/ fan-taz-m uh /
an apparition or specter.
Tenko wakes to a dark room.
He’s forgotten to leave his side lamp on again. There are no windows in the part of the compound that he now calls home. There are hardly any windows at all, save the two frosted panels that flank the front entrance. Small hands reach out into the inky blackness. He’s about to flip the switch of his light when he realizes his gloves aren’t covering his fingers. Instinctively, he flinches back, his fingertips curling into his palms.
He’s accidentally destroyed three lamps in the last 18 months. Sensei always says it doesn’t matter. Focus on honing your skills, Tomura, he’d say. Everything else is just excess. Mindless noise that doesn’t matter.
It still sounds strange to Tenko. He can’t get used to it. Sensei had told him it meant, “to mourn.” They used it at funerals or when you were remembering the dead. It made him shiver. He didn’t like it.
No, it’s not that.
He was scared of it. It felt more like an omen than a name. But whenever he remembered...no...think about something else, Tenko.
Ok... ok, what can he distract himself with.
He snags his gloves from his bed, pulling them over his trembling digits. A hand lifts to scratch under his eyes. His fingers fit into the grooves of his irritated skin, tugging.
Alright. Come on, Tenko, think…
His eyes flash around the cold room. He still hasn’t turned on the lamp, so there’s no light to protect him.
He has to think of something else. If he doesn’t, they’ll come back. He doesn’t like it when they come back. They’re always angry, always shrieking at him.
Their voices are hollow, distant and dampened. They get weaker in the daylight. But the room is dark now.
It’s not safe.
Um, er, other things, other things. It’s been four years. Yeah, that feels about right. Sensei told him that his ninth birthday had passed the other week. So, it must be April. He always liked April. Not just because it’s the month of his birth. No, he likes the smell. April smells mossy, earthy. Things are growing again.
He’d told his Sensei this once.
Sensei just laughed. It was a strange sound. Sensei didn’t laugh much. At least, not for pleasure. His laughs were more like barks of sound. Sometimes they made Tenko shrink back. This laugh differed from the others. It sounded genuine, amused.
It’s the semiochemicals, he’d told Tenko. Organisms produced them.
(What’s that? Tenko had asked, eyes bright. Sensei had replied that organisms were things. Tiny, tiny things that connect everyone. Oh, Tenko had muttered, not really understanding, but wanting it to seem like he did. He was nine now. He should know more than he did at eight. That’s how life worked. Everyone knew that.)
Anyway, his Sensei continued, expanding on his original reply, semiochemicals create a smell. That smell is what Tomura liked. It was a simple chemical reaction, nothing more, nothing less.
Sensei fixed him with a hard stare then, one brow lifted, waiting. Tenko had gulped and looked away. He should ask his questions one at a time. Sensei, always foreboding, always watchful, didn’t like when he pestered him.
Pestered means to interrupt, to annoy. Tenko didn’t want to be seen as annoying. No, his Sensei liked him more when he just said yes. He’d gotten his third figurine that way. It wasn’t his favorite hero, but it was still a gift. We say thank you to gifts and don’t ask for more.
That’s weird. How did he know that? That wasn’t a lesson he’d learned from Sensei... where had he…
Things feel hazy when he tries to look into those, other, thoughts. They would filter in at the strangest times, pulling at him, nagging. It was like looking through the frosted glass that was beside the front door of the compound.
He couldn’t quite see what was happening beyond the thick surface. If he squinted, or pressed his face close, it would just hurt. No, it’s better to leave it alone. He would feel sick to his stomach if he didn’t.
A shiver echoes up Tenko’s spine.
It feels like someone is dragging an icy finger down his back. Startled, he gasps and turns, his eyes scanning the darkness. His heart is pounding in his chest. He doesn’t like the sensation. It makes him feel lightheaded.
There’s nothing there. It’s just the blank white wall that greets his frantic gaze.
Not that walls stopped them. No, they weren’t confined to the usual physical boundaries anymore. They often came to him when he slept. Once, he’d felt their hands against his mouth, cold, wraith-like fingers trying to smother him from existence.
He didn’t blame them.
But not blaming them didn’t mean that he liked their visits. No, he hated when they slipped in. His heart would slam against his breastbone those nights, his eyes closed, twitching under his eyelids. He couldn’t move. Whenever they came, it felt like there was a pressure on him. It pushed against his stomach and chest. He couldn’t even scream.
He would be transported back to that dark alleyway, the rain a dull sting on his skin. He felt so, so heavy that night. It didn’t help that Sensei requested he wear them. They were cold, clammy. He could feel them through his long-sleeved shirt. One was even covering his face. He didn’t like that. But Sensei had insisted, so Tomura had obeyed.
Tenko had met the men before.
They had laughed and shoved him down, the stench of alcohol rank on their breath. They were wild, angry and nasty. He hated them in that moment. Hated them so much that he wanted to reach out and...no. Tenko looked away. Bad things happened when he touched others. They would shift, skin sloughing away, blood splattering, their screams...stop...no, don’t let him, please, make it-
He’d ran. Scrabbled back to his feet, his shoes pattering against the wet pavement, his throat clenching and unclenching. He felt like he was going to hurl.
He had hurled as soon as his Sensei let him back into his room. Sensei was perched on his bed, his hands folded patiently in his lap, his eyes dark and clouded.
What do you want to do? He’d asked Tenko. It surprised him that Sensei could even hear his answer; he hadn’t even been able to hear himself croak it out. No, Tenko was too busy kicking at the floor, his legs flailing, tears and snot running down his face.
But, whatever he’d said, it made his Sensei smile. Tenko liked when he smiled. It felt like something special that only he could see. Something that was just for him. He wanted another; he wanted more. Maybe he’ll even stroke his hand down my hair. Sensei does that sometimes, his fingers warm against Tenko’s battered skin.
So he’d reached out. He’d grabbed the first thing he could and smiled as it shattered to pieces under his touch. See? See, Sensei? Look at me, I’m being good. Please, please, just want me...
He regretted that impulsive smile of his as soon as they fastened the hands around him. They made him feel too much. They created a high pitched buzzing in his mind and he had to swallow so much spit, so much bile, that his throat protested the dull ache of it all. But Sensei was adamant.
Do your best, he’d said and ushered him back to that alleyway, promising he’d be watching.
The men hadn’t liked his renewed presence. No, they screamed at him, their voices grating, making him wince. One even threw a bottle at his feet, the glass smashing against the street, fragments cutting into his ankles. Tenko wanted to run again, but Tomura had another idea. Tomura wanted something darker. Besides, Tomura reasoned, Sensei will like us more if we do this.
He could barely see where he was reaching, one lone eye peering into the night, the red flashing. Ah, there’s his face...
The man’s skin was hot to the touch. It felt nice. It was a polarizing difference. It made the rain feel piercing and brittle. The man’s blood was hotter still, steaming against the asphalt as it seeped into the hungry ground. His friend stammered and stuttered, but Tomura was already clasping his tiny hand over his mouth, silencing him one last time.
Tenko’s barren room was filled with trinkets after that night. He’d even been gifted a computer. He wasn’t sure how to operate it. Books upon books were piled on his shelves. Sensei had even found out what hero toys he’d owned once. They sat, gleaming and new, their smiles beaming down at him from the shelf.
Sensei had told him he was reborn and then he had given him his new name. It was more than Tenko, no, Tomura had ever expected. But it still wasn’t enough. He wanted to ask for something else. He didn’t know how to say it. No, that’s not true. He knew. But how do you ask someone like Sensei for a hug? He hadn’t given him one of those in months.
Tomura didn’t care about the toys. He didn’t want the books or the computer. No, he wanted...it sounded so stupid. Tenko had cried about it later, his white hair pillowed in his arms, shoulders shaking. The lights were off and he was sitting in his bed, his tears staining the sheets. He drifted off fitfully, his covered nails pressing crescents into his palms. He should have stayed awake.
It was the first night they came to him.
They were quiet. They hadn’t been like that in life. No, in life they were brash. But they still smelled. Now it was tainted with something else. They smelled like copper, something metallic and rancid with decay. It stung his nose and made him quake.
They were mean. Their hands were sharp, prodding, poking, gnawing and biting into his fragile skin. They would tell him things.
You know he doesn’t love you. No one does.
We’ve seen what you’ve done, Tenko. You’re a murderer.
You’re a monster. We should put you down like the stray you are.
Your mother never loved you, she couldn’t even protect you. She didn’t want to. Who protects an abomination like you?
Your sister never liked you. She wanted you to get in trouble. Why put yourself out on a limb for a creature like you?
You deserved every single hit you got, you little beast-
Stop, stop it, STOP!
All Tenko could do that night was shake. He couldn’t move, but he could feel. And he felt every slander, every bit of vitriol and malice that they spewed. The wraiths drifted above and below him, their voices so clear, so crystalline that he could hear every word, every syllable. There was no room for misunderstanding.
They hated him as he’d hated them.
Tenko gasped and shook while Tomura railed against his chains, his teeth white, bared against the threat.
Who cares? Who cares? Who CARES? They’re dead. They don’t matter, Tomura bites out.
They didn’t deserve it, Tomura, Tenko reminds him. They didn’t know. I just wanted Sensei to be proud, to be happy with me.
Tomura laughs. Sensei is happy, you idiot. They don’t matter, nothing does. You know what they’re saying is right. You just can’t put the pieces together.
Yeah, all that shit about your mom? She didn’t care. She never tried to stop him. Not really. Not in a way that mattered.
Shit’s a bad word, Tenko scolds. You’re not supposed to say it. No, stop saying that. My...my fam-
You can’t even get your ugly little mouth around the word. How stupid. You’re too dumb, Tenko. Don’t you remember what you did?
Did I...did I-I k-kill...no. A villain attacked.
Is that what happened? A big, bad villain came? Those men sure did go down easy. All you have to do is touch them, Tenko. You sure your family didn’t go down the same-
Tenko woke screaming, his gloved hand clutched at his throat. He’d sat on his bed, eyes wide, lips trembling for the rest of the night. He hadn’t known an undisturbed rest since. No, now they were always waiting in the darkness, seeping into the cracks of his broken mind, feeding off his whimpers and cries.
He didn’t mean to...no, no, that’s not right. He had meant to kill them. As the years wore on, as his Sensei taught him new things, it was getting harder and harder to not slip into Tomura.
Still alone in his bedroom, Tenko shakes his head from all his memories, lowering his gloved hand from his face.
He needs to turn on the lamp. The light will keep them away. Carefully, he flicks the switch, his middle finger arched into the chilly air. The glow fills his tiny space, illuminating his shivering and crumpled form. His red eyes rove over his meager possessions. His toys are still sitting, gathering dust on that shelf. The computer is switched off, the tower humming comfortingly into the silence.
The whole compound is silent. He hasn’t seen his Sensei in days. That wasn’t an unusual occurrence. No, Tekno is often alone for a good part of the week. Still shaking, Tenko slings his legs over the bed, pressing his cold feet to the floor. He pads over to his bedroom door, turning the knob and peeking his head around the corner.
The hallway is dark, the only light coming from the overhead bulbs that shine weakly from the ceiling. His stomach rumbles and he steps out into the silence, his bare feet the only sound that reaches his buzzing ears.
Tenko’s not sure where the compound is located.
He knows it must be close to Tokyo. His Sensei always talks about his dealings in the city and how he likes to be close to the heart of things. He had told Tenko it was easier to get a read on occurrences, plots, and attacks when he could see from a higher vantage point. Tenko had nodded sagely, but he had to look up the word ‘vantage’ later.
Oh, yeah, he thought, his finger tracing the ink of his dictionary, that makes sense. Having a good view would be nice. It’s better than being below something.
Tenko slouches into the main room. It’s brighter in here. A pale light streams against those foggy glass panels. It refracts, scattering across the wood floors and tickling up his feet, the warmth cloying and distant. The heat of the light makes him pause, his eyes glancing to the heavy door that seals him away from the outside world.
Tenko can hear something sloshing against the metal. It sounds like rain. Unthinkingly, he steps toward the hulking frame. It’s a heavy slice of gleaming alloy. The metal of the door is reinforced and bolted. He’s been told to never step outside without strict permission. Tenko stops, his eyes narrowing, the red of his irises sharpening under the dim sunlight. He thinks through his options.
Sensei has already been away for days. Chances are, the mission he mentioned would take a few more. If he’s going to push at the rules, now is as good a time as any.
Sensei had told Tenko about his mission before he left.
I have found you a more permanent companion, Tomura. He can help you with your quirk. It will grant us more control over your more impulsive urges. You’re still destroying things you don’t mean to. He can help stop that. We’ve been monitoring him for a while. All that remains is to gather him up. It shouldn’t take long…
Tenko liked the thought of a companion. It was another word he’d looked up. But having someone around that he could spend time with sounded... nice.
Tenko glances over his shoulder. All is quiet, there’s no one here. Sensei could be gone for days. He would never even know about him going outside. Tentatively, he lifts a gloved hand to the first lock. Oh, wait. Tenko looks down at his bare feet. He’d need his shoes to go outside. Ah, there they are.
His hands pull them from the shoe rack by the entryway genkan. They’re red. He likes them. He’d specifically asked for the color and his Sensei had shaken his head. They would be flashy, he warned. Tenko didn’t care. He liked how they gleamed under his dark clothes. Still admiring their verdant shade, Tenko slips them over his cold toes, tapping them against the floor to ensure they were on all the way.
Ok, now he’s ready.
The lock of the entry door slides back, and the noise is as loud as a gunshot to his ears. Tenko shrinks away, his head low, eyes searching the other hallways, waiting for the inevitable horror of discovery.
No one is coming. No one is reprimanding him. His hand slips to his neck again, covered nails scratching into his skin. He feels torn, his heart is beating rapidly against his ribs. Bad things happen when he disobeys. He knows this. But he’s not sure how.
Sensei has always told him to do his best. He’s never said that bad things happen when he doesn’t listen. Come to think of it, he’s never really punished Tenko either. He’s been disappointed, his face a grim line above him, but he’s never...
Tenko scratches harder, his neck burning under his frantic pulls. No. That warning is from something else. It’s from something that he can’t see. If he just…
His lip stings and the scar that runs across his chapped skin feels white hot. Gasping, Tenko lifts a few shaking fingers to the broken gash, trying to feel for the ache. It stops as soon as it starts. He’s still for a long moment. He doesn’t want to remember again. No, he just wants to go outside.
Mind made up, he reaches for the final lock. Again, it’s loud, the bolt echoing around the vast complex, rattling along the walls. He’s not going to stop now. He wants this, and Sensei did always stress the importance of not letting his fears impede his wants.
The door groans open, the metal rasping, screaming against its hinges. Tenko winces again, his nose wrinkling against the clamor, his eyes clapped shut. He presses the door a little further, and then, finally, it’s over. The door shudders once more and there is blissful silence again. Tenko’s hand is pressed flat against the metal, his touch trembling, fingers lifting away at the foreign sensation. He’s still waiting for that imaginary scolding when it hits him.
It being a soft whoosh of fresh air. His nostrils flare and he lifts his chin, letting the damp rain press against his face. His eyes pop open and his lips lift in a smile.
It’s raining, and he’s standing in an open doorway for the first time in months. He shivers and breathes in deep, his eyes lingering over the sights that are before him. The smell is heavenly. It’s that same mossy, earthy, fresh, alive smell that he’s always loved. It clears that buzzing in his mind and everything else whirring inside him. His distant anger, those feelings of inadequacy? They are shushed to a low whisper. He can breathe.
The world is slate grey. It mirrors the inside of the compound, but Tenko steps eagerly into the wet, his bright red shoes blazing as he steps into the shallow puddles. He looks up at the stormy clouds; the rain makes his skin throb. He doesn’t mind. It helps to dull that odd itch that still lingers against him. He’s been having trouble with it again. It’s a place he can’t reach. Maybe if he asked Sensei, if he could ask to come outside a little more it would-
“What are you doing?”
Tenko gasps. He’s trembling, alarmed and shrinking back, pressing against the doorway. His feet catch on the concrete and he tumbles to the ground. It hurts. His legs feel like they’re on fire. He’s not sure if he’s angry, or embarrassed, or scared...maybe a little of each? His mind feels too jumbled to think straight. Is he in danger? Should he-
A small hand is reaching for him and Tenko finches away, his eyes finally lifting to see who is stupid enough to touch him. It’s a boy. He’s young, likely about his own age. His eyes are a rich chocolate brown, the irises almost indistinguishable from the pupils. His hair is dark, clinging wetly to his forehead. He looks sweaty and his cheeks are round, friendly. The boy, whoever he is, isn’t laughing at his clumsiness. No, he looks worried, his brows knitted.
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you…”
“I’m not scared,” Tomura snaps. “Don’t touch me.”
“Oh, sorry,” the boy says again, his warm hand tugging back. “Are you... um, ok? Your face looks-”
Tomura’s eyes flash, the red vibrating, gleaming, daring this stranger to finish that thought. The boy stiffens under his glare and stammers on.
“I mean, uh, sorry. I don’t know, ha, my mom always says I talk too much. Anyway, um, I was just getting my ball when I saw the gate was open. The gate to this place is never open, like never, ever. It’s shut up tight usually. I don’t think we even see lights most nights.
My friend, his name’s Haru. Anyway, he says this place is haunted. He said some guy killed his brother here. That was hundreds of years ago. Some people say he used his quirk to do it. They never found him. After the murder, I mean. Nah, they say the house was empty and there was nothing in it, like at all. Well, nothing they could see.
Some old-timers say he’s still in there, though. He’s supposed to have claws and stuff now. Haru said his grandpa told him he used to climb to the rooftop. You could see him then. He was all covered in fire. He said if you catch sight of him, someone in your family would die soon.
I don’t believe any of it. I always tell Haru that ghosts aren’t real. Besides, my dad told me people like to make things up when they’re scared. Oh! But you’re real! And now that I’ve seen you, I can tell Haru that someone lives here! There’s no ghost.”
Tenko doesn’t reply. He stands, knees shaking and his white hair lowering, covering his face. The boy hesitates, his chatter ceasing as he watches Tenko carefully. But, a few seconds later he’s grinning at Tenko again, his voice slipping into that cheerful tone once again.
“I’m Aoi. I live around the corner. Well, me and my family. I’ve got a younger sister and a kid brother. I’m the oldest. So, uh, what’s your name?”
“Tomura. Like... death? Woah! That’s so cool!
Tenko, no, Tomura, bristles at Aoi’s assessment of his new name. He’s a little taller than the boy and that slight difference makes him lift his chin, flaunting that meager slice of power over Aoi. The boy grins at his display, unperturbed.
“Hey, Tomura, you wanna’ come play? It’ll be fun! Come on, come play with us. It’s just me and three other boys. Well, there’s one girl. She’s ok. If you hurry, we can finish this inning.”
Tenko shrinks back again, his body hunching. He can’t help it. Play? Did...no, yeah, he used to do that. Yeah, he used to play with Mikkun and Tomo. They would play... what was it…
“Um, not that, look, you don’t have to,” Aoi continues. “Mom says I demand stuff. So, I’m not demanding that you play with us. Demand means to make someone do something that they-”
“I know what demand means,” Tomura snaps, his eyes glaring, glinting again. He tries to straighten his spine, but he can’t seem to stop shaking.
“So... uh, did you want to? We’re playing baseball. That’s the foul ball right there.” Aoi points behind him to a small white ball with red threading. It’s nestled in the mud by the gate.
“I was just coming to get it when I saw you. Whaddya’ say, Tomura? We need another hitter. It’ll be fun, promise.”
Tenko is quiet. He looks up at the boy’s open face. He wants to say yes; wants to play. Besides, like Aoi said, it could be fun. He hasn’t played a game in so, so long. Sensei won’t be back for hours, maybe days, he reminds himself. He wants to say yes, he’s going to say yes. Tenko is about to step toward him when he hears something.
It creeps up behind him, long fingers sinking into his neck, his hair, his arms, tugging, pulling, yanking him back. There’s a low wail that rattles around his fogged mind. There are other voices too:
“Tenkooo! Um, sorry ‘bout that. I shouldn’t have-”
“Don’t cry, Tenko. Here have some ohagi-”
“Your father... he knows…”
“Hey! Hey punk! Get the hell outta here!”
“You’re a fucking freak!”
“What are you- Ah! Ahhhhhhhh, no! God, nooo!”
Tenko shudders away, trying to shut out the ghosts. Trying to block out their disembodied wants and crushed hopes. But he’s flailing, drowning in the knowledge. He didn’t want to kill them...he didn’t mean to… they were his family, he... he lov-
“Tomura?” Aoi asks, stepping back from his strange reaction, a low curling of anxiety shifting over his friendly, open, features.
“Get out,” Tomura snarls and he steps back into the compound, his gloved hand scrabbling around the metal door, slamming it in Aoi’s worried face.
He imagines he can hear Aoi waiting, stunned that his new friend has left. Aoi’s expression would be a little crestfallen, those kind, dark eyes lowering as he steps away, back to his game.
In reality, the door is too thick, too strong. No, there’s only silence around him.
Tomura’s hair drips wetly against the wooden floors, and he can feel his legs shaking. He tries to step out of the genken, but his feet flop uselessly under him. He collapses, his knees hitting the floor roughly, chapping, scraping against his already sensitive skin.
He had wanted to say yes. He had wanted that so badly. But he didn’t want Sensei to find out. What if...what if he made him kill…
No, Tenko thinks, blinking back his pricking tears. He kept that boy safe. Aoi would never know, he could never tell him thank you, he would never see him again, but Tenko had protected him.
He wraps his arms around his stinging knees, his back shifting against the door. There’s another voice that is nagging against the back of his mind. It’s harder to lock out when he cries; softer, gentler. It’s different from the others. It feels female, light and soothing against his frayed nerves. Whoever it is, she’s asking him a question, he just can’t make out what she’s saying. He never can.
Sighing, Tomura stands, slipping his shoes off and retreating to his room. The silence and that soft voice pressing heavily against him.
“Tenko, do you still want to be a hero?”