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The Gift Outright

Chapter Text

 

A man said to the universe:

“Sir, I exist!”

“However,” replied the universe,

“The fact has not created in me

A sense of obligation.”

 

-Stephen Crane

 


 

 

As far as Toshinori Yagi was concerned, the world was a very unfair place.

 

Sure, he’d been accused of being pessimistic in the past. But he felt he deserved to be a little biased considering his circumstances.

 

Being quirkless was a pain in the ass, to put it lightly. On top of that, being half-foreign in a place like Japan was downright torture. And he meant that literally.

 

Perhaps the bullying would have been more bearable had Toshi not also had to deal with near-constant isolation. Growing up half-Japanese in America had been...something. Unpleasant. Still, his parents had at least been there to staunch the flow of his hurt in grade school, even if they couldn’t understand his feelings of powerlessness.

 

His mother, a gifted Japanese woman, was wise and warm. She alone could talk him down after a rough day with his harsh and needling peers. His father - blond and loud and Very American - was just as brash as Toshi’s antagonizers. But the man, at the very least, had always had his son’s best future in mind.

 

Or so he’d said, as his job usurped his family again and again. The family found themselves moving around the States irregularly throughout Toshi’s childhood.

 

It wasn’t so surprising when his parents were divorced.

 

At first Toshi was relieved when he and his mother moved to Japan. Toshi was quirkless, but his mother had always spoken well of her homeland - how the people there were gentle and kind. How it didn’t matter so much if you had a flashy quirk or not, so long as you did your part in life.

 

But the facts remained thus: Toshinori was a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy with shaky Japanese, no quirk, and an estranged father, living on the outskirts of Tokyo.

 

Children were cruel no matter where you went.

 

But he endured.

 

Growing up, Toshinori was an avid fan of American comic books. Superman appealed to him especially: an overpowering hero that demanded respect, who had parents that didn’t quite understand him, though they did their best to help him fit in. Peter Parker, Spiderman , was another favorite.

 

The living, breathing heroes of the States were harder for him to connect to: larger-than-life men and women who were the faces of a brand. Pop stars that were too busy saving the day to look at the people milling about below their agency’s skyscrapers, whose names were just as likely to appear on a cereal box as they were a newspaper headline. That was the reality of heroes that Toshi lived in.

 

When Toshinori moved to Japan and encountered the Symbols of Peace, that worldview had changed entirely.

 

They were the Golden Trio: Deku, Lemillion, and Shouto.

 

‘So long as they exist ,’ Toshi’s mother had said, ‘the forces of evil will always think twice.’

 

Despite himself, Toshinori came to idolize them.

 

In his final years of grade school, Toshi found his eyes drawn to any news reports about them. For his eleventh birthday, his mother bought him a hero data-book. He’d read through it twice in the span of a week.

 

To call any of the Symbols ‘the number one hero’ wasn’t exactly correct, Toshi learned. They were a system of checks, a collection of different quirks that were overpowering in their own right. But all quirks had flaws - and the Trio played off of their own and into each other’s. The three of them together, in any situation, were infallible.

 

Lemillion was like a brick wall - immovable, impenetrable. He was a solace in a storm. His quirk, “Permeate”, was one of endless fascination for Toshinori. Something so simple, that the hero had expanded to be versatile in any situation. Toshi had tapes of all of his interviews, which he often used to practice Japanese. The man’s friendly countenance encouraged Toshi in his studies.

 

Shouto was the quietest of the three Symbols, with his flashier “Hot and Cold” quirk. His abilities were straightforward and honest, like his personality. Magazines often commented on his stony expression, but one day Toshi had found a picture of the man on an internet forum - Shouto, with a bashful expression, knocking shoulders with a laughing Deku at a local cafe.  Toshi had saved it to a folder containing the rest of his collection.

 

Deku was his favorite. He had heard of the man a few times before in America, the so-called “Strongest Man in the World.” The guy was oddly secretive about the specifics of his quirk, but on one thing experts agreed: If Deku and a mountain crossed each other’s paths, the mountain would move for Deku.

 

It was Deku’s smile that did it for Toshinori. Toshi had never seen a hero smile like Deku did, bright and hopeful in any situation; to people big and small, heroes and villains alike. Toshi liked to imagine that Deku would smile like that at him if they ever met, even if the man knew he was quirkless.

 

It was the thought of Deku’s smile that carried Toshinori through the day of his mother’s funeral.

 

Toshi didn’t have a lot of time to think about heroes after that.

 

His mother’s work-friend drove him home from the temple where he’d laid his mother’s ashes to rest. He went through the box of her belongings that the hospital had sent home, affixing her photo and favorite trinkets to the new altar that stood in his living room.

 

On his desk was the number from his contact at the American embassy, and below it was scribbled his father’s cell phone number.  

 

Toshinori had declined when the man suggested he move back to America, swearing his good behavior. His father had promised that the child-support checks would continue to arrive. Not once did either of them suggest the older Yagi come to join his son in Japan. It was through this tentative agreement that Toshi avoided becoming a ward of the system, instead becoming nearly independent at thirteen years old.

 

So, it came to be that he lived a lonely existence in the rural suburbs of Tokyo. He had finished elementary school with little flair, and likewise started junior high school quietly. There were so many special circumstances around him, the teachers paid little mind to the fact that he was older than all of his peers.

 

It was a small relief that he never had to worry about money - the rent and utilities were automatically deducted from his mother’s life insurance, and his father’s child support more than covered his other expenses. He was studious, and minded his manners militantly (as his mother had taught him). His grades weren’t top-notch, but he never missed a day of school despite the scathing words and occasional wounds some classmates left him with.

 

It was okay , when he realized he had no dream for the future.

 

But it was unfair, he thought, that life had handed him such a shitty hand.

 


 

 

Three months after the death of his mother, Toshinori meets Nana.

 

She’s his neighbor, apparently, and she’s a piece of work .

 

There isn’t anything special about their meeting. Rather, it’s a series of meetings between them, several awkward elevator rides shared as they happened to return home at the exact same time over one week.

 

“Is that convenience store food even any good?” she wonders aloud the fifth time he ekes onto the lift with his junior high backpack in one hand and a bag of 7-11 chicken in the other.

 

“I don’t know how to cook.” He responds defensively.

 

Silence follows, the woman not saying another word as they unload on the same floor and walk in opposite directions to their respective apartments.

 

The next day she’s there waiting for the elevator, looking worn and not a little ruffled. But when he steps through the doors behind her, she pulls something from inside her jacket and slips it into the grocery bag in Toshi’s fist.

 

Startled, Toshi looks at her and then peeks into his bag.

 

“Why did you just give me a banana?” Toshi asks, perplexed.

 

“They’re good for you.” The woman says.

 

“Sure,” Toshi agrees, “But why?

 

“A growing kid like you needs some protein, right?”

 

“Chicken has protein.”

 

“Is that any way to talk to a neighbor that’s just given you a gift?” The woman’s face is flat, but Toshi can hear the smile in her voice. “Take the damn banana, kid, I have too many anyways.”

 

Toshinori takes the banana. And that isn’t the end of his neighbor’s gifts. More fruit finds its way into his bag on their shared rides. And when whatever stars that had aligned to have them continuously meet fall out of sync, Toshi begins finding snacks in his post box. A can of potato sticks with “Chicken Boy” written in sharpie on the side appears on his bicycle seat. An entire damn watermelon is waiting next to his door one evening.

 

“I made too much curry.” she says one day, after knocking on his door. “Want some?”

 

“I remember this saying about not going with strangers.” Toshi replies, peeking his head out of the door.

 

“Brat,” the woman says with a wolfish smile, sounding almost fond . “The name’s Nana Shimura. Now, do you want some free food or not?”

 

“I guess I’ve eaten too many of your gifts by this point to say no.” Toshi remarks, ducking back into his apartment to grab two cans of soda. “I’m Toshinori Yagi, by the way.”

 

Their dinner together is a far cry from their prior elevator rides. Nana is noisy, and not nearly as stoic as Toshi had first believed. She accepts a can of soda from Toshi graciously, then chugs two beers in the course of the night. Mystified, Toshi watches her explode into raucous laughter at her own jokes, and then giggle when he talks about his classes and teachers.

 

“I remember what middle school was like.” she says at one point, “My teachers were funny, but my classmates were hell .”

 

“So are mine.” Toshi agrees, smiling softly and feeling a modest level of camaraderie with Nana in that moment.

 

To shitty classmates they toast, before Nana sends him home with plenty of leftover curry in a tupperware box.

 

“For your folks,” Nana smiles, “Consider it an apology for me being a nuisance.”

 

“It’s just me.” Toshinori replies tepidly, “And I don’t think you’re a nuisance at all, Shimura-san. Thanks for the food.”

 

Nana looks quite sober when Toshinori goes home that night.

 


 

It comes to pass that they eat together a lot after that, Nana often dragging him over to her apartment to eat her cooking. After a few weeks the meals increase in frequency, until it seems they see each other every night. Sometimes Nana pulls him into the kitchen and tries to teach him a thing or two about boiling pasta and chopping vegetables. She likes to eat healthy, he discovers. She’s pleased when he can shadow her without much direction.

 

Toshi had always been a fast learner.

 

“You’re a hero?! ” Toshi sputters, furiously wiping grains of rice and bits of oyakodon off his chin.

 

Nana chortles, flapping her hand at him dismissively on the other side of the table.

 

“Small time,” She says, “A very minor league hero, if you catch my drift.”

 

Toshinori levels his neighbor with an appraising stare.

 

Nana is well-built, yes. She isn’t tall, but her shoulders are wide and muscular. She often wears her collar-length black hair in a half-bun, and possesses a mole below her right cheek. But she’s otherwise unextraordinary, nothing in her appearance hinting at an ability that rivalled the heroes on the posters that used to decorate his room.

 

Hey , stop checking me out.” Nana pouts, causing Toshinori to sputter again. “I did say I was only a local hero, didn’t I?”

 

“But still,” Toshi says heavily, “a hero .”

 

“Don’t get mushy on me,” Nana orders, taking a swig from her beer.

 


 

 

Halfway through his first year of junior high, Nana doesn’t come home. Worried, Toshi knocks on her door the next morning. She answers, bruised, with a broken arm held in a bulky sling.

 

“Oh man,” she says tiredly in contrast to Toshi’s alarm, “sorry kid, I didn’t get back from the hospital until pretty early this morning.”

 

“What happened?” Toshi asks.

 

“You won’t be late for school if you come inside for a couple minutes, will ya? Good.” She hums when Toshi shakes his head.

 

Toshi steps into Nana’s apartment, feeling at once at home. Recently, he spent more time here than at his own place. Aside from cooking him food, Nana encourages him to bring his homework, which he finds he can complete in peace despite the hum of Nana’s TV shows in the background. The woman tends to finish her work before Toshi gets home from school, so sometimes he goes home for only a few minutes to pay his respects to his mother before heading over to Nana’s for the evening.

 

More than once he’s fallen asleep on her couch, only to jump awake when the alarm on his phone goes off in the morning. Nana is often gone by then, so Toshi locks up with Nana’s spare key before going home and pulling on his school uniform.

 

Toshinori sets his backpack next to the genkan, taking off his shoes and following Nana to the kitchen table. She falls into her chair heavily, hissing lightly when she bumps one of her bruises.

 

“Before you freak out,” she says, “I’m totally fine.”

 

Toshi raises his eyebrows skeptically.

 

“I was out on patrol and had an accident.” Nana explains, tilting her head at the memory. “I don’t have any major injuries. Have I ever told you how my quirk works?”

 

Shaking his head, Toshinori leans in expectantly.

 

“It’s called ‘Adrenaline.’” Nana starts, “You know how people, in life-or-death situations, can push their bodies into doing superhuman feats? Lifting up cars, ripping doors off their hinges, outrunning things that are way faster than them normally? It’s because we produce a hormone called epinephrine, or ‘adrenaline.’  I can make that at will, basically.”

 

“That sounds...powerful, actually.” Toshi observes, “How are you not in the big leagues with a quirk like that?”

 

Nana nods, “It is useful. But sustain it for too long, and my blood pressure goes through the roof . I become shaky, I get blinding headaches, I can’t breathe, and I might pass out if I’m not careful. I’m more suited to small-time rescue than heroics.”

 

“So then, your arm…?”

 

“I was holding up a piece of wall while the paramedics were pulling some people out from under a collapsed building, when my body gave out.”

 

Toshi’s eyes widen. “And you’re fine after that? How did you walk away from that with only a broken arm?”

 

Nana’s face splits into a grin.

 

“The Big Three showed up.”

 

“The Big--” Toshi sputters, “ The Symbols of Peace showed up?!

 

Nana, still smiling, leans back in her chair. “I was surprised, too. It’s not every day your ass gets saved by Deku .”

 

Toshi is leaning so far forward that he’s nearly climbed up on the table. Consciously he leans back, his mouth hanging open. Nana, smirking at him, continues her story.

 

“The debris was only on me for a second before Deku popped up and hoisted the whole damn piece of wall into the air. Then the whole scene froze over as Shouto put out the fires and held things together with his ice. Lemillion was there, too, phasing through the wreckage and looking for trapped victims. It was incredible.”

 

Toshinori stares at the wall behind Nana’s head, picturing it. The Golden Trio is just as suited for rescue as they were combat, he knows, but hearing a firsthand account of how they’d worked together to save a handful of victims and Nana is jarring.

 

“Deku even showed up at the hospital later to check on me. He signed my cast.”

 

Nana pulls the sling to the side, revealing a line of scribbled writing.

 

 

Keep up the good work! You’re a badass. ;) –Deku

 

 

“Holy shit .” Toshi replies elegantly, in English no less.

 

“Right?” Nana sighs dreamily. “I’ve always admired him. He gets it, you know? When you have to save someone, they're usually in a scary situation. A true hero saves not only their lives, but also their spirit... That's what I think. So no matter how scary things get, I always give 'em a smile, as if to say, ‘everything’s okay’. The people in this world who can smile are always the strongest.”

 

“And Deku’s the strongest of the strongest.” Toshi adds, thoughtfully.

 

He has to leave for school shortly after that, but Nana’s story stays with him all day. Her words roll in his mind, and for the first time in a long time, he thinks about the Symbols of Peace that had so dazzled him in his youth.

 

When he finishes school that day, he doesn’t immediately go to Nana’s apartment.

 

Instead he goes to his bedroom and kneels beside his bed, pulling a dusty box from the depths beneath it.

 

For the first time in almost a year he opens it.

 

Deku’s beaming face looks up at him from an old magazine cover.

 


 

 

Toshinori starts going to the gym with Nana after she’s freed from her cast.

 

The woman, he soon finds, is a ruthless teacher. But Toshi knows he has no one to blame but himself for the fact that he was so out of shape.

 

There’s a lot going on with Toshinori’s appearance, actually. Woe of woes, puberty had hit him like a bus. He is tall for his age, and lanky. His hair is long and unkempt on the best of days, as the boy had no idea where to even start styling it. Usually he wrestled it into a bun before school, though he’s lucky if it isn’t falling in his face by the end of the day. He has bags under his eyes constantly despite being well rested, and when that’s combined with his sharp cheekbones, he looks pretty haunted. There was a lot to take in.

 

He needs to start small, he thinks, as he follows his neighbor to the gym.

 

By the end of their session, Nana has him gasping and nauseous on the floor.

 

“If we’re going to get you into shape by high school, you’re gonna have to kick your own ass.”  Nana says. “Where did you want to go, anyways? UA?”

 

“I’m quirkless.” Toshinori wheezes.

 

“Huh.” Nana replies.

 

The next day, she has him deadlifting.

 

At the end of summer vacation, Toshi gets a haircut. Nana drives him to the hairdresser at his request, and the barber looks not a little surprised by his wild blond hair. Toshi is perhaps equally affected by the sight of blades between her fingers.

 

“Don’t see a lot of people with your looks around here.” The woman says, pulling a comb painfully through Toshi’s hair, “but I suppose when we live in a society with all these crazy quirks, you’re not that special. I had a woman with tentacles for hair in this seat not too long ago. Now that was a situation.”

 

Nana rolls her eyes as the woman, who squints at Toshi’s hair and brandishes her fingers.

 

Toshi isn’t unpleased with the results. His father, ever the businessman, would keep his own golden locks short-cropped and neat. It was professional. Impersonal. Toshi’s hair isn’t like that.

 

In the mirror, he looks new.

 

His hair is still a little wild in the back, but it’s short enough now that it doesn’t resemble a mane, instead falling to cover his ears and stopping at his chin. His long bangs in the front are trimmed and swept to either side so that they frame his face rather than hide it.

 

Nana’s cooking had become tailored to help him fill out – over several weeks, he’d put on muscle. It isn’t so apparent yet, but his face definitely has more meat on it. Gone is the gaunt air around him. Instead of harsh lines is the roundness of healthy fat.

 

“You look so cute now, Yagi-kun!” The hairdresser cooes, glowing with pride in her work.

 

Tentatively, Toshi tries to smile.

 

“Yikes.” Nana coughs under her breath.

 


 

 

“You’re going to need to buckle down if you want to get into a good school.” Nana scolds him at the beginning of his second year of junior high school, “Muscles alone aren’t going to get you into a hero course.”

 

“Who says I want to be a hero?” Toshi replies.

 

“Oh please ,” Nana scoffs, “I’ve seen the posters on your wall. And, you get goo-goo eyes every time Deku shows up on TV. I’ve seen you practicing your horrendous smiles in the wall mirrors at the gym.”

 

“All right, all right .” He growls, moving to cover her mouth. His face is warm. “ Maybe it’d be cool to be a hero. But it’s not like that’s ever going to happen.”

 

“Who said that?” Nana huffs, punching him in the arm. Ow. “All you need to be a hero is a burning desire to help people, and two brain cells to rub together.”

 

“You’re disillusioning me, Nana-san.”

 

Nana barks a laugh, and promises to look over his homework.

 

As Toshi’s grades improve, so does his confidence and general likeability. He still gets bullied at school, but it generally stops at sneers and pointed jokes. The boys in his grade had stopped picking fights with him after he started putting on muscle. The girls had stopped finding reasons to laugh at him after he made an effort to not look scrappy.

 

He even makes a friend : a serious boy, one Naomasa Tsukauchi.

 

Naomasa is in a different class, initially unknown to Toshi due to his quietness and unpopularity. Like Toshinori, Naomasa’s classmates tend to avoid the boy. While he looks like a typical Japanese kid, his quirk, Mind Read, allows him to detect spoken lies – and while Naomasa isn’t a gossip, he certainly has a strong inclination to call out liars.

 

Toshinori doesn’t mind Naomasa’s ability, and admires his sense of right and wrong. Naomasa finds Toshinori’s honest nature agreeable. At school, they like to talk about villains and current events. Naomasa doesn’t have any desire to become a hero – instead, he expresses interest in becoming a detective one day. After an explosively entertaining dinner with the boy, Nana gives Naomasa her blessing.

 

The two become best friends.

 

School becomes bearable again.

 

When Toshinori tells Nana he wants to try boxing on weekends, Nana produces a dusty shoe box of contacts from the depths of her closet.

 

“My agency gives its start-ups a packet with a bunch of numbers to personal trainers.” Nana explains, as she rifles through business cards and flyers. “I used to box in the past, but I gave it up when I decided to go into the rescue department instead.”

 

With an aha , Nana pulls a faded piece of paper from the bottom of the box.

 

It’s a plain slip of paper, with nothing but a hand written name and phone number on one side.

 

Gran Torino’ , it says.

 

Smiling, Nana hands him the number. “Give him a call.” she encourages him, “Maybe the old vampire is still alive.”

 

He is alive, apparently, even sounding quite lively on the phone. The former hero remembers Nana, remarking at length on her feisty attitude. If Toshinori is anything like Nana Shimura, Gran Torino says, he is more than welcome to come visit the gym. Toshi still takes Naomasa with him the first time just to be safe.

 

The gym is in Saitama, taking about forty minutes by train. From the station, the two boys find themselves getting lost in the alleyways of the crowded neighborhood. Eventually they find the entrance to Gran Torino’s gym: an inconspicuous door, opening to a staircase going underground.

 

Toshi exchanges a glance with Naomasa and they descend.

 

“I’m calling the police.” Naomasa says the second his eyes fall on the old man, lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the gym. Toshi stops him as his friend is pulling his cellphone from his pocket.

 

“Wait,” Toshi says, “we need to check if he’s still alive. He might need an ambulance.”

 

They cautiously walk up to the elder, Naomasa’s eyes scanning the gym for attackers as Toshi kneels to check for a pulse.

 

When Gran Torino jumps up to scare the boys - an impish grin on his lips - Toshinori reflexively punches him in the face.

 

Howling in surprise, the old man rolls. The ketchup he had been lying in has stained his clothes, and smears across the floor as he flies away from Toshinori.

 

“I changed my mind. Call the cops.” Toshi says flatly as he turns to Naomasa.

 

“Wait, wait! ” Gran Torino shouts as he jumps to his feet. “Geez, you young folks can’t take a practical joke these days.”

 

“You’re not funny.” Naomasa frowns, but doesn’t move to dial the police.

 

Gran Torino stands and winces, rubbing his jaw. He looks at Toshinori appraisingly, an impressed look in his eyes.

 

“Toshinori, right? Nana has done good work with you. You pack a helluva punch.”

 

Grimacing, Toshinori stands. “You’re Gran Torino?”

 

“The one and only,” Gran Torino replies, then smiles angelically, “So, you wanna learn how to box?”

 


 

 

It comes to pass that on every Saturday at ten am sharp, Toshinori goes to boxing practice at Gran Torino’s.

 

If Nana was a rough teacher, Gran Torino is merciless.

 

The old man pulls his punches the first few weeks, and sends Toshi limping home every session after. But he’s effective. Despite Gran Torino’s whacky personality, Toshinori learns. Straight punches, upper-cuts, jabs, and hooks: all of it and more Toshi absorbs, mentally and physically.

 

Three times a week, Nana takes him to the gym and trains his body. And then, in Saitama, Gran Torino teaches him how to use it.

 

By the end of his second year of junior high school, Toshi can deadlift 115 kilograms. His class cinches a victory in tug-of-war at the spring undokai, when almost single-handedly, Toshi pulls Naomasa’s class off their feet.

 

He can take a hit without blinking an eye, too - something his mentor teases him for.

 

“You’ve got some serious eyes there, son.” The old geezer says, shaking out his fist after a session of punches.

 

Toshinori shrugs, thinking he’s always been a somewhat serious person.

 

When his third year at junior high school starts, Naomasa is in his class.

 

The girls have all but decided to leave him alone. Among the boys, only whispers follow him these days.

 

The first week of school, the baseball team tries to scout him. The basketball team follows – Toshi isn’t as tall as Naomasa, but he’d definitely put on some centimeters over spring vacation. At first, Toshinori declines. He’s too busy, he thinks, between his studies and the work-out sessions with Nana and Gran Torino.

 

But Naomasa surprises him, when the boy joins the judo club out of the blue.

 

“I need to start thinking about my future,” Naomasa explains, “If I want to join the police force after university, I’m going to need some self-defense training under my belt.”

 

At first Toshinori is disappointed that his friend would be busier with this new commitment. But when he thinks about it, he understands Naomasa’s concerns. UA’s entrance exam is just under a year away. What was so distant before is now right before his eyes, and suddenly Toshi thinks, he hasn’t done enough.

 

After some thought, and a few conversations with Nana, Toshinori joins the judo club, too.

 

Judo is different.

 

Boxing is pushing outward, all about self-assertion and overpowering. Judo is inflective. Gran Torino taught him about reading his opponent, yes, but where the old man would tell him go, strike, his judo-sensei tells him wait, watch.

 

He likes judo. He can be himself when he boxes: Gran Torino encourages him to throw down his emotions and fight with his heart. But judo teaches him the opposite. In judo club, amid the shout and grunts of his peers, his mind goes quiet. His sensei says, an effective fighter fights with their brain, not their anger.

 

The judo club meets on Saturdays though, which makes going to Gran Torino’s more than a little difficult. Judo wears him out, and the first two weeks Toshi shows up in Saitama already exhausted, Gran Torino rips him a new one.

 

“You giving up on me, kid?” the old man grunts after a set of weak punches from his student, “is your heart not in it anymore?”

 

No, Toshinori wants to yell at him, you have no idea how much my heart depends on this.

 

The solution is simple.

 

“I didn’t want to do this,” Gran Torino grumbles, after the third time Toshinori shows up at the gym half-dead, “But I think we should move your session time, kid.”

 

Toshi looks at him, apprehensive.

 

"Ya can’t keep doin your club and your spars with me on the same day, whether or not you’re a stubborn punk. It ain’t feasible.” The elder frowns, “You’re gonna hurt yourself.”

 

“I can’t come out here on school days…” Toshinori starts to say, before his mentor is waving a hand to quiet him.

 

“I know, I know.” Torino grunts, “So, here’s my plan. I’m usually booked up on Sundays – an old student of mine has free reign of the floor all day. But I mentioned your situation to him, and the old meathead said he wouldn’t mind you stopping by for an hour or two. If you don’t mind sharin’ me, that is.”

 

Hopeful, Toshinori nods.

 

He doesn’t like disappointing Gran Torino. He isn’t sure what kind of person this ‘meathead’ is, but he’s willing to put up with just about anything if he can keep up his practices with the retired hero.

 

The old man grins, and smacks him on the shoulder.

 

“You’re a good kid, Yagi. But if you don’t take care of yourself, I’m gonna kick your ass.”

 


 

Toshinori would pinch himself, if he doesn’t think he would faint dead-on the moment he took his eyes off the scene before him.

 

In the ring, Gran Torino is braced against a punching bag. The retired hero winces slightly with effort with every thump thump thump striking the opposite side. A large figure in a crimson hoodie, with neatly wrapped fists solidly connecting with the sand bag, is unbothered by the evident strain on the old man.

 

It takes a second for Toshi to recognize him – perhaps because he had never seen the figure in person, or because the man was a lot less recognizable out of his usual gear.

 

The man, with expert form, drilling deeper and deeper into the target in front of him—

 

--is Deku.

 

“Hold up, Midoriya, the brat is here.” Gran Torino grunts, and the punches taper off.

 

“I thought I was the brat?” A teasing voice chuckles, and oh god, Toshinori would know that voice anywhere. It really is him.  

 

Gran Torino jumps down from the ring and approaches Toshi, whose eyes are still locked on the legend casually shaking out his fists in the back.

 

“Kid.” Gran Torino growls, snapping fingers in front of Toshinori’s eyes. Toshi looks at him. “Focus. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

 

Not a ghost, he thinks, but a god. A god in the flesh.

 

“Mr. Torino,” Toshinori says airily, “it’s nice to see you.”

 

Gran Torino looks perplexed, staring at his young student for a few seconds. Then he looks over his shoulder, and then back at Toshi, before sighing noisily and barking an order at the god now stretching in the ring.

 

“Get over here and introduce yourself, Midoriya, before Yagi’s head melts.”

 

Deku is quick to comply, climbing out of the ring and jogging over to the pair by the staircase.

 

He’s wearing merchandise, is the first thing that Toshinori notices as the man trots up to him. Deku is a veritable mountain of muscle, his shoulders and forearms bulging under the Red Riot hoodie zipped to the middle of his chest. He extends a hand to Toshinori, using the other to grab at the towel around his neck. It’s green and covered in frogs – when the pro moves to wipe his face, Toshi can see FROPPY printed on it clearly, in blue bubble letters.

 

Deku looks exactly as he did on Toshi’s posters – green eyes and matching short curly hair, with freckles and a few scars peppered across his face. According to Toshi’s data-book, the pro hero should be in his late thirties by now, despite his youthful looks.

 

Deku is shining - the man is grinning at Toshinori, and Toshi thinks that the hero’s radiance might just melt him anyways.

 

“Nice to meet you,” Deku says kindly and shakes Toshi’s limp-wristed hand, “Sorry to surprise you like this. As you can imagine, I try to keep my usual off-duty haunts on the down-low, so I told Torino to keep my identity a secret.”

 

“I…It’s no problem.” Toshi replies stiffly, “Thanks for letting me use the gym.”

 

Deku chuckles politely, moving to scratch the back of his head awkwardly. It’s alien for Deku to look shy, Toshi thinks.

 

“Don’t worry about it.” The hero says, “Torino gushes about you all the time—“

 

“I do not.”

 

“And when he mentioned that you were having some scheduling conflicts, well… I thought it’d be nice to meet you, anyways. It’s not every day you find someone as crazy about boxing as I am.”

 

Deku had wanted to meet him? Toshi was going to die.

 

“Anyways, I have no problem sharing the old man for a few hours,” Deku smiles sheepishly, “though I’d appreciate it if you kept this a secret between the three of us. I’d hate for the paparazzi to get wind of this place.”

 

Gran Torino sniffs at the thought, and Toshinori finds his head bobbing in agreement. Honestly, Deku could’ve asked him to do his laundry, and Toshi’d probably thank him for the opportunity.

 

I am so whipped, Toshi thinks somberly.

 

Training with Deku in the room is distracting. Gran Torino lands hits easily, a particularly harsh jab to Toshi’s gut sending the boy sprawling to the floor.

 

After twenty minutes of Toshinori disgracing himself, Gran Torino sends him to work out his anxieties on a sand bag. Dejected, Toshi gets to work and tries to pretend he’s the only one in the room. He falls into a rhythm, subconsciously mimicking the sounds of Deku’s blows against Gran Torino to time his frustrations on the bag in front of him.

 

They sound powerful to Toshi’s ears, Deku’s punches like tiny car crashes at the back of the gym.

 

He’s startled out of his trance when there’s an irregular beat followed by a loud whump.  

 

“Oh come on,” Gran Torino hisses as Toshinori spins around, “you are both hopeless.”

 

Deku is sprawled on the floor, the upper half of his body hanging upside-down out of the ring. His eyes are wide in surprise, his hands still raised in half-fists around his face.

 

“Good grief,” Torino scowls, throwing his hand pads angrily across the room, “I can understand the kid, but you, Midoriya?

 

Deku grunts, but doesn’t comment as he hoists himself upright.

 

“Are you okay, Mr. Deku…?” Toshi asked tentatively. The hero sputters, his face exploding into a blush.

 

Cackling, Gran Torino jets across the room to a crate of supplies.

 

“He’s alright, Yagi.” The old man says, “Just been a while since he’s had to let his guard down around a fan, I imagine.”

 

The old man flies back to Toshinori and shoves a pair of boxing gloves into his hands.

 

“Got your fingers wrapped? Good.” Gran Torino turns and throws another pair of gloves at Deku. The man only catches one, the other bouncing off his forehead and spinning away. “Since the both of you try my patience, I’m taking a break. Beat on each other a bit until you work out whatever angst is in your system.”

 

Toshinori blanches. A river of words spills out of his mouth, words along the lines of no, pleeeease, but the old man is already walking away. He disappears into the locker room, leaving Toshi alone with his childhood idol.

 

Deku is slipping on the gloves when Toshinori turns to look at him. He has an apologetic look on his face, and shrugs a little at Toshi’s obvious distress.

 

“Sorry about the old man, Yagi-kun. But…you know how he is.”

 

“Does he seriously want me to fight you?!” Toshi squeaks.

 

“Why not?” Deku shrugs and tightens the straps around his wrists. He winks at Toshi, “I won’t use my quirk, if you don’t use yours.”

 

Toshi wants to say, you could still probably throw me with your thumb and index finger, but he doesn’t. He swallows his nervousness, instead walking forward and climbing into the boxing ring.

 

When Deku climbs in after him, Toshi’s mind is racing.

 

“Let’s go a little easy to start, Yagi-kun,” Deku says, smiling softly, “You’ve got some muscle on you, but I think we’re still technically in different weight classes.”

 

Toshinori holds back a snort at the glaring obviousness of Deku’s words, instead focusing on quieting his heart. He doesn’t know if it’s due to Deku’s overwhelming presence, but he feels himself slip into the trance he dons at judo. He’s not going to be able to overpower Deku with strength alone, after all. He raises his hands.

 

Fight smart.

 

“Woah, those are some nice eyes Yagi-kun,” Deku comments kindly.

 

Toshinori is on his back in the ring two seconds later.

 

It’s not as if Toshi is surprised when Deku proceeds to knock him flat again and again. The man is a veteran in heroics and combat, with almost twenty years of experience in subduing villains. Toshinori had been in the judo club for four weeks. It still stings a little, though, after all the effort he’s put into his training, that he had nothing to show for it. Especially now, being the sole focus of his hero.

 

“Deep breaths,” Deku says encouragingly, after Toshi hits the ring floor so hard he retches.

 

After a minute Toshi shakes it off, pulling himself to his feet. He takes a breath and squares up, raising his fists and falling into a fighting stance for the nth time. His arms are shaking and probably more than a little bruised.

 

His opponent grins and lunges forward.

 

Toshi lands a few hits in those thirty minutes, but the victory is overall - overwhelmingly - Deku. Toshinori tries to think of it as a learning experience. How many people his age got to spar with a pro, even if they had wiped the floor with him? After a while Deku gets tired, though, and suggests they take a break.

 

“You kept up well,” Deku says as he collapses onto a bench, “Even without my quirk, I know my hits have got a bite.”

 

Panting, Yoshi sits on the floor across from the man, stretching his legs and massaging his arms. He winces. “Yeah...a little.”

 

Deku barks a laugh and pulls off his hoodie, now decently damp with sweat. He’s wearing a black tank-top, with his arms wrapped up to his elbows. The hero starts to pull at the wraps, tightening them, when Toshi sees it.

 

Scars, like lightning bolts, branch up his arms. They’re harsh and deep, like cracks in glass, zig-zagging and climbing from under his bandages up to his shoulders. They look fresh, pink and red and painful.

 

Deku catches him looking, but doesn’t scold Toshinori for his ogling. Instead, he gives a small smile.

 

“It’s important to know and test your limits,” the hero says, “But to also practice caution. You want to be a hero, right?”

 

Blushing, Toshinori nods. “Yeah, I do.”

 

Deku’s eyes sparkle, and he sits up a little straighter. “It’s great that you’re training your body without using your quirk. Especially if it’s a quirk you usually rely on for combat. You never know when you’ll meet an enemy who counters your quirk perfectly, or leaves you in a situation where your quirk is useless - and then the only thing you can rely on is your own strength. Say if I were to face an enemy like Lemillion...”

 

Deku launches into a lecture on strategy and quirk logistics, which Toshi finds himself following with rapt attention.

 

The words come at Toshi fast, and he struggles to keep up at first. Deku is animated as he talks about his quirk casually, even mentioning its weaknesses and flaws. He goes off on tangents, raving about the quirks of his colleagues, and villains he’d fought in the past.

 

But he isn’t criticizing them, or giving off any signs of scheming against the other pros. Deku just seems truly and honestly delighted about quirks and their various uses.

 

Deku is even more of a hero nerd than I am, Toshi thinks, blinking slowly at the realization.

 

“For example,” Deku continues enthusiastically, “What’s your quirk, Yagi-kun?”

 

The world screeches to a stop.

 

He should be afraid to tell Deku, he knows. The answer to this question has brought him so much hardship and scrutiny, he should know better than to think that it would be okay to answer this question. He should hesitate. Or he could tell this hero the truth, and hand the most fragile part of himself to the one person who could smash it beyond repair forever. If he exposes his secret to this man and is rejected, it will destroy him.

 

But this barely phases Toshi, because of a single fact that has held true since the moment Toshi first laid eyes on the man. It’s because of the feeling Toshi gets every time he sees the hero’s poster on his bedroom wall. This man in front of him is a hero.

 

He trusts Deku.

 

So, he answers.

 

“I’m quirkless.” Toshinori says, doing his best to sound nonchalant and unafraid.

 

Deku pauses, eyes widening infinitesimally. Then the man beams.

 

“Wow!! No kidding?” Deku says, leaning towards Toshi in interest. His smile is stretching from ear to ear, and Toshi feels faint. “That’s incredible, Yagi-kun!”

 

“Y-yeah?” Toshi responds, and looks away nervously.

 

“Yeah, really!” Deku says while nodding quickly, “To get as far as you have...the hardship you must have faced. It’s not easy, is it?”

 

Sheepish, Toshinori nods. He doesn’t particularly like remembering the harsh words that had surrounded him just a few years prior, which Deku seems to understand. A bitter part of him grumbles, and says of course it’s not easy. The man’s earnestness is so genuine, though, Toshi can’t bring himself to stew on it for long.

 

“Sorry for putting you on the spot, but...wow!” Deku says, “I admire you so much right now!”

 

Toshinori is vibrating in place, his emotions wanting to fly in a million different directions. He’s happy, he thinks, and shy - embarrassed at the praise. But he also wants to cry, to laugh and scream, and shatter.

 

He’s smiling, and he doesn’t care if it’s ugly because Deku is smiling with him.

 

“You’re going to be a great hero someday,” Deku says, then reaches out a hand and pulls Toshinori to his feet. The hero claps Toshi on the shoulder, a new energy buzzing around him. “Now, we should get back into the ring before Gran Torino catches us slacking, and makes us wish we’d never been born.”

 

Toshi feels like he’s floating above the ground when he agrees, and not even the returning sensation of the ground flying up to meet his body again can bring him down. He doesn’t even care when Gran Torino returns and pushes him until he pukes.

 

He goes home that day limping, his body heavy - but his heart is light.

 

You’re going to be a great hero someday

 

You’re going to be a hero.

 

You CAN be a hero.

 

This time, the smile comes naturally to him. Deku has saved him, again.

Chapter Text

 

 

Toshinori has practiced with Gran Torino and Deku for two months when it happens.

 

On a Wednesday afternoon, a giant crashes through the streets of Shibuya. Toshi is at school when the news alert chimes quietly from the phone inside his desk.

 

He isn’t able to check it until his class ends. As the bell rings to signal the end of the period, the students in Toshi’s class stand, bow, and then as a wave, crash back down to pull out their own devices.

 

Naomasa is at his side as Toshi unlocks his phone and reads the notification.

 

“What’s going on?” The boy asks, nearly drowned out by the roar of chatter.

 

“Villain attack.” Toshi says as he pulls up an article. “Nowhere near us, it looks like. Deku’s already there.”

 

“Thank goodness,” Naomasa says.

 

Toshi pulls up a picture of the villain - some sites already have analytics of the man.  He’s enormous, nearly fifteen meters high, and quite bulky. There’s little footage of the fight since the villain’s area of attack is so big - no one can get close. Some articles give links to social media accounts that are giving a live account of the fight.

 

Toshi only reads one - Deku has engaged the villain with his quirk - before the next class starts, and the students are forced to hide their phones again.

 

By the end of the period, it’s over. ‘DEKU SUBDUES GIANT, SUSTAINS MINOR WOUNDS’ reads the headline on Toshi’s favorite hero news site. Frowning, he selects the article and reads it quickly. It’s fairly succinct.

 

“Pro-hero Deku engaged a villain on Wednesday afternoon at 2 PM in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. The suspect, Kyo Ooyama, was fleeing from police after detectives obtained a warrant for his arrest, following a series of convenience store robberies. Mr. Ooyama possesses a body-enlargement quirk, which upon activation caused mass pandemonium in the crowded business district. Reportedly, Deku was already in the area and joined the scene quickly.

 

The fight lasted approximately 22 minutes, during which Deku appeared to sustain minor wounds. Authorities are still tallying casualties and accounting for damage at this time. It is not known which hospital Deku was taken to, if any.”

 

Frowning, Toshi spends a couple more minutes looking for new information. But most news sites can offer him nothing more, so he sighs and locks his phone.

 

Twenty-two minutes. It’s incredible when Toshi thinks about it, that a villain could hold out so long against Deku using his quirk. Deku’s quirk could level buildings - the man himself could subdue a normal human with one hand. That this villain could last so long meant he was sturdy, heavy. Probably resistant to air pressure attacks, and could absorb brute-strength hits.

 

Sighing, Toshi tries to focus on the teacher preparing for the final class of the afternoon.

 

Deku is fine. The man can handle minor injuries. He’s sure of it.

 

His form is sloppy in judo, and Naomasa shoulder throws him during a spar. He nearly cuts his hand that night when he’s chopping vegetables. He scolds himself for being stupid, and pushes all thoughts of heroes from his mind.

 

He’ll see Deku on Sunday he tells himself, and he can check on the man then.

 


 

 

It’s a long few days until he next goes to Torino’s, and he’s gone from quietly anxious to outright fidgeting by the time his train stops at Saitama.

 

Deku is there. He’s warming up, stretching out his body before his workout.

 

As Toshi walks in, he discreetly scans the pro-hero with his eyes. Nothing seems amiss. Deku is wearing his red hoodie again, this time with a Shouto snapback: half red and half white. Sighing, Toshinori goes to change and throw his bag in a locker. When he comes back out, Gran Torino is waiting for him.

 

“Bout time, Yagi,” the old man needles when Toshi re-emerges on the gym floor, “This meathead has been pestering me to spar with him, though I’ve been telling him to take it easy.”

 

“I heard about your fight Mr. Deku,” Toshi says (Deku insists he can drop the ‘Mr’ but it doesn’t feel right), “Are you alright?”

 

“I’m fine.” Deku replies, with a shortness implying that he’d already answered that question a lot.

 

Gran Torino snorts, Toshi distinctly hearing the word ‘brat’ muttered under his breath.

 

“Get up, then,” the retired hero snaps, “and we’ll see how ‘fine’ you really are.”

 

Deku huffs and pulls himself to his feet, just as Torino fires up his quirk and punts an entire sand punching bag into Deku’s chest. With a surprised grunt the hero’s hands fly up too slow and brace around it.

 

It happens quickly. There’s a flash of green, a sheath of lightning around Deku’s body that’s a telltale sign his quirk’s been activated. There’s a muffled scream - a voice Toshi knows making a sound he’s never heard before. Deku slides back from the force of the bag, and the next second he’s on the floor, arms wrapped around himself as he writhes in agony.

 

“You fool!” Gran Torino yells, jumping past Toshi to kneel on Deku’s other side.

 

Deku’s face is sheet-white. He’s panting, his eyes squeezed shut with a fine sheen of sweat dampening his forehead.

 

“Mr. Deku!” Toshi cries, “are you okay? Do you need an ambulance?!”

 

“M’ fine,” Deku grinds out from behind clenched teeth.

 

Gran Torino scoffs, “Like hell you are, brat. I knew it was too soon for you.” The old man turns to Toshi, an intense look in his eyes that makes Toshi flinch marginally. “Keep an eye on him, Yagi. I’m going to call his agency.”

 

“No!” Deku groans, “N’ m’ agency. M’ phone. ‘Raka.”

 

Gran Torino sighs, put-upon, and jets to the locker room. He emerges a minute later with a smart phone in hand - sleek and shiny, sporting a Lemillion phone case. In another situation, it would look comical in Torino’s wrinkly hand.

 

“What’s your passcode, Midoriya?”

 

“Birthday.” Deku gasps, strained.

 

“Yours?”

 

“Mom’s.”

 

That’s apparently enough for Torino, who clicks his tongue and then jogs into his office.

 

Toshinori finds himself suddenly alone with Deku. The pro has quieted; he now lies on the floor, breathing hard. There’s a phantom pain in the lines of his face. Beads of sweat run down his temple and along the bridge of his nose.

 

Toshi runs to his locker, grabbing a rag and a bottle of water. He returns to Deku’s side, offering him the water as he wipes the hero’s face.

 

“Thanks, Yagi-kun,” Deku whispers. He seems to make a conscious effort to relax. After a few seconds he adds, “You’re a good kid.”

 

Toshi doesn’t respond despite the warm flutter in his chest, and instead stays next to Deku, tending to him until Gran Torino re-emerges from his office five minutes later. The old man’s face is tweaked with irritation, but the worried look in his eyes betrays him.

 

“Your friend’s on her way,” Torino says, “and I’m not half as cross with you as she is.”

 

Deku doesn’t reply, and instead moves to sit up. Toshi puts a hand on his shoulder to support him, Gran Torino returning to the hero’s opposite side. Together the two of them guide Deku to a bench. The hero falls heavily onto it, then weakly tugs at his jacket. When he pulls it off, finally, Toshi is shocked.

 

The pink scars that Toshi had seen before are angry and red, the skin around them inflamed, crimson, and even purple in some places. They look like fresh, healing wounds. To Toshinori, it seems like they could start oozing blood at any moment.

 

Most alarming of all is that the scars have changed. Before, they stopped above Deku’s biceps. Now they climb and twist over his shoulders, having expanded at least 15 centimeters.

 

Gran Torino looks affected at the sight of the scars, though Toshi can’t place the emotion. Anger, yes, and sadness - resignation.

 

They don’t talk. Toshi listens to Deku’s breaths even slowly, and over twenty minutes the inflamed skin around his scars fades from crimson to cherry.

 

A woman arrives, hesitant until her eyes fall on Deku. Toshi recognizes her too: the pro hero, Uravity.

 

He’s too worried for Deku to be starstruck, but he can’t help the way his eyes go wide when she unleashes a string of sounds that resemble a verbal keysmash.

 

“Izuku!!” she settles on eventually, anger turning her face pink, “You are not okay!”

 

“Hi Ochako,” Deku greets weakly, “Sorry to impose.”

 

Gran Torino snorts in derision, as Uravity sighs hotly. She ties her brown shoulder-length hair up quickly, eyes flicking to Toshinori.

 

“Sorry to ask you, uh…?”

 

“Yagi Toshinori.” says Toshi.

 

“Yagi-san,” Uravity continues, “could you help me get this dummy to my car? I’d use my quirk, but I’ve already barfed once today, and he weighs a ton.”

 

Toshi nods and stands immediately to carry out her task.

 

Deku groans, “I can walk, Ochako.”

 

Uravity curls her lip at him, eyes still smouldering with anger. “I’m not taking any more chances with you, Izu-kun. I’m going to take you home, and you are going to have a long, proper rest.”

 

Deku doesn’t protest. His face is pale as Toshi and Uravity each take an arm and lead him up the stairs to the street. As Toshi helps Deku get settled into the passenger seat of Uravity’s car, Uravity ducks back into the gym to speak with Gran Torino. After a few minutes she emerges, bowing to Toshi in thanks before climbing into the car and pulling away.

 

Toshi goes back to the gym, but it seems empty now. Without Deku it seems lifeless. Darker.

 

Gran Torino is standing next to the ring. He sighs, then straightens and looks at Toshi.

 

“Well, let’s get started,” the old man says, “At least one of you ought to learn something today.”

 

It’s a very somber practice, in the end.

 


 

Toshinori is disturbed.

 

He doesn’t know how to process the memory of Deku on the floor in agony. The image is at the front of his mind all week. It haunts him, and again he finds himself distracted at all times.

 

Finally, he slips - during judo practice on Thursday, his mind is elsewhere and he botches a suplex maneuver. He slips a disc in his lower back and hits the floor hard.

 

Nana radiates concern as she drives him to the hospital. Toshi feels cold. Pain shoots up and down his legs. Even then, he thinks about Deku.

 

He’s given painkillers and instructions to stretch regularly. They skip the gym that day. Instead Nana goes through his stretches with him on her living room floor and orders hamburger steak. He sits out of judo club on Friday and Saturday, and the idleness nearly kills him.

 

On Sunday, Nana tries to talk him out of going to Saitama. But Toshi is adamant - if there’s a chance that Deku will be there, he’ll drag himself to Gran Torino’s if he has to. Nana acquiesces on the condition that she drives him. Toshi’s worried that she’ll find out about Deku, until she says she’s not going inside. She has no desire to get her ass kicked again by Gran Torino, she says.

 

She drives away from the gym a little too fast.

 

After Nana drops him off, Torino looks murderous when Toshi mentions his medical condition.

 

“Bumbling brats, both of you!” the old man yells, “If you weren’t already handicapped, I’d put you on the ground!”

 

Toshi, sheepish, tries to apologize and is saved when Deku walks through the door.

 

The hero looks healthier, a far cry from the last time Toshi saw him. But Toshi knows now that looks can be deceiving. Deku gives a nervous smile when he sees Gran Torino is angry, eyes floating back and forth between the old man and Toshi.

 

“Sorry for interrupting…?”

 

“How’re your arms?” Torino snaps.

 

Deku looks even more nervous. “Better. Er, getting there, I mean.”

 

Gran Torino exhales loudly, throwing his hands up in the air in defeat. “Why do ya even come if ya can’t fight?” He growls to no one.

 

“I thought I’d come watch Yagi-kun practice and give him pointers,” Deku replies defensively.

 

“I’m handicapped.” Toshinori says.

 

Gran Torino storms out.

 

In the end, Toshi and Deku end up sitting on the floor of the boxing ring. Toshi does his stretches and some light exercises. Deku demonstrates some yoga that Uravity ‘forced him to learn.’

 

The hero talks. A lot.

 

It’s easy to get him going, Toshi finds. It’s okay, honestly - Toshi talks a lot on the inside of his head, and Deku out of it. Listening to Deku ramble about heroics and strategy is relaxing. It’s interesting, and Toshi can lose himself in the constant stream of words. He’s in the middle of some judo katas when Deku turns the conversation to him.

 

“Why do you want to be a hero?” the man asks, making Toshi pause.

 

“Hmm,” Toshi says, continuing his movement, “I want to make people smile.”

 

Deku’s head tilts to the side. “You could do that without being a hero, couldn’t you? Why not be a teacher? A police officer? There’s more than one way to touch a person’s life.”

 

“‘The people in the world who can smile are always the strongest,’” Toshi quotes, “I want to be strong, but I want other people to feel strong, too. People like me.”

 

“Quirkless?” Deku asks.

 

“Weak people,” Toshinori corrects, “helpless people.”

 

“You’re not weak, Yagi-kun. Or helpless.”

 

“I used to be,” he replies, “then, you saved me. Made me want to be greater than I was. That’s why.”

 

Deku’s blushing a little, but he looks thoughtful.

 

“Hm.” he says.

 


 

 

Three days later, Nana shyly asks Toshimori if he wants to move in with her.

 

“You spend all your time here anyways,” the woman stammers, “you should save your money for something useful, like tuition.”

 

It takes Toshi little time to agree. Nana has become more than a neighbor to him. Nana nearly cries when he tells her so in an uncommon show of emotion, and she wraps him in a bear-hug.

 

It’s tricky to fill out the paperwork and figure out the custody situation. Through the embassy Toshi is able to contact his father (his cell phone number had been disconnected) who still holds Toshi’s power of attorney. But the man signs physical custody over to Nana with little persuasion, and it goes more smoothly from there.

 

Two weeks later, Toshi boxes up his apartment. He doesn’t have much - he put his mother’s belongings in storage a while ago. The things in his room, once boxed, barely cover his living room floor.

 

Nana has likewise cleaned a room out for him. Toshi knew she had an extra one, though the door was always closed and he’s never had a reason to go inside.

 

“It’s my husband’s things.” Nana explains to him the night before the move, “he died in a villain attack. A long time ago.”

 

She doesn’t say anymore, and Toshi doesn’t ask. The sadness in her eyes is enough for Toshi to understand.

 

The next day they move the boxes - Nana’s into storage, Toshi’s into Nana’s apartment. His new room is the same size as his old one, but it feels warmer. He hangs Deku’s poster over his desk.

 

He moves the small altar with his mother’s photo by the TV in the living room, along with her trinkets.

 

The next day, there’s a photo of Nana’s husband there as well.

 


 

 

The first day of summer vacation, less than half-way through Toshi’s third year of junior high school, Deku brings a friend to boxing practice.

 

The man’s red and white hair is unmistakable, as is the scar on his face and his bi-colored eyes. It’s Shouto, Toshi’s mind screams, and he resists the urge to fall to his knees in shock.

 

Deku is teaching the man to wrap his fists, so they don’t notice Toshi’s entrance immediately. When he drops his bag, two pairs of eyes swing to him.

 

“Yagi-kun!” Deku greets, beaming at him, “Good to see you!”

 

“Likewise,” Toshi says faintly, “Mr. Deku, that is--”

 

“Shouto,” Shouto says. He gives a small smile and bows politely, “Nice to meet you, Yagi-san.”

 

“Uh,” Toshi squeaks, “I’m Yagi Toshinori. Nice to meet you, Mr. Shouto.”

 

Shouto’s eyes are alight with mirth. “‘Mr. Deku’ has told me many good things about you.”

 

Deku and Toshi both turn beet-red, Toshi ducking his head and Deku bashfully punching Shouto on the shoulder. Shouto says a small ‘ow’ just as Gran Torino walks out of his office. The old man raises an eyebrow at the new member.

 

“I don’t know you,” Torino says, which surely must be a lie.

 

“I’m Shouto,” Shouto greets again, bowing once more to Torino, “Thank you for having me.”

 

Gran Torino nods, not looking impressed. “You here to fight, kiddo?”

 

Shouto looks momentarily put off guard by the old man’s casual address of him, before slowly shaking his head. Torino glances at Deku, then shrugs and walks to the ring.

 

“Let’s get started, then” Gran Torino calls, “Yagi, get suited up while I take the meathead through his drills.”

 

Toshi goes to the locker room and changes. He wears a headband, a T-shirt, and sweatpants; then he twines the standard wrappings around his fingers. When he goes back to the main floor, Deku’s in the ring, dodging Torino’s kicks and punches.

 

Shouto’s off to the side, casually regarding his phone screen. Toshi watches him from the corner of his eye as he lays out a mat out on the floor- why did the man come if he had no interest in boxing? To assess Deku’s health?

 

He thinks about it while he does his sit-ups, but can’t come up with a logical answer. He finishes his drills quickly, the burpees and pushes coming easy to him. Then Torino runs them through footwork - it’s brutal today, Torino making Toshi weave and step until his calves burn. Then they start on the bags, Toshi spotting Deku and likewise.

 

Toshi catches Shouto watching them occasionally. The hero is famously hard to read, however, and Toshi doesn’t have much success in figuring out what the man is thinking. Toshi’s able to keep his mind off it mostly by having easy conversation with Deku as they take turns with the sand bag.

 

It’s not until Toshi and Deku start their pair work in the ring that Shouto starts to show an interest. It’s the most difficult spar that Toshi’s ever had to counter. Deku drives into him, barely pulling his punches, if at all. Toshi struggles to dodge and deflect.

 

“What are you going to do if you face a villain that outweighs you?” Deku taunts and pushes Toshi away, “dance around them until they lie down for you?”

 

Toshi grits his teeth against his mouth guard, and punches back.

 

“Yer advantage is speed,” Gran Torino calls, “How’re ya gonna trip him up?”

 

Toshi goes in low, then lower when that fails. When Toshi tries to take out his knees, Deku nearly stumbles. Deku has several centimeters on Toshi, meaning he has to stoop lower the closer to the ground Toshi gets.

 

Toshi is tired, which drives him to go for Deku’s knees. He knows the hero will be leaning forward to bat him away, and he rolls past Deku’s ankles instead of deflecting Deku’s open hands. His judo training kicks in and he shakes up Deku’s back, spinning to wrap his thighs around either side of The hero’s head.

 

“Wha—“ Deku is surprised at the unexpected weight of Toshi on his shoulders, and he nearly throws Toshi when he shoots up and reaches back to peel the teen off.

 

Using Deku’s momentum from standing, Toshi throws his weight backwards, using his bulk and Deku’s own center of gravity to pull the man down towards the floor until Toshi is nearly upside-down. Deku flails, the combined weight of his own body and Toshi throwing him to the ground like a sack of bricks.

 

Toshi has to release him before he hits or risk being crushed under Deku’s bulk. He manages to slide from under the hero with a smooth roll that would’ve made Naomasa proud. When the dust clears, Deku is lying on his back with arms outstretched and Toshi is crouching two meters away, both looking surprised at the current outcome.

 

There’s a beat, and then Gran Torino is howling with laughter.

 

“That was rich!!” The old man cackles, “The little spider-monkey sure got you, huh brat?”

 

Deku looks dazed, but a fond smile is on his face.

 

“That wasn’t boxing,” he says.

 

“Martial arts,” Shouto corrects.

 

The red and white man was watching them now, his phone resting on the bench beside him. The corner of his mouth is up in a half-smile. He stands and walks to the ring, leaning against the raised platform casually. Toshi likewise helps Deku to his feet, who claps Toshi on the shoulder before going to get a drink of water.

 

“Do you practice mixed martial arts, Yagi-san?” Shouto asks.

 

“Judo,” Toshinori answers shyly.

 

“Hm,” Shouto hums thoughtfully, “Though the maneuver you just did resembled Aikido more than Judo.”

 

“Oh...do you study Aikido?”

 

“No,” the hero snorts, “But you learn to spot techniques over the years.”

 

Where Deku is a chatterbox, Shouto is quite stoic. Toshi isn’t sure how to proceed with the conversation, and the way Shouto is looking at him in interest isn’t helping his mind stop spinning frantically in circles.

 

“Can’t say I’d recommend doing that fancy stuff on the streets, though,” Gran Torino butts in, “Incapacitating your foe quickly is more important than looking cool. Especially if you’re up against someone like Midoriya.”

 

“I think sometimes being able to surprise your enemy is important, too,” Toshi defends, “especially since heroes regularly broadcast their skills.”

 

Shouto’s eyes flick to Deku as he says, “That’s true, just don’t get in over your head, or you might give yourself an unpleasant surprise as well.”

 

Toshi follows the bi-colored hero’s line of sight and frowns.

 

At the end of the practice, Gran Torino sends them off with a grunt and a wave. Toshi, Deku, and Shouto stand outside the gym in the empty alleyway, Toshi listening to two of the Symbols of Peace chat idly about names and places he doesn’t know. He stands there awkwardly, the weight of their combined presence surely flattening him.

 

“Ah, my apologies,” Shouto says to Toshi, “You need to be heading home, yes? Would you like a ride to the station?”

 

“No, that’s okay!” Toshi splutters, “I was just wanting to ask Mr. Deku if he was alright?”

 

Deku, smiling, waves away his concern. “No worries, Yagi-kun. You didn’t throw me that hard.”

 

Toshinori wouldn’t dream of thinking that highly of himself. He shakes his head rapidly, face warm.

 

“As if I could hurt you, Mr. Deku,” Toshi says bashfully, “I meant, uh, about your earlier…injury.”

 

The two heroes pause, glancing at each other before Deku puts a reassuring hand on his head.

 

“I have a job to protect people,” Deku says, “but I’m also lucky to have people who protect me. The best thing about heroes is, no matter what kind of trouble you face, you can always find someone there to support you.”

 

“A hero saves not only a person’s life, but their spirit.” Toshi adds quietly.

 

Deku seems taken aback by the words at first, before beaming and pulling Toshi into a friendly one-armed embrace.

 

“That’s right,” Deku says, “Don’t worry about me. With friends like you, I’ll definitely be okay.”

 

Shouto watches the two of them, regarding Toshi with an approving smile.

 


 

Three weeks before winter vacation, Toshi mentions that he knows Nana. Deku remembers her.

 

And because it’s Deku, he wants to see her again.

 

“Can I have a friend over for dinner?” Toshi asks Nana, for the first time since he’d brought Naomasa.

 

“It’s your apartment too, Toshi,” Nana says, “You can invite whoever you want.”

 

Sunday night, Deku is standing at their door, a giant in their tiny genkan. And because it’s Deku, he’s even brought snacks.

 

“Oh my god.” Nana’s voice is flat with shock.

 

“Hello Yagi-kun,” Deku greets Toshi, and then bows to Nana, “Nanosecond, right?”

 

“Shimura,” Nana answers, “Shimura Nana.”

 

“Oh,” Deku says with surprise, glancing at Toshinori, “May I come in?”

 

Toshi and Deku relax on the couch, while Nana quietly loses her mind in the kitchen. She sends Toshi a text (‘Deku is IN OUR LIVING ROOM, TOSHI’) and then brings out a tray of snacks and drinks with a schooled expression.

 

She excuses herself, and the two boxers eat snacks in comfortable silence while the TV drones quietly.

 

“Do you live here?” Deku asks suddenly, eyes trailing around the room. Some of the furnishings obviously belong to a middle schooler, as much as it pains Toshi to admit it.

 

“Yeah,” Toshi says, “Nana and I share it.”

 

“I see.” Deku answers as his eyes linger on the altar.

 

When Nana calls them for dinner, she offers Deku a beer. He accepts a can, apologizing in advance that he has work the next day. Nana understands, but that doesn’t stop her from helping herself to the rest of the six pack.

 

They have a fun meal, Nana having prepared mixed vegetables and mapo-tofu. Nana is heartily drunk three cans in, and she warms up to Deku quickly. The three of them talk about heroics passionately and swap stories. Nana pretends to be furious when Toshi tells her that he and Deku have been boxing for months. After explaining that he’d told Toshi to keep it a secret, Deku begins to gush over Toshi’s skills and technique - much to Toshi’s embarrassment.

 

Toshinori feels quite domestic; he doesn’t stop grinning the whole evening. It’s the best night he’s had in years, he decides.

 

They move to the living room again after dinner, talking about Gran Torino, when Nana stands up suddenly.

 

“Cake,” she slurs, “we need dessert.”

 

“Want me to go get some?” Toshi asks.

 

“No, you stay here,” she insists, “I’ll be right back.”

 

Nana flies out the door, probably headed to a convenience store, leaving Toshi alone with Deku. Toshi is used to Deku by now, though, and he doesn’t feel awkward being alone with the man. He feels lucky, actually, maybe even a little giddy. They watch the variety show in silence for a peaceful minute, a program about a locally famous farm somewhere in Iwate.

 

Deku shifts next to Toshi nervously. Toshi thinks it’s just the man being uncomfortable on Nana’s smallish couch when the hero speaks.

 

“Yagi-kun,” Deku starts, “I need to tell you something.”

 

“Oh...okay?” The giddiness is gone.

 

“It’s about my quirk,” Deku continues, “and my injury.”

 

“Your arms?” Toshi whispers, “Are you okay?”

 

Deku deflates a bit, the absence of his trademark smile is stark.

 

“...No,” he answers, “No, I’m not.”  

 

Deku’s fingers grip his bicep, where the scars are surely hiding underneath his clothing. He winces slightly, as if in memory of the pain.

 

“A villain,” he explains, “did this to me. There are heroes who can heal, who can reverse the damage on people’s bodies. But this is too old, too deep. It’s like a collar on me - when I use my quirk, it tightens. It spreads. I’ve tried to repair it, but it always comes back. Each time more painful than the last.”

 

He rolls up a sleeve, exposing his wrist to the air. Toshi has never seen it without gloves or the wrappings, and he’s a little shocked at the damage he sees.

 

There are scars, yes, branching up and out and everywhere. But there’s a swath of flesh, too, that isn’t cracked. It’s smooth, like a burn.

 

A burn in the shape of a hand.

 

“There are villains who rob banks,” Deku murmurs, “who steal and kidnap, break property and buildings and bones. And there are villains who try to destroy people. They can do it with a look, or their words,” Deku shifts, “or with their bare hands.”

 

“Mr. Deku…”

 

Deku says, “Yagi-kun. No, Toshinori. I’m telling you this, because...because I have to stop.”

 

“Stop?” Toshi whispers fearfully.

 

“Stop.” Deku says flatly, “Using my quirk.”

 

Toshinori’s heart shudders painfully, but he waits for the hero to continue.

 

“I’m a hero,” the man breathes, “Even without my arms, I would kick. With no legs, I would bite. I would fight to save lives until my heart stopped in my chest. But there are people who depend on me outside of my job. There are things my life symbolizes. If I die, that’s over. And my quirk is killing me.”

 

A choked breath escapes Toshi, and he’s in front of the hero. He reaches for Deku before drawing back, instead looking over the hero quickly before meeting his eyes.

 

“What can I do?” Toshi asks desperately, “Deku, what can I do?”

 

“There’s nothing anyone can do that would reverse the damage that’s already been done,” Deku says, “but there is something that I can do for you.”

 

“You don’t have to.”

 

“But I want to.”

 

Deku leans up, grasps Toshinori’s arm.

 

“Toshinori-kun,” the man says, “take my quirk.”

 

When Nana returns, she comments that Toshi looks as if he’d seen a ghost. She isn’t so far off, Toshi thinks, because he had seen a ghost - Deku’s, face twisted in pain and strangled by vivid scars around his neck. He can see it so clearly in his mind, now that he knows Deku’s secret.

 

Secrets.

 

Deku only had enough time to explain that his quirk could be passed on before Nana walked through the door with desserts in hand.

 

Toshi eats cake in silence.

 

Deku has no trouble hiding his distress, another thing that Toshi has learned this evening. Deku is strong and kind and cunning, that easy smile of his disarming Nana’s concern before it could fully form. The woman is too enraptured in her conversation with Deku to notice Toshi’s silence, so when the forced calm becomes too much for Toshi and he has to excuse himself, she doesn’t question it.

 

“Let’s go for a walk,” Deku says, nodding politely to Nana, “Do you mind if I borrow Toshinori, Shimura-san?”

 

“You can do whatever you want, always,” Nana replies reverently, and Toshi can’t help the small bubble of amusement and affection he feels for her in that moment.

 

Toshinori leads them outside, the two of them marching down the stairs of the apartment complex in total silence. Deku lets the younger lead as Toshi takes them across the street and along roads behind houses, until they emerge into a children’s park five minutes later. It’s dark and cold and empty at this time of night, and it’s small - only a walking path and a stone gazebo with concrete benches. The houses and buildings around them are far enough away that privacy is possible.

 

Toshi walks to the gazebo and collapses on a bench, sighing quietly and rubbing his eyes as Deku sits beside him.

 

“I owe you an apology,” Deku says, “springing that on you in the middle of the evening with no pretense wasn’t nice of me.”

 

“It’s fine.” Toshi replies, feeling tired. “But why tell me at all?”

 

Deku stares out into the park, wearing a tiny, dry smile.

 

“I think with my heart instead of my head sometimes,” the hero murmurs, “but I don’t think my feeling about you is wrong.”

 

“And what feeling is that?”

 

“That you’re a natural born hero,” Deku says, “you have inner and outer strength. You don’t look down on anyone, and you’re unfailingly loyal to the people and ideals you hold precious. That you’re worthy to be a new symbol of peace.”

 

Toshi sputters, and stands up. He points a finger at Deku accusingly.

 

“An hour ago you told me you were dying,” Toshi growls, “This isn’t about me. People need you!”

 

“It’s not about me either, and it never has been,” Deku shrugs, “It’s about peace. Society. Balance. The things we want to protect.”

 

“Why not retire? Live out the rest of your life and never use your quirk again. Why give it away to someone who could betray you?”

 

Deku looks at him, disbelieving.

 

“And let my legacy fade into memory? You said you wanted to be a hero.”

 

There it is, the one fact Toshinori can’t deny. He does want to be a hero, like Spiderman, or Superman. He wants to fight for good. That’s what all of this means - his judo training, the boxing, his studies. It’s what he’s spent his childhood dreaming about.

 

And Deku knows it.

 

“Yes.” Toshi says, “And I will be. That was always the plan. I don’t need a quirk.”

 

“No, you don’t,” The man agrees, and he stands. He pulls Toshi into another embrace. But it’s different now, not the same kind of hug he received in front of the gym some weeks ago. This embrace is a question, a pleading request. The wish of a dying man. “I chose you, because we have things that we want to protect. I think...we’re the same.”

 

“I don’t want it,” Toshi mumbles, “I don’t want to replace you.”

 

“I know,” Deku says, “and that’s why I want to give it to you.”

 


 

 

Toshi refuses. He tries to. He wants to.

 

Deku tells him to think about it, and then takes him back to Nana’s.

 

The following week is hell.

 

He thinks about it a lot. Constantly.

 

There’s no reprieve for him, awake or asleep. At night he dreams of scars, at school he can’t bear to talk about heroics with Naomasa. His friend is worried for him, but catches on to the nature of his stress, and they talk of other things.

 

Judo is his relief, a chance for him to clear his mind. He can breathe, in and out and in again, and the claustrophobia he feels inside his own mind abates.

 

For the first time ever, he doesn’t go to boxing.

 

He sends Gran Torino a text, apologizing. He says he’s unwell, which isn’t exactly a lie. But the old man doesn’t say anything about his excuse, merely giving him a gruff reply that it’s good Toshi is finally thinking about his health.

 

On Sunday morning, instead of going to Saitama, he stays in bed and looks at the ceiling. Nana is at work, and the apartment is quiet.

 

He thinks.

 

The thought that plagues him above all: Why not?

 

Why not take Deku’s quirk? His admission to UA would come effortlessly. He’d be powerful.

 

He thinks about his parents. His mother - she’d had a minor mind-reading quirk, and could understand any spoken language. His father produced pheromones that charmed those around him. Both quirks were effective in the private sector, his father especially was an efficient businessman. If he’d inherited either of their quirks, could he have been a hero?

 

Probably not, but maybe his life wouldn’t have been such a hardship.

 

Or maybe not, he thinks.

 

A quirk wouldn’t have changed his heritage, it wouldn’t have made his classmates look at him any less strangely. It wouldn’t have saved his parents’ marriage. It wouldn’t have helped his mom.

 

He didn’t need a quirk. He didn’t have one, and he’d met Nana. He’d changed himself, he’d made friends at school. He’d met Deku and sparred against him as an equal. His classmates didn’t bully him anymore. He could smile like he’d never been able to before.

 

A quirk didn’t do that.

 

Then he thinks about Nana.

 

Nana, struggling to hold up a collapsed building while the paramedics worked to rescue the civilian trapped at her feet. Nana, her strength fading and her body flagging under the weight, about to be flattened. Nana, whose husband’s ashes adorn some shrine, a victim of his own powerlessness.

 

Did she think she was about to join him, when the roof came down on her? Did she think of Toshi, of all the people she wouldn’t be able to save?

 

We have things that we want to protect, Deku said.

 

Deku had saved Nana. Would Toshi have been able to do that, with no quirk? Or would he have been forced to watch her as she was crushed?

 

Deku had said he wasn’t weak. But at that moment, he felt like it.

 

Finally, he thought of the day his mother died. The way he’d been helpless, watching the funeral in silence. Forced to accept a ride home from some company man he’d never met. Returning to a lifeless apartment. Walking to the convenience store in the dark, because his fridge was empty. Eating alone at an empty table.

 

He never wanted to be that alone again.

 

Toshi goes to Gran Torino’s the next week.

 

Deku is there, looking concerned when the teen wanders in. Gran Torino’s talking, but his words die as Toshinori sets his bag down and falls into a bench.

 

Toshi imagines he looks a mess, the weight of his decision pressing heavy on his chest and mind. But he had decided.

 

“Okay,” he says, meeting Deku’s green eyes, “Okay.”

 

Deku sags, and walks to stand in front of Toshi. He crouches down, so that he’s eye level with the blond teenager. His freckled face is somber.

 

“Toshinori,” Deku says, voice heavy with words unspoken, “Thank you.”

 


 

 

The sakura trees are blooming when Toshinori graduates from junior high school.

 

Nana attends the ceremony, recording with a video camera the entire time so Deku can watch it later. The woman looks tearful, pride carved into every facet of her radiating smile.

 

There are about a hundred students in Toshi’s graduating class, so the ceremony takes about two hours. Naomasa had somehow been elected to give a farewell address to their underclassmen - he strikes an authoritative figure at the podium, speaking with conviction about the tangibility of their futures.

 

Toshinori particularly takes the speech to heart, knowing that his own defining moment is fast approaching. UA’s entrance exam is in two weeks.

 

After the ceremony, he and Naomasa exchange phone numbers - Toshi had bought his own cell phone the weekend before (he adorns it with a Deku case). It feels like the entire student body is milling about in front of the school to send off the graduates. Several of Toshi’s juniors from the judo club surprise him with a friendly send-off. His sensei gives him a firm handshake and advice to take care of himself.

 

As he and Nana leave the school grounds, Toshi spares one more glance for the place that had shaped and defined him the past three years. He remembers the boy he was on the day of his entrance ceremony, and thinks of the person he is now. He thinks about the difficult road that lies just ahead of him.

 

Nana throws an arm casually over his shoulder and pulls him in for a bear-hug.

 

Toshinori beams.

 

Deku comes over for dinner that night, and this time he drinks heartily with Nana. Nana even gives Toshi a sip of beer out of her bottle, though the teen decides very quickly that he doesn’t care for it. This observation makes the two adults cackle with devious laughter.

 

Nana passes out on the couch just before midnight, and Deku props himself up at the kitchen table. Toshi sits next to him, pushing a glass of water towards the pro hero.

 

“Thanks,” Deku slurs and smiles happily, “You really are a good kid, Toshinori-kun.”

 

“Call me Toshi,” Toshi says, “That’s what all my friends call me.”

 

Deku hums, taking a deep draw on the water before gingerly returning the glass to the table.

 

“My name is Midoriya Izuku.” Deku says.

 

“I know,” Toshi replies, which makes the pro hero bark a laugh.

 

“Of course you do,” Deku mumbles, then scratches the back of his head bashfully, “So, you’ve graduated. Your body is in top form. The UA exams are in two weeks. You ready to take the next step, Toshi-kun?”

 

Toshi smiles, because he is. He is ready body and soul to throw everything he has at this next challenge. He won’t let Deku down. He won’t let himself down.

 

“Yeah,” Toshi says, “Let’s get started.”

 

He’s going to be a hero.

 

Chapter Text

 

If it was anyone else but Deku who had taken Toshinori to a trash-covered beach at 6AM and given him a hair to swallow, Toshinori would have concluded that he was the victim of a very drawn-out and cruel joke.

 

As it is, Toshi eyes the hair between the disguised pro-hero’s fingers with heavy skepticism.

 

“How is eating a hair supposed to transfer your quirk to me?” Toshi asks somewhat suspiciously.

 

“It’s not about the hair,” Deku says and grins, “It’s about my intention. You have to ingest some part of me, though, and I figured this would be the least traumatic.”

 

Toshi takes Deku’s word for it, accepting the hair and a bottle of water from the man and washing it down.

 

He pauses for a moment, reaching out with his mind and feeling for some kind of change in his body, but he feels nothing. He flexes his fingers curiously and looks to Deku. The hero is watching him with a look akin to nostalgia.

 

“It’ll take a bit for your body to digest it and absorb the quirk,” Deku explains, “until then—“

 

He grabs his duffel bag off his shoulder and pulls out a towel, spreading it on the sand and gesturing for Toshi to sit. Next he reaches into his bag and pulls out a small stack of notebooks. All of them are old, while some of them look positively ancient. Deku handles them with care as Toshi sits next to him on the ground. He picks one up and flips through it.

 

Peering at the notebook’s pages, Toshi sees they’re absolutely covered in writing and small sketches. There are even some sections written in code, and Toshi feels his curiosity pique.

 

Deku picks up the oldest looking notebook and clears his throat.

 

“I don’t know how good of a teacher I am,” the hero begins, “but I can say that I’ve been in your position before. My situation was such that I had to figure out a lot of the quirk on my own, and it was rough. I damaged my body a lot because I didn’t know what I was doing.

 

“The one thing I did right was take a lot of notes about my experimentations, and write extensively about the sensations I felt. I hope that by sharing them with you now, you can learn to use your quirk more cautiously than I did.”

 

Finishing his introduction, Deku opens the notebook to the first page. There’s scribbled writing that reads ‘One for All Analysis 1’.

 

“One for All,” Deku says, “is the name of this quirk.”

 

“One for All…” Toshi repeats quietly, feeling the words on his tongue. It’s a strong name, and Toshi can almost sense the long legacy of heroism behind it.

 

Nodding, Deku turns to the next page. The first entry is dated almost twenty years prior, making Toshi look to Deku in surprise.

 

“How old were you when you received One for All, De—Midoriya-san?”

 

Deku smirks a little at Toshi’s slip-up, having asked him earlier to not use his hero name in public, before answering.

 

“I was about your age, actually,” Deku says, “maybe a little younger.”

 

He hands the notebook to Toshi. Toshi scans the text slowly, fascinated that he’s peering into a young Deku’s mind. As he reaches the bottom of the page, he sputters in shock.

 

“You broke both your legs and your arm the first time you used your quirk?!” Toshi wheezes.

 

Sheepish, Deku laughs and shrugs lightly.

 

“I learned the hard way that One for All is a stockpiling quirk that accumulates the strength of its previous users,” Deku explains, “Just because your body is fit to hold the quirk, doesn’t mean that you can handle its full power yet.”

 

“Good to know,” Toshi says faintly, wondering just what he’s gotten himself into.

 

“The key is to start slow,” the hero smiles, “and to keep your body in top shape.”

 

For the next half an hour, Deku outlines a fitness plan for Toshinori. He’ll still be going to boxing, and will be attending the gym with Nana. But now he has to run to build his endurance, and they’ll be meeting at the beach every morning to practice his quirk. After, he gives Toshi a strict menu to follow. He kindly suggests giving it to Nana, who can help him prepare everything.

 

There are two weeks until the UA entrance exam, and Toshi knows it’s the eleventh hour for him. He nods and agrees to every point of Deku’s advice.

 

The sun hovers just above the horizon when Deku checks his watch and hums “Okay, that should be enough time.”

 

Nervously Toshi follows the man as he stands and trots across the beach, stopping at the water line. Deku seems happy, smiling in the warm glow of the morning as he peers into the horizon. He has a Pinky t-shirt over some sweats, and bright white Ingenium shoes. He’s wearing a beanie and sunglasses on to hide his face, but Toshi can see the man is relaxed. Unhurried.

 

Toshi stands next to him, likewise looking to the distant sunrise.

 

“This is a big moment for you, Toshi-kun,” Deku says, “You ready?”

 

Toshi nods and turns to the hero, awaiting instructions.

 

“That’s a nice look in your eyes,” Deku smiles, “So, step one. Yell.”

 

Toshi raises an eyebrow.

 

“What?”

 

“Yell,” the pro repeats, “from the belly, you know? Unleash some emotion. Scream with intent.”

 

Warily, Toshinori looks back to the horizon and swallows heavily. He’s not the kind of person who’s comfortable with making large noises, but if that’s what Deku wants, he’ll follow.

 

“Ahhh!” He shouts over the water, imagining he’s an actor in some kind of dramatic movie.

 

“Louder!” Deku yells back, then opens his mouth and shouts, “AHHHHH!”

 

“AHHHHHHHHHH!”

 

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

 

Toshi starts laughing, feeling quite ridiculous, before he takes a deep breath and bellows, “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!

 

Deku is grinning as Toshi stops, taking deep gasping breaths. The hero jogs to a nearby trash heap and eyeballs it, until he seems to find something and picks his way to it. Toshi’s jaw drops when the man pulls a refrigerator from the mess, and drags it slowly away from the pile. The man grunts, sweating as he moves it, before stopping some twenty feet away from the shore.

 

“Next step,” Deku says, wiping his hands off on his pants before pointing, “Move this fridge to that dumpster.”

 

Toshi’s head swivels, looking at the dumpster nearly a kilometer down the beach. It’s easy to find, because nothing surrounds it. He blinks in disbelief, but moves to obey.

 

Toshinori leans his body against the refrigerator and pushes, grunting in effort. It doesn’t budge. He looks at Deku, who doesn’t react - seemingly waiting for Toshi to figure it out. Toshi moves so that his hands are flat against the appliance, feet braced in the sand. He pushes from his core, and it starts to slide forward marginally.

 

“That’s it!” Deku calls, “Let’s hear that yell again!”

 

A groan is already revving in Toshi’s throat. As he pushes the fridge, more bubbles forth until he’s almost growling as the balls of his feet sink into the sand.

 

“GrraaAAAA--” Toshi shouts, and heaves, “AAAAAAAH!”

 

He feels a tug in his gut, and suddenly the fridge is gliding over the sand as if it were on ice. Toshi stares, dumbfounded, as it creeps to a stop ten meters away.

 

He looks at the fridge, then to his hands, then to Deku. The man has his phone out, holding it up at eye-level. There’s a beeping noise and Deku lowers his phone. The man is absolutely glowing.

 

“That was great, Toshi-kun!” Deku crows, waving his hand excitedly, “Keep going!”

 

Excited, Toshi runs back to the fridge and pushes again, feeling for that same pull in his stomach. He yells without thought, takes a step, and the fridge moves with him. It doesn’t fly away from him this time, but it moves, and Toshi grins despite the effort. With every step it gets a little easier, though he can feel the sweat start to pour down his skin.

 

He makes it nearly half a kilometer before he has to stop, his muscles screaming in agony. Panting, Toshi leans against the fridge and slides down the surface of it until his butt hits the sand. The back of his head meets metal as he gazes up at the sky and gasps for air.

 

Deku walks to him, a proud smile on the man’s face. He offers a bottle of water and a hand towel to Toshi. Toshi accepts them gratefully and he sips at the water, not wanting to make himself sick.

 

“That was excellent,” Deku says happily. His eyes trace the indentions in the sand where the refrigerator had dragged along, interrupted occasionally by a footprint. “You’re doing very well.”

 

“Was that the quirk?” Toshi breathes and wipes his forehead.

 

Nodding, Deku crouches down and pulls out his phone. “It’s important that you first learn to use it, not with bursts, but gently sustained over a short period of time. As you are right now, bursts at concentrated points will shock your body, which can lead to breaks. Even using the quirk lightly - intertwined with the entirety of your own strength - is nearly too much stress as it is.”

 

Deku gestures to Toshi’s body, and he looks down.

 

Toshi blanches when he can see deep purple bruises already starting to blossom around his elbows and along his major muscle groups. He pulls up a leg of his sweatpants and sees a similar situation happening at his knees and ankles.

 

Deku hisses sympathetically at the sight of the bruises, then snaps a few photos of the damage. “You’ll feel that some more later, I’m afraid.”

 

Toshi shakes his head, massaging his arms lightly. “If this is the price I have to pay, then I can handle it.”

 

Smiling, the pro hero stands and offers a hand to Toshi. Toshi takes it and is hauled to his feet, his legs creaking slightly. It’s an interesting sensation.

 

“That’s enough for today, I think,” Deku says, “Do some stretches, and then we can go get some breakfast.”

 


 

 

The rest of the week continues much the same, with Toshi waking in the early hours of the morning to move trash on the beach.

 

His limbs purple steadily, and Toshi finds himself soaking in hot baths every evening. He’s able to deter Nana’s concern at first by telling her it’s a result of Deku’s personal training, but it doesn’t work for long.

 

At first his guardian is over the moon that Deku is helping him with his (as she calls it) ‘hero boot camp’. But as his bruises darken, so does the dangerous look on her face, until finally she puts her foot down on Sunday morning.

 

Toshi doesn’t think of Nana’s offer to drive him to Saitama as anything strange, but when they arrive, she turns off the engine and climbs out of the car after Toshi. Before he can say anything, Nana is entering Gran Torino’s building and marching down the stairs. Wide-eyed, Toshi follows her onto the gym floor.

 

Deku and Torino - who are running through the hero’s beginning drills - see the woman and pause. Torino raises an eyebrow, and Deku looks between Nana and Toshi, bewildered.

 

Neither of the men get a chance to speak, however, before Nana is ripping into them.

 

“Listen up,” Nana says imperiously, “Maybe it’s not my place, but I have to say it. Toshinori is my responsibility, and I respect the fact that he’s trying his hardest to get into the hero course at UA--”

 

“Nana, wait,” Toshi wheezes, realizing immediately where this is going.

 

“--but I won’t watch him abuse his own body to meet some unrealistic expectations that you may have--”

 

“Please--”

 

“--because I know he looks up to you two and will do whatever you say regardless of whether or not it’s within his abilities. I won’t stand for it!”

 

Toshi’s face is buried in his hands, and he blushes hotly while he listens to what he can only assume is Deku and Gran Torino’s stunned silence.

 

Deku makes a noise akin to an old truck ignition struggling to turn over. Gran Torino rolls his eyes so hard that his whole head falls back, before fixing Nana with a fiery glare.

 

“You’re a million years too early to be bossing me around in my own gym, Shimura,” the old man growls.

 

Nana draws a sharp breath and squares her shoulders, appearing in that moment like a tiger about to pounce.

 

“I respect you,” the woman replies loudly, “and lord knows I appreciate what you’ve done for Toshi, both of you. But if you don’t take care of him, you’ll answer to me--”

 

Gran Torino snorts dismissively, “Yagi’s a big boy and he can take care of himself--”

 

“Listen here, you old fart--”

 

“--as if I’d actually let anything actually bad happen--”

 

“Oh my god!” Toshi groans, throwing his hands up with an aghast expression, “Quit it! I’m fine!”

 

“Toshi,” Nana admonishes, “You’re more purple than a damn eggplant.”

 

“She’s right,” Gran Torino says, looking to Deku, “What the hell’d you do to him, Midoriya?”

 

Deku is positively ashen, looking like a deer in the headlights as three pairs of eyes all turn to him.

 

“I am so sorry, Shimura-san,” Deku chokes out.

 

“Don’t be!” Toshi insists, “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

 

The hero shakes his head. “I have,” he corrects, “I’ve saddled you with a large responsibility, and to keep your guardian out of the loop was selfish of me.”

 

Gran Torino smacks his forehead and scowls at Deku. “Brat,” he grumbles, “You didn’t tell her anything?”

 

“Tell me what?” Nana says stiffly.

 

Toshinori rode a roller coaster once, when he was eight. When Deku opens his mouth, Toshi feels the same sensation he had as when he was strapped into the coaster’s car and was looking down the steep hill at the ground below; like his stomach drops and flies into his throat all at once.

 

Deku tells her about One for All.

 

He doesn’t tell her everything, like why or how. But she learns about Toshi’s quirk, and that Deku is the one that gave it to him. She’s silent as Deku continues to explain the details of Toshi’s training, accounting for the bruises on his body. Toshi, worried about Nana’s reaction, fidgets next to her as his mentor speaks at length about the risks and precautions he’ll be taking to make sure the worst doesn’t happen.

 

Nana looks at Deku, stunned, then her face becomes unreadable as she sits down heavily on a bench.

 

The room is quiet as Deku tapers off, Nana a pale echo of the thunderous figure she was ten minutes prior.

 

“You’ve taken on something impossibly heavy, Toshi,” Nana says suddenly, her eyes rising to meet her ward’s, “I had no idea.”

 

Toshi’s never seen her this serious, and the weight of her gaze makes him feel the magnitude of the road he’s chosen for the first time.

 

“I...I know,” Toshi replies, trying to match the certainty of her voice.

 

“I don’t think you do,” she says, so quiet it’s barely a breath. She takes Toshi’s hand and squeezes it. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

 

Gran Torino clears his throat, moving to stand in front of Nana.

 

“Listen, Shimura,” the old man says gruffly, “You’re no stranger to hardship. I know. Yagi’s a good kid, and you wanna look out for him. But he’s stronger than yer givin’ him credit for. And Midoriya’s not a complete idiot, he’s bein’ careful. We’re all tryin’ to support him the only way we know how.”

 

Nana sighs heavily and levels Gran Torino with a measuring look. Slowly she blinks, then turns to Toshi. She smiles weakly, apologetically.

 

“I’m sorry, Toshi,” Nana says, “You must think that I’m being so overbearing.”

 

Toshi shakes his head quickly and grips her hand harder.

 

“Not at all, Nana,” he stammers, “I don’t mind it, really.”

 

“I know I’m not your mom,” Nana continues, “but won’t you forgive me for being a little overprotective?”

 

Toshi hugs her. He doesn’t know another way to convey his appreciation and affection for her; to tell her that she’s changed him for the better. He’s thankful that she looks out for him.

 

“We’ll be careful,” Deku says, “I promise you.”

 

There’s a long pause as Nana considers.

 

Then she hums, and finally nods.

 


 

 

A week later, Toshi wears his old middle school uniform to UA’s exam. It’s tradition, but he’s also glad that it covers his arms and legs completely. The school is about a fifty minute walk away.

 

Toshi could take the train - the school is such a landmark that there’s a small station nearly across the street. Instead Toshi jogs there, using the time to warm his body up and clear his head.

 

When he arrives, the entrance of the school is daunting. Despite being within the city, it’s nearly an estate. There are four pillars to the main school, each a windowed tower in its own right. Each tower is connected by a complex of sky bridges, and everything is sheathed in deep blue glass. Off the main building are several smaller facilities, though Toshi can only imagine what they’re for.

 

Toshi’s early, but there are tens of testers already at the large blue gates, all wearing various uniforms from public and private schools. They’re waiting for the doors to open, so Toshi quietly joins the end of the line.

 

He isn’t even standing there for ten minutes when something happens.

 

‘Excuse me!’

 

When the voice whispers in his mind, Toshi jumps so violently that he knocks into the person behind him.

 

He spins, ready to apologize, and meets the sheepish face of a girl nearly a head shorter than him. Her short hair is a dark read, her brown eyes large and worried.

 

The girl bows silently in apology and looks over her shoulder at the street behind them.

 

‘Sorry to scare you like that,’ the voice says quickly inside his head as the girl peeks at him, ‘and sorry for using my quirk on you. But there’s this weird guy following me, and I can’t find my sister ...could you pretend to be my friend so he’ll leave me alone?’

 

Toshi pauses, but ultimately nods without much thought. He barely processes the girl’s request before a short man walks up the street towards them.

 

The man’s dark clothes are mismatched fake leather, his eyes are small and sharp. Most noticeable is his hair - it’s purple and bulbous, shiny and almost sticky, appearing more like slime than hair. As he spots the girl, his face becomes coy, and he saunters to the two of them casually with his hands in his pockets.

 

“Little lady,” the man purrs in a voice that makes Toshi’s hair stand up, “you ran off before I could help you find your sister…”

 

“I don’t need help anymore,” the girl says with the same voice that had sounded in Toshi’s head earlier. She loops her arm around Toshi’s, giving a good effort at a placating smile. “I’ve found my friend, and he’s going to help me look.”

 

The man glances at Toshi, who meets his eyes evenly, before disregarding him and peering at the girl.

 

“All three of us could look,” the man presses, reaching out a hand placatingly.

 

“No thank you,” the girl says firmly, “We’ll be going inside soon anyways.”

 

The man seems to notice suddenly that he’s standing in front of UA, his eyes widening when he looks up to check the gates before him. His posture changes, from something reeking of confidence to one of insecurity.

 

“Are you a student here?” The man asks lightly.

 

“Look, man,” Toshi says lowly, “Unless you’re about to take the exam - and you look a little old for it - I think you’d better go.”

 

The creep scowls at him, lip curling. The man looks scrappy, and Toshi wouldn’t put it past him to cause trouble. He looks as if he’s about to pick a fight.

 

Toshi stands a little straighter, then, looking down at the shorter man. For once, he’s grateful for his height. It’d be best if he could scare the man off before any real conflict started, and he’s going to use any advantage he has to accomplish that.

 

He smiles.

 

The guy flinches. He stares daggers at Toshi, then seems to change his mind about whatever he’d been thinking before. Reluctantly he stalks away, throwing one last poisonous glance at Toshi and the girl before turning the corner and disappearing down the street.

 

The girl deflates, then looks to Toshi and smiles nervously.

 

“Sorry for using you like that,” she says, “I just saw you were wearing a uniform, and you looked, err, not creepy?”

 

“Thanks?” Toshi replies flatly, “Sorry that guy was bothering you.”

 

Raising an eyebrow, the girl chuckles, “Why are you sorry?”

 

Before Toshinori can reply, there’s a small clamor among the students. A blur flies past Toshi and tackles the girl beside him. Toshi tenses, thinking the creepy guy is back, before he registers that it’s another young girl’s face in front of him.

 

The same face.

 

“Shino!” The new girl cries, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

 

“I could say the same,” Shino scolds and whacks her identical counterpart over the head, “Where have you been, Mizuno? How could you leave me in the dust like that?”

 

“Sorry, sorry,” Mizuno says in a voice suggesting she isn’t really sorry, “I checked out the front gates - they’re opening up right now! Come ooooon!”

 

The three of them turn, and it’s true - the line of students in front of them is beginning to push forward.

 

Shino turns to Toshi, a small smile directed his way.

 

“Thanks for the help,” she says, “And good luck on the exam!”

 

She isn’t able to say anything else as she’s bodily dragged away by Mizuno. Toshi gives a small wave.

 

Unlike the two sisters, Toshi waits patiently in line. As the minutes pass, he finds himself shuffling forward, the strangeness of his previous encounter falling from his mind as his thoughts become consumed by the looming test.

 

The grand entrance of the school reminds him of a book he’d read, with lots of pictures of European castles. That, combined with something out of a sci-fi shounen manga, is the impression the UA campus gives him. He walks through a grand courtyard to the main doors and finds the sign-in table with his name.

 

He collects his name tag and test information, including his seat number for the written exam. In passing he eyes the list of students yet to arrive - there are hundreds of them taking the test that day.

 

Toshi follows winding and arching hallways to the testing room. As he enters, he’s greeted by a chamber that resembles a stadium more than a room. There’s a raised circular stage in the center, with numbers and arrows indicating rows and seats along the aisles. Toshi uses it to navigate and he finds his seat, far away from the center.

 

The auditorium fills slowly, and Toshi leans forward to rest his head on the table in front of him. He wouldn’t dream of saying he’s bored, but he feels like if he spends too much time admiring the splendor, all the information crammed into his brain will fall out.

 

Toshi is contemplating a quick doze when another thing happens.

 

There’s a heavy thunk - a body falling into the chair next to him - and then Toshi’s ears are assaulted.

 

“Well, look at you!! Looks like we’re neighbors!”

 

The loud voice sounds like feedback static out of a faulty sound system, causing Toshi to flail in surprise. He winces and covers his ears, turning to glare at whoever had just joined him.

 

The boy sitting beside him looks about his age, with distinctly foreign-looking features. He’s got bushy blonde hair gelled so liberally that it’s practically standing up, and bright green eyes partially hidden by-- is he wearing sunglasses indoors?

 

The young man realizes his mistake and claps his hands over his mouth, looking apologetic.

 

“Sorry, man,” the guy says apologetically, this time much quieter, “got a little too excited! The name’s Hizashi Yamada, and it is so freakin’ cool to meet ya!”

 

Hizashi holds out a hand, and Toshi doesn’t realize he’s supposed to shake it at first. It’s been so long since someone greeted him in an American way that his mind blanks, before kick-starting again. He takes the hand and still bows a little at the waist despite himself.

 

“I’m Toshinori Yagi,” Toshi replies not unkindly. Curious, he switches to English, “Are you from overseas?”

 

Hizashi practically explodes with excitement, his happiness vibrating throughout his entire body.

 

“YES!” The boy shouts, making Toshi wince, “Well, kinda. I was born in America, but I was adopted and I’m kinda Japanese now. Crazy, right?!”

 

Toshi squints, wondering if that will make Hizashi sound less loud. “Is your voice tied to your quirk, err, Hizashi?”

 

“It’s off the charts, yeah?!” Hizashi replies excitedly, “Sorry if it bothers you. My adoptive parents are deaf, so I don’t have to worry about controlling it at home, and I forget to keep it down in public sometimes!! I can sign too, if that’s what you’d prefer!” Hizashi moves his hands quickly with the words, making signs almost as an afterthought.

 

“That’s okay,” Toshi says and switches back to Japanese. His English is a little rusty, and he’s self-conscious about using it, “Are you ready for the test?”

 

“Totally!” Hizashi grins, giving him a thumbs up.

 

They chat amicably for the next half-hour as the seats around them slowly fill. Right before the exam starts, there’s not a single empty spot that Toshi can see in the entire arena. There must be nearly two thousand people there, Toshi thinks.

 

The lights dim then, and a spot-light shines on the center stage.

 

In an explosion of light and sparkles a woman appears, wearing a mix between a sexy black bodysuit and a magician’s costume - complete with a top-hat. She flips her honey-colored hair playfully, before raising a microphone to her lips and striking a pose.

 

“Heeeeeey, newbies!” She says coyly, “Welcome to UA! It’s ya girl, the hero of your dreams, acting as your celebrity PA, Glam! Wassup!”

 

There’s polite applause, though Hizashi is on his feet cheering loudly about the pro-hero’s entrance.

 

“Thank you, boo!” Glam coos, pointing at Hizashi, before twirling, “Let’s get this party started! You ready to get your test on? Friendly reminder that cellphones are, like, totes bad - so if you snuck one in, best hide it now. Otherwise I’ll totally be like, ‘Bye Felicia!’”

 

Toshi squeezes his eyes shut, the sheer amount of slang making his head spin.

 

Luckily the rest of the test proctors seem to be efficient as they walk down the aisles and check IDs, before handing out the exam booklets with instructions not to open them until the time had started. Glam enthusiastically explains the format of the test, and gives a passionate speech against plagiarism. Each booklet is personalized with the examinee’s names, though, and Toshi has no doubt each one is different to prevent any kind of cheating.

 

After fifteen minutes, every tester has a packet in front of them.

 

“You kids ready?!” Glam cheers, trying to coax a response. Only Hizashi shouts excitedly, the rest of the students too tense with sudden nervousness. “Okay then! On your mark, get set--”

 

A circular screen drops down over the stage, with large numbers broadcast clearly across it.

 

Three hours.

 

“--GO!”

 

Two thousand test booklets are ripped open at once.

 

It’s brutal.

 

The test covers a wide variety of subjects, from the typical math and science sections, to an essay section on heroics and strategy. Toshi flies through the English section easily, and struggles on the Japanese portion. Kanji had always given him trouble - likewise, many finer points of history eluded him.

 

But Nana had studied diligently the past few days with him, taking time off work to help him cram. She’s done her best to fill in the gaps in his knowledge, and more than once he encounters a question that she’d covered in her impromptu study session. He sends a silent prayer of thanks her way every time it happens.

 

When the three hours are up, Toshi feels like his soul has left his body. He’d barely finished in time, and his brain feels like a used dish rag that’s had every drip of water wringed out of it.

 

But he’s done it, and he knows he’s done a good job of it at that.

 

Hizashi groans loudly next to him as the boy stands up and stretches his body.

 

“I am wiped.” Hizashi whines.

 

Toshi likewise feels cramped as he stands, and makes a mental note to stretch out his limbs after he changes into his gym clothes.

 

Next is the physical test. Toshi’s heart thuds in anticipation. He’s ready for it.

 


 

 

Toshi binds his hands in his boxing wraps as an afterthought.

 

There’s some quiet chatter in the locker room as the boys around him change, but Toshinori stands alone. He hasn’t seen anyone from his old school, though he doubts they’d greet him even if somebody was there. Instead, Toshi takes the hour long break to meditate.

 

He thinks on One for All, flexing his fingers as he tries to remember what his quirk felt like on the beach.  

 

He imagines it like lightning, remembering the green crackling light that had surrounded Deku’s body. That light is inside of him now, the pure strength of heroes greater than he condensed into his inexperienced body. When he uses his quirk, it’s like electricity dancing around in his bones.

 

He can call upon One for All fairly easily now, though his maximum output of strength is less than he’d like. He’s still a beginner, and he doubts the UA proctors are going to be impressed by him pushing a refrigerator around.

 

He checks his student test card, and sees that he’ll be at testing center B in the first time block. He leaves the locker room before the others and follows the arrows directing examinees. His particular path takes him outside the main building, past massive sports fields (do they have regular clubs here?), and along a paved walkway through a little forested glen.

 

Just as Toshi is starting to wonder how large the campus actually is, he reaches the testing center.

 

At least, he thinks it’s the center.

 

The arrowed path ends in front of a gate reading AREA B across it. Blank walls protrude from each side of the gate and stretch several hundred feet in either direction. Toshi can’t see through the gate or over the wall, so instead he sits on the pavement and begins some stretches.

 

To his relief more people begin to arrive, each claiming to be looking for center B.

 

One of them is a rather extraordinary individual, a broad and brooding boy with brilliant red hair and icy blue eyes. He stands out from the rest, staring at the gate of Area B with such intensity that it looks like he’s trying to melt it with his eyes.

 

Toshi double-takes when flames actually do appear around the kid’s eyes and lick at the skin there. Then the boy blinks and the flames disappear. He shifts impatiently and scowls, seemingly unbothered.

 

Okay then, Toshi thinks.

 

The proctor this time is a hero Toshi knows: a wild-looking man who uses the name Real Steel.

 

The pro hero had been one half of a popular team formed with Red Riot years before Toshi came to Japan, though they eventually had a falling out and split.

 

After, Red Riot had found a partner in Ground Zero, who was infamous for his explosive personality and quirk. Red Riot and Ground Zero inevitably skyrocketed into fame - Ground Zero was flashy, and Riot possessed natural charisma.

 

Real Steel, meanwhile, appears to have made a living in training heroes. The grey-haired muscle man saunters through the crowd, flashing Toshinori a sharp-toothed smile, before stopping in front of the group of testers.

 

There are roughly thirty students there, and every single one of them falls silent at the sight of the hero.

 

“Alright hotheads,” Real Steel growls, “you’re first up in Area B. In five minutes these gates will bust open, and your test will officially start.”

 

The hero points his thumb over his shoulder at the gate behind him.

 

“On the other side of this wall,” he continues, “is a city. Not a real one, that would be dumb. It’s a fake one. Full of robots. Your test is to disable them however you can - there’re four types.”

 

The hero continues to explain the test in a manner that reminds Toshi of Gran Torino - gruff and succinct. As Toshi listens, he feels excitement buzz inside of him.

 

As Real Steel finishes up his summary of the zero-pointer, Toshi already has a mantra of the rules in his head.

 

Twenty minutes. Disable enemies. No casualties. Minimize city damage. Don’t die.

 

Finally, the pro hero looks at his watch and shrugs. He looks out over the crowd, and nonchalantly adds:

 

“Final piece of advice - don’t forget what you’re here for.”

 

As if he’d timed it, which he probably did, Real Steel steps to the side just as the gates fly open with a starting bell. There’s a tensing movement as everyone prepares to spring into action. Before anyone can take a step, however, there’s an explosion - or something like it.

 

The red haired boy from before has burst into flame, fire spilling out of his hands, feet, and eyes. He looks like a berserker, his face a ferocious snarl.

 

Get the hell out of my way!” The boy roars, then literally rockets himself over the stunned bodies below and into the arena.

 

There’s a moment where the group is frozen, watching the fireball’s smoke trail, before Real Steel rolls his eyes and barks “Get moving!”

 

Toshi bolts.

 

He’s not the fastest or most mobile. He can’t dash, fly, or blast off like some of the people in his group can. But that doesn’t mean his training is worthless.

 

He finds his first enemy a minute and a half later, a spider-like one-pointer robot casually climbing up the side of a building. It’s within his reach, so he wraps his hands around one of its legs and pulls with a shout of effort.

 

It’s heavier than the refrigerator. Maybe even twice the weight. But gravity works with him, and with an astounding endeavor, he pulls the robot off the wall and smashes it against the ground.

 

The one-pointer beeps miserably and chimes. It doesn’t move after, so Toshi assumes it’s not going anywhere and moves on.

 

He disables another two robots in a similar fashion, pushing and pulling them to their destruction. But it’s slow work, and Toshi has only collected five points by the time ten minutes has passed.

 

It’s not enough, he thinks desperately.

 

Deku would have pummeled these robots into pulp. How would he have done it? With air pressure attacks, probably, and sheer force. How could he do that without wrecking his body? If he disables himself, it’s over.

 

Toshi’s mind frantically flicks back to his earlier metaphor of lightning. His quirk is like electricity flowing through him - does that make his body a circuit?

 

It makes sense. Deku had warned him that bursts of power in one point of his body would cause his bones to break. It’s like blowing a fuse, Toshi thinks. Overloading a single part of his body with 100% of the quirk would destroy him, probably rendering him immobile. That’s not how currents were supposed to work.

 

He realizes the purpose of Deku’s training. The hero had lead him to activate his quirk over multiple points in his body at once, so that it wasn’t a single part of him bearing the stress. He’d still done it sloppily - relying on his joints to do most of the work - and had the ugly bruises as a result.

 

Toshi wonders: what would happen if he used his entire body?

 

Experimentally he reaches for his quirk and activates it. He can feel the energy swell in his chest, and mentally he imagines pushing it outward. It’s like a wave washing over him and then pouring out of his fingertips.

 

He lifts up a hand, and is shocked to see bright blue light dancing around his fingers.

 

In fact - it’s all over him. Like it had with Deku, little sparks like lightning are pulsing around him. A telltale sign that his quirk is on.

 

Encouraged, Toshi starts to run, and nearly falls into the dirt when instead his body springs forward. Like his movements are now powered by jet fuel, every motion he makes is now ten-fold more powerful. He shivers excitedly.

 

Toshi jumps, soaring three meters into the air and gripping the edge of a building roof. As he pulls himself up, he spots a three-point robot trashing a car two blocks down.

 

Leaping from the roof, Toshi flies. He lands somewhat messily a block from the robot, but continues towards it as he dashes. Not stopping, Toshi bodily slams into the three-pointer. It’s ripped from the ground and takes to the air, beeping in surprise and panic, before smashing into the street in a heap of broken parts.

 

Grinning, Toshi continues onwards.  

 

He travels across the roofs of the city with ease, now able to stop and subdue robots in seconds rather than minutes. Before he knows it, his watch beeps to signal three minutes left. He’s already torn through several more three-pointers and smaller robots; so many that he’s lost track of his score.

 

It’s then that the third happening of the day occurs.

 

As Toshi is roaming across the mini-city, the world around him shudders.

 

He lands on the street in a part of the city full of towering buildings and looks around. A small mob of testers runs past him, shouting in alarm. He retraces their path with his eyes and sees a massive robotic hand gripping the ground.

 

Looking up, he realizes he’s standing in the shadow of a zero-pointer.

 

Toshi gapes as the robot straightens, towering easily five or six stories above ground level. It’s taller than Real Steel had led them to believe it would be, its arms as thick around as tree trunks. Its face is a matrix of red sensors, and it has no legs to speak of - only a mechanism with a rotating belt, like a tank.

 

A small figure clad in black swings from the robot’s shoulder. It’s a person, Toshi realizes, struggling frantically as they hang uselessly against the robot’s front. The student has some kind of light cloth wrapped around their body, the end of which appearing to be stuck in the zero-pointer’s chest plate.

 

Before Toshi can react, there’s a series of explosions detonated behind the robot.

 

The zero-pointer’s head swivels, both it and Toshi finding the source at the same time: the red-haired examinee from earlier, standing on the roof of a nearby building with flames erupting from his hands and feet.

 

The fiery boy yells fiercely and the flames around him swell. He’s like a mini-volcano, and when he erupts, a massive fireball barrels through the air at the robot’s back.

 

It connects with concussive force.

 

Toshi slides back from the blast’s blowback, and the torso of the zero-pointer is knocked forward. Unfortunately, the base of the machine comes with it.

 

With a loud groan, the robot begins to tip forward as its substructure lifts slowly from the back. The zero-pointer makes a sound like an electronic scream as it pitches towards the ground at an increasing pace.

 

Toshi can see what will happen next with alarming clarity.

 

The machine will continue to fall forward, and with nothing to stop it, it’ll crash into the ground on its front. At best, it will be able to swing its arms underneath itself to stop its fall. Worst case scenario, the front of the robot will connect flatly with the ground, and the person trapped against its chest will be crushed.

 

Toshinori acts without thinking.

 

Until that point he’d been carefully regulating his power output, barely allowing himself to tap into the wellspring of power inside him at all. He’d been walking a tightrope, careful of slipping and falling into an abyss of strength that could destroy him.

 

Now, he plunges into the depths, letting his quirk swallow him whole. It’s like his core is struck with a bolt of lightning.

 

He flies.

 

He feels something in his leg crunch as he slices through the air. When his fist connects with the zero-pointer’s chest, he can feel the bones in his arm shatter like glass. The flesh of his hand splits and tears, and his face is splattered with his own warm blood. It hurts.

 

“Son of a bitch.” Toshi snarls in pain, realizing belatedly he’d said it in English.

 

The armored plate before him splinters, the robot disintegrating. The pieces of it that remain are blown backwards.  

 

The student who’d been hanging falls straight down. Toshi can only hope the tester can help themselves as he too plummets, having no strength left to save his own skin.

 

Out of nowhere something wraps around his waist. Instead of smacking into the ground, he swings.

 

He jerks to a stop midair, making him grunt as his tender body screams in agony. But after, he’s slowly lowered until he’s placed gently on the city’s concrete sidewalk. Two seconds later, he hears someone land on the pavement next to him.

 

“That was some stunt,” a male voice says.

 

Toshi turns his head marginally to see that the hanging person now kneels next to him. It's another examinee, wearing an all-black tracksuit. The cloth that had been stuck in the zero-pointer is apparently some kind of scarf or wrap, which now winds around the boy as well as Toshi’s waist.

 

“Are you okay?” Toshi wheezes dully.

 

The boy snorts and rolls his eyes. “Worry about yourself, why don’t you?”

 

The dust clears somewhat, and Toshi can barely make out the shape of the robot’s head several hundred meters down the street. His arm twinges painfully, and he winces.

 

“Go finish your test,” Toshi coughs, “I’ll be fine.”

 

“Are you an idiot?” The student growls, “As if I’m going to leave you here to bleed out on the damn ground.”

 

As the final minute of the exam ticks down slowly, the grumpy teenager uses his scarf to bandage Toshinori’s gushing hand. Between the pain this and his leg causes him, Toshi passes out briefly - he doesn’t hear the timer sound signaling the end of the test.

 

When he comes to, there’s a woman standing over him.

 

“Oh, hello!” She says brightly when she sees Toshi is conscious, “I’m happy to see you’re awake!”

 

The lady is young, probably in her mid-twenties. She’s got a lab coat on with the UA crest stitched in the lapel marking her as staff, which is the least impressive aspect of her appearance. She has pink eyes and long white hair, but most conspicuous is a single short horn protruding over her left eyebrow, with a deep crack on the side of it.

 

“Do I know you…?” Toshinori slurs.

 

“Probably not!” she chirps, “I’m not really known outside of UA. My name is Eri.”

 

“Oh.” Toshi says and closes his eyes.

 

A hands pokes his cheek insistently.

 

“Don’t go back to sleep!” Eri chides, “It’s much easier to heal you up if you’re conscious.”

 

As she says it, Toshi can feel warmth flowing into his body from where her finger presses against his face. Opening his eyes, Toshi is surprised when he feel his bones clicking back into place. There’s a small light emitting from the tip of Eri’s horn as the sensation gets stronger.

 

Toshi shifts and peers at his arm. He watches with amazement as the skin knits itself back together, leaving not a single mark behind. After that, the bruises on his joints disappear.

 

Eri pulls her hand away and smiles sweetly.

 

“That should do it,” she says, “feel better?”

 

Toshi sits up, and not a single part of him aches. He feels more refreshed than he had before he started Deku’s training.

 

“Your quirk is amazing.” Toshi says in wonder. Then, he pauses. “Was there another boy here when you found me? Black hair and a white scarf?”

 

Eri nods, moving to stand again.

 

“He cleared out already,” she explains as she begins to move on, “and you should as well. We have to get the area ready for the next round of testers, after all.”

 

Toshi frowns, feeling suddenly guilty that the boy had stayed with him through the rest of the test. But he follows Eri’s advice and likewise departs from the war zone that is Area B.

 

As he treks across the massive campus, Toshi is thoughtful. Nana will be waiting to drive him home, and no doubt she’ll want to hear everything about his test. He wants to tell her he’s passed, but… despite his relatively good performance, he can’t be sure.

 

He tries not to think on it, instead turning his thoughts to calculating the points from his physical test. He thinks he’s done well, unless the proctors decide to somehow count his obliteration of the zero-pointer against him. Does that count as property damage? He has no idea.

 

In the end, he gives up on drawing any final conclusion. Only time will tell if he’s succeeded.

 


 

 

Toshi hears nothing from Deku for the next several days, save for a text that tells him not to slack off on his exercise while the hero is busy. The anxiety in Toshi’s chest compounds daily, and the feeling that he must have disappointed Deku increases in intensity with each passing hour.

 

A week later, Nana screams and runs into Toshi’s bedroom, clutching a single piece of mail in her hands. Toshi had taken entrance exams for multiple schools, but he knows that Nana would only be this excited about getting results if it was from a certain one.

 

“IT’S HERE,” Nana screeches and throws the envelope at him, “open it, Toshi!!”

 

Toshi leaps from his desk and takes the letter. The two of them sit on his bed as Toshi rips it open without pretense.

 

There’s nothing inside except for a slip of paper showing a QR-like code with the UA crest at the center. Nana whines in frustration and non-understanding. Toshi immediately pulls his phone from his pocket and scans it.

 

His phone takes a second to process it, and then a video immediately opens. Toshi drops it in surprise when Deku’s beaming face appears on the screen.

 

“Heyyy Toshinori!” Deku says warmly as Toshi scrambles to pick up the device, “Long time no see!”

 

“Why is Deku in your video?” Nana squeaks.

 

“I bet you’re wondering what I’m doing here!” Deku grins. “Well, I guess I should tell you - I’ve accepted a teaching position at UA, starting this term! Cool, right?”

 

The hero shuffles away at the camera, and Toshi glances at Nana, hopeful.

 

Deku’s wearing a sharp emerald suit, a far cry from the usual hero merchandise Toshi usually sees him in. Toshi pauses after that thought, marveling at the fact he knows so much about Deku’s wardrobe.

 

“Down to business,” Deku hums as he takes up a professional stance, “Let’s talk about your tests.”

 

Nana grips his arm like a vice, but Toshi hardly notices it.

 

“Firstly, your written test,” the hero begins, “You did pretty well. Not perfect marks, but you show real potential in academics. The graders were especially impressed with your essays - you’ve got a great mind for theoretical thinking, I’ve been told.”

 

Nana exclaims in excitement, wrapping her arms around Toshi’s shoulders and hugging him tightly. They’d both worked hard for those results, after all.

 

“Next, the physical portion,” Deku says. His face shifts and he’s smiling ear-to-ear. “I don’t know what to say - you really shocked me, Toshinori! I heard you were a fast learner, but still. It took me months to figure out how to use my quirk the way you did. Color me impressed.”

 

The bubble of anxiety in Toshi’s chest pops, and he sags in relief. He hadn’t disappointed Deku.

 

Even if he fails UA’s test, he had made the Symbol of Peace proud.

 

Next to Deku, a CGI screen appears, and clips of Toshi’s test begin to play. Toshi watches himself disable robots with ease - even having lived it, he can hardly believe that’s him.

 

“In total, you incapacitated ten level-ones, twelve level twos, and eight level threes. That’s fifty-eight points, which is nothing to sniff at. Now, let’s talk about the zero-pointer.”

 

A clip plays, recapping the event: the fireball, the falling robot, and Toshi using One for All to blow everything apart.

 

Nana gasps, “Jesus, Toshi.” She winces in sympathy when she can clearly see Toshi’s arm crumpling.

 

“You get no points for obliterating the level zero, unfortunately,” Deku says, “which is sad, because it was pretty spectacular to watch. However--”

 

The footage of the fight zooms in on the student who’d been trapped on the zero-pointer, freezing the frame the moment he falls free.

 

“Rescue points are awarded for acts of heroism. You put yourself in harm’s way to assist this stranger, and acted bravely on impulse. In this case, you might’ve saved that boy’s life. Who knows? The proctors certainly took it into account.”

 

Deku grins, then pulls an envelope out of his suit’s pocket.

 

“I have your results right here, Toshinori. You passed. There’s no question about that. But there’s more.”

 

Deku opens the envelope, pulling out a packet of paper. He holds up a page, which appears to be a scoring sheet of some kind, though Toshi can’t read it on the current screen. The hero holds the paper closer to the camera and points at a bolded, underlined number at the bottom. Toshi assumes it’s his score, but he has no context to determine how it compares to others.

 

“This is your score. The grading system is pretty complex from what I can tell, so I don’t understand it either. But they did tell me this: Your score isn’t just great - it’s spectacular. In fact, it’s more than that.”

 

Deku looks at the camera, something like awe on his face.

 

“You’ve received the highest point score ever given to a student on the UA entrance exam,” he says, “Congratulations...and welcome to UA.”

 

Chapter Text

Nana and Gran Torino are in the audience at Toshi’s entrance ceremony.  

 

Toshi’s pretty sure Nana threatened to burn Torino’s gym to the ground if he didn’t come, but unbeknownst to Toshi’s guardian, Torino had promised to be there days prior. As it is, the two sit in the seats where his parents might’ve sat: his former neighbor, and his boxing instructor from Saitama.

 

Deku is there, too, in a different capacity.

 

Conspicuously the man sits with the other teachers of UA, the newspapers having already reported him as part of the new staff despite him not having been formally introduced yet. Among the new and old teachers are equally famous faces, some of which Toshi recognizes.

 

Glam lounges in the front row, next to a bored-looking Real Steel. Eri sits near the back of them on her phone. Toshi is happily surprised to spot Uravity at Deku’s side, looking cheerful and excited at the prospect of teaching. On the opposite side of the Symbol of Peace are Froppy and Creati, whispering animatedly with an air suggesting that they’re long-time friends.

 

The principal of the school is a legend, having been among the ‘Big Three’ at UA while Lemillion attended - a timid man by the name of Suneater. He has a glum air about him, something stern in his eyes that speaks of shrewdness. When the hero opens his mouth, however, the image shatters. Suneater - who introduces himself as Amajiki Tamaki - stutters through his welcoming speech, looking like it’s the most painful five minutes of his life.

 

Luckily for him, however, the majority of the ceremony is handled by the new vice principal: Ingenium.

 

Aside from Deku, hearing that Ingenium was also to join the UA faculty had been the most surprising announcement for Toshi.

 

Ingenium, aka Tenya Iida, famously gives his career a hundred and ten percent. The stern hero had constantly voiced his passion for helping others in the past, and had an apparent knack for leading and directing. Perhaps he’d decided to branch out into teaching? Or maybe he needed a different kind of publicity.

 

Toshi wonders what kind of bankroll UA has to be able to lure in these big-name, committed heroes like Ingenium. Unless it wasn’t money, but some other motivation that drew them in.

 

Furthermore, due to his scores, Toshi is selected to be the representative of the new students at the ceremony. He isn’t thrilled about this - especially when he’d learned it meant he was going to have to give a speech.

 

Nana had been thrilled and proud of him, of course. It’s an honor, she’d reassured him. Toshi is content to let her be excited for the both of them.

 

He’d spent hours memorizing his address. It’s a boring monologue about looking forward to classes and his goals of doing his best. It’s simple - straightforward - which is a product of his character, he thinks. He’s never been good at flowery speech.

 

When Toshi’s called to the podium, he’s practically vibrating with anxiety. Frantically he pulls his speech to the front of his mind, the first words already resting on the tip of his tongue.

 

The moment Toshi steps onto the stage, he gets tunnel vision.

 

The minutes it takes him to speak disappear down a black hole somewhere in his subconscious. He barely remembers a thing when he finishes, couldn’t for the life of him score his recitation. He assumes he did okay since the audience claps politely. Deku flashes a thumbs-up at him.

 

He tries to forget the whole experience as he descends from the stage to rejoin his fellow first years. Absently, he hopes that the rest of his high school career isn’t going to be that terrifying.

 

As he sits, he sees the familiar face of a red-haired boy scowling at him.

 


 

Toshinori’s homeroom is a mixed bag. The moment he steps through the doors of classroom 1-A, he’s assaulted by noise.

 

The obvious reason for this is that Hizashi is there. Apparently the boy had found a conversation partner as boisterous as he: a black-haired girl wearing a bodysuit under her uniform talks animatedly with him at the front of the room.

 

For the most part, however, the students present mull about quietly. It’s early, and it’s the first day, so most of them look either too nervous or too tired to be making friends as quickly as Hizashi.

 

Silently Toshi slips into the room via the back door and takes a seat on the rightmost side. He feels drained, swept up in the whirlwind of the past few days. He does his best to blink the heavy sleep out of his eyes as he rests his chin on his palm and takes in the people around him. Idly he tries to gauge their personalities.

 

One girl is using her phone camera to put on lip gloss as three vibrant snakes rise curiously from the back of her head and peer around the room.

 

A very obese boy sits in the front row. Toshi can’t see his face, but he can hear that the boy is eating something crunchy out of his backpack.

 

To one side sits a nervous looking boy, plain and unremarkable aside from the massive gloves comically encasing his hands.

 

A humanoid block of cement, featureless except for beady eyes and a massive mouth, reads a book quietly. Toshi guesses that they’re male from the uniform. The student makes a grating sound everytime he moves.

 

A girl with golden hair and spiked earrings sits a few seat away from Toshi. She glances at him with a slitted eye and grins sweetly - her mouth is full of dozens of sharp teeth.

 

Toshi sees Shino enter the classroom, looking bright and excited as Mizuno trails behind her. He wonders exactly what the policy is on having identical twins in the same class, but doesn’t get far into the thought when a backpack falls heavily on the top of his desk.

 

Toshi jumps, eyes flying up to look at the figure standing in front of him.

 

It’s the student he’d helped at the entrance exam, looking just as gloomy as the day Toshi had saved him from getting crushed. To Toshi’s relief the boy looks unmarred. Moreso, his linen scarf has been mended and now rests conspicuously around his shoulders.

 

“Alive and kicking, I see.” The boy says by way of introduction, eyes boring into Toshi with an unnerving intensity.

 

“Err, yes.” Toshi replies dumbly, “Glad to see you alive as well?”

 

There’s a beat. The boy blinks slowly, looking suddenly weary, before heaving a giant sigh and shaking his head.

 

“Okay then,” he says, “I’m Aizawa.”

 

Toshi nods politely, trying to figure out how he’s supposed to talk to this stoic classmate.

 

“Nice to meet you...officially.” he settles on, shifting awkwardly.

 

The two stare at each other a little longer than what could be considered socially acceptable, before Aizawa gives up and abruptly turns away. At the last minute he pauses and reaches for his bag, as if he’d forgotten it, before shooting a quick glance at Toshi.

 

“Thanks for helping me,” Aizawa mumbles, quickly adding, “Don’t make a habit of it.”

 

Toshi lets the boy walk away without argument, deciding firmly to leave him alone for now.

 

The next member of 1-A to abruptly enter the room is the fireball from the entrance test.

 

He rolls into the the room like a storm-cloud. Smoke curls from his nostril and follows him ominously across the threshold - his eyes are piercing when they land on Toshinori. Toshi doesn’t flinch, he’s seen too many of this kid’s ilk for that, but he feels a sinking feeling in his gut when the boy scoffs incredulously and makes a beeline for him.

 

Inevitably, he stops in front of Toshi.

 

“You. I heard about you.” he snaps by way of greeting.

 

The students around the room fall silent at the boy’s tone and impoliteness, and Toshi feels many a curious eye fall onto them.

 

Years of dealing with bullies has taught Toshi a few things. Firstly, not being provocative is often the best route to take, lending to the fact that predators often stop playing with their prey when it doesn’t fight back. He’s not meek like he used to be, his days of being prey long behind him. Still, he’s not out to make an enemy on the first day of school, either.

 

Toshi settles on raising his eyebrows in question and waiting for the boy to continue.

 

“Playing dumb?” the youth growls, crossing his arms. A lick of fire escapes his lips. “I’m talking about your test results, obviously.”

 

“Aren’t those supposed to be sealed?” the girl with the pointy teeth interjects, watching the pair with a keen eye.

 

“Usually,” the obese boy chimes in through a mouth full of food, “but it’s hard to keep the rumor mill quiet when someone like him comes along and smashes through all the UA records. Honestly, why didn’t somebody just recommend you?”

 

Toshi ducks his head in embarrassment when some of the students look at him with awe.

 

“Don’t act smug, bastard,” the boy snaps and slams a hand on Toshi’s desk. It sizzles a little against the wood.

 

“Todoroki Enji,” Pointy-teeth admonishes sharply, “Destroying school property on the first day will surely get you expelled.”

 

The hothead, Todoroki, looks at the girl sharply. “Nobody asked you, lizard girl.”

 

The girl grins widely, so much so that Toshi can see that all of her teeth are sharp. Her eyes glint dangerously. “Wanting to fight fire with fire, eh rocket boy? Think you can take the heat?”

 

Toshinori stiffens, wondering if his aggressor is about to start something before first period has even started. He clenches his hand into a fist under the desk.

 

“...Listen,” he says evenly, trying to diffuse the tension, “Todoroki-san, your quirk is really impressive. I don’t think anyone is questioning that. You don’t have to prove yourself to me or anybody at this school. You’ve already made the cut, so from now on, how about we cooperate instead?”

 

He thinks it’s a logical argument. Surely Enji hasn’t blasted through all his problems in life and is capable of a strategic retreat - or at the very least, a diplomatic truce.

 

A few students around them titter anxiously, but Toshi ignores them, instead searching Enji’s glare. Once again he thinks, despite the boy’s quirk, the hot-head’s eyes are chilling.

 

“Listen, asshole,” Todoroki says lowly, “I already know I don’t need to prove myself. I’m better than the brown-nosing trash who crawled in here just hoping to get their foot in some low-bar agency’s door. They’re beneath me, and you’re beneath me. Remember that when I crush you.”

 

Toshinori has no idea how to respond to that, but luckily he doesn’t have to.

 

“Well that was quite the dramatic ultimatum,” a gravelly voice says, and all heads in the room swivel to find the daring speaker.

 

A man stands in the doorway, appearing quite relaxed despite his heavy-looking field gear. Wild violet hair is pinned back against his head, his jaw encased in something resembling a speaker that extends over his nose. Despite his weary eyes and laid-back posture, the stranger’s battle suit and the capture-band wrapped around his shoulders are well worn and speak of years of use.

 

“Who are you--” Todoroki begins, before he visibly stiffens as if an invisible force had seized him.

 

“I’ve heard enough from you, Todoroki Enji,” the man continues, “Take a seat. Don’t speak another word until I’ve said that you may.”

 

Toshi thinks the man must be mad to order the human spitfire around like that. Amazingly, however, Todoroki follows the orders without complaint and wordlessly takes a seat at the back of the classroom.

 

It isn’t until Toshi sees Enji’s eyes, bright with fury and confusion, that Toshi recognizes the stranger and his ability from an old hero databook.

 

“Hello class,” the man greets soberly as he steps into the room, as if the prior incident had never happened, “I am class 1-A’s homeroom teacher from this point forward.”

 

“Pied Piper…” Toshi breathes, looking at the mysterious underground hero with barely-suppressed awe.

 

“Yes,” the hero comments, eyes sliding over the class and onto Toshi, “Though for all intents and purposes, you may call me Hitoshi Shinso.”

 


  

The homeroom period passes surprisingly calmly with Hitoshi at the front of the room.

 

The hero lists the school rules and procedures lazily, passing out maps of the facilities and permission forms for them to have signed and returned at a later date. They skim the student handbook and briefly review the names of important staff in the school. Anybody who tries to interrupt the man receives a similar order to sit quietly at their desks (Hizashi falling victim fairly quickly). Hitoshi looks more bored than the students throughout the process, if it’s possible.

 

Meanwhile, Todoroki miraculously does not utter a single sound.

 

Toshi knows not to give any credit to the boy himself. He’s familiar with Pied Piper’s profile, knows the man’s quirk - Brainwashing - forces anyone who verbally responds to his voice to obey his commands. Todoroki looks furious, a snarl affixed on his face as his eyes bore into the hero.

 

In this way the hours tick by slowly, until their teacher straightens and sighs in relief.

 

“It’s time, then,” he says, “grab your gyms bags and follow me.”

 

The students of 1-A comply quickly, having guessed that Hitoshi will not wait for them. They follow the man diligently through UA’s maze-like hallways, taking several flights of stairs down past the halls of their upperclassmen and electives, eventually reaching the first floor gym.

 

They receive orders to change into their gym uniforms and meet outside, then are left to divide themselves into the girls and boys locker rooms. After changing into their gym clothes - clean navy uniforms with white lines cleverly spelling ‘UA’ across the front - they venture out of the gym to an obstacle course.

 

The course looks suspiciously like something Toshi saw in an American military commercial once. He tries not to dwell on that fact. Next to it a large field stretches into the distance, trees at the far end denoting the edge of the grounds.

 

Hitoshi pulls a baseball out of his pocket and tosses it leisurely to Enji. The boy catches it as easily as breathing, fixing their teacher with a with glare holding enough venom to rival a cobra.

 

“Todoroki-kun,” Hitoshi hums, “throw that ball with as much strength as you can muster, and I’ll consider giving you your speaking privileges back.”

 

Enji huffs in annoyance but walks to a suitable spot on the field with zero reluctance. With practiced ease he winds up his body and pitches the ball, sending it flying with great speed some hundred meters down the field. He turns to Hitoshi with an expectant and self-satisfied smile.

 

“Impressive,” their teacher drawls, “but surely that’s not everything you’ve got?”

 

Excited murmurs erupt among a few students as they catch Hitoshi’s meaning. The man himself pauses, seemingly to let the anticipation build, before he continues.

 

“Let’s see that infamous quirk, Todoroki.”

 

Anger forgotten in a heartbeat at the prospect of getting to use his quirk, Enji grins impishly as Hitoshi tosses him another ball.

 

“Let me hear you,” the teacher instructs as he pulls some device out of his pocket.

 

Enji barks a laugh as he faces the run, and he bellows a fierce “FUCK YOU!!!” as his arm ignites and quite literally blasts the ball across the field.

 

The device in Hitoshi’s hand chimes. When the ball disappears from sight, the hero’s eyes fall to the small machine’s screen. He hums approvingly and gestures for those around him to gather close.

 

“One thousand five hundred meters,” he says, “Not bad. Who’s next?”

 

There are mixed reactions of excitement and dread as the students of 1-A scramble to form a line.

 

A sudden lump of anxiety forms in Toshi’s stomach at the thought of being the center of attention again. It stays with him as he moves forward step-by-step, the students lined up in front of him testing themselves one-by-one.

 

It’s clear to see that some students are more suited to other tasks.

 

Aizawa gives a half-hearted toss of the ball, rolling his eyes while muttering about ‘a waste of his time.’ The girl with snakes in her hair gives a sniff as she throws the ball with a dainty wrist. She’s followed immediately by Shino, who pouts and lobs the ball as best as she can down the field.

 

Others, much like Enji, take the opportunity to let loose.

 

The obese boy, named Toyomitsu Taishiro, throws the ball with unexpected explosive force. It sails across the grounds and over the tree line. Toshi swears that the boy dropped several pounds in those few seconds.

 

The girl with the pointy teeth, who Toshi learns is named Tatsuma Ryuko, lets out a delighted shriek as her body seems to unfold until she’s tripled in size. Her gym clothes burst at the seams as her skin is sheathed in pink scales, and Toshi suddenly realizes with a start that he now stands in the midst of a dragon.

 

As impressive as it is, Toshi isn’t sure how she plans to throw the ball. When she accidentally swallows it whole, he thinks - neither does she.

 

“Please refrain from eating school property.” Hitoshi drawls as he passes a different ball to the next student.

 

Toshi is two people away from the front of the line when the anxiety in his chest begins to squirm as if it’s alive. Swallowing heavily, he flexes his fingers before lifting a hand to tap nervously at his collar bones.

 

Up to this point, he’s been learning how to distribute his quirk evenly throughout his body. To throw a ball, though seemingly a simple task, requires fine motor control of very specific muscle groups. There will be no chance for him to build momentum, no enemy for him to throw his weight against. Perhaps if he’d grown up with this quirk, he’d have learned how to release small bursts of power without consequence. As it stands, he’s had the quirk for a week. His confidence slips slowly away.

 

He feels like a glass bottle filled with lightning.

 

A minute passes, and suddenly he’s feeling the smooth leather of the ball against his palm.  

 

“When you’re ready, Yagi-kun.” Hitoshi prompts.

 

Toshi takes a deep breath, scrambling to remember how he relaxed his body in judo club. He exhales, trying to ignore the expectant eyes and the weight of his desire to do Deku proud. He tries to forget everything else.

 

He throws the ball, and it flys a hundred meters or so before landing anticlimactically in the grass.

 

There’s a beat of surprised silence, before Toshi hears several guffaws and snickers from the classmates behind him.

 

“Try actually using your quirk this time.”

 

Toshi glances to Hitoshi as the teacher places another ball into his hand. Toshi meets the man’s eyes for a second, surprised to see a knowing glimmer in their depths. Hitoshi inclines his head minutely, curiously, before taking several steps back to where he’d been standing before.

 

He knows. Toshi realizes. The realization shocks him.

 

The next time he throws the ball, his shoulder wrenches out of its socket.

 


  

“Again?” Eri laughs as she enters her office and finds Toshi sitting on an infirmary bed.

 

Sheepishly Toshi tries to shrug, sending shooting pain through his upper body. He gasps quietly and tries to brace his arm, which meets his torso at an awkward angle.

 

“Oh dear,” Eri says and comes to Toshi’s side.

 

For a few minutes she prods at the skin around his bicep and collar bone. Toshi grits his teeth against the dull ache, but holds still as she continues her examination. As she works he tries to focus on something else, his eyes landing on her cracked horn. It looks like bone, he thinks, or ivory.

 

“You’re just like him,” Eri chuckles lightly, breaking the tension, “Deku, that is. He got his fair share of injuries when he first got this quirk, too.”

 

Once again Toshi starts, coming to the sudden realization that another person knows.

 

“He...he told you about One for All?”

“Deku and I have known each other for a long time.” the nurse replies mysteriously as she procures a bag of ice and holds it against his skin. “Plus, all the teachers at UA know that Deku’s power is waning. I can connect the dots with what I know, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.”

 

They fall into silence as Toshi watches the young woman carefully, wary. She doesn’t concern herself with his gaze, however, as she continues to probe his swollen joint.

 

“It looks like you’ve torn the ligaments as well as dislocated your shoulder, Yagi-kun,” Eri hums sympathetically. She takes a step back and looks over Toshi appraisingly. “I can fix the ligaments no problem, but I’ll have to put the joint back in manually first.”

 

“Sounds like it’ll hurt.” Toshi replies, “You can’t use your quirk for it?”

 

Eri smiles apologetically, before she turns to her desk. As she opens a drawer and rifles through it, she begins to speak.

 

“My quirk, Rewind, used to be able to fix anything,” she explains, “but there was an incident a while back, and I found myself in danger. Deku got caught in the middle, and we both escaped wounded and heavily scarred - but alive.”

 

She sighs, moving forward and reaching tenderly for Toshi’s arm. Carefully he holds it out to her.

 

“This horn of mine,” Eri continues and inclines her head towards him, “is the source of my quirk. You see the problem, right?”

 

Indeed he does, Toshi thinks, as he eyes the deep crack in it.

 

“I haven’t been able to use my quirk’s full strength in years. I can push myself, but it causes me a fair bit of discomfort to do so. I avoid it when I can. Minor to intermediate wounds are no problem, however. Relax, won’t you?”

 

As Toshi processes her words, he reclines against the infirmary bed. She straightens his arm, holding it out perpendicular to his body as she slowly raises it.  

 

Toshi grunts as he attempts to ignore the slightly painful pressure. “Why are you telling me all of this?”

 

“I imagine that we’ll be seeing a lot of each other in the future,” Eri answers with a small smile, “I’d like it if we could be friends. And friends are honest, right?”

 

Slowly she bends his arm at the elbow, pulling it slightly to the side so that his hand hangs towards his neck. She instructs him to take a deep breath, then as he exhales, she pulls the arm behind his head towards his opposite shoulder. With a sickening pop the joint snaps back into place, and Toshi’s mind quickly fills with static.

 

He comes to with Eri hovering over him, her hand on his forehead as her horn glows faintly. He hadn’t given much thought to Eri’s red eyes the first time he met her, but now, he stares into them. They’re watching him intently, after all.

 

“It seems that I’m destined to pass out every time we meet.” Toshi says dryly, making Eri snort.

 

“It happens more often than you’d think in this line of work,” she says, “Deku aside, I’ve revived Shouto and Lemillion more times than I can count.”

 

Perhaps it’s the adrenaline and the bliss of his receding pain that makes Toshi delirious enough to say, “Oh, I’ve met Shouto before.”

 

The nurse giggles and pulls her hand away. “He’s quite kind, isn’t he?”

 

“Mmm...he was very stoic.”

 

“That’s what he wants you to think. Truthfully, he’s very gentle, very protective of his loved ones. A big softy. It’s hard to imagine that he and Enji-kun are related.”

 

Toshi wheezes in surprise,flying up from where he was laying.

 

What?

 

Eri’s eyes twinkle mischievously as she sits on Toshinori’s bedside. “Surprised, are you? I was too, the first time Shouto told me.”

 

Briefly Toshi wonders who Eri is to be in the confidence of the Symbols of Peace. Surely they wouldn’t give their secrets to a gossip, which means there must be a reason that Eri is telling him this.

 

“So Enji is…”

 

“Shouto’s nephew.” the young woman finishes.

 

Toshi doesn’t say anything, finding that he absorbs this information more easily than expected. He believes her, of course he does. What gives him the most pause, however, is the way Eri watches him expectantly - likes she wants something.

 

“...I don’t know much about Enji.” Toshi decides to say, hoping Eri will take the bait.

 

She seems to. Her eyes slide to the door for a second, and she glances over her shoulder conspiratorially - as if checking that no one is there - before she turns to Toshi again.

 

“What that boy needs,” Eri says softly, “is a friend.”

 

Toshi almost scoffs at the absurdity. “More like a muzzle.”

 

Pouting, Eri pinches his arm for his rudeness. She doesn’t reprimand him, however, instead fixing him with a heavy stare (which Toshi is beginning to realize is a Thing she does) until he begins to feel his resolve wither.

 

“...Why me?” he sighs quietly.

 

Eri leans in slowly, whispering , “Enji’s never met his father, did you know? He lives with his aunt. He’s constantly trying to live up to one of the Symbols of Peace. Sound familiar?”

 

It does sound familiar. He dislikes that greatly.

 

“He’s a bully,” Toshi says, “Despite our similar origins, I don’t antagonize people for fun.”

 

Eri shrugs, her face drooping a bit.

 

“It’s inexcusable, the way he treats people,” she acquiesces, “It’s not fit for a hero, nor is it even fit for polite society. I know.”

 

“So you want me to be his friend because…?”

 

“People can change, but rarely can they do it themselves. Often they need a push, from someone who believes in them.”

 

“It’s the first day of school, Eri-sensei. I don’t even believe in myself yet.”

 

Eri smirks and pokes Toshi’s forehead, before standing from his bed. She lifts her arms above her head and stretches, sighing wearily. Then she steps to her desk and snatches a piece of paper off the surface of it.

 

“Here’s your medical slip,” she says as she hands the paper to Toshi, “Give it to your teacher when you get back to class. You’re doing your assessments, right?”

 

Dumbly Toshi nods as he swings his feet from the bed. When he stands, he feels no pain. Swinging his arm experimentally, he’s amazed that it responds completely normally. He looks to Eri, who is now washing her hands at the sink.

 

With a quiet thanks, Toshi moves to leave the office. He pauses, however, when his eye catches a framed photo on the nurse’s desk.

 

It’s a picture of Eri, squished playfully between Deku and Lemillion. All of them look impossibly young - Eri couldn’t have been older than him when it was taken. Her horn is a fraction of its size in the photo, barely a bump above her left eye. Where Deku and Lemillion smile brilliantly, nearly blinding in their obvious happiness, Eri looks more reserved. Her eyes are wide, like she hadn’t been expecting them to take the photo, her mouth reflexively giving the smallest of smiles. Her arms and torso are covered in bandages.

 

“Remember what I said,” Eri calls as Toshi shakes himself and moves to leave the room, “And remember that a hero saves more than just a person’s body, Yagi-kun.”

 

Sighing in resignation, Toshinori makes his way back to class.