"What's the matter, Deku?" Bakugo said with a sneer, his voice laced with vehemence and contempt as he uttered his favorite insult toward the green-haired boy that he tormented so frequently. The explosive blonde stood front and center, his arms crossed as he glowered down at the Quirkless boy before him. His entourage of friends—sycophants, really—stood behind him, mimicking his posture as best they could, as if they were hoping to capture even a fraction of the charisma and coolness that Bakugo exuded in their eyes. "Don't tell me you're scared?"

Izuku shuddered as all eyes were on him; he had followed Kacchan with an uncanny reverence for years despite the humiliation that was reaped upon him day in and day out, but he hated being at the center of attention like this, in front of more condescending glances than usual. It usually meant Kacchan was going to degrade him worse than he normally did.

It helped that they were in the middle of the woods, though. Slightly, anyway. Izuku knew that at least if he ended up crying—which he was apt to do—he wouldn't be made a spectacle of in the middle of the park or the schoolyard, which is typically where Bakugo reveled in his bullying of him.

Still, Midoriya shrunk under the gaze of Bakugo and his gang of followers; he always felt so small and beneath them all, especially Bakugo, but wasn't that why he always followed after them all—followed him—in spite of everything? So long as he followed the boy who he always thought was a model case of victory and strength, couldn't he, too, a Quirkless weakling, become strong as well?

"I-I'm not scared!" Midoriya stammered in the face of their malicious smirking. His shaking body said otherwise, though, and Bakugo knew it.

"Oh?" Bakugo said with a sickeningly sweet tone. "Then what are you waiting for? Get to it Deku!" Bakugo stomped toward Midoriya, gripping his shoulders and whirling him around before giving his backside a rough shove.

Midoriya caught himself before he could face-plant into the slick, mossy ground beneath his feet, a loud creaking noise causing him to stare up with trepidation at the looming, decrepit mansion rotting forlornly before them. The abandoned mansion was the entire reason Bakugo brought him and the rest of his gang out into these woods in the first place.

Midoriya glanced all over the decaying outer husk of the building: brown and white paint particles were flaking off unceremoniously, rotted wooden planks on both the walls and the front porch looked as if they were forcibly rent and twisted off by turbulent, stormy winds, vines—alive and dead—had victoriously covered and consumed huge swaths of the walls and roof (which also had gaping holes in it), and what windows remained looked cracked beyond repair.

All the kids in the neighborhood knew it colloquially as the Haunted Mansion, and it wasn't uncommon for kids to dare other kids to go inside and creep around, much to the chagrin of parents and local authorities alike, who had deemed the building unsafe and off-limits for years, long before Bakugo and Midoriya were born, even.

"You want to do something fun?" Izuku thought back to Bakugo's words from earlier. "How about we go check out that haunted mansion before the storm hits?" A chorus of 'oohs' and 'ahhs' followed, as if Bakugo's suggestion was scandalous. Midoriya went along with it, as did everyone else, but he hadn't picked up on the snickering and the nefarious glances being cast his way as they traipsed through the darkened woods. Now the boy knew: Bakugo waited for a soon to be stormy day like this to goad him into exploring the haunted mansion. Alone.

A sudden drop of precipitation landing on his shoulder rocked Midoriya out his thoughts. He slowly tilted his head up at the dilapidated building towering above him. He hadn't even entered yet; he was standing on the torn up porch, hesitating directly in front of the foreboding door.

"Deku!" Bakugo snarled, making the poor boy jump up in fright. "Hurry up! Or else we'll leave you here in the storm!" Bakugo said that last bit with a nasty grin, and Izuku knew better than to call his bluff.

Slowly, Midoriya shuffled forward, placing his hands on the great wooden door. If Bakugo and his gang made him feel small, then this huge, rotten building made him feel microscopic. He gave a halfhearted shove, and the door gave little resistance as it creaked open, much to his surprise. He stepped in, giving a cursory look around the decayed foyer and the staircase directly in front of him before turning back to the other boys, giving them a friendly wave as newfound courage swept through his body.

Bakugo's followers whispered fervently among themselves, surprised that Midoriya hadn't cowered out like they expected. Even Bakugo looked surprised for a second, but said nothing, opting to instead grit his teeth in frustration.

A sudden breeze blew through the forest before Midoriya could yell anything out, causing the door to swing shut in his face, causing him to jump back and yell in fright. The slam from the door seemed to shake the entire building, eliciting a slight groan from the structure as dust rained down from the flaking ceiling. Izuku quickly shook himself free from the clinging grime.

Alright, I'm in, Izuku thought. Now what?

Thinking back, Bakugo had never explained what exactly he was supposed to do once he entered the mansion; he had only told him to go in. But Midoriya didn't think Bakugo would be really impressed with him if he simply left right this moment. No…he'd at least explore a bit.

To say the interior of the building was dark would be an understatement. The two rooms flanking both his left and right side were completely shrouded in darkness, and the foyer had barely any light as it was—Izuku chalked it up the brewing storm outside. The pitter-patter of falling rain was more audible, spurring him toward the stairs. He certainly wasn't going to be left behind if he could help it.

With careful steps, Midoriya slowly ascended the stairs to the upper foyer. Its stability was questionable at best, but it still seemed capable enough to support his weight, which he was grateful for. He stuck near the crumbling railing and inched his way toward a side room. The upper foyer extended all the way to the back of the building, stripped bare of even the most basic decor or furniture. A large circular window crisscrossed with a strange series of arcs seemed to offer a view of the woods behind the house, but the impending storm blocked view and light alike, leaving the second story even more bleak than it was bare.

A clap of thunder and a blinding flash through the window startled Midoriya; he really needed to hurry, but he wanted to make sure Bakugo would be impressed with how long he had stayed inside.

Not lingering any longer, Midoriya slipped into the closest side room, promising himself he would leave right after to ensure Bakugo wouldn't leave him behind. The room was more compact and square-shaped, though just as dusty as the rest of the house. The walls were lined entirely with grand bookshelves touching all the way to the ceiling, splintered and barren of whatever texts they might have been decorated with in the past. Except...

Wait, what? Izuku blinked and approached a bookshelf that ended in the far corner of the room. Hiding in the shelf's shadow and coated beneath a surprisingly thin layer of dust was a single book. Midoriya's curiosity took over as he reached out to fetch it. He stared at the cover for a good minute before flipping it over and studying its backside and spine.

Midoriya discovered the leather cover of the book was a brilliant shade of red beneath the minute amount of dust covering it. There were no words written on the cover, and when he flipped it open to a random page, he was greeted with lines and lines of indiscernible text.

What language is this? Izuku wondered. It's not Japanese, or even Chinese for that matter!

The sound of thunder struck again, this time reverberating through the shelves and causing the entire room to shake harder than the foyer had just moments prior. Without even thinking, Midoriya slammed the book shut, tucked it under his arm, and bolted out of the room and down the stairs.

The pelting of rain and the howling wind that accompanied it was louder than ever, and Midoriya felt a surge of panic at the prospect of Bakugo abandoning him here to ride out the storm in the night. He'd certainly have some explaining to do to his mother the following day if that were to happen, provided she didn't die from worry first.

Midoriya burst through the door and nearly yelled out in relief as he saw Bakugo standing in his exact same spot, along with his other 'friends' behind him, though they looked more desperate than their leader to seek shelter from the storm.

Bakugo's natural scowl only deepened as the Quirkless loser finally emerged from the house after roughly eight tense minutes. About damn time, shitty Deku...

"Would you look at that," One of Bakugo's cohorts muttered as he wrapped his arms and elongated fingers around his torso, shivering in the blustery rain. "Quirkless kid went in and came out just fine!"

"Oi! Deku!" Bakugo barked. He leveled his glare directly at the poor boy, not looking or feeling impressed in the slightest. In fact, all he felt was frustration that Midoriya had succeeded. "We're leaving!"

Without even waiting for the green-haired lad to respond, Bakugo turned and stormed off, his hands in his pockets as his followers flocked around behind him. Midoriya wasted no time in bounding across the mossy forest floor-now waterlogged from the incessant rain-to catch up with the rest of the group.

In a few minutes time, the group of boys found their way back along the ravine that held the creek they had played around so many times in years prior. They always followed the creek back in the general direction of the park whenever they decided to play out here, but the sight before them made the drenched youths linger in awe.

The ravine before them no longer held the gentle creek they had seen an hour before, but instead contained a rampaging torrent of rapid floodwaters, filled to the brim with mud and debris-and that was just on the surface.

"Hmm?" The kid with the elongated fingers turned toward Midoriya, noticing the red spine of a book nestled in his armpit. "Whoa, Midoriya even managed to sneak something out of the mansion!"

For the second time that day, Midoriya shrank as all eyes were on him; it didn't matter that they didn't have looks of contempt on their faces, he was simply conditioned after so many years of bullying to feel uncomfortable and brace for the worst whenever this happened.

The worst, unfortunately, was about to come.

"Huh!?" Bakugo growled, pushing the boys that were crowding around Midoriya and inquiring about his find aside so he could see it for himself. Sure enough, tucked in snugly beneath the boy's arms was a thick, red book. Midoriya was shielding it as best he could from the rain, but Bakugo saw it as Midoriya trying to keep it away from him. Naturally, his anger surged.

"Well, well," Bakugo spat. "I never pegged you to be a thief and a loser, Deku!"

Midoriya blinked as the words reverberated inside his head. Thief?

"And you want to be a hero?" Bakugo was sporting his trademark crazed grin now. "How can you even play the role of a worthless wannabe hero when you steal things like a villain?"

Midoriya clenched his eyes shut and backed away from the boys as Bakugo's words stung his brain like a hornet. Like a villain...like a villain...

Immense guilt swelled inside Izuku as he took another step back from the gang of boys, moving away just as Bakugo was reaching out to grab hold of the book's spine, earning him a murderous glare.

"Give me the book, Deku!" Bakugo growled. He clenched his fists; he might not have been able to use his Quirk as effectively in the rain, but he could still throw a hell of a punch.

"K-Kacchan!" Midoriya yelled out in protest, taking another step backwards toward the edge of the ravine. "I need to return this!"

"What you need to do is fork that book over!" Bakugo growled with even more anger. Was that even possible? Of course it was.

"Kacchan—!" Whatever protests Midoriya was about to yell were lost as he felt the earth give way beneath his foot with one final step back. Gravity took full effect as his body tumbled backwards, with the last thing the Quirkless boy seeing before submerging into the murky depths below was the look of absolute shock on Bakugo's face.

"Help—!" Izuku sputtered desperately as the torrential floodwaters tossed and turned him like a load of laundry. He lost his grip on the book, but he hardly even noticed as he was flailing his arms wildly trying to keep himself from sinking. He parted his lips the moment his face was met with air and not water, gasping for breath as he looked around, beleaguered and distraught about his predicament.

Midoriya whimpered before being pulled back under by the raging current—there was no one to be seen running along the ravine edge. Bakugo and his followers were gone. He was going to die, and he was going to die alone.

Something solid and hefty suddenly rammed into his side, knocking what little breath he had out of his lungs, but fortunately also propelling him back to the surface. Midoriya instinctively clung to the object—a log large enough for him to hold onto—as he was swept away. He kept his eyes tightly shut as rain, wind, and muddied water battered his face relentlessly.

Midoriya suddenly yelled out in pain; a searing, scratching sensation ran up his right cheek where the pointed tip of an errant branch being danced around the raging waters sliced across his skin. The hapless boy only clung to his makeshift lifeboat harder, even as the waters began banging the wayward log against what Midoriya could only surmise to be other logs and whatever debris he could imagine. With his eyes clenched shut, the boy could only guess what the chaos swirling around him in the muddied waters looked like.

Midoriya sputtered and sobbed as he was tossed so mercilessly down the ravine, but his sobs soon gave way to horrid, bloodcurdling screams as his log rammed straight into a derelict tree trunk entrenched in the depths of the river, his hands being pinned and crushed between both splintered, wooden surfaces. In the wake of the blistering pain, Midoriya yanked his eyes wide open as he screamed out, only to be met with a splattering of muddied water to his face. The muck blinded him, and he slipped limply off his log the moment his crushed hands were released from the vice.

I'm going to die! Izuku thought hopelessly. I'm going to die and I'll never become a hero!

Now back to being tumbled back and forth by the unyielding waves, Midoriya could only gurgle out his screams whenever he was plunged back into the murky depths. The final thought that flashed into his mind before losing consciousness was his mother, and how heartbroken she'd be whenever his body was recovered.

The splashing of a wave stirred him out of the all-consuming darkness. His eyelids cracked open, blinking repeatedly in a vain attempt to clear out the gunk that blurred his vision.

Am I...alive? Izuku thought weakly as he swiveled his head around, taking note of his surroundings as best he could.

He was laying on his back, that much he knew; it seemed he had miraculously washed up on the bank of the ravine. Casting his gaze down toward the water, he could see it still churning ferociously, though the rain had lessened a considerable deal. With a grunt, Midoriya tried lifting his body up, but found he had no energy to do so. He tried settling for his arms instead, but winced in pain; a surge of adrenaline was felt as Midoriya realized he could not even feel his hands, let alone move them.

Midoriya coughed and let his head drop back down; his body couldn't even handle that minuscule rush of adrenaline it seemed, and he could already feel his consciousness slipping away from him again. That is, until some movement above him caught his blurry eye.

"Who...?" He croaked out but felt his mouth clam up. It came as no shock that he also lacked the energy to even speak.

"Don't move," a gruff voice replied. Izuku released a sigh he hadn't even realized he was holding at that moment. He strained to get a good look at his savior before everything faded. The only precise details he could make out was a gentlemanly face, a blue tunic, and a flapping, red cloth that gently wrapped around his body, coating him in what felt like an otherworldly warmth. Izuku let his eyes flutter shut as he drifted peacefully to the sensation of being slowly lifted to safety.