipe's set-up was simple enough. A two-on-two-on-two, effectively a battle royale, with three teams starting in different locations throughout an impromptu arena the Gunslinging Hero had set up throughout Ground Beta. Two Heroes, two Vigilantes and two Villains, all with different tasks based on their role. The Heroes had to capture both the Vigilantes and the Villains, the Vigilantes had to capture the Villains while escaping the Heroes through the Hero start point, and the Villains had to either defeat both of the other teams or escape both of the other teams by escaping through the Vigilante's start point.
The roles were clear and it was nice to have more than one end goal, so as far as Izuku was concerned that was all fine. And the second Izuku saw the teams being drawn, he had the chance to start thinking of ways and means to overcome his classmates. But that wasn't why Izuku wasn't exactly happy.
Even if it was an exercise between classmates… he really hadn't wanted to be drawn out in the role of a Villain. Someone hadn't stopped laughing in the back of his head since Snipe pulled his team's ball out of the cowboy hat.
'It's not that funny!'
Isn't it? Oh, my dear boy, you should see your face! Izuku just knew that Shigaraki had that infuriating, Cheshire-Cat grin on his face in the vestige world, even if he couldn't see him right now. What's wrong? Don't want to embrace it? It's only one exercise.
'One exercise where I get to be exactly what you want me to be!' It didn't sit right even in the context of training with Izuku, because while his other classmates might be unburdened by any concerns with their roles, none of them had Japan's greatest supervillain sitting like a devil on their shoulder at all times. So much smugness was emanating from Shigaraki that it might as well have been a solid wave coming out of Izuku's head. 'You know I don't want this, but playing along like this in a role… you get to enjoy watching me suffer!'
Suffer? So melodramatic. But if you're going to sulk, at least put it to good use. Shigaraki's tone was wicked. Let it all out, here and now. Let it feed your villainous ends. Let the hate flow-
'This is exactly what I mean!'
You just don't understand. I feel like a proud father watching this… even if only for thirty minutes, and even if only for play-pretend, I get a front row seat to spectate as my stubborn and self-righteous protege sinks into the clutches of evil.
Izuku groaned internally. 'I thought you said you didn't mind watching if I became the greatest Hero. Rather than becoming a villain like you.
That's correct! Well remembered, my young apprentice. Only… I don't mind either outcome. All that matters to me… is that you come out on top. The nauseating and claustrophobic presence of two spectral hands pressing down flickered across Izuku's shoulders for a fraction of a second. That includes today. So no feeble efforts at villainy because you think it'll spite me. I expect my successor to win, and here and now is no exception.
Izuku bit the inside of his cheek, before mentally shaking himself. As much as it stuck in the gut with him, just as it would for some of his other righteous classmates like Iida and Tetsutetsu, he did have to do his best. He always told himself he'd give everything to his studies… that had to include today. 'You… do you have any advice?'
You want a little lesson in trickery? Shigaraku laughed to himself, finding something amusing which Izuku didn't understand. Well, you do have the man who killed All Might inside your head, so you've got a good teacher. But I'll offer you one solid piece of advice now, which might be the most important in this test.
'... Go on.'
You've got a partner. Ask her. There was a feeling like a ghostly finger being poked into his shoulder. Otherwise she might just think you're ignoring her.
"A-Ah!" That was enough to stun Izuku into action in real life, jumping around to look at his partner and clasp his hands together in apology. "I-I'm so sorry! I was-"
"Spaced out." Yui Kodai's face didn't give much away, but he was getting more and more used to his classmate to see past her stoicism every now and then; the brief twinkle in her eyes helped him to realise she wasn't upset with him. "You were… planning."
"Yeah, I was." Izuku scratched the back of his head nervously, glad that she was forgiving enough of him being completely distant for a minute. She was quiet enough herself sometimes… they were quite similar really, the more Izuku thought about it. "So we have to get across the city to the Hero gate and escape through there."
"Mm." Kodai pulled at the sleeve of her costume, which Izuku absolutely loved. Like something out of a tokusatsu movie, Kodai looked every part a Hero with the red and white pattern, even down to the utility belt in which she kept resources for her Quirk. The nerd in him loved both the references it inspired and its practicality. "One plan."
"Or we have to defeat both the Vigilantes and the Heroes."
"Mm." Kodai took one look down the street on which they were starting, scouting ahead. "Most difficult role."
"Maybe. Both of them want to capture us in order to win, whereas we don't have to capture one of them, or either of them." Kodai nodded as he summarised the situation, and Izuku realised he had begun to think out loud. "And they're tough teams, too. I think if Tenko were betting on this… he wouldn't bet against either of the other teams."
They really were up against it. Fortunately Izuku had dodged the bullets that were the devious strategic mind of Setsuna, or the frightening thought of facing Tenko in an all-out brawl; Tenko was shackled with Iida as a teammate, who wanted to be a Villain even less than Izuku did, but Izuku pitied whichever team of two had to face a Villain with Decay in their arsenal. He hadn't quite managed to dodge Himiko, however, and seeing her line up against him on the Vigilante team with Kendo meant that they were facing a strong pair of opponents. Even so, the real concern he had was the Hero team, containing two of the objectively strongest members of the class; Shiozaki had looked relieved that she didn't have to straddle the morally-grey line of vigilantism for the exercise, and she was now unleashed as a Hero alongside the class vice-representative in Yaoyorozu, with her infinite potential through creation. They were incredibly strong.
But you're stronger, successor mine.
Izuku shook his head, and refocused on Kodai. "Himiko and Kendo as a team… Himiko's Quirk doesn't give her much advantage here."
"Mm." Kodai agreed. "Starting from distance. Removes the surprise of Transform."
"Right. Their strength as a team means they're good in close quarters." Izuku gestured to her. "Mine works from range best, and yours needs material to work with. We need to keep our distance and also try to find things that you can use, either on your own or in combination with me."
"Right. Those two… will rush someone. Close distance." Kodai shook her head. "Himiko… fights well."
"She does. And Kendo is good in a brawl." It wasn't just her knowledge of martial arts that set her apart in close quarters. Big Fist would give her an advantage that meant she didn't even need to fight with grace and style; her and Himiko could fight dirty and be unpredictable, and Izuku didn't fancy his chances going toe-to-toe with either of them given that physical combat was one of his big weaknesses. "Then there's the Heroes…"
"Better chance than us, up close." It was a blunt assessment from Kodai, one which prompted him to raise his eyebrows at her. "Shiozaki's vines, and Yaomomo's weapons."
That was fair, actually. What Yaoyorozu made was going to be unknown until they started the exercise and faced her, or spotted her from afar, but if she needed weapons to be able to neutralise enemies in close quarters, she could make them. "So they're a strong team to face. But if they fight Kendo and Himiko up close… they're still not as strong as the Vigilantes. They need to get some range to start with to stand the best chance, so Yaoyorozu can create and Shiozaki can-"
"Let her hair down."
Izuku hadn't expected the joke, and despite everything couldn't help but laugh at the proud look that flashed on Kodai's face. "Y-Yeah. That."
"Kendo will know that." Kodai made a fist with one hand. "They'll want to fight close. Give them no time to react."
"And Yaoyorozu will know that. She's one of the smartest in our class…" Izuku had a brief thought, and ran with it. "What if… we use that?"
"Both teams have to capture us to win. But the Vigilantes need to defeat the Heroes or evade them too… they will know that if they allow Yaoyorozu time to set-up and plan for both our teams, they lose the advantage. Their chances of winning are better if they rush the Heroes to deny them setup and focus on us later, because we have to escape through the Hero gate anyway… we'll have to go that way."
"The enemy of my enemy… is my friend, right?" Izuku looked at Kodai. "We offer them a temporary alliance. Suddenly it's four against two, not two against two against two. We use them to defeat the Heroes, on the basis that we're helping deal with the threat to both of us, and then we… turn on them afterwards. That sounds wrong, but… we can save strength that way?"
Divide and conquer? You surprise me. Shigaraki sounded vaguely pleased. Not quite as manipulative as me, but it appears you might be learning after all.
'It's just sensible…' Izuku argued back. 'Trying to find an advantage.'
It's cynical, that's what it is. Controlling the situation, trying to take control over convenient assets in the circumstances and discard them when it no longer suits your purpose… old-school villainy. Shigaraki hummed to himself. You know, for all the black and white pure-heart heroic drivel that drives you, that analysis obsession of yours has been handy in your development. You've got a mind to suit being a villain, if push comes to shove.
Izuku shook off the compliments, aware Kodai was mulling it over. "You… don't like it."
"Mm. It's… okay." She closed her eyes, briefly considering it herself. "... A truce has risks."
"Yeah… I get that." Izuku paused. "You think they're too big to take?"
"If we offered to Yaomomo and Shiozaki… they may take it." Kodai's eyebrows scrunched into a frown briefly. "Toga… would break it."
Izuku paused, as much because that was the fullest explanation of anything he'd heard her offer in a while, but he had to concede she was right. If it was Yaoyorozu and Shiozaki they were offering something to as Vigilantes, there would be much less risk of betrayal at any point. Shiozaki was honourable to a fault, and they as Villains could exploit that to at least take her by surprise. But this was Himiko and Kendo they were talking about, and while Kendo was a big name in the class for taking care of other people, she was just wise enough that she might turn on them even without Himiko's cynical input. Himiko absolutely would try something… she snuck around and went to fight clubs without him, of course she'd be tricky if it meant she could win.
"It's a fair point… yeah. We'd end up fighting the Heroes for her, and then having to face her and Kendo tired." Izuku relented. "Sorry, Kodai. I thought-"
"Yui." She interrupted, stunning him for a second. "... Yui. Friends."
"... Heh. Okay." Izuku hadn't expected something genuinely sweet, and felt his face go a little red. "Y-Yui. What's your plan?"
"The unexpected." It was a short summary, and one which had Izuku curious to hear more. "See this. What does Snipe want?"
"Snipe?" It was a strange question, and as Yui gestured around he wasn't sure what she meant. "Us to… show our judgment? Fight?"
"... To go forward." Yui pointed down the street, and then to the concrete structure behind them, a towering fake apartment building which was almost a backstop to them. "Meet in the middle."
Now that she said it… she wasn't wrong. Izuku hadn't thought about that side of things, but the way things had been set up was like a maze, in a way. Ground Beta had narrow streets and alleyways, but there were exit gates for both them and the Vigilantes on other sides of the training ground, and a clear expectation that when the exercise started they would move forward to either engage or find their escape route. "You're right! If we want our gate…"
"We go forward. Vigilantes…" Yui pointed off into the distance with her right hand, roughly in the direction of where they knew Himiko and Kendo would be making their own plans. "Go forward. Heroes?"
"If they want either of us they have to go forward too! All of this is set up to try to encourage the teams to have a battle… to meet in the middle!" Izuku paused, realising where she was going with this. Snipe had given the choice… they could fight if they wanted to, but they didn't have to fight if they instead tried to escape. And if that was their plan… why would they move forward? "Which we don't need to do!"
"Mm. Everyone thinks… you're one of the strongest here." Izuku blinked at Yui's comment. "They will expect… fighting."
"But against other strong fighters… let's do the unexpected?"
"Mm… we don't charge." Yui lifted her left arm instead, pointing to an alleyway a little further up the street, going away from the path. "Let's… go around."
"That's… that makes sense. If we can avoid taking a straight path to the objective…" Izuku nodded, satisfied that this was a better idea than what he had come up with. "You know what would be the best way for us to do this?"
"They'd expect us to go around this way." Izuku pointed roughly in the direction of where they had been informed the Hero gate (and their point of escape from the exercise) was. "That's our way out, so when they work out we've not gone in a straight line to meet them… they'll think we're in this sort of area between our start point and the escape gate."
"Mm…" Yui caught on. "The other way?"
"They won't expect us to go the long way around at all! The Vigilantes have to close up too, so they'll be on the move to avoid being trapped in one place and make sure they're close up for any fight… and that means there's a gap." Izuku looked over to the right, past Yui, and for a moment it was if he could see through the buildings to the Vigilantes' starting point. "We go right?"
"Mm. Good plan."
"W-Well… most of it was yours. So thanks, Yui." Izuku didn't feel right taking credit for adding pieces to someone else's strategy, not least when it was so different to what he had suggested. "We've… got a good chance here."
"Mm." Her stoic face betrayed the slightest colour on her cheeks because of the compliment. "... Thanks."
This feels anticlimactic, after all the build-up.
Hearing Shigaraki complaining, after all the grief he had been giving up until this point, was music to Izuku's ears. It wasn't in his nature to laugh at the villain, but it did put the smallest smile on his face. 'You're not happy with our methods.'
What did I just say about superiority? And instead of that, you decide that the best thing you can do is skulk around and avoid a fight. It's not exactly glorious, is it? Hiding in the shadows?
'You told me that's how you lived as the Demon Lord. Controlling people from the shadows…'
Bravo. That was almost sarcastic. I didn't know you had it in you.
'Well…' Izuku didn't know if Shigaraki's presence in his head meant that the vestige could see things he imagined, but on the off-chance that he could, Izuku briefly thought back to Incident Zero. The final punch All Might landed before his death. 'In my defence, you lost the only fight I ever saw you take part in.'
Well, hang on. We're not calling that a loss, are we?
'If you won, would you be inside my head?'
… Call it a draw?
Izuku shook himself, shutting out Shigaraki again, before turning to Yui. "Say, Yui?"
"We've been here a little while to be able to plan, right?"
"And we've had a lot of time to talk things through."
"... Shouldn't the exercise have started by now?"
"... talking is free."
Izuku's question was cut off by the loud sound of a buzzer, and the crackling of feedback as Snipe's drawling voice came over the speakers. "Let's go, partners. Thirty minutes to achieve the objectives for yer team, or y'all fail the whole class."
Izuku sighed, knowing there was nothing like pressure to motivate him and the others. "Let's go. Stay close, and stay quiet in case we run into Himiko and Kendo on the way?"
"Mm. Watch your feet." Yui had dropped her already-quiet voice to barely a whisper, so much that Izuku almost struggled to hear that response. "Shiozaki. Vines. Scouting."
"She can grow them this far?" Izuku had seen her growing her hair out during classes on a couple of occasions, but one of the questions he hadn't answered was whether she had a limit for how long her vines could become. If what Yui said was possible, and she could reach all the way across Ground Beta to carry out reconnaissance, then they were in for a difficult time indeed.
"Don't know. But…" Yui gave a very complicated shrug which somehow managed to say many things about how powerful Shiozaki could be and how foolish they would be to underestimate her. "Possible."
"Right. Um…" Izuku gestured as they began walking to a couple of quite useful potential items for his teammate. "Did you… want to get some more for your Quirk?"
Yui paused, and as her hand came down to shrink a couple of the objects which Izuku pointed to, he caught a glimpse of a smile of gratitude about the assistance. "... Thanks, Izuku."
"That's okay!" Izuku breathed a sigh of relief at being able to get along so well with his teammate, and having a plan which gave them a chance to overcome the seemingly high odds against them. Whatever they were all expecting would happen… Izuku looked forward to seeing how they all coped with the surprise, when they realised that he and Yui had disappeared.
Their progress had been steady, and yet it was the disconcerting quiet around them that made Izuku wonder if something wasn't quite right.
By his calculations, they were somewhere in the vicinity of where the Vigilantes team would have started. It had been around five or ten minutes into the exercise, with him and Yui holding each other back to peek around corners and not letting the other out of their sight in case something came up. He might have expected that if the Heroes and Vigilantes rushed each other, then there would be sounds of conflict coming from elsewhere in Ground Beta, potentially even the sounds of urban destruction depending on how hard Kendo was throwing punches or what weaponry Yaoyorozu had created. Instead… it was quiet. Too quiet.
He was keeping as quiet as he could, but because of how much he was focused on the task at hand, his breathing was deafening. At one point, his new gauntlet clinked from where he hit it on the side, and he and Yui had ducked for cover for two whole minutes just to make sure that they hadn't drawn attention to themselves. Paranoia was beginning to set in… every movement in shadows could have been Himiko, wily and sneaky and lithe and very good at being stealthy when she needed to be. Any pile of rubble from training exercises of the past could have hidden a trap made by Yaoyorozu, or provided cover for Shiozaki's vines to sneak up on them… the possibilities for danger were near limitless, but so far they were undisturbed.
Himiko remained the biggest concern he had, because only on a few occasions before had he had the chance to try some kind of spar against her. When he had, she had been far too difficult to defeat, and the best he'd ever managed to fight was by going slightly harder than their friendly training sessions usually managed… even then, that was only a draw. Whatever training her guardian had made her do growing up, he was no slouch.
The worst part about it was that her Quirk didn't give her the advantage in this session; if Izuku stuck to Yui like glue, then any attempt to become an imposter Izuku would be suspicious the moment they saw her. As far as he was aware, she hadn't taken blood from any of their other friends, or from anyone else in the exercise. She would stand out pretending to be anyone else, clearly. But that just made her, at least in Izuku's head, more dangerous.
I agree. When you think you're running out of options… that's when people start pulling more and more desperate moves out of thin air in order to try to seize the day. A clever trick… can sometimes be the key to victory.
'Exactly. Himiko threw herself off a building so we could win the Combat Training… if anyone could take us by surprise, it's her.'
But if anyone can handle a surprise, it's you… not exactly Nomu, is she?
Izuku, fortunately, didn't have to respond to that remark. Yui's hand being placed into his chest was enough to stop him in his tracks. "Huh? Yui?"
"I hear people." That was enough to get him to freeze, and drop his voice completely, as his partner stared ahead down an open road with high buildings on each side. "I think… Kendo."
"You're sure?" Izuku then looked down, and his eyes widened at the site of her hand. "Umm… your Quirk?"
"Mm?" Yui looked back at him, then down at her hand, and then made a little noise. If it was any louder, Izuku might have guessed that was the sound of her laughing. "... Doesn't work on people. Don't worry."
"O-Oh, right." Izuku was far too used to his best friend's Quirk being based on five-finger activation to know any differently. As far as he was aware, Yui's Size Quirk worked in exactly the same way. "It's… not like Tenko's then."
"No. Won't shrink you." They were in a slight bit of shade, but Izuku could have sworn a tiny spark of mischief flared up in her eyes as she turned away from him. "... Not this time."
The long call interrupted any attempt from Izuku to respond to Yui mocking him, and made him shut his mouth, pulling Yui back slightly further into the shade. "That's… Himiko."
"Mm. Seen us?"
"I… don't know." Izuku peered down the street from where his girlfriend's voice had come, but couldn't see anything moving down that end of the street. All they had to do, according to the GPS device Snipe had given them at the start of the exercise, was cross the end of the street into an alleyway which would give them a long and clear run straight to the escape gate. Surely Himiko hadn't seen them coming this way? "Maybe she's trying to draw us out from somewhere?"
"Drawing attention," Yui said evenly. "Heroes would come too."
"That's why I'm confused too… does that mean that she-"
"We know you're over there." That was Kendo's voice now, calling out. Was that Kendo, or had Himiko been able to transform? Without seeing them, Izuku needed more to work on. "Come on out. Toga bites, but I don't."
"Promises, promises." That answered Izuku's question, to the best of his own knowledge about Himiko anyway. Himiko's voice had come far too quickly for it to be her, transforming between her own body and Kendo's. He'd never seen her be able to switch between people without pause like that before; she'd tried switching forms before with his and Setsuna's blood, but she'd needed to pause for breath and force the transformation first. "He only gets that when he's good."
Izuku could feel his face burning read, as Yui turned slightly to shoot him a look over his shoulder. "S-Sorry. She's… got no filter."
"Heh." Yui shook her head almost imperceptibly. "Hot."
"If we wanted to attack, we would have done it already. We saw you coming at that wrecked motorbike." Kendo was keeping her voice down slightly more than Himiko, but it was enough for Izuku to blink, looking back down from where they'd come. Sure enough, the edge of the frame of the motorbike was poking out at the end of an alleyway they'd come down, and one look back down the road gave Izuku enough answers. They must have been high up in one of the buildings, watching and waiting. "We just wanna talk."
"Not a bluff."
Izuku paused when Yui said that under her breath, thinking about it logically for a second. "... Yeah. You're right."
"They fight close."
"And yet they gave up the chance to surprise us or rush." Izuku clenched a fist, feeling the sparks of his Quirk jump into life briefly at the thought of an ambush or some trick being played. "I don't like this. What's their plan by doing this?"
"Mm. Don't know."
"Maybe they'll trust us more if they see us." There was the briefest bit of movement from inside a prop telephone box, and Izuku was amazed that Himiko had managed to conceal herself inside it; he wouldn't have seen her inside there until it was too late. There was also movement from behind a car wreck, and the shock of orange hair in a ponytail gave Kendo away as both members of the Vigilantes team stepped into the centre of the road. "Now c'mon already! Izu love, your costume can sorta do stealth, but Kodai's too bright. She stands out over there in the alley, y'know?"
Wordlessly, Yui and Izuku looked down at her costume, then at each other, before Yui shrugged; there wasn't much they could say about that, considering that a bright red and white costume probably wasn't the smartest choice for sneaking around in hindsight. "Stay close?"
"Y-Yeah. Stay close. And keep a couple of things to hand from your belt. For release?"
"Mm." Yui nodded in the direction of the two expectant Vigilantes. "After you."
"Right." Knowing that there wasn't much they could do in the circumstances- they were entirely in the hands of the Vigilantes and unable to continue to sneak to their objective now- Izuku steeled his nerves and stepped out, feeling Air Force begin to swirl between his fingertips as a comfort blanket. "I… didn't think you'd stay around here."
"No?" Himiko's fangs were showing in her grin, clearly pleased with herself. For a brief moment, she looked like a cat who had cornered a mouse in a small room and was waiting for the mouse to try to make a run for the door. "Where did you think we'd go?"
"Yaomomo." Yui answered for him, hanging by his side. Izuku looked down briefly, seeing her holding a small metal rod; she too had armed herself, wary of their opponents. "Rush her."
"I wanted to do that, Yui, to be fair to you." Kendo apparently had no issues in revealing their potential strategies in front of the enemy team. "I didn't really like the idea of leaving her to make whatever she wants. But… she's not the strongest person in the class, I don't think."
"You don't…" Izuku saw her grin. "Me? B-But she can make anything that she knows how! I just… I shoot air!"
"You 'just shoot air', do ya? Sheesh. You levelled half the playing field at the Quirk Apprehension Test and yet you think you're not a threat?" Himiko rolled her eyes at him. "Combine you and Kodai throwing things at people, and Yaomomo's definitely gonna be panicking about how to deal with you."
"And you know that, too." Kendo had absolutely no doubt or accusation in her voice when she said it. "Toga was right. You don't have to fight everyone to win, you just have to escape. So she said to me-"
"That I would bet any money you wouldn't try to fight people. Even if you are the Villain for this, you'd see the chance to escape without getting involved in any battle and take that." Himiko raised an eyebrow as if daring to challenge him, twirling a blade in her hand… Izuku was at least relieved to see that this one was only a prop. "You know what our strengths are, and while normally you'd charge in without hesitation… there's too much at stake for you in this game to do it. I thought you'd try to find another way."
"Mostly my plan." Yui spoke up, her gentle voice just loud enough for the other two to hear. "To be fair to Izuku."
Apparently you're predictable, Izuku. The shame.
Izuku shrugged off the amused ghost inside his head, and focused on Himiko. "That's… well, yeah. I thought we could go the whole way around and avoid both of you. I guess… maybe that was too good an idea to be true."
"Don't feel bad. I was fully prepared to be a little reckless too." Kendo was self-effacing enough that Izuku could relax a little. "But here we are. Now we've got to work out what we do next, huh?"
"Don't understand that…" Yui looked over at her friend, spinning the metal rod around her fingertips; maybe she was a little nervous. "You had advantage."
"True, we could have surprised you." Kendo scratched the back of her head. "Then again… we wouldn't be able to offer a truce if we just attacked you outta nowhere."
"A truce?" Izuku had not expected that. That had been his idea before Kodai reminded him of the risks involved… surely that wasn't their approach too? "You want to… team up? Why?"
"Judging from the look on your face, I'm guessing that was one of your ideas before you decided to come this way?" Apparently Izuku's face gave too much away, because Himiko snorted even though he said nothing at all. "Aw. Should I be upset you weren't willing to offer me the olive branch, Izu?"
She may yet trick you. Be careful what you say.
"... Where could we have met to guarantee it?" Izuku felt Yui stir briefly beside him, but she didn't say anything. She had clearly realised he wasn't going to tell the complete truth. "While Yaoyorozu and Shiozaki were still out there, we couldn't be sure we'd find you if we went out looking, depending on where you went."
"Too much risk." Yui spoke up, and Izuku was glad she was reinforcing the lie at this point.
"Exactly. We could have met the Heroes and not you, or both of you at once. And, well…" Izuku smiled sheepishly. "I d-don't think they'd stop to let us agree a truce."
"Shiozaki's generous, but… maybe not." As he laughed at her joke, Kendo shrugged. "We're here now, though. Toga called it where you'd be. So… come on. What do you say?"
"Snipe isn't going to be happy with you proposing this." As she frowned, puzzled, Izuku continued. "He might expect it from us as the Villains, because we're supposed to be sneaky and everything, but you're Vigilantes. You're supposed to be opposed to Villains just like the Heroes, not seek a partnership with evil."
"Let's be honest, realism went out the window from the moment this whole thing started. I'm dating one of the Villains, and you haven't destroyed the whole city to guarantee your victory." Himiko's sharp-tongued response was, to be fair to her, not entirely wrong. "He didn't say that we couldn't ask you for a truce, either, so… I say we're still good here."
"It's doomed," Yui replied evenly. "Ends with betrayal."
"Yeah, it's obviously going to fail at some point." Kendo inflated her right fist briefly, something which caused Izuku to take a step back and Yui to take a deep breath in. Realising that she had made her potential allies nervous, Kendo deactivated Big Fist and grinned. "Whoops. But you're right. The second the Heroes are defeated, we'd be trying to catch you. Even before it's over, you might try to stab us in the back, or run away and leave us to face the Heroes alone. But if you do that… you really think you can beat Shiozaki and Yaomomo on your own?"
"Nah." Himiko was far too honest as per usual. "We'd need to rush them, or catch them in an ambush, or separate them. We could beat them that way. But unless we're right up in their faces, there's too much that could go wrong. And because of how you two played this… it's the same for you?"
"They need to catch both of us, which means they need to leave their gate. Right?" Izuku nodded, agreeing with Kendo. "But Yaomomo's a smart cookie. She's not going to leave the gate unguarded. So even if they don't split up, you can bet she'll have prepared traps, and maybe Shiozaki's set up some vines too. They had all the time to prepare before Snipe set the buzzer off, and they've had all this time because you two decided to sneak off… how confident are you that you can take all that before the end of the round?"
It… really shouldn't have made sense. Izuku certainly wouldn't have made a truce with the Villains if he had been playing Vigilante, even if it was one of their crew. The smartest way to play the exercise would have been to seek out the Heroes for a truce, help them corner the Villains, and sneak away to escape during that fight. That was the whole point, surely? Heroes and Vigilantes would have had the same goal, to protect people, to fight against Villains?
What you think is correct, from a certain point of view. But consider those individuals labelled criminals for reasons others in society might not agree with. Consider the variation in methods, the difference between what makes some people villains. Not all villains are like me… and sometimes, there are allies to be found even in darkness. If the ends justify the means…
Izuku couldn't disagree with that more. There had to be lines that people weren't willing to cross, no matter how much they may want justice or simply just to survive. He wasn't as fatalistic as his vestige companion, and he hoped that he never would be. But right here, in this scenario, maybe there was some semblance of reason in that logic. The ends for him and Yui were either the defeat of the Heroes, or evading them. Faced with two of the strongest class members paired together, uncertain what strategy they might face… the temporary team-up did seem the best solution to the problem ahead.
She will stab you in the back the second she gets the opportunity in this exercise, Izuku. She's not beholden to rules like the Heroes, so that might even be literally. Even if it is plastic on this occasion…
Izuku turned to look at Yui, because if he was going mad by thinking this could be entertained, she might just be blunt enough to shake some sense into him. "I'm… how do you feel about this?"
"Mm… not sure." Yui could have played poker with champions, because her face gave nothing away when she turned her gaze onto Kendo. "What if…"
"You say no?" Kendo rolled one shoulder in response, not breaking eye contact. "Well, we can beat you down here and now if you'd prefer some certainty. I'm not fussy. Are you, Toga?"
"I'm game to cut some people if they don't wanna play nice." Even if he was pretty certain Himiko wouldn't really hurt him in pursuit of victory, the look on her face was a little too convincing. "Even my dear Izu!"
"Wh-what happened to preferential treatment?"
"All's fair in love and war!" Himiko stepped forward, causing Yui to tense up and even Izuku to take a step back, before offering her hand to Izuku. "Come on, you and me together again… it's a pretty unstoppable combo. Even Yaomomo would struggle- huh?"
Izuku had opened his mouth to reply, but what happened next was almost a blur. One moment Himiko had been talking, all teeth and smiles and acting without a care in the world, and the next she was lifted by the ankle into the air and slammed against the hard asphalt floor, by one long green tendril that had curled around her leg and grabbed her. "H-Himiko!"
Shiozaki! While you were talking- watch out, Izuku!
Izuku had nearly fallen foul of the same thing himself, and instinctively blasted himself backwards with a blast of Air Force, grabbing at Yui's arm as he launched himself away. The net effect of his grab was to bring Yui flying with him, so that both of them collapsed in a heap beside each other a few feet away, but ultimately he was able to dodge the three vines which had snaked their way unheard from an alleyway opposite to restrain them, sending them flying up in the air. "Yui!"
"Mm!" Yui's tumble wasn't exactly graceful, but she was immediately up, activating her Quirk on the pole held in her hand. What had been the length of a couple of matches suddenly enlarged, Size no longer shrinking it down, and a lamp post came crashing down as one of the vines lunged back, pinning the piece of hair to the floor. "Got it!"
Himiko wasn't quite so lucky. As the two vines that had been aimed at Izuku were sent flying, there was a ripple along their length as if their owner had redirected them; Izuku had to wince at the whip-crack sound that was made as one lashed against Himiko's hand and launched the plastic knife she had been holding away. With no effort at all, they then twisted again and grabbed at her, lifting her upright so that each of her limbs was held by vines, before slamming forward and slamming her into a concrete wall. "Gah!"
"You were all so loud." Shiozaki's voice sounded weird, almost a little strained and echoey, and Izuku couldn't work out how. "A devious plot with villains to undermine the Heroes… rather than setting aside our differences to take down the sinners among us. How far you have fallen."
"Getting a little into the roleplay… Shiozaki…" Himiko sounded strained, and gasped, and it wasn't hard for Izuku to see why. Shiozaki's hair wasn't all straight when she wanted it to be, and dark thorns had emerged on some of the vines, some even cutting into Himiko's pale skin and drawing blood. "And bondage too? Eurgh… even Izu doesn't do this to me-"
"Such foul discussion." Izuku couldn't tell if it was because of the virtuous Hero role she had taken on, or genuinely because Shiozaki didn't like that sort of conversation topic, but she clearly responded to Himiko. More vines sprung from the shade of the alleyway, and as much as Izuku was able to blast a few more away from him and Yui, he couldn't stop the large bundle which impacted into Himiko's stomach and winded her, spreading out to secure her against the wall. "Your blades are a nuisance to me. I need you not to interfere with what comes next."
"Hey, Ibara." There was a ripping and tearing noise, as an enlarged left hand tore the vines wrapped around Kendo's right wrist off of her and she strode forward. "Don't underestimate me, too."
What Izuku saw next was remarkable. His first attempt at an Air Force blast into the heart of the mass of vines restraining Himiko hadn't done much, the vines packed so tightly into one bunch that they remained as strong as a tree trunk, but before he could charge up a stronger one Kendo had closed the gap. He knew that she didn't think her Quirk was flashy, or special in comparison to some of the others in the class, but her grasp of it was incredible… and put to good use against Shiozaki.
One enormous fist expanded, so that its grip was wide enough to wrap around Shiozaki's twisted knot of hair and pull. There was a grunt from Kendo through gritted teeth, and Izuku couldn't even begin to imagine how many thorns had punctured through her palm as she clasped down, but the creaking noise of pressure turned to tearing, and strained gasps from Shiozaki as she tried to resist from her hiding spot. Eventually, as several vines began to tear and there was a loud cry of pain from Shiozaki, the plant-haired girl clearly calling it quits and actively severing her own hair before Kendo could wrench it from her scalp. "Yaaah!"
With a triumphant yell, Kendo held the ball of still-writhing green vines aloft, before throwing it bodily down the street and shrinking her hand back down to a more normal size again. "Hah… Toga, you good?"
"Yeeep." Himiko staggered slightly as she set her feet on solid ground again, glaring over in the direction of the alleyway from which Shiozaki had announced her presence. "Okay… we take her out first. Agreed?"
"No complaints here." Kendo raised her voice, and her enlarged fists, caring little about the bleeding from the thorns. "Well, Ibara? Hiding in darkness… not very heroic of you, is it?"
"Such brutish methods…" As the shadows stirred and a massive shadow which had to have been Shiozaki became clear, Yui took the opportunity for a pre-emptive strike, launching some small pebbles from her utility belt and clasping her hands together as they flew. Shiozaki for her part did well to dodge the much-larger boulders which came flying at her at pace, one boulder being caught by vines which had regrown from her head to replace the ones ripped apart by Kendo. "But I cannot hold you all… Yaoyorozu!"
"Got it!" As Shiozaki finally stepped into the light, appearing in her robe like an angel, Izuku finally saw it. The shadow behind her was a wall of vines, her hair acting as a barricade behind which her teammate could take cover and prepare, but that wasn't the worst part. The worst part, as Yaoyorozu appeared and fired several things into the air from a launcher in her hands, was that Izuku now saw why Shiozaki had sounded so off, because a device so at odds with her otherwise holy attire…
Clever girl! Midnight would be proud of her!
"Gas!" Izuku's cry caused some noises of alarm from Kendo and Toga, but even as he was able to blast one falling canister away, three more fell to earth and exploded out just before hitting the ground with a silent cloud of their contents. It was enough to make his eyes immediately water, and whatever Yaoyorozu had put into her canisters sent a scratching feeling up his throat. "Gah-"
"I suspected that you and Toga might try to arrange a truce, Midoriya!" Yaoyorozu had a shiny silver mask just like Shiozaki's, and undeterred by him launching one of her missiles away, fired several more into the air before she began to reload. "You're way too close to turn on each other, even for something like this. So all we had to do was track one of you, and wait to get both teams at once!"
"Get the… canisters-" Himiko coughed, throwing one of the metal objects away, but the white smog which was rising up and coating the area was becoming more and more solid before Izuku's swimming eyes. As soon as they released the awful gas inside, throwing the shells away was redundant… Izuku realised they would be fighting a losing battle. All Yaoyorozu had to do was keep firing from the bandolier she had crafted herself, and they would be overwhelmed-
I could have sworn there was an anti-smoke Quirk in All For One somewhere. Are you sure you haven't unlocked it?
"N-No!" Izuku hacked out his answer out loud, his eyes pouring with stinging tears so badly that he forgot to internalise his arguments with the vestige for just a moment. 'Not helping-'
Well, come on, back to basics then. You usually solve most problems with Air Force, why not try that again?
"R-Right!" Izuku pushed power into his hands, before staring across into the smoke. Yui had gone low to the ground, trying to keep out of the worst of the smog while launching her own projectiles in Yaoyorozu's direction, but through the thick white clouds he could just about see the outlines of Kendo and Himiko. "K-Kendo! Flap! Air- agh!"
"On it!" There was another crack like a whip, as more vines found their mark on Kendo this time, followed by an awful wrenching sound and a wail from Shiozaki as the redhead put up a fight against the attempt to restrain her. "Cagh! Can't! Midor-"
"Y-Yeah!" Izuku choked briefly on bile that was rising in his throat, somehow managing to dodge another wicked lunge from yet more vines sent in his direction by Shiozaki. From the gasp behind him in the floor, it sounded like Yui had been caught the brunt of one attack because of his dodge, but he couldn't stop to check with his lungs on fire. He needed to clear this and fast. 'What was it you said before?! Boost?'
There was a surge of power, and Izuku felt the pressure of Air Force building in both of his outstretched palms now, even greater than he had expected…
Oh, yes. You have four copies, you know-
'Fine!' Izuku gritted his teeth, barely even able to see beyond outlines anymore due to the tears. 'Boost! Boost! Boost!'
Kinetic Booster times four! Show them what you're made of, successor mine!
With the last of the air that he was holding in his lungs Izuku screamed, forcing his palms out desperately in front of him towards the white smoke. "Smaaaaash!"
Not since the Quirk Apprehension Test had Izuku felt such a raw rush of power out from his hands. Not even against Nomu had he managed to launch a blast of air with such strength, and the output was so great that he actively felt the little finger on his right hand break with the recoil. But even that sharp pain couldn't begin to compare to the rolling wave of Air Force sent forth, devastating and effective.
With a thump, the smoke surrounding Izuku, Yui and the other team was sent rolling off in the direction of Shiozaki and Yaoyorozu. Both of the Hero team were caught in the wake of the blast, Yaoyorozu lifted off of her feet and sent flying off into the distance with a yelp, and the only reason Shiozaki managed to avoid the same fate was by lashing herself to a nearby building with several vines; the site of her dangling in the air above the ground was alarming in of itself. Kendo went sprawling, much the same as Himiko, and even Yui was lifted off the ground to be thrown several metres, the lamp post she had been wielding with her Quirk embedding itself like a javelin into a nearby wall. But that wasn't all.
Izuku's blast had been sent straight into the side of a building, punching a hole the size of a truck, a wall of dust being thrown up around him by the Smash he had used. But that wasn't all. The shell of a building had probably survived numerous student assaults, over the years that Ground Beta had been used by UA to train all sorts of students with all sorts of Quirks. It was probably structurally sound and built to withstand high-intensity blasts, if Cementoss had had anything to do with its construction. But after years of use, an Air Force Smash from a desperate Izuku not holding itself back must have been the last straw. The horrible sound that followed meant that Izuku could only watch in horror, as a huge hole punched through the base of the tower and caused a huge creaking noise. It was only then that he saw it move, saw the front edge of the tower shudder and begin to tip forward… coming down.
"Get down!" He yelled, the best effort he could make to ensure that anyone was out of the way. Clearly the tall building was going to fall on top of the neighbouring shells, and whether or not its neighbours were able to fully prop it up, they would absorb the brunt of the blast. But he and Yui dived one way, Shiozaki yelping and releasing her hold on the building to flee in the opposite direction towards Yaoyorozu, and Himiko leaping towards Kendo to drag her on the other side as the fake apartment block came down.
Izuku felt the impact through his bones, when the top of the tower hit the building opposite. The landing caused an immense shower of plaster dust and concrete from the bottom of the fallen tower, coating the area in a cloud just like the one he had just dispersed, but at least this one wouldn't cause him to choke himself into unconsciousness. Whoever had built the training building had done a slightly more thorough job than needed, as was obvious when pieces of furniture fell through the bottom windows with a sound of shattering glass, but fortunately for him and Yui they were out of the way, and the building appeared to be holding.
"Mmm…" Yui remained lying flat on the ground but lifted her head up, covered in dust and having lost her hat somewhere among the Air Force explosion. "Izuku… are you-"
There was a horrible crunching sound of metal above, and Izuku's eyes widened as he looked up instinctively towards the source of the noise. The force of the building landing on the neighbouring practice buildings had clearly sent shockwaves through the whole structure, and those had been enough to rip part of the shell apart. Only now did Izuku realise that they must have been reinforced to withstand Quirk-related destruction through the use of heavy steel girder reinforcement, as a solid hunk of metal sheared through the bottom of the building and came crashing to earth…
Ready to land on him and Yui. "No!"
He moved without thinking.
Izuku didn't even know what he was thinking in that split second. There wasn't anything he could do but act on instinct. One second he was looking up, watching the lump of steel falling towards them. The next second he was standing over Yui, a sharp pain in his palm and somewhere halfway down his lower arm as a shadow fell over both of them, as dust erupted around them. "Y-Yui…"
"Huh…" His teammate was still on the ground, having been unable to move in the short time before her impending demise. "Izuku… how…"
"You're… you're okay." Izuku felt almost light-headed and woozy, the heavy weight bearing down on his right arm but nothing coming down to crush either of them. They were safe… somehow, they were both safe. "I… I'm sorry-"
"Izuku…" Yui shook herself, coughing slightly amidst the dust, and when she looked up at him her normally-stoic face was pale with confusion. "What… your arm?"
"My… arm?" Only now did Izuku turn and look, at the arm which he had lifted towards the chunk of girder in the vain hope he could shield Yui from being hit. Only now did he see that lump, held aloft and stopped by him…
By his swollen right arm, muscles straining and inflated at least four or five times larger than they had ever been. The size, now he looked at it, of Nomu's arms at the USJ.
"No… no, I… how?" Izuku blinked once, twice, hoping that he wasn't seeing what he was seeing. But as his arm shrunk down to a normal size and he carefully placed the lump of metal on the floor, the damage was already done. "I… Yui, I…"
Sorry, Izuku. But if it was your life and hers, versus keeping our little secret… you'll just have to tell her now, won't you?
"How… what was that, Izuku?"
A/N: Oh, yeah. Explain your way out of that one, Izuku!
There was no way in hell it was going to last for too long. Try as Izuku might, it's simply not realistic that I was going to be able to have him disguise All For One's existence from the entirety of his class for any long period. That is especially the case as we move forward past the USJ, as the Quirk is now a lot more active (not least because Shigaraki is a lot more present now). There is a slippery slope ahead, and Yui allows me to sow the seeds.
Yui knowing is in part a choice on my end because I love her character potential. She's almost entirely a blank slate in canon, but the possibilities are great and I've got a soft spot for her; in the absence of Uraraka and noting Yui's "Proto-Uraraka" status in the original drafts of My Hero Academia, it felt right to give her some more significance and bring her more into the fold. She will not be the only one…
Hopefully you've all enjoyed this chapter. I wanted Yaoyorozu to actually appear competent (because when her confidence isn't shot, her ability to command and her intelligence really shine), without being too OP; ah, the eternal curse of writing fanfics containing utterly broken Quirks. Given that Midnight is the class's homeroom teacher in Incident Zero (and their close connection in the manga) I thought it would be fun for Yaomomo to borrow from her Sensei's playbook in how she tackles strong opponents like Izuku. Poor Kendo can't catch a break from people trying to gas her, huh?
If you've enjoyed this, please review with your thoughts- just don't flame and be constructive if you want to criticise, that's all I ask. I will get replying ASAP to reviews now that this is posted too! And if you haven't already, please consider a couple of things. Firstly, please consider favouriting and following this fic and checking out my other works. And secondly, please come on over to the Ignite to the Call Discord where this fic has its own channel and I am a mod, and meet some lovely people- the join code is nZK53Esw.
Until next time, people. Ya boy, out.