A/N: Just want to say, despite the story's title, there isn't a set outcome. It's all about the journey, not the destination, eh? So there's some hope for Izuku. That said, well, you'll see where this story is going as it unfolds. It still isn't a very happy one.

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Chapter Four


5-4-2344 Entry

It is as I expected. Not knowing of other paths, he takes the route most obvious to him.

.

Izuku had been running off of momentum his entire life.

When he had been small, the exuberance and coolness of heroes fighting had filled him. He had thought – so cool, amazing – along with all the other boys and girls in the schoolyard, in the time before the boys had started playing with boys and girls with girls. Though that had been many years ago, the feeling of that awe he had felt as he clicked through endless videos of heroism on the net, of All Might's daring rescues and smashing fights, stayed with him.

Then, he was diagnosed as quirkless. Ever since then, he had been running off the lingering momentum of that tide of exuberance, letting it carry him forward, until he could bury all else – his fears, his pain, and his loneliness – under the mantle of becoming a hero.

He had run off of momentum, day after day, even as his peers mocked him, laughed at him, even as Kacchan bullied him, even as he tried to tell the other boy how much he still admired him and still held him as his only friend – and he was so, so tired of it.

His mom had been the only blessing in his life then. He remembered holding her, not understanding why, when she cried about his father not being there. That moment was one of the weights he had carried in his heart ever since, and he thought to her, one day, when I am a hero, I'll save you too, mom!

But Izuku had been running off of momentum all his life, and when he had found himself sidetracked, loneliness fulfilled for a moment, listened to – then treated with horrible truths, unable to prevent something he thought was wrong, forced to the road, where he became grimy, hungry, and tired – he could feel his momentum grinding to a halt and he couldn't understand how he could take another step forward, much less become a hero.

As hot shower water scalded his skin, washing away the grime, soothing bunched up muscles, bringing both agony and renewal, he cried.

He was weak.

He was quirkless.

He was hungry, and tired, and a girl had called him stinky.

All these things hurt and reverberated inside him, and as the hot water poured over him, he found himself descending onto his knees, clutching at himself, and suddenly wishing that he had never been borne at all because maybe he wouldn't have to face this pain, or that everything would become a static void of nothing.

It was just, when he had first met Aku-san, he had seemed so nice. His reasonable, soothing tone had felt like a balm to Izuku, soothing some pain he hadn't even realized had been there. Carried by momentum, like sediments of sand carried to form a riverbed and bury lonely tiny rocks in layers and layers, his concerns and loneliness had been buried, until one day relief came, touching his inner heart, and he couldn't help but cling to this seemingly-wonderous cure. Then he had come to realize that his life was a hellhole. Two more years of middle school, he realized during one of his talks with Aku, suddenly had become an impossibly long time. When he had a chance to escape, he took it.

But he had made a mistake. He knew that now. He had left his mom – she'd be so worried, worried sick – and he hated that he might have made her worry. He should have never left.

After a blank haze of time had passed, thoughts ricocheting, Izuku turned off the water. The air suddenly was very cold and he realized that his skin was pink. He looked at it blankly, before drying himself with a towel and pulling on the clothes that the nice family had prepared for him. They were warm, and soft, and fuzzy.

He found himself crying again.

What was it about this, that was both so sweet and so painful to him? What was this feeling?

Finally, minutes later, wiping away tears from his eyes with his wrists, he emerged from the bathroom. To his shock, he found a small orange-haired girl poking at his backpack, a wreath of junk and food that he had amassed in his backpack thrown haphazardly onto their dining table.

The little girl, Katya, grinned immediately when she saw him, head jerking up without even a guilty look. She immediately rushed to his backpack, pulling it up in the air and jerking his notebooks out from them till they waved precariously in front of Izuku's node.

"What are these?" Katya asked, eager expression seen from just above the rim of his notebook. She had evidently rifled through all his stuff already, by the stash on the table.

Izuku stood there, frozen, before he was able to muster an appropriate reaction some seconds later. It was such a sudden, stark change, like he was suddenly, abruptly entering another, brighter reality, that every motion seemed heavy and cumbersome and surreal, and he was forced into startled, hyper-aware awkwardness.

"D-don't just look through my stuff!" he protested, backing away, hands in the air like claws, back stiff.

She looked at him disdainfully, withdrawing the notebooks. "Then you shouldn'ta just left it right there."

She then inspected him more closely, leaning in particularly into his eyes.

"Huh? Were you crying?"

Izuku flushed, stammered, then looked away.

"N-n-no," he said, but he didn't think she believed him.

"Come on, Katya, are you teasing him?" Mercifully, another voice broke in, a much more mature and low-pitched voice than Katya's or Izuku's own. Katya's mother, Anali. She had a kindly, portly face, and orange hair as wild as her child's. "You should know better."

Katya pouted at her mom, her face screwing up into what seemed to be a quaintly trollish expression. Izuku stared at them in amazement.

"But it's fun!" she said without remorse. "And besides, he was crying. Teasings good for the soul, ya know, so I was only trying to make him feel better!"

The woman sighed, but she smiled. "What will I do with you, Katya…" She turned to Izuku. "I see you've cleaned up now. How about I get you some more food now, before I ask you some questions?"

Izuku nodded eagerly, feeling the pit in his belly suddenly deepen. Katya had thrown him another apple after introducing him to her mom, just before the shower, but he was still hungry. And real food sounded divine.

"Th-thank you for the food," Izuku found himself stiffly and gratefully saying some minutes later as he sat at the dining table, which was rimmed with and set in real wood but covered with a taped-down sheet of plastic to keep off the stray bits of food. His miscellaneous items that Katya had thrown out still sat on the table, but they worked around it when they ate their meal. Steam drifted up to his nose, and when a reverberating chorus of formality hit his ears, he found himself inhaling the warm meal of rice and vegetables.

When he had devoured enough to become once again aware of his surroundings, he saw Anali's warm gaze and Katya's keen one focused on him. He found himself swallowing sharply, sending him into a coughing fit before he was able to stabilize himself and sip some water to help the food go down smoothly. His mother's trick.

After that, he slowed down his pace, meeting their gazes with caution before his eyes, like two same-pole magnets attempting to meet, seemed to skit away without ever making full contact. Strange, because while his eyes were under the effect of this social opposite magnetism, the strangers' never seemed to be affected. That was completely different from what they had taught in school – if he were to assume that their eyes were really like a pair if same-pole magnets, then their eyes should be skirting away from him too –

Stop, he told himself, internally screaming. Stop. No weird physics analogies.

He felt strange, surreal, uncomfortable, and like this world wasn't quite real. But he had to face it.

"So what brings you here?" the older woman, Anali, said, when he had hesitated too long in lifting his fork again.

He forced a shaky smile on his face, glancing towards Katya and back.

What should I say? he thought frantically.

There was a very long and awkward pause as his eyes refused to meet theirs and theirs seemed to rest on him like a pair of hungry wolves.

"I–I–" His voice seemed to choke.

"I got lost," he finally settled on, voice very quiet, eyes fixed to the woodtop of the table.

That was another thing. Heroes didn't lie. Izuku hated to lie, he had never done it after he had once told his mother he had lost his homework and she found out the next day that he had just buried it deep in his backpack. But over the past few days, his fear and weariness had overcome that. He had scarcely even given it a thought. Now, though – now, he chose to lie, because he thought he didn't know how to explain the truth and was worried that they'd turn him out – or worse, to Aku and Tomura, villains – if he tried. Or maybe – if they knew – would Aku kill, like Tomura had said they did –

He shook his head, realizing that tears were again beading in his eyes and he furiously wiped them away.

"Hey, there, there, kiddo." He realized that Anali had somehow gotten behind him, and he stiffened as she put her hand on his shoulder. Izuku remained staring forward, body feeling locked up. "It's okay. We'll get you back to your parents, okay? There's nothing to worry about."

"He's lying," Katya, across the table, said crossly, her arms crossed. Her gaze seemed penetrating, and Izuku shrunk. "He didn't get lost."

"Katya!" Anali scolded, and to Izuku's relief, she removed her hand. "You shouldn't say such a thing!"

"But he lied when he met me too!" she said, scowling accusatorily at Izuku, who wished he could sink into his chair and wilt away. "He said he was gonna meet some friends in the next town over! But he was starving, and it didn't make sense, and now he's telling something different. It's a fact, mom!"

"Katya," the adult said sternly. "This is not the time, all right?

Katya pursued her lips and sulked, and to Izuku's vast relief, finally looked away from him.

Finally. Magnetism theory may yet still hold –

Why am I still thinking of something so stupid!? His mind was still too scattered to think properly.

He squeezed his eyes shut, took a calming, shuddering breath, forcing his minds to rights, then opened them again to find the barren wooden lodge, the dining room, the two strangers around him. It seemed more… solid, now that he was more aware, like the colors had deepened.

"Sorry," he said quietly and warblingly, "if I'm causing you any trouble." Then, "thanks again for the food."

Katya's nose wrinkled, but when Izuku chanced a look at her mom, he found her face set into a smile.

"Of course, of course. We'd help anybody in need of a good meal." She then paused, continuing carefully, "so whereabouts are your parents?"

Izuku hesitated.

"M-musutafu," he muttered finally. "In Tokyo."

There was a silence, but this time he kept his gaze firmly fixed to the table so he didn't see the woman's expression. After a tense moment, he heard the gust of a sigh.

"... I see. You're pretty far out, aren't you, kid?"

The voice was more cautious now, flat. Izuku bunched his shoulders.

"I-I just want to go home," he whispered.

Another silence.

"Kid, you didn't run away, did you?"

Izuku shook his head adamantly, before he hesitated. Had he, really? "N-no," he said.

Another sigh. "I guess I better let the police handle this, after all." With a sharper voice, "Come on, Katya, get your jacket. We're heading out."

There was a flicker of motion in his peripheral vision; Katya's bright orange head was nodding up and down rapidly. Then she hopped from the table, footsteps chattered around the house, and she chirped, "I'm ready! What about Izuku?"

"He's coming with us."

Some minutes later, Izuku found himself wrapped up in a warm jacket, all his strewn-out supplies repacked, his backpack slung squarely on his shoulders. He was pushed out the door, a hand on his shoulders, and he allowed it mutely, feeling that maybe they did know better than him after all. The police, yes, the police were supposed to be trustworthy.

It was a short walk to the station, a ramshackle building painted white and faded rusty blue. It had glass windows, unlike many of the houses in the area, but the building only occupied maybe 100 square feet of space. When they entered, it was small and dusty, floor tiles full of faded colors, and Katya's mother immediately swept forward into the sole open door, where she began chattering rapidly and was met by a deeper, tired-sounding voice, until the door closed itself with a bang and the voices became muffled and Izuku could hear no more.

The two children sat in the waiting lobby of the police station, bottoms glued to cold plastic chairs, feet swinging listlessly in the air, as they waited for Katya's mother to finish speaking with the policeman. It had a dull, oppressive atmosphere, until Katya spoke.

"You ran away, right?" she whispered, and her face was stretched into a grin. It seemed odd on her face now for some reason, forced. "Bet there was someone reeeeal scary there in the forest, right?"

Izuku looked at her, then finally, nodded shallowly. He was tired of this nervous, budding feeling inside of him and of lying. She was his age, too, even if she had been mean and rude she surely couldn't be so bad, at least not as bad as Aku or Kacchan.

"Villains," he whispered.

Her grin died down, face becoming more blank, and abruptly she looked more downput and serious.

"Huh," she said, and then they sat in silence for a moment.

Then,

"You know, we ran away too. But it wasn't a villain."

Izuku looked at her. The way she tucked in her knees, then, pulling her feet to rest on the rim of her seat, was at odds with the way she seemed to stare at him defiantly. Izuku's eyebrows furrowed, she seemed to be waiting on him for a response.

"From what?" Izuku asked finally.

"My dad."

At that moment, the door to the office swung wide open, effectively ending the conversation. Katya's orange-haired mother strode out confidently, a portly policeman with somewhat off-kilter attire following her. The man's eyes landed on Izuku immediately, and Izuku noted a tired expression on the man's eyes.

"So you're the kid?"

Izuku nodded mutely, then feeling awkward, stood to his feet.

"Come with me. I'll take you back home."

They walked behind the police station, and to Izuku's astonishment, he saw a car there. Yes - there was a gravel road, extending from behind the station.

The policeman gestured for him to get in, and mutely he did so. Katya and her mother stood a few feet away to the side of the car, watching, the older woman with a matronly, reassuring smile. Katya more looked put out, but quickly regained her energy.

"Bye!" the girl yelled. "Come back again soon!"

Izuku smiled shakily back at her and just waved from the car window in response.

"Alright," the man grunted. "I'll drive you back to Tokyo, least as close as I can get before the traffic hits. Then I'll pass you on to another office who'll take care of you. You all buckled in, kid?"

Izuku nodded, and the car began puttering forward slowly. The vegetation and unpaved parking area made the tires pucker and rumble against the ground, and Izuku jostled slightly against his seatbelt. He clutched it for a sense of security, nervous feelings budding.

"Wait," Izuku whispered suddenly after a few minutes of this, urged by a sense of responsibility, and the police man looked at him from the corner of his eyes. "There were villains, in the woods."

The car slowed down, halted.

"Villains," the man said flatly.

Izuku closed his eyes and nodded.

"Thought you just wanted to go home, kid?"

Izuku nodded again.

When there was silence, he then said, "B-but I don't know if we should just leave them there - they could be dangerous for someone - "

"Look, kid, you ain't doing anything." The man sighed heavily, then pinched his nose. "Look, tell me a little more about these 'villains', and then we'll get on the road."

So Izuku described Aku-san, and Tomura, and told him how Tomura had said they were villains and that he wanted to kill people. He managed to stammer out the harsh things that Aku-san had told him. At the end of it, the police man was staring at him oddly.

"And how did you get involved with these, er, villains?" the man asked.

Izuku explained that he had been tricked, and that Aku-san had been his tutor before they left for the hiking trail. When the man pressed if Izuku had gone on the trip willingly, Izuku had to admit that he had asked to come himself.

The man breathed out heavily.

"Look, kid, it just sounded like that man, your tutor, wanted you to be more careful. Human trafficking ain't a joke. I'm sorry it scared you, but it's the truth. And that other kid – you said he was about your age, right? Were you playing some video game with him at the time?"

Izuku found himself nodding, gaze fixed to the seat. He had a bad feeling he knew what was coming. No one had ever taken him seriously, not the adults or the teachers at school, either.

"And look, that's not a nice name for your tutor, either," came the icing on the cake. "Calling him literally, Evil? C'mon, I bet he's better than that." There was a long pause, a frown, then the policeman's eyes flickered back and forth in thought before settling on Izuku. "Let's go back and meet them together, alright? I'll see if I can settle this for you."

Izuku bit his lip and shook his head. "B-but –"

"Don't worry," the man soothed. "I might not look it, but my quirk ain't that weak. If it comes to blows, I can protect ya, and worst comes to worst, I have this." He parted his sidearm holster at his hip almost fondly, and Izuku found himself nodding, nebulously reassured.

"A-alright," Izuku squeaked.

The man stepped out of the car, powering it down, and Izuku stepped out after him hesitantly. He looked around; Katya and her mother were already long gone.

"Can't get there on the main roads if you don't know where on the map it is," the police man explained. "We'll have to take the motorcycle. Ever ridden a motorcycle, kid?"

Izuku shook his head no.

"Well, don't worry, it's a two-seater. If you strap in and hang on tight, you'll be fine."

He was donned with a thick motorcycle helmet, so large and bulbous and heavy that he felt like he was tottering as he took a step. He swallowed, but then the man picked him up and sat him on the back seat. The feeling of surreality only grew. Had Izuku been really wrong? Or was something bad, a mistake happening now?

The man threw his own leg forward, coming into the seat in front of Izuku, and told him to hold on. When the motorcycle began putzing, a heavy rumble coursing through his body, Izuku nervously complied.

Tens of minutes later, Izuku providing directions when they neared the turn-off point, they arrived, and Izuku eagerly hopped off the motorcycle. Then he looked up with trepidation, feeling that the destination was worse than the journey. They were back at the cabin.

"Mr. Policeman," Izuku tried. "Can't you just take me home to my mom? I don't want to come here."

The man frowned at him, and said, "Well, we've already come all this way, right? Might as well ask and see what's going on."

They walked up the steps to the porch together, Izuku trailing a foot behind. The large policeman knocked on the door with four loud raps, then tapped his foot impatiently as they waited for several minutes. Then the door creaked open, revealing Aku in his suit and a new mask that revealed the bottom of his face, a pleasant smile showing.

"Oh," the policeman said immediately, disgruntled, loudly. "I see why you called him a villain, kid."

He coughed, shook his head, then looked at Aku, whose smile had obviously and abruptly died on his face.

"Sorry," the man blustered, embarrassed, before he put on a serious face, but Izuku saw the blush stay on the man's face and felt his own confidence wane, even as the man held up an ID card in his wallet and postured confidently. "I'm a policeman from the town over, this boy showed up recently with some concerns. I'm here to check things out, see if everything's up to inspection, you know."

"I see," Aku said cooly. He then paused for a moment, considering the policeman, his gaze heavy. The silence grew oppressive as the man let the time tick forward, until the policeman's bluster had all but disappeared, his blush deepening, and he lowered the ID, his other hand twitching towards the holster at his hip, frozen.

"Forgive me," Aku said finally. "I have a deformity I do not wish to often show. If it makes you more comfortable, however..." Slowly, he removed his mask, revealing a bald head with scar tissue lining all of his head above his mouth, giving him a gruesome appearance. Izuku had to hold back a gasp. "An accident, when I was younger."

Then Aku smiled.

"My name is Aku Shojo," he continued smoothly, holding out a hand, and the policeman quickly reached out to take it in relief. "Izuku's tutor, and mentor."

The man then talked to basic pleasantries, the police officer informing him bluntly, seeming to recover himself, that this was an investigation behind this child's circumstances and that he would like the circumstances of Izuku's stay with him better explained.

"This is a retreat, for his informal internship with me," Aku explained calmly, and Izuku remembered how the man had told him he'd gotten this whole trip registered with the school as leave for a business internship. "I think of Izuku like my own son. He has become good friends with Tomura, even if the boy can often speak harshly without meaning to."

"I see," the man said, frowning. "Can I see some paperwork for this?"

"Of course. Let me just stop by my office."

Leaving Izuku and the police officer on the porch, door remaining somewhat askew and open, Aku retreated back inside. The police officer shifted impatiently, but scarcely a minute later, Aku appeared with some papers in hand, which he passed over to the police officer.

The police officer scanned them and frowned, and Izuku tiptoed over to read the papers. They looked official.

Leave of Absence for Izuku Midoriya, it read, for emergency reasons, approved by parent… A private education will be given by Tanima Corporations, in the form of an informal internship, covering the educational standards as required by… The paper went on to list a variety of codes and robotic-sounding course standards, just like many of the course syllabi his professors at Alderan had sometimes boasted or complained about. On the top right of the page, a picture of Izuku was attached, bright-eyed and smiling. It was his school photo from the previous year.

At the bottom of the page, was Izuku's mother's familiar signature. It was dated for – he thought – just after they had left.

"I see," the police officer said. "Well, this all looks to be in order…" The man seemed to lose some confidence, harsher atmosphere gone, and he frowned.

Shooting a look at Izuku, who was bouncing nervously on his feet, unable to believe the direction this has taken, the man then said, "And can I see the inside of the cabin too? I realize I have no search warrant, but…"

"It's not a problem," Aku said graciously. "If it gives some reassurance to Izuku, I will happily do it."

They all stepped inside the cabin, walking down the main hall, Izuku trailing nervously after the policeman. Why did everything look so official, if they were villains? Was this a business internship, and Izuku just hadn't understood right? Why was his mother's signature on the bottom of the page?

"Man, this house is creepy too," the policeman's voice broke the silence, looking around as he trailed after Aku. The man let loose a high-pitched chuckle, and Izuku felt his confidence in the man wane further. "No wonder the kid's scared! You should get some decorations in here!"

"You are quite right…" Aku responded. "I have been remiss in this. Thank you for your suggestion, I will strive to account for Izuku's comforts better."

"Some retreat," the man muttered, then fell silent.

The man inspected every room, lingering on the training room and the room that had been claimed as Izuku's. There, he again muttered that they should get some decoration, but at least it was well liveable. When they came to Tomura's, the boy stopped playing his video games, shot the police officer an annoyed look for interrupting him. His detached hands were missing from his face and arms, and to Izuku's shock, he almost looked normal, not threatening at all like he usually appeared.

Finally, their tour was done, and Aku led the group to the door again. This time, as the police officer hovered awkwardly outside the door, Izuku remained notably inside the house, beside Aku, eyes wide and uncertain as he tried to figure out what to do. Had he really been wrong?

"Well," the man coughed awkwardly, looking at Izuku. "Guess you were homesick, huh?"

Izuku's gaze snapped upwards.

"Sorry for all the trouble," the policeman said, his face coloring, turning to Aku. "I appreciate you letting me in the house. Just – try taking some of my advice and coloring the space up, eh? It'd make the kids more comfortable."

"It's quite alright. Likewise, I'm glad to have another eye in here. Obviously, there are some areas I am lacking in that I had not realized. I had believed the forest peace to be rejuvenating enough, but perhaps that is in the way of old men and not of children."

The man nodded, then lingered on the front step, eyes flickering from Izuku to the man's villainous mask that Aku held in his hands, then said, "So what exactly are you tutoring the kid in?"

Aku looked down to Izuku. Since his mask was off, Izuku could see the smile wide and clear, but also all the scar tissue and for a second he stared. Then, "Why don't you tell him, Izuku?"

Izuku's eyes widened and he looked at the man.

"U-um," he started. Not knowing what else to do, stricken by uncertainty, he complied, "History, politics, social movements… some finances, I g-guess…"

The police officer sighed in relief. "I see. Well, that's all well and good." He then turned to Aku with a seemingly-stern look. "Don't make him work too hard, okay? Kid's have got to live a little too. And let him call his parents too, okay? It sounds like he misses them. If you go out to the next town over, I'm sure you'll find someone willing to give you a landline if you're willing to pay a few cents."

Aku nodded, and soon, the exchange had ended. The policeman got on his motorcycle, and the sound ripped through the woods as he drove away. Izuku was left to stare at his dust trail in silence, wondering at how, after three days of pain, he had ended up exactly where he started.

It felt shameful. He was scared. He didn't know what would happen now.

"There, there, Izuku." A hand clapped on his shoulder. "Shall we go in?"

Mutely, Izuku nodded, and was led to the kitchen table, a feeling of nameless dread filling him. Tomura, he could hear through the wall by cursing and weird pings, just continued his video games like nothing had happened. It was a cold reassurance.

Izuku took a seat, and Aku took the seat across the bare table. He had replaced his mask on his face, so all Izuku stared at was a dark, blank slate with a pursed, expressionless mouth revealed.

For a moment, there was silence. Aku was giving him the chance to speak, explain himself.

"H-how did you get my mom's signature?" Izuku finally asked, quietly, instead. He wasn't sure he wanted the answer, but regardless his fist tightened as his mind immediately thought of the worst possibility and his heart clenched. He didn't - he didn't trust this man anymore.

"Relax, Izuku," the man across him chuckled. "She signed it herself. I sent her a message, telling her of the circumstances at your school, and she agreed to it."

Izuku was silent. That didn't sound like her. She was always so worried about him. Would she really be okay with him going off with a stranger to her, so suddenly? Though she had heard of Aku much from Izuku, she had never met him in person. I never should have left.

"Wh-why not tell me about it?" he asked finally, his voice a tremor.

"Because you were not wrong in your accusation when you went to the police. Yes, we are villains."

Izuku's gaze snapped up, eyes wide. How had he known –

Aku chuckled.

"I have eyes and ears nearly everywhere," he said, tone chiding. "Either way, it would not have changed anything. I warned you, didn't I? If you came with me, you would not be able to turn back."

Izuku was silent for a moment, before he glared upwards.

"Tell me the truth," he said, an inner strength and flatness overriding his nerves and anxiety. "Why am I here?"

And Aku explained it to him.

They were villains, he and Tomura. He was grooming Tomura to become the next great villain. Izuku had happened along by happenstance, and Aku, seeing potential in him, had gladly taken him in when Izuku himself had asked.

"P-potential?" Izuku had asked. "For what?"

"For villainy, of course."

It had left Izuku shaken, for all his life his dream of becoming a hero was mocked and kicked down. No one had believed in him. Here was someone who had finally seen potential in him, for the first time – and it was not for heroism, but for villainy.

"I want to go home."

"Not yet, Izuku," the impossibly old man chided. "But we will have you call your mother at some point, hmm? To let her know you are doing well."

Further, Aku explained, he was looking to cultivate his successor in villainy. Coldly, he explained how All Might had been the one to give him these scars on his face, and that he had been All Might's greatest enemy, their fights never revealed in the media. He wanted to strike back. Tomura would be the tool to do so.

Izuku was horrified.

"B-but – All Might – "

Then he looked away, feeling abruptly powerless. He was told all these horrible things, but as his escape had proved – he could do nothing. He couldn't even leave. He was quirkless, powerless, useless like Kacchan had always told him.

"Why are you telling me this?" he asked finally in a hushed, chilled voice.

Aku told him.

"I won't!" Izuku yelled, standing up. "I'm going to be a hero! I'm going to – I'm going to stop people like you and save – " he swallowed, squeezing his eyes shut, "save everyone you'd ever hurt! Like All Might!"

The way the kitchen was silent then, distant sounds of video games pinging in the room next door, made it feel like a child's tantrum. Izuku's fist shook, his eyes burned, he felt like his trust was betrayed. He had known then, maybe, when Tomura had first said that they were villains and killing, but now, Aku, confirming all his worst fears while he just sat there and listened – it made it all so much worse, and real. It was real. He hadn't been wrong. He hadn't.

If only – he had been able to convince the police man that he had been right. If only he hadn't spoken up and mentioned the villains, and then he'd have been driven straight home, where his mother would worry and fuss over him but she'd be there. If only he had believed in himself more and hadn't wavered at his mother's signature and hadn't started fooling himself and convincing himself that maybe he had been wrong. Because he hadn't. All those signs – those little disturbing things – they were real and –

– and – and, he couldn't do anything about them.

Tears had started streaming down his face again. Aku wasn't going to take him home. The nearest town was a terrible three day walk away. He had tried, he had tried so hard already. The only policeman he had seen had forsaken him. His phone was dead, unable to access any signal in the mountain area. All of Tomura's games were on local matches and against AI; he didn't even have internet here.

But, he realized abruptly, the monitors. Aku was getting his information from somewhere.

And – the policeman had had a car. The roads of the next town were largely paved. Maybe – maybe there was another way than to walk –

Aku chuckled, and for a worrying, frozen moment, by his expression, it was like he had read Izuku's thoughts.

"I look forward to your next escape attempts, little one," the man said. Then Izuku's blood ran cold, his heart screamed and beat a thousand miles per minute, his hair stood on end and he stood frozen and fixed and planted to the floor mindless and unthinking in shrill terror. The same aura of fear as in the camp. Aku's smile then was magnified in his vision, the way the black mask crinkled. The next words were distant. "But you will come to realize that there is no hope for one without power."

Then it was gone. Izuku breathed harshly, sounds returning to his ears. The pings of distant video games. When he fully came to, Aku was gone, and he was alone in the kitchen.

.

He stared at Tomura from the doorframe, an hour later when he had calmed down and reevaluated his options. The boy was mashing buttons, an eager grin on his face, eyes fixed to the screen. He scarcely seemed to notice Izuku was there. Other than his chapped lips, he seemed like anybody else in his class. He wasn't wearing his scary hands right now.

A tool to defeat All Might...

"Yo, Izuku."

Izuku startled, shoulders bunching and body going erect like a startled cat.

"H-h-h-huh? What?" he stuttered out.

The boy paused the game and turned, giving Izuku a strange look.

"What?" the boy asked, his expression annoyed. "What are you so jittery for? You're the one bugging me for something, aren't you?"

"I-I-I guess so."

Izuku stepped inside the room, tentatively closing the door behind him.

"Doesn't it bother you, Tomura?" he asked finally, tiptoeing closer. "That Aku is a villain? That he's trying to take down All Might?"

The other boy's face darkened, and he scowled as he stared at Izuku.

"I hate All Might," he said bluntly. "He hurt sensei. And sensei took me in."

Then he turned back and restarted his game.

"B-b-but!" Izuku stretched out a hand, then stopped, sighing. Then he asked, in a small voice, "why?"

"Dunno," Tomura said, not averting his eyes from the screen. "Don't need to remember."

"But – "

"Listen," Tomura said, voice well and truly annoyed now. "I don't care about shit, or other people. I know you're some hero-lover, but Sensei took me in, when everyone else just did 'nothing. If you're going to whine about him and us being villains – " Tomura's hands gripped the controller harder and Izuku watched with wide eyes as it abruptly turned gray, like stone, and began to fizzle away into dust, "– then you should just leave, and never come back like you did now."

"Tomura." Izuku abruptly lost his voice, before he swallowed again. "Your quirk – "

"Huh?"

The boy looked down, seeing the dust speckling his hands. He scowled, then stood up, kicking at the spare controller in front of him until it flew at the console with a loud clatter. "Great!" the other boy yelled. "I hate this! Why'd you have to come bother me, huh?" He swiveled to face Izuku, face angry, and Izuku shrunk away. The expression was too familiar to him, and he braced himself for mockery or pain.

It didn't come. When he opened his eyes again, he found the other boy restarting the console and picking up the spare controller again with a huff. Miraculously, everything was still working. Izuku watched the other boy for a long moment.

"No multiplayer games anymore," the other boy grunted suddenly. "'Cause you broke it."

Izuku didn't break anything. Tomura's quirk had. His quirk – which had been able to just dissolve that game controller like it was nothing. Did it work on organic matter too, or just inorganic?

"Why are you still here?" the other boy muttered, itching at his neck, and Izuku realized he had been staring.

Izuku thought for a moment. He had a chance here, he realized.

"I do want to leave," he said quietly, and the other boy's gaze jerked up. "Could you help me?"

Tomura cocked his head to the side, then looked at him, considering.

"Why?"

"I can't leave on my own," Izuku said. "I need your help to show me how to get out of here."

"No, I mean why do you want to leave?"

The boy scratched as his neck, his expression seeming genuinely confused.

"Because," Izuku said, lips pursed and tight and shaky, "I want to go home."

"Hmm." Tomura thought. "You won't tell anyone where sensei and I are? It's annoying to move."

Izuku hesitated, then nodded.

"Then I guess." The other boy abruptly grinned at him, large and toothy behind his chapped lips. "You know, I thought you'd at first be a fun toy to play with, but then you were just annoying. Sensei spent too much time on you." He said these words with an indiscriminate cheer, and Izuku winced.

"S-sorry?" he said uncertainly, but was secretly elated that the other boy promised to help.

"And it's so boring here!" Tomura threw his arms into the air. "No net access, can you believe it? Sensei likes the woods, but I can't stand it."

Izuku nodded, while absentmindedly noting that yes, the lack of internet access has been a specific countermeasure against him reaching out.

"So I'll be glad when you're gone," Tomura affirmed. He then stood up, carelessly dropping the video game controller on the floor with a clatter. He then went to the corner of the room, picked up a pack, and slung it around his back. He then walked forward, until he stood a foot in front of Izuku, who stood in the doorway, looking at him expectantly.

"Well?" Tomura said impatiently. "Let's go, then."

Izuku bobbed his head rapidly up and down, then stuttered, "I-I need, supplies - "

"You can't steal any more of my ham," Tomura said flatly. "You don't need supplies. Let's go."

"O-okay."

Izuku stepped out of the way, and Tomura strode past him. Even though his legs were short, just like Izuku's, he seemed to have a sweeping, rougher presence about him that made him seem older.

"Wh-where are we going?" Izuku asked, as he ended up timidly following after Tomura, who was making big strides to the cabin door.

"To the back of the cabin," Tomura answered. "There are a couple of roads and routes there."

As they walked out, moving rapidly through the forest, Izuku found himself mulling on that piece of information as he followed the blue-haired boy mutely. Izuku couldn't believe that he hadn't realized it himself - the rat-like man who had given Aku the keys, after all, had disappeared through the back. Had he really gone through all that pain, trying to go back on the hiking trail, when there had been a better way?

He was frustrated with himself. If only he had thought about it a little more, then -

"Ah, someone found us."

Izuku was suddenly jolted from his thoughts by Tomura's voice, and he jerked his head upwards, blinking. He realized that, yes, over the past seconds, he had heard the familiar sound of forest leaves shuffling - and there, in the distance, on what looked to be an established path, was a hiker, carrying a heavy load on her back in a big, bright green pack. She blinked in our direction, looking somewhat startled through the trees, then raised her hand as if in preparation to call out to them.

Tomura dashed forward, faster than he could blink, and his hand touched the woman's face. She looked at him with surprise, flinching backwards, mouth open, before –

Her head started turning gray, like the controller had, before it started flaking away, disintegrating, until at first the head disappeared, then the entire body. The woman was gone in less than what had felt to Izuku like a frozen instant.

Izuku stared, mouth agape, before he clasped his hands over his mouth and breathed.

He had – been unable – to do anything

It happened so fast –

Was stopping this, what it meant to be a hero? It was – nothing like he had seen on the streets – where heroes battled villains with cool capes and shouted moves –

"Why?" he breathed, unable to tear his eyes from the spot the woman had stood.

"Sorry," Tomura said remorselessly as he walked back to Izuku. "She saw my face. Sensei said to not let anyone see my face yet. It would ruin my spy attribute."

She didn't even do anything -

Then the other boy turned to Izuku consideringly, a frown on his face again as he itched at his neck.

This is my fault, he realized at Tomura's continued friendly demeanor towards him, horror growing in him.

I was the one who asked Tomura to come out here.

"You sure you won't tell anyone about me, right?" the other boy asked.

"Y-yes!" Izuku squeaked, terrified. "I won't!" Then. "M-maybe I can continue a-a-alone now."

"Eh? But we just got started. How are you gonna get all the way back to Musutafu on your own?"

Izuku swallowed, not liking how easily Tomura was taking this, then explained, "W-w-well, if you're going to kill everyone we c-come across, then someone is going to figure out where you and… sensei live."

Tomura scowled, then seemed to consider it.

"I'm not stupid. I know that." He looked around, then grinned toothishly. "Maybe I can wear a disguise. Like camouflage."

Izuku stared at him in a frozen, surreal horror, and when the boy began shuffling through his own pack, Izuku found that his throat had dried up and he was unable to make any protest.

Ultimately, the boy ended up wearing a hoodie, a set of dark visors, and a medical mask. It was an effective get-up that didn't leave much identifiable visible.

This had been a mistake, Izuku shrilly realized. How much damage would Tomura cause before he could get back home? How much damage would Tomura cause before they both got caught?

They had just started moving deeper down the forest path, Izuku's movements stiff and Tomura's quick and spry and eager, when something in Tomura's pocket buzzed. The boy stopped, dug into his hoodie pocket, then held the phone to his ear. After a moment of buzzing chatter Izuku couldn't distinguish, Tomura set down the phone and his dark shades stared at Izuku.

"Aww, fun's over," he said. "Sensei says to get back home. We've got our first mission in the area, Izuku."