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the curse of the anime protagonist

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Izuku's first memory is of his second birthday. His mother and grandfather are there, one bearing a bright green cake and the other bearing a case of brightly illustrated books. Grandpa uses his fire quirk to light the candles.

 

His father is not there. Instead, his mother turns on the TV to the daily news update and brings him close to the screen. A man in a sleek, black and red costume stands proudly before the camera, his hand on the neck of a scruffy criminal.

 

Izuku's tiny hands reach out to pat the screen. He sees Papa more on the screen than in the house. Papa looks different in his hero costume.

 

He vaguely remembers his mother saying, “It's his son's birthday …” and his grandfather coming up behind him to pat his unruly hair. Izuku stares at Papa on the screen and wonders when he'll come home.

 

He makes many more memories after that. But the one that stands out the most is the moment almost a year later, with him yelling and screaming as his grandfather holds him back, watching his mother fall to her knees, sobbing. Izuku yells and yells for them to stop, but nobody intervenes as his father’s coffin is lowered into the ground.

 

-

 

Three days after Kacchan turns four, he develops his quirk. It makes itself apparent through weak puffs of smoke coming from his palms, eventually turning into a loud and resolute pop of energy. It's no question what the nature of his quirk is: explosion.

 

Izuku, who has seen this coming ever since he learned what Kacchan’s parents’ quirks were, is not as impressed.

 

“You make nitro - ni - n - nitrogly - glycerin. Nitroglycerin,” Izuku brings out the word through tremendous effort. Even if he knows what the word means, his three-year-old tongue can't wrap itself around the difficult syllables.

 

“Nitro-what?” Kacchan, ever the impatient one, only makes it through the first two syllables. They're playing in Kacchan’s room, although to be more accurate, Kacchan is playing - Izuku’s sprawled out on the floor, doodling absentmindedly on scraps of paper.

 

“It's what they put in TNT,” Izuku says, proudly touting the knowledge he earned when he snuck one of his dad's heavy-looking books from his deserted room. It is the only reason he ever goes in there anymore. Grandpa had read the whole thing to him the last time he'd visited, making sure Izuku understood the whole thing. It had taken three whole days, but Izuku now knows more about chemistry than any three-year-old ought to know.

 

TNT is more familiar ground for Kacchan, whose sharp grin returns. “Yeah! So I'm gonna blow things up! Of course I get a cool quirk!” He pauses in the midst of climbing his bedpost and looks at Izuku critically, the other boy engrossed in the drawing directly in front him. He’s mumbling again - about the drawing, about Kacchan’s quirk, about how much it must hurt when it explodes -

 

“You'll get a quirk too, Deku,” he says to the younger boy, feeling uncharacteristically generous. Maybe Deku feels bad because he'd never have Katsuki’s awesome quirk. His declaration gets the other boy’s attention, snapping him out of his mumbling. “But it definitely won't be as cool as mine, because I'm the best!”

 

Izuku just smiles. “I don't mind if I don't get a quirk, Kacchan,” he says, before returning to his drawing of an elephant. It's fairly good.

 

“Huh?” Kacchan exclaims, jumping from his mount and standing before Izuku, fists on his hips. “How’re you gonna be a hero if you don't have a quirk, stupid Deku?”

 

Izuku shrugs without looking up. Not everyone wants to be a hero .

 

-

 

Two weeks after Izuku turns four, Kacchan bursts through his bedroom door.

 

Izuku looks up from his ABC’s ( A is for All Might, which his mother had bought for him. It's slightly more colorful than the book Grandpa had gotten, A is for Adenine . Izuku has yet to read that book on his own.)

 

“Do you have your quirk yet,” Kacchan demands, but it comes out more doyouhaveyourquirkyet .

 

“I don't think so,” Izuku says. “Maybe I don't have one.” If I don’t have one , he thinks. Then maybe people will stop thinking I want to be a hero .

 

Kacchan fumes . “You're just late,” he seethes, pointing accusingly at Izuku. “You have a quirk, stupid Deku! And I bet it'll come anytime soon, and then we can battle and I'm gonna beat you!” He turns on his heels and leaves, slamming the door behind him.

 

“But I don't wanna fight you!” Izuku calls out, but it falls on deaf ears. Or maybe Kacchan didn't hear it at all.

 

He frowns, then turns back to his book. C is for Crimson Riot ... Everyone, it seems, is fixated on the appearance of his quirk.

 

Everyone except for him.

 

-

 

A month later, Izuku gets the first hint of his quirk, although it will be years before he looks back and understands the significance of the event.

 

(“Hindsight is 20/20, as they say,” Izuku will mutter someday in the future. “If I had known it was my quirk, I would've been more careful and maybe I wouldn't be in this goddamn mess.”)

 

Izuku is walking happily home from a productive day at the library, muttering contemplatively over the various notes he’s written down in his tiny notebook when a loud cry catches his attention. He turns to the source of the sound and sees an old woman standing fretfully at the base of a tree, looking up at a yowling white kitten.

 

It's just like in stories , Izuku muses. A cat is stuck in a tree, and someone kind will save it .

 

He looks around, but no one seems to be coming to the woman's rescue. A heavy and insistent feeling settles in his stomach, urging him to do something. He sighs and puts his notebook away in his backpack before walking over.

 

“Good afternoon,” he greets her, remembering to be polite and not to mumble.

 

“Oh, good afternoon,” the old lady replies, momentarily cheered by the affable manners of the admittedly adorable child.

 

“Is that your cat in the tree?” Izuku inquires. Above them, the kitten lets out another plaintive meow , pacing anxiously on a branch.

 

“Oh dear,” the old lady says, then nods. “Emi has been stuck up there for almost an hour.”

 

“I can get her,” Izuku says, and before the lady can reply, he sets down his backpack and climbs nimbly up the tree. He's no stranger to doing so, having climbed up countless trunks in pursuit of nesting birds to study and admire. In less than a minute he's face to face with the pretty kitten, which tilts her head, studying him.

 

He extends a hand, gripping tightly onto the bark of the tree. “Here, Emi.” He calls her by name, and makes what he hopes is a comforting smile.

 

The kitten meows twice before deciding to trust him, and she pads over daintily to settle in his palm. He pulls her in and holds her close to his body, and she allows the handling without so much as a wiggle. Carefully, he begins to descend.

 

“Oh my,” says the old lady as Izuku nears the ground. “Be careful, dearie!” He hops nimbly down the last few feet and turns to her, gently holding Emi in both hands.

 

“Emi!” the woman cries, and gladly takes the kitten from his hands. Emi meows lovingly, then starts to purr in the hands of her owner.

 

“Thank you so much, young man,” the old lady says, smiling at Izuki. “You saved Emi for me.”

 

Izuku smiles back. “It was nothing. I'm glad she's okay.”

 

“What a good child,” the old lady sighs fondly, placing her wrinkled cheek on her wrinkled hand. She starts rummaging in her purse and takes out a couple of candy bars.

 

“Here you are. It's not much, but it's the least I can do for Emi’s hero,” she says.

 

“Oh, I'm not - ” Izuku begins, but he stops cold when he sees that these are full-size Snickers, he wasn't even allowed to eat a full one on his own . “Um! Thank you!”

 

“No, thank you ,” insists the old lady. With a pat on his head and one final wave, she leaves.

 

Izuku takes a moment to stare at his bounty, before placing them in his backpack. He starts walking back home, mood greatly improved.

 

He never notices that she had called him a hero.

 

-

 

Grandpa watches him for a day while his mother goes out with friends. “You're too kind, Hisahito-san,” Inko gushes, but Grandpa insists it's no trouble for him at all.

 

Izuku likes Grandpa’s house. It’s big and spacious, and the the floors are made of shiny wood that he can slide on in his socks. There’s always the smell of tea floating around the house, and there’s always a plateful of buttered biscuits waiting for him when he visits.

 

There’s also the fact that as soon as tea time is finished, Grandpa lets him go into the library.

 

“I got a new set of encyclopedias,” Grandpa says, as he idly follows Izuku to the library. Izuku practically bounces with excitement in front of the door, waiting for Grandpa to unlock it. Once he does, Izuku rushes in, admiring the rays of sunlight that fall from the wide, round windows near the ceiling. The library is, as always, pristine - no speck of dust mars the lovingly maintained covers of the books.

 

Izuku quickly spots a set of books that weren’t there the last time he visited. He points at them. “Are those the new books?” he asks.

 

Grandpa nods. Izuku beams and wastes no time in picking up the first volume.

 

For as long as he can remember, spending time with Grandpa is like this: the two of them read quietly, until Izuku encounters a term he doesn’t understand and has to ask Grandpa what it means. Grandpa will explain it, often more comprehensively than he has to, and if Izuku asks enough questions Grandpa will eventually sit beside him until he reads the whole book. Izuku doesn’t have too many questions these days, but sometimes he ends up sitting beside Grandpa anyways, relishing in his quiet comfort.

 

Grandpa is Izuku’s grandfather on his father’s side. Inko’s parents are both dead. Izuku never knew them, or Grandpa’s wife - aside from Inko, Grandpa is Izuku’s only family.

 

He is a more prominent feature in his life than his father ever was. Grandpa is the reason that Izuku’s always at the top of the class. Grandpa is the reason Izuku is so interested in quirks despite not having one of his own, to the point of having twelve full journals detailing the quirks of the people around him (an entire section is dedicated just to Kacchan, if only because he's the closest available subject). Grandpa is the reason that Inko and Izuku are never lonely, the reason Izuku even looks forward to any of his birthdays.

 

“No questions so far?” Grandpa murmurs. He sits in his usual leather armchair, with a thick book in his lap. There’s an entire wing in the library that Izuku hasn’t touched, because the books are too difficult even for him. It's full of medical journals, some of then focused solely on quirks. Grandpa promised him before that he'd be allowed to read them as soon as he was older.

 

“None,” Izuku replies. But he gets up from his seat and sits by Grandpa’s feet anyway. He spends the rest of the afternoon mumbling over his book until his mother comes in the evening to pick him up.

 

-

 

There must be something in the trees around here , Izuku muses at one point. The number of cats getting stuck in trees is plainly ridiculous.

 

He turns six and there's still no sign of his quirk showing up, but he has fifty-eight cat rescues to his name. He would know. He counted. (He's also counted the number of times Kacchan asks him if he still doesn't have a quirk. It's at a much higher figure of ninety-one.)

 

Since the first time, he's rescued Emi from a tree around seventeen times now. Mrs. Ando, Emi’s long-suffering owner, is now something of a family friend.

 

“Oh, you're too kind, Inko-chan,” she gushes, as Izuku’s mother serves her a hot cup of tea. Mrs. Ando visits them from time to time, and she always has some delectable candy to give to Izuku. “I see where Izukkun gets it from.”

 

Inko blushes but brightens at the praise for her son. “Did Izuku have to rescue Emi again today?”

 

“Yes,” Mrs. Ando sighs, looking fondly at the cat in question. She's glued to Izuku, who's lying flat on the carpet, letting the cat paw affectionately at his face. “I actually think she's just doing it for attention now! She's been attached to Izukkun since she first met him - a fine choice, I must say.”

 

Inko beams. “Izuku does seem to have a knack for rescuing cats. Why, you aren't the only pet-owner who's come here to offer thanks. I'm sure it means a lot to him.”

 

She's quieter when she says the next bit. “I'm glad he knows he can help people even without a quirk.”

 

“Inko-chan,” Mrs. Ando says, placing a hand over Inko’s. “Your son doesn't need a quirk to be a good person. Why, that Bakugou child has a quirk, and all he uses it for is scaring animals and other kids! Such a difference from Izukkun, I must say.”

 

“Oh, Katsuki?” Inko chuckles. “He's not a bad kid. Maybe a little spoiled and vain, but he will grow. He's quite attached to Izuku, you know - he comes over to play quite often. Izuku doesn't seem to mind not having a quirk, but Katsuki insists he's just a late bloomer. He worries about Izuku in his own way. It's quite sweet, really.”

 

“Well,” Mrs. Ando says, still doubtful. “I wish he wouldn't yell so much. It's quite fine that he's friends with Izukkun, but I worry when he screams at the other children.”

 

“Kacchan only yells at people if they're being mean, or laugh at him,” Izuku pipes up from the floor. Both women turn to look at him. “Sometimes some kids call me quirkless , and Kacchan yells at them ‘til they go away.” Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “He's very good at yelling.”

 

Inko looks at Mrs. Ando as if to say I told you so . “Is that so?” the older woman says.

 

Izuku nods absently. “Kacchan says we're gonna be heroes together, so they shouldn't be calling me quirkless,” he continues. Emi gently bops her paw against his nose, before curling up into a ball on his chest. “But I don't wanna be a hero.”

 

Mrs. Ando frowns, but Inko is unfazed. She smiles a little sadly, knowing what Izuku will say next. “Why not, Izukkun?” Mrs. Ando asks.

 

“Because,” Izuku says, placing a small hand on Emi’s head. “You don't have to be a hero to help people.”

 

-

 

Katsuki is restless.

 

When he's restless, sweat gathers in his palms and goes off with no prompting. He and Izuku have grown desensitized to the crackling sounds and the sudden waves of heat, but he still has to remember to be mindful in the presence of people unused to his quirk and its effects.

 

Speaking of quirks, and speaking of Deku…

 

“Do you really not care if you don't have a quirk?” he asks. It's late and they should be sleeping, and he asks this question with no preamble. A futon laid out on Izuku’s bedroom floor is as familiar to Katsuki as his own bed at home, but he can't sleep. Not tonight.

 

Izuku is awake, too. “Not really,” he replies, and Katsuki knows he isn't lying.

 

“Why not,” he mutters sullenly. He's embarrassed for caring more about the matter than Izuku did himself, but he can't help it - he can't understand how someone could not want a quirk.

 

Izuku hums thoughtfully. “Did you know that technology is advancing so much faster now than it ever did? It took people ages to make the wheel, then a shorter time to make a car, and then less than a hundred years later, they're in space.”

 

Katsuki’s brow furrows. This doesn't sound like an answer.

 

“Quirks were developed just before the first modern car, I guess,” Izuku says. “Or earlier. Grandpa must have told me, but I forget. But before that, people were just… people.”

 

“What's your point, Deku?” Katsuki asks.

 

“My point,” Izuku says. “Is that people don't need quirks to do things. We don't need quirks to help people, to get jobs, or to just… survive. Sure, having a quirk would be nice, but… it still depends on what kind of person you are, what you can do.”

 

There is silence. Then Katsuki makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a laugh.

 

“Maybe your quirk is being smart,” he scoffs, but it's lighthearted. “Wouldn't that be just like you, you stupid nerd?”

 

Izuku laughs quietly. “Whatever my quirk is, if I even have one, I didn't need it to save Emi from the tree again this afternoon.”

 

“Ando’s cat? Again?”

 

“Oh, yeah.  But this time, she was so upset. She was…”

 

Katsuki drowses off to the sound of Izuku’s voice. His palms are dry and steady as he drifts off into sleep, already dreaming about a hero's future, just waiting at his fingertips.

 

Maybe, if it's a nice dream, Deku’ll be there too.

 

-

 

Izuku is getting suspicious.

 

This is the second time this week that someone just so happened to be getting bullied in the playground. The eighth time this month. And for the months prior… just like the epidemic of stranded cats, there seems to be an epidemic of bigger kids picking on the little ones.

 

And it always seems to happen just when he's passing by.

 

(He steps in every time, the heavy and insistent feeling settling in his gut, familiar by now after countless interventions. He dismisses it as a sense of duty and oh, how accurate and yet mistaken that is, all at the same time.)

 

Most kids in the neighborhood know him. They know that if they hurt Midoriya Izuku, Bakugo Katsuki will find them and unleash his fury upon them, backed up by his now considerable control of his powerful quirk.

 

Kids who have cats know Izuku as the one who rescues them from trees, so there's that, too.

 

Today, Izuku finds Takeshi standing before a cowering little boy. Takeshi is an unusually big boy for his age, standing much taller and broader than Izuku although they are both only ten. His quirk is almost stereotypically perfect for bullying; it's called Intimidate , and it allows him, to, well, intimidate a target into doing almost anything for a certain amount of time.

 

Izuku knows, through extensive observation, that Takeshi’s quirk only lasts five minutes, tops.

 

He also knows that it doesn't work if the target is expecting its effects.

 

“Takeshi-kun,” Izuku says quietly. Takeshi and the smaller boy turn to look at him. Ah. Izuku recognizes the other one. It's Yashiro, a recent transferee to their elementary school. If he remembers correctly, his quirk is the ability to transform small amounts of water into different states of matter.

 

“Midoriya,” Takeshi says with a grunt and a nod, his face falling. He knows he can't use his quirk on Izuku, and he's acquainted with Katsuki, unfortunately.

 

(He's also the doting owner of a tabby he calls Tako, who owes every single one of its nine lives to Izuku’s saving graces.)

 

Knowing his hands are basically tied, Takeshi sighs and glares at Yashiro one more time. “I'll see you around, nerd,” he mutters, before slinking off, presumably to feed his cat or something. Izuku shakes his head. Years of being friends with Kacchan has turned the word nerd into little more than a slightly unflattering nickname.

 

Yashiro lets out a breath of relief, and turns, shaking, to Izuku. “You're… Midoriya-san, right?” he asks nervously.

 

Izuku nods. “You can call me Izuku. And you're Yashiro-san. We're in the same class, you know.”

 

“Ah,” Yashiro says, ducking his head sheepishly. “I'm sorry. I haven't memorized everyone's names yet.”

 

“That's fine,” Izuku says. “You're still new. You should probably go, though. Takeshi-kun might come back, or he might not. I don't know.”

 

A little voice pipes up in Izuku's head. He probably won't, seeing as I won't be around .

 

It's too faint for him to notice.

 

“Ah, um,” Yashiro stutters. “Th-thank you for helping me! The way he just left when you came - it was amazing.”

 

“Oh, that?” Izuku says dismissively. “He just knows he can't use his quirk on me.”

 

Yashiro’s eyes go wide. “ Really? His quirk doesn't work on you? Is that your quirk?” he asks excitedly.

 

Izuku shakes his head. “As far as I know, I'm quirkless.” He ignores Yashiro’s slight gasp, used to such reactions. “His quirk doesn't work on you if you're expecting it, so try not to get caught off guard again.”

 

Yashiro frowns thoughtfully. “If you're expecting it… I see.” He looks at Izuku again, something akin to reverence in his eyes. “You're amazing, Izuku-kun.”

 

“Like I said, it's nothing,” Izuku repeats. He subtly checks his watch, wanting to go home and start on the inhuman amount of sums their math teacher set for them today. Grandpa is also coming with a new book. He can barely wait to see what it'll be.

 

Yashiro shakes his head. “No, you're - you're just like a hero, Izuku-kun. You helped me out. Nobody - nobody's helped me out before.”

 

Izuku sighs, but he feels for this kid. He's heard the hero line before though, too many times for his liking. “I see,” he says simply, wanting more than anything to just go home. “But anyway, I have to go now. I'll see you around, Yashiro-san. Take care.”

 

“Thank you!” Yashiro yells as he leaves, and Izuku has to smile. Hero or not, it still feels good to help someone out.

 

-

 

“Deku,” Kacchan begins, tone dangerous, but curious, like a cobra who’s encountered a mouse who learned to hiss back.

 

“Yes?” Izuku says.

 

“Mind telling me why the heck all those kids rushed you at recess and gave you… all of this?” Kacchan says, gesturing at the various snacks spread across Izuku’s desk.

 

They’re in Izuku’s bedroom, and the boy himself is meticulously dividing up the food on his desk into piles of candy, chocolate, and biscuits. He sets aside two packs of sour gummies for Kacchan, knowing the other boy is strangely partial to those sweets.

 

Earlier today, a group of children, some in their grade, most of them younger, had swarmed around Izuku the moment recess began. Some of them were there to thank him on behalf of their families for rescuing their cat ( again ), but most were there to thank him for defending them, whether it was Takeshi or Riku or Kyosuke. A veritable army of grateful children led by Yashiro could carry a ton of snacks, it turns out.

 

“Don’t feel bad, Kacchan,” Izuku says reassuringly. He pats the sour gummies he’d set aside. “You can have these.”

 

Kacchan’s glare is murderous. “Like hell I care about that!” he yells. He grabs the sour gummies and violently tears it open, munching furiously on a handful of helpless gummies. “I asked you why the heck those losers crowded you in the first place!”

 

Izuku shrugs. “I think they wanted to thank me or something.” He picks up a bag of matcha candies and wrinkles his nose. That is going to his mother.

 

Katsuki scoffs. “ Thank you? Thank you ? What the hell for?”

 

“I helped them out,” Izuku says. “Either I saved their cat, or I told off someone who was bullying them. Speaking of the bullying, I think they should be thanking you instead. Those bullies only listen to me because they know you’d murder them if they tried anything funny.”

 

The other boy glares. “It’s their own fault,” Kacchan grouses, crumpling the empty pack of sour gummies and throwing it, hard , into the waste bin under the desk. Say what you will about Bakugou Katsuki, but the kid doesn’t litter. “Of course I’m gonna hit them for being stupid. And if those losers even think of trying to swarm me and giving me all this useless junk, then I’m going to hit them too!”

 

“Yes, yes,” Izuku says, discreetly passing the second pack of gummies to Kacchan, who takes it without even noticing.

 

“Why do you even bother helping them, Deku?” Kacchan asks. He backs off from the desk and goes to lie down on Izuku’s bed. Izuku cringes at the thought of him eating there, but at least he’s eating gummies and not crackers, which he has the unfortunate tendency of biting into so hard that crumbs fly off everywhere. “Thought you didn’t care about being a hero and all that. ‘Sides, it’s not like someone quirkless like you can do much.”

 

Sometime after they turned ten, Katsuki finally gave the whole “do you have your quirk yet” business a rest. The facts were just irrefutable - Izuku was ten, and he wasn’t able to breathe fire or pull objects to him, two of the most likely quirks that could be passed onto him. In fact, aside from being incredibly smart for his age (but not quite smart enough to warrant it being a mental augmentation quirk), he was incredibly normal. Granted, they hadn’t gotten his foot x-rayed to check for a pinky joint, but Izuku had always maintained that it would be a waste of money, and he really didn’t care either way.

 

“I was passing by,” Izuku says, by way of explanation. He absently opens a box of Pocky and picks one out. “Nobody else was gonna help them, so I did it.”

 

“Idiot. That’s what you call people like me for. The real heroes!” Kacchan sits up abruptly, pumping his fist in the air and sending about a dozen gummies flying. Amid Izuku’s aghast exclamations of “ Kacchan! ”, he rises triumphantly and stands on the bed. “ I’m the hero, Deku! And don’t forget that!”

 

“Yes, yes,” Izuku agrees quickly, hoping to placate him. “Now, please, Kacchan, get off, you’re getting candy all over my bed.”

 

Kacchan frowns, but sits back down and at least picks up the gummies that have landed on the bed. Those are somewhat salvageable, while Izuku picks up the poor gummies which landed on the floor and throws them away. “What a waste, Kacchan,” he mumbles. Sour candy is not his thing, but food is food.

 

The other boy scoffs. “It’s just candy, Deku. ‘Sides, those losers’ll give you anything if you just ask for it.” He shakes his head. “Lame, if you ask me.”

 

Izuku smiles slightly and returns to his desk, scrutinizing his arrangement. “Well, what about you, Kacchan? What would you do for someone who helped you out?”

 

Kacchan picks out a red gummy. “I’d punch them,” he says flatly, crushing the sweet in his fingers. “And ask them where the hell they get off, thinking I need their help.”

 

-

 

“Chocolate or strawberry?”

 

“Vanilla,” Izuku says, with no hesitation.

 

“Ehh?” Yashiro says, laughing. “That’s so boring, Izuku-kun!”

 

“Vanilla is really good,” Izuku says, frowning slightly. “You just haven’t had the right vanilla ice cream. Besides you can put anything on it. Chocolate, sprinkles, caramel, marshmallows…” He trails off, looking at the various ice creams in the freezer box of the store.

 

“But that’s exactly it! It’s so plain that it needs add-ons,” Yashiro argues. “Whereas if you had, say, rocky road ice cream, you could eat it exactly as it is and you wouldn’t need anything else.”

 

“But isn’t rocky road just chocolate ice cream with add-ons?”

 

“Deku!”

 

Izuku and Yashiro look up to see Katsuki marching over them, a furious glint in his eyes (not that there ever isn’t.) Yashiro breaks a sweat. He didn’t think Katsuki would be at the convenience store today.

 

“Kacchan,” Izuku greets him, smiling. Beside him, Yashiro stares at him. Izuku may well be the only child in their school - in this area - who could look Katsuki in the eye when he’s in that mood and smile . He shakes his head. Izuku truly is amazing.

 

Katsuki arrives and looks at Yashiro coolly, surveying him from top to bottom. Yashiro shrinks back, uncomfortable. Katsuki has a way of looking at people that makes them feel unworthy of his attention, just another someone to get stuck under his shoe like garbage. “What’re you doing, hanging out with this loser?”

 

“We’re getting ice cream,” Izuku says patiently. “And he’s not a loser. His name is Yashiro. He’s the one who got the sour gummies, you know.”

 

Yashiro flushes. He’s heard from Izuku sometime after the candy incident that his sour gummies had gone to Katsuki instead of Izuku. Granted, the sour gummies weren’t the only candies he’d gotten for Izuku, but it still bothered him slightly that his gift had gone to someone who was less likely to appreciate them.

 

“He’s a loser if I say so, Deku,” Kacchan speaks as if his word is law, and maybe for all other mortals except Midoriya Izuku, it is. The boy himself just laughs and asks, “What about you, Kacchan? You like chocolate, don’t you? They have a chocolate ice cream here today that has fudge in the center, I think you’ll like it.” He reaches in the freezer, idly rummaging around for the treat in question, before pulling it out and showing it to Kacchan.

 

Kacchan scoffs. “You’re such a nerd,” he spits out, then snatches the ice cream from Izuku’s hand. “Hurry up and buy your stupid ice cream, you’re coming over today, or did you fucking forget?”

 

“Ah, right,” Izuku says, as Kacchan stalks over to the counter. Yashiro watches as Izuku gets a vanilla cone and smiles apologetically at him. “Sorry about Kacchan. He’s really not good with names, so he just calls everyone a loser. Don’t take it personally.”

 

Yashiro shakes his head, half-dazed. Getting offended is the furthest thing from people’s minds when Bakugou Katsuki’s towering over them. “I’m amazed, Izuku-kun. You must be really awesome if Bakugou listens to you like that.”

 

Izuku laughs. “No, we’ve just been friends for too long. We’ve been together practically since we were born, because our mothers are really good friends. You know how I’m quirkless? Kacchan used to get really mad about me saying I’m quirkless and all, and kept insisting I’m just a late bloomer or something. He was always going on about being heroes and all that.” He shakes his head. “Even though I never wanted to be a hero.”

 

There it is again, Yashiro notices. Everytime Izuku is called “heroic” for his actions, he quickly denies it and even seems… uncomfortable? He doesn’t understand it. How could anyone dislike being called a hero? Sure, not everyone would be able to become a professional hero. Quirkless people like Izuku would have an even harder time, considering the nature of the work. But professional heroes are not the only “heroes.” People like Izuku - kind, selfless, and humble - are definitely heroes.

 

Before Yashiro can ask, though, Katsuki’s yelling again. “Deku! I told you to hurry up!”

 

“Coming!” Izuku calls out, then clamps his hand over his mouth, remembering he’s still in the store. “I’ll see you on Monday, Yashiro-san.” He rushes off to the counter, where Katsuki’s waiting impatiently.

 

Yashiro shakes his head as Katsuki berates Izuku for being slow. The boy must be blind if he believes for a second that Izuku's actually letting himself be ordered around.

 

-

 

For the second time in his young life, Izuku's world is shattered.

 

Someone from the nearby hospital calls Inko to inform her of the incident. It was a villain attack, they say. A major one, the likes of which were usually extremely rare in their peaceful neighborhood. Grandpa and about a dozen others had been caught in the crossfire.

 

Nobody had been able to save him.

 

(Probably nobody had tried.)

 

The authorities tell her that the body couldn’t even be recovered under all the rubble. He had probably been crushed. All they could find was a scrap of his tweed jacket, the shattered remains of his spectacles, and his wallet. The last item had his IDs in it. It was the only way they had even been able to name him as one of the casualties. Of the fifteen or so known casualties, only five bodies had been recovered.

 

(They say that considering the damage and the power of the attack, fifteen casualties was a miraculously low number. Sixteen, if you count the villain being unceremoniously gunned down while they were vulnerable. The authorities are actually considering this successful .)

 

Mitsuki Bakugou comes over the moment the news story breaks. She brings her husband and son, the latter of which immediately marches over to Izuku's room.

 

Masaru makes tea while his wife tries to console a weeping Inko. Through her sobbing, it's hard to make out her words, but Mitsuki tries. “Izuku… Izuku… Izuku …”

 

Kacchan, feeling strangely contrite in the face of unimaginable loss, knocks on the door. It swings open on impact - Izuku hasn't locked himself in like he thought he might.

 

Inside the room, Izuku sits on the edge of his bed. His hands are knit together on top of his lap, but they're steady. He's facing away from Kacchan, who can't see the other boy's expression.

 

“Deku,” he greets quietly. Izuku doesn't acknowledge him, and for some time, the room stays silent. Down the hall, they can hear Inko’s muffled crying as her face is pressed into Mitsuki’s shoulder.

 

“Hurricane,” Izuku says suddenly. Kacchan startles at the sound of his voice, raspy and dry. According to Inko, Izuku has been sick for a couple of days. Hearing about the incident has only worsened his condition. “Air Lock. Duodenum. Red Eagle. Golden Star.”

 

Kacchan recognizes those names.

 

“Five pro heroes at the scene,” Izuku continues ruthlessly. “Air Lock’s specialty is containment and apprehension - Red Eagle specializes in rescue. Even so, fifteen people are dead.”

 

“People are saying it's a miracle only fifteen people died - the villain’s apparently one of the ten most wanted criminals, and it's amazing they were able to take him down. But it doesn't change the fact that not even the heroes were able to save everyone.”

 

Izuku turns to face Kacchan, and the look in his eyes would haunt the other boy for months to come.

 

“What do you think? Still want to be a hero, Kacchan?”

 

-

 

Grandpa has apparently left his entire house and considerable savings to Inko. The library, however, is registered particularly in Izuku's name.

 

Izuku looks for a book on medical conditions. He'd been sick for days, but on the day of the attack he'd suffered stomach cramps so terrible he couldn't get out of bed if he wanted to.

 

In time, he will read the entire library, even the books he couldn't read before. But that is the future. For now, Izuku learns to move on. His mother is mostly worried for him - she knows how much he loves his grandfather, how much he treasured their time together. But Izuku is his Grandpa’s grandchild, through and through. He allows himself to feel his emotions and then stores them away - he has to be strong now, both for his mother and himself.

 

He puts on a blank and stoic face at the memorial. His mother had insisted that he didn't have to attend, not if he didn't want to, but Izuku would never dishonor his grandfather's memory like that. Two of the Pro Heroes who had been present at the attack, Duodenum and Red Eagle, are in attendance. They've been attending the funerals of the casualties of the villain attack.

 

Red Eagle looks small and slight without her usual costume of red mechanical wings. Her golden eyes, capable of identifying people from miles away, zero in on the face of the boy standing before her now.

 

Izuku regards her, as she appears to think nervously on what she can say. She's covered in bandages - she'd been knocked out of the sky at one point during the fight. Without her hero suit, she's only taller than Izuku by a head. She looks tiny. She looks so vulnerable.

 

Izuku can't believe someone like this is a hero.

 

“I'm sorry for your loss,” she finally says, then immediately makes a face like she regretted what she just said. Even her voice is small, bird-like. Everything about her makes her seem so young.

 

“You might think that it's presumptuous of us to be attending these funerals, the funerals of the people I couldn't save,” she begins. “But, um… we really - I really - wish we could have done more. It was our job, as heroes. Our failure is unforgivable.” She ends this passionate statement with a low bow, facing the ground directly. Beside her, Duodenum stands silently.

 

Izuku does not know what to say.  He cannot find it in him to forgive them. Not just yet. Not while the wound is fresh and new. Not when her words betray her naivety and self-importance - the thought that heroes can save everyone, anyone, so her inability to do so… must be a failure on her part.

 

It's ridiculous.

 

Izuku does not cry. Instead, he bows as low as she does, prompting her to look up.

 

“Thank you for saving the city,” he says quietly. He straightens and turns away to return to his mother's side, ignoring the tears that had sprung into Red Eagle's eyes.

 

-

 

Life continues.

 

It always does.

 

Izuku gets into his first life-or-death situation when he is twelve and walking home from school.

 

( It always happens when I’m walking home from school , he thinks later on. Maybe he should start taking another route.)

 

Izuku’s not actually the one who’s in danger - it’s a girl named Kimi, a classmate of his with doll-like features and a sweet voice prone to insulting those she doesn’t think pretty enough. Her quirk allows her to change her hair color at whim, and she usually uses it to imitate celebrities or idols in order to appear more appealing.

 

Well, anyway, her hair’s going to be blood-red if nobody pushes her out of the car’s way.

 

And so Izuku leaps , skinny limbs pumped full of adrenaline as he leaps for all he is worth and shoves her out of the way, curling around her as he tries to tuck his legs and arms out of the car’s way. The driver thankfully swerves, or tries to swerve, and a quick slam on the brakes has it skidding to stop, bumper just a few millimeters from the fence of the playground.

 

That goddamn playground.

 

Izuku’s lungs suck air in greedily, inhaling and exhaling as quickly as he can keep up. His stomach is curling in on itself, impossibly tense. Beneath him, Kimi lays on the ground, hair and dress a mess but wholly, blessedly intact.

 

Around them, adults are panicking. The driver gets out of the car and is the first to approach them. “Kid, are you okay?” he asks worriedly, and Izuku isn’t too sure which one of them he’s asking. “Are you guys hurt?”

 

Izuku sits up. He pats himself all over, and the only thing worth noting is the bruising that’s quickly making itself evident on his knees. “Just some bruising,” he says, feeling the pressure in his gut receding. His mind flashes briefly to the medical book he’d taken from the library ( that library). He doesn’t feel any alarming symptoms. He turns to Kimi, who is starting to sit up. He’s worried she’ll start crying - it would be a normal reaction, he just isn’t sure if he’s equipped enough to handle a crying girl right now.

 

“... ank...  you…” she murmurs incomprehensibly.

 

“Kimi-san?” Izuku asks, leaning in closer.

 

He’s unprepared for the feeling of thin arms wrapping themselves tightly around him (and ah , there’s some bruising on his back. Well.)

 

“T-thank you, Izukkun,” she sobs, tucking her face into the crook of his neck. She’s trembling and shaking all over, but she’s alive , and Izuku did that. He saved her. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

 

The driver approaches the two of them and kneels, gently placing a hand on Izuku’s free shoulder. “You did a real good thing today, kid,” he says kindly. “You should be proud of yourself. You’re a real hero.”

 

That statement is a blow to him. He does not understand how it makes him feel.

 

Izuku hesitantly raises his hand, then places it on Kimi’s head, stroking her silky hair over and over as she continues to cry. Around them, people are laughing and smiling, relieved that no one was hurt and amazed at the bravery shown by the little boy they all know, the boy who’s helped so many.

 

“‘M not a hero,” Izuku says, shaking his head. His voice is almost defiant. If a child could save someone this easily, then why ? “I'm not a hero.”

 

No one hears him except for Kimi, who lets out a shaky sob and says, “You are. You are .”

 

-

 

Emi gets stuck in a tree again.

 

Mrs. Ando is faithfully standing beneath the branch her cat is perched on, looking more exasperated than anything. “Why are you climbing trees again, Emi?” she asks, reprimanding. “We already visited Izukkun yesterday. It’s too soon to be clamoring for his attention like this again.”

 

“Mrs. Ando?” someone calls, and she turns to see Izuku. He sees her standing under a tree and makes a face of understanding. Wordlessly, he climbs the tree, movements already second nature, and in no time at all has a purring cat snuggled comfortably in his arms.

 

“Looks like someone misses me, huh?” he laughs quietly, dangling his fingers in front of her face. She licks it affectionately, pawing at him. He hands her off gently to Mrs. Ando, who looks at him fondly. Izukkun is so strong, she thinks. His smile is returning, slowly but surely.

 

“Thank you, Izukkun. I really should have gotten home some time ago, but this little girl decided to be a troublemaker!” she sighs, stroking Emi’s pristine fur.

 

“It’s no trouble at all,” Izuku says. “I was just on my way to…” he pauses. “The library. I'm glad I happened to pass by.”

 

“Well, thank you anyways, Izukkun,” she says. She smiles at him, then looks over his shoulder. “Oh my. I think someone’s waiting for you.”

 

He turns around to follow her gaze and sees a young girl standing a little ways off, clutching a small basket. Izuku is surprised to notice that it's Kimi. He hasn't talked to her since the incident. She jumps a little when they turn around to look at her so suddenly, but she meets their gazes, if a little sullenly.

 

“I’ll see you around then, Izukkun,” Mrs. Ando says. She has a little, knowing smile on her face. She was, after all, present during the (almost) car accident. “Please tell your mother that I’d like to visit her sometime next week. My son brought some delicious biscuits I’d like to share with you two.”

 

“Ah,” Izuku says. “Okay.” He bows lightly to her as she leaves, then turns to jog over to Kimi, who suddenly looks like she wishes she could be anywhere but here. “Kimi-san,” he greets her. “Um… do you want to… talk, or something?”

 

“Um…” She looks down at the ground. Her hair is bright pink today. It’s rather pretty.

 

“Yes?” he prompts. Kimi stares at the ground as though wishing it would swallow her up.

 

“Would you… Do you want to go shopping with me?” she finally bites out.

 

“Ah?” Izuku’s face must look priceless. Shopping? With Kimi? What would that even entail? “Um, I mean, I wouldn’t mind, I guess, but I’m? I’m not sure I’d be much help?”

 

“You can carry the stuff I buy,” Kimi says, finally looking up. She’s meeting his gaze determinedly. “My mom asked me to get a lot of groceries, and I’m pretty sure I can’t carry it all.”

 

“Ah?” Izuku says again. “Um. I’m. Don’t you have, uh, other friends who could help you out? I mean someone other than me? No offense, Kimi-san, but this is kind of coming from nowhere.”

 

“I’m asking you to come with me,” Kimi declares, pointing at him. “And besides, aren't you supposed to be helping people? What kind of hero would you be if you didn’t help a poor girl out?”

 

Izuku pouts. “Alright, alright, I’ll go with you, Kimi-san. Just don’t call me a hero.”

 

“Good!” Kimi says. Her hair settles into a lighter, paler pink, almost as if to signify her relief. “And I’ll call you whatever I want!” she adds almost as an afterthought.

 

He rolls his eyes and falls into step beside her as they walk away from the park. She grows quiet, thoughtful, almost, and Izuku is all too happy to leave her alone with her thoughts.

 

They enter the shopping district not too long after that. Kimi pulls out a small note from her bag and inspects it. “Well, my mom asked me to get some vegetables, and meat, and some gardening supplies. And cheese, milk…”

 

“Sounds like we should get a move on if we want to finish before it gets dark,” Izuku comments, looking over her shoulder to read the list. “That’s a lot.”

 

Kimi sighs. “We should probably go to the supermarket first.” She looks up and notice Izuku peering at the list, and visibly jumps back. “Right, uh… let’s go.”

 

The process is surprisingly pleasant. Izuku isn’t too upset about giving up a Saturday afternoon at the library to accompany Kimi. It’s incredibly similar to shopping with his mom. Both of them are terrifyingly efficient, and extremely critical of the smallest differences in price and nutritional content.

 

“Which one, Izukkun?” Kimi asks, holding up two brands of yogurt.

 

Izuku wrinkles his nose. “Yogurt isn’t on the list, is it?”

 

“No, but I want yogurt,” Kimi says, lowering the goods to examine them herself. “And my mom lets me get some stuff for myself if I do the shopping for her.”

 

“Huh.” Izuku looks at the yogurt. They stand there for a comically long amount of time, examining the two brands seriously. Izuku dissolves into mumbling immediately, and Kimi isn’t even fazed. Around them, mothers smile fondly, some shaking their heads and saying, “What good kids.”

 

“I’ve had this one before,” Izuku finally points at the one in Kimi’s right hand. “And it’s pretty good. The nutritional content is pretty balanced, and besides, it’s the cheaper one.”

 

“Hmm,” Kimi says, tilting her head. “Okay.” She sets the other one back in the fridge. “Now help me decide between flavors.”

 

They spend another five minutes arguing vehemently about whether or not vanilla is a valid candidate for best flavor. (It is .)

 

With the groceries secured, they walk over to a hardware store. Kimi’s mother had included instructions to buy a new watering can, since their old one was getting faded. There’s an even wider variety here, and they take even longer than they did in the grocery.

 

“You know what, I don’t think Mom really cares what the watering can looks like, as long as it’s big enough and does its job,” Kimi finally says, after looking at what must be the fiftieth kind of watering can. Izuku’s about ready to throw in the towel as well. “Let’s just get this over with.”

 

In the end, Kimi picks out a nice, bright yellow watering can with white floral designs. It’s bulky, and Izuku has to carefully apportion the goods he’s carrying as he adds it to his load. At least Kimi’s carrying some of the groceries as well.

 

The sun is setting as they walk back to Kimi’s house. They run into several acquaintances along the way, mostly people whose cats Izuku has rescued, and they all smile fondly when they see him helping out another person. How typical of Izuku , they seem to say, and while Izuku can't say it isn't pleasant to have that kind of reputation, they’re getting uncomfortably close to comparing him to actual heroes.

 

Surprisingly, Kimi starts to talk as they walk. It starts off small, asking about Emi and then eventually hearing about all the different cats he’s rescued, and soon she starts offering stories of her own. She doesn’t talk much about school, but Izuku doesn’t mind, because they’re both politely pretending that she didn’t use to call him names when they were younger. The air between them is already weird enough.

 

“And Ai-chan keeps saying that I should try turning my hair two different colors, but I think it’d look ridiculous, don’t you, Izukkun?” she asks, twisting a pale pink lock of hair between her slim fingers.

 

“Hmm,” Izuku says, pondering it. “You mean like, if the right side of your hair was a different color from your left? Like half-and-half?”

 

“Yeah,” says Kimi, nodding seriously. “Like if one side was black, and the other side was white, split clean in the middle. Can you even imagine it?”

 

Izuku tries.

 

It’s all he can do to keep from laughing. He does, anyway.

 

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” he says, struggling not to drop all the stuff he’s carrying. Kimi looks at him with an offended glint in her eyes, but she looks amused, too. “What if you made one side red, then the other side green? Then you could stand at an intersection and take the place of the traffic lights. Red,” he turns his head one way - “then bam! Green!” - he sharply swerves the other way.

 

Kimi starts laughing. “Where would I even stand? I’ll get hit if I’m on the street!”

 

“Maybe we should build a special platform, and you can stand on it,” Izuku suggests in a serious tone. “You’d be the Traffic Hero; Stoplight!”

 

Kimi throws her head back, laughing. “Izukkun, you’re ridiculous!” she exclaims. “Well, if I’m the Traffic Hero, then you should be the Cat Hero; your name would be Izunyan!”

 

Izuku wrinkles his nose. “I take it back, Kimi-san. You shouldn't be a hero,” he says. “Heroes wouldn’t come up with names like Izunyan.”

 

Kimi giggles. “Ah, wait,” she says suddenly, looking up. “This is my house.”

 

Izuku looks at the fairly large structure. “Wow. It’s pretty big, Kimi-san.”

 

“Mm, I guess,” Kimi says noncommittally. She walks forward to the door and opens it. They step into a quiet, dimly lit hallway and carefully remove their shoes before going to the kitchen to deposit the groceries.

 

Izuku puts the watering can down by the counter. “Thank you,” Kimi says. She finishes putting the rest of the groceries away in cupboards as Izuku sits down and watches her. “Mom isn’t home yet, but would you like to stay for dinner? It’s the least I can do, after you went shopping with me today.”

 

“That sounds nice, but I think I should be getting home, actually,” Izuku says. “Mom might be getting worried by now.”

 

Kimi nods and accompanies him back outside. He stops at the gate one last time to turn and bow slightly. “Thank you for inviting me today, Kimi-san. I had a lot of fun,” he says honestly.

 

Kimi smiles, and it’s a small but sincere smile. “Thank you for coming with me, Izukkun. I had a lot of fun as well.” She hesitates, as if considering her next words.

 

“Um,” she starts, uncertain. “I never really got to thank you properly after you saved me that time. And to apologize for getting you injured, when I was being careless.”

 

“There’s no need - ” Izuku begins, but she cuts him off.

 

“I also want to apologize for the way I’ve treated you in the past,” she says firmly. There’s guilt in her voice, but her tone is resolute. “And I also want to apologize for my behavior, in general. I haven’t exactly been the nicest person to you, or to the other people in class.”

 

She’s not wrong, so Izuku doesn’t bother to contradict her. Instead, he simply says, “Okay. I forgive you.”

 

“Why?” she asks. Her face is confused, but somewhat… hopeful?

 

“Why?” Izuku repeats, confused. “Um, what do you mean? Of course I forgive you, you weren't really - ”

 

“No, why did you save me, that time?” she asks. “If you were just the least bit unlucky, you could have died. Or we both could have died. You didn’t have an obligation to save me. In fact, I was horrible to you. So, why?”

 

Izuku stares at her for a moment. Then he shakes his head and laughs incredulously.

 

“Kimi-san, I don’t know what kind of person you take me for, but what person would see a girl in danger and not try to help?” he says. Bitterly, and privately, he thinks he might know the answer to that question. But he keeps silent on that.

 

“A lot of people,” she says quietly. “You were the only one who helped me that day. I remember that very well.”

 

She sounds like Yashiro, Izuku thinks. He shakes his head again. “What I did was nothing special, Kimi-san. I just wanted to help. You don’t have to thank me or do anything. I was already glad that you’re alright, and that's more than enough for me.”

 

He must have said something wrong, because Kimi’s eyes fill with tears. In a second, she’s got her arms wrapped around him, and it reminds him of the incident, of the way her thin limbs had wrapped themselves so strongly around him. “You're such an idiot, Izukkun,” she says shakily. “But then again, you help people all the time, so you must not realize.” She pulls back just enough to give him a smile.

 

“You saved my life . How could I not be thankful? How can you think for a single second that I wouldn’t admire you?” She pauses and looks down. “You know, I heard from Yashiro-kun that you dislike being called a hero. But even so, I called you that on purpose today. And for good reason.”

 

Kimi looks up and fiercely meets his eyes. “You’re not a pro hero, but you’re still a hero, Izukkun. You’re amazing, and kind, and I know that everyone will see that. I’m glad I see it now. It would’ve been pretty awful if I never got to see that side of you, you know?” She embraces him again. “So stop selling yourself short. It would be embarrassing for me to admire someone who’s lame, so stop trying to downplay what you do, okay? You’re amazing . Don't ever forget that.”

 

Izuku is silent.

 

Then he wordlessly buries his face in Kimi’s neck and allows her to hug him tighter. She seems to understand, and stays still, saying nothing about the sudden dampness she feels on her shoulder.

 

A few minutes pass and Izuku gently leans back. Kimi does so as well, and quietly watches the boy compose himself. He raises his head, and he’s smiling.

 

“Thank you for today, Kimi-san,” he says. “I hope we can hang out some time again.”

 

“We definitely will,” she says firmly. “Bye for now, Izukkun.”

 

As he starts walking away, he hears Kimi call, “Izukkun! Wait! Look at me!”

 

He turns around. Kimi is grinning hugely, carding her fingers through her long, long, hair.

 

The strands are deep green, just like his own.

 

“Does it suit me?” she asks jokingly. Izuku laughs.

 

“Yes,” he says sincerely, smiling. “Yes it does.”

 

“It’s green,” she says, and asks, “You know what it means when traffic lights are green, right?”

 

She widens her stance and spreads her arms, pumping her hands like a cheerleader. “ Go , Izukkun!”

 

Through their laughter, Izuku banishes the last vestiges of dampness on his eyelids.

 

-

 

Izuku and Katsuki fight.

 

It’s not a petty argument either, the kind where they get drawn into long conversations about the merits of chocolate ice cream compared to vanilla, or the almost imperceptible difference in their heights (it’s kind of hard to tell when both boys have hairstyles that add at least two centimeters to their normal heights).

 

No, it’s a real, honest-to-goodness fight, one that has them screaming and spitting and coming close to tears, and Izuku yells and yells but does not take anything back. “It’s not about you being weak , Kacchan! It’s not about you being powerless! It’s seeing a friend fall and helping them up, is that a crime? I thought you were hurt! What kind of friend would I be if I left you alone?”

 

Katsuki gives as good as he gets and grits his teeth. “Shut up! ” he yells. “I don’t need your help! I don’t need your pity! I don’t need to be rescued by some useless, quirkless loser!

 

Ah.

 

That stings.

 

Belatedly, Izuku wonders why. That has never hurt before.

 

“You listen to me!” Katsuki roars, thrusting his finger into Izuku’s chest and ignoring the sudden silence of his friend. “I don’t need your help. I will never need your help. I don’t need someone like you ,” he spits, with all the fury and self-righteousness of a worked-up twelve-year-old, “someone who doesn’t even really care !”

 

Izuku hates the tear the slips through, but he lets it trace its poisonous path down his cheek. He can’t even pretend that that hadn’t hurt, because it had - Izuku, who spends his time rescuing every cat in a tree, driving off every bully, and taking every single vicious word Katsuki could throw at him, because nobody else could or would - Izuku, who does nothing but care .

 

And what does the world do but take away all that he cares for?

 

“You’re right,” he says quietly. “I don’t care. I don’t care what you want, and I don’t care what you need. I don’t care that you don’t need help, because you’re going to be a hero. I don’t even care about being a hero, and you know that .”

 

He looks up and looks his childhood friend in the eye. “I don’t care, Kacchan.”

 

He takes one step forward, and Katsuki takes one step back. “And if you’re really set on not needing me, then I shouldn’t need you either. Leave those guys alone. Don't ever try to protect me again. It’s not your business what they do or say to me,” Izuku says fiercely. “ I don’t need you saving my neck either.”

 

I’ve never needed you , Izuku doesn’t say, because he isn’t sure it’s true.

 

Katsuki takes one step forward, but Izuku doesn’t move. He sighs, and looks down. “You really need to understand this. And someday, I hope you do. Sometimes you need to be saved, Kacchan, even if you don’t want to. Sometimes you can't save everyone,” he says. “And sometimes you can’t even save yourself.”

 

Katsuki opens his mouth to say something, but Izuku’s tired. “Leave me alone, Kacchan,” he says simply, and walks away without looking back.

 

-

 

Two weeks later, the Bakugous adopt a kitten.

 

Not once does it climb a tree.

 

-

 

Losing Kacchan is painful, but life does not stop for Midoriya Izuku. It never has. He supposes it's his own fault for even trying to help him (never mind that he'd fallen from a bridge, had stopped Izuku's heartbeat for a solid second and had landed inches away from a jagged rock.) After all, Kacchan had told him long ago what he would do to people who tried to help him.

 

To the credit of the universe, it seems more than happy to distract him, throwing all that it possibly could at him.

 

He stops a supply closet from falling over an elderly janitor.

 

He catches a younger boy as he falls from the tree he’s climbing.

 

He is the only one who rushes to the fire extinguisher when Kacchan accidentally gets too rowdy in the middle of science class.

 

The last one was awkward for everyone, especially when Kacchan promptly tried to wring Izuku's neck for even coming near him. ( I wasn't helping you, I wasn't helping you , Izuku repeats over and over in his head.)

 

Each time, the people involved thank him (in Kacchan’s case, he screams at Izuku for the first time since their fight until the teacher approaches and tells him to calm down) and tell him he’s just like a hero.

 

“What a heroic young man you are.”

 

“Onii-san… you’re just like a hero!”

 

“Damnit, Deku! Where the hell do you get off playing hero again?!”

 

Again, one of these things is not like the others.

 

Each time, however, he feels the same insistent tugging at his gut.

 

Izuku is a smart kid. He’s not one to believe too much in coincidences. It’s not coincidence that before he's even close enough to hear the forlorn meowing of a cat stuck in a tree (in his twelve years of existence, he’s racked up three hundred and forty-one cat rescues), he's struck by a sudden discomfort in his stomach. It’s too much to believe that he was simply getting a stomach ache every time he happened to pass by the playground when Takeshi or some other bully was frequenting it. It’s no mistake that when the car had been about to hit Kimi, or when the closet was about to slam into the old man’s head, or when the child came falling out of the tree he just so happened to be walking by, his gut had turned and twisted and demanded for him to do something.

 

It’s more than instinct. It’s almost like a power.

 

It’s almost like a quirk .

 

“Mom?” he asks quietly, over dinner. He’ll be entering junior high soon, and he feels he can’t tolerate three more years of being drawn into ridiculous situations where he’s forced to - to play the hero .

 

“Yes, honey?” Inko replies. He stays quiet for a little while, frowning thoughtfully, before blurting - “Can we get my foot x-rayed?”

 

Her chopsticks clatter to the table. “Oh - oh my. Izuku, sorry, it's - it was so sudden , and what brought this on, all of a sudden?” she stutters frantically. “You never wanted to get an x-ray before.”

 

Izuku grips his own chopsticks tightly and stares at his bowl of rice. “I know I said before that I don't care,” he starts carefully. “And I know there haven't been any signs of my quirk manifesting, if I even have one.” Not true. My stomach begs to differ .

 

“But I… I guess I just want to put the matter to rest, once and for all. I'll get x-rayed, they'll find the extra toe joint, and we can all just… forget this whole thing.”

 

Inko looks at her son, contemplative. She looks a little sad, too. She feels sad - this issue must be tearing her son up inside, no matter how much he pretends to be unaffected.

 

“I understand, sweetie,” she says gently, and she's buoyed by the sheer gratitude that floods Izuku's face. “I'll ask around for where we can get an x-ray, and then we can all move past this, like you said.” She smiles. “It makes no difference to either of us, does it?”

 

“Yes,” Izuku agrees firmly. “Quirk or no, it shouldn't matter.”

 

-

 

Dr. Tsubasa is a friendly old man with a comforting aura. His grandson is in the same class as Izuku, even though they've never really talked.

 

He's also useless.

 

“But I don't understand,” Inko says blankly. “I… there have been no signs. No hints. Nothing .”

 

“The x-ray does not lie, Mrs. Midoriya,” the doctor says kindly but firmly. He taps the x-ray again. “He's missing the extra toe joint. The probability that he does indeed have a quirk is incredibly high.”

 

“But how can I?” Izuku asks desperately. Please , he wants to say. Please explain it away. Please tell me I can't have a quirk. Please tell me I don't have a quirk .

 

“There's two possibilities,” Dr. Tsubasa explains. “One, you may have developed your quirk, but its symptoms and/or effects are too specific or unobtrusive for you to notice. Cases like someone having a balancing quirk - because of it, they never fall or trip by accident - in those situations the effect is too common to actually perceive.”

 

“And the second?” Inko prompts.

 

“The second is that you're a late bloomer,” says Dr. Tsubasa. “In which case there are two possibilities yet again. The first is that you are simply a late bloomer - time is the only element you require. If I recall correctly, the oldest anyone's been when they manifested their quirk for the first time is thirteen. So, you have still some time, if that's the case.”

 

“The second possibility is that your quirk is triggered by extremely specific circumstances,” he continues. “There are cases where people's quirks were triggered by stressful situations, such as life-or-death incidents, and probably wouldn't have discovered their quirk otherwise.”

 

There's a third possibility, and it's the real one , Izuku thinks miserably. I have a quirk and I know what it is, I just won't tell anyone about it or even acknowledge it because I don't want a quirk.

 

Out loud, he says, “What are the chances that I really don't have a quirk?” Izuku asks. Dr. Tsubasa raises an eyebrow at his hopeful tone, so he dials it down. “Considering that I'm missing the pinky joint.”

 

“Practically zero,” the doctor says definitively. “You being a late bloomer or having an unobtrusive quirk is much more likely.”

 

Those words are the final nail in the coffin.

 

Izuku covers his face with his hands and leans over, trying his damnedest not to cry. His mother rubs his back soothingly, while the doctor makes a sound of consolation.

 

“It's okay, Izuku,” Inko says gently. “Whether your quirk comes or not, you don't need it. You've always been a wonderful boy, and nothing could change that.”

 

“Precisely,” Dr. Tsubasa says encouragingly. “I've heard so many good things about you, Izuku-kun. The way you helped so many people is amazing. Having a quirk or not is irrelevant. It doesn't change the fact that you're a good person.”

 

No, Izuku wants to scream. You don't understand. You don't understand at all. I'm not crying because I don't have a quirk, I'm crying because I do have one. And it's the worst quirk I could ever have gotten.

 

It's basically forcing me to be a hero.

 

Dr. Tsubasa clears his throat and suggests that perhaps all this information is a little too much to absorb all at once. He gives them his number and tells them to call him if any symptoms start showing up. Inko nods and does the talking for her listless son, which is a small mercy. The ride home is silent.

 

Later that night, Izuku lies on his bed and stares at the ceiling. He rethinks every moment in his life.

 

Three hundred and forty-one cat rescues.

 

Ninety-three times he's driven off either Takeshi, Kyosuke, Riku, or some other bully.

 

Twenty times he's saved people from falling objects, including the time he pushes a woman away from a falling girder as he passed by a construction site.

 

Three times he's caught people as they were falling, or broken their fall. (One was a suicide attempt. He will never, in his life, regret that instance.)

 

Kimi.

 

He curls in on himself, trying to breathe silently through his tears. How much of those had been him ? Had been his own genuine desire to simply do a good deed?

 

How many of those had simply been a consequence of his quirk?

 

He thinks, for the first time in a long while, about his late father. The man he swore he would never emulate, the man he swore to forget. He promptly abandons the thought, still too painful for him to face. His mind immediately veers towards Grandpa, but that wound still festers, unhealed.

 

He curses softly and pulls a pillow in, embracing it tightly.

 

Was he doomed to be a hero from the start?

 

Was it his fate?

 

There has never and will never be a more reluctant hero than me , Izuku thinks spitefully, as he screws his eyes shut and prays for sleep to take him away from his turbulent thoughts.

Chapter Text

Kimi and Yashiro follow him to the same junior high.

 

“It's the best school in this area,” Yashiro mumbles defensively, while Kimi just stares blankly at Izuku, as if daring him to question her. He doesn't.

 

Meanwhile, Kacchan enrolls at a decidedly less prestigious school. Kimi and Yashiro are both baffled by his decision.

 

Izuki knows the reason all too well. Kacchan wants a perfect hero career, which means he needs a perfect hero origin story. Beating the odds by graduating from a lowly school and becoming the Number One Hero is the kind of egotistical storyline he's come up with and cherished since he was a child.

 

Izuku shakes his head. That is neither here nor there. Thinking about Kacchan is a dangerous and endless rabbit hole. He decides to stop calling him “Kacchan” and use “Katsuki” or even “Bakugou” instead.

 

He decides to stop calling him anything at all.

 

Free from the other boy's shadow, Izuku thrives in his new school. His new classmates are much more appreciative of his intelligence and don't mind at all when he tells them he's quirkless. Quirks don't matter too much in this school, which is more known for its academic performance. In other words, it's right up Izuku's alley.

 

On the other hand, they also seem to admire him due to his friendship with Kimi. She's blossomed into quite the beautiful young lady, and her quirk makes her popular with both boys and girls. Yashiro and Izuku are the envy of every boy in class, who all can't comprehend how someone as stunning as Kimi would willingly hang out with them. Girls tolerate them and give them more than a passing glance, although they don't know what Kimi sees in them either.

 

Izuku lets them wonder. Neither he nor Kimi care what they think, anyway. Yashiro claims he doesn't either, but Izuku knows that deep down, he's preening at the attention.

 

The school challenges him mentally like no other school has before. He has to work hard to earn his spot at the top of the rankings, and although so far he's managed to maintain the top spot each time, he knows he can't be complacent. This school is an entirely new environment, and quite honestly, he welcomes the change.

 

… Except, of course, that his quirk seems to have missed the memo that he's turning over a new leaf.

 

In the first year alone, he racks up a staggering number of eighty more cat rescues, most of them owned by his new classmates or their families. He saves another little girl from a speeding truck, and Kimi treats him to a parfait after that particular deed. He even manages to detect the presence of an armed intruder on the school grounds, and he's able to alert the security guards and the principal before any harm could befall the students.

 

In other words, his quirk is working over time.

 

He's told exactly three people about his quirk; his mom, Yashiro, and Kimi. All three had believed him easily, easier than he would've thought. How else could you explain the staggering number of “good deeds” he’s gotten himself into? No one else found themselves in situations like those as often as Izuku did.

 

All three were also quick to tell him that his quirk in no way invalidated his deeds, and they would feel terrible (his mom), get mad (Yashiro) or beat him up (Kimi) if he allowed himself to feel that way.

 

So he doesn't. He follows his gut whenever it tells him to do something, and Yashiro and Kimi cover for him whenever he suddenly rushes off, going to rescue some unknown person or animal. He never really knows what he's getting until he gets it. He learns to anticipate the telltale twisting in his gut, and, with great effort, not to dread it.

 

Kimi gives him a new title. “You're the Reluctant Hero; Izuku,” she tells him. Yashiro snorts. “That's lame,” he says, and immediately regrets it when she shoots him a glare. “It's fitting, though,” he concedes.

 

“What, no more Izunyan?” Izuku teases, laughing as Kimi turns red. Yashiro joins in the laughter, having been told the backstory some time prior. “What happened to Izunyan, Stoplight, and Water Boy?”

 

Kimi’s hair turns bright red. It matches her face almost perfectly. “Shut up,” she says, but there's no force behind it. Chuckling, all three of them fall back into a comfortable silence.

 

Time passes, and Izuku thinks he's okay.

 

-

 

Of course, things rarely stay okay.

 

In second year, despite his best efforts, Izuku starts to grow jaded.

 

Don’t get him wrong, helping people is and has always been important to him. More than their gratitude, the simple thought that he’s passed through their lives and made it marginally better never fails to make him glad. It’s just… well, he never asked for this.

 

He doesn’t linger to hear their thanks. As soon as he’s finished helping whoever it is, he leaves. With every cat rescued, the owner barely has time to receive their pet before Izuku’s off, walking without so much as a look back. Whenever he saves someone who’s in danger, he briefly scolds them or tells them to be more careful. Their thanks fall on purposefully deaf ears, and they start to feel more like lashes against Izuku’s back.

 

Despite his mother and his friends’ best efforts, Izuku never shakes off the feeling that the only reason he’s able to help people is because of his quirk. Without it, Izuku’s not sure if he would ever have rescued Emi, or befriended Yashiro, or saved Kimi. Those deafening what-ifs float around in his brain when he tries to go to sleep, and haunt him mercilessly even during the day.

 

He also feels like a fucking hypocrite.

 

All those years of declaring that “you don’t need a quirk to help people,” lay heavy on his back and threaten to crush him. Each and every single time he’d said that rewinds over and over in his head, clogging his nostrils and making it hard to breathe.

 

This is the emotional backlash that hasn’t set in since that doctor’s appointment well over a year ago. This is all the fucked-up shit in his head that’s been swimming quietly under the surface only to come out and rear its ugly head, and he can’t do a single thing about it. All those years of preaching and crowing only to have been a fraud this whole time - there’s really no other word for it than fucked-up .

 

(He thinks of the way he used to preach to a certain blonde boy, and isn’t that just a whole other ugly can of worms.)

 

Logically, Izuku knows it isn’t his fault. His quirk does seem to fall into the unobtrusive quirk category, and he couldn’t have known from the get-go that his actions were being influenced by his quirk. It was completely logical for him to have assumed that he was quirkless, and for everyone else to assume that as well.

 

It doesn’t make him feel any better, but at least he, on a conceptual level, knows that.

 

Yashiro and Kimi are well aware of this train of thought and know that it is something that neither of them will be able to root out. It’s too ingrained in him for them to do more than ease it marginally. Instead, they stay quietly and faithfully by his side, deflecting questions about his strange knack of always being in the right place at the right time, and waiting wordlessly for him to walk home with them no matter where he’s coming from. They offer their comfort in the place of the gratitude he refuses to accept, and he thinks that he can take it. It’s better than the blind thanks.

 

“Man, it’s only second year, but people are already talking about what high school they want to go to,” Yashiro says one day, while they’re walking home. He keeps slurping at the dregs of his soda, until Kimi asks him to please, for the love of God, stop making that awful noise. “A lot of them are thinking about applying at the general course in UA.”

 

“It is one of the best schools in Japan,” Kimi says. “For heroics, anyway. What is their standing in terms of the general department?”

 

Izuku strokes his chin thoughtfully, which Kimi always teases him relentlessly for. “Definitely in the top ten when it comes to academics,” he says. “UA does boast about being the best of the best, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t slack off even when it comes to the general department.”

 

“What if you studied there, Izuku?” Kimi suddenly asks. “Could you imagine? A general studies student rescuing way more people than the students in heroics?”

 

In spite of himself, Izuku has to smile a little. Wouldn’t that be a funny sight? Imagine a lowly general studies student like him stealing the limelight from the little heroes-in-training. Of course, that would go against everything he stands for, so he dismisses the possibility. “I don’t think they’d take it too well,” he says, chuckling lightly. “And if I did, they might try to put me in the heroics department, and I’d have to put my foot down on that .”

 

“Being a hero’s too much work, anyways,” Yashiro groans. “You’d think all you have to do is fight the bad guys and win, but then you’d have to do all the paperwork, report to the police, and God forbid you cause too much collateral damage - all your pay’ll go to repairs, so you did it all for nothing .”

 

“And then you’d have to appeal to the masses, too,” Kimi adds. “You can’t be too scary or too intimidating, because then the audience wouldn’t like you and you won’t be as popular. You’re basically a celebrity, too - heroes probably don’t get too much privacy unless they make an effort to hide their real life identity.”

 

“Hear, hear,” Yashiro agrees, before launching into a tirade about the questionable health insurance benefits that heroes must not get. Izuku smiles privately. He knows what his friends are trying to do, and he appreciates it.

 

He stops in his tracks when his guts twist, and it’s most certainly not because he just downed a whole root beer float.

 

Kimi and Yashiro stop just as abruptly. “Now?” Kimi asks, and Izuku nods once, tense.

 

“We’ll go ahead and tell your mother,” Yashiro says, and Izuku is so grateful. “And don’t be late! You invited us over for dinner, and we expect you to be there!” He has to shout this last bit as Izuku’s feet take him running off.

 

They don’t leave until Izuku’s out of sight.

 

Ever since he’s acknowledged his quirk, he’s gotten better at interpreting its signals. Not only does it act as a radar to possibly dangerous situations, it also serves as a kind of compass, giving him subtle prods in the direction he’s meant to go. Today, it takes him through the shopping district, whipping past crowds of people rushing to go home and start their evenings.

 

It takes him to a narrow alley, where he spots two other people, one who’s decidedly hanging onto the last vestiges of life.

 

His skin starts to crawl.

 

“Hey,” Izuku calls out, forcing his voice to stop trembling. “You guys shouldn’t be here.”

 

Two pairs of eyes turn to meet his gaze.

 

One of them is glazed over, seeing but not really seeing Izuku. They’re bright purple, and lined with heavy bags, but Izuku’s most pressing concern is how the light seems to be draining quickly from them.

 

The other pair is completely dead - in a totally different sense. They speak of things people are not meant to see, of acts too horrible to name, and they glint in the light not too differently from the blade in their owner’s hand.

 

Izuku swallows his fear. His gut tells him to press on.

 

“I-I mean… if you guys don’t leave soon, you’ll get caught up in the rush hour, a-and it’ll really make for one hell of a commute,” he forces out. The criminal eyes him, almost lazily, too much as if he’s found another pretty kitten to kill. “And besides, the police are setting up checkpoints around here today - traffic’ll be an absolute nightmare.”

 

The criminal doesn’t give a reaction. Instead, he looks back down on his victim.

 

“A-and won’t your parents be worried?” Izuku shouts, hoping his voice will attract attention. The bloodied person winces at the sound of his voice, but Izuku’s relieved to see any movement at all. Anything that signals that he’s still here, that Izuku hasn’t failed yet. “If you’re out this late and you don’t come home?”

 

At that, the criminal silently faces Izuku again. His beady eyes are partially obscured by dank black hair, but they don’t mask the sheer madness in them - and the horrifying interest, as if Izuku is a precious lab specimen.

 

He looks away and starts walking towards the opposite end of the alley without a word, and eventually he disappears out of sight.

 

Izuku lets out the tremendous breath he’s been holding, and pitches forward to stumble onto his knees. That was close. Too close. He can't believe it even worked. What was he thinking? It takes a herculean effort not to hurl the contents of his stomach - speaking of which, the twisting in his gut hasn’t subsided.

 

Right. His job isn’t done.

 

He pulls himself together into a semblance of calmness and purpose and trudges towards the other person. It’s a boy - Izuku feels sick when he realizes they must be around the same age.

 

His body is decorated with deep gashes and lacerations, and he’s bleeding out steadily. Izuku doesn’t have much time, or room for error - he has to be careful.

 

The boy is thankfully still conscious, and he stares apprehensively at Izuku, who ignores it and gingerly helps him up. He supports the other boy’s weight all on his own, wanting to make the trip as light and easy as possible for him.

 

He hears the boy mumble, and says, “Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

 

“... can’t… decide if you’re… a hero… or a… a dumbass,” the boy murmurs.

 

Izuku snorts. “I'm definitely not a hero,” he says decisively. “Keep your eyes open.”

 

The minute they step out into the street, all eyes are on them. The people who do not immediately start walking away crowd him, and he quickly asks for someone to call an ambulance, as well as the police. The boy leans heavily on him, wincing all the while, and Izuku keeps him upright, keeps him safe and grounded and awake .

 

An ambulance arrives promptly, and the paramedics take it over from there. Izuku lets go of the bloodied boy who allows himself to be carted off into the vehicle. He meets Izuku’s eyes one more time before the doors close over him, and the only evidence that they ever met is the blood that’s stained Izuku’s clothing.

 

A police officer approaches him and asks him to come with them to the nearby station to give his report on the event. Izuku goes with them willingly, and gives them the simple report - he had been passing by, running because he’d forgotten to buy something at the nearby convenience store, when he’d looked into the alley and noticed the two of them. He told them what he’d done to get the criminal to back off, staying within line of sight of other passersby while also bluffing that police were nearby.

 

The officer interviewing him, a man who introduces himself as Minagawa, regards him with something akin to wonder. “You approached an obviously unstable man and started spouting off about traffic ?” he says, amazed.

 

Izuku ducks his head. “I couldn’t provoke him. I didn’t know what a man like that would do. I thought it would be better if he thought the police were coming so that he’d leave.”

 

Minagawa shakes his head. “That was still quite a risk. Still, your thought process is remarkable. If you had left to call for help, who knows what he could have done while you were gone?”

 

He smiles kindly at Izuku. “You were very brave today, Midoriya-kun. I’m told that the boy has reached the hospital and is in critical condition, but the doctors are confident that he will survive. And that is all thanks to you and your quick thinking.”

 

Izuku stares at his hands. Thankfully, they’ve stopped shaking some time ago, and the sensation in his gut has receded. Its absence feels like relief - and instinctively he knows that the boy truly will recover. “I’m just glad I was able to help,” he says, the words almost automatic. “And I’m glad he’ll be okay.”

 

Minagawa simply smiles. He finishes his interrogation and sends someone off to get a jacket for Izuku, so he can cover the bloodstains still on his clothing. He thanks Izuku and gives him a business card with contact information, and asks that he contact the station for any concern.

 

Izuku accepts it and prays he never has to use it.

 

When he finally gets home, the sky is completely dark. The dining room is noisy with conversation, and everyone looks up expectantly when they hear his footsteps.

 

“Izuku!” Inko cries, lighting up when she sees her son. Then she pauses. “Oh dear. That isn’t your jacket, is it?”

 

Kimi looks him over. “You’re really pale. Was it bad? Did you have to… talk someone out of it?” she says hesitantly.

 

Izuku shakes his head. They all know how he gets whenever he has to talk someone into stepping away from the ledge, or putting down the razor. Those are the most emotionally draining. “No, I… someone was about to get stabbed in an alley. I kind of… drove the killer off.”

 

Kimi and Yashiro immediately stand up from their seats, while Inko rushes forward. She gently tugs the jacket off his frame and stares, horrified, at the already darkening bloodstains.

 

“None of this blood is mine!” Izuku quickly clarifies. “When the killer left, I helped him up until someone called an ambulance. Then I went to the police station to give a testimonial, and the officer gave me the jacket to wear so that the stains wouldn’t show. And,” he says, quieter. “He told me that the boy would survive.”

 

“Oh, honey,” Inko murmurs, before drawing him into an embrace. Izuku almost tells her not to, because he doesn’t want to stain her apron, but he know she wouldn’t listen. Slowly, Kimi and Yashiro approach, and it isn’t too long before they wrap their arms around the both of them as well.

 

They do this whenever Izuku comes from a particularly tense encounter. They do this when the fear and panic finally sets in, when he can’t act calm anymore and can’t repress them. Izuku lets the unshed tears finally fall, and he breathes shakily in and out, trying to match the measured breaths they’re taking around him.

 

Eventually, as he always does, Izuku calms down. They lean back to give him his space, before Yashiro leans right back in to muss Izuku’s hair something terrible. Izuku laughs, and so they finally laugh, and Inko directs him to his room to get changed before they eat dinner.

 

“Heck yes, I’ve missed Mrs. Midoriya’s katsudon,” Yashiro says eagerly, once Inko brings out the servings. Izuku sits between his friends, wearing a bright blue shirt (with the word blue written on it - both Yashiro and Kimi berate him for his awful fashion sense), feeling marginally calmer. He relates to Yashiro - no matter how many times he’s eaten his mother’s katsudon, he’s always looking forward to the next time she serves it again.

 

After dinner, Kimi and Yashiro excuse themselves quietly to call their parents and ask permission to sleep over. Izuku's learned not to protest over this - they refuse to leave him alone after he's gone through something like he did. It's a good thing it's a Friday, anyways.

 

Yashiro borrows some of Izuku's clothes and Inko lends Kimi an oversized shirt and some old flannel pajamas. Izuku pulls out two futons and spreads them out in his room, where his mother ushers all three of them in with light snacks and some water.

 

In no time at all, the food is eaten, the lights are turned out, and all three of them snuggle under their covers, silently looking at the glow-in-the-dark star stickers on Izuku's ceiling.

 

... It's futile.

 

Izuku can't sleep. He can't quite get the feeling of absolute terror out from his skin, nor can he banish the sight of the bloodied boy from his mind. In his heart of hearts, he's incredibly grateful he'd been able to step in, and that the boy would survive - that is reward enough. More pressing though is the unwavering terror he'd felt while facing that man, knowing that the stakes were all so much higher, and he was gambling with both their lives, not just his own.

 

“Can't sleep?” Yashiro mumbles out eventually. His voice doesn't sound sleepy.

 

“Nope,” Izuku admits. “We don't even have any homework for me to distract myself with.”

 

“What was he like?” Kimi asks.

 

“Who? The killer or the boy?”

 

“Hmmm,” Kimi hums thoughtfully. “Both.”

 

“The killer… he looked insane,” Izuku says. “His eyes were kind of dead-looking. He was grimy and dressed in all black… and you could just tell he was crazy. That either he was killing out of fun, or he had this messed-up reason for doing so.”

 

“Scary,” Kimi comments.

 

“Definitely,” Izuku agrees.

 

“And the boy?” Yashiro prompts.

 

“He had purple eyes,” Izuku remembers. “And he had bags under them even worse than ours.”

 

“Speak for yourself,” Kimi interjects haughtily, lightly stroking her perfect skin.

 

Izuku and Yashiro laugh quietly. They owe their relatively good skin to Kimi’s strict hygiene routine, which she's all but forced them to maintain. It's her own way of taking care of them, especially Izuku, who's prone to getting little to no sleep whenever he gets absorbed in studying.

 

“I couldn't see much else of him, because he had a hoodie on, and, well, I was focused on all the blood, but I remember his eyes very well. He was looking at me as they carried him into the ambulance,” Izuku recounts.

 

“How did he thank you?” Yashiro wonders. “Was he even conscious enough to thank you?”

 

Izuku snorts. “He called me a dumbass,” he says, almost fondly. “Didn't thank me at all.”

 

Kimi and Yashiro laugh. “He sounds like a real charmer,” Kimi says. “I wish we could meet him again.”

 

“Yeah, then he could join the Adopt-Izuku Club,” Yashiro pipes up. “He could be the missing third member - the mom friend, the voice of reason.”

 

“Who said anything about adopting me?” Izuku says incredulously, but his friends go on undeterred.

 

“I'm the voice of caution, and fun,” Yashiro says, counting on his fingers. “Kimi is the voice of, uh, general well-being, I guess? And if that guy's the voice of reason, then together we form the Izuku Protection Squad!”

 

There's a beat of silence.

 

“I can make badges,” Kimi offers cautiously.

 

“We'd have to find our missing third member though,” Yashiro muses. “I wonder what hospital they took him to.”

 

Izuku laughs, louder than before, clutching his sheets. On the floor, Yashiro and Kimi’s faces break into wide smiles at the sound of their friend's laughter.

 

“We should get to sleep,” Izuku says, once he stops giggling. He looks peacefully up at his starry ceiling, feeling the day's fatigue finally starting to set in. “Good night, you guys.” Thank you , goes unsaid.

 

“Good night,” the two of them answer in chorus. Their silent you're welcome lingers.

 

Izuku closes his eyes.

 

Blessedly, he doesn't dream.

 

-

 

After the incident, Izuku enrolls in a self-defense class.

 

He figures that the more life-threatening situations he gets into, the more life-threatening they’ll actually be. He doesn’t know what good his quirk will do him then, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

 

Besides, Izuku enjoys the classes. It’s easy to get lost in the motions when the instructor makes them to repeat them over and over until they’re second nature. The teacher, a buff woman they’re emphatically told to refer to as Shishou (her name is actually Shiori, which Izuku quite likes). Her Quirk is minor muscle augmentation - when she hits, it hurts .

 

Some time after, Yashiro enrolls with him. It becomes their thing , so to speak. After school on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and occasionally Saturdays when Yashiro isn’t too lazy to go, they head on over to Shishou’s dojo for training.

 

With or without Yashiro, Izuku religiously attends training seven days a week.

 

He’s become Shishou’s favorite student in a short span of time, probably because he attends everyday and he’s the only one who’s yet to voice any complaints in the midst of training. It’s a double-edged sword - on the one hand, he’s improving at a greater rate than he would’ve without her personal attention; on the other, he’s also become her favorite student to practice demonstrations on.

 

“And that’s how you do a chokehold!” Shishou cheerfully concludes, releasing Izuku just before he passes out. He drops to the floor, gasping and greedily inhaling air. The other students look impressed and marginally terrified. They hadn’t even been discussing chokeholds. Shishou had simply interrupted the class and told them to watch what she was about to demonstrate.

 

Yashiro quickly rushes over to pull Izuku up. “Uh, yes, that was, um, excellent, Shishou,” he hurriedly says, before pulling his friend safely out of the instructor’s reach.

 

Shishou beams. “Thank you, Yashiro-kun!” She turns to the rest of the students. “Alright class, that’s it for today! Those who’re enrolled in the quirk-enhancement program will stay behind. Dismissed!”

 

As one, the students bow deeply. More than half leave to go to the locker rooms to collect their things. Yashiro groans. “Aww, man.”

 

Izuku grins at him from where Yashiro has set him down on the floor. “Hey, you signed up for the program. I’m even offering you moral support. Show a little more enthusiasm.”

 

Yashiro glares at him. “I’d feel better if you were really here to give me moral support instead of sticking around to observe people’s quirks.”

 

Izuku’s grin grows wider.

 

After the regular self-defense class, the dojo also offers a quirk-enhancement class for those who wish to participate. It entails strengthening the base effects of their quirk and teaching them to find defensive (and occasionally offensive) ways to apply it. A lot of students hoping to enter the heroics department are enrolled in the just barely legal class. Shishou had had to build an extremely fortified gym behind the actual dojo and obtain several licenses before the class was approved.

 

Normally, students who aren’t enrolled aren’t allowed to stay behind once the quirk class was underway. Izuku, on the other hand, was a special case. For one thing, Shishou adored him. For another, he was instrumental in understanding the quirks of the students and often helped out with the technicalities.

 

“Izu-nii!” a high voice chirps as soon as Yashiro and Izuku enter the gym. A small blur slams into Izuku, who steps back lightly and chuckles. Soon, a chorus of “Izu-nii!” rises up, and more small children flock to him and threaten to send him tumbling over.

 

“Okay, okay,” Izuku laughs. The first child, a red-haired girl named Akari, beams toothily at him. She holds her hands up entreatingly and Izuku obliges, lifting her up to his face. “You guys are getting so strong!”

 

The children clamor for his attention, each of them attempting to show off their quirks in turn. Shishou has recently put Izuku in charge of the children group, which handles students younger than eight years old. Although he’s only been the assistant for two weeks, the children have latched onto him. Maybe it has something to do with his reassuring, quiet manner, and the way he compliments them so sincerely on their quirks and helps them to get better.

 

Yashiro laughs at the display. It seems that Izuku will never be able to escape throngs of grateful children. He pats Izuku on the shoulder and moves off to join the advanced classes. “See you in a bit, Izuku,” he says as he leaves.

 

“Yeah,” Izuku says, setting Akari down. She makes a noise of discontent, but settles for latching around his waist. “Alright you guys, let’s get started.”

 

Since most of these kids are already enrolled in some type of martial art or the other, Izuku leads them easily through a round of stretching. Next, he sets them to their individualized quirk-strengthening activity.

 

“Akari, how long can you keep your hair lit now?” Izuku asks.

 

The girl closes her fists tightly and grits her teeth. Her hair starts to rise up, and slowly turns into bright red flame. Her quirk, Candlelight, allows her to turn her hair into flame and control it. The flame grows stronger the longer her hair is; at the moment, it’s waist-length and about as hot as a campfire.

 

“One… minute,” Akari says, not without some effort.

 

“That’s amazing,” Izuku says, brows knitting in concentration. When she started, Akari could only hold her flame for bouts of ten and twenty seconds before her hair went back to normal. “Why don’t we try seeing if you can regulate the temperature? Maybe if you make the flame less hot, you could keep it up longer.”

 

Akari nods in understanding, but she lets out a shaky breath as the fire is extinguished and her hair returns to normal. “Okay, I’ll try again.”

 

“Good.” He moves on to the next kid, a boy named Yuuto. “How far can you reach your arms now, Yuuto?”

 

“Mom measured me yesterday and I could stretch my arms out about five meters now!” Yuuto says proudly. “Watch!”

 

Scrunching his face in concentration, Yuuto extends his arms forward, palms facing outward. He takes a deep breath, and suddenly his arms stretch, shooting out. They stop abruptly about at quite a distance away, which Izuku supposes is five meters.

 

“See!” Yuuto says, shaking with exertion, but he's smiling brightly at Izuku. He holds the length for a few seconds, before sagging and drawing his arms into about three meters. “But it’s hard for me to keep it up.”

 

“Okay,” Izuku says. He brings Yuuto over to the part of the gym specifically dedicated to long jump. “Today we’ll work on increasing your top range. That should make it easier for you to maintain five if you’re able to reach longer.” He points at the markers on the ground. “Keep shooting your arms out to maximum and then quickly draw them back in. Take a small pause and then do it again. Today, I want you to get past five meters, even if you can’t maintain it yet. Sound good?”

 

Yuuto nods determinedly. “Okay, Izu-nii!”

 

“Good man,” Izuku says, and leaves him to it.

 

The rest of the session goes much like this. Once the kids are absorbed in each of their activities, Izuku feels confident enough to leave them for a short while to go over to the advanced classes. Unfortunately, he forgot to bring his notebook with him today, so he watches extra attentively in order to commit the students movements to memory for later documentation.

 

Yashiro isn’t in the main gym, but in a special room meant for students with elemental-based quirks. He’s come a long way from when he was a child - back then, he struggled with manipulating even a pitcher’s worth of water. But just last week, he excitedly called Izuku over to the river in the woods and demonstrated his strengthened quirk - he turned a good chunk of the river, a section easily 15 meters long and about a meter deep, first into ice, then into water vapor, before returning it into water. Back then, Yashiro couldn’t shift ice directly into water vapor and vice versa - he had to turn it into liquid before changing it. Now, he could turn it into whatever phase he wishes, and much faster too.

 

Izuku is more than a little proud.

 

Eventually, the class ends and the students bow deeply, as is customary in the dojo, as soon as they are dismissed. As always, Izuku is given his usual swarm of hugs from the little kids before they rush off to go home. He allows their affection and watches fondly as they walk away, talking excitedly about their exercises.

 

Shishou thanks him and pats him painfully on the back. “Thanks again for helping out, Izuku! Those kids enjoy your classes so much - maybe you should work here once you graduate!” She lets out a booming laugh, which hits him almost as much as her pats had.

 

Izuku laughs politely and bows instead of answering her suggestion. It’s a viable option, but still only an option. It’s the best option so far, to be sure, but…

 

Well. He’ll think about it.

 

Izuku stands contentedly outside of the dojo after Shishou has left and reminded him to lock up, waiting for Yashiro. Knowing his friend, he’ll be hungry and insist on stopping by the okonomiyaki shop on the way home.

 

Izuku watches idly as the twilight set in. Quirk enhancement, huh?

 

He wonders morbidly what it might be like if his quirk got stronger.

 

He decides he doesn't want to know.

 

-

 

“I don't know really yet,” Izuku answers blandly.

 

Their counselor, Mrs. Honda, looks at him with a mixture of fondness and exasperation. “Midoriya-kun, with your grades, I'm confident that you could get into any high school in Japan.” She gestures to his academic records, an impressive string of unbroken first rankings. “Haven't you given it any thought at all?”

 

Truthfully, Izuku has been thinking a lot about it. Objectively, he knows he doesn't have too much passion to back up his impressive intelligence. However, he thinks that would allow him to enter any school and excel, regardless of whether he enjoyed it there or not.

 

He just hasn't decided exactly where he'd like to go, and what he'd like to do.

 

“I've thought a bit about it,” he says apologetically. “And my mother asks me a lot about it as well. If nothing else, I'll send off applications to the usual top schools - and I'll decide what to do from there.”

 

“Don't you have anything you're passionate about?” Mrs. Honda asks. “Many high schools are offering specialized courses now.”

 

Izuku shakes his head. “Not really. Sorry.”

 

“What about teaching, or becoming an instructor? My niece quite enjoys your classes - you have a real knack for it,” Mrs. Honda suggests.

 

“It’s something I do in my free time, and only to help out Shishou - um, Miss Shiori. I don’t really know if I want to pursue it as a career,” Izuku says. It’s true. He enjoys teaching the kids and getting to see all the different quirks of the other students, but - he still doesn’t quite know.

 

Mrs. Honda sighs and leans back. “Well, you're still in second year. I suppose you still have time. However, you really should start thinking seriously about this - your friends have already submitted concrete plans for high school.”

 

Izuku knows this. Kimi is applying to a prestigious all-girl high school, while Yashiro plans to apply to the general course in UA. His older brother is a second year there, and he's confident that Yashiro could easily pass and excel there.

 

“I hope you're not limiting yourself on purpose, Midoriya-kun,” Mrs. Honda says. “You of all people should know that being quirkless is not something that should hold people back.”

 

Izuku internally does the equivalent of rolling his eyes and groaning. Outwardly, he simply nods. “I know that,” he says. “It's just that there's so many things I could apply myself to that it's difficult for me to choose.”

 

“So you say,” Mrs. Honda sighs. “You just haven't found one that really excites or motivates you.”

 

Izuku does not deny this and instead nods politely.

 

“Well, when I see you here the next term, you had better have a satisfactory answer for me,” Mrs. Honda chides him. “I won't accept I don't know by then, do you hear me?”

 

“I understand, Mrs. Honda,” Izuku says, and he bows respectfully before leaving her office. Outside, Kimi and Yashiro are waiting.

 

“How'd it go?” Yashiro asks at the same time that Kimi asks “What nonsense did you feed her this time?”

 

Izuku laughs. “I didn't feed her nonsense, just the truth. I don't know where I want to study yet, nor what I want to do.”

 

“Just enroll with me at UA,” Yashiro suggests pleadingly, as they walk back to their classroom. “That way, I won't be too out of place.”

 

“I hardly think you'd be out of place in the general course,” Izuku says. “Besides, that means Kimi's going to be the only one not joining us.”

 

Kimi snorts. “As if I need you two to do well in high school. It’s pretty much the other way around. Besides, do you think I couldn't make it into UA if I really wanted to?”

 

“Not the hero course, though, Stoplight,” Izuku mutters. Yashiro hears and snickers. Kimi hears and pinches the both of them in their sides, making them yelp. Kimi's pinches have the unfortunate tendency to tickle and hurt.

 

Back in the classroom, only a few of their classmates linger. Most have already gone home after the consultation with Mrs. Honda. Izuku and the others collect their things, bidding their classmates goodbye for the day.

 

As they leave the campus, Yashiro says, “I gotta stop by the convenience store to get some stuff for my brother. You guys coming?”

 

“I'll go,” Izuku says. “I feel like getting ice cream, anyways.”

 

Kimi agrees to go as well. “Only if you don’t prompt anything weird,” she says. They laugh. It isn’t like he can control it, anyway.

 

At the convenience store, they part ways as soon as they enter. Yashiro rushes off to collect his needed items, while Kimi wanders away to look at magazines. Izuku meanders over to the freezer, hoping that they had the vanilla special he’d enjoyed at this outlet before.

 

On the way, he bumps into someone. Their basket clatters to the ground, but thankfully nothing spills. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Izuku says quickly, bending down to pick up the basket before the person could do it themselves.

 

“Here you go,” he says, straightening up to hand it over. He startles slightly at the sight of the person.

 

“Thank you, young man.” The person is tall, with a shock of spiky blonde hair. He’s tall, thin and gaunt-looking, almost emaciated , and his eyes are filmy blue irises set in sunken sockets. Even so, there’s an undeniable air of kindness around him, softening the impact of his appearance and even making him pleasant to watch. He takes the basket, then dissolves into a coughing fit.

 

Izuku is alarmed. “Are you okay, sir?” he asks, concern spiking when he sees blood on the fist the man uses to cover his mouth. “Hang on, I’ve got tissues in my bag, please use them.”

 

“You’re very kind,” the man manages to get out in the midst of coughing, and gratefully takes the offered tissues. Izuku watches him carefully, anticipating another bout of coughing.

 

“I’m fine, young man,” the man insists, seeing the worry in Izuku’s eyes. “It’s nothing that I haven’t gotten used to. Thank you for your assistance, though.”

 

“It’s nothing - ” Izuku begins, but immediately stops when the tell-tale twist in his gut suddenly lurches, cutting him off. His first thought is: Now? ; his second is: Kimi told me not to get in trouble ; his third, and last before he starts running off, is: It’s close.

 

The man seems startled at the sudden way that Izuku runs off, walking cautiously after him to see what has gotten the attention of this young boy. Izuku hopes and prays that Kimi and Yashiro are somewhere near the back of the store, and that this encounter wouldn’t be anything too dangerous.

 

Izuku approaches the counter of the store. A young woman stands at the cashier, idly scrolling through the screen of her phone. Izuku looks around hurriedly, trying to spot where the danger might come from; a fire? A faulty wire?

 

“What’s wrong, young man?” The gaunt man approaches him slowly, then turns his head to follow Izuku’s swiveling head. Izuku himself finally sees it - a young man in a black hoodie, his hands in his pockets. Izuku watches discreetly as he idly approaches the cashier, and then he sees it - in his hand is a knife.

 

Izuku moves faster than the blonde man can begin to speak.

 

The cashier barely has time to look up before Izuku pins the boy to the counter, and then deftly twists his hand to make him drop the knife. “ Call the police ,” Izuku says quickly, putting weight carefully on the boy as he begins to struggle. He implores the cashier with his eyes to do it fast - there’s not telling what this would-be attacker’s quirk is.

 

The cashier quickly comes to her senses and presses a button behind the counter. “It alerts the police,” she says, then moves cautiously away from Izuku and the boy.

 

Izuku does not let his guard down, watching carefully for any tell-tale signs of the boy’s quirk emerging. Behind him, he hears two familiar footsteps rushing over.

 

“Izuku!” Kimi calls, as Yashiro shouts, “Are you okay?”

 

“Yashiro!” Izuku quickly interrupts. “Can you make some ice to hold this guy down?”

 

“On it!” Yashiro quickly gathers some of the humid air and turns them into solid shackles of ice around the man’s hands and ankles. The air becomes a little lighter. Thick and sturdy, they do not break as the man continues to struggle. “Thanks,” Izuku says,” but he doesn’t let off the man.

 

He hears something clatter and the sound of Kimi yelling, “Izuku! Watch out!” and he immediately moves back as the knife on the floor flies sharply back into the hand of the man, narrowly avoiding slashing his leg. Izuku watches cautiously to see if the man tries to pull anything else to him, but it seems he can’t maneuver his arms and hands enough to try. Izuku uses his arm to knock the knife out of his hand once again, hitting the blunt edge, then resumes his position holding the man down.

 

“Yashiro, try and cover the knife to keep it from going back to him,” Izuku instructs. “I don’t know if his quirk lets him summon small objects, or just knives, or even control them completely. We’re better off keeping out of his reach until the police arrive.”

 

The man under him grunts angrily, muttering incomprehensibly. Yashiro deftly takes a shopping basket and covers the knife with it, putting his foot on top of it to keep it from moving. The man’s hands twist as much as they can with the ice keeping his wrists in place, but he does nothing more until the police arrive to take him away.

 

Izuku leans away from the man and watches the two officers who come inside take him away. Yashiro offers to evaporate the ice around the man’s limbs, but the officer holding the man stops them. “You did good. I think we can handle taking the ice off once he’s detained.”

 

Yashiro smiles shyly. “Oh, I only made the ice. Izuku’s the one who held him down and kept him from doing anything.”

 

“Izuku?” one of the officer repeats, and he looks around and sees the boy in question. His eyes widen in recognition. “Oh, I know you! You’re that kid who stopped that stabbing incident two months ago!” He beams. “What’s with you and rescuing people, huh?”

 

Izuku laughs sheepishly. If only you knew . “I guess I just happen to be in the right place at the right time. I’m glad I could help again.”

 

“Hey, thanks for stepping in, kid,” says the officer brightly. “Don’t get into a habit of getting into trouble though, you hear?”

 

“Loud and clear,” Izuku affirms, wincing. He watches as the police lead the man away and finally lets out a sigh of relief.

 

Kimi and Yashiro draw near, disapproval on the former’s face. “Really? Your first instinct was to pin that man to the counter?” she sighs, placing her hands on her hips.

 

Yashiro, meanwhile, is beaming. “That was awesome , Izuku!” he exclaims. “That guy didn’t know what hit him! You just went bam! ” - he punches the air - “and then boom! Pinned! Shishou’s going to be so excited when she hears this!”

 

Kimi side-eyes him long enough for Yashiro to notice and contain himself. “But, uh, yeah. What she said. Um. Dangerous.”

 

Izuku chuckles, then feels a light hand rest on his shoulder. It’s the thin man. There’s something intense in the way his blue eyes survey him, even as his whole aura is completely waylaid by the domestic way he carries a basketful of groceries. The sheer intensity is… oddly familiar.

 

“That was… incredibly heroic, young man,” he says seriously. “No… Izuku, was it?”

 

“Ah, yes,” Izuku says, too off-balance to try and refute the H-word. “Um, yes, I’m Midoriya Izuku.”

 

“I’m… well, you can call me Yagi. Yagi Toshinori,” says the man. He withdraws his hand. “That was an amazing thing you just did, young Midoriya. Reckless, but brave. You’re lucky you came out unscathed. What made you do it?”

 

“I… I saw the situation,” Izuku begins, unused to explaining his actions. Normally, people let him go with thanks he doesn’t want and nothing more. “And understood that I had the capacity to help. So I did. That’s all, really. I’m lucky he didn’t try anything more with the knife.”

 

Yagi regards him seriously. “Are you planning on becoming a Pro Hero, young Midoriya?” he finally asks, with no preamble whatsoever.

 

Behind Izuku, Kimi and Yashiro flinch at the question. Toshinori notices them and meets their eyes, but they hastily look away.

 

Izuku is momentarily silent, but then he looks up and smiles. “No, sir. I don’t want to go into heroics,” he says.

 

“Please, call me Yagi. And why not?” the man asks curiously.

 

Normally, Izuku would brush off these encounters either by acting dismissive or saying he doesn’t want to talk about it. But there’s something about Yagi and the way he asks that question that makes Izuku feel the need to explain himself, to justify himself.

 

“Izuku - ” Kimi interjects, clearly ready to intervene, but Izuku answers. “Because I’m quirkless , Yagi-san. And I don’t think you can become a full-fledged Pro Hero without a useful quirk. It’s reckless and irresponsible.”

 

Yagi regards him silently, peering down at him with serious blue eyes. Izuku meets his gaze resolutely and silently communicates that no, he doesn’t want to be hero .

 

“Yes,” Yagi says, his expression unreadable. “I suppose so.”

 

-

 

Contrary to what Izuku believed (and hoped for, actually), that was not the last time he would encounter Toshinori Yagi. In fact, now that he has met the man, he runs into him far more often that he would’ve thought.

 

They have the typical run-ins at convenience stores, bookstores, and other public places. Most often than not, Izuku pretends he doesn’t see the man and only greets him if they happen to interact directly.

 

However, they meet most often when they’re both jogging in the morning, and Izuku can’t really find a polite way to shake the man off then.

 

It’s not that he doesn’t like the man named Toshinori Yagi. No, the man himself is kind, patient, not to mention an absolute beast at running despite his obvious condition. He even indulges Izuku’s rambling on quirks and quirk theory, often coming up with his own contributions when the conversation turns to the quirks of heroes. Over their accumulating time together, Izuku learns to get accustomed to Yagi’s occasional coughing fits and starts to carry a pack of tissues and wipes with him at all times in case he encounters the man. In turn, Yagi is no longer fazed when Izuku drops their current conversation at the slightest excuse to segue into quirk talk.

 

In short, he likes Yagi’s company. Quite a lot, actually.

 

The only problem is that the more time Yagi spends with Izuku, the more exposed he is to the effects of Izuku’s quirk.

 

Izuku’s quirk seems to have graduated from easy cat rescues (although he still gets some from time to time; Essi, a kitten from Emi’s litter and the spitting image of her has taken over her mother’s job as Cat Climber Number One). Instead, it pushes him more and more into crucial situations, often necessitating his intervention between a fight, a robbery, or a theft. Thankfully, there hasn’t been a homicide attempt since… that one time, but Izuku wouldn’t put it past his quirk to get him into one soon.

 

While his more serious quirk incidents aren’t too frequent, they seem to jump into overdrive whenever Yagi is around. The first time they had jogged together, Yagi barely had any time to try and keep up before Izuku was suddenly sprinting ahead, just barely making it in time to pull an elderly woman out of the path of a speeding motorcycle.

 

(Privately, Izuku feels that his quirk is running out of imagination. Speeding car, speeding truck, speeding motorcycle? What was next? A train ?)

 

(Izuku takes it back. He’d rather not tempt fate.)

 

Each time, Yagi observes as he intervenes and inevitably attempts to comfort or console the victims involved long enough for them to calm down. The police officers who come and apprehend the criminals he stops tip their hat off to him in gratitude, laughing in amazement every time they see that once again, Izuku’s saved the day.

 

...It’s really not helping his whole I’m-Not-A-Hero case.

 

Yagi doesn’t really say anything per se, because Izuku’s made it clear from the get-go that he’s not interested in becoming a Pro Hero. During one of their longer runs, Izuku even went so far as to explain the general disdain he has for the hero industry, apart from his supposedly not having a quirk. Yagi takes it all in with no discernible reaction, but he did seem rather conflicted when Izuku had told him this. Nevertheless, he respects Izuku’s opinion on this.

 

Izuku doesn’t really know what to tell him, though. Sure, Yagi never said anything about that first incident at the convenience store. But for any normal person unknowing of Izuku’s… situation , it was really, really fucking weird.

 

Today, Yagi seems to be just barely holding his tongue as Izuku stops a robbery. They just so happened to be standing outside the bakery as the incident was having, and Izuku had taken one look inside the windows before apologetically saying, “Just a minute, Yagi-san,” and practically rushing in.

 

Once the crook is apprehended, Izuku exits the establishment to find Yagi waiting coolly outside, the same uncomfortable intensity in his eyes. “Yagi-san? I’m, uh, sorry for rushing in without warning like that,” Izuku says uncertainly, unsure of what the emotions running through Yagi’s eyes mean.

 

Yagi doesn’t reply immediately, only stares at him for an uncomfortable amount of time. Eventually, he smiles kindly and says, “Not to worry, young Midoriya. Shall we continue our run?”

 

Their conversations settles easily into the topic of quirks, and naturally gravitates towards heroes. “I hear there’s been a spike in All Might sightings around this area,” Izuku says, huffing. “Do you know anything about that?”

 

“Hm, really?” Yagi muses. When he runs, his coughing fits decrease in frequency and intensity. He seems almost healthy as his legs pound the pavement. “I suppose he’s gotten more active in this area. I don’t see why he needs to, though,” he smiles at Izuku. “Considering you’re around.”

 

Izuku flushes with color and turns away, trying his best not to let his mouth sink into a pout. “Don’t say unnecessary things, Yagi-san,” he says, embarrassed.

 

“Or perhaps he’s around in preparation for the upcoming Hero Expo,” Yagi suggests.

 

“Ah, that one!” Izuku says. A Hero Expo is being organized in the next city over. Top heroes from all over Japan would be coming to attend, and many would be participating in a series of panels and seminars for their fans as well as aspiring young heroes. There would be a ton of hero memorabilia to be displayed as well, making the expo a must-see for every hero fan.

 

Or, in Izuku’s case, quirk super-fan.

 

“Are you going, Yagi-san? It’s after the end of the term, so I’m definitely going!” Izuku says. “I hope they have quirk demonstrations! It’ll be a good chance to observe them without the dangers of being close to fight.”

 

“Yes, I’ll be attending,” Yagi says idly. “Perhaps we can even go together. I’m old friends with some of the Pro Heroes, so I could probably introduce you, if you’d like.”

 

“Really?” Izuku gasps, slowing to a stop. Yagi pauses beside him as well. “You would do that?”

 

“Of course,” Yagi says. “Someone like you definitely deserves to be up there with the heroes.”

 

-

 

Time passes quickly.

 

Izuku gets into even more shenanigans, with or without Yagi. He gets through.

 

Term ends.

 

And now...

 

Izuku, one hour before the expo, is rushing towards Kimi’s house with a battery-powered blowdryer, cursing his bad luck for even owning one.

 

To be fair, Kimi has a legitimate reason for needing it - she’s about to have her first audition at a modelling agency, and against all odds, her own blowdryer had broken down just the night before. There had been no time to procure a new one, and Kimi knew that that Inko owns one and so - well, here he is.

 

Why me? Izuku thinks. Is this still even part of my quirk? Am I rescuing Kimi from a bad hair day?

 

Izuku stops momentarily just a block away from Kimi’s house. Logically he knows he has to hurry, but he’d messed up his stretching routine this morning and now his legs were killing him , what the hell. He bends over to catch his breath, the evil contraption still in his hand.

 

That’s when he feels it. His quirk, going into overdrive.

 

And there’s no time to react before something thick and heavy swallows him whole and blocks out the entire world.

 

-

 

Young Midoriya is running a little late , Yagi thinks. The expo starts in about an hour, and he’d told the boy to come early in order to enter the expo discreetly with him.

 

He’s still in his lanky form, but he’s wearing his costume. He’s wearing his costume as All Might, Symbol of Peace, a.k.a. The Most Exhausted Being in the Universe.

 

He should probably also add Desperately-Looking-For-A-Successor to his titles.

 

Today is the day he plans to tell Izuku the truth. The truth about who he is, the truth about his power, and the fact that he too, like young Midoriya himself, had once been quirkless. That there is a way for him to be a hero, to become the hero he is born to be and the hero Japan - no, the world needs.

 

... He doesn’t exactly know how to overcome Izuku’s apparent dislike of the hero industry itself, but let it not be said that All Might doesn’t know how to improvise on the spot.

 

The truth is, Yagi sees so much of himself in the kid - no, he sees himself and more . The kid is everything he had been and better . There’s so much raw potential in him, an almost endless potential to shape the world and make it a better place, if only he’s given the way to do so.

 

Yagi knows he has a way.

 

And he knows it might be his duty to give it to Izuku, to allow him to rise up for himself.

 

… He only hopes he can be persuasive enough.

 

-

 

All of Izuku’s senses are smothered by the dark, viscous liquid trying to force itself into him. Luckily, he’d had the foresight to immediately clamp his mouth shut, but now it’s trying to work its way into his nostrils.

 

“Open up…” it hisses menacingly. Izuku closes his eyes tightly, heart hammering and lungs aching as he tries to find a way out. “It’ll only hurt a bit if you make this easy.”

 

So this wasn’t some random goopy encounter. This was someone with a quirk. Most likely a quirk that affected their whole body and kept them in this state most of the time. If they were trying to enter Izuku’s body… maybe they were trying to take over .

 

“My old body got destroyed,” the goo whispers, confirming his theory. “You’ll give me yours, won’t you?”

 

Izuku shakes his head, even knowing that it’s futile. He struggles and struggles but the slime wraps tighter around him, threatening to crush the life out of him. This is bad. At this rate, he’ll eventually be forced to open his mouth or inhale deeply, and that’ll be the end.

 

Belatedly, he curses his quirk. You fucked up , he tells it, speaking to some non-distinct personification of the force that’s brought him to this. I can’t handle this. You fucked up.

 

Slowly, arduously, Izuku tries to move his limbs. His legs are basically stuck, and his arms only move a little, the right one even less because of the blowdryer still in his hand -

 

Fuck . Izuku’s heart leaps.

 

Fuck, I’m so dumb .

 

Slowly, with a shaking finger, he presses the button that turns it up all the way to 100%.

 

“GRAHHHHH!” The slime screams and recoils, enough that Izuku’s face and arm is freed. Izuku immediately gasps in a lungful of air, then shuts his mouth in case the villain gets any ideas. With his now mobile right arm, he swings the blowdryer at the villain, trying to cover as much of them as possible.

 

The villain screams and writhes, and they pull further away from Izuku. He spots two eyeballs floating around in the slime (and isn’t that a pretty sight) and aims for them, and that is the final prompting the slime monster needs before slinking away and pouring into the nearest drainage.

 

Izuku collapses to his knees, chest heaving. He takes several moments to simply recover, willing himself to come down from the adrenaline of almost dying, what the hell, it was only 9:30 in the morning .

 

In the midst of his shuddering breaths, he registers the time. Nine-thirty.

 

“Fuck!” Izuku shouts out loud, getting shakily onto his feet. Kimi. No, the expo. No, Kimi’s audition. No, Yagi was waiting for him . With heroes .

 

Izuku sprints the rest of the way to Kimi’s house, preparing a lecture on maintaining electronics and a short five-sentence version of his most recent near-death experience, in which said electronic just basically saved his life.

 

-

 

Katsuki walks into the expo, eyes narrowed practically into slits. None of the usual losers who followed him around at school are with him today, mostly because he’d threatened to explode them into the next century if they so much as tried to ruin his image while he was at the expo.

 

…’Course, the expo was full of fucking nerds anyway. Shitty hero-wannabes and stupid geeks who spent their time fawning over heroes and their quirks.

 

He figures he’d get used to it early on, considering he’d be the one they’d be fawning over in the near future if he has any say about it.

 

“Mom, look!” A small child rushes past him, almost bumping into him. He considers picking on her but wisely decides not to, as her mother passes by shortly thereafter. The girl has long red hair and immediately rushes towards the statue of Torchwick, the Incense Hero.

 

“It’s Torchwick! She’s so cool!” she gushes.

 

“You really like Torchwick, huh, Akari?” her mom says brightly, picking her daughter up. Katsuki scoffs. Torchwick’s fucking weak . Plus she was, what, one of a bajillion fucking fire-themed heroes? Boring. He makes to walk off when the girl’s next words stop him dead in his tracks.

 

“Izuku-nii says if I keep practicing, I’ll be as cool as her! Maybe cooler!” she exclaims. Her mother laughs encouragingly at her words, but they couldn’t be less funny to Katsuki.

 

Shit.

 

...There were tons of Izukus in Japan, weren’t there?

 

Thoughts of the damn nerd pop unbidden into his mind. There’s only one Izuku he knows, anyway. Fuck, he hasn’t seen him in, what? Two years? He’d moved to a dormitory closer to his shitty school, and while it was less than ideal, he’d soldiered through it. He wondered, a little apprehensively, if the nerd would be here today.

 

Of course he would , Katsuki thinks. Little shit hates heroes but shove a quirk in front of him and he’ll come drooling like a dog .

 

Oh well. He could always tell him to piss off if they ever encountered each other. Besides, in this big-ass expo, what were the chances they’d even pass each other?

 

-

 

Young Midoriya is really late. There are only five minutes left before the start of the expo, and once it starts, Yagi won’t be able to talk to him before assuming his hero form.

 

And assuming that he uses up all his time today, won’t be able to prove his declarations.

 

This is bad. Surely Izuku hasn’t gotten into another encounter today, has he?

 

Of course he has. This is Izuku he’s talking about. Yagi has never met a person so prone to getting into incredible situations since… well, himself. But there’s something in the purely selfless way that Izuku moves, the way he seems to brush off thanks as if it embarrasses him, and the way he always treats it as nothing, as if anyone could do what he does.

 

The world needs someone like him. For them, Yagi must convince Izuku to accept his destiny.

 

He’s just thinking on possible ways he can convince Izuku (possibly a lengthy Powerpoint, if he could get someone to make it for him) when he hears commotion and screaming outside of the expo venue.

 

Like instinct, he expands into his hero form and rushes out.

 

Civilians everywhere are running screaming from the scene, while various Pro Heroes surround it, seemingly frozen. All Might follows their gaze and finds a horrific scene.

 

A boy, probably in middle school, is bent over in mid-air, suspended and surrounded by a dark, viscous goo. From what he can see, it’s trying to force its way into the boy’s body, trying to enter through his mouth, nostrils, and even ears.

 

The boy is struggling, but not for much longer. The slime has enveloped his whole body, and if he doesn’t die from whatever the villain is doing to him, then the suffocation will do it.

 

“It's alright now!” the words fall from All Might’s lips even as he crouches down in preparation to leap into action. Around him, the Pro Heroes stand frozen, unable or unwilling to assist.

 

All Might lurches forward but

 

Before he finishes his sentence

 

Before he reaches the boy

 

Before the boy cries out

 

Izuku

 

Is there.

Chapter Text

No, no, no, no, no, Izuku chants frantically in his brain, even as his feet carry him faster than he would’ve thought possible to the location his gut is pointing to. He passes by civilians running in the other direction, and what he wouldn’t have given in that moment to simply be one of them.

 

It’s not this, it’s not this , Izuku pleads. Please don’t be taking me to a villain attack. Let this be a theft. A petty robbery. I’ll save fifty kids from speeding trucks if I have to .

 

But his quirk takes him unceasingly to the center of the action, the very scene that everybody is running from. He slows down to a stop just outside the sparse ring of Pro Heroes surrounding the scene.

 

“Excuse me!” he shouts, shoving his way in between two heroes, just barely missing hitting the spikes jutting out of their costumes. He ignores shouts of “Hey, kid, it’s dangerous!” and “Is that a kid? A civilian?” as his jaw drops in horror at the sight he sees.

 

It’s the slime monster again, only this time - this time it’s got someone else.

 

Izuku makes eye contact with the person trapped within its confines and his blood freezes and boils over all at the same time.

 

If it had been anybody else at any other time, if it had just been anything else, he could have swallowed his pride and instead turned to one of the heroes to ask them to help.

 

If it hadn’t been Kacchan -

 

If he hadn’t looked into Izuku’s eyes -

 

If he hadn’t seemed so terrified -

 

Then maybe Izuku wouldn’t be where he is now, shoes pounding on gravel as he ignores the calls of the heroes and runs for all he’s worth towards his childhood friend.

 

Kacchan! ” he screams. The slime monster’s eyes reconvene together in front of him, and it seems to recoil slightly at the sight of him.

 

“You,” it hisses, barely heard over all the noise around them, but Izuku’s close enough now to hear everything . He doesn’t even have the blowdryer now - he’s practically helpless.

 

Kacchan, on the other hand...

 

“Kacchan!” Izuku yells. Even after two years of radio silence, the name sits easy and familiar on his tongue. “Kacchan, can you hear me?”

 

A sort of muffled screaming emerges from within the slime, so Izuku grits his teeth and claws away at the goo enveloping Kacchan’s face. The slime monster hisses, trying to creep up Izuku’s wrists and arms, but Izuku shakes it off even as he slowly uncovers Kacchan’s face.

 

“Kacchan! Kacchan, you have to use your quirk!” Izuku instructs. He’s freed the other boy’s eyes and nostrils, and he’s looking up at him with the same hunted, wide-eyed look in his eyes. He’s terrified. He can’t think straight. “Kacchan, it’s weak to heat! If you explode it, you can run it off!”

 

Kacchan’s face contorts with pain and effort, and beneath him, under all the struggling, Izuku feels the tell-tale heat indicating that he’s using his quirk. The slime villain shudders and groans, but it does not let up on Kacchan, even beginning to coat Izuku’s arms with itself. Izuku doesn’t know if it can take over both of them, but he’s firmly decided on not wanting to find out .

 

Instead, Izuku yanks his arms out of the slime as hard as he can and begins to rip at the goo covering Kacchan’s hands. He winces when he starts to feel the explosions stinging his hand the more slime he pulls away. Kacchan sees this and momentarily stops using his quirk, but Izuku turns fiercely to meet his eyes. “No! Keep going, Kacchan! I’m fine! If you don’t use your quirk then we’re both going to die - ”

 

He’s cut off as the slime sneaks up to cover his face, pushing itself into his vulnerable mouth. Through watering eyes, he sees Kacchan’s own eyes widen.

 

As the slime enters deeper and deeper, filling his nostrils and throat with itself, Izuku yanks at the slime on Kacchan’s hands one more time and blindly reaches out, grasping Kacchan’s hands in his own as his vision darkens.

 

If this is the end, he thinks it's somehow fitting that he'll die because of his quirk, the quirk with which he “saved” so many and yet ultimately couldn't save him.

 

In fact...

 

Maybe he'll see Grandpa again.

 

As he feels his consciousness drifting away, his last coherent thought is, I hope nobody says that I died a hero.

 

And that's when he feels the explosions .

 

Kacchan uses not only his hands but his feet as well and literally blows the slime monster into pieces. The slime in Izuku’s airways are expelled almost immediately, giving him free reign to scream his lungs out at the stinging burns suddenly covering his palms.

 

He lets go of Kacchan, but this unfortunately causes him to fall to the ground, now lacking the support of the slime villain to hold him up. He falls on his back, knocking the air out of him, tears falling freely from his eyes as his hands scream with excruciating pain each time he tries to move them.

 

Vaguely, he hears Kacchan yelling bloody murder and the sound of more explosions. He closes his eyes and sees lights dancing around behind his eyelids. His palms are burning .

 

He’s tired.

 

So, so tired.

 

He barely moves when the area is racked by a deafening boom .

 

The entire area falls silent. Well, almost. Izuku registers the sound of Kacchan still cursing, weaker, but definitely going strong. Blearily, he struggles to open his eyes and gingerly leans up, supporting himself with his elbows and nearly falling when he accidently clenches his hands in the movement.

 

He sees Kacchan, hunched over, but standing. He’s panting, breathing heavily through his mouth, and he’s barely keeping himself from toppling over. Around him, bits of the slime villain are spread out, vaguely alive but too torn apart to reform. He couldn't possibly have done that himself - could he?

 

A large hand slowly braces Izuku’s back and gently pushes him into an upright sitting position. He turns around and looks up to see who it is.

 

He does not expect to see the Number One Hero, All Might.

 

Let alone All Might with a sorrowful expression on his face.

 

Oh.

 

That's who blew the monster apart.

 

“A-All Might,” Izuku croaks. His throat is dry and painful from the slime, not to mention all the screaming he’s done today. “What - I - ”

 

“Shh,” All Might says gently. His rough face is hooded in shadow, and the sadness evident on it does not suit him at all. Izuku feels like crying, looking at the hero’s face like that. “It’s alright now, young… young man. You’re safe.”

 

“K- ” Izuku tries to get out, before coughing violently onto the side. All Might supports him through it. When he recovers turns his face forward, searching. “K-Kacchan. He - is he okay?”

 

All Might follows his gaze. Kacchan has regained his stance and is now looking around. The part of the sleeves near his wrists have been burned off. So have the soles of his shoes. His eyes finally land on Izuku and All Might, and at first his expression battles between shock and disbelief. Eventually he snaps out of it and limps towards the two of them, impeded slightly by his bare feet.

 

“All Might…” he rasps, looking like he can’t quite believe it. Then he looks at Izuku, and his eyes naturally fall on the hands he’s trying very hard not to move. “Shit. Deku. Your hands. You were fucking holding on, and I - ”

 

Izuku shakes his head, cutting him off. “No. I - I told you to do it, Kacchan. We both would’ve died if you didn’t use your quirk.”

 

Strange how, even after two years of separation, they’re still inevitably Kacchan and Deku . Izuku looks at him and thinks not much has changed - in the way he talks, walks, and carries himself. In the way he fights. Even the way he calls him Deku lacks any added aggression.

 

“But I - ” He’s cut off once again, this time by the sound of sirens wailing in the background. The sounds of police cars and ambulances intermingle in the distance. Kacchan and All Might turn to see the various vehicles approaching them.

 

Someone else draws up to them. Izuku looks around as a huge shadow falls over him, and he recognizes the large figure of Bolder, the Mountain Hero. He looks sheepish, almost shamed. “The police and paramedics are coming,” he informs them, as if they hadn’t heard the sirens.

 

“As they should,” All Might says, “seeing as two civilian children have just been injured.”

 

Bolder winces. He steps aside as All Might rises slowly and lifts Izuku gingerly into his arms, cradling him tenderly like he’s something precious. “Can you walk?” he asks Katsuki. He nods curtly, eyes still focused on the boy in the hero’s arms.

 

All Might starts walking towards the waiting ambulance. Izuku feels himself being lulled into calmness by the steady strides he’s taking. His hands still hurt something awful, but he knows they’ll heal.

 

“All… Might…” he whispers, throat itchy.

 

“What is it, my boy?” asks the hero.

 

“Who else…” he coughs. “...Who else is hurt?”

 

All Might frowns. “No one else was injured besides the two of you, my boy. And your friend seems to be alright - just some minor injuries that can easily be treated. You got off the worst, young man.”

 

Izuku stares into space. “I… see”

 

All Might reaches an ambulance, where a team of paramedics is anxiously awaiting him. “He has burns on his palms,” he informs them, as he gently lays Izuku down on the stretcher. “And who know how many other injuries. Please - take care of him.”

 

“We understand, All Might,” says a stern-looking man, who’s obviously the head of the team. He looks at Izuku’s palms, and his eyes soften in sympathy. “We’ll take care of him.”

 

“I’m riding in the ambulance too,” Katsuki cuts in bluntly. “I’m fucking injured if you haven’t noticed, and someone has to keep an eye on the shitty nerd.”

 

The paramedic looks at him, ready to refuse, but All Might intervenes before he can do so. “Please,” he says. “They’ve been through a terrible ordeal.”

 

The man hesitates, but eventually lets it go. “Be careful inside, boy,” he says to Katsuki, as the others load Izuku inside.

 

Kacchan glares. “What do you take me for, a fucking five-year-old?” he says, but he has the good sense not to say it louder than a whisper.

 

Izuku keeps his eyes on All Might as he’s lifted inside the ambulance. The hero’s face is knitted with concern, and something else - something that looks conflicted.

 

It’s so familiar. Izuku can’t place where he’s seen it before.

 

All Might holds his gaze even as Kacchan enters the ambulance alongside him, even as the paramedics begin to do an assessment of his injuries. He keeps looking at Izuku until the very last moment before the ambulance door’s close, and Izuku drifts off into a muddy world of unconsciousness.

 

-

 

When Izuku awakes, there's no sign of either of them.

 

Instead, he wakes up in a hospital bed with bandages over his remarkably stiff hands. Scratch that, his whole body is stiff. He tries to move his body but groans immediately when it refuses to let him do so.

 

A rustling sound off to the side draws his attention. He looks and is amazed, but not surprised, to see his mother, Kimi, and Yashiro, all three of them asleep. Inko and Kimi share the couch beside his bed, while Yashiro sits on the floor with his head leaning on the side of the sofa.

 

Izuku's groaning and shifting quickly caused Inko’s eyes to flutter open, and as soon as her gaze lands on Izuku, she gasps loudly. “Izuku!” she cries. Kimi’s head, which had been resting on Inko’s shoulder, falls to the couch with a soft thump as Izuku's mother rushes to his side.

 

“Hi… mom,” Izuku says, or tries to, his throat still a little dry. His mother looks ready to cry when she hears his voice, but she makes a brave effort to hold her tears back and instead smiles at her son.

 

“Izuku's up?” Yashiro asks, yawning, as he wakes up as well. Kimi's sitting up, grumpily rubbing at the side of her head. She's still wearing her audition clothes, a flowing white dress and beige heels, and there are tell-tale signs on her face of her makeup getting smudged in some places.

 

“Hey… guys,” Izuku rasps, grinning. “What time… is it?”

 

“Its like, nine in the evening,” Kimi says as she stretches, catlike. She and Yashiro yawn again, almost in sync, and she glares blearily at the other boy.

 

“Did you - ” he breaks off when his voice seems to completely run dry, and he's quiet for a few seconds. Inko gently runs her fingers through his hair, telling him not to rush it. “Did you… come right - right after your… audition?”

 

“Yep,” says Kimi, popping the p . “Got the internship, so don't worry about it. The blowdryer was a lifesaver.” She looks at him meaningly as she says this, having been privy to his first encounter with the slime monster.

 

Izuku wishes so bad that he could laugh. He settles for smiling as widely as his facial muscles will allow.

 

“You pulled some crazy stuff today, you know?” Yashiro says, shaking his head as he gets up from the ground. “Kimi told us you fought that thing off twice today.”

 

“You had no choice with the first one,” Kimi concedes. “But there was absolutely no reason for you to rush into a full-scale villain attack like that.”

 

“Weren't there Pro Heroes at the scene this morning?” Inko asks fretfully. “Why did you rush in like that? We know your, um, situation may have put you there, but… it was too dangerous even for you, sweetie.”

 

Izuku looks at them, the slightest movement feeling heavy to him. “Did… did they tell you… who the boy was? Who… who the slime villain… was… attacking?”

 

They all look at each other and shake their heads. “No. Only that there were two of you, both middle-schoolers, who'd been rushed to the hospital after the attack,” Inko explains.

 

Izuku leans back in his pillow, closing his eyes. “It… it was Kac - Katsuki. It was… Katsuki.”

 

Yashiro’s eyes widen. “As in Katsuki-I'll-Murder-Anyone-Who-Touches-Me? That one? Bakugou Katsuki?”

 

“He's… the only… Katsuki we know, Yashiro,” Izuku says, frowning.

 

“As in the Katsuki who ate the sugar gummies I got for you? The Katsuki who blew up Yuu-chan’s desk in sixth grade? Katsuki who - ”

 

“I think we're all aware which Katsuki he's referring to, Yashiro,” Kimi dryly cuts in, but she looks just a touched amused.

 

“Just making sure we're all talking about the same guy here,” Yashiro says, holding his hands up appeasingly.

 

Inko looks back at her son and takes his hand in her own. “Is that why you rushed into action like that? Because it was Katsuki?”

 

“Not… not just that,” Izuku says, a little hesitant. “I… there was a… moment where we made… we made eye contact… just for a bit. And his eyes - Mom, his eyes looked so… so terrified that I… before I knew it, I was running…to him.”

 

“Bakugou? Terrified ?” Yashiro repeats.

 

“Like a deer… in the - ” Izuku's voice cuts off again, and he swallows forcefully. He waves his hands around in a vague you get it gesture.

 

Inko’s eyes look incredibly sad. “So, the burns? The doctors told us you had terrible burns on your hands when you were brought in. A whole team worked on them as soon as you got here, and they say they were able to alleviate most of the damage and scarring but… they were terrible, terrible burns, Izuku.”

 

She takes a deep breath. “Did… did Katsuki give you those burns?”

 

Izuku's face falls.

 

Slowly, hesitantly, he nods once.

 

Immediately, Yashiro’s expression is filled with anger. “That bastard - ” he growls. Almost simultaneously, Kimi's face twists with disgust. “After you saved him?” she asks.

 

Izuku shakes his head quickly and implores them with his eyes to stop. Inko understands his message and gently gestures at them to stop.

 

“I… the slime monster… is weak to heat,” Izuku begins. “I told him to… told him to use his explosions… so that the monster would… would be forced to let go.’

 

“I kept clawing at the slime to… help him get free, but - while I was shouting… my mouth was open. Vulnerable. The slime poured in almost… immediately, and I was reaching out blindly to… to free his hands.”

 

“I think he saw… saw the slime monster about to get me, so… he used his hands and his feet to explode the monster.” He cuts off here, throat protesting at this extended use. “I was… holding onto his hands at the time.”

 

He looks at each of them in turn, eyes pleading. “It's… it's not his fault.”

 

Yashiro and Kimi still look angry, as if they're willing to take arms and ambush Katsuki right this minute, but Inko shoots them both a scolding look. “Okay, sweetie,” she tells Izuku, a small, comforting smile on her face. “Why don't I get you some water for now, and then we can all go back to sleep. The doctors say they'll need to keep you in for another day at least to… to monitor the condition of your hands.”

 

Kimi settles back into the couch, distaste still barely concealed on her face, but doing a remarkable job of keeping her temper in check. “Our parents are letting us spend the night here,” she informs him, then groans. “I should've packed facewash. My face is gonna be all broken out tomorrow if I sleep in makeup.”

 

“At least it's after your audition,” Yashiro snickers, but is silenced yet again by Kimi's powerful glare.

 

“I have some cleansing wipes in my bag,” Inko says consolingly, diffusing the tension. “Are you hungry, Izuku?”

 

Izuku shakes his head. He doesn't feel hungry, per se, just a pervasive stiffness that makes any movement more painful than usual. Like shaking his head.

 

“Is it painful?” Yashiro asks, noticing the way he'd winced. Izuku makes a non-committal shrug, then says, “Just a little.”

 

“Too painful for a cuddle bunch?” Inko says, extending her arms. Behind her, Yashiro and Kimi perk up, twin smiles on their faces as they raise their arms towards him as well.

 

Izuku fights the color flooding his face, as well as the powerful urge to roll his eyes. Ever since Yashiro had jokingly named their group hugs as cuddle bunches some time ago, the term had unfortunately stuck, and all of three of them were prone to shouting “Cuddle bunch!” whenever Izuku got back from a quirk incident. They’re actually very pleasant and Izuku secretly likes being in the middle of them, but the name has never failed to make him feel embarrassed. It doesn't help that Inko’s the only one of the three who uses the term unironically.

 

“S’okay,” he mumbles reluctantly, and that's all the permission they need before they crowd Izuku and gently wrap their arms around him. They've mastered the art of four-way group hugs, and their limbs settle comfortably all around him. Izuku closes his eyes and basks quietly in their affection, feeling his body go boneless with content.

 

For a few moments, everything is peaceful. Izuku forgets the events of the day and focuses on Yashiro’s heartbeat, the softness of his mother, and Kimi’s long hair tickling the side of his ear.

 

Eventually, when they've all had their fill, they let go. Yashiro’s the first to step back. “That was nice,” he says, stretching. “I could totally fall asleep right now.”

 

“We should all get back to sleep,” Inko says, stepping away to rummage in her handbag. She pulls out a pack of wipes which she hands to Kimi, who takes them gratefully. “You don't need anything, Izuku?”

 

“Maybe… water,” Izuku says.

 

“Oh! How could I forget?” Inko says, clasping her hands together. She rummages once more in her bag, pulling out a small water bottle. “I packed a bag as soon as the hospital called me,” she explains, handing the bottle to him.

 

Izuku winces. He doesn't want to think about his mother's reaction to the call. The last time the hospital had called her had been nearly three years ago.

 

(And he refuses to think of what had happened then, refuses to think how the exact same thing had almost happened today.)

 

“By the way,” Inko says, as she and Kimi settle back into the couch. Yashiro's already passed out, breathing puffs of frost in the air. Izuku has noticed before that he sometimes uses his quirk like this when he falls asleep. It's hilarious. And also convenient as hell during the summer.

 

“A very tall and thin man came over sometime today, asking to see you. He looked very worried,” she says. “His name… hm, I can't quite remember - ”

 

“Toshinori… Yagi?” Izuki supplies. Only one man he knows fits that description.

 

“Yes!” Inko says. “I feel bad for forgetting his name. The doctors told us that he'd pulled some strings to get a professional healer to come in and help with your hands.”

 

“Really?” Izuku supposes that if the man knew several heroes personally, then he should have other connections. “That's… kind of him.”

 

“Your stay in the hospital is being covered as well,” Inko says happily. “Toshinori-san must be an important man if he can do such a thing! I wish I could've thanked him properly, but he left before I could say much.”

 

“I… see.” Izuku would have to thank him as well. He doesn't know how Yagi could've possibly known that he's here at this particular hospital, but considering that he'd asked Izuku to meet him at the expo, he must've seen the incident and recognized Izuku. Still, to do all that…

 

“Isn't it amazing how kind people can be?” Inko says brightly, shifting her arms to gently support Kimi, who's dozed off. “You’re very lucky, Izuku.”

 

Izuku knows. He has a wonderful mother and two amazing friends. Despite everything else he pretty much hates in his life, these people make it worthwhile to push on.

 

He really has to thank Yagi.

 

-

 

The man in question visits the very next day, just after Yashiro and Kimi had left. Inko jumps up from her seat the minute Yagi walks in, and seems determined on shaking his hand until his arm falls out of its socket.

 

“Thank you so, so, so much, Toshinori-san!” Inko cries, tears already spilling over. Yagi doesn't know what to do besides waiting for her blubbering to stop.

 

Izuku, who's already accustomed to his mother's tearful displays, smiles. “Good to see you, Yagi-san,” he says, his throat already much improved.

 

Yagi smiles back, but his eyes look serious. Inko finally manages to compose herself and lets go of Yagi’s embattled hand. “Again, you have my sincerest gratitude,” Inko says. “We can't possibly thank you enough for everything that you've done.”

 

Yagi holds up a hand. “It's the least I could do after all your son has gone through. Speaking of which, how is he recovering?”

 

Izuku holds up his hands. The doctors had carefully removed the bandages this morning, revealing scarred palms. The burns had healed remarkably well after the immediate treatment, but Izuku was advised to be careful with them. He had been warned that most of his sweat glands had been destroyed, and his nerves had been affected. They had only been able to lessen the effects - the damage had been too severe to completely reverse.

 

“They're a little numb,” Izuku explains. “But I'm lucky that only my palms are scarred. I can move them around and everything - they told me I just have to pay special attention to the skin especially for the next few months.”

 

He sets them down and looks at Yagi, his eyes sparkling. “Speaking of which, they told me that Recovery Girl herself came to heal me!” he said enthusiastically. “Were you the one who contacted her?”

 

Yagi’s expression is fond. “Yes. She's an old friend of mine. I asked this small favor of her and she graciously agreed. You should thank her, not me.”

 

“I wish I could meet her myself,” Izuku says wistfully, looking at his hands. “But since you seem close with her, do you mind giving her my thanks for me? We owe her so much.”

 

Inko nods emphatically. “Yes, mine as well. We're eternally in your debt, Yagi-san.”

 

“Please,” Yagi says, raising his hand again. “It's nothing.”

 

“Still, you must be quite important if you were able to do all that,” Izuku says, beaming. “Can you tell me how you met her? And all the other heroes that you know? I've been dying to ask you ever since you told me!”

 

Yagi’s face adopts a serious, almost haunted expression. “About that…” he begins, but then turns to look at Inko, standing by the bedside. She meets his gaze, slightly nonplussed by the sternness in his eyes.

 

“Madam, I'm terribly sorry, but would it be possible to speak with Izuku for a bit?” he asks her. “Alone.”

 

Izuku's face knots in confusion. “Why? Does she have to go? Are your meetings confidential? Mom can keep a secret, so it shouldn't be a problem even if she listens in - ”

 

“No,” Yagi says firmly, but apologetically. “What I'm about to tell you is… substantially more important than that. And I'm sorry to say that I cannot yet allow your mother to know about it.”

 

Izuku's expression darkens, and he opens his mouth to protest further when Inko speaks.

 

“I understand, Toshinori-san,” she says, but she looks guarded. Gone is the welcoming face she had put on when Yagi first entered the room. “For the sake of what you've done for my son, I'll respect this… but please know that I'm placing my trust in you. I hope for your sake that this secret of yours won't put my son in unnecessary danger.”

 

Yagi looks miserable. He nods once.

 

Inko looks at him, gaze steely. Then she turns to her son and smiles. “Will you be okay without me, Izuku?”

 

Izuku nods once, hesitant. “Yeah. Will you be okay?”

 

“Oh, don't mind me, Izuku,” she says dismissively. “I'll take this time to go home and get some more of your stuff to make you more comfortable here. I should probably get some more supplies as well.” She looks at Yagi. “That should give you ample time to talk, yes?”

 

“More than enough,” Yagi says. “Thank you.”

 

“Don't thank me yet,” Inko says, and Izuku remembers that for all her gentleness and timidity, Inko is a mother first and foremost, one who would lay down everything to protect her son. The gratitude and appreciation she so clearly felt for Yagi is laid aside the minute he implies that her son could be placed in danger. He feels a surge of affection for her, and is sorry to see her back as she leaves with a final wave to him.

 

Once she leaves, he turns to Yagi, who seems uncomfortable. “Well?” he prompts. “What's so important that you had to send my mom away to tell me?”

 

Yagi is silent for a moment. “Perhaps it's better if I simply show you.”

 

Izuku watches, confused, as Yagi walks around the room, pushing various objects up against the walls. It looks almost as if he's… making room for something.

 

“I'm getting a little scared,” Izuku jokes, but he's genuinely a little nervous. “Are you gonna summon a demon or something? Is that how you know so many heroes?”

 

“Nothing so dramatic,” Yagi says, and then literally inflates.

 

Izuku's jaw falls open. Only the very fresh memory of the slime villain forcing itself into him prompts him to snap it shut almost as quickly.

 

Because where Toshinori Yagi had been standing, All Might has just appeared.

 

A-A-A-A-A-All M-M-Might? ” Izuku stutters, then promptly cuts himself off before he does something like scream, eyes wide. Better not to alert anyone that All Might, the Number One Hero, the Symbol of Peace, is here in his hospital ward and holy shit did the doctors put something trippy in his medicine? “W-Where - where did Yagi-san go?”

 

All Might laughs his signature laugh, robust and booming and a little too loud . “Fear not, young Midoriya! I may look different, but it is still I, Toshinori Ya - ” He’s cut off as he dissolves into a violent fit of coughing, and yep, there’s the blood. The All-Might-Is-Toshinori-Yagi case is getting a lot stronger.

 

It still doesn’t make any fucking sense, though.

 

How? ” Izuku asks, because that seems like the most logical question at the moment.

 

All Might laughs again, only to disappear in a cloud of… smoke? Steam? Izuku turns away from the vapors and only looks back once he hears Yagi’s familiar coughing. Thankfully, he’s assumed his normal lanky form again, suddenly taking up a lot less space than just a moment ago.

 

“Yes, well,” Yagi says, looking uncomfortable once again now that he’s back to his… smaller form. “I understand that this is a lot to take in - ”

 

You don’t say ,” Izuku cuts in blandly, still reeling.

 

“ - but allow me to explain. You understand, of course, that me revealing this to you is nothing short of monumental?” Yagi continues. He walks away to retrieve a chair he’d moved in order to place it closer to Izuku’s bed. “You understand the magnitude of the secret I just shared with you?”

 

“You telling Mom to leave makes a whole lot more sense, yes,” Izuku says. His mind is still going at a hundred thoughts per second. If Yagi is All Might, and Izuku’s been talking his ear off all the time about hero’s quirks, then Yagi’s inputs - holy shit, they must’ve come from firsthand observations. And if All Might is Yagi then that’s how he’d known which hospital Izuku was taken to, how he probably managed to single-handedly cover all the expenses and - most importantly - how he knows Recovery Girl, the Youthful Hero, in the first place . A lot of puzzle pieces are falling into place, but as they do so, more are only being thrown into the mix, raising even bigger questions.

 

“Perhaps I should start by explaining why my… civilian persona looks so different,” Yagi says carefully, sitting down. He coughs briefly, holding his hand up when Izuku begins to lean towards the tissues on the table. “No, I’m fine - these coughing fits are part of it.”

 

Yagi leans back and slowly lifts the hem of his shirt. Under the fabric is a horrific mess of scars, dark and purple like bruises, extending out from one central point at the side of Yagi’s abdomen. “I received this scar in a terrible fight nearly three years ago. The encounter left me nearly dead, and was promptly hushed up before the public could learn about it. To this day, almost no one knows that I was involved in that battle. Pictures have been doctored, witness accounts have been debunked as false sightings, and every news media outlet has been paid a considerable amount to make sure I’m not mentioned in the fight. Only the internet remains unchecked, but it’s easy to write off anything published there as a simple conspiracy.”

 

Izuku’s brow wrinkles. “Can I… I mean, can I ask which fight that was?” he asks slowly.

 

Yagi hesitates. “I’ll tell you the rest of what I have to say before I tell you more about the fight. Is that fair?” he says. Izuku thinks it over, then nods, prompting him to continue.

 

“The wounds I sustained in that fight took a terrible toll on my body. I underwent several surgeries, but many of my internal organs suffered damage too severe to heal completely. Some even had to be removed. To my doctors, I’m considered a medical miracle - anyone else would have died straightaway at the fight itself.” He puts his shirt down, covering the scars. “The stress of the medical procedures I went through reduced me to this… lesser form that you’re more familiar with. Currently, I’m only able to perform my hero duties three hours a day.”

 

He grimaces. “For three hours a day, I’m able to posture as the All Might you and everybody knows, before the stress becomes too much for my body. Past that time limit, I’m forced to drop the ruse and revert to this form.”

 

Izuku ponders this. “So… the overall lesser activity of All Might… but increased sightings in Musutafu… did you settle down somewhere here?”

 

Yagi nods. “Yes. Recently, my doctors have advised me to settle down in one locality and refrain from going around too much in order to lessen my exertion. Even for only three hours a day, going around Japan like I used to be able to is too much for my body to handle.” He shakes his head bitterly. “I’ve become a fragile shell of the man I used to be.”

 

Izuku frowns at the expression on Yagi’s face. “Despite that, you persisted, Yagi-san,” he says quietly. “You don’t have any illusions of your own greatness or your capability - you accepted the truth and moved on in spite of it. You continue to do what you can even after what you’ve been through…” he looks down and smiles sadly. “That’s still a lot more than I can say about most heroes.”

 

When he looks at Yagi, the man looks incredibly sad. “Thank you, young man,” he says. “I suppose that I never thought of it that way.”

 

Izuku smiles gently at him before asking, “Why are you telling me all this anyway, Yagi-san?” He tilts his head slightly. “Like you said, this is a massive secret you’re revealing to me. I’ll keep it safe, of course, but I don’t see the reason why I needed to be informed of this.”

 

“That… is going to be partially answered by another huge secret,” Yagi says. Oh, boy .

 

“...What is it,” Izuku prompts, already wary.

 

“Once upon a time, I asked you why you didn’t want to be a hero, and the first reason you gave me was that you’re quirkless,” Yagi begins. He meets Izuku’s eyes, expression stormy and intense. “What if I told you that I had a way to give you a quirk? A powerful one, at that?”

 

Izuku blanches. No, no, no, no, no… “You don’t mean…?” he trails off.

 

“I can give you my quirk, young Midoriya,” Yagi says. “With it, you can… you can do great things.”

 

Well, damn. If that statement isn’t textbook heroic, Izuku doesn’t know what is.

 

But as for what he’s actually saying...

 

“Hold on, hold on, hold on,” Izuku says, waving his hands frantically around. “First of all, I don’t know what your quirk is. Nobody knows. Do you know how many internet forums I’ve visited that are dedicated solely to theorizing what your quirk is? Do you know how many of those were written by me? And secondly - no quirks can be passed on between two people like what you’re implying. Do you even know how dangerous that could be? What if someone tried to take it, what if someone - ”

 

“Slow down, young man,” Yagi interrupts, breaking into a small laugh. “I’ll explain all that, if you’ll allow me.”

 

Izuku flushes and closes his mouth. He’s about to learn what All Might’s quirk is, everybody on the All Might forum would be foaming at the mouth if they ever knew what he was about to learn.

 

“My quirk, on a superficial level, appears to be a strength quirk,” Yagi begins. “Or a superior muscle augmentation quirk. I believe that is that most popular theory, yes?”

 

“Yes,” Izuku mumbles. Many threads theorized him having outlandish quirks such as radioactive blood that powered his whole body, or even photosynthetic qualities that allowed him to draw power from the sun, but Occam’s razor usually prevailed against those theories, favoring the idea of a simple yet freakishly powerful strengthening quirk.

 

“It is… slightly more complex than that. My quirk, you see, is more like a gigantic reservoir of energy - an unquantifiable and almost endless amount of energy that sits in my body, waiting for it to be used. In terms of use, it’s quite flexible - I can use it to harden my body against attacks, strengthen the muscles I use in combat, or simply as an energy source to heighten my endurance and stamina.”

 

Izuku’s face contorts into one of incredible concentration. “Amazing… so it’s like this amazing power you can enhance every aspect of your body with. And it’s endless? How do you know?” he asks, just barely keeping from dissolving into a mumbling fit in favor of prodding All Might’s quirk further.

 

“Because my quirk is, specifically, a stockpile quirk,” Yagi says. “One that essentially grows the more it is cultivated.”

 

“A stockpile quirk?” Izuku repeats. “One that gets more powerful as it’s developed, so… no way .”

 

“Yes,” Yagi says, confirming Izuku’s unsaid thought. “I’m not the first to hold this quirk. I’m the eighth holder, in fact - the holder of the  most powerful iteration of One for All thus far. This quirk, as far as I know, is the only quirk that can be passed on, and it can never be taken against the holder’s will. It has to be given willingly, and not through force.”

One for All ,” Izuku breathes out. “Is that the name of your quirk?”

 

“Yes,” says Yagi. “And if you agree, it could become your quirk.”

 

That statement effectively cuts off all of Izuku’s brain activity.

 

“The reason I’m telling you all of this is because I have been looking for a successor, have been doing so, in fact, since I suffered this injury,” Yagi says. “And I believe that I may have found that successor in you.”

 

He looks down. “From the very first moment we met, you exhibited a selflessness and heroic side that I’ve rarely seen in other people, even other heroes. The way you moved and handled that situation spoke volumes to me in such a profound way.”

 

“When you told me that you were quirkless, I thought it was too perfect. Every single user of One for All, including me, was quirkless before receiving it. I thought I had found the perfect successor… and yet you promptly and quite firmly told me that you didn’t want to be a hero.”

 

Even with his face downcast, Yagi’s face visibly softens. “And yet… as I got to know you and spend time with you, I bore witness to more and more your deeds. To the way you rescue people without a second thought. To the incredible way you would rush to the aid of others without any expectation of reward. You were, without a doubt, someone who simply couldn’t help but help others.”

 

He raises his head, and injects conviction into his voice. “The world needs someone like you, Midoriya Izuku. You can be a hero.”

 

“No - you already are a hero.”

 

With that one final statement, Izuku knows he can’t keep the charade up any longer.

 

“Yagi-san…” he says quietly, refusing to meet the man’s eyes, which hold so much trust and belief. “I’m… I have something to tell you, in return.”

 

“What is it, young Midoriya?” Yagi asks nervously. This… is not exactly the reaction he’d been expecting after his passionate declaration.

 

“It’s only fair that I tell you, after everything that you’ve told me,” Izuku begins. “It’s something I also have never told anyone - only three other people know. My mother, and my two best friends.”

 

He turns to face the window and says, without preamble, “I’m not actually quirkless.”

 

"I'm not actually quirkless."

 

Before Yagi can react or intervene, he presses on. “My quirk basically acts as a trouble sensor, or a radar - it alerts me to any situations where, I guess, aid is needed. When I was younger, it was just small things - rescuing cats from trees, or stepping in when someone was being bullied. As I got older, it became more and more dangerous - and I’ve been getting into the kind of situations you saw me in.”

 

“That time at the convenience store? My quirk. The time at the bakery and the park? All my quirk. That granny I helped, that girl and her dog, that pizza delivery guy? I was only able to help them because of my quirk,” Izuku says. He speaks blandly, unemotionally. He hates this. He hates having to talk about his quirk like this, and possibly losing Yagi’s admiration and respect for good. “I don’t tell people about my quirk for several reasons, but one of the biggest is that if people knew, they’d try to put me in the hero industry. Or if not, count on me to solve their problems. If I ever… if I ever fail to save anyone, the blame will rest on my shoulders for not being able to act accordingly.”

 

He closes his eyes and imagines the day his grandfather had died. He’s long since made the connection between that incident and the stabbing pains in his gut he’d mistaken for stomach cramps at the time. “That’s… more than I can handle, to be honest.”

 

He finally turns his head to look at Yagi. “I’m really grateful and glad that you trusted me enough to share this secret with me. It can’t have been an easy decision. But… I hope I’m making something clear. I’m not the hero you think I am, Yagi-san. I’m just a boy who may as well be quirkless, someone who can only help other people out because of quirk I never asked for.”

 

"I'm not the hero you think I am, Yagi-san."

 

“I can’t be a hero, Yagi-san,” he concludes, with a clear air of finality.

 

The air is thick and silent after that statement.

 

Yagi’s expression is unreadable, but obviously tense. He searches Izuku’s face, but the boy knows he will find nothing but conviction there. Even if he wanted to, someone like Izuku will never be suited to being a hero. He’s praised and thanked for the way he saves people, and nobody even knows how undeserving he actually is of their gratitude.

 

“Thank goodness,” Yagi says. “I thought I was going crazy.”

 

Izuku tilts his head, confused. “Yagi-san?”

 

“I have never in my life met anyone who got into the kind of situations you do, as frequently as you do,” Yagi says. “I’d say the only person who even comes close is me… and me being me, that’s kind of my job. You having a quirk suddenly makes things a whole lot clearer.”

 

He stands up from his chair. “As for everything else you’ve told me… I see that I won’t be convincing you to take my quirk anytime soon. If it caused you any additional stress, I apologize. I completely trust that you’ll keep anyone from finding out.”

 

He smiles at Izuku kindly, but the boy sees through it immediately. It’s fragile, brittle - just barely managing to show up on his sunken face. “Nothing you’ve told me changes my opinion of you. You’re still a kind, helpful, and courageous young man.” He pauses, then appears to think better of what he might have said. Instead, he ruffles Izuku’s hair. “Get better soon, you hear? I’ll be waiting for you to join me for a jog again.”

 

As he moves to leave the room, Izuku calls out to him just before he exits. “Yagi-san?”

 

The man turns back. “Yes, young Midoriya?”

 

“...I’m sorry,” he says lamely, not knowing how to communicate the regret he feels at causing the disappointment evident in the man’s face, manner, and voice.

 

Yagi smiles slightly. “Don’t be,” he says, his voice sadder than Izuku could bear. "It's not your fault."

 

-

 

He is not the only visitor that Izuku receives. Soon after his mother returns to a quiet and pensive Izuku, someone else knocks on the door. Or, more accurately, bangs on it until Inko rushes to open it.

 

“Oh, my - Katsuki, is that you?” Inko says incredulously. Izuku, for the first time since Yagi left earlier, snaps to attention.

 

Katsuki is standing in the doorframe, obviously uncomfortable, but doing a good job of covering it up with hostility. “Yeah,” he says, clearly attempting to rein in his normal tone in front of Inko.

 

“Come in, come in!” Inko says, ushering him frantically through the door. It reminds Izuku of the way she had welcomed Yagi in just this morning, and he hopes this won’t turn into an intense conversation like it had then.

 

...However, judging from the way Katsuki’s looking at him, he’s pretty sure it won’t be the case.

 

“How are you, Katsuki?” Inko asks as soon as the blonde boy’s seated on the sofa. “We heard you’d been rushed to the hospital with Izuku here yesterday as well. Have your injuries healed?”

 

Katsuki nods curtly. “Yeah, I wasn’t too banged-up,” he says. He holds up his arms, covered lightly in bandages. “I just got some cuts and burns from using my quirk too much.” He freezes slightly, then looks at Izuku. “Speaking of that, Deku - Izuku - fuck, that’s weird. I’m just gonna keep calling you Deku, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Izuku says, laughing softly. He holds out his palms. “If you wanted to ask about my hands, Kacchan, here - they’re scarred, but basically healed. Kacchan - I can call you Kacchan, right?”

 

Katsuki flushes and looks like he wants nothing more than to vehemently refuse, but Inko is watching the conversation with hopeful, starry eyes. She was never made aware of the reason behind Izuku and Katsuki’s fallout nearly two years ago, and was greatly saddened by the sudden loss of one of Izuku’s closest friends. Katsuki visibly restrains himself from saying no outright, but Inko’s pleading look is too powerful. “...Yeah. Whatever,” he eventually mutters.

 

Izuku smiles. Maybe they haven’t changed too much, the two of them.

 

After that, however, things get slightly awkward. It’s evident that Kacchan came in order to talk to Izuku about something, but Inko’s oblivious. She sits there with them, wondering why they don’t talk more. Surely, after two years of not seeing each other, not to mention sharing a near-death experience , they’ve got a lot to speak about?

 

Eventually, Izuku takes the initiative. “Mom, um… I’m sorry for asking this again, but would you mind if I talked to Kacchan?”

 

Inko beams. That’s more like it! “Not at all! Please, go ahead, you two!”

 

“Privately,” Izuku clarifies. “Is it okay if you, um… left the room for a bit?”

 

Oh . Inko claps her hands over her mouth. Oh, so that's why… goodness. This conversation wouldn’t progress while she was still around. “Oh my. Of course, Izuku. I’m sorry, you know I’m terrible at reading the air,” she says apologetically.

 

Her precious son smiles. “It’s alright, mom. It’s just… we haven’t talked to each other in such a long time.”

 

“Of course, of course. You two must have so much to catch up on,” Inko says. She gets up in a hurry. “I think I’ll go down to the cafeteria and see if they have anything for snacks,” she says. “Do you want anything? Katsuki?”

 

“No,” they say in unison. They catch each other’s eye briefly, and Inko swells with happiness. Maybe they’ll become good friends again, she hopes.

 

“I’ll be going now, Izuku. I have my phone with me, so call me if you need anything, okay?” she says. Izuku nods, and watches his mother practically bounce on her heels as she leaves the room.

 

Even when she leaves, the two boy stay silent.

 

... Fuck , things didn’t get any less awkward at all.

 

“So, you’re all healed up now?” Izuku asks lamely, a poor attempt at a conversation starter. Apparently, Kacchan thinks so as well, because he doesn’t dignify at his response. Well. Kacchan will obviously speak in his own time, so all Izuku can do now is wait.

 

Just before the silence gets too unbearable, Kacchan finally deigns to look at him and ask, “Why don’t you want to be a hero?” His voice and question is blunt, and undeniable - Izuku won’t be able to deter him.

 

“I thought we’ve discussed this when we were kids, Kacchan - ” Izuku begins, but is cut off by Kacchan.

 

“Don’t give me that bullshit about being quirkless or ‘You don’t have to be a hero to help people, Kacchan!’” he says, his voice turning up mockingly on the last part of the sentence. He sneers at Izuku. “We both know those are just fucking excuses . You sure as shit didn’t need a quirk to jump in there and save my ass.”

 

Izuku cannot reply, for one, because he doesn’t know what to answer, and two, did Kacchan just willingly admit that Izuku had saved him?

 

“So I want you to tell me the real reason you fucking hate heroes, got it, dipshit? And then I’m fucking right off and leaving you the hell alone. It’s not like we’ll have any reason to continue talking after all this,” Kacchan says, crossing his arms and looking sternly at him.

 

Izuku looks down. Right. After this, Kacchan will enroll at UA and go on to become a hero. Maybe even a top hero. And Izuku will return to his life, enroll at some prestigious university, and find a job while he rescues cats on the side until he dies.

 

Before that happens, they need closure. And so...

 

Maybe he can’t tell Kacchan about his quirk. But maybe after everything, he at least deserves to know this.

 

“You probably don’t remember my father, do you, Kacchan?” he asks. When Kacchan’s only reply is to tilt his head, Izuku continues. “You probably don’t. We were both only two years old when he died, and even I don’t have that many memories of him. But did you know that he was a Pro Hero?”

 

“For real?” Kacchan asks in disbelief. When Izuku nods, he says, “Fuck. I didn’t know.”

 

“His hero name was Salamander, because of his fire-breath. Grandpa… Grandpa used to tell me all the time that he was really, really powerful. He was naturally good at any offensive encounters, but flexible in any other situation. When Dad was active, crime rate in Musutafu really dropped.”

 

“Dad met Mom when he rescued her from a train crash,” Izuku says. He pauses to smile fondly but sadly at the memory of his mother telling him all about how she had met his father. According to her, she had fallen in love at first sight. “And they got married, and had me. Only thing is… I don’t think Mom really understood how busy being a Pro Hero could get. She was understanding, of course - have you even met her? But raising me practically on her own took its toll. Dad could be gone for days or weeks on end without any word from him.”

 

“Grandpa and Mom told me that I used to get really mad but clingy with Dad whenever he came home. They said that I would cry at the sight of him, but as soon as I calmed down I would latch onto his leg and refuse to let go. Those times were the only times I got to spend with him, before he inevitably got called off to some mission again, so I wouldn’t leave his side at all. Of the two birthdays I had while he was alive, he couldn’t attend either. He was busy fighting crime, I guess.”

 

Kacchan snorts. “So are you telling me that your whole grudge against heroes is founded on your fucking daddy issues?” he says. “Because let me tell you right there, that’s fucking petty.”

 

“Pettier than screaming at your best friend for helping you up after you fall off a bridge?” Izuku shoots back immediately.

 

Kacchan acknowledges the barb with nothing more than a nod and a slightly deeper scowl. “Whatever, Deku.”

 

Izuku smiles slightly. He knows when Kacchan can’t come up with a decent comeback. “My grudge was definitely founded on those… daddy issues , if that’s how you want to put it, but it really started to grow once Dad died. The news outlets reported the incident as a massive scandal - apparently, Dad was out on a mission with his teammates. Not just temporary partners from other agencies - his teammates that he’s been in the business with practically since his debut. They came up against a really, really strong villain… is this sounding familiar yet?”

 

Kacchan shrugs non-committally. “Dunno. Fucking get to the point already.”

 

“Well, the short story is that Dad got caught in the attack while he tried to defend some civilians who’d strayed into the area. And then he got captured by one of the villain’s helpers. He… he called out for help from his teammates, but...” Izuku’s face darkens. “They abandoned him.”

 

“Dad had been the strongest member on that team. Without him and his leadership, they quickly fell apart. They had no idea what to do. Eventually, more hero agencies had to get involved because the villain couldn’t be contained. The scandal came up when it was revealed that Dad’s teammates essentially fled the scene - they hadn’t been the ones to contact the hero agencies, nor did they stay to try and contain the villain… when they saw that their leader had been captured, they turned tail and abandoned him.”

 

“By the time the other Pro Heroes got there, Dad had already been killed. He was just mingling with the other corpses at the scene,” Izuku says dispassionately. He’d cried his eyes out when Grandpa had first told him this story, but it has since become fuel feeding into his hatred of the hero industry. “After the incident, his teammates retired from the business. Couldn’t handle the media firestorm that followed, I guess, and they had no real leader to follow. Dad’s body was retrieved, returned to us, and buried with a gold medal for his service. That’s when I first realized that heroes aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be.”

 

He looks at Kacchan, who’s still listening intently. “You already know how Grandpa died. It’s really fucking similar to how Dad died, except he was an innocent civilian. I didn’t tell you about Red Eagle and Duodenum attending his funeral though, did I?” Kacchan shakes his head. “Well, they did. And from what I hear, Red Eagle’s retired from the hero industry as well. I think she’s making support-items now. I’m… a little glad. I don’t think she was prepared for the reality of being a hero.”

 

He chuckles a little bitterly. “Well, anyway there you have it, Kacchan. That’s it. That’s my sob story. My hero grudge is founded not just on my daddy issues, but on my grandpa issues as well.” He looks away. “...I guess it all still sounds kind of petty, huh?”

 

Kacchan stares coolly at him. “So basically, what you’re telling me is that you find the heroes fake,” he asks flatly. “And that they pretend to be fucking perfect when actually they’re cowards once things get dangerous.”

 

Izuku meets his gaze levelly. “I don’t think all of them are,” he says quietly. “Not even most of them. I’m fully aware that selfless, true heroes exist within the industry and are making the world a better place in their own way. But you’ve never lost a loved one to this industry,” he ends up saying. “You’ve never had your world shattered in front of you, let alone twice .”

 

He stares at his hands, twin scars resting on each of them. “How can I feel anything but hate for something that took so much from me?”

 

"How can I feel anything but hate for something that took so much from me?"

 

Kacchan is silent. Then he scoffs and stands up from the sofa.

 

“I get it, Deku,” he says, walking towards the door. “I won’t fucking pester you about this anymore. We probably won’t see each other again after this, anyway.” He pauses, just as his hand rests on the doorknob.

 

“I’m going to be a hero,” he says slowly, face turned away from Izuku. “And not just any shitty hero, the best hero. I don’t care about All Might, I’ll earn my license and fucking beat him out from the Number One spot, fair and square. And I’ll blast the shit out of any hero or villain who gets in my way.”

 

“And not once will I ever, ever run away from anything,” he declares, and he turns to meet Izuku’s eyes. Izuku sees quiet conviction and determination in those red irises, a far cry from the usual egotistic pride that resided in them. “Not from a shitty villain. Not from a civilian who needs help. Not from anyone or anything , when I know I can fucking help.” He chuckles sharply. “I’m gonna be a million times better than those bastards - so you don’t have to fucking worry about hating me when I become Number One hero, Deku.”

 

“No,” Izuku says quietly. “I suppose I don’t.”

 

“Fuck yeah you don’t,” Kacchan bites out. His face twists in concentration, then abruptly floods with color. As quickly as it happens, he turns away to face the door.

 

“I’m only gonna say this once, so get the fucking cotton out of your ears and listen , because I’m not repeating it,” he grits out, the effort of saying what he’s about to say obviously painful. He takes a deep breath, and turns around once more to look, really look at Izuku.

 

“Thanks for saving me,” he says. “Not just yesterday but… two years ago, too. And I’m fucking sorry I was such a gigantic dick to you, okay?”

 

“Kacchan…” Izuku begins, but the other boy silences him with a truly powerful glare.

 

“Not. Another. Word,” he says murderously. He promptly opens the door and leaves, shutting it loudly behind him. Izuku can only stare.

 

He’s still for just a moment, before falling into his pillow. Maybe Kacchan has changed. The old Kacchan he knew would have never, in a million years, admitted to being saved. Or apologize. Or acknowledge being wrong in any way, really.

 

Izuku thinks back to his declaration. Not from anyone or anything, when I know I can help.

 

“Kacchan,” Izuku whispers. “Kacchan, then what does that make me?”

 

When Inko returns, she’s distressed to find that her son has cried himself to sleep.

 

-

 

Yagi sits on the wall of Dagobah Beach. The piles of trash and junk rise as high as ever, blocking out what could potentially be one of the most beautiful coastal views in Japan. When young Midoriya had first seen it on one of their morning jogs, he’d stopped in his tracks and dissolved into a passionate mumbling fit about the dangers of such pollution and different heroes who could solve it, if they could be bothered to do so.

 

Izuku. It seems that no matter what he does, Yagi cannot stop thinking about the young boy. If he could turn back time, he would go back to that room in the hospital and take back everything he had told him. It was unfair of him to offer such a terrible responsibility to someone so young. Yagi knows firsthand the incredible burden that comes with accepting One for All. But in his excitement at finding such a perfect successor, he’d assumed that Midoriya could eventually be convinced despite his words - after all, he was a textbook hero. An ideal one.

 

You’re so much better at all this people stuff, Nana , Yagi thinks wistfully, remembering his charismatic mentor. You would’ve handled him so much better .

 

Instead, Yagi had endangered a fourteen-year-old boy by bestowing upon him a monumental secret he hadn’t asked to know, and in the process dragged out old wounds and mental struggles that the boy had probably never wanted to discuss in the first place.

 

It’s been almost a week since that day. He knows from the doctors at the hospital that Izuku had been discharged the day after. After all, he’s the one who paid for his treatment (he’d also paid for the treatment of that other boy… Bakugou, he believes his name was). Since then, he hasn’t encountered Izuku once.

 

...That might have to do with how he’s avoiding the places he knows Izuku frequents.

 

Yagi doesn’t quite know how to face the boy after everything that’s happened - he knows he needs to apologize to him at some point, but he can’t quite muster the courage to do it. Funny, how he never once backed down from the most terrifying of enemies, but a simple “I’m sorry,” becomes the most daunting task he’s ever faced.

 

He’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t notice the by-now familiar sound of red sneakers crunching on gravel, until a boy with messy green hair sits himself right beside him.

 

“I thought I might find you here,” Izuku says, and Yagi will never admit in a million years that he just barely keeps himself from jumping right off the wall in surprise. “Young Midoriya?!”

 

Izuku smiles. “If you’re so easily caught off-guard, I don’t see how you survived to be the Number One Hero for this long,” he says, chuckling lightly.

 

It’s quite true. Over his extensive time as a hero, Yagi has developed his senses and intuition many times over. He’s normally hyper-aware and alert of his surroundings - he’s always had to be. But… “What can I say?” he shrugs. “I suppose I’ve gotten used to your presence.”

 

“That’s… nice,” Izuku says, like he isn’t sure that word actually applies. “I haven’t run into you for a while. That’s pretty strange, considering how often I used to see you before.”

 

Yagi grimaces. “It’s odd, yes,” he says, unwilling to admit that he’d been afraid of finally confronting the boy.

 

“It’s pretty inconvenient since I’ve been wanting to talk to you, Yagi-san,” Izuku says. He brings his knees up close to his face and holds them. “I’ve… thought a lot about what you told me back then.”

 

Oh, no. Yagi won’t be able to handle Izuku’s sadness again. He absolutely does not want to ever be the cause of it again. “Young Midoriya,” he says hurriedly, trying to cut him off before he tells Yagi how distraught he had made him feel. “Before that, I want to apologize to you. I was completely out of line - I see now how unfair it was of me to push my expectations on you. Heroic or not… you’re still a child. It was wrong of me to ask you to shoulder this burden, and to expose you to such a terrible secret.”

 

Izuku smiles at him, and his expression is terrible to behold, fond and yet miserable at the same time. He looks like someone whose heart has been broken and yet continues to hang on to his foolish feelings. “I wasn’t looking for you just to hear you say that to me, Yagi-san,” he says. “I… I came to tell you that I’ve changed my mind.”

 

What? “What?” Yagi says out loud.

 

Izuku stares out at the piles of junk, his gaze probably reaching further than that to the horizon just beyond them. “Like I said, I’ve been thinking a lot. About your quirk. About my quirk. About everything that I’ve done so far. I realized, for the first time, that my quirk was for life. That no matter what I did, the only way to escape it would be to die.”

 

“Young Midoriya…” Yagi interrupts, worried by that train of thought. Izuku shakes his head lightly.

 

“I’m fine, Yagi-san. I have a wonderful mother and two friends who worry about me more than should be normal, so I don’t entertain those thoughts anymore,” Izuku says dismissively. Anymore , Yagi thinks, and is filled with a fresh wave of regret at what he must’ve put this boy through.

 

“Anyway, after you left, a… a friend of mine visited me as well. It was the boy I rescued from the slime monster. You see, it’s always been his dream to become an outstanding Pro Hero. He’s got the drive and determination to back up his powerful quirk, so I’ve no doubt he’ll definitely achieve his dream.”

 

“But something he said to me while he was there stuck with me. He told me that, when he becomes a hero, he would never run away - never from a villain, never from a civilian who needed help, never from any situation in which he knew he could help.”

 

“And I realized - I realized that that was me . For as long as I’ve had this quirk, not once have I denied it. I’ve always rushed headfirst into all sorts of situations the moment I realized I had the capacity to help in any way,” Izuku says, eyes distant.

 

“As long as I have this quirk, I will never have peace. Sure, I can try to live a normal life, but…” he chuckles bitterly. “This quirk will follow me until the day I die. So, I figured…”

 

He smiles at Yagi. “I figured I might as well save as many people as I can along the way, right?”

 

No , Yagi wants to say. Wants to scream . “No, young Midoriya,” he murmurs, eyes downcast. “No, this isn’t right. This… you’re a child. It’s not right. You shouldn’t… I should never have asked you to even consider taking this burden.”

 

Izuku is silent. Then he stands up and kneels in front of Yagi, forcing the man to meet his eyes.

 

“Yagi-san…” he says. “Thank you for crying for me. But I’ve long since accepted this fate. Meeting you and rescuing Kacchan only solidified that acceptance. I will never escape it. I will never have the peace that I want. This… this is the best path that I can think to go on. So don’t worry, Yagi-san. I’ve made up my mind on this. You’re not… you’re not forcing me into anything.”

 

That is a lie and they both know it.

 

“Young Midoriya,” Yagi says, tears coursing down his cheeks, humbled by the display of sheer strength of mind and misery in front of him. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry.”

 

Izuku laughs. “Don't be,” he says shakily. “It’s not your fault, Yagi-san.”

 

-

 

That afternoon, the golden sun cast its rays over Dagobah Beach like it had countless days before. But that day, its light also fell on the silhouette of two heroes, both weeping over the incredible weight of the world on their shoulders.

 

"Don't be."

Chapter Text

Of course, Inko, Kimi, and Yashiro all have to be informed of Yagi passing his quirk onto Izuku. The three of them know that Izuku already has a quirk, after all, so it would be really hard to explain the sudden appearance of another quirk, let alone one as powerful as All Might’s.

 

...It's a testament to the bonds between all four of them that they absolutely do not take the news well.

 

“Okay, first of all,” Yashiro says, once Yagi’s finished talking. He's the first one to react. “I want your autograph. Secondly, please leave this house and don't come back again .”

 

“I'm all for him leaving,” Kimi seconds darkly. “Without even getting an autograph. The sooner he leaves, the better.”

 

“No, he should give us at least two autographs each,” Yashiro argues. “One to keep and frame, one to sell. And then he can leave and never come back.”

 

“You do realize he's right in front of you, right?” Izuku says dryly. Yagi has been watching the exchange with increasing discomfort, due in part to Kimi and Yashiro’s obviously hostile tones, but mostly due to Inko’s continued silence. If he'd thought that Izuku had been hard to convince… Yagi still has the Izuku Protection Squad to win over.

 

“Well, yeah,” Yashiro shrugs. “But obviously he's crazy if he thinks we'll actually let you go through with this. In fact,” he turns to Izuku. “What's gotten into you? You’re the one person in the world that he shouldn't have been able to convince. You can't possibly expect us to believe that he won you over in one conversation.”

 

“Two, actually,” says Yagi, regretting it immediately when Kimi shoots him a dark look.

 

“Okay, two, whatever,” Yashiro says dismissively. Had they met in different circumstances, Yashiro would definitely have approached All Might with stars in his eyes and gushed over him like any other All Might fan. However, there's nothing but wary suspicion in his face the moment Yagi tells them what Izuku has agreed to do.

 

Kimi is more openly hostile. “I'm sure you're well aware by now of Izuku's lack of concern for himself,” she says, ignoring Izuku's weak protests. She looks sternly at Yagi. “And I'm sure you're also aware that he can never turn away anyone in need. So how do we know you're not simply playing into his… unfortunate tendencies? How do we know you didn't influence his decision?”

 

Yagi looks miserable. “I can't say,” he begins, I don't know myself, so - ”

 

“Yagi-san didn't force me into anything,” Izuku interrupts, coming to his rescue. He figures he had better defend his case before his mother joins the fray. “The first time he talked to me, I refused. And the second time, I'm the one who seeked him out to tell him that I'd changed my mind. So he didn't influence me at all - I came to this decision on my own.”

 

“But why? ” Kimi asks. “You've never once showed an interest in becoming a hero. What changed?”

 

“Izuku,” Inko interjects. Her face is knotted with concern, but also a quiet resignation. “Are you sure this is completely your own decision?”

 

Izuku looks at her, but her face is mostly unreadable. Her verdict will make or break this decision - if she vetoes this, then Izuku cannot enroll in UA. Or any other hero school.

 

In short, it's all up to Inko.

 

“Yes,” Izuku says. “I've made up my mind on this.”

 

On the sidelines, Yashiro and Kimi grimace. They know this tone of voice. It's the same voice he used to use when he told people that he didn't want to be a hero. A resolute, unshakable conviction - there's no arguing with Izuku once any person hears this voice.

 

Inko searches his face, long and slow. Then she sighs.

 

“I suppose I can't say I'm surprised,” she says sadly. “You've never been able to help helping people. It's not just your quirk - you've never been able to resist a cry for help.” She smiles sadly. “Do you remember when you first met Katsuki?”

 

Izuku frowns. “Nope. You told me that you first got us together when I was three months old. I'm pretty sure I was too young to remember anything.”

 

Inko’s smile turns fond. “Well, you sure wasted no time. He was throwing a fit when you met him, and your first instinct was to pat him until he stopped crying. I'm almost a hundred percent sure that Mitsuki has it on video somewhere. Anyway, my point is that it's always just been your nature to help people.”

 

The emotional impact of the nostalgic story is lessened when Izuku sees Yashiro's shit-eating grin. His dislike of Katsuki aside, Yashiro will never pass up on teasing material on both Kimi and Izuku. Izuku's only consolation is that nobody at their school knows Katsuki and won't understand the significance of the story.

 

“And your father… I don't think you remember this either, but when you were a baby, your dad would read to you from storybooks whenever he was home. You always liked the hero ones the best. You'd always doodle Hisashi in his hero costume and come running to me as soon as you finished. I could tell that deep down, you wanted to be a hero, too. Maybe it was because you admired or missed your father… I don't quite know.”

 

“Then your father died and it was like your dream died, as well. Your grandfather was the only one keeping you interested in anything, keeping you happy even as your quirk started getting more and more out of hand. And then he was gone, too…” Inko paused. She looks down at her hands, which have knotted tightly together.

 

“Sometimes I feel like I failed as a mother - I could never quite get you out of that slump you fell in after you lost both your father and grandfather. I couldn't get you to stop living life as if you were just going through the motions, like nothing was really worth living for, anymore. I couldn't - didn't help. All I did was try and watch over you.”

 

“Mom…” Izuku breaks in, but Inko holds up a hand to stop him. She smiles at him, clearly trying her hardest to stay steady.

 

“This, though? Helping people has always been your… thing, so to speak. I know how much it meant to you to save anyone, before you got that silly notion that the only reason you were able to help people was because of your quirk. Don't fight me on this, Izuku, it is a silly thought,” she says sternly when she sees him trying to interrupt. “Your friends and I have been trying to get you to see that for so long. Your quirk may be alerting you to those situations, but you're the one doing the saving. That part has always been all you,” she concludes, smiling with incredible strength.

 

“You've always been a hero, Izuku. Like we've always said, you having a quirk or not hasn't and will never change that.”

 

There's not a dry eye in the room after Inko’s statement. Izuku gets up to walk into his mother's already open arms, heart too full to speak. For a while, mother and son embrace each other while the most important people in his life look on.

 

Eventually, they pull apart reluctantly. “However,” Inko says, once he's pulled away. “Just because I give you my permission, it doesn't mean that I approve or like this situation. You are still my son, and this is still an incredibly dangerous occupation. You having your quirk only makes it doubly so.”

 

“Mom, I haven't even taken a hero course yet. I haven't even applied yet,” Izuku says, laughing. “What're the chances I even make it as a Pro Hero, anyway?”

 

“Oh, I have no doubt you'll make it,” Inko says dismissively. “Between all your brains, and your quirk, and… Toshinori-san’s quirk to boot, you're practically guaranteed to become a hero. What I don't see you becoming is a responsible hero, however - you're far too nonchalant about your personal safety. When you're rescuing someone, all you think about is their well-being, and not yours. If you're going to be a hero, please, please promise me that you'll outgrow that mentality of yours, alright?”

 

“...I'll try,” says Izuku, but is met with not one, but three stony glares. Yagi only looks back at him, helpless. “...I mean, I will ,” he says meekly.

 

“Good,” Inko says. “And as for you ,” she says, turning to look sharply at Yagi. Izuku has never seen a grown man look so cowed before. “While I'm grateful to you for what you have done for Izuku and his future, you've also endangered him recklessly. My son never asked to be included in the trouble you're in, and it was incredibly irresponsible of you to involve him, especially considering his age.”

 

“...Right,” Yagi says, too scared to defend himself.

 

Inko glares at him some more. Then she composes herself and turns to Izuku. “Izuku, sweetie, would you mind if you three left for a bit? I have some choice words for this man which I'd rather you not hear.”

 

Yagi looks positively terrified at the prospect, and seems like he's seconds away from begging Izuku not to leave him with a five-foot tall embodiment of pure, motherly rage. Yashiro, on the other hand, looks like he wants to stay and see the absolutely brutal dressing-down Yagi is sure to get.

 

“...Sure,” Izuku says, looking apologetically at Yagi when the man shoots him a betrayed look. You're on your own , he mouths. Out loud, he says, “Do you need the shopping done? We can get groceries while we're out.”

 

“No, thank you,” Inko says, shaking her head. “Why don't the three of you head down to that new ice cream shop down the street? Bring me back a flavor you think I'd like.”

 

Izuku groans as he stands up, Kimi and Yashiro following. “But you only like matcha!” he complains.

 

“Surprise me!” Inko calls out as they leave. She smiles in their direction for a short moment, before turning back to Yagi with steel in her eyes. “Shall we, Yagi-san?”

 

...For the first time in a long time, Yagi finds himself genuinely praying for his safety.

 

-

 

“...So.”

 

“...What is it.”

 

“You and widdle baby Kacchan, huh?”

 

“Oh, shut up - stop it, stop laughing, Kimi, it's not funny .”

 

-

 

When Izuku and his friends return, Yagi and Inko have finished talking. Yagi looks a lot less meek than they expected, and Izuku feels like he got the short end of the stick with the amount of scolding and pestering Kimi and Yashiro bombarded him with before they even ordered anything.

 

Instead, Yagi looks more resolute than anything, as if he'd just undergone an inspirational speech rather than aggressive motherly scolding. He's uncomfortably intense as he watches Izuku come in, and he doesn't really want to know what eternal-vow-of-protection Inko has made him swear.

 

“I got you vanilla matcha,” Izuku says to his mom, holding out the cup of ice cream that's just starting to melt. He turns to Yagi. “I didn't know what flavor you like, Yagi-san, so I just got you strawberry. Er. Kimi suggested it.”

 

“Thank you, young lady,” Yagi says seriously, as he reaches for the ice cream. “It is indeed one of my favorite flavors.”

 

“Damn,” Kimi grimaces. “I picked it because I thought you wouldn't like it.”

 

Izuku gapes at her, astounded by her statement, while Yashiro just claps her on the shoulder. “You tried, Kimi. I told you we should've gotten him pistachio. Nobody likes pistachio.”

 

“That's too obvious,” Kimi says, at the same time that Izuku protests, “Hey, pistachio’s okay.”

 

“All Might, whatever you do, never let Izuku pick your order at an ice cream parlor,” Yashiro advises him. “Vanilla’s the best you can expect from him.” He lowers his voice conspiratorially. “He still believes cherry is a real flavor.”

 

“That's it,” Izuku says. “Ice cream flavor discussions are banned. Nobody's allowed to comment on my personal tastes anymore.”

 

“Well, you probably won't be eating too much ice cream anytime soon, Izuku,” Inko says. She holds up a sheet of paper, which contains a comically large amount of figures and nutrient content. “Toshinori-san just gave me this. It's your prescribed diet for roughly the next ten months, which you have to follow to the letter. It's almost completely protein-based, and almost completely non - sugar.”

 

Izuku looks at Yagi in horror as Yashiro dramatically whispers, “Hurry! Get out while you still can!”

 

“We'll have to strengthen your body before I give you my quirk, young Midoriya,” Yagi says apologetically. “My quirk requires a high baseline strength to be accommodated in one's body, let alone for it to be used. Think of it like pumping a water balloon full in one blast. With a fire hydrant. The consequences would be… rather unpleasant. We've got to strengthen the vessel in preparation for the incoming power.”

 

“And that means…” Izuku says, trailing off in growing apprehension.

 

Yagi grins, cheerfully pulling out a brightly-colored sheet of paper. He gives it a shake, and it unfolds to its full length, reaching almost to the floor .

 

“It means,” Yagi says, “welcome to ten months of hell training.”

 

-

 

The new diet isn't the worst part of hell training. It isn't even the training itself. The worst part of training is how Izuku can't find a single error in All Might’s hellish training regimen. It's all, unfortunately, scientifically accurate , which means he cannot try and get out of it.

 

When Yagi first brings Izuku to the cluttered Dagobah Beach, his first reaction, after a week of gruelling pre-exercises, is to ask, “Are you going to make me swim to America or something?”

 

Yagi laughs heartily. “Of course not! It'll take many years before you can swim a distance that wide,” he says, patting Izuku's shoulder consolingly, like it's a great loss or something. “No, for your training, you're going to be clearing the Dagobah Beach coastline.”

 

“...Literally why.”

 

“I'm thinking the area from there,” Yagi says, ignoring him and pointing at a spot on the coastline. “All the way over… there ,” he finishes, indicating an area that easily spanned sixty percent of the entire coastline.

 

“You do realize that there's a literal car over there, don't you?” Izuku says, pointing at the ancient remains of what had once been a fully-working vehicle. Functional or not, it still probably weighs the same. “I'm going to clean this all up myself?”

 

“You have ten months,” Yagi says serenely. “You can start today or tomorrow, if you wish, as long as you make the deadline.”

 

Izuku groans and trudges down the steps towards the beach, resigned to an exhausting afternoon. “You know, there are other, less convoluted ways of getting me to do community services,” he gripes.

 

Yagi looks far too pleased with himself as Izuku begins picking at a moderately sized junk pile.

 

Even the start of the new term doesn't excuse Izuku from hell training. He balances exercise and studying, just barely managing to keep everything straight on top of his quirk deciding that he apparently didn't have enough on his plate to deal with. To be fair, his quirk has been less active than usual, but activity is activity and it's just another big chunk in the melting pot that is Izuku's stress.

 

Sunday is Izuku's one off-day. Yagi had offered two rest days per week in order to let him keep up with classes, but keeping top of the class is practically second nature to him. It helps that his teachers adore him, and ever since he'd turned in a concrete plan for a future to Mrs. Honda, she'd been supporting him a hundred percent. She writes off his occasional late arrivals and absences without even asking for a concrete explanation.

 

“I trust you, Midoriya-kun,” she had said, when Izuku came to her office to apologize for the umpteenth time. “I know you don't neglect your studies, nor spend your time frivolously. I'm just so happy to see you actually working for something you want to achieve instead of just… going through the motions in life.” She had smiled at him, looking so proud that Izuku felt obliged to thank her an excessive amount of times as he left the room.

 

Shishou had had a similar reaction when he'd come to the dojo to tell her that he could probably only come on Sundays, and only every other week or so.

 

“You're already one of my best students, Izuku, so don't worry about not attending classes!” she says in her trademark booming voice, accompanied by her trademark bruising claps on the back. “As for the kids, well, they'll miss you of course, but you can't sacrifice your future just so you can teach them.”

 

This sentence is vehemently opposed by the group of children currently congregated around Izuku, with Akari clinging to one leg and Yuuto on the other. Apparently one kid had overheard their conversation and promptly made it their duty to alert the other children. “No!” Akari cries. “Izuku-nii has to come everyday !”

 

“Now, now, children,” Shishou says, adopting her stern voice, which is actually pretty threatening. “Is that any way to behave? How can you be so selfish? Izuku has taught you all so much and helped you to become better than you ever were. Now it's his turn to pursue his dreams - you should support him the same way that he supports you.”

 

The children all look ready to burst into tears, with the exception of Akari, who's already crying. Yuuto stares tearily at the stern face of their instructor, before looking up at Izuku.

 

“You have to come back, okay?” he demands.

 

Izuku laughs. “Yes, yes. I'll be here every two weeks. You'll still see me.”

 

“And, and, you still have to think of exercises for us, okay?” pipes up another girl. Izuku nods, patting her on the head.

 

“And you have to make sure I get to fifteen meters, okay?” Yuuto interjects again, stretching his arms to wrap themselves around Izuku several times over.

 

“Izuku-nii!” Akari wails. “How will I become a cool hero like Torchwick if you don't teach me?” She dissolves into a fit of sobbing which sets all the other children off, and for a while, every other session in the dojo is paused to watch the amazing sight of one boy surrounded by a throng of crying children.

 

“Yes, yes,” Izuku says soothingly, gently detaching Akari and Yuuto from his legs so he can get down to their level.

 

“Izuku-nii’s studying to become a hero, okay?” he explains softly, as they calm down to quiet sniffling. “I'm going to UA - the greatest school for heroes! Aren't you excited for me?”

 

“We are ,” Akari says, stomping her foot childishly. “But we want you here . We want you teaching us! We'll never - we'll never love another teacher more than you, Izuku-nii! Never, never, ever!”

 

“Hey now,” Shishou jokingly interjects, but it's lost in the fresh wave of crying that Akari’s heartwarming statement triggers. Izuku, unable to speak, simply gathers the nearest children into his arms and lets the rest pile on top of him.

 

When they're all done crying, Izuku leads them in their training activities for the last time in a long while. Just because he can visit doesn't mean he'll actually have time to train them. The children all seem to instinctively know this, because they're all extra focused during the session. They spend an additional five minutes just hugging Izuku at the end of the session, even going so far as to initiate a queue, ensuring that each student gets a solo hug with their beloved assistant teacher. They're all crying as they finally leave, and Izuku himself is finding it a little hard not to join them.

 

He waits for Shishou to lock up, like usual. In her normal outfit of a smart blouse tucked neatly into a skirt, she looks more like a matronly mother than a strict dojo instructor.

 

“You take care of yourself, you hear?” she tells him once she's finished. Her voice sounds suspiciously choked-up. “You gotta come back every now and then. You've really spoiled those kids - now they won't listen to any teacher other than you.”

 

“Yeah, I'll definitely make sure to visit,” Izuku says, voice oddly scratchy as well.

 

Shishou looks at him, tender and motherly, then pulls him into a tight, warm hug. “I like that light in your eyes. You keep it there, you hear? Work hard, but not too hard. And if you ever need a place to relax or escape to, the dojo is always, always open to you. We're all your family, too, and we're supporting you every step of the way.”

 

She pulls back and aggressively musses Izuku's hair, laughing at his scrunched-up face. “Chin up, Izuku! I can't have you becoming an outstanding hero and representing our gym with that kind of face now, can I?”

 

Izuku's only reply is a muffled, unintelligible mumbling, so Shishou laughs again and pulls him into another of her back-breaking hugs.

 

He's insanely grateful for the time he'd spent at the dojo, because it means that Yagi doesn't have to teach him the basics of hand-to-hand combat. Instead, they work solely on strengthening Izuku's body, building it up to be a vessel worthy of One for All. Slowly but surely, more and more of the coast is being uncovered. He still hasn't touched the ruined car, though, and probably won't for some time yet.

 

As with most other things he's pursued in his life (which is a depressingly low number), Izuku becomes absorbed. He gets used to the meals Inko faithfully prepares for him, gets used to the feeling of every single muscle in his body aching, and tries to gets used to the mind-numbing idea that he is, in fact, training to become a hero .

 

That last bit gets to him some five months in, as Kimi and Yashiro witness when they come over to visit him on a Saturday before he goes to his morning training. They find him comically splayed out on the floor, eyes glazed over as he stares at the ceiling.

 

“Oh my god,” he mumbles. “I'm training to enter UA. I'm training to go to a school for heroes. I'm training to be a hero. Holy shit, I'm training to be a hero with the number one hero, All Might the hero - that's too many “hero”s in one sentence, and oh no I just said it again.”

 

Kimi and Yashiro take one look at the depressing existential crisis unfolding right before them and promptly carry him onto his bed. He doesn't even resist or stop mumbling. After that, they go downstairs to wait for Yagi to arrive.

 

When Yagi opens the door after knocking, Kimi is standing waiting on the doormat, preventing him from even crossing the threshold. “Nope,” she says firmly. “Izuku isn't training today.”

 

“Yeah, he's kinda…” Yashiro makes some vague gestures around his head before shrugging. “We're making him rest today, so none of that hell training, okay?”

 

Yagi, in all honesty, is only too happy to oblige. Izuku's gone above and beyond what he'd expected at the start, managing to keep the top rank in class while fulfilling the demanding regimen that had been set for him. On top of that, he still finds time for minor muscle exercises, visiting the dojo and entertaining quirk incidents.

 

(Thankfully, his quirk’s only been alerting him to cat rescues and attempted thefts. For the first time in his life, perhaps his quirk is finally getting the memo that its owner is actually, y’know, human. )

 

(Although it did take him through that alley full of drug users and smugglers once, so maybe it glossed over the fine print on that memo.)

 

“Of course. Please take care of him. I'll come back on Monday,” Yagi tells them. “He should rest up tomorrow, as well.” He hesitates briefly, then adds, “Ice cream is okay for today.”

 

Yashiro grins. “You're not all bad, All Might.”

 

Yagi finds himself returning the smile. Maybe, in time, he'll be allowed to claim his rightful place in the Izuku Protection Squad.

 

When Izuku snaps out of his stupor, he finds himself in the exact same spot that Kimi and Yashiro had put him. Except now, they're sitting on his floor, playing on his console with two convenience store bags beside them.

 

“Oh goody, look who's up,” Kimi says dryly, once she hears him shuffling around.

 

“Yo,” Yashiro greets him cheerfully. “We told All Might that you basically fell into a fatigue coma, so you don't have training today. You don't have training tomorrow, either!”

 

Izuku stares blankly at them. “But…” he blubbers weakly. “The regimen…”

 

“Absolutely not,” says Kimi. “Today's regimen includes at least five cuddle bunches, a movie marathon, and your favorite, boring, vanilla ice cream. Inko-san is preparing you katsudon as we speak.”

 

Izuku's mouth automatically waters at the mention of katsudon, but makes one more attempt at protest. “But I have to follow the diet…”

 

“Not today you don't,” Yashiro tells him, pulling him from the bed and down to the bean bags they'd arranged on the floor. “Today's your official cheat day. One rest day won't hurt - you'll be back to hell training on Monday and won't that be fun.”

 

“But - ” Izuku says, but Kimi shushes him.

 

“Less argument,” she scolds him. “More ice cream and hugs.” She shoves a tub of ice cream into his hands and starts to sift online for something mediocre to watch.

 

When Inko comes up to call them to brunch, she finds Izuku passed out between Kimi and Yashiro, an empty tub of ice cream rolling slowly away from them. The credits of Sharknado scroll past on the TV screen. They see her, and quickly beckon her over.

 

“Quick, Inko-san!” Yashiro whispers. “Hug him while he's vulnerable!”

 

Inko laughs and joins the pile, hugging him just long enough that Izuku wakes up. Disoriented and sleepy, he doesn't protest as they snuggle closer to him, only closing his eyes once more.

 

He doesn't know how he missed the sheer number of people who care about him like this, from Mrs. Honda to Shishou, but Izuku's finally coming to terms with just how lucky and loved he actually is.

cuddle bunch

 

-

 

Two months before the UA entrance exam, Izuku inexplicably finds himself at a ridiculously large photography studio.

 

He's not there for himself, though, nor is he there on his own. Inko, Yashiro, and Kimi's mother and Kimi herself are all in attendance for a modelling workshop that the latter is attending.

 

The only reason he's there is because Yagi had called ahead, saying he had a previous engagement on this same day. He'd invited Izuku to join him if he'd like, but Kimi had asked him to join them for her workshop and he'd chosen to go support her instead.

 

Agents circle around the venue like hawks, eyeing prospective models. Kimi's easily one of the most eye-catching girls there, due in large part to how she keeps changing her hair color every minute or so. It's a little embarrassing that some agents are also looking at Izuku, or more specifically his biceps, which are considerably thicker and more toned than they were before hell training. Even though this is a workshop for female models, two agents have already approached Izuku asking if he wanted to be a catalogue model, quickly assuring him that only his torso and not his face would be photographed.

 

If that isn't a backhanded compliment, Izuku sure as hell doesn't know what is.

 

Kimi's standing beside all of them near the walls instead of joining the other girls who are congregating in the middle of the room, all trying their best to be noticed. Dressed in a loose white top and stylish black joggers, Kimi looks effortlessly beautiful. Her graceful stance and constantly changing hair color attract stares from all around, and agents are looking critically at her and nodding approvingly, some making check marks on lists and papers.

 

Misaki, Kimi's mother, is chatting quietly but incessantly by her daughter's side. “Aren't you excited, Kimi? Look at all these other girls! They're all so beautiful! I'm sure they're all really talented, too. This is going to be so interesting, isn't it?”

 

“I guess,” Kimi says, turning her profile ever so slightly in the direction of a particularly big-name agent.

 

Meanwhile Yashiro, for once, isn't staring at every pretty girl passing him by. Instead, he's very pointedly staring at some random point on the floor by his shoes.

 

“What's wrong?” Izuku asks, inching closer. Inko is drawn into a cheerful conversation about the other participants with Misaki, two ditzy mothers in their element. “Why aren't you gushing over all the girls here?”

 

Yashiro looks sharply at him, expression pained. “There's too many ,” he whispers furtively. “It's way too much!”

 

“What?” Izuku laughs. “Too many? I thought you'd be over the moon at the thought of seeing all these models.”

 

I can only handle seeing two to three pretty girls at a time ,” Yashiro says helplessly. “It's too scary! How are they all so tall and pretty? How is it possible for these many beautiful girls to be gathered in one place at one time? And they're all our age!”

 

“I'm teasing you about this later,” Izuku informs him, deadly serious. “I'm going to tease you so bad, and I'm telling Kimi.”

 

Yashiro's grimace deepens, but he must know on some level that he's had this kind of retribution coming for ages because he doesn't say anything in reply.

 

“Quiet, please!” A statuesque woman in a blood red jumpsuit enters the room. Her ebony hair is styled in a high, slicked-back ponytail, and her lips match the color of her outfit perfectly. “Will all the participants please come over here? Family members and other accompanying people should move to the edges.”

 

About forty girls approach the woman, who moves to stand on a small circular platform. The rest of the people scatter to the walls. Izuku finds himself pressed between Yashiro and a grandmother who smells strongly like apple pie.

 

The tall woman clears her throat, immediately commanding the attention of the entire room. “Thank you all for coming today,” she says. Her voice is smooth, alluring. “I'm Chatora Nagisa - you may know me better by my stage name, Tigress.”

 

The room explodes into hushed whispers, apparently knowing who the woman is and what she does. The name means nothing to Izuku and Yashiro, who understandably are not as caught up on show business as Kimi is. The surname is vaguely familiar, but he can’t place it.

 

“I will be leading today's workshop. As you all know, this is not only an event aimed to improve your skills as models, but also a career opportunity. You may have noticed several agents roaming around - they are all representatives from top modelling agencies, and could potentially be a ticket to a successful career in this industry,” Tigress explains.

 

She looks seriously at them, feline eyes surveying them carefully. “I hope I don't have to tell you all how serious this is. I will not tolerate any frivolous activity. If I find that you aren't giving your all, I will not hesitate to send you home. Understand?”

 

A terrified chorus of “Yes ma'am”s rings out.

 

“Good,” Tigress says. She licks her lips once, looking, for a moment, absolutely feral. “Let's begin.”

 

By the time the second activity begins, Izuku is convinced that he will never make it in the world of catalogue models.

 

For one thing, the exercises are extremely complicated. They're designed to force the widest range out of the girls as possible. The first session had the girls pose with a five-foot bamboo pole devoid of any embellishments, tasked to utilize it in their picture anyway they wanted to, provided they used it in an engaging and unique manner.

 

The exercise, and all the rest after that, take place inside a large studio room with wide windows for family members and companions can look inside. The windows are made of a special glass that acts as a one-way mirror - the people outside can see the models, but not vice versa. Izuku supposes this is to lessen the pressure on the girls somewhat, but some of the more timid ones look longingly out at the windows wishing they could see their companions, who probably came for support.

 

Kimi, however, is completely in her element.

 

Izuku and Yashiro are only vaguely aware of Kimi's interest in fashion and her moderately successful fashion blog. They know that she’s serious about her career choice, but they never seen her do her thing , so to speak. Kimi shines above and beyond the rest of the participants, slipping easily into whatever character they’re asked to portray. Many exercises prohibit the use of their quirks, which easily becomes a problem for the girls who’ve become dependent on their quirks, but not for Kimi, who only shrugs and turns her hair back into its natural shade of black.

 

Izuku realizes that, although Kimi uses her quirk to enhance her modelling, all the real talent is actually coming from her.

 

The last exercise concludes, and the girls collectively let out sighs of relief. Tigress paces in between them before placing herself on another elevated platform.

 

“Well done, models,” she tells them. Throughout the whole day, her voice never loses its stern and cool tone even when she’s praising the girls. “You’ve all done better than I expected you would. As a reward for your performance, you will all be getting the opportunity to meet and speak with a special guest that we’ve invited. I’m quite certain that you will all appreciate this chance.”

 

The girls look amongst themselves, probably whispering and wondering who the special guest would be. Izuku and Yashiro have no guesses, seeing as they don’t really know any professional models who could possibly be invited.

 

“However, as they’ve contacted us to inform us that they’re running a little late, we have time for another activity,” Tigress says.

 

The girls tense up once more at the mention of yet another exercise, and it’s completely understandable. All Izuku had done today is just watch them, and he feels exhausted.

 

“It is not, however, compulsory. You may choose not to participate in it if you’d like,” Tigress explains. The girls perk up. “One of the former members of my modelling team has come to drop in and observe you all today. She’s a highly-skilled animal trainer and handler, and has come with a… special guest.”

 

She turns to a side door. “Ashley?”

 

A tall blonde woman enters the room. She’s tanned with bright blue eyes, and is clearly foreign. She’s kitted out in a comfortable-looking casual outfit, and she’s got a gigantic fucking snake wrapped around her neck and arms .

 

“Hi, girls!” the woman, presumably Ashley, beams. Her Japanese is surprisingly good, with hardly any accent.

 

“This is Ashley,” Tigress explains to the dumbfounded girls. “She’s an old friend of mine, and as I’ve said, she’s come today to see you all.”

 

“And I brought little Yuna here with me today,” Ashley says, stroking the decidedly not little head of the snake. Izuku recognizes it, with some trepidation, as a boa constrictor. While not too dangerous when properly trained, it’s still a snake, meaning the girls (who probably don’t know it’s mostly safe) are probably terrified out of their minds. “She’s going to be helping out with this final activity! You’re all very lucky to take a picture with her! She’s got the most beautiful scales out of all the boas I work with.”

 

At the mention of the word boa , many of the girls pale - they may not have initially known what kind of snake it is. Many of them visibly step back, which isn’t missed by Tigress.

 

“Like I said, you’re not required to do this activity,” she reassures them. “If none of you will do it, I’ll photograph with her, and we can use it as a learning experience. It just isn’t often that Ashley is able to visit, let alone with Yuna.”

 

The girls relax slightly when they hear that. So do the parents and companions outside of the studio. One particularly uptight parent had even been on the verge of storming in and pulling his daughter out.

 

That is, until one girl raises her hand.

 

“I’ll do it,” Kimi says.

 

Every other girl’s jaw drops. So does about eighty percent of the people outside the room. Izuku mostly succeeds in not joining them.

 

Yashiro is not so composed. “What is she doing?” he whispers, agitated. “What the literal hell is she doing, didn’t that lady just say it’s a literal boa constrictor?

 

Izuku, while aware that it’s not such a dangerous situation, finds himself agreeing with Yashiro. This is rather reckless and unprecedented of Kimi, who’s more likely to dissuade risk-taking than encourage it. However, as he watches, he sees Kimi turn and pointedly look out at each window.

 

When she looks out at the window that Izuku is standing in front of, she comes very close to making eye contact with him.

 

Kimi, what are you doing? Izuku wonders.

 

“Well! Looks like we have a brave one over here!” Ashley says enthusiastically. Tigress eyes Kimi, looking vaguely approving. “What’s your name?”

 

“Kimi. Tachibana Kimi.”

 

“Well, Kimi, I’m glad you volunteered. I would’ve been really disappointed if no one got the chance to take a picture with Yuna here!” Ashley says. She motions for Kimi to come closer. “Here, let’s get you acquainted with her before you take the picture.”

 

Before she does so, Kimi makes one last sweeping look at the windows leading outside. Again, she very nearly meets Izuku’s gaze before passing over him and eventually turning away.

 

That’s when it clicks.

 

Kimi knows that Izuku is out there. And that he can see her. And that he’s very, very near.

 

In short, Kimi’s counting on Izuku and his quirk to rescue her if anything goes untoward.

 

That’s a lot of faith you have in me, Kimi , Izuku thinks, watching nervously as Kimi approaches the boa constrictor. She strokes it lightly several times, barely flinching when Ashley brings it closer to her and almost to her face.

 

Deep down, Izuku knows he will never let anything happen to her. And so he watches.

 

Beside him, Kimi’s mother is getting fidgety. “Kimi! Be careful!” she whispers, even knowing that her daughter can’t hear her. She must have utmost faith in Kimi - she’s merely here to support and encourage her daughter’s dreams, not to inhibit them in any way.

 

Inko approaches Izuku. “You’ll be alerted to any danger, right?” she asks anxiously.

 

Izuku nods once, eyes never leaving Kimi. Ashley has begun draping the snake around her. “I’ll run in the minute I get even the slightest hint that she’ll be hurt,” he promises her. Yashiro overhears and swallows nervously. Like Izuku, his eyes are trained on Kimi.

 

“Let’s begin, then,” Tigress says, once the snake has settled comfortably on Kimi. She herself is doing an amazing job at seeming calm - or maybe she does feel calm. It may be because she feels secure in the knowledge that someone will intervene if she’s in any real danger.

 

The first few photos go uneventfully. Kimi poses gracefully, expertly weaving the snake between her arms. The snake itself seems docile enough - it doesn’t move too much, content with the amount of contact it has with Kimi. The rest of the girls watch with more than a little awe, many knowing they could never be brave enough to be in such close proximity with such a large snake.

 

It goes smoothly until Ashley, who watches quietly for a few photographs, comes up and asks, “Kimi, would you mind if we got Yuna a bit closer to you?”

 

The room goes silent.

 

Kimi look out searchingly at the windows again, quicker this time. When nobody comes rushing through the doors, she turns back and nods. “Okay.”

 

Ashley’s smile couldn’t be wider. “That’s what I like to hear! I like you, Kimi! Okay, let’s get Yuna up around your arm, okay? Be still - she can get a little skittish sometimes, but you should be fine if she isn’t jostled too much.”

 

Kimi does a wonderful job of not reacting to that statement as the snake winds itself around her arm. Potential danger aside, it really is a docile creature - it settles its head comfortably on the back of Kimi’s hand, watching placidly as she moves it cautiously around.

 

“We’ll make this quick, so that you can step back and see your amazing photos,” Ashley reassures her. “Plus I hear the guest is already in the building, so we really should be wrapping up.” She signals at the photographer. “Okay, let’s keep on going!”

 

Like before, Kimi continues to pose with no hint that she’s currently terrified out of her mind. Her poses come out natural and beautiful, and there’s absolutely no question now that Tigress is eyeing her as a prospective model for whatever agency she runs.

 

After several photographs, Kimi looks ready to call it a day. There are only so many ways you can work with a snake draped around your body, after all. She looks like she’s about to ask for a break when Ashley waves at her and says, “Can you put your hand by your face? It’s the final picture, I promise.”

 

Izuku and Yashiro have half a mind to storm in and tell her that under no circumstances will Kimi be putting a boa constrictor anywhere near her face.

 

However, they’re still outside of the room, and Kimi can’t see them. With the same calm face she’s worn the whole day, she nods and slips into a simple pose, turning her body sideways with her face forward. She brings her fingers up to her face, the snake’s head along with it, and as the camera shutter sounds, the snake inches forward mere centimeters from her face.

 

That’s when Izuku’s gut twists .

 

All activity in the studio halts as the door is swung open and a large crash resounds in the space.

 

Izuku, panting, is on his knees, adrenaline coursing through his body.

 

A few feet away, Kimi stands, shell-shocked, the snake still curled around her arms. Ashley and Tigress stand motionless, staring at Izuku.

 

Beside him, the model he’d pushed aside is stirring feebly. They’re only a few feet away from the giant light fixture which had dislodged itself from the ceiling, only barely missing the girl as Izuku had pushed her away from its path.

 

A very potent and awkward silence takes hold of everyone. The dazed model looks from the fallen light, to Izuku, and back again, then blanches, looking very close to passing out.

 

Just then, another door off to the side slams open. “ Never fear! ” yells out a booming voice, promptly accompanied by an equally booming laugh. “ For I am - oh, dear.”

 

All Might glances around at the room, looking first at the wreckage of the light, then at Izuku, then at the still prone model, then to Kimi, who still has a gigantic snake wrapped around her body.

 

“Er… this is the right building, right?” he asks uncertainly.

 

There is a beat of silence before Izuku falls back on the floor and starts laughing. Outside, Yashiro can be heard doing the same thing, his voice floating in through the open door.


-

 

It turns out that Tigress had gone to UA in the general department at around the same time that Yagi had been a hero course student there. While it does throw Izuku off for a moment, wondering just how old Tigress actually is despite her youthful appearance, it does explain how she was able to invite All Might here in order to host a little meet-and-greet with the models. Presumably to give some inspirational advice and maybe take a few pictures with them here and there.

 

That’s thrown out the window as the rest of the models are dismissed while the studio is examined for more faulty equipment, thanking them for their participation and apologizing for the incident. The parents of the girl that Izuku had rescued come up to thank him profusely, the girls herself still seeming a little too out-of-it to acknowledge him when he asks if she’s okay.

 

Yuna the boa constrictor is retrieved by Ashley, who pats Kimi and congratulates her on a job well done. She gives her a calling card, instructing her to “Hit me up if you ever wanna work with Yuna or any other animals again!” Kimi takes the card and thanks her professionally, stroking Yuna one more time at Ashley’s insistence.

 

Tigress thanks Izuku for intervening. “You moved so fast,” she praises him, face still never once losing her stony expression. “Your reflexes were better even than mine, and that’s saying something. It’s almost as if you knew it was going to happen before it did.”

 

Izuku can only laugh nervously.

 

Kimi is informed discreetly that she’ll be getting a call from the agency in the near future, and then they’re all let go. All Might thanks Tigress for inviting him and apologizes for being late, before laughing and  leaping out an open window. Not a single person in the room reacts.

 

When Izuku and the rest get outside, Yagi is waiting for them. He introduces himself politely to Kimi’s mother, pretending he hadn't seen her scant moments before, then accompanies them all home. The way home is filled with talk about the workshop, and scattered congratulations on Kimi’s imminent modelling deal.

 

Even when Yashiro, Kimi, and Misaki separate from the rest of the group to go to their own homes, Yagi accompanies Inko and Izuku all the way to their doorstep. They’re absorbed in talking about what they can do in the last two months before the entrance exam when they notice someone leaning outside their apartment door.

 

“Oh, my!” Inko gasps. “Katsuki?”

 

For a moment, Izuku thinks he’s hallucinating, but there’s no denying that Kacchan is there, leaning against their locked apartment door for who knows how long by now. He tenses up when he sees them, then looks at Yagi with confusion, before settling on Izuku and nodding once. “Yeah,” he says.

 

“How nice to see you again!” Inko gushes, rushing forward to grasp his hands. Kacchan jumps and just barely manages not to yank his hands out of her hold. “What are you doing here? Oh! Are you here to visit Izuku again?”

 

Kacchan looks like he wants to leave, but then nods. “Yeah, I’m here to talk to Deku,” he says, politer than Izuku suspects he would’ve been had two adults not been around, especially one he doesn’t know.

 

“Oh! Then I’ll let the two of you talk,” Inko says happily. She sees him looking at Yagi with some confusion then claps her hands together. “Oh, how rude of me! You haven’t met him yet, have you? This is A - Toshinori Yagi-san! Yes. Definitely Toshinori Yagi-san .” She laughs nervously, similar to the way Izuku had just an hour before.

 

“He’s the one who paid for our hospital bills,” Izuku says by way of explanation. “Back at the… well, you know.”

 

Kacchan doesn’t usually do gratitude, so he just coolly looks Yagi over and nods. He must be trying really hard to remain polite, since nods are doing most of the talking for him.

 

“Well, we should all go inside,” Inko suggests, ushering everyone through the door. “I can go ahead and prepare dinner, and you two can chat up in Izuku’s room in the meanwhile. You will stay for dinner though, right?” she asks. She turns to Yagi. “You as well, Toshinori-san?”

 

“Er…” says Yagi, who looks like he might refuse. So does Kacchan. However, Inko fixes them both with her trademark pleading look, which has the capacity to move mountains and the hearts of a thousand men. And also make one feel very, very guilty for refusing her anything. “...Yes. We’ll stay for dinner.”

 

“Wonderful!” Inko says happily. “It’s a good thing I bought enough pork cutlets yesterday! Toshinori-san, you join me in the kitchen while the boys talk.” She beams at them, obviously expecting some magical reunion to occur between the two of them.

 

“...Right,” Izuku says. “We’ll be upstairs.”

 

Inko smiles at them before leading Yagi into the kitchen, practically bouncing on her feet. Izuku’s worried she’ll subconsciously start making things float towards her along the way. He shrugs when he sees Kacchan looking. “Come on.”

 

“Was that your fucking step-dad or something?” Kacchan asks as they make their way upstairs.

 

Izuku pauses at the top of the stairs, actually speechless. “ What? ” he asks, in pure and utter disbelief.

 

Kacchan takes one look at his face and snorts. “It was just a fucking question, nerd, no need to get all bug-eyed and defensive,” he says, shoving Izuku to get him to move again.

 

Inside the room, Kacchan immediately sits on Izuku’s bed, by far the most comfortable seat in the entire room. Izuku sighs and resigns himself to sitting at his desk. “So why are you here this time, Kacchan?” he asks. “As far as I’m aware, we haven’t been in any life-or-death situations recently. Or are you here to take back your apology?” He holds up his hands. “No judgment if you do.”

 

Kacchan gapes at him, looking from his face to the glaringly red scars still on his hands. “You got a sick sense of humor, you know that?” he says.

 

Izuku chuckles. “It might have to do with how tired I am right now, and like, all the time, so you’re gonna have to deal with me being a smartass for the entire duration of this conversation.”

 

“Smartass, huh,” Kacchan repeats. “Is that why you somehow got it into your little brain to apply for the fucking heroics course in UA?”

 

Izuku winces, then frowns. “First off,” he says dryly. “My brain is not little, thank you very much, and secondly, how do you even know about that?”

 

Kacchan glares. “Saw your name on the list of registering students. Thought I was fucking hallucinating or something, but there it was. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m actually pretty fucking good at remembering shit that I say. You might not be, seeing as you’re enrolling in a hero course after telling me in detail how much you fucking hate the hero industry .”

 

Izuku is silent for a beat, then laughs. “You need to use some better curse words, Kacchan,” he giggles. “You used fuck like three times.”

 

“Stop changing the fucking subject, Deku,” Kacchan growls, still using the same curse word probably in defiance of Izuku. “You and I both know it’d take a goddamn miracle for someone like you to actually change their fucking mind. Especially because I’m pretty sure you being quirkless and your shitty dad and grandpa issues aren’t the only reasons you didn’t want to be a hero.”

 

“Oh?” Izuku says. “And what do you think is the other reason?”

 

“Your mom,” Kacchan says bluntly. “You don’t want your mom going through another death.”

 

Izuku freezes, genuinely taken by surprise.

 

How...

 

“Know how I know that?” Kacchan asks, noticing the dumbfounded look on his face. “Because the summer before fourth grade, when we were having a sleepover, you woke up in the middle of the fucking night crying for your mom after you had a nightmare. You wouldn't stop crying, so we had to get your mom to come over and take your ass home. When you saw her, you ran up to her like a fucking madman and hugged the shit out of her. Remember what you said?”

 

Izuku remembers. He stares at the floor, eyes distant.

 

“Yeah,” he says quietly. “Yeah. I do. I told her, ‘...It's okay, Mom, I'm here, I‘m not going anywhere. I'm not gonna go with Dad.’”

 

“Right,” Kacchan says. “And I heard Mom talking with your mom before you went home. Your mom had a pretty good idea what your dream was… and then you didn't want to leave your house at all for the next few days. I had to fucking write notes for you from the days you were absent, you asshole.”

 

Izuku snorts. “Those were the worst notes I ever saw,” he says, smiling slightly. “I can’t believe you still remember that.”

 

“It’s hard to forget waking up in the night with some snot-faced gremlin clinging to you,” Kacchan says. “So what the hell gives? Why the actual fuck are you enrolling in the heroics course? Because lemme tell you,” he says, eyes narrowing dangerously. “If it’s some shitty half-assed reason, then you better drop out right now. You already said that the industry’s full of fakes, you don’t need to come along running and become one of them.”

 

Izuku frowns. “Things happened, I guess,” he says simply. “I met someone, and they told me their story. And someone else just happened to… to remind me a lot of myself.”

 

“You’re not making any fucking sense, dipshit,” Kacchan complains, oblivious to the magnitude of that last statement.

 

“A lot of things changed, Kacchan,” Izuku says. “But I guess it’s also partly because of something I realized. The way I was before, I was just complaining about the hero industry passively. It’s all well and good for me to say those things, but I really wasn’t doing anything. This way… at least this way, I can bring about some change, even if it’s really small.”

 

He shrugs. “I guess you could say I realized I was being hypocritical. That I was being fake, too.”

 

“Huh,” is all Kacchan says. “So you finally realized.”

 

“That’s mean, Kacchan,” Izuku says jokingly, grimacing. “At least praise me for ‘growing some balls,’ as you would put it.”

 

“Well, life-changing realization or not, you still realize you’re fucking quirkless , right?” Kacchan says. “How the fuck do you think you’re going to survive the practical examination?”

 

Izuku winces. “Well, actually, it's funny that you should say that - ”

 

“Izuku! Katsuki!” Inko says brightly, pushing the door open before stopping in her tracks, looking at the two boys. “Oh dear, am I interrupting something important? I’m so sorry! I can come back later if you want to keep talking.”

 

Behind her, Yagi peers in, hair covered in something that look suspiciously in flour. “Dinner’s ready,” he says, then grimaces. “It probably would’ve been better if I didn’t help.”

 

“Nah, we’re hungry,” Izuku says, answering for Kacchan. He looks at the other boy. “You are too, right?”

 

Kacchan regards him coolly for a beat, then stands up. “Yeah. I can eat.”

 

Inko beams . “Wonderful! Come on, let’s all go down!” she says, with the same cheerful tone she always gets when entertaining guests.

 

As it turns out, Yagi had been in charge of observing the tonkatsu while it cooked, and had regrettably overlooked his duty while in conversation with Inko. He graciously claims the most burnt slices for himself, which isn’t saying a lot because all of them are burned. Still, it’s an enjoyable meal, as enjoyable as it could get anyway when you’re eating with your excitable mother, your mentor the Number One Hero, and your former best friend slash childhood friend who you’re still not sure if you’re actually friends with now.

 

...God, today has been weird.

 

Yagi leaves first, after Kacchan and Izuku volunteer to do the dishes. (More accurately, Kacchan had monotonously said he would do the dishes before promptly glaring at Izuku as if trying to see if he would dare make a guest do all the work by himself). “Thank you for the wonderful dinner,” he says, bowing politely. “I’ll see you tomorrow, young Midoriya.”

 

“Ah, yeah,” Izuku says absently, busily drying the plates that Kacchan hands to him.

 

Kacchan is silent for a moment before he speaks.

 

“If he calls you young Midoriya , does that mean he calls your mom old Midoriya ?”

 

As she passes by, Inko is simultaneously concerned and overjoyed by the sight of Katsuki cursing as Izuku chases him around the kitchen, smacking him with a damp dishtowel.

 

“Come visit again, okay?” Inko says, when Kacchan moves toward the door. His clothes are a little damp, but it’s nothing compared to Izuku’s soaked clothes after Kacchan had splashed a glassful of water on him in lieu of exploding him with his quirk. “You’re enrolling in UA too, right? Make sure you’re careful, okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Kacchan says. To Izuku he says. “You better shape up, damn nerd. Don’t fucking embarrass yourself.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Izuku says, rolling his eyes, but he's smiling. “See you in two months, I guess.”

 

If Inko gets any happier than she is now, she’d probably burst.



-

 

The day before the entrance exam, Yagi goes for his usual wake-up call at Izuku’s house, only for Inko to tell him that Izuku has already left. She doesn’t know where her son is, had in fact assumed that he would already be with Yagi.

 

“Maybe he’s getting some extra training in,” Inko suggests. “He’s been getting skittish the closer the entrance exam gets.”

 

“Perhaps,” Yagi says. He figures the boy would be training - in fact, he’s most likely at Dagobah Beach. For the last three weeks, Izuku had asked Yagi not to show up there while he was cleaning. Most likely he wants to surprise his mentor with the amount he’s cleaned by the time the entrance exam comes.

 

He shakes his head fondly. He’d only been joking when he’d pointed out the area for Izuku to clean - a sort of logical ruse, one might say. He’d picked that up from Aizawa, and he’d decided to see what kind of effect it would have on such an earnest boy as Izuku.

 

Well, knowing him, he’ll absolutely try to do it , Yagi thinks, starting to walk to the beach. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already cleared what I told him to -

 

He stops dead in his tracks.

 

Hold on.

 

What he’s seeing absolutely cannot be right.

 

Because what he sees is a perfectly pristine beach, the white sand that had been covered for so long finally visible. Nothing interrupts his view of the horizon, where a truly beautiful sunrise is glowing, as if in celebration of the restored beach.

 

“Oh… OH MY GOODNESS!” Yagi exclaims, astounded beyond belief. Never, in a million years, had he expected Izuku to actually clean the entire beach. The area that he pointed out, perhaps, yes, but this?   And speaking of young Midoriya, where is he?

 

Yagi jogs down the stairs to the beach to find that it's not as pristine as he'd originally thought. One final piece of junk mars the otherwise flawless landscape of sand.

 

There, seated on the hood of the ratty car he'd pointed out on the very first day, is Izuku. He's breathing heavily, with his tattered shirt resting beside him, his chest bare. And what a difference it is from before training - before, while he'd been toned from his martial arts training, he'd still been a skinny boy with little mass to speak of. Now - now his body is something else. Defined muscles ripple with his every move, his entire torso sculpted and just screaming strength .

 

Yagi approaches him. “Young Midoriya…”

 

Izuku snaps to attention, looking at him. “Oh, Yagi-san,” he greets him casually, as if he hasn't just finished clearing a beach of tons of scrap metal and junk. “You're early.”

 

“Did you just… did you just finish cleaning today?” Yagi asks, wonder in his voice.

 

Izuku snorts. “No, I've been finished for days. I just came back from a run, which is why I'm all worked up. I figured you'd come by before the entrance exam, so I've been waiting for you.”

 

“You've been finished for some time?” Yagi repeats, disbelieving. This boy… “Why haven't you informed me?”

 

“I wanted to surprise you,” Izuku says, grinning. He pats the hood of the car that he's sitting on. “And I left this one for last, because I wanted you to see me put it away.”

 

Yagi remembers how Izuku had pointed the car out ten months ago, complaining about its weight. Now, as Yagi watches, Izuku nimbly hops off the hood and starts dragging the car like a sack of potatoes, if not with ease then with much, much less effort than one would expect. His face is knit in concentration, the muscles in his arms bunching, but it takes him less than three minutes to haul the car up the stairs and place it near the other junk he's cleared up.

 

He dusts his hands off and looks at Yagi as if he hasn't lugged more than a thousand pounds of steel and wire up a set of stairs. “Well, I'm finished,” he says, quite unnecessarily. “What happens now? The entrance exam is tomorrow.”

 

Yagi stares at him for a few seconds, before shaking his head and smiling fondly. “You never cease to amaze me,” he says under his breath. Out loud, he says. “Now - now you're ready to receive my quirk.”

 

Izuku's eyes widen, and he practically runs down stairs to return to Yagi. “How are we gonna do it?” he asks excitedly. “Are you gonna like… pass it on telepathically? Or do you just touch my forehead like E.T. and boom - I have it?”

 

Yagi doesn't know what an E.T. is, but he does know it won't be easy as just touching Izuku’s forehead. He plucks a single golden hair from his head, then holds it out to Izuku.

 

“Eat this,” he says, abruptly morphing into his All Might form for extra impact.

 

It works, judging from the look on Izuku’s face.

 

The boy gapes at him, staring at the shiny hair in between his thin fingers. “But… that doesn't have any protein.”

 

Yagi’s eyes going comically wide is the only warning Izuku gets before the man bursts into steam, reverting to his normal form. He dissolves into hearty laughter, unhindered even by the spots of blood that spatter onto the fist he raises to cover his mouth. “Oh no,” he says, trying to contain his chuckles. “Oh, oh no - it looks like I've trained you too well, young Midoriya.”

 

(He remembers his own reaction when Nana had told him to eat her hair. His concerns had been much less mundane than Izuku's.)

 

“Yes, you're correct,” he says, giggles subsiding. He wipes the residue of blood away from his mouth with a tissue. Between Izuku and Inko, he's never short of wipes and napkins. “This doesn't have protein, in fact, it doesn't have any nutritional content at all. However, this is how the transfer of One for All works - you must consume something that has my DNA in it.”

 

Izuku's face involuntarily scrunches up. “But couldn't I eat something else - you know what, nope . Nope, nope, nope. Hair is the only option.”

 

Yagi sympathizes with him. He too had once asked Nana if there was no other way, but she'd told him that unless he wanted to drink her blood like some kind of vampire or eat a bit of her skin, hair was the way to go.

 

...Nana would've absolutely adored Izuku.

 

“So, I eat it, and then what?” Izuku presses on. “Do I suddenly have all your powers? Will you not have your powers anymore?”

 

“The power will manifest itself in your body in a few hours or so,” Yagi says. “Remember, it's going to weave itself into every fiber of your body. It's possible that you won't feel everything until this afternoon.”

 

“As for myself… well, I'll retain a great deal of the residue that One for All will leave. I'll also still have my natural body strength. So I can masquerade as All Might for some time yet.”

 

Izuku visibly relaxes in relief. “Oh, good. I thought you'd be forced to retire or something.”

 

Yagi laughs. “No, young Midoriya, as the Symbol of Peace, I must continue my hero work for as long as I am needed… or for as long as I am able to. And of course, I still have to stick around as your mentor, don't I?”

 

“All you've taught me is how to strengthen every muscle in my body beyond breaking point - and how to lift with my knees,” Izuku retorts, but it's lighthearted. His joking manner quickly disappears when Yagi brings his hair closer to his face. “Does it really have to be DNA?” he asks, face wrinkled in disgust.

 

“Just eat it, young Midoriya,” Yagi instructs him. “The sooner you consume it, the sooner you’ll obtain my powers, and the more time you’ll have to adjust to it.” He grimaces slightly. “Just because your body can accommodate it, doesn’t guarantee that you’ll actually be able to use it right off the bat.”

 

Izuku eyes the hair with trepidation, for more than one reason. Eventually, he seems to steel himself, grabbing the strand and swallowing it in one fell swoop. “Ugh,” he says. “ Ughhh .”

 

“How do you feel?” Yagi says, straining not to laugh.

 

“Like a crazy stalker at some crazy stalker shrine, conducting a voodoo ritual with your hair,” Izuku deadpans. “I didn’t taste anything, thank God - and whoa , there we go, I’m feeling it, what the hell.”

 

Yagi’s eyes widen. “You feel the energy already?” he says, alarmed.

 

Izuku looks at his hands, eyes widening in horror. “Y-Yagi-san,” he stammers, his hands beginning to shake. “Yagi-san, I don’t feel so good .”

 

Yagi is concerned, extremely concerned. “This is unprecedented. You shouldn’t be feeling its effects for hours yet… are you absolutely sure you’re feeling it, young Midoriya - ”

 

He’s cut off as Izuku suddenly falls to his knees, clutching his stomach as he doubles over with laughter. “You bought it,” he says in between fits of giggling. “You actually believed me - you didn’t even get my reference! You should’ve seen your face!”

 

Yagi looks at him, laughing on the sand, tears tracing their way down his face. This boy, who has gone through so much, who’s lost so much and lives with the universe constantly hounding him - for this boy to stand there with the scars that he bears and laugh , so joyously and so openly -

 

Nana , Yagi thinks, as Izuku stands up to apologize for the joke. His smile is bright and genuine, his green eyes alight with something that hasn’t been there before. For once in my life, I’ve gotten something completely right.

 

-

 

“Do you care about Izuku?”

 

Yagi freezes, obviously not expecting the question. “What do you mean?” he asks.

 

Inko sighs, but her smile is patient and kind. “I have no question about why you would choose Izuku as your successor. Despite how much he claims to hate the hero industry, I know his actual feelings towards it are more complex and deeper than simple hate. Deep down, he can’t help but be drawn to the life and ideals of a hero.” She looks sadly off to the side. “It’s in the blood, I suppose.”

 

She turns back to him. “Well, going back to my question. Do you care about Izuku?”

 

Yagi regards her seriously, before nodding once. “Yes. I do,” he says. A small smile comes unbidden to his face at the thought of the boy. “He reminds me a lot of the way I once was, only a hundred - no, a million times better. He can become everything I am and more. I won’t list all his admirable qualities, since it would take too much time, and you obviously already know all of them. But…” His face grows soft. “I care about him. About his wishes, his health, his life. I know I only met him recently, but I want to see him grow into not just a fine hero, but a fine man.”

 

His face floods with color, and he ducks his head. “Sorry, I got rather sentimental there. Does that answer your question?”

 

Inko is silent for a beat. Then she laughs gently. “I have no doubt you care about him, Toshinori-san. Nor that you’ll do everything in your power to keep him safe.”

 

He looks up to see her face open and loving, suffused with an indescribable depth of love for her son.

 

“Izuku will definitely become an amazing hero.”

Chapter Text

This is new.

 

This energy is new.

 

It’s almost too much to handle, but if that’s his wish…

 

Muscle fibers and bones are altered and made anew. The energy becomes the key to its control.

 

Slowly, and yet all at once, the universe shifts .

 

The pieces fall into place.

 

-

 

Izuku wakes up to the familiar sound of his alarm clock.

 

What’s not familiar, however, is the way he reaches over to turn the alarm off, grabs the clock, and promptly crushes it into bits and pieces as he presses the button.

 

He’s so sleepy he almost nods off again once the room is silent, but abruptly sits up when he feels the shrapnel gathered in his hand.

 

“What the fuck,” he whispers. He looks at the shattered remains of his clock, all sad and useless bits of metal and wire. The LED screen is smashed beyond recognition. “What the fuck. What the fuck .”

 

He looks at his hand, which looks normal enough, despite now having the strength to crush a steel clock into literal pieces. He makes a fist and focuses.

 

...He can feel it.

 

Faintly, beneath the surface of his skin, he can feel a quiet thrum of something. Power. Energy .

 

He flexes his arm, then tries to imagine energy pooling around his hand. To his great horror, sparks of what looks like green electricity begins to surround it, lighting his skin up. His hand feels supercharged - he feels it could go supernova at any instant. Fearing for the safety of his room, he desperately tries to imagine the energy turning off, like a switch.

 

To his relief, the lights die down. The buzzing static that had collected in his arm dissipates. It is, once again, a perfectly normal human arm.

 

“Izuku?” comes the muffled voice of his mom. “Izuku, are you up? Aren’t you leaving early today for the entrance exam? Breakfast is ready, so come eat!”

 

“I’m up!” Izuku replies, still transfixed on his arm. He’s got to eat fast if he wants to test his newfound powers out. There’s no telling what would happen to him if he went into the practical exam blind. “I’ll be down in a bit!”

 

“Okay!” His mother’s footsteps fade away, as she presumably goes to the dining room.

 

Izuku cautiously stands up from the bed, afraid that if he steps too hard, he’ll stomp a hole right through the floor. The floor seems to hold his weight, meaning that as long as he keeps conscious control of his new quirk, things will be fine.

 

...Hopefully.

 

 

...Is it too late to get Yagi to eat his hair and take the quirk back?

 

At the dining table, Inko is simultaneously anxious and excited. “You haven’t neglected studying for the written part, have you?” she asks, as Izuku ravenously shovels food into his mouth. “I know you and Yagi have been training for the practical exam, but the written part is just as important, right?”

 

“Mom, I’ll be fine,” Izuku says, meticulously picking a fried egg apart. “I graduated top of the class without even trying.”

 

“Oh, but those are already students you know,” she says. “These are a whole new bunch of kids - ooh, honey, you gotta keep calm, you gotta keep calm, I’m already such a nervous wreck just thinking about it!”

 

Izuku laughs through a mouthful of rice. “Mom, I don’t think you’re the one who’s supposed to be nervous,” he says. “I’m the one who has to go through a physical exam with a quirk that I’m just now getting.”

 

Inko claps her hands together. “That’s right!” she gasps, anxiety doubled. “What about the quirk? I know you told me that you got it yesterday, but it hasn’t set in yet, right? Or has it? Have you felt it? What is it like? Is it uncomfortable?”

 

Izuku smiles privately. It’s clear where he gets his mumbling habit from. “I woke up this morning and crushed my alarm clock into pieces,” he says bluntly, reaching out to inhale his miso soup.

 

Inko’s shock is palpable. “ You crushed your alarm clock? ” she repeats, her chopsticks clattering to the table. “That’s terrible! What if you can’t control your quirk? What if it’s too much for you to handle?”

 

Privately, Izuku doesn’t really know the answer and feels that it might be horrible once he finds out. Out loud, he says, “I’m sure I’ll be fine, Mom. That’s why I woke up earlier today, so that I could test things out and get a feel for it before I go to the entrance exam.”

 

Inko hardly looks reassured, but she lets it go with a sigh. “Just please, please, please be careful, okay, Izuku?” she pleads. “I don’t want you going off injuring yourself with that new power of yours. Neither would Toshinori-san, I’m sure.”

 

Izuku grimaces, keeping quiet in favor of loading his bowl up with more rice. He hopes he has enough time to properly test it out before he’s thrown to the dogs.



-

 

Wearing a light parka to guard against the chill of the early morning, Izuku jogs briskly to the dojo. Shishou had entrusted him with a duplicate key some time before, when he’d once asked permission to train in the privacy of the gym. It’s too early for anybody to be there yet, even Shishou, which is perfect.

 

Once he arrives, he unlocks the door and quietly creeps inside. The grandeur of the quirk-training gym never fails to make him feel reverent whenever he remembers the hard work that went into acquiring permission for it, constructing it, and now utilizing it. He’s never thought he’d ever get to actually use it for a quirk of his own. (Barring the time his original quirk had alerted him to one of the kids straying into the path of an advanced student, but Izuku feels that that doesn’t really count.)

 

Before doing anything, he goes through his usual routine of stretching, careful not to let any of the power in his body seep to his skin, where it could possibly escape and do damage. Even though he’s keeping it together, it’s definitely making its presence known, strengthening his body and pumping him full of energy until he can barely keep still.

 

He wonders if this is what it’s like to be on steroids.

 

When he’s finished his routine (taking longer than usual, apprehensive of what could come next), he takes a deep breath and stares at his hands. It’s a pretty good place to start, considering he just murdered his alarm clock with one of them. He fetches a training dummy and places it in the middle of the room.

 

As he does so, Yagi’s parting words to him from the previous day ring in his head. Be very, very careful, young Midoriya , he had cautioned. Even with your improved body, there's no guarantee that you will be able to use the power. You may still end up injuring yourself, so exercise the utmost caution.

 

“Okay, baby steps,” he mutters to himself, trying to calm the jittery feeling that’s taken over his body. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t feel like nervousness - it feels more like adrenaline.

 

He punches the dummy without using his quirk first, pleased to see that it swings way back with the amount of force he puts in. The hell training has definitely done its job - his baseline strength has jumped way up.

 

Taking another deep breath, Izuku starts to get used to the feel of the energy pulsing through his body. He lets it pool first around his arms, trying not to stare nervously at the sparks of green electricity that appear, before letting the rest of it gather down through his torso and then to his legs. The feeling is intense, almost uncomfortable, but not quite. He feels like he could run a thousand miles without stopping.

 

He spends the next few minutes turning the energy off and on again, focusing on making it instinctive. He probably wouldn’t have time to let the energy pool naturally in the midst of the practical exam. Izuku knows he’s at a disadvantage, going up against people who’ve used their quirks for most of their lives, but he’s determined to shrink that gap to as little as possible in the time that he has.

 

After repeating the process almost a dozen times, he checks the clock on the wall of the dojo. There’s only a little under an hour before the entrance exam, with the written exam coming before the practical one. He’s studied for it in his free time, so he’s really not worried about the written exam.

 

He looks at the training dummy again, imagining punching it with One for All. The thought sends shivers through him for some reason, so he spends another twenty minutes testing what else he can do with the power. He's well aware of the concept of Newton’s third law, and he knows that in order his body to withstand any impact, he'll have to learn to strengthen his body against the forces it'll endure.

 

As he repeats the processes over and over again, a nagging little voice at the back of his head keeps asking: Is it supposed to be this simple? This easy? He hasn’t injured himself or anything yet, in fact hasn’t felt any pain or noticeable discomfort from using the quirk. He decides not to question it too much, though, lest he jinx his chances of learning to control it.

 

Finally, with just thirty minutes left, he turns back to the training dummy. He quickly reinforces his entire body with One for All, assumes a fighting stance, and prepares to punch the dummy with his superpowered fist.

 

At least, he’d planned to, until his gut abruptly twists in the middle of his practice.

 

Panicked, Izuku lets One for All disperse and quickly runs out the dojo, looking wildly around for anything that might have caused his quirk to activate. He looks at the roads for any speeding vehicles, at the nearby windows for any dangling people, and finally at the trees to see if there are any cats stuck up there.

 

Nothing. There's nothing dangerous around.

 

Strangely enough, as he stands there at the entrance of the dojo, the feeling in his gut dissipates without him doing anything. He looks at his surroundings one more, confirming that there is truly nothing out of the ordinary.

 

“That's weird,” Izuku mumbles. His quirk hasn't been wrong before. It wouldn't act up like that unless…

 

Unless maybe he's the one that had been doing something dangerous.

 

He looks down at his fist, unaided by any extra strength. Did his quirk just stop him from using One for All in the dojo… because it could've had disastrous results? His mind flashes back to how he'd destroyed his clock without even being aware. If he'd tried to unleash a full-on punch without holding back… he suddenly realizes how much damage he could've caused, both to himself and his surroundings.

 

“Close call,” he says to himself, going back inside to collect his things. While he's glad he didn't accidentally destroy the dojo in the middle of training, he still hasn't fully tested the quirk out. Oh well. He guesses he'll either sink or swim in the practical exam.

 

...However, as he leaves the dojo after locking up, a new thought enters his brain. Punching would be out of the question, but what if he used One for All to strengthen his legs and sprint to UA? Stronger legs would mean longer strides, after all.

 

This could theoretically work, right?

 

Carefully strapping his bag to his back, and shaking his legs out in preparation for running, he lets One for All course through his entire body, focusing most of it on his legs.

 

Feeling no warning in his gut, Izuku allows himself a small grin. Either this is going to go very well, or very, very, bad .

 

He takes one step forward. Then another. Then several.

 

As he runs through the just-awaking neighborhood at practically jet speeds, Izuku finds it very hard not to scream “ Whee! ” at the top of his lungs.

 

-

 

Izuku arrives at UA in just over ten minutes, which is a minor miracle considering he would normally need to take a train to get there. His hair and clothes are a complete mess when he gets there, but his breathing is light and he feels more like he came from a brisk jog rather than a high-speed run that spanned several districts.

 

Around him, other exam takers eye him apprehensively. He must be a sight to see - clothes and backpack askew, an exhilarated smile on his face. It's obvious that he just ran from somewhere, and they're not too keen on finding out.

 

This quirk is amazing , Izuku thinks to himself, still feeling the adrenaline even though he's let the power fade away. His thoughts are going a mile a minute as he starts walking to the entrance, making a vague attempt to tidy himself up. And so versatile, like Yagi-san said. Now I see how he could do all those amazing things as All Might! I wonder how powerful it really is - and didn't he say it would get even more powerful as it's passed on? So shouldn't this mean that I could potentially get even more powerful than -

 

His thoughts are abruptly interrupted when his sneakers get snagged on a crack im the pavement. Falling forward, he remembers going through the exact same thing in the dojo while avoiding one of Shishou’s powerful armholds. He lets himself pitch forward and tumble, rolling once and then landing on his feet, propelling himself to standing position in one smooth motion.

 

“Ah,” comes a high voice behind him. He turns around.

 

A girl with rosy cheeks and short brown hair stands there, her hand outstretched towards him. Her brown eyes are wide, her mouth slightly ajar. “O-oh, are you o-okay?” she asks.

 

“Yeah, I just tripped,” Izuku says, shrugging. He notices her still outstretched hand, and nervously offers his in turn. “Um, high five?”

 

She lets out what sounds like a squeal before practically yanking her hand away. “Oh, no! No, no, I saw you fall and I thought, you know, I'd use my quirk on you so you wouldn't… hit the ground,” she finishes lamely. Only now does Izuku notice the pink circular pads on the tips of her fingers. He immediately moves in close to get a better look.

 

“May I?” he asks politely, pulling her hand close to his face to examine the pink spots. He ignores the quieter squeal she releases, absorbed in examining the fascinating little dots. “What is your quirk, by the way?”

 

“Z-Zero Gravity,” the girl stammers, shrinking under Izuku's intense scrutiny. “Um, I can completely n-negate the gravitational pull affecting objects or people.”

 

“I see,” Izuku says, releasing her hand. “So you would've used it to keep me from hitting the ground.”

 

“Yes!” the girls says, smiling slightly. “But you didn't need it at all! You were so cool - you tripped and I thought you would fall, but then you went whoosh and rolled, and then you stood up, and I was like, ‘ Wahh !’”

 

“Excuse me!” A booming voice interrupts their conversation. A tall young man with dark hair and square glasses approaches them. Well, approach seems like too tame a word. He marches over to them, his hands swinging at his sides like a soldier's. “Please do not loiter outside the examination venue! There is only a little time left before it starts, so please refrain from frivolous exchanges!”

 

The girl looks absolutely nonplussed, not to mention terrified of the boy's loud voice. Izuku, who's spent hours in close proximity with the likes of Kacchan, Shishou, and most recently, an over-enthusiastic Yagi, is not as fazed.  He's also had extensive experience in making said loudmouths leave him alone, which is often as simple as giving in to what they want.

 

“Sure, we'll move along,” Izuku says placatingly. He throws in an extra, “We're sorry,” for good measure.

 

The boy looks extremely gratified. “Well! Thank you for listening! Good luck on the exam, even though we are competing for the same spots!” He appears to realize the contradiction in his words, short circuiting for a brief moment until Izuku pokes him gently. “We should get to the orientation venue, right?”

 

“Of course!” the boy exclaims, shaking himself out of the conundrum he locked himself in. “Come! Let us make our way to the venue, post haste!”

 

He power walks his way to the entrance, his long legs pumping furiously despite not actually running. Izuku shakes his head. Yashiro would get a kick out of that guy.

 

Oh, yeah, speaking of Yashiro, he would be somewhere here on the same campus. Those applying specifically for the general course are directed to a different venue, however, so Izuku probably wouldn't beel seeing him until after the exam -

 

“Um, hello?” the girl pipes up. She leans in front of him, waving her hand in front of his face. “You look like you're getting lost in thought, too.”

 

“Oh, my bad,” Izuku says, startled. “I'll catch you later, yeah? Good luck on the exam!”

 

“Good luck to you too - ” The girl barely manages to get this out before Izuku crouches, then springs forward using his quirk, leaving a gust of wind in his wake.

 

The girl blinks, spitting out a lock of hair that had flown into her mouth. “I didn't even catch their names,” she says, disgruntled, settling for walking to the entrance like a normal person.

 

-

 

Izuku doesn't want to brag, but he absolutely aces the written exam.

 

He does make sure to read his answers over twice in order to avoid getting complacent, but like he'd thought, the written part is far from the greatest challenge he'll have to face today.

 

The students who've applied for the heroics course were told after the first phase to change into their P.E. uniforms, which they'd been advised to bring beforehand. Izuku's wearing the simple red and white tracksuit from his junior high school. It's decidedly less eccentric than the kitted-out uniforms some of the other students are wearing. One boy has even gone so far as to bedazzle his entire outfit with sequins and rhinestones. Izuku does not want to know the backstory on that one.

 

They’re gathered into a large auditorium for the pre-practical orientation. There’s a low buzz of conversation throughout the room, which immediately cuts off when the lights abruptly dim.

 

“To all you examinees turning in right now…” comes a loud, energetic voice from somewhere on the stage in front of them. A whole host of spotlights suddenly come on, full blast, focusing on the figure onstage. “Welcome to my show!”

 

Izuku leans forward in his seat to see who it is. The spiky blonde hair and the speaker set up around the man’s neck indicate easily that it’s Present Mic, the Voice Hero. Izuku’s always admired his quirk, for its practical and offensive uses, but the man himself is a little… extra .

 

“EVERYBODY SAY HEY !” he shouts, proving Izuku’s point. Absolutely nobody replies. In the silence the follows, Izuku thinks he hears someone snort and looks down two rows below to see Kacchan sitting with his feet up on the table before him like a delinquent. Izuku shakes his head.

 

Present Mic lets the deafening silence resound for about two seconds, before smoothly recovering and declaring, “What a refined response! Let’s not waste any time, then! I’ll give you the rundown on the practical exam!”

 

The screen behind him flashes into life, following Present Mic’s words with various visuals. “Now, like it says in the application requirements, you all will be participating in ten-minute mock battles in special urban landscapes created especially for this purpose. You may bring anything you want with you! After this, you will all proceed to the battle arena designated on your applicant card.”

 

Izuku checks his and sees that he’s been assigned to Battle Arena B. According to the visual on the screen, there are seven battle arenas in all. He wonders who he’ll encounter in his area.

 

“Furthermore, three types of mechanical faux villains are stationed in each arena! You earn different amounts of points for each one you destroy based on their level of difficulty.” Three silhouettes of robots appear on the screen, each one accompanied by their respective point value. “Your goal, examinees, is to utilize your quirks in order to gain as many points as possible by destroying these faux villains!” He gestures grandly at them. “Of course, attacking other examinees and other unheroic actions are absolutely prohibited!”

 

“Excuse me!” comes an equally loud and somewhat familiar voice from somewhere in the crowd. Izuku resists the temptation to groan at the volume of his voice. “May I ask a question?”

 

“Go ahead!” allows Present Mic.

 

Izuku recognizes the boy who stands up as the dark-haired boy who’d scolded him and the girl before the exam. He’s not really surprised that it’s him, though. “On the printout that you have given to us, there are, not three, but four types of faux villains! If this is a misprint, then UA, one of the most prestigious schools in Japan, should be properly ashamed of this foolish mistake!”

 

The other students watch his impassioned rant with growing horror, but Izuku just zones out until the end. He discreetly practices some more with One for All, until he hears the boy’s sharp intake of breath indicating that he’s finished.

 

“Great message, Examinee Number 7111!” Present Mic congratulates him, clearly having ignored the boy’s rambling. “As for your question, the fourth faux villain indicated on your printout is worth zero points. Absolutely nothing. It serves more as an obstacle for you guys, so to speak.”

 

Another silhouette pops up on the screen, this one several times larger than the other robots. The words “0P” pops up beside it, indicating its point value. “There’s one in every battle arena - a robot that basically goes crazy in narrow spaces and will make it overall harder for you guys to score points. It’s not impossible to beat, per se, but it’s also worth zero points, so it might be a better tactic to avoid it during your battle. You only have ten minutes, after all.”

 

“Thank you very much!” says the dark-haired boy. “I apologize for the interruption!” He sits back down without much of a fuss.

 

“That’s all from me!” Present Mic declares. “As a final message, I present to you the motto of UA, the school of your dreams! Napoleon Bonaparte once said that ‘A true hero is someone who overcomes life’s misfortunes.’”

 

He look seriously at all of them, before making a grand, sweeping gesture. “Go beyond. Plus Ultra!”

 

Izuku clenches his fists, incredible power coursing through his veins. It's time.

 

-

 

Inside the observation room, Yagi stands in his All Might form, his usual bright smile on his face and his stance powerful.

 

It's all he can do to contain the debilitating nervousness that's taken hold of him.

 

The numerous screens on the wall display different areas of all seven battle arenas. However, he's focused on the screen that's panning over the examinees gathered in Battle Arena B.

 

He spots Izuku easily enough, his dark mop of hair standing out amongst the crowd. He chuckles slightly at the sight of his red tracksuit, as it gives the boy a distinctly tomato-like appearance.

 

Among the other examinees in the same arena, the only other student he recognizes is the spiky-haired blonde boy from the slime incident. His relationship with Izuku intrigues him - there's obviously history between the two of them, and he's aware that they've been friends since they were practically newborns, but the air between them is strange and tense. There's a clear undercurrent of respect and perhaps even admiration - it all makes it harder to qualify their interactions.

 

Beside him, Principal Nezu draws near and asks quietly, “Which one?”

 

Currently, only seven other people know that Yagi has found and chosen a successor for One for All - Naomasa, Chiyo, Gran Torino, Izuku's mother and his two friends, and finally Nezu. Even if Yagi hadn't told the chimera about Izuku, he would've worked it out himself simply by watching today's mock battle. He’s well aware that Yagi has been looking for a successor ever since he got injured in that fight more than four years ago.

 

Yagi waits until a screen focuses on Izuku again, then points him out. “That one. The one in the red tracksuit.”

 

Nezu hops over to the screen to peer closely at him, to the bewilderment of the rest of the faculty in the room. He looks at Izuku intently for a few seconds, before skipping back to Yagi’s side. “His body is well-hidden underneath his uniform, but he seems strong. Has he gotten accustomed to it yet?”

 

Yagi bows his head, sheepish. “I, er, only gave it to him yesterday.”

 

Nezu’s beady eyes widen slightly. “ Yesterday? And you’re allowing him to go into such a wild environment?” He shakes his head. “Either he wreaks havoc on his surroundings, or he’ll break himself into tiny pieces trying to use his newfound power.”

 

Yagi grimaces, Nezu’s words projecting horrific images into his mind. “I know . But I couldn’t give it to him until his body was ready. My hope is that his previous training in martial arts and his intellect will allow him to get a feel for the quirk and use it well. Er, well enough.”

 

“Intellect?” Nezu repeats. “Interesting. A smart student can learn. He has potential?”

 

“Boundless,” Yagi affirms. “I can’t believe I found a successor like him.” Not to mention with his original quirk, young Midoriya was practically born to be a hero whether I found him or not .

 

“I see,” says Nezu. “Then I hope, for his sake and yours, that he performs well today.”

 

Yagi laughs nervously, knowing his only hope for today is that Izuku doesn’t blow himself apart using One for All.



-

 

Standing in front of the massive gates of Battle Arena B, Izuku hypes himself up by doing his usual warm-up routine. Kacchan’s been assigned to the same arena as he’s in, and so is that girl from this morning. Unfortunately, the loud boy is also with them, and he’s going around shushing anyone who would dare engage in casual conversation.

 

Izuku has One for All fully activated, running through his entire body. He makes sure to limit it enough that green sparks don’t start flying from his skin, lest he alarm everybody in the vicinity. He stares up at the gigantic structure of the arena and shakes his head. UA definitely is something else.

 

He’s poised in a crouching position when the energetic voice of Present Mic rings out. “OKAY, START!” yells the man from atop an observation tower.

 

Everyone is stunned - they’d been expecting a countdown, or a signal, any sort of warning before the actual exam.

 

Izuku, however, has trained under Shishou, a woman who starts and ends battles entirely on her whim.

 

He leaps into the arena, strengthened legs pumping furiously as he runs over gravel. Behind him, it seems like the others are only just starting to realize that the practical exam has indeed commenced. “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” Present Mic laughs gleefully, as the other students begin to run in after Izuku. “There are no countdowns in real fights! Run, run! Examinee Number 2334 has the right idea!”

 

Even with the rest of the examinees running in after him, Izuku still has a massive head start. As he runs, he notices the mechanical whirring that’s heading his way. A whole host of three and two-pointers are rapidly approaching them, and he’s got the pick of the lot.

 

He can’t afford to waste this chance.

 

He skids to a stop a few meters from the closest robot. Dozens more are following after it.

 

His gut is calm. It’s not signalling at him to stop. Before, he might have had to hold back in the confines of a neighborhood dojo, but here, in this concrete landscape, he is absolutely free to test his powers.

 

Izuku grounds himself and assumes his normal fighting stance. He hears the footsteps of the other examinees already drawing near, Kacchan’s furious shouting mingling among them.

 

He draws his fist back -

 

He throws a solid punch, powered by One for All -

 

And promptly destroys an entire group of robots, a shockwave of pure force sweeping the entire arena .

total destruction

-

 

Yagi looks at the screen in absolute shock.

 

Judging from the sudden silence that takes hold of the observation room, he’s not the only one.

 

“Did… did that boy just take out all those robots… with one hit?” Midnight asks, faintly, eyes glued to the screen focused on Battle Arena B. All the other screens show that the examinees in other arenas have already begun, but nobody’s paying attention to them at the moment.

 

“Hell of a powerful quirk,” says Snipe, quite unnecessarily. If only you knew , Yagi thinks, still dumbfounded.

 

Onscreen, the smoke that had fogged up around Izuku begins to clear. The boy himself is standing there, fist still raised, but intact. Wholly, completely, blessedly intact. He draws his hand back and stands still, apparently just as shocked as the rest of them at what he’s just done.

 

How? Yagi wonders, over and over and over again. When he’d seen Izuku charge all those robots, he’d nearly gotten a heart attack. And yet Izuku had channeled One for All like it was nothing, using it at what had seemed like almost one hundred percent right off the bat with no visible ill effects.

 

How?

 

-


Izuku stands stock-still, even as his eyes water from all the smoke that his shockwave produced. His shockwave. He’d done that . He’d done that.

 

All activity behind him screeches to a halt, as every other examinee stops in their tracks to gape at the wreckage in front of Izuku.

 

At least twenty robots are completely decimated, reduced to mere piles of rubble by Izuku’s punch. Beyond them, the robots that had been farther away are damaged with varying levels of intensity. Even farther away, several groups of new robots approach, indicating that the exam is far from over.

 

Maintaining some level of composure, Izuku takes stock and counts how many robots he’d destroyed. There are definitely at least twenty… considering how the group had been almost completely made up of two and three-pointers, the lowest score he possibly could’ve gotten is forty points. Taking into account the scores of passers from before, that’s practically guaranteed to get him a spot in UA.

 

Standing between a large pile of metal rubble and a whole legion of stunned examinees, Izuku does the logical thing.

 

“Ah, fuck ,” Izuku swears.

 

Izuku Swears

 

The curse word practically echoes in the silence.

 

Oblivious, he shakes his sore hand, his knuckles slightly raw - maybe he didn’t reinforce it well enough with One for All. He turns back to the still dumbfounded examinees and walks towards them, away from the robots he’s murdered and the robots still coming in new waves.

 

“You guys go on ahead, I think I got enough points,” Izuku tells them, ignoring their hanging jaws. “Good luck!”

 

They stare at him with a mixture of awe, confusion, and absolute terror, until Kacchan screams: “ Goddamnit, Deku! ” and blasts himself out of the group and towards the other robots.

 

This seems to shake the other students out of their stupors and reminds them that time is running and they still haven’t gotten any points. As one, they run in the same direction as Kacchan, activating their quirks in order to engage the still-standing robots.

 

Izuku watches them fight, lightly massaging his hand. Yagi probably wouldn’t take it too well if he spent the rest of the exam doing nothing, even though he’d already gotten the points needed. Something about not being heroic enough. However, he doesn’t want to be that guy and steal kills off of the other examinees - he supposes that if a robot strays off the main fray and into his path, then he’ll destroy it.

 

He’ll have to be careful about his power output though, considering there are more people around now. His previous punch had been aimed forward where there had been nothing but robots and concrete in his path, but now that there are people in his line of fire, he’ll have to be more cautious about where and when he lands his attacks.

 

He spots a one-pointer wandering away and figures that it’s safe enough to attack, since nobody seems to be paying attention to it. He makes sure that no one’s targeting it, before casually jogging over.

 

...That plan goes to shit when his gut twists and prompts him to turn just in time to save some hapless examinee from falling debris.

 

-

 

The panel of teachers have returned to paying attention to each screen, since they do still have a job to do. They very well can’t be awarding rescue points if they aren’t actually watching the students, after all, even if they’d much rather watch the action unfolding in Battle Arena B.

 

However, Yagi and Nezu’s eyes are still very much focused on the screens showcasing the said arena. From the looks of it, the rest of the students have finally sprung into action following Izuku’s massive display of strength, the practical exam looking a little bit more normal.

 

Yagi’s focused on the silhouette of Izuku, who’d walked away from the wreckage that he’d left in his wake. Even with the clearer image, there’s simply no evidence that Izuku had injured himself in any way, aside from the casual way he shakes his hand. How had he done that with absolutely no ill effect?

 

Granted, Yagi had also been able to use One for All at full power right from the start. But he’d been building his body up for years before Nana even met him, and the version of One for All he’d received was considerably less powerful than its current form, after he’s spent years developing and strengthening it. Izuku, with only ten months of training, should definitely not be able to wield it that naturally.

 

He shakes his head. He needs to stop with the negative thoughts. He should be glad that Izuku’s fine, right? It almost sounds as if he’s disappointed that Izuku didn’t hurt himself using his quirk.

 

Onscreen, Izuku stands a little ways off from the action, watching his fellow examinees duke it out with the remaining robots. Which are considerably more plentiful than in other arenas. Yagi had informed Nezu beforehand that his successor had been assigned to Battle Arena B, information he’d gotten from the applicant database. Although Nezu hadn’t yet known who Yagi’s successor was or how well they could handle One for All, the chimera was definitely familiar with its power, and had responded accordingly by assigning a greater population of robots in Izuku’s arena. That decision is proving to be wiser and wiser, considering the spiky-haired blonde boy's almost enthusiastic decimation of the faux villains.

 

“He’s racked up a total of fifty-nine points,” Nezu tells Yagi. “He destroyed a total of fifteen three-pointers and seven two-pointers. That’s not counting the robots he only damaged, but are still functioning. If we counted the ones that are barely standing, his score would go up even more.”

 

He strokes his non-existent chin with a dainty paw. “Even without rescue points, he could quit now and realistically still end up among the top ten passers. I had the staff bring me his written exam, and he’s achieved a perfect score on that as well. There’s no question he’ll become a top student.”

 

Nezu looks up at Yagi, deep interest simmering in his black eyes. “Where did you find this boy?”

 

In a convenience store when I, in a moment of weakness, was buying instant ramen , Yagi thinks shamefully. Out loud, he simply smiles knowingly and says, “I told you he has potential.”

 

“That’s putting it lightly,” Nezu says, returning his gaze to the screen.

 

“Oh! Look at that!” Midnight pipes up, pointing. Yagi, Nezu, and the teachers near her look where she directs them to.

 

Onscreen, Izuku seems to literally leap from one spot to the next in less than a second to push an examinee out of the way of falling debris. He carries the boy to a safer spot, before setting him down and seemingly talking to him.

 

“Bring me an earpiece, now ,” Nezu says, usually cheery voice unusually sharp. Someone quickly hands him one, and he puts it in. “Increase volume on Screen Number 401.”

 

He watches the screen with startling intensity, apparently listening to the exchange of Izuku and the boy. Yagi watches nervously, wondering what the two of them could possibly be talking about. All of a sudden, Nezu lets out a high, delighted laugh.

 

“Someone get me another earpiece,” he demands, and is promptly handed another one. He gives it to Yagi. “You’re going to want to hear this,” he says, smiling deviously.

 

Yagi stares at the contraption apprehensively, before taking it and jamming it into his ear. He can just barely make out Izuku’s voice over all the fighting that’s going on in the background.

 

“ - aim for the joints, that’s where they’re weakest, ” Izuku’s saying, patting the examinee on the head as if he’s just another kid from the dojo. “ Your quirk is better for precision shooting, so you shouldn’t be trying to blow it up like others are.

 

The boy stares at Izuku with no small wonder. “ Th-thank you! ” he stammers out, barely audible.

 

No problem ,” Izuku says. “ You only have, like, seven or so minutes, so you better hurry up - oh shit gotta go nice talking to you - ”

 

Izuku leaps away, disappearing from the screen. “Have Drone Number 401 zoom in and follow Examinee Number 2334,” Nezu commands. His tone is dangerously pleased. “I’ll be taking over observing him and assigning his rescue points.”

 

The other teachers look questioningly at him, but know better than to challenge him on this. Besides, Nezu is the toughest when it comes to handing out rescue points, so really, it’s a disadvantage for whichever examinee it is that’s piqued his interest. Meanwhile, Yagi is covering his face, barely keeping from laughing out loud.

 

“That boy… instead of trying to get more points, he - ” he says, shaking from the effort it’s taking not to laugh. “He’s encouraging the other examinees. He’s helping them get points.”

 

“He’s doing a lot more than just encouraging,” Nezu says. “Look.”

 

Screen 401 is permanently trained on Izuku, who by now is zipping back and forth across the field, rescuing numerous examinees from falling debris, exploding robots, and occasionally from other examinees themselves. “ Be careful where you’re aiming that, for God’s sake! You could have really hurt someone! ” Izuku yells at someone offscreen as he pulls a girl from the path of a powerful energy beam.

 

Yagi can’t help it. He dissolves into booming laughter, which startles everyone else in the room. It’s just so… Izuku .

 

Nezu allows himself a smile as well. “It’s not just his actions, however,” he says, still watching Izuku. “It’s how he does them as well. He seems very accustomed to rescuing people - it’s in the way he carries them as he pulls them away, how he’s very gentle in handling them. And look - ” he says, pointing when Izuku, left with no other choice, punches a robot into pieces right before it could trample over an examinee. “Look at how he aimed that punch. He made sure to angle and limit it in such a way that no shrapnel would injure surrounding people, or even damage the structures around him.”

 

Be more careful, okay? ” Izuku says, pulling up an examinee by their hands and helping them dust off. “ You could get really injured if you don’t pay attention, so keep your guard up.

 

Nezu’s beady eyes flash. “It’s all so very heroic .”

 

He turns to the side. “How much time is left?”

 

“One minute and twenty-four seconds, sir,” someone calls back from in front of the monitors. Nezu nods.

 

“Excellent,” he says. “Send in the zero-pointers.”

 


-

 

Izuku pulls the umpteenth examinee away from a three-pointer that’s falling over. “You over there, with the red hair!” he shouts, seriously done. “I see you! Didn’t you even check to see that no one was behind the robot before you hacked it into pieces?”

 

The examinee he’s yelling at winces. “Sorry, bro! Won’t happen again!”

 

“Goddamn,” Izuku mutters, then turns to the girl he’s pulled out of the way. “And you, seriously, pay attention . Don’t zone out in the middle of battle.”

 

“R-right!” she says nervously. Izuku’s expression softens, before he pats her sympathetically on her shoulder.

 

“Okay, now get back in there, you can still get more points, there’s like a minute or two left - ”

 

What the actual hell is that! ” someone screams.

 

Izuku and the girl turn around to see a gigantic metal abomination lumbering towards them, black steel glinting menacingly in the light. All the examinees collectively draw back, the exam forgotten as they gape at this mechanical monster slowly approaching them.

 

As it approaches, the other robots seem to notice its presence and quickly move away, spreading out into the landscape. This isn’t missed by the students. “Hey, I think we should leave that thing alone,” one of them pipes up nervously. “Present Mic told us to avoid it, right?”

 

A wave of assent seems to go through the entire crowd as they start backing away, following the robots they could still destroy for points and avoiding the massive, creaking zero-pointer that’s still steadily making its way towards them.

 

It comes to a stuttering halt, before letting out a rusty groaning sound and swinging its arms , promptly leveling the buildings in its immediate vicinity.

 

Well, that sends the students running.

 

“Let’s go, let’s go!” someone shouts, as they collectively turn as a group and begin sprinting away. In the midst of the action, Izuku spots Kacchan glaring at the zero-pointer, no doubt assessing if he can destroy it or not. He apparently decides it’s not worth it, because he catches Izuku’s eye and motions for the two of them to go back and follow the running students.

 

Izuku turns back once to the zero-pointer, watching it crush everything in its path. Granted, he could probably take it down if he really tries, now that he knows how powerful One for All really is, but all he’d be doing is showing off.

 

He turns away to follow the examinees who’ll no doubt get into more trouble now that they’re all panicked, when his gut twists harder than it ever has all day.

 

“Help… Someone! Please, come back... Urgh…” comes a small, weak, and familiar voice.

 

There, mere feet away from the oncoming robot and stuck under a distressingly large boulder, is the girl from before the entrance exam. She seems to be at her limit, struggling to even raise herself from where she’s fallen. She meets Izuku’s gaze and, through her tears and tremendous pain, mouths, “ Help .”

 

It’s really no decision at all.

 

Izuku runs to her, and smiles in what he hopes is a reassuring way. “Just hold on, okay? You’ll be fine,” he tells her, before channeling One for All and leaping towards the zero-pointer.

 

"Just hold on, okay?"

"You'll be fine."

 

She follows his movement as best as she can, neck straining against her position as she and the countless other examinees freeze where they stand to watch this boy, the boy with the messy hair who’d destroyed twenty robots in one blow and who’s pulled practically all of them out of danger out one point, draw his fist back, swing it in a solid arc, and blow the zero-pointer into literal pieces .

 

The robot explodes, the resulting shockwave causing another gale of wind to sweep through the arena, knocking little bits of debris into the air as well as another huge cloud of dust. Izuku notices this and winces, knowing he didn’t control that attack too well. That’s evidenced as well by the renewed stinging on his knuckles. As he falls, his eyes land on the girl under the rubble, watches her watching him and hopes that he didn’t injure her further with that attack.

 

As he nears the ground, Izuku braces his body with energy to absorb the impact, when he suddenly feels a sharp smack on his cheek and a deeply disturbing feeling of weightlessness.

 

“Thank goodness,” the girl says breathlessly, her arm still outstretched towards him. Somehow, she’s actually managed to free her ankle from the debris and limp towards him, even as her foot twists painfully. Her face abruptly turns green, and she covers her mouth for all of two seconds before emptying the contents of her stomach. Meanwhile, Izuku is still floating, grimacing in sympathy as she tries to clean herself up. Around them, the other students begin to approach, many staring in awe at the ruins of the zero-pointer.

 

Face scrunched up, she recovers gradually. “Oh, right, hold on!” she says once she’s done, before clapping her hands together. Izuku slowly sinks onto the ground as his gravity is restored, and he instantly moves forward to support her before she can fall. “Are you alright?” he asks her, gently helping her up and supporting her weight entirely. “I’m sorry I didn’t pull you out right away, but the robot was already too near.”

 

She looks at him with something close to wonder, before shaking her head. “No. Thank you. Thank you . You came back for me, and you saved me, and I - ”

 

“TIME’S UP!” comes Present Mic’s booming shout. The examines jump in surprise, some sighing in relief, others groaning in disappointment. A siren-like wail begins to play, signalling the end of the exam.

 

Izuku supports the girl as she gingerly tests her leg out. “Anything broken?” he asks her.

 

She gently taps her foot on the ground and grimaces. “I think I sprained my ankle,” she says, careful not to move anymore. “But aside from that, I think I’m fine. Er. I just used my quirk too much, I think.”

 

“Okay, okay!” comes a sweet, elderly voice. The crowd parts as one as a small granny wearing a nurse’s uniform and yellow goggles comes forward to approach Izuku and the girl. “My, my, you twisted your ankle quite badly, didn’t you now?” she says, peering closely at the girl’s limp foot.

 

The students dissolve into quiet whispering, most of them wondering who this little woman is and why she was allowed into such a dangerous environment. Izuku, however, knows exactly who she is. “R-Recovery Girl?” he stutters, eyes wide.

 

Recovery Girl looks up at the sound of his voice. Recognition dawns on her face. “Oh it’s you!” she says excitedly, her wrinkly face breaking into a wide smile. “You’re that boy I healed all those months ago! How are you, how are you?”

 

Izuku laughs, pleasantly surprised that she remembers him. “I’m fine,” he says. “But I think you should really take a look at her ankle. She got stuck under a huge chunk of debris.”

 

“Yes, yes,” Recovery Girl says fussily. She asks Izuku to gently lower the girl nearer her before planting a kiss on her forehead. As one, the students go, “ Eh?

 

The girl’s leg begins to glow with a soft green light. Before their eyes, her ankle straightens and relaxes, and as soon as the light fades out, she begins to move it normally, tapping it out on the ground. “I-It’s healed!” she exclaims, letting go of Izuku to hop on the ground.

 

“It is now, but don’t you go trying to run a marathon or anything, you hear?” Recovery Girl scolds her. The girl nods and bows respectfully. “Thank you very much!”

 

“Recovery Girl's quirk enhances healing and basically speeds it up,” Izuku explains. “But it draws energy off of the person being healed. You only twisted your ankle, so it won't affect you too much, but she's right when she says you should take it easy.”

 

Recovery Girl turns to Izuku and beams. “Right you are! And what about you? Do you have any injuries?”

 

Izuku pats himself all over, the stinging in his knuckles mostly gone. “None,” he tells her.

 

“Take some gummies anyway,” Recovery Girl insists, shoving a handful of All Might-shaped gummies into his hand. He laughs and takes them, popping them into his mouth, suddenly feeling a lot more energized. She gives some to the girl as well.

 

“Those who are injured should come forward now,” Recovery Girl calls, turning to the rest of the examinees. They check themselves for a moment before calling out disjointedly that no one was injured. “Really? Only one injury? That’s quite rare,” she remarks. She reaches into her bag and begins handing out more gummies. “Here, take some of the gummies. Eat up, eat up!” she tells them, radiating a grandmotherly aura.

 

After handing them out to everyone, she waves farewell to them. “I’ll be making rounds in the rest of the arenas. You guys will be exiting soon. Good luck to all of you! I look forward to seeing you in UA.” To Izuku, she winks. Then she turns around and leaves the arena.

 

Izuku rubs the back of his neck. “Boy, what a mess that was, huh?” he says to no one in particular.

 

“Tell me about it,” sighs the girl beside him, still stretching her newly-healed ankle. “Oh, that’s right! Um, I never got your - ”

 

Deku! ” Kacchan growls, stalking forward. The examinees hastily make way for him, apprehensive. He is, after all, probably the examinee with the highest number of robot kills. After Izuku and the zero-pointer, he's probably the most terrifying thing they've seen all day.

 

He grabs Izuku by the neck and takes him into a chokehold, giving him vicious noogies to the head. “What the heck was that stunt for, huh? You playing the hero again?”

 

“Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow,” Izuku says, trying in vain to push Kacchan off. He knows he could do it easily with One for All, but he will absolutely never risk hurting someone with it. “Ow, that hurts, that hurts, let go, Kacchan!”

 

“Not on your fucking life!” Kacchan says, moving one hand to aggressively tickle the living hell out of Izuku, who squirms and laughs, trying to get out of the other boy’s hold. “You just had to go and fucking show off, didn’t you?”

 

The other examinees simply stand there, watching as the strongest examinee in the arena is reduced nearly to tears by a combination of noogies and tickling.

 

Off to the side, a dark-haired boy watches contemplatively.



-

 

Nezu finally moves back from the screen, taking his earpiece off. “Unbelievable,” he murmurs. “Simply unbelievable.”

 

Yagi’s extremely inclined to agree. While he’d had no doubt that Izuku would go back for the girl, destroying the zero-pointer at point blank range like that was never something he would’ve expected.

 

Izuku simply never ceases to surprise him.

 

“He gained an additional seven points while destroying robots that could’ve harmed the other examinees,” Nezu says, once again stroking his chin. “Which brings his total villain point count to sixty-six. As for his rescue points… I can’t even begin to quantify his performance.”

 

He shakes his head, laughing disbelievingly. “You sure have brought me an excellent student, All Might,” he says, a mad gleam glinting in his eyes, which worries Yagi just a bit. “I simply can’t wait to see what he’ll do in UA.”

 

-

 

One week later, the UA applicants receive the letters informing them whether or not they had passed.

 

The holographic device arrives at Izuku’s house while he’s still asleep, knocked out from a night of Mario Kart with Kimi and Yashiro (the latter of which only knows how to play on Rainbow Road, it seems).

 

The sound of Inko’s ecstatic yelling promptly wakes them all up, but it’s easily beaten in volume by the combined shrieking of Kimi, Yashiro, and Inko as All Might, in holographic form, informs them that with sixty-six villain points and seventy rescue points, Izuku’s taken the top rank in the UA entrance exam by a mile.

 

His friends scream until they’re hoarse, bombarding him with hugs and affection. Izuku can barely think straight amongst the tangled limbs surrounding him.

 

When Yagi comes to visit later that day, the smile on his face transforms him from a gaunt and sickly man to a radiant, beaming person.

 

Despite himself, Izuku returns that smile a hundredfold.



-

 

“Congratulations!”

 

The sound of three glasses clinking together ring out in the dining room. Inko, Mitsuki, and Masaru all push their glasses together, cheering loudly for their sons.

 

Izuku watches them fondly. Kacchan, not so much.

 

Kacchan, with eighty villain points and seventeen rescue points, is right behind Izuku in second place for the entrance exam.

 

He's not… mad , per se, but he's not thrilled, either.

 

Izuku watches as Kacchan eyes the adults murderously, glaring throughout the entire duration of their toast.

 

...Okay, maybe Kacchan is a little pissed.

 

After getting the exam results, Izuku's been practically showered with congratulations. First Inko had thrown a celebration dinner, with Kimi and Yashiro, of course. The dinner had also been for Yashiro, who’d passed not for the general course like they’d expected, but for the business course.

 

“Between you and Kimi, I brag about your accomplishments so much that I might as well make a living off of it, right?” Yashiro says cheekily, when asked why he’d applied for the business course instead. “No, but really - I’ve always wanted to work with heroes, but not as a hero, you know? So I got thinking, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to go into the business side of the industry.”

 

He’d scratched his neck self-deprecatingly. “I know, it’s a pretty boring choice,” he’d said.

 

Kimi and Izuku’s tight embrace had proven to be a resounding no .

 

After that celebration, Shishou recruited the entire student population of the dojo to help plan a party for Izuku after they'd heard the news. (Akari had almost burned the dojo down on three separate times due to how excited she was.)

 

Even his alma mater had gotten in on his success. Embarrassingly enough, Izuku's been placed in the Hall of Fame, which is really just a glass-encased corkboard in the hallway where his picture has been tacked on. Underneath it, they'd put up his entire school record, showing his unbeaten first-rank streak from first to third year.

 

He's also the only student in the “Hall of Fame,” which just adds a whole extra layer of embarrassment.

 

Back in the Midoriyas’ dining room, Kacchan abruptly stands up from the table. “Bathroom,” he says curtly, when his mother looks questioningly at him.

 

“You better hurry back here, you hear me?” Mitsuki calls to him.

 

“I know, damn harpy! God! ” Kacchan yells back, stalking off to the hallway.

 

Mitsuki shakes her head. “God, the temper on that little fucker,” she says, oblivious to the irony of her statement. “Anyway, Masaru and I are so glad for you and Izuku! You must be over the moon, huh, Inko?”

 

Inko flushes with pleasure. “It was quite a shock,” she says honestly. “I've never doubted that Izuku would do well, but we never dreamed that he would actually take the top spot!”

 

“You should've seen it coming,” Masaru says kindly. “Izuku's always been very intelligent. His quirk is nothing to laugh at, either.”

 

“Yeah, it's one hell of a quirk!” Mitsuki agrees. “You're a real late bloomer, you know that? You almost had us thinking you were quirkless!”

 

“Haha,” Izuku says nervously. The official story they'd worked out is that his quirk had emerged during the slime monster attack at the hero expo. His quirk had been triggered by the extreme stress he'd undergone at the time, and since then he'd been training his body in order to properly use it.

 

It's the same story they give to anyone who asks.

 

Including Kacchan.

 

...Somehow, lying to Kacchan in particular leaves a bad taste in Izuku’s mouth.

 

Inko claps her hands together. “Oh, I forgot!” she gasps. “I prepared a special dessert for tonight! Hold on, let me get it!”

 

“Do you need help?” Izuku says, half-rising from the table.

 

“No, no,” she says, smiling. “I'll be back in a jiffy!”

 

“You're a good kid, you know that?” Mitsuki tells Izuku, as Inko leaves for the kitchen. “Inko’s lucky you're her son.”

 

Izuku smiles. “I'm lucky she's my mom,” he says simply. It's one of the fundamental facts of his life. “Kacchan must be a great son too. He was incredible during the entrance exam.”

 

“Oh, that boy can fight well, but his people skills? They're terrible,” Mitsuki says dismissively.

 

“Dear…” Masaru says.

 

“What? It's true! Our son has the emotional range of a teaspoon. He's only got two moods - either angry or furious.” She shakes her head again. “He always got a stick up his ass whenever we’d mention you,” she tells Izuku. “I’m pretty sure you two got into a fight or whatever, and I sure as hell don’t know what it was about, but I’m glad you chose to forgive him.”

 

“I didn’t choose to forgive him, Mitsuki-san,” Izuku says, not denying that the two of them had indeed fought. “He came to apologize on his own.”

 

Mitsuki blinks. “Well, how about that,” she says, impressed. “He’s actually improving. You know, if he spends enough time with you, he might actually become normal someday.”

 

“Dear,” Masaru says again, pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

“What? I’ll admit, in some aspects, we didn’t raise him well enough,” Mitsuki says bluntly. “But it’s really only recently that some of his bad traits came to light. When he was younger, sure, he screamed and kicked at anyone who came close, but he never picked fights the way he does now.” She looks off to the side. “I don’t know what caused it, but he’s just… so much angrier now.”

 

Izuku listens quietly. He can only guess that this started after their fight, and the fact that Kacchan, alone in a new environment, probably didn’t have supportive friends who could curb his unfortunate tendencies and keep him in check. In a looser school like the one he’d gone to, the teachers probably did little to reprimand him whenever he got too aggressive. It’s no wonder that Kacchan would grow violent and entitled.

 

Still, the Kacchan he knows now is different from the Kacchan from two years ago. He never would’ve apologized to Izuku for what he’d said, nor would he have made that kind of declaration about becoming an upstanding hero. It had always, always just been about being Number One Hero.

 

...Somehow, Izuku feels he’s changed as well. He hopes it’s also in a positive direction.

 

“I think Kacchan’s still growing,” he pipes up quietly. Mitsuki and Masaru look at him. “He’s always been the best, no matter where he is, so of course he’d get vain at times. It’s natural. But he’s already starting to change for the better - and I think being at UA will be good for him. There’s all these strong and talented people he’ll have to compete against, who won’t just let him have his way and will force him to actually grow up.”

 

Mitsuki is silent for a beat, then smiles. “Katsuki’s lucky, too,” she says kindly. “Watch over him, okay?”

 

Somehow, Izuku feels that Kacchan would be out for blood if he heard the conversation that had just taken place. Especially if he learns that his mother has just asked Izuku to look out for him. Nevertheless, he nods. “Yeah. I will.”

 

“Are you fuckers talking about me?” Kacchan growls, as he stalks back from wherever he’s come from. Strangely enough, it seems like he’s coming from the kitchen, not the hallway. “You better not be.”

“And so what if we are, twerp?” Mitsuki demands.

 

Kacchan glares at his mother, expression mutinous, but before things can escalate, Inko’s bouncing back into the dining room. “Sorry I took so long!” she apologizes, wiping a stray tear from her eye. She must have accidentally closed the fridge on her finger again. She’s holding a tray covered in dessert. “Here we go! It’s brownie a la mode - a special treat for our passers!”

 

Each slice of brownie has a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, except for one, which has chocolate. She smiles. “Of course, I didn’t forget your favorite flavor, Katsuki!”

 

Kacchan grunts as he accepts his brownie, earning a smack up the head from his mother. “What do we say?” she asks him, purposefully speaking as if she’s talking to a toddler.

 

Kacchan’s expression is absolutely livid, but he manages to grit out a slow, “ Thank. You. ” Inko just laughs and cuts into her own piece.

 

Yep, Kacchan’s changed, alright.



-

 

The weekend before the first day of school, Kimi, Yashiro, and Izuku have a sleepover.

 

It’ll probably be their last sleepover in a while, considering that Kimi’s going to be living in the dormitory of the all-girls school she’ll be going to. Not much sleeping is actually going on, with all three of them lying awake and staring at Izuku’s ceiling.

 

Kimi speaks first. “God, I’m going to miss this,” she says, voice thick.

 

“Nope,” Yashiro says. “Nope, nope. Kimi, you are not allowed to cry, because if you cry, then I’ll cry.”

 

Kimi giggles, but it’s not her usual laugh. “But you’re not the one who’s going to a different school. God, why didn’t I just enroll in UA?”

 

“Because your school is more supportive of your modelling schedule, and it’s the alma mater of many famous models,” Izuku says, just parroting the reasons she’d cited when asked the same question.

 

“I know ,” Kimi says. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to suck any less.”

 

“I know,” Izuku says.

 

For a few minutes, they’re silent.

 

“At least once a month, we should meet up for ice cream,” Yashiro says.

 

“Yes,” Kimi says, already choked up. “Every weekend, if we can,” she adds, even though they all know they probably can’t do that.

 

“When UA hosts the Sports Festival, you have to come and watch us,” Izuku says. “My mom will pick you up from your school if she has to. We’ll come along if we have to.”

 

“And you have to tell us if you’re on TV, or if you’re on a magazine,” Yashiro says. “So we can buy the magazine in the dead of the night when no one’s watching.”

 

“Just buy it at day time like a normal person!” Kimi says, her laughter serving as the catalyst to her tears. Yashiro had been right. Once Kimi, usually the most reserved of the three of them, starts crying, all of them start crying.

 

“We’ll t-text everyday,” Kimi says. “If I have trouble with a subject, you guys have to help me with it.”

 

“How are we going to remember to wash our faces everyday?” Yashiro wails.

 

“God, that’s pathetic,” Izuku says, hiding a particularly large sob.

 

Eventually, the talk dissolves into full-blown crying, which dissolves further into one of their cuddle bunches. “I’m going to miss you two,” Kimi says, embracing them tightly. “Take care of yourselves, alright?”

 

You take care,” Izuku says. “I - I won’t be around, and you - ”

 

“Oh,” Kimi says thickly. “Oh, Izuku, no .”

 

It’s nearly another hour before they calm down enough to sleep, their whispers of “I’ll be fine,” and “You’ll be fine,” slowly morphing into “ We’ll be fine.”



-

 

On the morning of his first day at UA, Izuku doesn’t know what he feels.

 

He wakes up earlier than usual, even before his new alarm clock had sounded, but not early enough that he beats his mom to it. He can hear her humming in the kitchen, no doubt preparing a special breakfast for his first day at school.

 

Today is the first day at UA. At a hero training course. Today is the first day on his journey to becoming a hero.

 

(Arguably, that ship may have already sailed from the moment he saved Emi from that tree all those years ago.)

 

His feelings are a jumbled, incomprehensible mess. He gets up from the bed and tiptoes quietly out of his room, careful not to alert his mom to his presence. Izuku listens to make sure that she’s still occupied with cooking, before making his way to her room.

 

Inside the simply-furnished room, he heads straight to the corner where a little shrine has been set up. As he opens the doors of the simple cabinet, the smiling portraits of his father and grandfather look at him.

 

Of course, the pictures have not changed in all the time that they’ve been put up. His father’s youth is preserved forever in this picture of him, his curly black hair and sea-green eyes softening his angular face as he smiles for the camera. His grandfather is smiling as well, but he’s more dignified. Despite his age, his hair had still been more black than gray, his eyes the same almond shape as his son’s. In fact, the only thing that had set them apart had been his grandfather’s heterochromia - his right eye had been deep green, like his son’s, while his left eye had been a hazel, almost amber-like color.

 

Izuku kneels before their portraits and closes his eyes.

 

“Dad,” he begins. “Grandpa. You may already know this, watching over me, but I’m about to enter UA. Not for the general course, but as a student in the heroics course.”

 

He smiles softly, and yet a little bitterly. “I know it seems unbelievable that I would do it. I… I’ve never had any special love for heroes, and I’ve never had the best opinion of the industry itself. You know, Grandpa.”

 

“But despite all that… I’ve met so many wonderful people because I helped them. Because of my desire to help others, with or without my quirk, I was able to make friends with so many incredible people. I’ve actually made a difference in their lives, no matter how small.”

 

“Dad, I’m sure that’s part of why you became a hero. Why sometimes you would even put your work above your wife and son. Why you fought that villain despite knowing you probably had no chance, just for the slim chance that you could save someone else.” Izuku looks down at his hands, pausing. “But I - I’m going to be different.”

 

“I owe so much to my mother and my friends, and to everyone who’s supported me. So I’ll train and train until I’m strong enough that there’s never any doubt that I’ll always return to them. And Grandpa - ” Here, Izuku pauses again, remembering the Grandpa he’d loved so much and who’d loved him in return, taking care of him and his mother for so many years. “I’ll become an outstanding hero, okay? One that even you can be proud of. One that can serve as an ideal for other heroes.”

 

“Your deaths will not have been in vain - I’ll honor your memory and make sure of that. So please watch over me, okay?”

 

In the silence that follows, Izuku hears a brief gust of air outside. He breathes in deeply, then smiles.

 

Thank you.



-

 

“I thought I might find you here.”

 

Katsuki jumps, but relaxes quickly. He turns around to see, like he’d expected, Inko, standing by the entrance to the kitchen. “Why not go back there? We’re still celebrating your amazing performances at the entrance exam.”

 

His expression immediately sours, which doesn’t go unnoticed. Inko sighs fondly, approaching him to lightly stroke his hair. Had it been anyone else, he would’ve told them to fuck off, possibly even followed it up with his quirk for good measure. But he’s been practically powerless against Inko from the moment she picked him up from his cradle, still pregnant with Deku.

 

“You know that you’re an amazing boy, right?” Inko tells him quietly. When he doesn’t reply, she continues. “I have no words to express how happy I am that you and Izuku are talking again. It broke my heart when the two of you fell out of touch, but now I see that maybe you both needed time apart to grow before you became friends again.”

 

“Are you really…” Katsuki begins. “Are you really okay with letting him become a hero?”

 

Her smile turns even fonder, if that’s possible. “Oh, I’m terrified,” she assures him. “I’m in a constant state of anxiety over his well-being. Especially ever since we lost his grandpa… It’s been hard, to say the least.”

 

“But I will not stand in the way of Izuku’s dreams. Of his passion. Because, no matter how much he denies it, I’ve always known that he was meant to be a hero. You could say I felt it was inevitable… it’s simply the way he is.”

 

She smiles. “All I can do now is pray for his safety. And to rely on other people to make sure he come back safe.”

 

It comes out of his mouth before he can stop himself. “Me, too,” he says. Inko looks questioningly at him.

 

“I’ll… I’ll make sure that Deku stays out of trouble,” Katsuki says, the words almost painful to say, but he has to say it. He feels that maybe, in a way, he owes her this. He owes them both this. “I’ll make sure he comes home safe to you.”

 

He manages to keep eye contact with her even as tears blossom at the corners of her eyes. “You have to keep safe as well, you hear me?” she implores, drawing him into a quick embrace. “But thank you.”

 

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

The first step has been secured.

 

In fact, any expectations they might have had are blown far out of the water.

 

Elsewhere, in a darkened bar, a screen flickers to life.

 

-

 

Izuku hadn't really known what to expect once he walks into the first day of class at UA, but it's certainly not this.

 

“It's him, it's him!” someone shouts. He's barely stepped in the doorway of Class 1-A before the others take up the cheer. As one, the students already in the classroom crowd around him.

 

“Dude! You were totally awesome during the entrance exam!” someone gushes. Izuku recognizes him as the spiky red-haired boy he'd shouted at at some point during the exam. “So manly!”

 

“I wasn't in the same arena, but all my friends kept telling me about you!” another voice pipes up, and Izuku is slightly disconcerted to realize that she's invisible, her uniform appearing as if it's floating in the air. “I wish I could've seen you in action!”

 

More voices pop up around him, not giving him a chance to speak. Before Izuku can interrupt his new classmates, however, someone else does it for him.

 

“Excuse me! Can't you see that you're all clearly overwhelming your classmate?” interjects a familiar, loud voice. The dark-haired boy from before the exam hand-chops his way to the front of the group, making his way to Izuku's side. “Is that any way to behave, as future heroes?”

 

“Back up just a little and give him some space,” says another voice, and this time it's the zero gravity girl that Izuku had rescued from the exam. She smiles brightly at him as she positions herself beside him as well. “Deku-kun’s not going anywhere soon, so ease up on him.”

 

“Oh, uh, my name's not actually - ” Izuku begins, but yet another person encroaches on the conversation.

 

“Oi, what're you fuckers doing blocking the door!” Kacchan snarls from behind them, his uniform all mussed up like a delinquent. Izuku rolls his eyes with a skill that speaks of years of practice. So they’re in the same class together. “Get out of the way before I explode all you little shits!”

 

“It's Blasty!” someone shouts. The awe in that person's voice does little to offset the absurdity of the nickname. “Guys, it's Blasty! The guy with the highest villain kills!”

 

“The fuck did you just call me?” Kacchan growls, pushing forward aggressively past Izuku to look for the person who had spoken. When no one calls him that again (a wise decision) he shoots a glare towards all of them before claiming a seat and dumping his bag on it, warding off any potential conversation with the murderous look on his face.

 

The rest of the students, their attention diverted by Kacchan’s explosive display, break away from Izuku to return to the little groups they'd been in before he entered. Only the tall boy and the girl stays beside him.

 

She turns to Izuku. “That was something, huh? You got really popular after the exam, you know - the story spread to even the students in the other arenas!”

 

“Indeed,” says the boy. Then he abruptly sinks into a low bow, much to Izuku's alarm. “And please! Allow me to offer my sincerest apologies! I also acted rashly during the entrance exam and endangered quite a few of the other examinees! Thank you for ensuring they did not get harmed!”

 

Izuku vaguely remembers stopping a concrete wall falling on someone after the boy had kicked a robot into a building. Or who knows, maybe something else had happened and he's remembering someone completely different. Izuku doesn't really remember everything he did in the arena, considering his quirk had been on high alert the entire time. “It's okay, uh - what's your name?”

 

The boy pulls himself back just as quickly, puffing his chest out. “My name is Tenya! Iida Tenya!”

 

“Oh, and I'm Uraraka Ochako,” the girl pipes up. She claps her hands together. “I've been meaning to introduce myself this whole time but I never got the chance to ask your names!”

 

“Okay, Iida-kun, Uraraka-san,” Izuku repeats. “My name is Midoriya Izuku. Uh, Deku isn't actually my name, it's just a nickname.”

 

“O-oh! It's a cool nickname, though - kinda gives off that ‘You can do it!’ vibe, doesn't it?” Uraraka says, smiling sheepishly.

 

“You can call me that if you want,” Izuku says. “I don't mind. And, Iida-kun?” The other boy perks up to attention at the mention of his name. “Don't worry about the exam - it was natural. Little accidents are probably the norm for these practical exams, so I'm just glad I was able to keep the number of injuries to a minimum.”

 

“Thank you!” Iida says, loudly. Everything that comes out of his mouth is uncomfortably loud. “If only I - I'm certain that if I had known about the points system, or if I had also gotten enough points, I would also have done the same thing!”

 

“Then you'd be completely missing the point,” Izuku says, in complete unison with another, more deadpan voice. The three of them turn around to see what can only be described as a giant, wriggly yellow worm, resting on the floor of the hallway outside the room. Upon closer inspection, it's actually a fully zipped-up sleeping bag, a human face poking out of an opening near the top.

 

The man inside stares up at them through eyes that give the words dead tired a whole new meaning. Strands of messy black hair poke out of the sleeping bag, only empowering his oppressively exhausted aura.

 

Uraraka and Iida visibly startle even as Izuku mutters an empathic “ God that's relatable,” seemingly without thinking. The man blinks up at them once, before straightening up and shedding the sleeping bag like an absurd metamorphosis. What emerges is certainly no butterfly - the man stands long and lanky, black clothing covering every inch of his body. A mess of what appears to be bandages wraps around his neck.

 

He shuffles inside the room with a lazy, “Get inside,” to Izuku, Iida, and Uraraka. They hastily follow, Izuku's eyes comically wide because holy hell, that's Eraserhead, the underground hero so obscure that almost no one knew about him, unless you’re dedicated enough to go digging about every registered hero and then some. Izuku happens to be one of those dedicated few, thanks to his grandfather and his interest in quirks.

 

“Sit down and be quiet,” he tells them, scratching his neck. The hush that falls over the room is almost magical. You’d have thought that he’d used Erase , his quirk, on their voices, but there’s something naturally commanding about the presence of a genuine Pro Hero that easily captures all of their attention, even if most of them don’t know who he is.

 

“I’m Aizawa Shota, your homeroom teacher,” he tells them without preamble. Ignoring their dumbstruck faces, he reaches inside his sleeping bag and pulls out a blue tracksuit. “Put these on and meet me on the field in ten minutes.”


-

 

“A quirk assessment test?” Izuku repeats. So do several of his new classmates. Aizawa only rubs the back of his head, waiting for the sudden explosion of murmurs to die down.

 

“But Sensei, what about the entrance ceremony? And the orientation? And shouldn’t we be doing other things on the first day of school?” Uraraka bravely pipes up, voicing the thoughts of the others.

 

“If you’re going to be a hero, then you’ve got no time for such leisurely events,” Aizawa dryly says. “UA prides itself on its unorthodox methods - meaning you lot have got to forget everything you know about regular schooling and adapt as fast as you can to this system.”

 

He looks briefly among them before settling his deadpan gaze on Izuku. “You there. Midoriya. You scored highest on the practical exam, right?”

 

Izuku nods cautiously. “Yes,” he says. To the side, Kacchan is visibly fuming.

 

“Come over here,” Aizawa instructs him. He produces a softball with a small light attached, which he hands to Izuku as he approaches. “In middle school, what was your best result for the softball throw?”

 

“Fifty, fifty-five meters, I think?” Izuku says, taking the softball. Aside from the small mechanical bit attached to it, it looks and feels no different than a regular softball.

 

Aizawa nods. “That would be for you doing it without the use of your quirk. This time, do it using your quirk,” he tells him, motioning for Izuku to move towards a circle traced into the ground.

 

Izuku blinks at him. “Use my quirk?” he repeats.

 

“The best way to improve quickly not just as heroes but as students is to establish your limits and go past them,” Aizawa says, by way of a roundabout explanation. “Hurry up, we haven’t got all day. You can do whatever you want as long as you stay in the circle.”

 

Feeling extremely aware of his classmates’ scrutiny, Izuku moves to occupy the middle of the circle. Since the entrance exam, he’s been working even harder on controlling One for All. While he can’t say that he’d even be near All Might’s level any time soon, he’s got a much better grasp of its use than back at the practical exam. Probably the most useful thing he’s learned is that, contrary to what he’d been exhibiting, One for All’s power output can in fact be adjusted, with varying percentages.

 

He assumes a pitching position. All he needs is to use his quirk to surpass his paltry fifty-five meter record, right? Fifty or even forty percent should be enough for him to exceed that mark by a mile. There’s no need for him to go all out.

 

Drawing his hand back, letting power course through it, Izuku swings it forward, letting the ball catapult through the air. Despite holding back, the softball sails through the air in an incredible arc, careening high into the sky before eventually dropping down.

 

Aizawa presses a button a small gadget he’s holding. “And there we go,” he says dryly. “408.5 meters,”

 

Izuku shakes his hand and wrist as the rest of his classmates go “ Ooh ,” at the mention of his score. Not bad for fifty percent. He supposes he could’ve thrown it farther, but he’s proven his point.

 

“Wah, this looks like it’ll be fun!” a girl with pink hair and skin exclaims excitedly. The red-haired boy beside her grins and nods in agreement. “Totally! I can’t wait to try my hand at this!”

 

Aizawa turns to look at the students, his eyes narrowing. “Fun? Try?” he repeats, abruptly silencing them. “You guys have three years to become heroes. Are you going to have such flippant attitudes the entire time?”

 

The students stay quiet, looking around amongst themselves, not a one daring to meet Aizawa’s gaze.

 

After a few moments, Aizawa speaks. “Alright, how about this, then. The student who ranks lowest after all the physical tests will be expelled.”

 

As one, the students’ jaws drop. “ Expelled? ” several exclaim, worry evident in their voices.

 

Aizawa shrugs. “We’re free to do as whatever we want with regards to our students’ education. This includes even termination.” He combs his hair out of his face, his mouth splitting into a twisted, almost sadistic smirk. “Welcome to the UA Heroics course.”

 

Izuku clenches his fist, frowning. While he’s not too worried about his own self, that condition seems far too unfair, especially considering it’s only the first day of school. Nevertheless, Aizawa definitely seems to adhere to the “sink-or-swim” school of thought - Izuku will have to be careful.

 

“Now hurry up, I don’t want to waste all morning just watching you rookies throw some stuff around,” Aizawa tells them, walking over to collect some equipment and ignoring their dumbstruck faces. “We’ve gotta expel someone today, after all.”


-

 

Izuku’s not particularly proud of it, but he learns everyone else’s quirks before he learns their name.

 

Over the course of the tests, he witnesses some truly impressive quirks and equally impressive creativity on how their owners utilize them. For instance, he watches a prim girl ( Yaoyorozu , he reminds himself) create and assemble mechanical supports for different parts of her body to enhance her performance. At one point, she attaches sleek silver springs to the bottom of her feet that send her sailing into the sky during the long-jump test.

 

Another student, a large boy Izuku remembers to be named Satou, downs several sugar donuts before the grip strength test, knocking everyone’s scores out of the park when his muscles abruptly bulge and nearly crushing the machine into pieces. He seems slightly lethargic after the test, however, something that Izuku takes note of.

 

Kacchan of course stands out from the rest of them, demonstrating extreme skill in using his flashy quirk to enhance his physical prowess. From creating explosions out of his hands to propel him during the long jump, to using them as if they were boosters in the sprint, he consistently places in the top three in the tests, looking incredibly discontent if he isn’t in first place.

 

Izuku’s so absorbed in watching everyone’s quirks that he almost forgets to use his own. Almost. He makes sure to never dip below the top ten in whatever test they’re doing (except during the endurance test - he’d continued doing push-ups long after everyone else had gotten tired and had only noticed once Aizawa came and told him that they all get the point, he’s tireless ). But he contents himself with that place, not wanting to stand out too much. After all, it’s so much more interesting to be observing his classmate’s quirks, wishing ardently that he had his notebook so that he could take down notes.

 

Unbeknownst to him, Aizawa lazily tracks his every move. A faint frown of displeasure settles on his already disapproving face.

 

Hagakure. Light refraction, it seems, mastered to the point that it’s almost involuntary. It’s not exactly useful for these physical tests, however, so Izuku’s slightly concerned for her chances. Mineta. A seemingly endless supply of sticky spheres from his head that the boy himself can manipulate pretty flexibly (although Izuku would feel better about watching him if he isn’t also ogling every single girl while they go through the tests). Todoroki. Ice manipulation, but it seems to only come from his right side - could his left side actually control a different element? His hair color would suggest fire, or heat, but not once does Todoroki use anything but ice.

 

(He resolves to tell Kimi about him. She’d get a kick out of his two-toned hair.)

 

Finally, they reach the last test. Izuku’s probably pushing a solid ninth or tenth place at this point, and that’s completely fine with him. This is still just a preliminary assessment test, and he can still get away with not standing out.

 

The last test is, interestingly enough, the softball throw. Izuku wonders briefly if he’ll still have to go through it, seeing as he’s already set his own score.

 

Right off the bat, Kacchan makes an explosive entrance by blasting the ball clear into the sky. He sets an impressively difficult to beat score of 791.4 meters, which everyone rightfully declares insane . For once, he looks relatively pleased with himself, until Uraraka reaches her turn. The ball continues well into the stratosphere and beyond once she releases it, and as soon as it disappears from their sight, Aizawa just shrugs and clocks her in at infinity , saying it’s probably going to continue rising until even into space.

 

Izuku patiently waits for the rest of them to finish, focused on observing their quirks again. It’s only been the first day, and already he’s gotten quite a good grasp on what their quirks are and how they work. He wants to get home as soon as possible and write down all that he’s seen while it’s still fresh - he’d probably need a new set of journals just to cover everything that his classmates can do -

 

“Midoriya,” Aizawa calls. “Come over here.”

 

Izuku blinks, snapping out of his thoughts. “Uh, okay.” He walks over to Aizawa, who hands him the softball. “I still have to do this test?”

 

“Yup.” Fixing him with a dry stare, Aizawa adds, “Try to beat that mediocre score you set earlier.”

 

Izuku frowns as his teacher walks away to stand by the rest of the students. Mediocre? Sure, he’s not up to Kacchan’s level of nearly eight hundred meters, but he’d definitely ranked in the top five when it came to the softball throw even using fifty percent. Considering the scores of the others, his own is not mediocre in any sense of the word.

 

Oh well , Izuku thinks, shrugging. All he’s got to do is up his power percentage a little more and he’ll surpass his original score. Maybe eighty percent or so will be enough to impress Aizawa, if he really wants to see an amazing score.

 

Stretching his arms, Izuku prepares himself. He assumes the same position as earlier, drawing his arm back. This time, he lets more power bleed into his arm, hands carefully held back to avoid crushing the softball in his grip. He swings his arm, releasing the ball -

 

- and watches as it travels limply through the air and falls not more than ten meters away from him.

 

As it does so, Izuku suddenly feels a choking sensation take hold of him. It’s hard to breathe - he clutches as his chest, eyes widening, as he struggles not to fall over. His hands, arms, legs, everything - everything suddenly feels empty and overloaded at once.

 

As abruptly as it had appeared, the feeling disappears. He lets out a breath and begins inhaling deeply, slightly panicked at the sensation of having the air taken away from him.

 

He turns around to find Aizawa’s eyes glowing red, black strands of his hair lifting upward, before he blinks, his appearance returning to normal. He blinks several more times and groans, eventually rummaging in his pack for what appears to be eyedrops, applying a generous amount onto his eyes.

 

“Did you erase my quirk?” Izuku asks, disbelievingly. Quirks , he corrects himself in his mind. He doesn’t know if Aizawa would’ve been able to erase both his quirks, but maybe the uncomfortable sensation he’d experienced had been caused by that.

 

“You’re not taking this seriously,” Aizawa replies, blinking furiously as he returns the bottle to his pack. When he’s done, he levels his gaze to look Izuku in the eyes. “You’re using your quirk alright, but only a pathetic facsimile of it. You haven’t been operating anywhere near top capacity today.”

 

Izuku suddenly feels cold, and very, very called out. “Yes, I have,” he attempts to defend himself, but the look in Aizawa’s eyes tell him it’s not working at all.

 

“No,” Aizawa tells him flatly, walking slowly over to him. “Someone who destroys a zero-pointer in one hit like it was nothing does not simply throw a softball an underwhelming distance of four hundred meters. You’ve got a lot of strength stashed away in there, and you refuse to use it. Why?”

 

The closer proximity forces Izuku to stare at the ground. “...I didn’t think it was necessary,” he quietly mumbles, knowing that Aizawa would hear it.

 

“And why not?” Aizawa says, equally quiet. The other students are only vaguely aware that they’re having a conversation, and that it’s a serious one, but they don't hear any details. Well, except perhaps for that tall boy, Shoji, who could morph one of his appendages into a highly sensitive ear, but he doesn’t seem to be doing so now.

 

Izuku remains silent. Aizawa regards him coolly. “Do you realize the arrogance of your actions?” he asks him bluntly. “You’re counting on your quirk to carry you through despite your mediocre performance. Meanwhile, your classmates are out there, giving their all even though several of them could easily do what you’re doing and take the easy way out.”

 

“You may not be ranked last in terms of ability, but you’re dead last in determination,” Aizawa continues, eyes boring into Izuku’s form.

 

Then he leans back and lightly bumps Izuku on the shoulder with his fist. “Now throw that softball and show me why I shouldn’t expel you where you stand.”

 

Izuku stands numbly as he walks away once more, the students’ curious gazes following him. He clutches the softball in his hand.

 

He’s such a hypocrite.

 

All those years of preaching that he doesn’t need a quirk, only to become incredibly reliant on One for All the moment he receives it. He’d been so amazed with the things he could do with it that he’s taken it for granted, forgetting the magnitude of being its next successor and the incredible legacy he’s holding.

 

He’s doing it a terrible dishonor.

 

Yagi would be so disappointed.

 

Silently, Izuku faces the field again. Didn’t I just promise Grandpa that I would be an outstanding hero? Izuku thinks to himself, preparing to throw. He shouldn’t wait until he’s already got a license, until he’s already out on the proverbial field.

 

He can start now.

 

For the third time this day, Izuku swings his arm back. This time, however, he grits his teeth and turns the power output up all the way to a hundred percent, until green electricity crackles around him and lights the contours of his face up. He digs his heel into the ground, leans back -

 

And blasts the ball straight into the sky, breaching through several layers of cloud formations.

 

(People in the neighborhood could only wonder at the sudden weather disturbance, their gazes drawn to the jetstream that’s suddenly traced its way through the sky.)

 

Amidst the slack-jawed students, Aizawa lazily presses the button on the distance-measuring device. “1486.4 meters,” he says. “It’s not infinity, but it’ll do for now.”

 

Steam emanates slowly from Izuku’s hand, which he shakes gingerly. He still has to work on reinforcing himself whenever he uses the quirk, even if he can control its power output.

 

He smiles slightly.

 

1486.4 meters, huh?

 

He’ll work on surpassing that.


-

 

Aizawa walks languidly to the faculty room, hands in his pockets. The shocked and slightly betrayed look on his students’ faces after he’d told them the whole expulsion thing was a joke lingers in his mind. They’re still fresh and naive - better to let them think that he’d set up a logical ruse, instead of the truth that he would’ve expelled not just the lowest-ranking student, but anyone he judged to have zero potential.

 

Well, he didn’t actually see the expression of Hagakure, who’d ranked last, but he imagines if she had a visible face that it would’ve been similar to everyone else’s.

 

When he enters the room, there’s only a few teachers there. They look over at him when he opens the door, then return to their work just as quickly. Over in the lounge, enjoying a cup of tea, Yagi sits, wearing a dumb mustard yellow suit.

 

“Yo,” Yagi greets him. “Would you like some tea? You’re back early.”

 

Aizawa scratches the back of his neck briefly before coming over to sit in front of him. “I’d rather have coffee, but I’ll take some tea.”

 

Yagi smiles apologetically and pours him a generous amount. “How was your first day with 1-A?” he asks carefully, as he hands him the cup. “Any… standouts?”

 

Aizawa raises an eyebrow. No matter how he tries to phrase it, Yagi is definitely asking about Midoriya. Even though he’d been preoccupied with observing the other examinees, Aizawa hadn’t missed the uncommon level of interest that both Nezu and Yagi had displayed for Midoriya. Nezu is one thing - he’s always on the lookout for promising students, and Midoriya fits that title to a tee. Yagi’s interest in him is more questionable, especially when Aizawa’s getting vibes that the two of them had known each other even before the entrance exam.

 

“All of them are standouts, in their own ways,” Aizawa tells him, taking the cup of tea. It’s warm, not hot. He takes a sip before continuing. “But I definitely identified some problem children among them today.”

 

It’s Yagi’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Problem children? How so?”

 

“Off the top of my head, I can name five or six - right off the bat, Iida Tenya’s got a whole issue with the way he thinks,” Aizawa begins. He sees Yagi’s eyes widen slightly in recognition - it’s impossible not to have heard of the Ingenium line, the Iida family. “He seems to act more on perception than any actual selflessness - he outright says that if he’d known about the rescue points, he would’ve tried to help more people during the practical exam. Which, of course, is completely missing the point.” Privately, Aizawa recalls Midoriya saying the exact same thing to Iida. “Right now, his mindset is acting because it’s how he thinks a hero should act, instead of doing it because it truly is the right thing to do.”

 

Yagi nods thoughtfully. He knows from the exam results that although Iida had some rescue points, those had come about only after he’d noticed Izuku running around the field helping everyone out. Even then, the boy had only been able to garner a few points.

 

“Next, we have the two students who got in on recommendations - Yaoyorozu Momo and Todoroki Shouto,” Aizawa continues, beginning to count on his fingers. He sets his cup down on the table before sitting back up.

 

“Both of them are excellent students with excellent quirks and upstanding backgrounds - however, I’ve noticed that Yaoyorozu seems to struggle with some self-esteem issues. While her performance today is nothing short of stellar, she seems to be constantly comparing herself with the other students who got in through the regular entrance exam. I’m sure she’s aware and confident of her abilities, but the fact that she got in through recommendation may be weighing on her and affecting her state of mind.”

 

“Todoroki, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care.” Aizawa pauses, thinking back to the almost bored way that the boy had gone through the different physical exams. “In fact, he seems to care too little about all of this. His demeanor today suggested that he’s doing everything out of duty, not actual desire or motivation to become a hero.”

 

He frowns. “That’s not exactly accurate - it’s more that there’s probably something keeping him from fully wanting to be a hero, or something has ruined it for him. It could be the same reason he only uses his right side - If I recall correctly, his quirk should give him equal control over ice and fire, but I’ve never seen him use the fire. I didn’t call him out on it today because it seems like it’s an issue too sensitive to touch on right off the bat, but it needs to be resolved eventually.”

 

“Mineta Minoru meanwhile has a total attitude problem,” Aizawa continues, face momentarily twisting with distaste. “He has clearly perverted tendencies, and his reason for wanting to become a hero, if I understood his muttering correctly, is juvenile at best and abhorrent at worst. I only kept him on because he has definite potential and I have hope that he can eventually be improved… but it’s probably best that we all keep an eye on him.”

 

“And then we have Bakugou Katsuki - the boy with the highest number of villain kills,” Aizawa says, now holding out five fingers. “I’m not even sure where to begin with him - only that there’s a lot of potential being held down by his inferiority complex.”

 

“Inferiority complex? Bakugou?” Yagi repeats. The boy seems like such a confident person - could he really be nursing such feelings?

 

Aizawa stares at him, deadpan. “It’s pretty obvious, you know,” he informs him. “His case is pretty textbook - somehow or the other, he feels inferior to other people and overcompensates by putting on a superior front. I could tell that he felt discontent every time someone ranked above him - but considering his personality, he’s doing a fine job of reigning his temper in. I expected him to be angrier any time someone beat him in an exercise.”

 

Yagi can only nod, mind processing all this information. Aizawa is amazing - he’s able to glean this much about his students in the short time that he’s known them. Not just little details about their demeanors, but full-blown red flags and analyses of their thoughts. While he’s sure he’s only scratching the surface of their actual issues, this is still incredibly astute.

 

“And finally we have the entrance exam superstar, Midoriya Izuku,” Aizawa says, holding up the index finger of his other hand. He doesn’t miss the way the Yagi perks up at the mention of the boy’s name. Definitely suspicious . “Perfect grades. Incredible exam score. Quite the quirk on him as well. He has the right mindset for being a hero - I re-watched his performance during the practical part of the exam, and it all looked like it was second nature to him. There’s no question he was acting of his own accord.”

 

He leans forward, knotting his fingers together. His face turns contemplative as he stares at his rapidly cooling cup of tea. “He’s the ideal student - he harbors no naive ideals of the industry and sees it for what it is. Even so, you know his dedication to it is genuine - he truly does value helping and saving people. He’s already above and beyond the rest of them, and yet still has so much potential to grow. It’s a little frightening. And yet…”

 

Here, his expression grows a little dark. “I can teach a student to rescue, capture, or apprehend. But I can’t make a student want to be a hero when he doesn’t want to be.”

 

Yagi freezes. Has Aizawa noticed even this? Even when Izuku’s been getting much better about his view of the hero industry…

 

Or has Yagi himself simply missed the boy’s lingering doubts?

 

“It’s not like with Todoroki,” Aizawa presses on. “It’s much worse than that. Every single student on that field wanted to be there, was excited to be there. All except for him. This is all just conjecture, mind you - I’ve only known them for a couple of hours. But I have a feeling Midoriya’s biggest roadblock in this school won’t be his grades or his quirk - it’ll be his own motivation.”

 

They’re both silent for a few moments, before Aizawa abruptly leans back and grins.

 

“Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me, huh?”


-

 

Yashiro [15:06]: how was ur first day at school??? ♪~ ᕕ(ᐛ)ᕗ

 

Kimi [15:06]: we met some of our teachers. A LOT of them are former models

 

Kimi [15:06]: ...weird

 

Izuku [15:07]: we had a quirk assessment test first thing

 

Izuku [15:07]: did I spell that right

 

Yashiro [15:08]: OOOOOOOHHH

 

Kimi [15:08]: how did u do

 

Yashiro [15:08]: did u show off again???:D i bet u did, u show off

 

Izuku [15:09]: I threw a softball like 1.4 km

 

Izuku [15:09]: they made all of us do it

 

Kimi [15:09]: 1.4 KM???????????

 

Izuku [15:09]: yes

 

Izuku [15: 10]: trust me i tried to be lowkey

 

Yashiro [15:10]: three questions

 

Izuku [15:11] I’m worried

 

Yashiro [15:11]: one, do u think ur softball hit anyone

 

Yashiro [15:12]: two, do u think ur quirk would alert u to it if it did

 

Yashiro [15:12] and three, do u think u could run 1.4km and catch it b4 it hit someone

 

Izuku [15:13]: …

 

Izuku [15:14]: i mean i did run to UA in ten minutes and that’s like two stations away

 

Yashiro [15:15]: ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)


-

 

Izuku locks his phone and puts it away in his bag. A few other students are also lingering in the classrooms, still eager to talk with their newfound friends. A cheerful chorus of “Bye, Midoriya!” and “See you tomorrow!” ring out as he walks through the door, which he returns, smiling. He’s actually looking forward to getting to know them, even as he takes notes of their quirks, specifically their strengths and weaknesses.

 

Since he’s no longer training every single day for the entrance exam, he’s had a lot more free time. While he makes sure not to neglect getting in some strength training every day, it’s much less intense. As such, he’s able to visit the dojo a lot more often, and he would be able to hang out with Kimi and Yashiro more often, if only they actually could. Kimi’s stuck in her dormitory, and somehow Yashiro’s ended up with the biggest workload out of all of them, being in the business course. Their little private group chat is their only consolation until they all get more free time.

 

He walks through the doors of the main building, lost in thought about the exercises he wants to run for the kids at the dojo while he still has time. He’s so out of it that he doesn’t notice two people waving at him until they look at each other and decide to stand directly in his path.

 

This, of course, causes him to bump into them. “Oof, sorry!” Izuku says, quickly stepping back. Only then does he notice that it’s actually Iida and Uraraka. “Oh, you guys! You’re still here?”

 

Uraraka looks at him, her expression somewhat fond. “You really do just get lost in your own head, don’t you?” she says, giggling slightly. “We waited for you! Well, actually, I saw Iida and then he told me he was waiting for you, and then I decided to join him!”

 

“Really?” Izuku turns to look at Iida, who looks neither bashful nor embarrassed, only resolute. “What for?”

 

Iida regards him seriously for a few moments, before asking, “Earlier, at the classroom, what did you mean?”

 

Izuku tilts his head, not sure what the other boy means. “What are you talking about?”

 

“Earlier, when I apologized for my behavior during the entrance exam, you said something to me about missing the point of something. No, in fact, both you and Aizawa-sensei said it - we simply couldn’t continue because he began class.” His face looks troubled, prompting Uraraka to pat him on the arm even if she doesn’t fully understand the situation. “What did you mean?”

 

Understanding dawns on Izuku’s face, and is quickly snuffed out by a sober expression. “You were talking about the rescue points,” he recalls. “And you said that if you had gotten enough villain points, or if you’d known about the rescue points, you would’ve done the same thing that I did.”

 

“But what I meant then is that you’d totally be missing the value of the rescue points - why do you think we weren’t told about them?”

 

Iida is visibly startled. “You didn’t know about them?” he asks.

 

“No,” Izuku says, shaking his head and frowning. “As far as I know, none of the students were informed beforehand about the rescue points. I certainly didn’t know.” His eyes widen slightly as he realizes something else. “Wait, did you actually assume that maybe I had inside help? That I somehow knew about this secret system?”

 

Iida flushes slightly in embarrassment, but he impressively maintains eye contact. “To me, it seemed like the logical conclusion. After all, it wasn’t necessary for you to go around helping everyone like that, especially those that weren’t in particularly grave danger.”

 

Sometimes Izuku forgets that not everyone is aware of his native quirk or his “tendency” to always be in the right place and time to help someone. To an outsider like Iida, who must have had no idea what was going on while Izuku bounced back and forth across the arena preventing random accidents from happening, it would in fact be logical to conclude that Izuku knew about the point system beforehand.

 

“I can understand how you’d think that,” Izuku says carefully. How can he properly explain this without telling them about his quirk as well? “But I promise you that I had no prior knowledge about the point system before the entrance exam.” What can he say? That he just likes helping people? No good. That just sounds both dumb and pretentious. What can he possibly tell Iida that will convince him?

 

“Sometimes,” he begins. “Sometimes, you just can’t help but help people. Even if you don’t know them. Even if you have no obligation to them. I saw them then, in the path of danger. I was close. I could do something.”

 

He tries for a slight, but genuine smile that he hopes will mask the guilt he feels for lying. “How could I not help them?”

 

Iida stares at him, mouth slightly open. Beside him, Uraraka’s hands go slowly up to cover her mouth. “Deku-kun, I…” she says, eyes wide. “Wow, that was a really heroic thing to say.”

 

It’s Izuku’s turn to blush in embarrassment. “It’s not,” he mumbles, looking away.

 

“No, you were so cool, Deku-kun!” Uraraka insists. She clenches her hands into fists. “That was really hero-like. So cool!”

 

Izuku laughs nervously, until he sees the unchanged expression on Iida’s face. “Iida-kun, I think it's best if we just forgot about the entrance exam,” he tells him, not unkindly. “It's in the past now. We're all training to become Pro Heroes, right? So we should be focusing on the future and what we can do, rather than get stuck in the past.”

 

Uraraka whispers “So cool!” once again in a hushed voice. Iida’s shoulders finally relax. “Yes,” he says. “I suppose you're right.”

 

“Right,” Izuku says, settling into a wider smile. “Now we should all get home and get some rest. Who knows what Aizawa-sensei will have planned for us tomorrow?”

 

Uraraka nods emphatically. “Oh, hey, do you guys wanna walk together part of the way?” she asks them. “The apartment I live in is pretty close to the station, so I can walk with you guys if you're heading that way.”

 

“Oh, I'm actually heading to, uh, our dojo today,” Izuku tells them. “You guys can come along if you'd like, since we'd be arriving just in time for the quirk training part. Only problem is that you'd have to ride two stations with me to get there.”

 

Uraraka and Iida look at each other, then turn back to Izuku. “I wanna go!” Uraraka says brightly, raising her hand. “We probably won’t have as much free time once the classes get serious, so I wanna visit while I can! It sounds really interesting.”

 

“I’ll go as well,” Iida says, a small smile finally popping up on his face. “I’m sure it’ll be another learning experience.”

 

“Of course you would think that,” Izuku quips lightly, relieved when it makes Iida chuckle. He’s only known them for a day (barring the entrance exam), but already he feels somewhat protective of them. It might have to do with the way he’d rescued Uraraka during the exam and how Iida’s somehow allowed himself to be vulnerable in front of them, but he’s certain he wants to be friends with them. Keep them safe, the way he’d done for Kimi and Yashiro.

 

As they walk towards the station, Izuku’s heart and step is light. Maybe UA won’t be so bad, after all.


-

 

Yashiro [20:45]: i’ve done it

 

Yashiro [20:45]: i’ve figured it out

 

Yashiro [20:45]: it IS possible for u to run 1.4 km and catch the ball before it hits someone

 

Kimi [20:46]: weren’t u just complaining to us how much homework u have on the first day

 

Yashiro [20:46]: shhhhhhh

 

Yashiro [20:47]: anyway Izuku it’s totes possible

 

Izuku [20:48]: did u actually solve it??? how fast do i have to go

 

Yashiro [20:48]: zoom

 

Izuku [20:48]: zoom?????

 

Yashiro [20:49]: u have to go ZOOM


-

 

Uraraka had, unfortunately, been correct.

 

There’s barely a moment of respite for the heroes-in-training once their education begins in earnest. In between classes that are obviously tailored to their course, such as rescue, apprehension, and hero politics (a subject taught by none other than Aizawa, who drilled them with such intensity that the students were quickly becoming experts on modern hero society), they also have regular classes, such as English, mathematics, and social sciences.

 

As befitting of UA and its motto of “Plus Ultra!”, even these regular classes are cranked up to eleven.

 

Izuku’s forced to utilize every studying technique and hack he has in his arsenal, from color-coded notes down to some occasional desperate cramming. True to the form of the entrance exam, the teachers seem to adhere to the notion that nothing in the real world comes with warnings, which unfortunately for the students includes surprise pop quizzes.

 

Thankfully, this is all still familiar ground for Izuku. Unlike in his old school, however, he’s now seeing some standouts that are giving him a serious run for his money in the academic department.

 

For example, as one would have expected, Iida’s no slouch when it comes to studying. His notes are nothing to laugh at either, being some of the cleanest and most organized set of papers that Izuku’s had the honor of seeing. His handwriting even looks like it’s been typewritten - that’s how precise he is while taking them down.

 

On the other hand, Yaoyorozu’s definitely Izuku’s toughest competitor. While they’re more or less even in the different subjects (Izuku may give himself the edge when it comes to English), Yaoyorozu dominates the field when it comes to the science, especially when it comes to chemistry. Izuku doesn’t know how she’s memorized all the chemical compounds that she knows (he thinks it’s probably due to her quirk, since apparently it requires her to understand the substance she’s producing at a molecular level), but damn if he doesn’t admire her for it.

 

Even Kacchan’s shining in the academic regard, narrowly missing Izuku’s score in a recent quiz by just one point. Izuku’s forgotten just how competitive Kacchan can get in all fields of life, whether in academics or heroics. The two years they’ve grown apart are showing their effects - Izuku hastens to acclimatize to the fact that his and Kacchan’s lives are connected once again.

 

Amidst all the stress of the revamped curriculum and their odd heroic training exercises (including one where they’d had to partner up with someone and take the role of either villains or heroes… needless to say, a ton of weird stuff had happened), sometimes the students forget that they’re still actually in a school. A school that’s still technically under the Japanese education system.

 

Which is why they’re so surprised whenever something actually normal happens.

 

“A class representative?” the whole class repeats in chorus.

 

“Yep,” Aizawa affirms, face unmoving. The entire class stares at him, nonplussed. Never, in their entire time of being here at UA (approximately nine days), had they expected to actually do something normal.

 

“It’s so normal!” Uraraka tearfully declares, eyes shining as she clasps her hands together. Around her, students emphatically agree, chests loosening at the relief of doing something one would actually do at a regular school. Never mind that it’s already pretty late for them to be electing a representative - it’s all they can do not to burst into celebration.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Aizawa says, already losing interest. “You guys can do it however you want, I don’t care. Just do it before homeroom’s over,” he tells them, before picking up his sleeping bag and shimmying inside, making himself comfortable on the floor.

 

Izuku frowns slightly, a little apprehensive. Even though it’s pretty late for them to be assigning a representative (from what Yashiro’s told him, 1-A’s apparently the only class still without a representative - probably due to Aizawa’s utter disinterest and apathy), they still don’t know each other all that well. Meaning, if they don’t have a candidate in mind, everyone’s liable to -

 

“I nominate myself!” Kirishima says promptly, standing up tall to pump his fist in the air. “I think it’s a totally manly position and that I would do well at the job!”

 

“Hey, hey, Kirishima, that’s no fair!” Ashido protests. “Fine, I nominate myself as well! If Kirishima thinks he can do it, then so can I!”

 

This of course, prompts a race to see who can nominate themselves fastest.

 

...Izuku has half a mind to follow Aizawa’s example and sleep until it’s all over.

 

(Near the back of the class, Yaoyorozu sits quietly, her hands knotted tightly together. If she were to be honest, she wants so badly to volunteer for the position. She knows that, objectively, she would do a good job - she’s a good and hard-working student, industrious and responsible. However…

 

Would her classmates accept her as a representative? If she were to nominate herself like her other classmates are doing, she may come across as the arrogant recommendation student asserting herself over them. Her fingers knot tighter against each other. There are so many other worthy students in the class that she feels small compared to the rest of them. She looks down at her desk and sighs.

 

Maybe she should just stay quiet.)

 

Izuku closes his eyes and leans back in his chair, content to listen to the increasingly loud bickering that’s already started. Oblivious to the girl’s current train of thought, he thinks that he’d like to see someone like Yaoyorozu in the position, if only for her dedication to her responsibilities and her, you know, actual sense of responsibility. However, going by that criteria, there’s also one other person that comes to mind -

 

“Excuse me!” Iida says loudly, standing up from his chair. His voice is loud enough that it even drowns out the vicious (and mostly one-sided) argument that’s started between Kacchan and Kirishima on why “Shit-For-Brains” as Kacchan calls the red-haired boy would be a terrible choice for class rep. “I have something I wish to say!”

 

Everyone quiets down, if a bit reluctantly, but Izuku finds it telling that they actually listen. If Iida’s doing what he thinks he’s doing and is nominating himself, then he’s got a good chance of convincing the others considering how easy it had been for him to command their attention.

 

“I…” Iida begins, uncharacteristically hesitant. “I would like to nominate our classmate, Midoriya!”

 

Izuku’s jaw drops.

 

Worryingly, no one raises any complaints. Near the front, Aizawa shuffles slightly in his sleeping bag.

 

“I think that out of all of us, Midoriya would be the best leader,” Iida continues, and Izuku can tell that it pains him to do this, to endorse someone else for the position he clearly wants. “He’s already exhibited the most heroic qualities out of all of us! And he’s wise and mature enough to give advice to the rest of us - even to someone who doesn’t know that they need advice. I…” he pauses, swallowing. “I think he’s the best candidate for it.”

 

There’s a beat of silence before Kacchan lets out a sharp bark of laughter, guffawing unreservedly until Kirishima tells him to shush and that he really has the worst timing, dude .

 

“It’s kind of true,” Ojiro offers in reply to Iida, the rest of them tactfully ignoring Katsuki’s ongoing laughter. “Midoriya’s plenty responsible. And he did come in first in the entrance exam.”

 

“He’d be suited to it, ribbit,” Asui says thoughtfully.

 

“I think he’d do great!” Sero seconds cheerfully, and more of them join in indicating their agreement. Iida smiles slightly, glad that he’s managed to do the right thing for once, even though he’d really wanted the position for himself.

 

“Midoriya, I think almost everyone agrees to elect you as the class representative,” he says to Izuku with something akin to finality in his voice. He extends one hand to the front of the class. “Do you wish to say anything?”

 

Izuku stares at him briefly without saying a word, then nods and stands up to walk to the front of the room. He turns to face all of them, earning some appreciative cheers and whoops as he does so.

 

“Thank you, Iida-kun, for your nomination,” he says. “And thanks to the rest of you for placing your trust in me. In response, I would like to say only one thing.”

 

He takes a deep breath, and musters the blankest face he can produce. “I respectfully decline.”

"I respectfully decline."

 

Everyone is silent, staring at Izuku in shock, except for Kacchan, who bursts into renewed laughter. “You fuckers really actually thought he would do it!” he says, guffawing. On the floor, Aizawa even lets out a small “heh” of amusement. “Izuku doesn’t do officer duties!”

 

“Kacchan, not now,” Izuku says firmly, knowing that Kacchan is privy to that one time in fifth grade when Izuku had forgotten for a four months that he was classroom representative and thus had missed an appalling number of officer meetings. That, however, is neither here nor there. “But I am declining the position.”

 

“But… why?” Iida asks weakly, as if it’s unfathomable for anyone to want to give up such a prestigious role.

 

“First off, I’m not actually suited to it, and your reasoning of why I’m supposedly good for it is all wrong,” Izuku says, raising one finger. “Just because I get good grades or was the top of the practical exam doesn’t mean that I’m automatically capable of being responsible for all of you.”

 

“But… you saved so many people during the entrance exam!” Iida protests.

 

“Yes, but does that mean I have the patience to sit through officer meetings, take notes, and keep all of you in line?” Izuku asks. “Absolutely not.” Privately, he also doesn’t want to add to his mounting list of stressors - studying, training, his still absolutely present original quirk (which thankfully has only acted up once in school, when he’d had to pull someone out of the way of Aoyama’s navel beam, again ). Regardless, everything he’s saying right now is true.

 

“You want to know who I’d recommend for the position?” Izuku says. He points directly in front of him. “Iida-kun.”

 

“Me?” Iida says, incredulous.

 

“Yes, and you know why? Because in nominating me, you proved that you care more about what you think is best for the class than what you actually want,” Izuku says, smiling slightly. “Everyone here and their mother knows that you really, really wanted the position. But did you nominate yourself for it? No. You nominated someone that you thought would be better for it than you, even if maybe your reasoning was wrong.”

 

Iida looks like he might cry, so Izuku presses on before he can. “I’m sure you’ll be a better class representative that I could ever be,” he concludes. Then he marches right over and sits back down at his desk, flicking Kacchan in the head for good measure. “We don’t talk about fifth grade,” he whispers, to which Kacchan responds with a middle finger.

 

The room is abruptly silent after Izuku’s declaration. Finally, Kaminari pipes up, “So… what now?”

 

Izuku rolls his eyes. Must he do everything? “Everyone who’s in favor of Iida being the class representative, raise your hand,” he instructs, raising his own.

 

It’s tentative, but almost all of the students raise their hands. Katsuki just shoves his own into his pockets, refusing to vote not because he actually dislikes Iida (he probably doesn’t even remember his name - he probably doesn’t remember any of their names, judging from the wide range of derogatory nicknames he has for everyone), but more on principle that he doesn’t endorse anybody but himself. At this, Iida truly looks like he’s on the verge of crying.

 

“Thank you, everyone,” he says, valiantly holding himself in check. “And thank you, Midoriya, for believing in me.”

 

“Sure,” Izuku says, giving him a thumbs up. He’s just glad he won’t be the one to do it, and it seems Iida will definitely have no problem in the role.

 

“You still have to elect an assistant class rep,” Aizawa tells them from the floor, abruptly reminding everyone of his presence. Juice packets lie strewn about him, cluttering the space. “Sometime today, if you wouldn’t mind.”

 

“Of course!” Iida says, already sliding into the role he’s just been given. He marches proudly to the front of the room, facing his classmates. “Who would you like to nominate for the position?”

 

Here, people seem more hesitant to volunteer themselves. Assistant class rep doesn’t sound as cool as class rep, and as Izuku’s laid out to them, it’s probably a lot of unnecessary work. Kacchan just scoffs in front of Izuku, who knows that the blonde boy would rather die than be called someone’s assistant.

 

“Anyone?” Iida says. “Is there anyone you all would like to nominate?”

 

“I… I would like to nominate myself!”

 

Everyone turns in their seat to look at the back of the room, where Yaoyorozu has stood up. She looks nervous, but there’s determination in her eyes. “I would like to volunteer for the position!”

 

She waits apprehensively for someone to contradict her. Or to tell her to sit down. Or maybe even laugh.

 

“Hey, that’s a great idea!” Jirou says.

 

“Yeah, Yaomomo’s totally responsible and super smart!” Ashido agrees, nodding. “She’d be super great at it!”

 

“Yes, I’m curious as to why you didn’t nominate yourself for class representative!” Iida says from the front, endearingly honest. “In fact, I thought it would be very hard for the class to decide if we had to choose between you and Midoriya.”

 

Yaoyorozu listens to them, slight disbelief in her eyes, until she relaxes and even smiles. “I… well, I thought… never mind. I would like to be the assistant class rep, if you would have me.”

 

“Definitely!” Kaminari says, pumping his fist in the air. Kirishima mirrors him. Izuku’s slightly disturbed at the way Mineta remains silent, leering at Yaoyorozu, but he contents himself with lightly smacking him on the shoulder and looking at him scoldingly when the boy turns around.

 

“It’s decided then!” Uraraka says cheerfully. “Iida-kun and Yaoyorozu-san will be our class representatives! I think they’ll be perfect!” Her classmates nod, agreeing.

 

“Good,” Aizawa interjects, shedding his sleeping bag and standing up to regard them all. Iida hastily returns to his seat. “That’s all for homeroom today. I’ll see you later at Hero Politics.” He stares at them. “I do hope you all have your essay written and ready.”

 

Everyone groans at the mention of the two-thousand word essay he’d assigned to them yesterday, a monstrous assignment that had all of them sleeping late. Except for Izuku, who sleeps late regardless.

 

“Stay out of trouble,” Aizawa says by way of goodbye, before leaving the classroom, his sleeping bag dragging behind him.

 

As he closes the door behind him, he makes a mental note to reassess his views on the six problem children he’s identified. Particularly Yaoyorozu, Iida, and Midoriya.

 

...Maybe helping them through their issues will be easier than he thought, especially if they’re doing most of the work themselves.


-

 

Izuku [19:59]: i was almost elected as class representative

 

Izuku [19:59]: i escaped, but narrowly

 

Yashiro [19:59]: buddy i AM the class representative

 

Yashiro [20:00]: i hate it

 

Kimi [20:00]: i am too

 

Kimi [20:00]: enlighten us on how U managed to escape, of all people

 

Izuku [20:01]: misdirection

 

Izuku [20:02]: finger guns

 

Izuku [20:02]: also these two other people really really wanted the positions so i graciously gave it to them

 

Kimi [20:02]: HA

 

Yashiro [20:03]: u asshole ಥ_ಥ


-

 

“See you next week!” Shishou says, laughing as Izuku disentangles himself from the young students at the dojo. He’s been visiting more frequently, and yet the kids still attach themselves to him as if he’s going to disappear for another ten months to go and train.

 

“See you next week, Izuku-nii!” Akari chirps, her hair ablaze. Her control over the fire is becoming impressive - she can regulate its heat and size quite skillfully.

 

“See you!” Izuku says, waving to the students. Yashiro hasn’t had much time to visit the dojo considering his workload at the business course which keeps him busy until even the weekend, but he still comes in whenever he can. He and Izuku have yet to visit at the same time though, and they’ve only been keeping in touch mostly through text.

 

It’s Saturday, which means that Yagi’s going to be visiting the Midoriya household for dinner. For some reason, Yagi’s tended to pop in to visit their house during the weekends, usually to inquire after Izuku’s experiences at UA, until Inko suggested he just visit weekly for dinner since he seems to worry so much. Inko’s definitely warmed up considerably to Yagi after the whole thing with him passing his quirk onto Izuku, and Yagi’s probably glad for the excuse to basically interrogate Izuku on the happenings at school.

 

Of course, Izuku’s already had some classes and exercises led by Yagi, posturing as All Might, of course. However, due to his limit of three hours, and the fact that he still has to teach Class 1-B as well, the time they spend together in school is actually limited. Because of this, Izuku himself is secretly glad to have these dinners with Yagi, who he often forgets to refer to as All Might in public.

 

Walking home from the dojo, Izuku idly lets One for All course on and off through his body. Yagi is always impressed whenever Izuku brings back a report on something new that he can do with the quirk, even if the both of them are still confused as to why Izuku had been able to handle it at full capacity right off the bat.

 

(Both them decide not to question it, since it’s a good thing, but secretly both of them are still wondering why .)

 

Once home, Izuku opens the door to smell the familiar scent of his mother’s cooking. “Izuku, is that you?” she calls, not ceasing in her preparations.

 

“Yep!” Izuku replies, taking his shoes off. “Is Yagi-san here yet?”

 

“Young Midoriya!” Yagi says, coming from the living room. He beams brightly at him as if he hasn’t just seen him yesterday and made their class do an endurance run around the school for no particular reason. “You’re quite late tonight!”

 

“I helped out at the dojo,” Izuku says apologetically, by way of explanation. “What’s Mom cooking?”

 

“Inko-san tells me she’s preparing pork shogayaki,” Yagi informs him. “I’m sure it’ll be delicious.”

 

“It’ll be some time yet!” Inko calls to them from where she’s preparing the ingredients. “You two can talk over in the living room until it’s ready!”

 

Yagi turns to look at Izuku. “What she said,” he says, grinning cheekily. Izuku rolls his eyes and goes into the living room.

 

“So, how is school?” Yagi asks, settling into the couch as Izuku does the same. “I know you’re doing exceptionally well in my classes, but how about with the other subjects?”

 

“Aizawa-sensei is a nightmare, like usual,” Izuku says bluntly, causing Yagi to laugh. He’s all too familiar with the strict standards the man keeps for his students, not to mention his sadistic employment of various logical ruses, as he calls them. “And Present Mic seems determined to compete with him in terms of strictness. In grading, I mean - do you know how harshly he judged our test in English the other day? No joke, I think Mineta-kun was crying afterwards.”

 

“That sounds like the two of them, alright,” Yagi says sympathetically, knowing that Aizawa and Yamada go way back and that Yamada’s always made it a priority to emulate Aizawa if he’s sure that it will annoy the latter. The only victims here are the students.

 

“Some of the others are itching for another practical test, though,” Izuku says. “Kacchan in particular is getting restless, but Kirishima and some others are also excited for another heroics activity.”

 

Yagi leans back, his face thoughtful. His mind drifts back to the conversation that had gone on in the faculty room earlier, planning for the next activity of the students. “Well, you shouldn’t worry, because there’s an activity coming your way. Next week, in fact,” he says, before abruptly covering his mouth.

 

Izuku laughs. Yagi has an unfortunate tendency to be loose-lipped when it comes to the activities he’s responsible for. While it’d definitely be an advantage to him, Izuku usually stops him before he reveals too much, because it would be unfair to the others.

 

“Well, I’ve already said this much, so that’s damage done, I guess,” Yagi says, grimacing. “You’re going to have quite the interesting activity on Monday, that’s for sure.”

 

Later, Yagi would recall this conversation and regret ever saying that.


-

 

The opportunity draws near.

 

Time to secure the second step.

 

The pieces are set to motion, awaiting their unwitting players.

Chapter Text

“Can you believe we’ve been in UA for almost two weeks and we still haven’t had lunch together a single time?” Yashiro says, lying down on Izuku’s bedroom floor. It’s Sunday, and a little over an hour ago he’d barged into their apartment and situated himself on the comfortable carpeting of Izuku’s room, refusing to get up from it.

 

“You’re too busy,” Izuku says, which is a little unbelievable, but it’s true. UA business course students are even less familiar with the concept of a “break” than Izuku is. Almost all of them stay in their classroom even during break time, bringing packed lunches with them in order to lessen the time spent resting and increase productivity. Considering the amount of research and work they’re being assigned, this is a great strategy, but Yashiro insists they only stay inside the room to have debates on who’s the smartest student.

 

“Those guys don’t know when to shut up!” Yashiro gripes, wringing his hands uselessly through the air. “It’s all ooh , but what about this angle , and have you considered this , and blargh. Every single one of them voted for themselves while we were choosing the representative - except me! I voted for this one girl that I thought was super responsible even though she talks your ear off if you let her mention her family business even once in the conversation.”

 

“And if that’s what happened, how did you end up class representative?” Izuku asks dryly, still seated at his desk where he’s trying to outline the most comprehensive notes he can make in order to have a chance at beating Yaoyorozu even once in Science. He’s determined to take the top score in the next quiz that they have, even if just to prove to himself that he can do it. (He’s not above hoping that Yaoyorozu might somehow forget to review for it, even though he knows that she’s too studious to do so, and too smart to do badly even for a test she hasn’t reviewed for.)

 

“Well, apparently our homeroom teacher is just as fed-up with their pompous attitudes,” Yashiro says, face scrunching in distaste as he recalls his classmates’ apparently pompous attitudes. “So he just ended up picking me, since I was the only one who voted for someone other than myself. I gotta tell you, every single person in that room was fuming - I was terrified for myself.”

 

“Better start watching your back,” Izuku says, distracted, as he goes over his thirteenth revision of the periodic table he drew himself. “Some of them might be out for your blood.”

 

Yashiro sits up abruptly, jaw open. “Don’t even joke about that!” he says, shocked. “What if they really do try and do me in? Aw, man, why’d you have to get me all scared like that?”

 

At this, Izuku laughs and turns around to face Yashiro. “Are they really so scary that you actually think they might try to have you… removed , just because you got the position they wanted?”

 

“No…” Yashiro concedes, then shakes his head. “Wait, no, not all of them, but I definitely wouldn’t put it past some of them. This one guy who’s apparently the heir to this big-shot media company’s been shooting me death glares all the time, and it’s so freaky! His eyes are really huge, too, so that just makes him even creepier!”

 

Izuku laughs again and returns to his note-making. “Well, don’t worry, if any of your classmates ever end up trying to do you in, I’ll save you. Then we can report them, expose their heinous crime, and have their media empire or whatever absolutely demolished.”

 

“And give them even more reason to try and come back for me?” Yashiro says, shuddering. “No, thanks. I’ll just try to survive for now - remember me as I am, not as I will be after they get their hands on me.”

 

“You’re so dramatic,” Izuku snorts, then pauses briefly when his phone lights up with a notification. “Kimi just sent a photo in the chat,” he tells Yashiro.

 

“Yep, I saw,” Yashiro says, lying back down. “The selfie with Tigress, right? Who would’ve thought that she taught at Kimi’s school, too?”

 

“Somehow, it’s not that surprising,” Izuku says, idly looking at the blood-orange hair color that Kimi adopted for the picture. They still haven’t met up since school started, but Izuku’s hoping that maybe they can, soon. Yashiro’s already promised to meet up with him for training at the dojo this Wednesday - barring any sudden overload of homework, or assassination attempts from his jealous classmates.

 

“Can we have lunch together tomorrow?” Yashiro asks, absently thumbing through his phone screen. His face scrunches up when he sees the glaring list of things he still has to do by tomorrow, meaning he’ll have to cut this little visit short. “Maybe if they see me eating with a bunch of heroics students, they’ll leave me alone. Especially you, dude - they all already have an eye on you, ever since the entrance exam results came out.”

 

Izuku frowns. “Sorry, I don’t think I can eat with you tomorrow,” he says apologetically. “If I’m right - ” (which he probably is, considering the information came from Yagi) “ - then we’re going to have a big activity tomorrow. They don’t give us a lot of free time when we have those big classwide activities.”

 

“Ah, well,” Yashiro says, adopting a mournful tone. “I’ve survived three weeks with a bounty on my head, I can survive another day. Do you guys have any idea what you’re doing for tomorrow, then? The teachers over there at the heroics course come up with the craziest ideas sometimes.”

 

“Don’t I know it,” Izuku says wryly. “Maybe for once, we’ll do something safe and boring.”


-

 

“For today’s basic hero training, you’ll all be doing rescue ,” Aizawa says, not even bothering to look anything but absolutely bored.

 

The class breaks out into mixed murmuring, all wondering and speculating about this new activity about to be set to them. Aizawa watches them do this for all of two seconds before continuing, his dry voice silencing all the others. “This will be the first part in your comprehensive rescue training,” he says. “Today will be dedicated to training in various disaster and accident zones in order to get you used to those kinds of environments and how to respond accordingly. Tomorrow will be dedicated to training in actual person rescue, wherein you will be assisted by some volunteers from the general course who’ll be acting as civilians for you to rescue. Class 1-B will be doing the same regimen - today, you guys get the disaster training while they get the civilian training, and tomorrow, you’ll switch.”

 

“Disaster zone training?” Hagakure says, placing her head in her hands (or at least they think that’s what she’s doing). “Aw man, that’s not really up my alley,” she says disconsolately.

 

“If it’s an aquatic environment, then I will have no problem at all, ribbit,” Asui says, her usually monotone voice sounding confident.

 

“I bet your quirk is really useful for urban landscapes with lots of rubble, huh?” Satou says to Uraraka, who beams and nods emphatically.

 

“We’ll be leaving directly after lunch,” Aizawa cuts in. All the students turn obediently to the front to listen once more. “This morning, you will be given time to train, practice and adjust.”

 

“Adjust?” Izuku repeats, wondering what their teacher meant.

 

Aizawa nods. “Since you’ll be placed in controlled but still relatively unsafe environments, you all have to be properly equipped. The support department has gotten back to us last week to inform us that your hero costumes are now ready.”

 

As one, the class cheers excitedly, conversations starting with renewed vigor. Sometime after school had started, they had been asked to provide designs on the kinds of hero costumes they wished to have the support department make for them. They had been asked to consider practicality, quirk enhancement, and even appeal - the aesthetic of their costumes naturally had to coincide with the kind of image they would want as heroes.

 

For Izuku, whose known quirk is fairly straightforward, the design concept he submitted had been rather simple. He’d asked for a basic jumpsuit that would allow easy and free movement while being constructed of the most durable cloth available in order to withstand the amount of force he applied when using One for All. He’d asked for equipment that would support and bolster his knees, arms, shoulders, and knuckles against the recoil that he sustained anytime he launched one of his attacks. He’d also asked for extra reinforcement all around, especially near his palms, which still needed to be handled carefully.

 

For supplementary gear, he’d requested a mouth guard that could easily be slipped on and off in case he encountered severe dust and or debris, and a pair of goggles that could enhance his vision and allow him to see farther. His reasoning for the goggles had been related to his first quirk, in order to allow him to spot dangerous situations and people in potential trouble.

 

As for aesthetic, he’d opted to leave that part up to their discretion. His only input in that field had been in color - he’d asked to use dark green as the primary color, reasoning that’s it a good color that’d let him blend in when needed but still remaining recognizable.

 

(His mind had flashed briefly to his father’s hero costume, and after some hesitation had written down that he’d like black and red accents on the costume.)

 

“Your costumes will be delivered here shortly,” Aizawa continues. “And you’ll be given an hour to wear them and test them out, so that you’ll be more or less used to them by the time we get to the training area. After that, you’ll head to the cafeteria for an early lunch, and then a brief break where you can rest or practice some more. The activity will be taking place at an external location, by the way, and we’ll be travelling there by bus.”

 

“Ooh, so exciting,” Ashido says, clapping her hands together, while Kaminari nods enthusiastically.

 

“We’ll also be accompanied by another Pro Hero, so try not to embarrass yourselves,” Aizawa dryly concludes, scratching the back of his neck. A noise from the door suddenly attracts everyone’s attention.

 

Tall stacks of sleek white boxes are rolled in on an automatic trolley, coming neatly to a stop at the front of the class. The students go ooh and ahh at the impressive sight, knowing their hero costumes are contained within those boxes.

 

“Your costumes are here,” Aizawa says, quite unnecessarily. “You all should put them on and come down to the training field. You’ve got an hour to get used to them, so don’t waste your time.” He finishes with that piece of advice before pulling out a juice packet from his seemingly endless supply and walking out of the room, presumably to head down to the training field ahead of them. Or maybe to nap for a century, one could never tell with him.

 

Izuku lets his other classmates rush to the boxes first, content to linger near the back of the line and wait patiently to see his costume.

 

 

...Oh, who is he kidding? He’s so excited .


-

 

What is with all the villain incidents today?

 

“Thank you so much, All Might!” a young mother tearfully thanks Yagi, as he hands he back his son after apprehending the criminal that had tried to carry him off.

 

“Of course!” he says kindly. “But now I really must be off, make sure to be more care - ”

 

“All Might! Thank goodness you’re here!” someone comes up to him. He recognizes him as Kamui Woods, an up-and-coming newbie in the hero scene. Contrary to his usual image, he’s looking a little beat-up and harried. “There’s a villain attack over at the next block! We’re trying to contain him, but he’s going really wild!”

 

Yagi groans internally. “It’s alright now!” he says out loud, knowing that everyone is watching. “For I am here! I’ll take down that villain, no problem!”

 

“Thanks!” Kamui says, before abruptly getting clocked in the head by an enormous fist.

 

“Gahaha!” laughs the villain, watching proudly as Kamui is thrown back several feet by the blow. “Did you really think that you squirts can beat me!”

 

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Yagi interjects, prompting the villain to slowly turn their head in horror.

 

As Yagi beats the guy into the ground, he hopes he’ll have enough time to make it to 1-A’s activity. What is with the sudden spike of villain activity, anyway?


-

 

“It looks exactly like I thought it would!” Uraraka gushes, twirling frantically this way and that, trying to see every inch of her costume on her without a mirror. “They did such a great job! I was really worried when I submitted the sketch - I’m so bad at drawing.”

 

“I know, right?” Ashido says, mirroring Uraraka’s twisting movement. “Man, the guys over there at the support department are really something! They got the exact colors that I wanted! How cool is that?”

 

“I’m not saying I’m disturbed by your costume,” Ojiro says, trying to remain tactful as he talks to a seemingly very naked Hagakure. “But I’m also not saying that I’m not disturbed by your costume.”

 

“Yaomomo’s costume is so amazing,” Mineta says thickly to anyone who would listen, the poor girl unfortunately hearing each and every instance.

 

“Very explosive! Ten out of ten!” Kaminari says, raising a thumbs up at Katsuki’s explosively-themed ensemble and getting a punch to the face for his trouble.

 

“So cool!” Sero exclaims, rapping on Iida’s white armor with his knuckles. “And it looks so tough - even Midoriya’d probably have a super hard time breaking this!”

 

Iida laughs. “I’m sure Midoriya could break through this in one hit - I’m glad he’s too nice to do so! Speaking of Midoriya, where is he?”

 

“He got his costume last,” Uraraka pipes up, coming over to join the conversation. “And from what I saw, it had a ton of pieces! He’s probably taking some time to get it all on.”

 

“Looks like he’s finished, though,” Sero interjects, looking behind them. He lets out a low whistle. “ Damn , his costume looks cool!”

 

Uraraka and Iida turn around and collectively gasp at the sight of Izuku’s hero costume. “ Uwaa , you look so cool, Deku-kun!” Uraraka exclaims, clapping her hands together excitedly.

 

“Very heroic!” Iida says approvingly, his hands chopping frantically through the air as if to show his appreciation.

 

Deku's hero costume

 

“Thanks, guys,” Izuku says, grinning slightly. His costume is above and beyond what he’d expected - if he were to be honest, he took so long in going down to the field because he couldn’t stop looking at it. The seemingly heavy boots and gauntlets were flexible and lighter than they looked, and they fit him perfectly. The tracksuit fits him like a glove, the light fabric comfortable on his skin but much, much stronger than it first seemed. Dark green, red, and black had gone together even better than he could’ve imagined - simply wearing it really made him feel like a true hero.

 

When he’d opened the box, there had been a note inside, presumably from the support department. It had started off like he might’ve expected, detailing the various features of his costume and the liberties they had taken in making his design. Near the end, however, there had been a little bit that had caught his attention.

 

In regards to the goggles you requested, there are several modifications in addition to the features that you requested. One of our students saw your request and apparently recognized your name. She requested that the making of the goggles be left in her responsibility. We gave her permission, so long as she ran all her proposals through us first. I believe that you will greatly appreciate the features that she added.

 

First of all, the goggles themselves serve the basic function of protecting your eyes. The frames and the lens are made of extremely durable material that can endure high amounts of force. The additional features can be turned on and off at any time. Our student extrapolated that you wished to have these goggles to aid in the purpose of rescue. As such, she has included the following features: enhanced vision, thermal vision, and night vision.

 

Enhanced vision will allow you to see clearly for a distance of about two kilometers. At such a distance, the goggles will allow you to read a small street sign with no problem. The technology tracks your eye movement, and small receptors that can detect your brainwaves will prompt the goggles zoom in to an object, person, or location that you focus on. Note that this feature may cause dizziness and nausea at first, but through extended use, you will gradually become accustomed to it.

 

Thermal vision allows you to detect heat signatures for as far as enhanced vision mode will let you see. We have included an infographic on heat signature colors and cues in order to allow you to understand what kind of heat signatures indicate a healthy person and one whose vital signs may be fading. Thermal vision can be turned on and off independently of enhanced vision, as it may sometimes hinder your sight.

 

Night vision is self-explanatory - it will allow you to see figures and people at night as if it were day. Turning this on during the day will hamper your vision considerably, so only use it at night. Like thermal vision, it can be turned on and off independently of the other two features.

 

These three features can be used in junction with each other or independently. We trust your judgement to make the right decisions when necessary.

 

As a final note, the student who took over making your goggles wishes to remain anonymous for now. She does, however, have intentions to meet you, so if you would like to thank her, please wait for the opportunity to do so in person. On behalf of the support department, we hope you like our creation and look forward to seeing them used for noble, heroic actions. Plus Ultra!

 

- Power Loader, Support Department

 

First off, Izuku had just barely kept from exclaiming in glee when he’d seen that the note appears to have been personally written by Majima Higari, better known as Power Loader, the Excavation Hero. He’d also been overwhelmed at the modifications added to the goggles he’d requested, which are above and beyond the simple feature he’d originally asked for.

 

Lastly, he’d wondered and is still wondering who the mysterious support student that Power Loader had mentioned is. From the letter, it’s clear that they’re female, but there’s nothing else to go off from. Izuku doesn’t know anybody who’d applied for the support department, so he’s honestly stumped.

 

It does seem like she’ll eventually contact him though, which he looks forward to. He absolutely needs to make his gratitude known to her, after all the effort she’d put into making his goggles.

 

“Well, then, we should all hurry and test out our costumes!” Iida says loudly, injecting authority into his voice. “We only have less than an hour to get accustomed to them, so let us not waste it!”

 

The students cheer in response, before quickly dispersing and finding their own corner in the field to practice in. Within a few minutes, they’re all absorbed in their own little exercises, testing the limits of their quirks now that they’re enhanced by their costumes.

 

Izuku spends the next hour breaking past his previously set limits. The boots protect his knees and legs from the recoil when he jumps, allowing him to jump higher that he ever had and protecting his entire body for landings. The gauntlets act similarly, bolstering his hands against any negative impact as he lets loose one punch after the other, making sure to aim away from his classmates.

 

The best part of it all, however, are definitely the goggles.

 

He easily spends just ten minutes standing still, turning around slowly in place as he zooms in and out of focus on the various things in his surroundings. From here, he can look at the main school building and see the students inside, able to clearly see their faces and even the text written on their chalkboards if the angle is right. Like the letter had warned, this quickly makes him dizzy, so he doesn’t use it for too long. He makes a mental note to get accustomed to it in his free time.

 

The thermal vision mode informs him that all his classmates are running hot with exertion, their heat signatures rising through the roof. And, like the letter had also warned, turning on night vision plunges his entire environment into darkness, unable to see anything. He quickly turns it off, the sensation of complete darkness rather disturbing.

 

After the hour is done, Aizawa finally comes from wherever he’d been to pick them up. “Get lunch in the cafeteria, and make it quick so that you can digest it thoroughly,” he instructs them. Grateful for the reprieve, the students stop whatever they had been doing to leave for the cafeteria.

 

Two hours later, they’re on a bus, chattering excitedly about the upcoming activity. Aizawa sits somewhere to the front, ignoring the bus driver’s attempt at small talk in favor of sleeping during the short trip.

 

“Midoriya?” Asui says, tapping Izuku on the shoulder. He perks up, startled. “Yes, Asui-san?”

 

“Call me Tsu-chan,” she tells him, smiling. “I have a tendency to say what comes to mind, ribbit, so don’t get offended, but I can’t help but think that your quirk is really similar to All Might’s, ribbit.”

 

Izuku blinks. “I mean, you’re not wrong,” he says, shrugging. They’re way more than just similar - they’re exactly the same. But of course I can’t tell you that.

 

“Yeah, your quirk is really manly, Midoriya!” Kirishima says from Asui’s other side. Iida had instructed all of them to form two lines before boarding the bus for easy seating, but his effort had been rendered moot when the bus hadn’t turned out to be the regular two-seater kind. “It seems simple, but it’s super flashy! And you can do all sorts of stuff with it! Mine is tough, but kinda plain looking,” he says sadly, raising his arm and hardening it. Although the effect of his quirk is evident, it does indeed look rather simple.

 

“But I think your quirk is one of the ideal ones, Kirishima-kun,” Izuku says seriously, eyeing the hardened skin. “It’s extremely versatile and practical. Plus, combined with your high baseline strength, it’s really good for combat and defense when necessary. It’s good for both offense and defense.”

 

Kirishima has - manly - tears in his eyes. “Bro,” he says. “You’re too nice!”

 

“If we’re talking about flashy quirks, though, Midoriya, Todoroki, and Bakugou definitely take the cake!” Ashido says. “You guys are too powerful!”

 

“I don’t see Bakugou being too popular as a hero, though,” Kaminari says thoughtlessly, as if he’d already forgotten the punch to the face he’d received from the boy in question just hours ago. “He’s too scary. He’d scare all the children any time he’s on the scene.”


“What was that, you fucker?” Kacchan yells from his seat behind them.

 

“Case in point,” Kaminari bravely concludes, shaking his head. Kacchan looks like he wants to come over and reintroduce Kaminari to his quirk, but he just snorts and settles back in his seat, contenting himself with flashing his middle finger at them. It’s perhaps the calmest way that Izuku has ever seen Kacchan handle any situation.

 

“I wouldn’t antagonize Kacchan too much like that, Kaminari-kun,” Izuku cautions him. “He can get prickly if you talk about him too much.”

 

“You call him Kacchan?” Ashido says, wonder in her voice. “That’s so cute! ...And honestly a little scary that he lets you.”

 

“Yeah, I actually kinda fear for your safety everytime you call him that,” Satou agrees.

 

Izuku laughs lightly. “We’ve been friends since we were practically born,” he explains. “And when I first met him, I couldn’t pronounce his first name, Katsuki, so my mom told me to call him Kacchan. The rest is history, I guess.”

 

Ashido and Asui let out a high-pitched, “Aww!” in unison. “That’s so sweet!” Ashido says.

 

“Oi, Deku, stop fucking talking about me,” Kacchan growls warningly, arms crossed. Izuku just sticks his tongue out at him in reply.

 

“Shut up, all of you,” Aizawa says, suddenly standing up at the front. His eyes are droopy from his recent nap. “We’re here.”

 

The students obediently quiet down, and as soon as the bus stops in front of a massive building clamber down neatly. “Whoa, this place is huge!” Sero comments, while Koda nods beside him, eyes wide.

 

“Welcome, students!” says a high, slightly grainy voice. “I’ve been waiting for all of you!”

 

The students gasp out loud when they see who’s addressing him. “Oh my gosh! It’s Thirteen!” Uraraka squeals, hopping excitedly in place.

 

Before them, clad in a white suit reminiscent of an astronaut’s, is Thirteen, the Space Hero. They’re well-known as a hero who specializes in rescue, specifically in disaster-struck areas. Their powerful quirk, Black Hole, allows them to create a vortex that turns anything it consumes into dust, making them indispensable when it comes to rescuing trapped people from landslides and earthquakes. Izuku hopes fervently that they’ll get to see them in action today.

 

They bow politely, prompting the students to sink into bows of their own. “Well, let’s get inside without any delay!” they say, clapping their hands together. “Follow me, if you please!”

 

Inside the massive dome-shaped building, the students stop in their tracks to gape at the amazing sight before them. Different areas of the building are clearly dedicated to different types of disasters - one simulates a shipwreck, another a landslide, another an urban landscape that seems to constantly be on fire, and even more. The students stare at the different zones with wide eyes, unable to believe the vastness of it all.

 

“It’s like Universal Studios Japan!” Kirishima says excitedly, voicing their thoughts. Beside Izuku, Kacchan snorts.

 

“This is a training ground that I built to simulate different types of accidents and disasters,” Thirteen says, gesturing grandly at the landscape. “Welcome to the Unforeseen Simulation Joint, or USJ for short!”

 

So it really is USJ , the students think, both amused and amazed.

 

Aizawa approaches Thirteen in the middle of their grand introduction. “Thirteen, where’s All Might?” he asks in an undertone, making sure the students don’t hear.

 

“About that…” Thirteen begins, and Aizawa thinks that if he could see their face, they’d be grimacing. “It seems like All Might got into too many villain incidents on the way to school, so he’s used up a lot of his energy. I was informed that he’s currently resting in the faculty room.”

 

Aizawa snorts. He’s not surprised. “That’s quite irresponsible of him,” he comments lightly.

 

Thirteen shrugs. “He did call and say he’ll try to pop in near the end of the lesson, so there’s that, at least.”

 

Aizawa sighs, resigned. “Well, I guess it can’t be helped. Shall we begin?”

 

“Right!” Thirteen says, facing the students. “Before we begin however, I’d like to tell you all one thing.” They raise their hand, showing off the little caps resting on their fingers. “I’m sure you’re all aware of my quirk, Black Hole, and how it works.”

 

Uraraka punches the air. “Yes! And we’ve all definitely seen the way you use it to save people from all kinds of accidents and disasters!” she says enthusiastically.

 

“Yes,” Thirteen nods. “But it’s still a quirk that can easily kill.”

 

The mood shifts noticeably after those words.

 

“A lot of you have quirks like that as well, am I right?” Thirteen continues. “In this superhuman society of ours, quirks have to be identified, certified, and strictly regulated, so it may not cross your mind so much. However, please do not forget that there are many quirks that can easily kill if you make so much as one small mistake.”

 

“With the physical test you underwent on the very first day, you discovered the reaches of the potentials of your quirks, how strong they can be and how much they can help you. But now, this class offers you a fresh start - you’ll learn how to use your quirks to help others. To save their lives.”

 

“Those powers weren’t given to you to harm others - they were given to you to help them,” Thirteen concludes.

 

Everyone’s listening with rapt attention, but none more so than Izuku, for whom Thirteen’s words mean so much more. That’s right. His quirks, both his original and One for All were given to him so that he can help others. Help them the way he’s been doing so his whole life, and to do so for who knows how long. He tucks those words away in his heart and mind, reminding himself once again what he’s doing this for.

 

“Right, I’ve said my piece!” Thirteen cheerfully says, bowing. “Thank you very much for listening!”

 

The students clap enthusiastically. “Bravo, bravo!” Iida loudly proclaims, clapping so hard that it’s painful to watch. “You’re amazing, Thirteen-sensei!”

 

Amidst their applause, Izuku smiles, excitement growing at the prospect of their rescue activities.

 

It’s immediately dashed to pieces when his gut twists .

 

Izuku’s instantly on high alert, ceasing his clapping immediately. His stance is wary, and he immediately puts on his goggles to try and spot what may have caused his quirk to activate. He looks everywhere, seeing seemingly nothing - he looks down, trying to think what it may be -

 

His strange behavior does not escape Aizawa’s notice. “What’s wrong, Midoriya - ”

 

He sees it.

 

“Get back, guys!” Izuku yells, spreading his arms and leaping back to pull as many of his classmates as he can away. “Thirteen, Aizawa-sensei, move back!”

 

Acting on pure instinct, the two heroes and the students follow Izuku’s instructions without question, and with barely just enough time to spare. Where they had just been standing, a misty black portal has appeared on the ground, its inky depths leading into destinations unknown. Above them, the lights in the facility begin to flicker, crackling with electricity.

 

Just as quickly as it had appeared, it disappears. Not for long, however, since right before their eyes, the exact same portal seems to open up in the middle of the central plaza.

 

This time, however, there are several. They’re wider, darker, more sinister .

 

And now someone’s coming out of them.

 

“You dodged our trap, huh?” says a lazy voice. It belongs to a tall, frightfully thin young man, his scraggly hair and pale face obscured by a giant hand clasping his head. He walks slowly out of the portal, hands scratching incessantly at his neck. “How did you do that? Did you have some cheats that warned you ahead of time?”

 

They watch, jaws agape in horror, as leagues of people come out of the numerous portals. These people, however, are no ordinary civilians - their eyes hold malice and vicious intent, all looking at the students like little birds to pick off, one by one.

 

Izuku swallows, heart pounding. He’s seen this look before, many, many times.

 

These are villains .

 

“Kurogiri, these guys are already using cheats,” the thin man says, continuing to scratch at already dry skin. Izuku’s goggles treat him to the unpleasant sight of numerous sores on his skin. “I don’t like it.”

 

“Now, now,” says another, calmer voice. A person made of the same black mist as the portals steps out of one of them, promptly making the portals disappear in a cloud of black smoke. “We did come here with overwhelming numbers after all. It evens the playing field a little.”

 

“Sensei,” Izuku says, barely managing not to choke on his fear and the incessant sensation in his abdomen. “Sensei, these are villains.”

 

The other students gasp when they hear Izuku’s words. Aizawa’s face is grim. “I know,” he says simply.

 

“How could they have gotten in?” Yaoyorozu asks, apprehension creeping into her voice. “What about the trespasser sensors?”

 

“The facility is fully equipped, of course, but if they’re not sounding, then it means they may have someone with a quirk that nullifies them,” Thirteen says grimly. They pull out a small white walkie-talkie out of their suit and fiddle with a few of the dials. “Aizawa, there’s no reception, either. They’re blocking out all communication.”

 

Aizawa grimaces, then commands, “Everyone, stay back. Thirteen, evacuate the students and try to call for backup.” He pulls down his goggles.

 

“Aizawa-sensei, you’re not going to fight all of them, are you?” Ashido says, worried.

 

Aizawa doesn’t answer her question, and instead turns away. “Kaminari, try to contact the school with your quirk,” he instructs the blonde boy, who nods shakily and taps the earpiece he’s wearing. “You all have to escape as soon as possible, you hear me?” he tells them firmly before running down the staircase and into the waiting arms of the congregating villains.

 

“Aizawa-sensei!” Izuku shouts, but the hero has already reached the main plaza and begun engaging the villains closest to him.

 

“Oh, are we starting with the boss fight already?” the thin man says. “Good thing we're all still at full HP.” He grins maniacally. “Take him down, minions.”

 

Thirteen and the students watch, aghast, as the villains let out a mad cheer and begin swarming Aizawa. The first few of them are instantly taken out by the hero, who erases their quirks in a flash and uses the bandages around his neck as a weapon against them. Izuku watches as Aizawa easily takes down a dozen villains in one go, but he knows that Eraserhead specializes in capture, not combat. He can’t keep this up for too long. There are easily a hundred of them, maybe even more - how does he plan on dealing with all of them at once?

 

“It’s no use, guys,” Kaminari says nervously. “My quirk can’t pick up any signals either.”

 

“Thirteen!” Izuku calls, rushing forward to grab the hero's shoulder. “We have to help Aizawa-sensei! He can't take them all alone!”

 

Thirteen turns to face him. “You guys are just students, moreover, students under my care right now,” they say sternly. “Under no circumstances are you to engage in combat with these monsters!”

 

Izuku grits his teeth, ready to argue, until his gut pulls insistently again. “Guys, get back!” he yells. “Huddle!”

 

As one, the students follow Izuku's lead and gather together - where several of them had been standing, smaller black portals had appeared on the floor.

 

“Excellently dodged,” someone says, and suddenly the person made of black mist has appeared before them, mere feet away from Thirteen. “I must commend you for your excellent reflexes.”

 

“Students, stay back!” Thirteen commands. They uncap their fingers and take aim directly at the black mist. “No harm will befall these children under ny watch!”

 

“I wouldn't do that if I were you,” the mist warns, as Thirteen activates their quirk.

 

The students watch as Black Hole begins to suck up the mist, not to mention debris and dust, and it seems for a moment that the misty person might be completely consumed.

 

And then things go wrong .

 

Two portals appear - one in front of Thirteen, one behind them. Izuku's mouth falls open in horror as Black Hole’s gravitational pull travels between the two portals, starting to affect Thirteen’s back.

 

“Thirteen!” he screams. “Thirteen, stop! You're consuming yourself!”

 

Thirteen realizes their mistake a second too late - the back of their costume has already disintegrated. The students watch as chunks of the white suit disappear into the portal, revealing a disturbingly dark and empty space inside where Thirteen is supposed to be.

 

The hero abruptly turns off their quirk, capping their fingertips, but the damage is done - they fall to the ground as the two dark portals disappear.

 

“I did warn you,” the mist says, almost sounding as if they're sighing. Thirteen doesn't reply, lying prone on the ground, vulnerable.

 

The students stand, frozen in fear at the sight of their fallen teacher. Izuku’s heart is pounding. There have been many theories online about what is inside Thirteen’s hero suit, but he’d never actually expected the black hole theory to be true. It seems that Black Hole isn’t just a quirk that Thirteen can activate - their entire body is a black hole.

 

They must be trying their hardest not to let the pull affect anyone, lest they consume a student and turn them into dust. Thirteen won’t be able to assist them while their suit is ruined.

 

Meaning they’re on their own.

 

“Well, children,” the mist says, approaching them. Collectively, they all take a step back. “No need to worry. No harm will befall you so long as you don’t pull a stunt like your teacher just did. So please, answer me - where is All Might?

 

Izuku freezes. All Might? Are they here for Yagi? Yagi had told him that he would be present for this activity, but he’s yet to show up.

 

“We don’t know,” he says bravely. “He’s not here.” Quickly, stealthily, he uses the goggles to rapidly look over the mist’s form. Surely they have a weakness, just like the slime villain - a physical, tangible part of their body that can be attacked with regular blows.

 

Deep within the inky black recesses of the cloud, Izuku spots a small, metal cylinder.

 

Gotcha .

 

“Iida-kun,” Izuku whispers, trying to be as quiet as possible. He’s lucky he’s standing close to him. “When I say go, you have to run outside as fast as you can, and try to contact the teachers at school to get help.”

 

Iida stiffens beside him. “I will not run ,” he says vehemently, but thankfully quietly.

 

“You don’t understand,” Izuku protests, eyeing the black mist warily, knowing that they don’t have much time. “We don’t stand a chance against them. We need help, and you’re the only one who can do this. If you don’t, Aizawa-sensei and Thirteen could die .”

 

“Children, I dislike whispering,” the mist interrupts, moving closer. “Our intel clearly stated that your lesson today would be attended by All Might. Where is he?

 

“Iida, please . Use your quirk to save them,” Izuku implores, before shouting, “We told you we don’t know! If you’re here for All Might, then he isn’t here!”

 

He clenches his fist and lowers himself into a fighting position, struggling to appear brave even as his entire body freezes at the thought of engaging an actual villain. “And if you think you’re going to hurt our teachers, then you have to get through us first!”

 

His goggles zero in on the hardly visible metal cylinder within the black mist.

 

He turns slightly, to the other side, where he knows Kacchan is standing. “Cover me,” he whispers simply, before lunging at the black mist.

 

He hears a furious, “ Fucking Deku! ” behind him, as he covers the distance between him and the mist in one enormous leap. His eyes widen as the goggles alert him to a small area with rapidly decreasing temperature, indicating that a portal is about to open in front of him.

 

Izuku hears Kacchan rapidly catching up behind him and screams, “Kacchan, left! ” as he twists in midair and leans to the right. Kacchan just barely manages to avoid the inky portal that’s manifested in between them, immediately standing up to lunge at the villain again.

 

“Die!” Kacchan yells, his hands popping furiously. The mist seems to shift its focus on him, and opens up another portal just as Kacchan leaps at him -

 

His momentum carries him forward, unable to stop -

 

Until Izuku pushes him out of the way and ducks under the portal, concentrating all of One for All in his fist and landing a solid punch on the metal cylinder.

 

“Iida, now! ” Izuku roars, and thankfully the dark-haired boy nods once before turning heel and running straight for the still open doors.

 

The metal cylinder is sent flying by Izuku’s blow, and with it the black mist as well. Izuku takes off his goggles to observe it as it lands well into the main plaza, skidding to a stop just a few feet away from the thin man.

 

“Fucking hell,” Kacchan swears, coming up to stand beside him. Izuku’s inclined to agree.

 

“Deku-kun, what now?” Uraraka says fretfully, approaching him. Behind her, the other students in the class follow. Thirteen is still quiet on the ground, unable to move.

 

Izuku realizes, with not a little amount of concern, that they’re turning to him for a plan. Iida may have gone to to get more backup, but until the other heroes arrive, they’re on their own.

 

More importantly, Aizawa is still down there, struggling to survive on his own as well.

 

“We have to help Aizawa-sensei,” Izuku tells them, struggling to remain calm. “We can’t leave him until the heroes come - he might be too seriously injured by then.”

 

“Find a partner that you work well with. We all know each other’s quirks by now, so think fast. We’ll all go down there and help Aizawa-sensei, but under no circumstances are we going to engage those two,” he says, pointing to the thin man who seems to be talking to the mist, which has recovered. “Do you understand? We don’t know how powerful they are.”

 

He turns to look at Yaoyorozu and Sero. “Yaoyorozu-san, Sero-kun, between your quirks, please try and fix Thirteen’s suit as much as you can,” he tells them. They nod. “They’re vulnerable and helpless while their suit is ruined, so do a good job.”

 

He turns back to the rest of them. “Everyone. This is no longer the entrance exam. We’re not competing for points - we’re fighting together. Think fast. Keep alert. Keep safe - keep each other safe.”

 

Izuku nods once, trying to ignore the overwhelming powerful sense of danger he’s feeling as he watches his classmates’ fearful faces and smiles to inject some encouragement in them. “Plus Ultra.”


-

 

“What happened to you, Kurogiri?” Shigaraki says, scratching at his neck as he peers over his fallen companion.

 

The shapeless man lets out what sounds like a chuckle. “I didn’t expect the boy to be so powerful,” Kurogiri says, collecting himself. “That was quite a punch. His reflexes are quite extraordinary as well - I didn’t get to scatter so much as a single one of them.”

 

Shigaraki grumbles. “I hate OP characters,” he says darkly. “Did one of them escape to call All Might yet?”

 

“Yes,” Kurogiri says. “A boy with a speed quirk, most likely from the Ingenium family. All Might will definitely be arriving soon.”

 

“In that case, we should call in our champion now,” Shigaraki says, eyeing Aizawa from where he’s decimating the villains around him. “And we should probably do something about him. He’s killing off too many of our party members.”

 

“As you wish,” Kurogiri says, opening up a portal beside him.

 

Its incomprehensible darkness is nothing compared to the abomination that steps out.


-

 

“Aoyama, beam!” Hagakure shouts. Aoyama nods, grandiose, and lets out an impressively bright beam from his navel. “Light refraction!” the invisible girl yells, catching the light from Aoyama’s beam and refracting it so that it blinds the villains in her immediate vicinity.

 

“Good job, Tooru!” Ojiro calls from where he’s slamming a villain into the ground with his tail. He ducks as Dark Shadow emerges from Tokoyami, sweeping an entire row of villains aside. “Warn me next time, Tokoyami!”

 

“I apologize,” Tokoyami says, abruptly leaping into the air using Dark Shadow to avoid the villains that attempt to swarm him.

 

“Everyone, jump! ” Todoroki yells commandingly, and as one the students leap into the air, narrowly dodging the ice that suddenly sweeps a good portion of the battlefield, trapping the villains that hadn’t been able to avoid it.

 

“Kaminari-san, here,” Yaoyorozu says, producing an oddly shaped metal bar for Kaminari. “You can use this to direct your electricity so that you don’t accidentally hit anyone else.”

 

“Gotcha!” Kaminari says, taking it and aiming a charge of electricity at a villain that looks vaguely like a sentient aquarium. They freeze in place, convulsing, before falling to the ground. “Aw yeah! Looks like that was super effective!”

 

“Take that!” Mineta yells from Shoji’s back, who’s essentially flying him around the battlefield. He plucks sphere after sphere from his head and throws them at the villains, while Shoji knocks them together in order to trap them in the spheres’ sticky hold. “You guys are no match for me!” he declares, laughing madly.

 

“What the fuck are fucking birds doing here!” one villain screams as a swarm of brightly colored birds peck ruthlessly at him, egged on enthusiastically by Koda.

 

“Kacchan, here!” Izuku says, cupping his hands to make a stepping-place for the blonde boy, who runs towards him and steps heavily into his hands. Izuku grits his teeth and propels Kacchan into the air, allowing him to blast a villain that had been shooting darts at them from the sky.

 

Aizawa leans back, panting heavily. He’s done well so far, but his dry-eye is killing him. His entire body is sore - he’s never had to fight this long before.

 

And now the children have gone down into the battle - has something happened to Thirteen? There’s no time and frankly no way to tell them all to get out, so he resigns himself to fighting the most dangerous villains of the lot and hoping with every fiber of his being that none of them get hurt.

 

“Grah!” Satou and Kirishima let out twin roars as they slam their powerful fists into a heavyset villain. They watch with satisfaction as their combined strength blows him away. “Aw yeah! That’s a point for the heroes!” Kirishima crows.

 

A sudden roar from the center of the plaza disrupts the ongoing skirmishes, immediately drawing everyone’s attention. It seems that the mist villain has once again opened a portal, summoning something -

 

And that something is positively monstrous.

 

“What is that?” Jirou says, horrified. The rest of them can only stare as a gigantic, vaguely humanoid creature lumbers out of the portal, its huge black body rippling with muscles at every motion. Its enormous, empty eyes stare blankly out at them, unseeing. Horrifically, its brain appears to be exposed on the top of its head, pink and glistening and utterly repulsive.

 

They all gape in horror, watching as it comes to a stop beside the thin man.

 

“Noumu,” the thin man says, pointing a gnarled finger at Aizawa, who stands only a few feet away. “Attack him.”

 

What happens next is something that Izuku wishes he could wipe forever from his memory.

 

The creature - the noumu - leaps in one swift movement, appearing beside Aizawa in the blink of an eye. In a flash, it crushes Aizawa’s face ruthlessly into the ground, pinning him down with its excessive weight and inhuman strength.

 

No one can move, speak.

 

Izuku watches, trembling, as his teacher fails to fight or get back up.

 

“Aizawa-sensei!” he screams, and he’s not alone. All around him, his other classmates begin to rush in, desperate to save their teacher, to fight off the creature, anything .

 

“I don’t think so,” the black mist says chidingly, before opening up almost a dozen portals right in front of the panicked students. Izuku, who’s rooted to the spot, watches in horror as Kacchan and Todoroki and many of the others disappear into the portals, which appear to simply swallow them up. In a flash, the portals disappear, leaving less than half of the students left in the field.

 

“Did you really think I couldn’t simply warp you all with my quirk anytime that I wanted?” the mist says, flickering slightly. “Earlier was simply a trial run - and now that I know what all of your quirks are, I’ve made sure to send your little friends off into the appropriate zones. They won’t be coming to your aid anytime soon.”

 

Shakily, Izuku turns back and makes an assessment of who’s left. Mineta, Jirou, Koda, Aoyama, Asui, and, if those floating gloves are any indicator, Hagakure. It seems that the villains had been paying attention to the most combat-suited students, the ones with powerful quirks that could give the villains any trouble.

 

However, going by the logic, why haven’t they tried to warp Izuku away? He’s certain they’ve seen him fighting the other villains, and he’s also the one who blew the mist villain away with a single punch in the first place. Why did they gloss over him?

 

Behind them, they hear a weak voice calling out. “Leave the children alone,” it says, and Izuku turns around to see Thirteen limping down the stairway, legs too shaky to support their weight. It seems that Yaoyorozu and Sero had in fact been able to repair their costume as best as they had been able to, but still not well enough. “Don’t hurt them.”

 

“Thirteen, the Space Hero,” the black mist acknowledges. “I apologize for the damage done to your wonderful suit. Please don’t approach us, else I’ll have to ruin it even further.”

 

Undeterred, Thirteen stretches their arm out, weakly supported by their other hand. “Students, please get out of range,” they instruct.

 

“Thirteen, you can’t!” Izuku says. Internally, his mind is racing - backup still hasn’t arrived, still hasn’t come, and now they’re even more alone than ever.

 

“Please listen to Midoriya, Thirteen, for your own sake and theirs,” the mist says warningly, and that simple statement knocks the air out of Izuku’s lungs - they know his name?

 

They know his name.

 

They know who he is.

 

How?

 

Why?

 

Oblivious to Izuku’s shock and the magnitude of the villain’s statement, Thirteen raises their hand, preparing to uncap one of their fingers. The thin man sighs. “Kurogiri did warn you,” he says. “I hate stupid NPCs like you. Noumu,” he says, raising another finger, this time in Thirteen’s direction. “Bring him to me.”

 

The noumu abruptly leaps off of Aizawa, who sags naturally into the ground, before bounding to Thirteen and pulling them into its enormous hands like the hero is nothing more than a ragdoll.

 

“Stop!” Izuku yells. “Please, stop!”

 

“Noumu, here,” the thin man commands, unheeding of Izuku’s cries. The noumu carries Thirteen back to him, laying the hero at his feet none too gently. Biting his lip and cursing internally, Izuku has no choice but to call to his remaining classmates.

 

“We have to get the monster, or else we have no choice at all,” he tells them urgently, already trying to come up with a plan to try and get them out of this.

 

“But what can we do?” Jirou says nervously. “These people are too powerful, and the guys with the really powerful quirks got warped away.”

 

“No,” Izuku says. “No, not everyone. You all are still here. And here’s what we’re going to do.”

 

The thin man kneels, leaning down over Thirteen, who looks up at them, helpless. “You know, we’re a little similar, the two of us,” he says, tilting his head as he examines the prone hero. “We both have these really destructive, powerful quirks, the kind that could destroy people and cities if we wanted to.”

 

He stretches out a hand, fingertips millimeters away from Thirteen’s hero suit. “Only difference is, I’m the only one using my quirk the way it’s supposed to be used.”

 

Now!

 

A loud throbbing sound suddenly sweeps the entire area, overwhelming all of their eardrums with sound. The thin man abruptly stands up from the ground, covering his ears with his hands. “What is that?” he screams. Beside him, the noumu shrieks, sensitive ears affected by the sound.

 

A blinding light quickly follows it, causing all the villains and even the black mist to turn away from the glare of the beam, refracted from one source to every single direction.

 

Amidst the overwhelming amalgamation of light and sound, no one sees two figures dart from the source of the light and towards the noumu. Anyone who tries to look or interfere has their faces pecked on by swarms of birds, their numbers suddenly increased almost tenfold.

 

The thin man barely has time to look up before the noumu beside him is slammed into the ground, someone’s powerful fist connecting with its head and crushing it with sheer force. Lying prone on the ground, the other figure cautiously approaches its head before hopping away to a safe distance.

 

As quickly as it had happened, the same fist fist suddenly slams into the thin man’s head, knocking him way back and sending him flying into the plaza’s fountain.

 

And now, the sound and light abruptly fades, leaving everyone’s ears still ringing and their eyes painful.

 

Once the villains get their bearings, they begin to look around. “What the heck happened?” they ask one another, and as they turn their attention to the central plaza, they see just what exactly has happened.

 

The noumu lies on the ground, unmoving, even though it doesn’t look like it’s too injured. What’s most striking about it now is the multiple purple spheres that cover its eyes, ears, almost its entire head. They’ve completely adhered to its mottled black skin, effectively blocking out all of its sight and hearing.

 

Meaning that their leader can’t give it any commands anymore.

 

The man in question lies still in the fountain, water pooling around him. He doesn’t seem to be getting up.

 

Izuku stands in place, fist still raised. The gauntlets don’t just protect him from the side-effects of his punches - they also strengthen them.

 

“Tomura!” the black mist exclaims, quickly rushing over to the fountain. Izuku, still breathing heavily, quickly draws back and prompts his remaining classmates to huddle in close to him. Although the villains are eyeing them with renewed hatred and malice, none of them seem to eager to engage the boy who’s just taken down their trump card, the noumu.

 

Amidst the ensuing silence, the doors of USJ are suddenly flung open.

 

“It’s alright now!” comes the familiar, booming voice of All Might. He stands there, silhouetted by the outside light, his grand figure standing strong and imposing. “For I am here! And I am not alone!”

 

Behind him, Iida stands, panting, accompanied by a whole slew of pro heroes. They stand at the ready, storming into the building looking ready to go to war.

 

“Looks like the heroes have arrived,” the black mist sighs regretfully, hovering protectively over the still-unconscious man in the fountain. “And we’re in no shape to take them on right now.”

 

As the heroes charge down the staircase, an enormously wide portal appears near the center of the plaza.

 

The villains are simple creatures. At their core, they are simply mean-spirited people who crave easy victories with the use of their quirks, the cheap thrill that comes with subjugating someone weak.

 

So they take one look at All Might, running at them at full speed, and at Izuku, the boy who’s taken down their leader and their champion, and it’s an easy decision.

 

“Run!” they shout collectively, hightailing it for the portal. The black mist appears to gather the thin man into its inky recesses, sinking quietly into the portal. They leave the noumu, still lying motionless on the ground.

 

“Oh no, you don’t,” declares the hero Cementoss, clapping his blocky hands together and pressing his weight into the ground. Huge walls of cement rise up from the ground, blocking off the escape of many of them, who pound their fists useless on the walls. Despite these, a considerable amount are able to make it past the sudden barricade, running straight into the portal.

 

Izuku sinks to his knees, relief flooding his entire systems as the pro heroes dominate the battlefield and round up the rest of the villains. The main leaders may have escaped, but at least they’re safe for now.

 

A distinct, clicking sound draws his attention, the sound unfamiliar to him considering everything that’s just taken place. He quickly puts on his goggles, attempting to locate the source, and he finds it, flying in the sky.

 

A vaguely humanoid figure with gigantic wings flies around the building, sweeping in and out of the action but not actually doing anything. The goggles allow him to see that it’s actually carrying a rider, a person with gigantic eyes that seem to be trying to look at everything at once. Every time they blink, the clicking sound rings out, creating an incessant, almost shutter-like noise.

 

When they see Izuku looking at them, they tap frantically on the shoulder - wing-joint? - of their partner. At once, they fly away towards the portal, entering it easily and disappearing from sight.

 

“Midoriya,” someone says, and when he looks up, he sees that it’s Asui. He takes off his goggles, blinking as he adjusts to normal vision once more. “Are you okay?”

 

He stares at her for a moment, before nodding. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay,” he says, rising and dusting himself off. “What about the others? Is anyone hurt?”

 

“No one who’s here is hurt, but I don’t know about the others who were teleported away to the other locations, ribbit,” Asui informs him. She gestures behind him, to where Mineta is curled up in a ball, rocking back and forth. “I think he’s a little shaken from being so close to the monster, even though I promised him that I could get us out of danger right away.”

 

Having seen the inhuman speed and power of the noumu, Izuku’s sure she knows that’s wrong, but they both know a little white lie goes a long way. Bracing himself, Izuku walks over to Mineta, who seems unresponsive. “Mineta-kun, are you okay?”

 

“Scary… so scary!” he sniffles, looking up at Izuku with a tear-stained face. “How are you guys not dying of fright? You punched the monster! You actually punched it! Asui was carrying me when I approached it, and I was terrified! I’m still terrified!”

 

“But that means you were brave, doesn’t it?” Izuku says kindly, patting Mineta on the head. He pulls every trick he’s learned from the dojo on consoling distraught children. “Even though you were scared, you still did your part. You know, you were really cool in the battle earlier. It’s amazing how many villains you were able to trap. And without you, we wouldn’t have been able to defeat the monster - who knows what it could have done if that man could still command it?”

 

Mineta sniffs once, wiping his nose. “I guess so,” he concedes reluctantly, still unsure.

 

“You’re going to be a hero, right?” Izuku says, feeling like he’s somewhere far away as he says these words. “Come on now. Heroes always have to look cool when they’re saving someone. Chin up!”

 

Mineta’s crying finally quiets down to slow hiccups. “Y-you’re right,” he says, his voice sounding stronger. He stands up and wipes his eyes free of any residual tears. “I can’t be a cool hero that all the ladies want if I’m uncool like this.”

 

Deep inside, Izuku feels a little bad that he’s implanted that kind of thought process into Mineta. But they’re still new, they’re still rookies, and they’ve just come from a literal near-death experience. They still have time to grow into better heroes. For now, it’s more important that Mineta is cheered up and comforted after the clearly traumatizing ordeal.

 

“Young Midoriya!” All Might shouts, coming up to them. “Where are the rest of the students?”

 

“One of the villains had a quirk that let them make portals that can teleport people,” Izuku says, but even as he speaks he can see that Yagi is just barely able to maintain his All Might form. “They said that they teleported the others to ‘appropriate locations,’ so I think they were taken to different zones in the USJ. The ones where they would be at a disadvantage.”

 

“I see,” he says, before straightening up and calling to the other heroes. “The other students are in the different zones. We must rescue them immediately!”

 

“Roger!” they call back, before darting off to the various zones to rescue the students trapped in there. Except for one, Present Mic, who instead walks slowly to where Aizawa lies still on the ground. He gingerly pulls him up, wincing at the imprint of his face and body on the ground.

 

“Looks like they did a number on you, huh, Shota?” he murmurs gently, eyes raking over Aizawa’s bloodied face.

 

Through puffy eyelids, Aizawa attempts to peer at him. “The… the students,” he whispers, his voice hoarse. His face is terrible to behold. “Are they - are, are they - ”

 

“The students are safe,” Present Mic assures him. “Let’s get you fixed up.”

 

Izuku watches the scene, feeling a great sadness well up inside him, before remembering the other fallen hero. “Ya - All Might!” he says. “Thirteen is also injured - they injured themselves while trying to save us.”

 

“It’s alright, young Midoriya,” All Might says, holding a hand up. He gestures to where Midnight is helping Thirteen up, speaking to them in low tones. “Rest assured that they will be taken care of.”

 

“And the monster,” Izuku says, unable to stop. “The, the monster, the villains, they brought one, and it attacked Thirteen and Aizawa-sensei. We stopped it and made it so it couldn’t respond to orders anymore, but it’s still dangerous.”

 

All Might follows Izuku’s gaze and eyes the fallen noumu, head still completely obscured by Mineta’s purple spheres. “That will also be taken care of,” All Might says firmly. “Now, you have to rest. There will no doubt be a discussion after this, but all of you have gone through a terrible ordeal.”

 

“They know my name,” Izuku mumbles, voicing out his true fear. “They know my name .”

 

Confused, Yagi simply tries to put on a consoling face, fearing that Izuku may become incoherent. He pats Izuku on the head gently, reassuringly. “You’re safe now.”

 

His mind and heart racing, Izuku’s abdomen is clear of any sensation. So he closes his eyes and lets himself believe in Yagi, even though it’s a lie.


-

 

A full-scale villain attack has just occured within the Unforeseen Simulation Joint, a training ground for the UA heroics course students, ” the reporter on screen says. From her wide eyes and slightly stumbling voice, it’s clear that this news is completely new to her. Onscreen, a video of the students fighting the villains plays in the background. “ While thankfully, no students were injured or captured, two members of the faculty present at the activity sustained grievous injuries and are currently receiving medical attention.

 

Nezu turns off the TV, having heard enough. His face, usually so open and friendly-looking, is positively murderous. “How has this reached the media already?” he says, voice dangerously soft.

 

Yagi winces at his tone. It’s been several hours since the USJ attack. All the students are still gathered in their classroom, until it’s deemed safe enough for them to go home. They had been asked not to inform anyone, including their families, of the attack until more details surfaced. Now, these breaking news stories render that whole instruction moot.

 

“There’s absolutely no conceivable way that this story could have been leaked,” Nezu presses on, addressing the congregated faculty. Most of them had been present in the USJ rescue. “It’s only been a few hours, and there’s no way that our security database could have been hacked. In fact, the video they’re playing doesn’t even look like it was taken by our security cameras.”

 

He faces them once again, eyes glinting with poorly-suppressed rage. “ How did this happen?”

 

He’s looking for answers, and none of them have any to give him. They can’t imagine how the story could’ve possibly been leaked to the media - absolutely no one present would have committed this serious breach of privacy and security.

 

It’s made particularly bad by the fact that the student Midoriya Izuku had been featured very prominently in the video, and had in fact been the focus of most of the news stories circulating now. The main highlight seems to be the moment that he’d taken down not just the monstrous creature that had been threatening him, but even the apparent leader of the villains. While the media outlets haven’t gotten a hold of his name or identity yet, it’s only a matter of time before they uncover this information.

 

Why is it focused so much on young Midoriya? Yagi wonders, trying very hard not to worry his lip. This is bad. While Izuku has come to no physical harm, Yagi will be unable to protect him from the imminent media firestorm that’s sure to surround him once this story reaches peak circulation. He’s so vulnerable now.

 

He’s been made into a target.

 

“We must first make sure that they don’t uncover the Midoriya’s identity,” Nezu says sharply. “We can’t do anything about the story now - we can’t even deny it, considering the graphic quality of the video. All we can do for now is make sure it dies down as fast as possible and protect our students’ privacy.”

 

A murmur of agreement runs through the room. Yagi, however, is still disquieted.

 

They know my name. They know my name.

 

What had young Midoriya meant?


-

 

“They decked me in the head!” Shigaraki shouts, fuming from where he’s nursing a spectacular bruise on the head. They’d been worried, but he’d suffered no concussions. “How dare they!”

 

“Now, now, Tomura,” Kurogiri says soothingly. He’s in a much better mood now that he’s wearing clothes again. Functioning in his full form is such an uncomfortable experience. “At least you were taken down in a spectacular fashion. I flew so far in such an undignified manner - I’m glad it wasn’t caught on camera.”

 

“The fucking camera! Half of the time I couldn’t even tell where that guy was flying around! He didn’t catch all the good bits in the fights!” Shigaraki says furiously. "And we didn't even have the lackeys with the good quirks! They were all too busy keeping All Might busy and running around the city!"

 

Beside them, the dark screen abruptly flickers to life. “But we’ve achieved our goal,” says a tinny voice. “So it’s still a victory, Tomura.”

 

Shigaraki visibly relaxes at the sound of their speaking. Kurogiri will never grow accustomed to the rapid way that Shigaraki is calmed at the mere sound of the man's disembodied voice. “Yeah?” he says anxiously, as if searching for validation. “We did good?”

 

“Splendidly,” the voice assures him. “Soon, the masses will all know who Midoriya Izuku is.”

 

“And there’s still more to come.”

Chapter Text

Kimi [15:32]: Izuku ure on the news!!!!!!!

 

Kimi [15:32]: are u ok?

 

Kimi [15:32]: what’s going on?

 

Kimi [15:32]: please please please be safe

 

Yashiro [15:34]: izuku everyone in class is talking about it

 

Yashiro [15:34]: all the classes, including heroics, gen, business, and even support know about it

 

Yashiro [15:35]: r u ok?

 

Kimi [15:36]: pls pls reply when u see this

 

Yashiro [15:37]: i’ll try and come over today

 

Kimi [15:38]: pls update me

 

Kimi [15:39]: just pls pls PLS be safe

 

-

 

In the end, Izuku had had to be driven home in a private car provided by UA. There is simply no other way he could’ve gotten past the hordes of reporters that had swarmed the school gates in the wake of the breaking news story.

 

Kacchan had ridden along with him. He’d refused to let Izuku go home alone. The school had allowed it after learning that they lived close to each other anyways, and Yagi had also gently stepped in and reminded the assembled police force (and a detective, who he seems to know) that both boys had been through a terrible ordeal and should not have to go alone.

 

“I wish I could go with you,” Yagi had murmured as Izuku and Kacchan got into the car. “But I have to deal with things over here. Please make sure you rest up - I’m certain you will be called in for a discussion tomorrow.”

 

Izuku could only nod.

 

The principal had apparently gone down to face the ravenous crowd of reporters while the car left through a secret exit at the back of the school grounds. Kacchan, for once, had been completely silent the whole time. From what Izuku could gather, he’d been sent to the downpour zone, the area most likely to hinder his explosion quirk. Based on Kacchan’s rather haunted expression, it’s clear that he’d probably encountered more than just rainfall when he’d been sent there.

 

The car delivers them to Izuku’s apartment. Kacchan had curtly told the driver that he would be getting off here as well, and would make his way to his own home in his own time.

 

As soon as Izuku opens the door, his mother is there, pulling him into a tight embrace. “Izuku, sweetie,” she says, breathing him in deeply, trying to hold him as close to her as possible. He can’t do anything except sink into her soft arms, trying to block out as much of the world as he can. “Shh, it’s okay.”

 

Kacchan stands there awkwardly, eyes averted from the tender scene, until Inko extends an arm to him too, smiling warmly despite the anxious tears in her eyes. “Come here, Katsuki,” she says gently, and Kacchan sets his bag down near the doorstep and leans in, absorbing both Izuku and Inko’s warmth. They stay there for quite some time, the three of them silent and drawing comfort off of each other.

 

Eventually Inko draws back to smile at them, wiping at the stubborn traces of tears that had appeared in the corners of Izuku’s eyes. “Why don’t the two of you head up to your room, and I’ll make a snack,” she says carefully. “And then we can… talk.”

 

Wordlessly, the two of them nod. They take off their shoes and leave them at the doorstep. Kacchan’s hair is still slightly damp, so Inko hunts down a small towel for him before they go to Izuku’s room.

 

Inside, Izuku heads straight to his bed and sinks into the soft mattress before Kacchan can claim it, the way he used to. The exertion from the incident has finally caught up to him, weighing down his bones and muscles. He lets out a deep sigh, probably the first real sound he’s made since he finished talking to All Might and Nezu.

 

Kacchan takes all the bean bags and arranges them into a pile on the floor, lying down on them. He’s strangely quiet, even considering what they’d just been through. Izuku had figured that he’d have more to say about what had happened.

 

“You got sent to the downpour zone, right?” Izuku says quietly, eyes closed.

 

“Yeah,” Kacchan says shortly, offering no further elaboration. Izuku lets the silence gather for a bit before asking, “Aren’t your parents worried? Shouldn’t you be home?”

 

“Dad's out on a business trip and Mom went with him,” Kacchan says. “They’re supposed to get home later tonight. I already texted them.”

 

“I see,” Izuku says. This time, he stays quiet, simply absorbing himself in the sensations of sinking into his comfortable bed.

 

They stay like this until a knock sounds on Izuku’s door. “Izuku?” someone calls, and the door opens to reveal Yashiro’s head poking in. “Can I come in? Your mom sent me here, said I should probably knock before I - oh.”

 

Kacchan eyes him coolly, but with no more disdain than usual. Izuku realizes that this is probably the first time Yashiro and Kacchan have seen each other in more than three years. “Come in,” Izuku says, sitting up on his bed to make room for Yashiro. “We’re just… chilling, I guess.”

 

Yashiro looks somewhat unsure, but he enters the room and climbs Izuku’s bed to sit in the spot that’s been cleared for him. “Long time no see,” he says to Kacchan. The blonde boy just nods once before settling back into his bean bag pile. Yashiro turns to Izuku, one eyebrow raised, and Izuku just shrugs. “Rough day,” he says.

 

“Tell me more about this rough day,” Yashiro says, picking up a pillow and hugging it close to his chest. “I mean, I’ve already watched the news, but by now they’re just repeating the same details over and over.”

 

“There’s not much more to tell,” Izuku says. “The only thing the news outlets haven’t gotten out is my name, and who knows how long it’ll be until they get it too?” He picks up a pillow of his own. “I mean, I’m aware that with the way UA showcases its students, the public is bound to know and recognize me eventually, but I wish it wasn’t this soon. And that it didn’t happen this way.”

 

“Why not?” Yashiro asks.

 

Izuku clutches the pillow closer. “Because it’s not on my own terms, or even on the school’s terms,” he says, voice hushed. He hasn’t really told this part to anyone but Yagi, who probably hadn’t even registered his incoherent mumbling. “It was on the villains ’ terms.”

 

Concerned, Yashiro sits up to better look at Izuku. Even Kacchan seems to have perked up to attention. “The villains’ terms?” Yashiro repeats. “What do you mean?”

 

“I don’t know this for sure,” Izuku says slowly, running the past hours through his mind. The image of the person with gigantic eyes leaps out at him, urging him to press on. “But I’m positive that the villains were behind the story leaking out to the news outlets even before UA could give their official statement. When the villains were escaping, I saw this thing flying around the building, swooping in and out but never really doing anything.”

 

“On their back was a person with huge eyes, trying to see everything at once and making this weird shutter-like noise whenever they blinked.” At those words, Yashiro freezes. “I’m not sure, but maybe they had a quirk that let them record videos of whatever they look at. That would explain the birds-eye view of the videos that they’re playing on TV - what are you doing?”

 

“Hold on,” Yashiro says, scrolling frantically on his phone after hastily digging it out of his pocket. “Hold that thought, hold it - here . Take a look at this, Izuku.”

 

Yashiro holds his phone up for Izuku to take a careful look. Kacchan gets up from the floor as well, moving in to get a look for himself.

 

Onscreen is a group photo of Yashiro’s class in the business course, zoomed in to focus on one particular person. The image isn’t very clear, but there’s no mistaking the boy’s huge eyes, staring unblinkingly at the camera as he smiles. Izuku’s heart starts pounding, looking at that face.

 

“Is this the person you saw?” Yashiro asks breathlessly.

 

“Yes,” Izuku says, voice stone cold. He can’t look away. “Yes, that’s him.”

 

“Fuck,” Yashiro says, taking his phone back to look at the person himself. “I didn’t make the connection until you mentioned the person’s big eyes, but I got really suspicious when you mentioned the quirk thing. This is the big-shot heir I was complaining to you about. His name is Oda Nobunari. His quirk is called Camera Lens, I think - it lets him take high-resolution pictures and videos of whatever he’s looking at. His eyes are big like that so that they can look around bigger.”

 

Yashiro swears again, standing up. “He was absent the whole day today - sent in a letter saying that he was sick.” He turns to look at Izuku and Kacchan, who are both watching him. “If he’s working with those villains - ”

 

“Then that might be how they had access to our activity schedule and knew that we were going to be at the USJ today,” Izuku finishes. “And if he’s really the heir to a big-shot media company like you said, then maybe that’s how the story got leaked to all the news outlets really quickly - he must have access to all their contact information.”

 

“Have you told anyone about this?” Kacchan asks, frowning deeply.

 

“No, not yet,” Izuku says, returning with a frown of his own. “I wasn’t sure about it yet, since it was just a guess, but this proves it.” He turns back to Yashiro. “Do you have any idea why he would do it?”

 

Yashiro shakes his head uneasily. “No,” he says. “Despite the way I complain about him, I don’t think he’s the type who would secretly conspire with the villains like that. Maybe he was forced to do it - that seems much more likely.”

 

Izuku’s brow furrows, deep in thought. “There’s nothing we can do about it right now,” he says slowly. “And I think it’s highly unlikely that he’ll show up at school tomorrow, because I’m pretty sure he knows that I caught a good glimpse of him. All we can do is wait until I can inform the teachers about this.”

 

Their discussion is interrupted when the screen of Yashiro’s phone lights up, prompting him to check on it. “Ah, I’ve gotta go, mom’s calling me,” he says regretfully. He looks at Izuku. “Get some rest, okay? And reply to Kimi’s messages - she’s worried sick about you. I’m sure you can tell the teachers about all of this tomorrow.”

 

He moves over to briefly muss Izuku’s already messy hair. “I’m glad you’re okay,” he says honestly, before lowering his hand and closing it into a fist. Izuku smiles, bumping it with his own.

 

“Thanks, Yashiro,” he says. “See you.”

 

“See you,” Yashiro says, before turning awkwardly to Kacchan. “You too, I guess.”

 

“Whatever,” Kacchan says dismissively, saying nothing more as Yashiro makes to leave the room.

 

“God, this is so weird,” Yashiro mutters, and then he’s gone.

 

-

 

Izuku [20:23]: slr

 

Izuku [20:23]: i’m fine dw Kimi

 

Izuku [20:23]: yashiro was here earlier but he had to go

 

Izuku [20:23]: tell u more about it tomorrow?

 

Kimi [20:25]: oh thank GOD

 

Kimi [20:25]: don’t ever give me radio silence when ure in a crisis again, ok????

 

Yashiro [20:26]: u say that like he’s going to get into another crisis again

 

Kimi [20:27]: …

 

Izuku [20:27]: …

 

Yashiro [20:27]: wow i can feel ur judgement thru the phone

 

Yashiro [20:27]: i feel ur judgmental stares

 

Yashiro [20:27]: thanks a lot

 

Izuku [20:28]: we cant risk jinxing anything yashiro

 

Kimi [20:30]: just pls be careful ok????

 

Kimi [20:30]: i almost got a heart attack when i saw u on the news

 

Izuku [20:30]: i’m pretty sure i would know if u got a heart attack

 

Izuku [20:30]: so stay safe too

 

Izuku [20:31]: i can only deal w one crisis at a time unfortunately

 

-

 

In the end, Kacchan’s parents miss their train home. They call him at dinner while he’s still at Izuku’s apartment, then ask him to hand the phone over to Inko so they can ask if he can stay over. Izuku goes to his room and pulls out the extra futon before the conversation is even over.

 

Kacchan does have to go home briefly to get some toiletries and his uniform for tomorrow. “Do we have to go to school tomorrow?” Izuku whines, as Kacchan puts his shoes back on at the entrance. “I want to sleep for a million years. Or a week. A week works, too.”

 

“Moron,” Kacchan snorts, shrugging his bag on. “Are you going to let them think you can’t handle one villain attack?”

 

To be honest, handle seems like a relative term, but neither Kacchan nor Izuku acknowledges it as the former leaves.

 

While he’s gone, Inko gently draws Izuku to the living room to try and talk through the day’s events. “I saw it all on TV, Izuku,” she tells him. “I almost fainted twice just watching the camera focus on you!”

 

I almost fainted when I heard that mist villain say my name, so we’re in the same boat , Izuku thinks morbidly. “It was scary,” he admits, looking at his hands. “But we were lucky. Everyone’s quirks were so amazing, it didn’t matter if they teleported away the ones that they thought were strongest.”

 

Inko softens slightly. “I’m so proud of the way you handled it, Izuku,” she tells him kindly, but worry abruptly clouds her face. “But I’m worried about your privacy and comfort now that so many people know your face and what you’ve done. I still don’t think they’ve gotten your name, but you’re going to be under scrutiny by a lot of people. Will you be alright?”

 

Deep down, Izuku knows he’s going to hate it. But this is part and parcel of being a Pro Hero - he’s just getting a premature taste of what it’s like to be in the spotlight. He supposes now is as good a time as any to start getting used to it. “I won’t like it, but I can bear with it,” he says honestly. “I just hope that our lives aren’t affected too much by this.”

 

Inko sighs, before pulling him into a hug. “Just know that I’m with you through all of this, Izuku,” she tells him, lightly stroking his hair in a soothing manner. “And I’m going to do anything I need to do to keep you safe - just say the word.”

 

Izuku wraps his arms around his mother in return. He knows that she must be so worried, and that she’s only putting on a brave face for his benefit. She doesn’t even know the worst part - that although the media doesn’t know his name, the villains do. And who knows what else they know, if they know his name - who his mother is, where they live -

 

Izuku shuts his eyes and lets his mother hug him even tighter.

 

Kacchan returns shortly after that, with a fully stocked bag and a rumpled uniform. Inko eyes it warily as he enters, and Izuku knows that she’s going to sneak it out of his room and iron it once they’ve both fallen asleep. Kacchan will, for once in his life, show up to school looking decent, because there’s no way Inko’s going to let him go to school looking the way he normally does.

 

In Izuku’s room, Kacchan takes one look at the futon set up for him before turning back and glaring at Izuku. With a sigh, the green-haired boy pulls out the second futon from its container, before spreading it out on top of the already laid-out futon to create a cushier surface. Kacchan grunts in approval, before stealing a pillow from Izuku’s bed and lying down on it.

 

Izuku lets him. At least he’s changed into clean clothes before lying down on the futon.

 

Once they’re settled in, Izuku closes his eyes, fully intending to sleep through his alarm the next morning.

 

However, he finds that he can’t quite get the image of the noumu out of his head, not its beady eyes, its mottled black skin, or the fleshy pink brain that peeked out and rippled every time it moved.

 

...Mineta hadn’t been the only one terrified out of his mind.

 

“Kacchan?” he whispers, voice hoarse. When the boy doesn’t reply, he tries again. “Kacchan?”

 

“Yeah?” Kacchan answers, and his voice sounds awake. Maybe he’d been counting the glow-in-the-dark stars on Izuku’s ceiling, the way he sometimes would if he couldn’t sleep during their sleepovers.

 

“What happened in the downpour zone?” he asks quietly, drawing his blanket up to his face. Kacchan hadn’t been the only one sent there - when they’d taken stock of the students that had been teleported away, Uraraka and Tokoyami reported that they had also been sent there. The strong winds and heavy rain would interfere with Uraraka’s ability to manipulate the things she floated, while the darkness would considerably lessen Tokoyami’s level of control over Dark Shadow. It’s obvious what its effects would’ve been on Kacchan’s quirk.

 

“...It wasn’t a fight at all,” Kacchan admits. Izuku turns on his side to look down at Kacchan, but the other boy is facing the other way. “They had a shit ton of guys waiting for us when they dropped us in - Round Face got separated from us almost right away.”

 

“Her name is Uraraka,” Izuku chastises him, assuming that the moniker Round Face doesn't exactly apply to Tokoyami.

 

“Whatever her name is, she got swarmed by a buncha villains and had to run away real fast,” Kacchan says. “Then Bird Head’s quirk came out, and he couldn't control it - it went berserk, trying to crush me and the villains and anything else it could reach. One of the fuckers even had a quirk that could make the environment around them darker. I tried using my quirk to bring some light in, but the rain…” he trails off. “In the end, he had to run off, too. Some of them followed him, but the rest… the rest of them just fucking ganged up on me.”

 

“It wasn't even a fight,” Kacchan says again, his arm curling slightly around himself. “That's the shittiest part of it all. We were just trying to survive.”

 

“You were alone,” Izuku says softly. “You were up against bigger odds. It's amazing you made it out without any injuries.”

 

“It's not,” Kacchan contradicts him, finally turning around to look at Izuku. His eyes have regained that slightly haunted look he'd had earlier. “They were going easy on me. I could tell. They weren't trying to do me in - they were just trying to keep me from getting out.”

 

“Meanwhile, you and the rest of those shitheads were out there, fighting the real villains. The worst part wasn't what I saw - it's what I fucking felt.” His hand clenches around the blanket that Izuku had lent him. “I was warped away like a useless fuck, and then I couldn't do anything. I felt weak - and I fucking hate that. I hate that so much.”

 

Izuku can't imagine what it must be like for Kacchan, who's normally so brazen and confident, to admit all of this. He knows that the blonde boy despises being helpless, in any situation - today must have been a real blow to him.

 

“Did you at least knock out some of the villains there?” Izuku asks quietly.

 

Kacchan snorts. “Of course I did. Who the fuck do you think I am? I took out twelve of those fuckers before they started ganging up on me.”

 

Izuku lets out a quiet laugh, rolling onto his back and closing his eyes. “That means you still took out more villains than I did, Kacchan,” he says.

 

Kacchan lets out a huff. Rustling sounds indicate that he’s turning away to the side. “Fat lot of good that did,” he says, too quiet for Izuku to hear.

 

“It's like the entrance exam,” Izuku says, eyes drooping. He's finally feeling sleepy. “You still got the most villain kills, Kacchan. You're amazing.”

 

Unbeknownst to Izuku, Kacchan's chest abruptly tightens.

 

Izuku had, after all, still come out on top, both back then and now.

 

-

 

Overnight, every news station has gotten word of who Izuku is. His name and picture is flashed on the screen on every morning news channel, the USJ attack video replaying behind it.

 

Izuku makes the mistake of turning the TV on while waiting for Inko to make breakfast. Kacchan strolls lazily over into the living room when he hears Izuku loudly going, “Damn it!”

 

“They got your name, huh?” Kacchan remarks redundantly, watching the brunette reporter talk about Izuku like it isn't a billion levels of weird.

 

“Is your name on TV? Have they gotten it already?” Inko anxiously asks, joining them in the living room with a bowl and whisk still in her hands. Her concern only causes her to beat the eggs harder, prompting Izuku to gently pull the bowl from her hands.

 

“Looks like it,” Izuku says, grimacing as his face fills the screen again. They've somehow gotten a hold of his middle school picture, and he's slightly gratified to note that he's frowning in the picture. Really says a lot about how he feels about the whole thing. “I hope not too many people watched the news this morning - or that they'll pay close enough attention to recognize me. I don't want people looking at me all the time.”

 

“Like fuck they will,” Kacchan snorts, going off to their fridge and claiming the last carton of milk for himself. Inko doesn't stop him, instead retrieves the bowl from Izuku and returns to the kitchen to finish preparing breakfast. “You're too plain for people to recognize you out in public like you're some kinda celebrity.”

 

“Kacchan, I was going to drink that,” Izuku protests, catching sight of the carton captive in Kacchan's hand. The blonde boy just sneers at him before aggressively taking out a small glass and pouring a meager amount of milk in it. He downs the rest of what's in the carton in one go. “I hope you're right - I'd hate to ride the train with people looking at me.”

 

“Breakfast is ready!” Inko calls, setting out platefuls of food on the table. Izuku quickly goes into the kitchen to get plates and cutlery, which he hands to Kacchan with a pointed look on his face. The other boy rolls his eyes and starts setting the table. “Oh, thank you, Katsuki!” Inko says, placing her hand on her chest. “In any case, you boys had better eat quick so you can leave earlier - it's probably best if you avoid the usual morning rush.”

 

“Thank you for the food,” Izuku and Kacchan mumble in unison, before sitting down and starting to eat. Inko’s right. The less time they spend in public, the better.

 

They're still not early enough, however. Just as Izuku and Kacchan have put on their uniforms (both neatly ironed, courtesy of Inko and much to Kacchan's chagrin), they begin to hear loud voices outside of the apartment.

 

“Now, what could that be?” Inko wonders from where she's tying Kacchan's necktie for him. Izuku doesn't think he's ever seen Kacchan with a necktie on. It’s probably not even his. He looks intensely uncomfortable in it. Izuku allows himself a small smile as he leaves them to peek outside the window and see for himself what all the commotion could be.

 

He’s lucky that he only lowers the blinds a little bit, because it means that the small action isn’t caught by the crowd of reporters and cameramen currently swarming outside their gates.

 

They're maintaining some small level of respect and decency, considering that they haven't started banging on the gate yet, but with the loudness of their voices and clamoring, it seems that they're not too far from doing so.

 

Izuku closes the blinds and quickly backs away from the window. “Mom, there are a bunch of reporters outside,” he says apprehensively. “They’re blocking the gate.”

 

Inko gasps. “They’ve even found out where we live?” she says, hand flying to cover her mouth.

 

“If they know my name, I guess it was easy to look up where we live,” Izuku says, worrying his lip. “How are we going to get past them?”

 

“I have an idea,” Kacchan pipes up.

 

“I am absolutely not letting you go out there and explode their faces,” Izuku says.

 

“Then I have no ideas,” Kacchan says. “Let's just tell them to fuck off.”

 

“They won't leave that easily, Kacchan,” Izuku says, stroking his chin. “And we can't really be rude to them, since we're still carrying the name of UA on our shoulders. They'll try to follow us all the way until we reach school - ” He pauses, an idea blooming in his head.

 

“Unless they can't keep up.” A small grin appears on his face. He looks at Kacchan, who looks back at him, smirking, as though he already knows what he's thinking. “How do you feel about walking to school today?”

 

-

 

Oikawa Kana prides herself on her ability to elbow anyone and everyone out of her way whenever she needs to muscle her way to the front of a crowd. As such, she's one of the first in the group of reporters to spot the UA student, Midoriya Izuku, as he exits his home. He's followed by a spiky-haired blonde boy who's also wearing the UA uniform - she doesn't know his name, but he'd also been featured in those USJ videos, so they had better believe that she would do anything to rope him into a joint interview with Midoriya.

 

“Midoriya-san!” she calls, her powerful voice carrying through even as all the other reporters around her begin shouting the boy's name as well. “Midoriya-san, may we have a statement from you? From your classmate as well!”

 

Midoriya looks at them, congregated outside the gates of his home, and bows apologetically. “I'm very sorry, but I can't speak with you all right now,” he tells them, holding his hands up. Kana sees twin scars on his palms and wonders where he got them. (Maybe if she plays her cards right, she can get an exclusive interview with him and ask about those. There's bound to be a ton of emotional backstory in there, adding to the human interest of the story if it ever happens.)

 

“Just a quick statement! One sentence, even!” Kana says, knowing there's no way in hell she's letting this boy slip past them without an interview.

 

“I'm sorry, but we really have to go. We'll be late for school,” Midoriya apologizes, bowing again. For someone who punched a villain in the head without a second thought, he's incredibly polite. Much more so than the blonde boy beside him, who doesn't say anything and just shoots the press murderous glares that would actually scare Kana if she isn't currently on a mission.

 

The boys continue to ignore the calls of the press members. Midoriya turns to his friend and quietly asks, “You ready?”

 

Kana is instantly on alert. “Turn your camera on!” she hisses urgently, tapping frantically on the shoulder of the cameraman who'd accompanied her here. He jolts to attention and directs the camera to Midoriya, who looks at them again.

 

“Please excuse us!” he says politely, right before the two of them leap into the air and abruptly disappear from their sight.

 

The reporters and cameramen with quick reflexes crane their necks immediately to follow the boys’ path as they bound away, Midoriya leaping with superpowered legs, the other boy using explosions from his hands to propel himself to the air.

 

They can only watch in silence as the boys eventually fade away in the distance.

 

“Goddamn,” Kana says crudely, accurately voicing out everyone's thoughts. “ Please tell me you got that on camera.”

 

-

 

They end up being driven to UA in a police car.

 

They haven't been arrested - it's just that at one point, a police offer spots them hopping over a few buildings and shouts at them to come down. “Hey, you kids! Get down from there!”

 

Kacchan looks at Izuku briefly, should we run for it? written clearly on his face, but Izuku sighs and shakes his head, landing solidly in front of the police officer. Kacchan groans but follows, shaking his hands free of any residual sweat that could explode while they're in front of the officer.

 

The officer approaches them, a do-you-have-any-idea-how-reckless-and-illegal-what-you're-doing-is lecture brewing on his tongue, but his disapproving look dies away when he sees Izuku. “Midoriya-kun?” he asks.

 

“Officer Minagawa!” Izuku exclaims, recognizing him as the officer who'd interviewed him after the stabbing incident more than a year ago.

 

Minagawa grins slightly, but then a stern look crosses his face. “What are you and your friend doing, using your quirks out in broad daylight like this? I'm certain that you're aware that unsupervised quirk use is prohibited in public areas, especially residential neighborhoods like this.”

 

Izuku winces. He had been aware, but he'd also been hoping that they could make it to UA without anyone spotting them. He supposes he's not lucky enough to pull it off a second time, and it had been much earlier in the morning the last time he'd run to UA using One for All.

 

“I apologize, Minagawa-san, but my house was overrun with reporters, and there was no way to get past them or to get them to leave,” Izuku explains, trying to sound as victimized as possible. Beside him, Kacchan snorts at his obviously pleading tone, and Izuku elbows him very subtly to get him to shut up.

 

Minagawa’s eyes widen in understanding. “Ah, after your appearance in the news, right?” he says, nodding. “I saw the whole thing on TV last night! You were amazing against those villains!”

 

“Ah, thank you,” Izuku says, getting slightly flustered. He's uncomfortably aware of people around them starting to stare- UA uniforms do stand out, after all. He's afraid they'll get recognized if they don't leave soon. “And, well, because of that news story, it was hard for us to go anywhere without being recognized. We had to use our quirks to run away, and even now I think we just barely managed to shake them off.”

 

Actually, they had left them in the dust with no chance to catch up. But Minagawa doesn't need to know that. “I see,” the officer says, his face softening in sympathy. “I understand. However, I really can't let you boys go around using your quirks like that. You could injure yourselves, or someone else.”

 

“I see,” Izuku says, disappointed. He'd been hoping that Minagawa would let them off just this once, considering it's their first (known) offense.

 

“However, considering your situation, I can probably make an exception and help you out today,” Minagawa says. “I'm patrolling with my partner today, but there's not much going on right now. We brought a squad car with us, and it’d be no trouble to drive you kids over to UA.”

 

Izuku hesitates, already thinking about the possible repercussions and implications of showing up to school driven in a police car. Nevertheless, it’s a much better and more practical idea than just jumping on top of buildings until another police officer spots them and stops them again.

 

“Are you sure, Minagawa-san?” Izuku asks, still hoping that maybe the officer would just let them go. “We don’t want to trouble you.”

 

“Nonsense! That way, you guys can avoid the reporters, and I won’t have to take you in for using your quirks without supervision!” Minagawa says brightly. Izuku laughs nervously as the officer contacts his partner to inform him of the change in plans.

 

Embarrassingly enough, Minagawa drives them right up to the entrance of UA despite Izuku’s suggestion that he drop them off a block away to be more inconspicuous. The students who are just arriving all stop to stare at Izuku and Kacchan as they exit the back of a police car. Their curiosity is further intrigued when Izuku thanks the police officer who had been driven them there, and the latter claps him on the back like they’re good friends.

 

Izuku waves at the car until it disappears into the distance, before letting out a sigh. “Let’s go,” he says to Kacchan, when he notices the students still staring at them.

 

“What do you think you fuckers are looking at?” Kacchan growls, effectively making everyone in the vicinity turn away. Izuku just sighs and motions for them to start walking to their classroom, noticing with exasperation that Kacchan’s already managed to lose his necktie somewhere along the way and unbutton his blazer as well.

 

They’ve only taken a few steps, however, before an enormous blur zooms up to them. “Young Midoriya!” Yagi shouts, posturing in his All Might form. Izuku is slightly disconcerted to note that he hadn’t even been alarmed by the man’s abrupt appearance. “You’ve finally arrived! Please, come with me!”

 

He kneels down in front of them before Izuku can even open his mouth to reply. “Walking will be too slow! We must make haste! Please, allow me to carry you to our destination immediately!”

 

He doesn’t even offer an explanation to where they’re going, but honestly, Izuku doesn’t even care anymore. Even though it’s still early in the morning, so much has happened, and he’s already exhausted. “You know what, not walking sounds really good right now,” he says blandly, allowing himself to be picked up by All Might. “Let’s go, Kacchan. The sooner we get this over with, the better.”

 

“I’m afraid young Bakugou can’t come with us, young Midoriya,” All Might says, carefully shifting Izuku’s weight over his shoulder. “I’m taking you to the principal’s office for the official discussion on what occurred yesterday.”

 

Izuku frowns. “I see,” he says. That’s understandable, considering that he’d been in the center of the action that had unfolded yesterday. “Then I’ll see you later, Kacchan.”

 

Kacchan just scowls at him. “Just haul your ass back to class when you’re done, shit nerd,” he says, before stalking off towards the main building.

 

“Is he always so...er, verbose?” All Might asks nervously as they watch the blonde boy walk away.

 

“Eh, that’s actually pretty tame for him,” Izuku says noncommittally. He becomes aware that he’s still being carried over All Might’s shoulder, and people are still staring. “Shouldn’t we get going now?”

 

All Might carrying Izuku

 

“Oh, of course!” All Might says, crouching. “Please make sure to hold on, and to brace yourself!” he says, before concentrating his strength in his legs and leaping, in one bound, onto the second floor of the school  building.

 

Izuku swears his stomach had been left behind where they stood.

 

All Might crouches again, making sure to hold Izuku securely in his arms, before shooting straight up and landing onto the top of the building’s highest floor. His powerful feet leave a slight imprint on the concrete floor as he lands, knees sinking deeply. He sets Izuku down gently on the concrete surface, the boy’s body abruptly pumping with adrenaline after the sensation of possibly breaking the sound barrier.

 

“We’re clear!” All Might says, to seemingly no one in particular. Izuku’s heart is still pounding as he sits up. Is that what it’s like to travel as All Might? To go from zero to mach speeds in the blink of an eye? Even as he tries to calm himself and focus on what’s coming next, he begins to grow excited once more at the prospect of someday being able to achieve such speeds.

 

A loud whirring noise draws their attention, and Izuku just manages to look down before the portion of concrete directly below them suddenly descends, lowering them into the building. He looks up as the blue sky above them is framed by a square outline, and their descent slows and finally stops. He looks around and notices that they’re in a plush office.

 

“All Might, couldn’t you have taken the elevator?” a voice pipes up. A small man with distinctly mouse-like features - not even mouse-like, he genuine looks like a disturbingly large mouse - approaches them. “You know I dislike using the ceiling panel.”

 

“I apologize, Principal Nezu,” All Might says sheepishly, drawing Izuku into the room to allow the concrete panel to rise back up into the ceiling. “But I wanted to get here as quickly as possible.”

 

“You were fast, yes, but were you discreet? I should think not,” Nezu chastises him. Principal Nezu? So this is UA’s enigmatic and yet charismatic head. Izuku recognizes him from years of watching UA press conferences and his occasional appearance at the Sports Festival. He’s… a lot smaller in person.

 

“Oh, er…” All Might says, looking even more embarrassed. “I suppose I didn’t think that through.”

 

“Same old Toshinori, alright,” someone chuckles, and Izuku just now notices that there’s someone else in the room with them. It’s a tall man with short black hair, and even though he’s no longer dressed in his work outfit, Izuku recognizes him as the detective that had been present right after the attack yesterday.

 

The man spots Izuku looking at him and hastens to introduce himself. “Oh, Midoriya-kun! You probably saw me yesterday, but we didn’t get to talk - we in the police force were occupied with apprehending the villains who were left behind. My name is Tsukauchi Naomasa - it’s nice to finally meet you,” he says, extending his hand.

 

Izuku takes it and shakes it, brow furrowing as he recalls that the man had referred to All Might as Toshinori . Tsukauchi doesn’t miss his thoughtful expression. “Please don’t worry - I’m aware of All Might’s condition and his true form - I’m also aware of the truth behind One for All,” he says, promptly blowing Izuku’s mind. “I may seem like a simple detective, but I’m old friends with Toshinori. We go back a long way.”

 

“And you may know me, but we have never met personally. I’m Nezu, the principal of UA,” Nezu goes next, offering a paw to Izuku, who takes it hesitantly. “Now that pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get right down to the discussion. Please, have a seat - we still have to discuss this all with the other teachers.”

 

They all take a seat at the available couches, with All Might returning to his regular, lanky form. “First off, Midoriya-kun, we would like to commend you for your actions during the attack yesterday,” Nezu says, bowing slightly. “Your quick thinking and heroic actions motivated your classmates and enabled you to drive off the villains before they could do serious harm. I’m also told that you instructed Miss Yaoyorozu and Mr. Sero to repair Thirteen’s suit before you engaged the villains - that thoughtfulness lessened the amount of damage that they sustained to their body, and for that, they have asked me to send you their thanks.”

 

Surprised, Izuku sinks into a lower bow. “Thank you, but what I did really wasn’t that much,” he says. “I’ll pass their thanks onto Yaoyorozu-san and Sero-kun.”

 

Nezu nods. “As you will. I would also like to apologize for the subsequent media firestorm that ensued after the incident - I’m sure you are well aware how prominently you were featured in the news stories. I’m informed that the media has already gotten your name and even where you live - and that it’s connected to why you showed up in a police car, of all things, this morning.”

 

Izuku flushes with color. “You know about that already?” he asks nervously.

 

Tsukauchi chuckles. “I’m the one who told him, as I’m kept very well-informed on everything that happens in the local police force,” he says. “And for some reason, the officers around Musutafu have a very high regard for you, Midoriya-kun, especially Minagawa, who’s my junior. The news that he drove you to school this morning got around pretty quick at the station. Don’t worry - I completely understand the reason for what you and your friend were doing. You won’t get into trouble, as long as you don’t do it again.”

 

“It would also bode well for both your image and ours not to arrive to school in a police car again,” Nezu adds cheerfully. “So please don’t let that happen again.”

 

Izuku ducks his head, embarrassed. “Yes, sir.”

 

“Moving on, we would like for you to answer a few questions,” Nezu continues. “The faculty arrived at the USJ well after the actual action has occurred, and thus we actually have only a few details on what actually happened.”

 

Tsukauchi leans forward and opens a notebook. When Izuku meets his eyes, his brain starts to feel a little fuzzy. “My quirk enables me to detect lies,” Tsukauchi explains. “So if you start to feel a little muddled, please don’t worry. It’s just my quirk taking effect - not that we would think that you’d lie, of course. It’s just a little precaution.”

 

“Of course,” Izuku says, feeling slightly dizzy. It’s like looking down at the ground from the twentieth floor.

 

“Who were the leaders of the villains who arrived?” Tsukauchi asks.

 

Izuku racks his brain. “It seemed like two guys,” he begins. “A tall thin one who was covered in a lot of hands. And a person who was made entirely out of black mist. I heard the two of them call each other by name several times - the thin man was called Shigaraki, and the mist villain was called Kurogiri, I think. But the Shigaraki guy was the one commanding the monster they brought, so I think he’s the actual leader.”

 

“I see - can you describe their quirks?”

 

“Kurogiri’s quirk let him open up portals. I don’t know if there’s a limit to how many portals he can open at once, but he was able to teleport twelve of my classmates away at the same time. I don’t know if there’s a limit to how big they are, either, or how far away he can teleport things. He used the quirk to… to redirect Thirteen’s black hole and use it against them.”

 

“As for the thin man, I don’t know what his quirk is,” Izuku says, frowning. Even as he thinks furiously, he can’t remember a single time that the man used his quirk. “But at one point during the fight, he had Thirteen brought to him. This was after their suit had been partially repaired. I think he said something about both of their quirks being destructive, before reaching out to touch Thirteen’s suit. Based off of that, and the motif of his outfit, I’m certain his quirk is activated by touch, and maybe even specifically just with his hands.”

 

Tsukauchi takes this down. “Can you describe the creature that they brought with them?”

 

Even now, Izuku gets a little cold thinking about that monster. “It moved like lightning and was inhumanly strong,” he says. “And it would only do anything when commanded by Shigaraki. I’m sure that it could have done a lot more damage if they hadn’t decided to retreat. And… I think they brought that creature to fight Yagi-san.”

 

Everyone else in the room perks up at that, leaning in closer to listen to Izuku. “What do you mean?” Tsukauchi asks.

 

“At the beginning of the attack, they asked us where All Might was. More than once. And considering the bulk of the creature and its obvious strength, I think it was meant to be All Might’s opponent,” Izuku explains. “They also mentioned that their ‘intel’ stated that All Might should have been present at the activity, meaning that he really was their target from the start.”

 

“Intel?” Nezu asks sharply. “Are you saying that they had inside information as to when and where your activity was to take place, as well as who would be present?”

 

“I… I think so,” Izuku says hesitantly. “It would explain how they knew to attack us right at that precise moment.”

 

“That does explain a lot - and yet it also raises even more questions,” Tsukauchi says thoughtfully.

 

Izuku’s brow furrows as he recalls something else that had been bothering him. “There’s something else that bothers me about the attack as well. I… I think they were going easy on us.”

 

“Easy? With that number of villains? How so?” Yagi asks, confused.

 

“For one thing, Kacch - Katsuki, a classmate of mine who was teleported away, told me that although the villains in his area definitely weren’t slacking off, they weren’t fighting him seriously either,” Izuku says. “It was more like they were just occupying him to keep him from getting out and helping in the main fight.”

 

“Another thing is the whole teleportation thing - if they truly didn’t want us interfering with them, why didn’t they just teleport all of us away? It would have been easier for them to fight All Might without us getting in their way. It’s also suspicious how they didn’t teleport me away - the ones who were warped are all students with quirks that could interfere with them in combat. Even if they didn’t know its true nature, I was still using One for All against them. Why wouldn’t they teleport me away if they knew I was powerful?”

 

Nezu’s eyes flash with interest. “Why, indeed?”

 

“And… well, this might sound morbid, but… the reason I’m convinced that they were going easy on us is the way that Shigaraki commanded the monster,” Izuku continues. “He instructed it to ‘attack’ Aizawa-sensei, and to ‘bring’ Thirteen to him… but if he were truly a villain, which I’m sure he is, and if he truly cared about getting them out of the way, why didn’t he just instruct it to kill them?”

 

The room abruptly goes silent.

 

Izuku grimaces at their reaction. “Sorry, that was dark,” he apologizes.

 

“No, no, Midoriya-kun,” Tsukauchi says, shaking his head. “That’s actually quite a valid point you’re raising. While I’m sure we’re all glad he didn’t do that, it is rather strange. We’ll make sure to consider that as well. Now, I have another question, Midoriya-kun - do you have any idea why you’re featured so prominently in the videos that were circulated amongst the media companies?”

 

Izuku’s eyes widen, remembering the conversation he and Yashiro had had last night. “No, but about that - I think I know who took those videos and how they were circulated amongst the media so quickly.”

 

They all look surprised at that. “Please, continue,” Nezu prompts.

 

“Near the end of the attack, while the villains were escaping, I saw something with huge wings flying in the air,” Izuku explains. “On their back was a rider with huge eyes - every time they blinked, a shutter-like noise would sound out. They were flying all around the building, swooping in and out of the battles but never really doing anything. Once I saw them, they quickly escaped.”

 

“According to my friend, who’s in the business course, that physical description perfectly matches that of one of his classmates, Oda Nobunari.” Nezu and Tsukauchi’s eyes widen slightly in recognition. “And according to them, Oda-kun’s quirk matches with what I’ve described - his quirk allows him to take pictures and videos with his eyes.”

 

“Oda Nobunari, the son of the owner of Oda Media,” Nezu says, frowning. “If his father has such connections, then it’s no wonder that the videos were circulated so quickly. His being a student here may also explain how the villains learned about the activity if he somehow managed to obtain that information and relay it to them. But why would they do it? Why would they conspire with the villains?”

 

Izuku shakes his head. “I have no idea.”

 

For a moment, they all sit there quietly, looking troubled. Eventually, Nezu rouses out of it and says, “Thank you very much, Midoriya-kun. This information you’ve given to us is extremely useful.”

 

“It really is,” Tsukauchi seconds. “Thank you so much. Please, rest assured that we in the police force are still conducting an ongoing investigation into the incident. You’ve given us an extremely valuable lead.”

 

“I’m glad I could help,” Izuku says honestly.

 

“For now, we will have to discuss the matter with the teachers as well,” Nezu says, standing up. “You may return to your classroom now, Midoriya-kun. We may call on you again if needed.”

 

“I’m at your service,” Izuku says, rising as well. He bows to all of them and makes to walk towards the door, before pausing, remembering something else. “Tsukauchi-san?” he asks.

 

“Yes, what is it?” the detective replies.

 

“I… I don’t know if this is really relevant to the case… but while we were there in the USJ, Kurogiri, the mist villain, called me by name. Midoriya .” He looks down at the floor, replaying the moment in his mind. “I hadn’t been on the news yet, and as far as I know, nobody had called me by that name while we were in there. So… so I don’t know how he could’ve gotten my name.”

 

Yagi’s eyes widen in realization. Is this what young Midoriya had meant back then?

 

They know my name .

 

“That is very concerning,” Tsukauchi says, frowning. “We will definitely look into that. As an added precaution, I’ll have some police officers patrol around your house for this week, at least. Who knows what else the villains know or have planned?”

 

This does very little to assuage Izuku’s fears. “Thank you very much,” he says anyway, because he knows that Tsukauchi’s doing him a great favor. “I appreciate it.”

 

All three adults watch as Izuku leaves the room.

 

“You sure picked a fine successor, Toshinori,” Tsukauchi says, shaking his head. “He’s incredibly brave, intelligent, and powerful. But I’m a little worried about all these things that he’s having to face right off the bat, and how it’s going to affect him in the long run. He’s still just a child. They’re all still just children.”

 

“I know,” Yagi says soberly, thinking of how frightened Izuku had looked after the USJ attack. That look still haunts him. “I can only hope to keep him safe for as long as I can until he can protect himself.”

 

-

 

“You’re late,” Aizawa says flatly, his dry tone sneaking in despite several layers of bandaging on his face.

 

Izuku stands at the door of the classroom, jaw dropping. “Aizawa-sensei? You’re back already? I don’t think you should be here yet!” he says, all in one go.

 

“That’s what we said!” Ashido pipes up.

 

“Yo, Midoriya!” Kirishima crows, pumping his fist. “Where have you been?”

 

“You’re all over the news,” Yaoyorozu informs him, a little unnecessarily. “Technically, we’re all on the news, but you’ve been featured the most.”

 

“Midoriya-kun!” Iida says loudly, hands flying through the air. “I’m glad to see that you are unharmed and well!”

 

“Quiet,” Aizawa says, and like magic, everyone shuts up.

 

Izuku can’t help but smile. He’s glad that Aizawa seems to be alright. “I was called to Principal Nezu’s office, Sensei,” he explains. “I was questioned about yesterday’s incident.”

 

His classmates gasp softly at that. “I see,” Aizawa says. “Well, get in your seat.”

 

Izuku hastens to sit down. In front of him, Kacchan nods in acknowledgment.

 

Aizawa turns to regard them all, his eyes peeking through small holes between the bandages. “The reason I’m back here so soon is because the UA sports festival is coming up. In just two weeks, in fact.”

 

As one, the students’ eyes widen. “That’s so normal!” Kirishima cheers, standing up from his seat.

 

“Hold your horses, Kirishima,” Sero says, pulling him back down. “The UA sports festival is nothing like those at regular schools.”

 

“Sero-kun is right,” Jirou says. “It’s an insanely huge event. It’s practically considered by many to be Japan’s personal Olympics.”

 

“And they’re going through with it? After what just happened yesterday?” Yaoyorozu asks.

 

“Yeah, what if the villains attack again?” Ojiro pipes up, face knit in concern.

 

“That is exactly why we must hold the sports festival,” Aizawa says. “Or so the teachers seem to think, anyway. In a way, UA will be demonstrating that our crisis management system is rock solid by holding the event even after the incident. Security will be strengthened up to five times that of previous years. More than anything, however, the sports festival is a huge opportunity that we simply cannot deny the students of UA just because of a single villain attack.”

 

“All the top hero agencies in Japan shall be observing, of course,” Iida says. “It’s a good opportunity to be scouted as early as first year.”

 

“That is correct,” Aizawa nods. “Of course, joining a famous hero agency will get you more experience and popularity from the get-go. Your time and chances are limited. If you expect to go pro, then the path to your future begins at this very event.”

 

“One chance a year - for a total a total of just three chances - is something that you, as aspiring heroes, must grab and claim for yourself.”

 

He looks at them seriously, eyes outlined with the reminder of his close encounter with the noumu. “If you understand that, then give it your all.”

 

“Yes, sir!” they all say in unison, fiery determination in their eyes.

 

“Homeroom is dismissed,” Aizawa says abruptly. “If anybody needs me, I’ll be sleeping in the lounge until I absolutely have to get up.”

 

-

 

“Deku-kun!”

 

Izuku turns right before he exits the school gates and sees Uraraka rushing towards him. “What is it, Uraraka-san?” he asks her as she catches up to him.

 

“Are you going to the dojo again today?” she asks.

 

Izuku blinks. “Yes, I am. We don’t have any homework today, after all,” he says. “Why do you ask?”

 

“Can I go with you? Again? Please?” she pleads, clapping her hands together and bowing.

 

Surprised, he gently takes her shoulders and props her up. “There’s no need to bow like that. Of course you can come with me. But why do you want to go, though?”

 

“I - ” she begins, before abruptly cutting off. “Can I tell you later, please?”

 

“Okay, I guess,” Izuku says, a little confused. He doesn’t push her on the subject, and she remains quiet and oddly pensive as they ride the train over to his district. Izuku can tell that she’s got something on her mind, because a cat had meowed at them as they passed and she didn’t even gush over it a single time.

 

Once they arrive at the dojo, Shishou is there to greet them. “Izuku!” she says brightly, pulling him in through the door. He can already hear the telltale sounds of the younger students coming to greet him. “And oh! You’ve brought a friend!”

 

“G-good evening, ma’am!” Uraraka says, abruptly standing up straight to attention, before catching herself and bowing deeply “Um, I’ve visited here once before!”

 

“I remember! You and that loud boy were here with Izuku a few weeks ago!” Shishou says. She takes Uraraka by the hand and draws her inside as well. “Welcome back!”

 

“Izuku-nii!” Akari shouts, being the first as usual to reach Izuku. He laughs and catches her in his arms. “I saw you in the news last night! You were super awesome!”

 

“Yes, Izuku, we all saw it, actually!” Shishou says, ushering them both inside. The younger students crowd around them, following Izuku. “I must commend you for your impressive right hook! I was so proud when I saw you knock that villain out!”

 

Izuku laughs nervously. “Thank you, I guess,” he says, allowing himself to be pushed to the training section of the kids. “I learned it from you, so I have to thank you as well, Shishou.”

 

“You’re welcome!” Shishou says generously, clapping him painfully on the back. She turns to Uraraka. “Now, tell me, young lady, what brings you back here to our dojo?”

 

“Oh! Um, about that… would it be possible to speak with you in private?” Uraraka asks nervously, twiddling her thumbs together.

 

Shishou blinks once, then smiles. “Of course! We can speak in my office while Izuku here leads the kids in their exercises.” The kids collectively cheer at her statement, swarming Izuku who asks them to calm down and at least let him change out of his uniform.

 

“I’ll leave you to it, Izuku!” Shishou says cheerfully. “We’ll be back in a bit!”

 

“See you,” Izuku says, trying to free himself from the grabby hands of about twenty energetic children.

 

Despite what Shishou had said, they don’t return until the end of the training session. By then, Izuku has led the kids through the usual cool-down exercises and has dismissed them. The only ones left in the dojo are the advanced students, and even they’re wrapping up their activities.

 

When Shishou and Uraraka return, they’re noticeably subdued. The girl’s eyes seem oddly red, as does her nose. “Sorry we took so long,” she apologizes, trying to smile.

 

“Hey, are you okay?” Izuku asks, lowering himself slightly to look her in the eye, her face downcast.

 

“Izuku, I’ll handle locking up for today, okay?” Shishou tells him, her voice quieter than normal. “Why don’t you walk her back to the station before you go home?”

 

“Um, okay,” Izuku says, nonplussed. “Let me just get changed, and we can go.”

 

Once he’s done changing, Uraraka’s already waiting for him outside with both of their bags. “Thank you very much, Shiori-san,” the girl says, bowing once again to Shishou.

 

“Of course,” Shishou says. “I’ll see you soon, Ochako-chan.”

 

They’re already on first-name basis? Izuku wonders, as they start walking back to the station. “What was that… I mean, can I ask what you guys talked about?” he asks hesitantly.

 

Uraraka is quiet for a few moments. “Do you know what happened after we were all teleported away?” she asks in return, her face becoming grave.

 

Izuku flashes back to his conversation with Kacchan last night. Round Face got separated from us almost right away. “Not really. I only know what Kacchan told me, and that you also got warped into the same zone as he did.”

 

“Apparently, Bakugou-kun, Tokoyami-kun and I got off the worst,” Uraraka says quietly. “If I understood those villains correctly, the downpour zone was where they were most concentrated. I wondered about that, because after everyone was rescued, it didn’t feel like they had been up against the same kind of situation that we had.”

 

“I mean, they look scared and all, but pretty soon they were talking excitedly about the battles that they’d had in their respective zones. None of us were able to escape before you drove the villains away, but… I don’t think it was the same.”

 

“I got separated from Bakugou-kun and Tokoyami-kun right off the bat,” she continues. They pass beneath a streetlight, the bright beam casting her troubled face into high definition. “I never once tried to fight the villains - I was just running the whole time. I had this bad feeling that if I tried to face them or if I got caught, then… something really bad would happen. I was just trying to stay alive.”

 

We were just trying to survive.

 

“And I realized how unprepared I currently am. For being a hero, and for the reality that comes after it,” Uraraka concludes, pausing. Beside her, Izuku pauses in his step as well. “So today, I asked to come with you here because I wanted to enrol in the dojo.”

 

Izuku’s eyes widen, but then, for some reason, he realizes that he isn’t too surprised. It makes sense, in a way. “You wanted to train here?”

 

Uraraka nods. “Being a hero means I’ll have to be prepared to help and protect others - I can’t do that if I can’t protect myself first. That’s why I want to become stronger - I want to learn how to fight.”

 

Uraraka's determination

 

She turns to smile at him. “Besides, the sports festival is coming up soon, right? It’s really the perfect time for me to start learning.” She flashes a peace sign with her fingers. “It’s a win-win!”

 

Izuku can’t help but grin back as they start walking once again. “I think it’s a great idea, Uraraka-san,” he says encouragingly. “So you’ll be coming with me to the dojo from now on? You’ll be fine with the commute?”

 

“Oh! About that…” Uraraka says, expression turning sheepish. “I was really concerned at first about the fees and such when I enrol, not to mention the cost of my commute back and forth. That’s why I wanted to talk to Shiori-san in private, to see if maybe I can get a lower rate in exchange for helping out and stuff, like you.”

 

“Ohh,” Izuku says, nodding in understanding. “And what did she say?”

 

“Well, um… I told her about the USJ incident, and then it went into this whole downward slope where I talked about my financial situation and the fact that I live away from my parents, and it got, uh… a little emotional?” she says, embarrassed. That does explain their subdued demeanor and the redness in Uraraka’s face.

 

“Anyway, we talked about it, and she said that as long as I came at least four times a week, and that I would help you out when you taught the kids, she would waive all my fees and even give me an allowance for the commute!” Uraraka says happily. “Shiori-san really was too kind!”

 

“That’s amazing!” Izuku says, genuinely astonished and at the same time excited for Uraraka. “So this means we’re going to be seeing each other a lot at the dojo, huh? And I’ll finally have someone to help me with the kids.”

 

“I’ve seen how you handle them, and you’re amazing, Deku-kun,” Uraraka says earnestly. “I hope I won’t get in the way too much.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll be great.” They reach the station, and Izuku waits at the steps as Uraraka enters alone. “See you tomorrow, Deku-kun!” she says brightly, waving at him. “Thank you for today!”

 

“No problem,” Izuku says, waving back. He stays there until Uraraka has entered and disappeared amongst the crowds, her step light and bouncy for the first time since he’s seen her today.

 

Once she’s gone, Izuku lingers, thinking on what she has said. Besides, the sports festival is coming up soon, right?

 

If you expect to go pro, then the path to your future begins at this very event , Aizawa had said.

 

Uraraka, and the others for sure, are all already starting to work hard in order to do their absolute best for the sports festival.

 

After the USJ incident, and the subsequent media stories, the masses’ eyes are all on him.

 

He clenches his fist, and turns back to walk home.

 

As the bearer of All Might’s legacy, he can’t afford to waste this chance either.

 

-

 

“What the - ” Kaminari suddenly exclaims, as he opens the door. He stops abruptly in his tracks, causing Sero and Kirishima to bump into him.

 

“What gives, man? Why did you - oh .” Sero pauses as well, when he sees what Kaminari had seen.

 

It’s lunch time the next day, and just as the students of Class 1-A begin to exit the room to head to the cafeteria, they find that they can’t - a solid wall of students blocks the doorway, making it impossible for any of them to get through.

 

“Hey, what are you guys doing here?” Kirishima says, making his way to the front to face them. “And could you let us through?”

 

“What is your business with 1-A?” Iida asks, seriously, standing up from where he’d been talking to Uraraka and Izuku. Izuku leans back in his seat to see what all the commotion is about.

 

Kacchan snorts as he stands up. “The sports festival is coming up soon. They’re obviously scouting us out,” he says darkly, making his way to the exit himself. His trademark murderous glare is more than enough to send most of the students stepping back. “What you’re doing is fucking pointless. Out of my way, you shitty extras.”

 

“Kacchan, you can’t just call people extras when you don’t know their names,” Izuku says, exasperated, as Iida hand chops the air in mixed horror and indignation beside him.

 

“Yo, 1-A!” someone shouts. The students move back as a tall young man with silver hair muscles his way to the front of the group. “You guys have gotten pretty arrogant after your little brush-up with the villains!” he says loudly, gesticulating furiously in front of an irritated Kacchan. “I’m from 1-B next door! Because of that incident, we didn’t even get to participate in the disaster rescue training yesterday!”

 

“Well, we didn’t get to participate in civilian rescue training either, so why don’t we just call it even?” Izuku calls, trying (not really) to be helpful.

 

The tall boy fumes furiously, seemingly at a loss for words after Izuku’s rebuttal. In the ensuing pause, Izuku shakes his head and returns to the notes he’d been borrowing from Iida, when someone else makes their voice heard.

 

“I came to see what the famous 1-A of the heroics course is like, but I’m pretty disappointed,” says the voice. It sounds… bone-dry, and absolutely deadpan. Izuku thinks he might have heard it before, but maybe it’s just because they sound pretty similar to the way Aizawa speaks. “Are you all just arrogant children like this classmate of yours here?”

 

Izuku snorts as he listens to the rest of his classmates frantically deny any similarities to Kacchan.

 

“There are quite a few students who enrolled in the general courses or the other courses just because they couldn’t make it into the heroics course. Did you know that?” the person asks.

 

Kacchan scoffs. “Of course I fucking did. And if you’re blaming any of that shit on us , then you guys are stupider than I thought.”

 

“Oh, we’re not blaming you. We’re just letting you know the facts - the school has left those of us a chance. Depending on the results of the sports festival, they’ll consider our transfer into the heroics course - and in turn, they may transfer some of you out.”

 

Izuku pauses in his writing. That’s right - he remembers that from reading about UA’s school policies. He smiles privately to himself - this person may have gotten waylaid along the way, but they seem hellbent on getting into the heroics course. He turns in his seat to get a glimpse of who they are -

 

And then he freezes .

 

“Scouting you out?” says a tall boy, with spiky purple hair and equally purple eyes that are lined with bags for days. He’s upright, healthy, and whole , but Izuku will never forget that face. “I came here to tell you that even if you’re in Class 1-A, I’ll take that spot from you if you so much as underestimate us.”

 

He sets his jaw and looks squarely at Kacchan, who glares back at him. “I came here with a declaration of war.”

 

“So manly!” Kirishima says, unable to help himself.

 

“And if you, as students of 1-A, think for a moment that we won’t - ” Here the boy pauses in his words as his eyes sweep the classroom - his purple eyes meet Izuku’s own.

 

For a solid second, the two of them are motionless, a whole novel’s worth of history and understanding passing through their gazes.

 

For a moment, it’s almost as if they’re back in that alley again.

 

“Holy shit,” the boy breathes out, instead of continuing his broken sentence. “It really is you.”

 

And Izuku finds he cannot say anything in return.

 

Shinshou goes wtf

Chapter Text

“You’re kidding me!” Yashiro exclaims, his chopsticks clattering to the table loudly. He ducks in embarrassment when the sound draws the attention of people sitting around them, looking apologetically at all of them. “You saw him ?”

 

“I’m confused,” Uraraka says, raising her hand with a concerned look on her face. Beside her, Iida nods emphatically. “It seems like you and Namikawa-kun already know who that boy is?”

 

“Yes, we’ve, um… met before,” Izuku says carefully, picking at the remnants of beef on his plate.

 

Directly after the tall boy had locked eyes with Izuku, he’d abruptly left off the rest of his sentence and had left immediately, pushing past the students still crowding the door of 1-A. Izuku had rushed to the door in the hopes of maybe catching up to him, but as he stood there, blocked by the other students, he’d realized that he didn’t even know what he would say or do if he even caught up.

 

1-A and the other students had erupted into collective muttering and mumbling, utterly confused by the scene that had just played out. As Ashido had said, “Well, that felt like it came straight out of a soap opera.”

 

“Uraraka-san, Iida-san, please call me Yashiro,” the boy says, smiling slightly. “Almost no one calls me by my surname, except teachers - and sometimes I don’t even realize that they’re calling me.”

 

“Oh!” Uraraka says. “Well, um, if you’re sure!”

 

After that whole soap opera moment, Uraraka and Iida had followed Izuku relentlessly on the way to the cafeteria, badgering him for answers. Izuku himself had been too lost in thought to really pay attention to his friends’ insistent questions. He only snaps out of it when Yashiro spots him, comes over, and promptly pinches his nose, effectively bringing him back to reality. From there, introductions had gone all around, and now Izuku has three people badgering him for answers.

 

“When and where did you meet him?” Iida presses, quite uncharacteristically of him. He’s probably curious enough that he really wants to hear about it. “His reaction to you was quite… strange.”

 

Izuku figures it’s better to just get them off his back and tell them the story (minus the part about his quirk, of course). “I saw him around two years ago, when we were still in middle school. I was walking home with Kimi and Yashiro, and then I realized that I had forgotten to buy something at a convenience store. As I was running back, I kinda came across this alley and looked inside, and uh… he was there. Plus a murderer.”

 

Uraraka slaps her hands to the table, eyes wide. “A murderer? ” she gasps, unheeding of the renewed staring of the people around her. Izuku supposes it’s lucky that she hadn’t accidentally made the table float in her excitement.

 

“I mean, I guess? There was a guy with a knife in there with him, and the boy was bleeding out on the ground, so I guess he did plan on murdering him or something,” Izuku says, shrugging. Yashiro takes one look at Uraraka and Iida’s dumbfounded faces and shakes his head, well aware that not everyone is used to the matter-of-fact way that Izuku talks.

 

“I kinda drove the knife guy away by bluffing that police were nearby, then got someone to call an ambulance to take the guy away,” Izuku continues. “And that’s it. We didn’t actually talk, nor see each other again until now.”

 

“But it’s kind of hard to forget each other’s faces when you’ve both shared a near-death situation, even if only one of you was actually near death,” Yashiro says. The other three nod in agreement, Izuku continuing to pick at his food unhindered by the conversation.

 

“What I don’t understand is his reaction, though,” Iida says thoughtfully, adjusting his glasses. “Perhaps he felt awkward seeing his savior after quite openly declaring war on our class?”

 

“I wouldn’t exactly call myself his savior,” Izuku interjects, but he’s ignored. “Yeah, that must have been so awkward for him!” Yashiro says, nodding in agreement. “He was probably all like ‘Oh, Class 1-A, you guys are so arrogant, you’re not fit to be heroes,’ and then bam! His literal hero was there! In his face!”

 

“I could practically hear the dramatic music,” Uraraka adds, earning a high five from Yashiro. “You know that sound effect with the trumpets? The ones that play with every dramatic reveal?”

 

Yes !” says Yashiro. Iida, who’s never seen a soap opera, looks on in confusion. Izuku just lets them talk, knowing very well that there’s little he can do to dissuade the track of this conversation.

 

“By the way, Deku-kun, since we’re talking about your past and all, there’s, um, a question I’ve really wanted to ask you for some time,” Uraraka says, turning to him. She looks slightly hesitant.

 

“Oh, what is it?” Izuku asks, thinking that maybe she wants more stories on how Kacchan didn’t use to be a gigantic ball of angry energy, the way he is today.

 

“I understand completely if you don’t want to answer it, but I’ve been wondering about it almost since I first met you.” She points at his palm, resting idly on the top of the table. “Can I ask how you got those scars on your hands?”

 

The mood between Yashiro and Izuku noticeably shifts, the both of them stiffening ever so slightly.

 

Uraraka senses this and immediately backtracks, holding her hands out apologetically. “I’m sorry!” she says, voice pitching high. “I knew it would probably be a really personal story, and that obviously you haven’t told us about them for a reason - well, I mean, none of us really asked until now - although Mina-chan and the others kept asking me to ask you and I told them you shouldn’t have to answer it, but - ”

 

“Uraraka-san, it’s okay,” Izuku says, laughing as he holds out a hand to stop her mumbling. “I understand that you guys must’ve been really curious about it.”

 

“I’ll admit that I, too, was quite curious about your scars,” Iida says, leaning over slightly to look at the shiny red skin on both Izuku’s palms. “They’re just so striking - I was quite surprised, the first time that I got a good look at your palms.”

 

“I don’t really mind telling the story,” Izuku says, before abruptly clamping his mouth shut. He realizes that telling the story would involve also telling them that he’d essentially rescued Kacchan from a random villain attack, and he’s not sure that the blonde boy would exactly be comfortable letting other people know about this incident. He probably wouldn’t want anyone in their class being privy to such a vulnerable moment in his life.

 

“At, um, the hero expo, like almost a year ago, you know how there was a villain attack?” Izuku begins, carefully choosing his words. Uraraka and Iida nod - that event, after all, had received widespread media coverage, although the media had thankfully skipped over the part that, contrary to popular belief, All Might hadn’t beaten the slime villain on his own. “Well, I happened to be attending that expo, and in the middle of all the panic, a fire started near some booths.”

 

This part is true - Izuku knows that accidents had in fact sprung up in the ensuing chaos. The next part, however, is decidedly less truthful. “There were some kids who got trapped under a few falling beams, and they were near the fires. I had to lift up some of the beams to get them free, and while I was lifting them up, the, uh, the beams were on fire. And so, I - well, to put it simply, I got burned while getting those kids out.”

 

He holds up his hands to show off the burns again, pointedly avoiding Yashiro’s meaningful glance. “And that’s how I got these scars,” he concludes. He feels a little bad for lying, but it’s not like it’s the first time he’s done so, and he’s doing it to respect Kacchan’s privacy, after all.

 

Uraraka claps her hands over her mouth, her eyes shining. “That’s amazing, Deku-kun,” she says, almost reverently. Iida nods seriously beside her, obvious respect and admiration in his eyes as well. “It’s like you were born to be a hero or something.”

 

“Haha, not really,” Izuku says, scratching the back of his neck. Even despite all the time that has passed and the headway he’s made towards his view of the hero industry, those kinds of statements still leave a bad taste in his mouth. It reminds him of the time he’d questioned his worth, after learning that basically anything he’d done was brought about by the quirk he didn’t know he had.

 

Yashiro notes his quiet disposition and hastens to interject in the conversation. “Yeah, Izuku’s always been a pretty regular guy,” he says, smiling to diffuse the subdued air that’s suddenly surrounded Izuku. “But he’s still amazing, right?”

 

“Definitely!” Uraraka says enthusiastically, pumping her fist in the air. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but you’re really awesome, Deku-kun!”

 

“Indeed!” Iida seconds. “While it’s unfortunate that you sustained such grievous scars, I think it’s amazing that you obtained them in such an honorable way. They’re more like badges of honor than battle scars.”

 

Despite himself, Izuku smiles a little bit. It’s true. No matter what damage he’s sustained directly because of it, Izuku will never regret rushing towards Kacchan and the slime villain on that fateful day.

 

As they dissolve into more casual conversation, none of them notice Todoroki, who’d frozen in his step to listen to Izuku’s story, before walking briskly away with a pensive look on his face.

 

-

 

“Class dismissed,” Aizawa says, prompting the students to release relieved sighs. Today's Hero Politics class had been especially brutal. However, instead of leaving, Aizawa says, “Midoriya, stay behind for a while. I want a word with you.”

 

Izuku frowns in confusion. What could Aizawa possibly want to talk about with him? Kacchan looks back at him questioningly, but Izuku only shrugs at him. As his classmates pack up and begin to exit the room, Uraraka lingers.

 

“I'll wait for you by the gates,” she tells him. They're supposed to go together to the dojo for her first official session.

 

“Okay,” Izuku says, nodding. Uraraka collects her things and walks out, hurrying to catch up to Iida before he leaves the room completely.

 

“What did you want to talk about, sensei?” Izuku asks curiously, approaching Aizawa’s desk. They're alone now in the classroom, all the students having left to go home.

 

“We gotta wait first,” Aizawa says wearily. “We're not the only ones who’ll be talking. You might as well sit down.”

 

Even more confused, Izuku sits at the closest desk. “What do you mean? Who else is going to be - ”

 

“My apologies for being late!” says a familiar booming voice, and All Might promptly rushes in, skidding to a stop right beside Aizawa. He shuts the door behind him before posing grandly. “I came as soon as I finished grading papers!”

 

“ - here,” Izuku finishes. Neither he nor Aizawa are fazed by All Might’s sudden entrance. What does shock Izuku, however, is when All Might dissolves into a coughing fit before disappearing in a cloud of steam. When the smoke dissipates, Yagi is left, his suit shrinking suddenly to better fit his smaller frame.

 

“Yag - All Might!” Izuku exclaims, standing abruptly. His gaze swings back and forth between Yagi and Aizawa, the latter of which does not seem to be in the least bit surprised. “What - is it okay for you to be in this form?”

 

“Don't worry, young Midoriya,” Yagi reassures him. “The UA faculty are all aware of my… er, condition. They were made aware of it and asked to keep it a secret, which is one of the conditions of me coming to work here.”

 

“O-oh,” Izuku says, relaxing. That does make sense - Yagi can't possibly maintain his All Might form all day, after all, meaning the people he probably spends the most time with during the day would need to know his secret. “I see.”

 

“That’s not all, young Midoriya. Aizawa is also among those who are aware of the truth behind One for All,” Yagi continues, causing Izuku's eyes to widen almost comically. First Tsukauchi, and now Aizawa as well? Izuku's beginning to realize that more people are involved in its legacy than he'd originally thought.

 

“However, he wasn't aware that I'd chosen a successor for One for All… until today,” Yagi says, his expression turning sheepish.

 

“I'd had my suspicions about your quirk from day one,” Aizawa says, turning to look at Izuku, who’s choosing to remain silent and allow this sudden information to just keep coming at him. “From the entrance exam, even. I also found it suspicious how All Might seemed to know you even before the registration period. However, that's not actually what I confronted him about.”

 

“Yes, you see…” Yagi begins, grimacing as he scratches the back of his neck. “Today, Aizawa brought up something he'd noticed about your behavior during the USJ attack.”

 

“I saw the way you started panicking way before any of the villains showed up,” Aizawa cuts in bluntly.

 

Izuku freezes, completely taken by surprise.

 

“Right after Thirteen finished talking, you and your classmates were all clapping. Then, all of a sudden, you put on your goggles and start looking wildly around,” Aizawa says. Even under the bandages still covering his face, his gaze is sharp and direct. “More than that, you actually managed to warn all of us about the black portal before it opened up. None of us saw it coming - not the threat, nor its nature.”

 

“Aizawa told me about this, and mentioned that he planned on bringing it up to you,” Yagi explains. “He… well, he's not casting any doubt on you, or suspecting you of anything, but he found it very, very strange that you did what you did.”

 

Yagi takes a deep breath, then looks seriously at Izuku. “I asked at first that he leave it alone, but he would not give the matter a rest unless you yourself would give the word. So instead, I asked that he broach the topic with you with my presence, instead of one-on-one.”

 

“I'm fully aware of how you were able to do it, as are you. I'm also aware that explaining it to Aizawa would mean revealing to him a secret that you've guarded most carefully all this time.”

 

He glances once at Aizawa, who’s keeping silent, before turning back to look at Izuku. “If you don’t wish to reveal your secret, Aizawa will not press further. You will have my endorsement that you have done nothing wrong, and are doing nothing wrong. We will write off what you did as a happy accident. Should it… occur once again in the future, he will assist in deflecting any questions.”

 

“Therefore, it’s completely up to you, young Midoriya. I will not force you to reveal anything that you don’t want to,” Yagi concludes, looking seriously at him.

 

For a long moment, nobody speaks. Aizawa and Yagi can practically hear the gears turning in Izuku’s head. They’re essentially asking him if he’s okay with revealing his original quirk, a secret that thus far only four other people know - Yagi, Inko, Kimi, and Yashiro.

 

Would it be wise to do so? There are definite benefits - Aizawa could aid in covering his actions the way that Kimi and Yashiro used to do. There’s no question that he would keep the secret zealously if it meant protecting Izuku - he’s proven that from the way he’s thrown himself into danger just to protect 1-A. There would no longer be this hanging question between them - and there would lie an implicit undercurrent of trust instead, another thread of security for Izuku to hang onto.

 

But on the other hand… it still feels like such a personal thing to share. Something that Izuku’s kept close to his heart for too long to give away just like this. Not to mention the possible effects - what would he think if he finds out that Izuku’s actions during the entrance exam hadn’t simply been acts of heroic selflessness, and instead had been the direct effect of his quirk?

 

(Logically, Izuku knows those particular questions are byproducts of his lingering feelings surrounding his quirk. It does not make them any less real.)

 

Lost in thought, he doesn’t notice Yagi reach a hand out to him. “Young Midoriya, it’s perfectly understandable if you don’t want to say it,” he says softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It’s a big decision, and we’re confronting you so suddenly, so - ”

 

“It’s okay,” Izuku cuts in, raising his gaze. In the space of a few seconds, he’s made up his mind. It would trouble him even more in the long term to have Aizawa doubting him like this, no matter what he says. He likens it to ripping off a band-aid - he should just get this over with. “It’s okay, Yagi-san. I’ll tell him.”

 

“Are you sure?” Yagi asks, looking into his eyes. “You don’t have to.”

 

“I know I don’t, but I will. I can’t keep this hanging between us.” He turns to Aizawa. “Aizawa-sensei, if I tell you my secret, you have to swear that you won’t ever tell anyone else about this? Absolutely no one?”

 

“I swear,” Aizawa says easily, but his voice is dead serious. “I’ll take your secret to the grave.”

 

Izuku thinks that statement is a little dramatic, but he appreciates his teacher’s sincerity. “That’s probably not necessary, but I appreciate it, Aizawa-sensei.” He takes in a deep breath and steela himself, before continuing: “Before receiving One for All, I had a quirk of my own.”

 

“My quirk basically alerts me to trouble around me - like a radar, so to speak. So far, it’s alerted me to situations that would endanger not only myself, but those around me. That’s how I knew that something bad was going to happen, even if I didn’t know what it was - and in turn, that’s why I put my goggles on, trying to spot any potential threats.”

 

“So, the entrance exam…” Aizawa says, trailing off. Izuku grimaces. Of course his teacher would touch upon that issue right away.

“...Yes. If you’ve seen my performance during the entrance exam, which I’m assuming you have, then you must’ve seen the way I went across the arena, helping people out. Pulling them away from falling debris, or from the path of someone’s quirk…” Izuku pauses, remembering his quirk’s almost non-stop action that day. “Well, that was all due to my quirk. I had it helping me throughout the entire practical exam.”

 

He turns away. “I think you see why I didn’t exactly want to advertise that I have a quirk that essentially let me cheat the system.”

 

“That’s dumb,” Aizawa says bluntly. “ Everyone’s quirks were letting them cheat the system.”

 

Izuku looks up to find Aizawa staring at him, his expression unchanged (as much as one can tell with the bandages still covering his face). “You do realize that the entire point of the practical exam was to see the potential of the students’ quirks, right?” Aizawa asks him dryly. “You think that your quirk gave you an unfair advantage - well, in terms of the exam, do you think that someone with an explosion quirk doesn’t have an unfair advantage over someone with a perfect pitch quirk?”

 

Izuku blinks, momentarily taken aback. “No, I… well, yes, they’d have an advantage over them, I guess,” he says hesitantly.

 

“So in that case, what should the one with the explosion quirk do? Not use their quirk so that it’s an even playing field between them? And then what? Let the other people who use their quirks get more points than them?” Aizawa continues unceasingly. “Whatever your quirk is, you have it for a reason. And you have to find a reason of your own, a good reason, to use it. Think about it - what would you have accomplished by not using your quirk during the exam? Would you rather that those people you saved got injured instead?”

 

“No!” Izuku says vehemently, uncomfortable with the very notion.

 

“There we go,” Aizawa says, sighing. “I understand your reason for keeping it a secret, but I don’t want you thinking of that quirk as a bad thing. As far as quirks for Pro Heroes go, it’s the most ideal one to have. As far as quirks go, period , it’s an incredibly useful and amazing one to have.”

 

He knocks Izuku lightly on the shoulder with his fist, similar to the way he’d done so back at the quirk assessment test. “Got it?”

 

Yagi stares at the serious-faced teacher in amazement. In the span of a few minutes, he’s accurately voiced out everything that Yagi’s wanted to say to Izuku about his quirk, seemingly without even thinking about it. Aizawa truly is the epitome of the core values of a teacher who cares about their students - Yagi can feel his admiration of him growing tenfold.

 

“...Got it,” Izuku says quietly.

 

“So is this why you don’t want to be a hero?” Aizawa asks further. When he sees Izuku’s shocked expression, he scoffs lightly. “Your thickheaded classmates may not have noticed it, but I can tell you don’t have the same enthusiasm about being a hero like everyone else. Is it still connected to the way you feel about your quirk?”

 

“...Partly. There are other reasons, but I don’t think… I don’t want to share them right now, if it’s okay. They’re kind of personal,” Izuku explains quietly. He’s just amazed that Aizawa managed to pick up even on that - his teacher is a lot more perceptive than he lets on.

 

“That’s fine,” Aizawa says. “And if that’s all you’d like to say about your quirk, then you’re free to go. I have a few more things I want to talk about with All Might, but you don’t need to be here for it.”

 

Izuku nods, picking up his bag again. “Thank you, Aizawa-sensei, Yagi-san,” he says, bowing lightly.

 

“I’ll see you this weekend as usual,” Yagi says, as Izuku leaves the room. The boy smiles slightly and nods, before exiting completely.

 

Once he’s gone, Aizawa turns to Yagi. “You might want to dial back the familiarity between the two of you, especially in public,” he admonishes him, moving to sit in the chair at the teacher’s desk. “It’s very suspicious - it’s one of the first things I noticed between the two of you that got me thinking.”

 

Yagi grimaces. “I know - I’m aware of it. However, I’ve gotten accustomed to talking to him quite casually - I did meet him over a year ago, and we’ve spent some time together even before I told him anything about One for All.”

 

“Speaking of One for All, in addition to his first quirk, that means he has two quirks,” Aizawa says. “As far as I know, there’s never been a case of someone having more than one quirk, aside from… well, you know. But that had come about directly from his quirk - with Midoriya, he has no such quirk that allows him to store multiple quirks.”

 

“I’ll admit, I was concerned with how it would work out, since I would be giving him a second quirk,” Yagi says frowning thoughtfully. “After all, every holder of One for All before him, me included, was quirkless before receiving it. That’s one of the reasons I thought he was a perfect successor - at the time, I believed him to be quirkless.”

 

“He seems to be handling it fine at the moment, but we have no idea if there will be any long-term effects, or what they might be,” Aizawa says, causing Yagi to grimace in concern.

 

“Let’s hope there are none,” Yagi says firmly. Aizawa looks at him, but does not reply.

 

-

 

“C’mon, please?” Uraraka says imploringly.

 

Akari merely looks back at her with the same stony face. Her long red hair settles around her shoulders, unlit. Around them, the rest of the kids have already started their quirk exercises.

 

Uraraka sighs. It’s only her first day, and while everything else seems to be going well, she’s hit a major roadblock with this particular girl. Akari absolutely refuses to follow anything she’s saying, and Uraraka doesn’t understand why.

 

“Akari, what are you doing?” Izuku asks, finally coming over to them. “The others have already started their exercises. Go to your place and light your hair up, we have a goal to reach before the end of the week, remember?”

 

At the sound of his voice, Akari turns to him and finally seems to come to attention. “Okay, Izuku-nii!” she says brightly, obediently going to her usual spot and concentrating as she gets her hair ablaze.

 

Uraraka gapes at him. “She just listened to you!” she says, astonished. “I’ve been trying to get her to do her exercise this whole time, and she wouldn’t listen to me at all!”

 

“Really? Akari?” Izuku asks, equally surprised. The two oblivious teens watch as Akari sets the entire length of her hair ablaze, the impressive flame lighting up the room and radiating pure heat. She keeps it up with no visible effort, a far cry from the way she used to be at the start of her training. “That’s strange - I’ve never had any trouble with her before.”

 

“Maybe she just doesn’t like me,” Uraraka says mournfully. “I haven’t really had a problem with any of the other kids, but Akari just refuses to listen to me.”

 

“Whether she likes you or not, she has to listen to you, because you’re in charge of her now as well,” Izuku says, frowning. “I’ll have a talk with her later. Anyway, now that they’ve started, we can go over there and start your training - we’ll just have to come back and check on them every now and again.”

 

“Oh - okay!” Uraraka says. They move near the center of the gym. She and Izuku have already followed along the kids’ stretching routine, meaning they’re loose and ready for practice. As Izuku leads her through some basic motions and punches, it becomes clear that, although she lacks form, she’s got plenty of strength.

 

“You’re strong,” he says to her at one point, when her punch sends a training dummy swinging back farther than he would’ve expected it to. “Are you sure this is your first time with combat training?”

 

Uraraka grows slightly flustered at his words. “Oh, um, thank you!” she says, embarrassed. “It’s really my first time - I just, um, I grew up playing around in construction sites, because my dad owns a construction company.”

 

“Really?” Izuku says, genuinely impressed. He returns the training dummy to its original place, allowing her to punch it again before continuing. “That’s really cool!”

 

“It is, but, uh, we’re not actually doing all that well,” Uraraka says, her face coloring even deeper. “That’s why I live away from home - it’s cheaper than if I commuted daily from our house.”

 

Izuku makes a noise of sympathy. “I get it - and I think it’s a really admirable thing for you to do. It must not be easy to live far from your family like this.”

 

“It’s not,” Uraraka admits. Her next punch lands rather lamely, and she steps back a bit, seemingly to compose herself. “But I’m doing it for them, after all.”

 

“Stay balanced when you throw a punch - it throws you off-center if you don’t and might affect the overall strength,” Izuku advises her. “And about your parents - I’m sure they’re thrilled that you’re doing such an amazing thing with them in mind.”

 

“Thanks, but I, uh…” Uraraka pauses. She throws a few punches before saying anything else. This time, they all land solidly on the dummy. “When I was younger, I wanted to work for dad’s company. With my quirk, I could bring costs way down, right?”

 

Izuku ponders this. “Right, with your quirk, you could make any raw material float,” he says, imagining it. “You guys wouldn’t need any equipment or expensive machinery.”

 

“Exactly!” Uraraka says, bouncing slightly on her heel. “I could have helped out as soon as I got licensed to use my quirk for them! But…”

 

She sighs, then swings her arm in arc to knock the dummy to the side. “I learned that from you,” she says, smiling slightly when she sees Izuku looking. Then her expression turns pensive again. “Mom and Dad told me that they’d rather I followed my dream of becoming a hero, instead of settling for working for the company. I told them that I wouldn’t be settling, not if it meant I could provide for them, but they told me that they didn’t want to be the reason I never reached my full potential.”

 

“It’s… well, it’s a whole argument that we’ve had and one I probably really shouldn’t get into, but now I’m at UA so I can be a hero and get paid a lot so that they can finally take it easy,” Uraraka concludes. She lands another punch on the dummy, before abruptly blushing. “Oh, darn - I guess I basically admitted that I want to be a hero for the money.”

 

She smiles sheepishly at Izuku. “I guess my reason for wanting to be a hero is pretty selfish, huh?”

 

Izuku looks at her seriously for a bit, before shrugging. “Maybe, to some people,” Izuku says. “That’s if you say that you’re really just in it for the money. But that’s not true, right? You want the money, sure, but you want it so that you can help your parents out.”

 

He thinks back to what Aizawa has told him, about finding a reason to use your quirk for good. “I don’t think anything can ever be truly selfish if you’re genuinely doing it for someone’s benefit.”

 

Uraraka stares at him, a small hint of wonder in her eyes. “You’re… that’s a beautiful thing to say, Deku-kun,” she says, shaking her head slightly in amazement. “Thank you.”

 

“It’s nothing, really,” Izuku says quickly. He adjusts the training dummy and moves it closer to Uraraka again. “Let’s keep going, yeah?”

 

Although he doesn’t notice it, the small smile on Uraraka’s face lingers well until after her training session, even up to the moment she waves goodbye to him at the station.

 

-

 

On Saturday, a familiar knock sounds on their door. “Coming!” Izuku says, rushing to the door before his mother could answer it. He opens the door to find Yagi waiting outside.

 

“Yagi-san! You’re early today,” Izuku remarks, stepping aside to let the man in. “Mom hasn’t even started making dinner yet.”

 

“I was already free, and decided I may as well visit earlier,” Yagi explains, kicking off his shoes and slipping into the guest slippers. “You’re here early as well, young Midoriya. I would’ve expected that you’d still be at the dojo at this time.”

 

“Oh, the dojo’s closed for a few days because of routine maintenance,” Izuku says, following Yagi into the living room. The man utters a polite greeting to Inko as they pass her, and she smiles broadly at them in return.

 

“I see,” Yagi says, settling into the couch. Izuku follows suit. “That’s unfortunate, but I suppose it works out for us now, considering the fact that I must talk to you about something.”

 

“What is it?” Izuku asks, wondering what Yagi would want to talk to him about.

 

“The upcoming sports festival,” Yagi says. “And what will be expected of you, both as successor of One for All, and the rising young star that the media has made you out to be, after the USJ attack.”

 

“When the villains singled you out with the media coverage, they seem to have marked you down as a target - if ever these particular people should strike again, and it’s likely that they will, it’s very likely that they will have their sights set you,” Yagi begins.

 

Izuku nods grimly. He’s aware of this, has in fact been contemplating this ever since he came to terms with the fact that the villains’ efforts had really been concentrated on him. Their target may have been All Might, but they’d retreated even before he came into the picture at USJ.

 

“Aside from that, as you know, my time as the current Symbol of Peace is dwindling. While I’m still able to perform my duties, the fact that they were targeting me with the intent to get rid of me means that they think I’m vulnerable. Which is, unfortunately, true.”

 

“One for All…” Yagi trails off, looking at the coffee table in front of him. “I chose you as my successor because I believed that you could take my place - no, carve out a place for yourself as the new Symbol of Peace.”

 

He raises his face to look at Izuku. “Now, while everyone has their eyes on you, it’s time for you to make your entrance. The UA sports festival is something that pro heroes - no, the whole country will be watching. One of the biggest events… and the biggest stage as well.”

 

“I want you to tell the world - I am here .”

 

Izuku swallows, back straightening almost impulsively as he realizes the weight of Yagi’s words. This is the crunch time. It’s time for him to make his first true impression as a heroics course student - as a future pro hero.

 

Yagi’s arms sweep to the side as he makes his grandiose statement - then he lowers them and leans back to smile at Izuku. “I would say no pressure, but that’s not true,” he says, chuckling slightly.

 

“No kidding,” Izuku says incredulously, prompting the both of them to laugh.

 

No kidding, indeed.

 

It’s time to get serious.

 

-

 

“Have you gotten the transmitters in place?” the voice from the screen asks. The static on the screen casts soft, erratic light onto the bar.

 

“We’re working on it,” Kurogiri says idly. He sets down the glass he’d been wiping, before picking up another one and starting on it. “We still have a week. Getting them all over Japan is rather tedious, after all.”

 

“I can imagine,” the voice replies dryly. “Well, as long as they’re functional by then.”

 

“They definitely will be,” Kurogiri says assuredly. He eyes the glass in his hand slowly, eyeing the darkness that reflects back at him.

 

“We’ll be ready by then.”

 

-

 

Like this, two weeks passes quickly and easily.

 

The teachers lighten up the academic workload of all students, not just those in the heroics course. Since every student will be joining the sports festival, they’re all given equal opportunities to practice their quirks in preparation for it.

 

Izuku knows that all his classmates are losing themselves in training.

 

He does not let himself falter in that regard.

 

Between the dojo, training Uraraka, and the occasional lesson from Yagi, Izuku’s getting all the physical training he could possibly need. So much so that when the day of the sports festival finally comes, he feels adrenaline coursing through him, instead of anxiety.

 

...It’s finally here.

 

It seems that a good chunk of Japan’s population has come to watch the UA Sports Festival for themselves, the dense crowds barely making it through the insanely tight security that the school has set up at every single entry point. Media personnel wait grumpily as every piece of their equipment and luggage is picked over at every angle, before being allowed to enter the campus. Inside the campus itself, the people who are already there wander around, chatting excitedly as they buy food and wait for the main event to start.

 

Normally, the third year stage garners the most viewers - with their superior experience and creative quirk usage, they usually exhibit the grandest displays. This year, however, many of the attendees are here to see the first years - or, more specifically, Class 1-A, the fledgling class with a major villain attack to their name and credit.

 

In their assigned waiting room, the class in question waits with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. The increased scrutiny by both the media and the masses alike is both a good thing, and also a source of added pressure to perform well. Many of the students pace restlessly, impatient to get into the thick of things right away.

 

While they wait, visitors come by the waiting room, accompanied by UA personnel. It seems that many of the students’ family members and friends have come by to give their support to them in person, before the festival starts. Izuku watches as several of his classmates open the door to find either their parents or friends waiting outside for them, which inevitably leads to either an emotional embrace or an enthusiastic pep-talk.

 

Those whose family members haven’t shown up are on the phone instead, their families offering support from afar. Izuku laughs privately as he watches Kacchan scream at his phone, the equally enthusiastic yelling of Mitsuki audible even from this distance. Uraraka’s phone rings, and she hurriedly excuses herself to take the call - Yaoyorozu retreats to a private corner to talk quietly to her mother.

 

Izuku knows that his mother doesn’t do well with large crowds, and would be watching from home. He also knows that Inko gets very anxious if she talks to Izuku for too long before he does something big, so they’ve said all that needed to be said before he left home this morning. He’s maybe expecting a text from Kimi, who’d apologized and said that she hadn’t been able to get permission to go, but other than that, he doesn’t think anyone else will show up.

 

Oddly enough, he’s not the only one without visitors. Nobody shows up to visit Todoroki, nor does he seem to be receiving any phone calls. Although it seems lonely to think of, the boy himself doesn’t seem to mind, sitting patiently in a chair as he waits with the rest of them for the events to start. When he seems to notice Izuku looking, he turns to meet his gaze, causing Izuku to hastily look away.

 

Another knock sounds on the door of the waiting room. Cementoss’ blocky head pokes in. “Is Midoriya here?” he asks.

 

Surprised, Izuku stands up. “Yes, I’m here,” he says, raising his hand. Is there actually someone here to visit him? He racks his brain, trying to think who it could be. Surely Yagi wouldn’t need to be accompanied by a teacher to visit him -

 

“Izuku-nii!” Twin voices yell out excitedly, and the combined forces of two familiar bodies slam into Izuku as he approaches the door. He looks down from where he grounds himself to the floor to see Yuuto and Akari nuzzling into him, with the boy extending his hand to wrap them around Izuku several times over the way he likes to do.

 

“Akari! Yuuto! What are you two doing here?” Izuku asks surprised. Behind him, all the girls in class dissolve into collective “Aww!”s at the sight of two children hugging him.

 

“Surprise!” comes another loud voice. Cementoss moves aside to let Shishou pass, her bulky frame clad in a casual get-up rather than her usual trainer outfit. She eyes Akari and Yuuto with immense amusement, before stepping forward to clap Izuku on the back like usual. “We came here to cheer you on!”

 

“Izuku-nii, you’re gonna win today, right?” Akari says, hopping in place to get Izuku’s attention. Izuku laughs and ruffles her hair. “We’re gonna cheer really loudly, so you should do your best, okay?”

 

“I’m sure you’ll win everything today!” Yuuto declares, withdrawing his arms to their normal length, but not letting go of Izuku.

 

Shishou laughs. “Actually, a lot of the kids in the class came here today to cheer you on,” she informs Izuku. “But I could only get permission to bring these two along - they wouldn’t let me bring them all along.”

 

Izuku grimaces in sympathy. “It’s probably for security purposes,” he says reasonably.

 

Shishou nods, but - there’s a twinkle in her eye. “However, they’re not the only ones I brought along today,” she says, something mischievous in her voice.

 

“Hm? Who else - oh .” Izuku’s statement dies on his tongue when he sees somebody else step out from behind Cementoss.

 

Clad in a simple sundress and beige flats, Kimi steps forward, her long hair gorgeously blonde and shiny. She has a bright, excited smile on her face. “Izuku!” she says, nearly running into him to embrace him as well.

 

Kimi

 

If Class 1-A had had a reaction to seeing two cute children hug Izuku, seeing this beautiful model hug him as well sends them into shock.

 

Oi, oi, oi, oi, oi, oi, oi, Midoriya, ” Mineta says, trembling as he observes Kimi. She’s easily as pretty as Yaoyorozu - her long slender limbs move gracefully as she withdraws them to look at Izuku’s face. “You didn’t tell us you had a girlfriend!”

 

“Yeah, man! I didn’t know you were that kind of guy!” Kaminari says accusingly.

 

Izuku rolls his eyes as he pulls Kimi back in for a hug (effectively causing all the girls to gasp, as one). “Kimi’s not my girlfriend,” he says, tempted to laugh. Their reactions remind him of junior high, back when they had just been starting at their new school. At the mention of Kimi’s name, both Ashido and Hagakure gasp. The two of them pull out their phones and hurriedly begin typing something.

 

“Are you surprised?” Kimi asks, pulling back a second time. She’s flushed with excitement, which is understandable - Izuku himself is finding it hard to contain his smile, finally seeing her again after more than a month of no meet-ups. “Yashiro was shocked when we showed up at their waiting room.”

 

“Oh, so you guys already visited Yashiro?” Izuku asks. Akari and Yuuto are both also on friendly terms with Yashiro, so it makes sense that they would also visit him to offer their support.

 

“Yeah, we did,” Kimi affirms. “And all his classmates don’t really look all that interested in the event. Yashiro’s going to give it his all regardless though, so I’m cheering for both of you.”

 

“Thanks,” Izuku says, grinning helplessly. He hadn’t realized just how much he misses Kimi until he sees her again. “I don’t think we have much time now, but let’s hang out later, all three of us. Are you free for the whole day?”

 

Kimi nods, smiling as well. “Yup! I got permission for the whole day - I just didn’t tell you guys because I wanted to surprise you two.” She laughs lightly. “Looks like it worked, huh?”

 

“It sure did,” Izuku agrees. “I’ll see you guys later, okay? Thanks for coming all the way here.”

 

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” With a final, slightly longer hug, Kimi pulls the two kids away and ushers them out of the room, following behind Shishou. Cementoss meets them at the door, allows them to wave back to Izuku one last time, before accompanying them presumably to the viewer stands.

 

Once they’re gone, Ashido and Hagakure are quick to swarm him. “Midoriya!” Ashido says, holding her phone out to him. On the screen is a picture of Kimi, presumably from one of her modelling jobs. “Is this her? Is this your friend? Is your friend’s name Tachibana Kimi?” she demands.

 

Izuku laughs in surprise at their insistence. “Yes, that’s her. Kimi’s my childhood friend,” he tells them, affection and pride blooming in his chest.

 

He’s dating a model! ” Hagakure cries, aghast. From his seat, Mineta appears to slump over in despair, before abruptly shooting up to send death glares in Izuku’s direction.

 

Izuku shakes his head. “I told you guys that we aren’t together. She’s just one of my best friends,” he explains, or tries to. Nobody seems to be listening to him anymore.

 

“Bakugou, did you know about this?” Kaminari asks mournfully. Kacchan snorts and sneers at him. “The fuck would I care about that shit nerd’s love life?” he says crudely. Kaminari pouts and cradles his head in his hands. “Midoriya, I didn’t know you had it in you.”

 

Izuku just shakes his head again and lets them talk. There’s no convincing them otherwise once this class has latched onto an idea. Amidst the chatter that ensues, the door opens again, this time so powerfully that it slams into the wall.

 

“Everyone! Are you ready yet?” Iida asks loudly, standing grandly at the door. He must have just been asked to announce it by a teacher. “We will be entering soon!”

 

The students jump to attention, slowly gathering themselves and standing up to exit the room. However, before Izuku can even take two steps, someone is blocking his way.

 

“Midoriya,” Todoroki says, standing in his way and preventing him from reaching the door. At the sound of his voice, the rest of 1-A pauses as well, wondering what could be happening this time.

 

“What is it, Todoroki-kun?” Izuku has no idea what Todoroki could probably want with him. Since the term has started, they’ve exchanged maybe a total of five words - maybe zero, if Izuku’s only remembering events wrong. The calm and cool recommendations student has, in all this time, seemed to have formed no connections among their classmates whatsoever. Even now, he remains a mystery to most, if not all of them.

 

Todoroki looks at him seriously for a beat, before saying, “Looking at things objectively, I would say that we’re on par in terms of strength. Maybe you’ve got more raw power than I do, but I’d argue that I have more… control.”

 

At the mention of power, Kacchan turns abruptly around, his eyes narrowing instantly. He seems to zero in on Izuku and Todoroki, who are still standing in the middle of the waiting room.

 

Even if this strange conversation is coming out of seemingly nowhere, Izuku nods. Todoroki’s not wrong - the raw power of One for All probably far outclasses anything that Todoroki’s own quirk has, but the other boy is far more accustomed to using his quirk and more familiar with its nuances.

 

“However… it seems like All Might has his eye on you . Especially after what happened in USJ,” Todoroki continues.

 

At the mention of All Might, Izuku bites his lip. It’s true that maybe he and Yagi fail to keep their established relationship a secret from the other people at the school - people like Asui, Aizawa, and Todoroki are all drawing connections between the two of them. Just the mere fact that Izuku can’t remember to refer to him as All Might instead of Yagi is a jarring fault. “That’s true, too.”

 

“I’m not trying to pry about anything,” Todoroki says. He raises his head slightly, and meets Izuku’s gaze levelly. “But I’m going to defeat you.”

 

The bold statement draws the attention of the others, who move slightly to return to the room. “Hey, hey, hey,” Kirishima says, already ready to intervene, while Kaminari says, “The best in the class are fighting! This is amazing!” earning him a punch on the head from Kacchan.

 

Regardless, everyone watches Izuku, waiting with bated breath to see what his response will be to Todoroki’s, essentially, declaration of war.

 

“Okay,” Izuku says, shrugging, then moves to walk past Todoroki and into the hallway.

 

No one speaks. Everyone turns to look at Todoroki, who’s standing stock-still, staring at the space where Izuku had just been standing.

 

Amongst them, Katsuki lets out a sharp bark of laughter before turning heel and following Izuku out into the stadium.

 

Honestly, several of them feel like bursting into nervous laughter themselves.

 

After all, Izuku’s pretty much just pulled the biggest power move of the century.

 

Todoroki

Izuku

a meme

 

-

 

Yagi’s knee bounces once. It bounces again.

 

“Nervous?” Thirteen asks kindly, beside him.

 

Yagi jolts in surprise. “No, no,” he denies quickly, his knee bouncing all the while. Thirteen makes a knowing sound before turning back to the field.

 

Yagi follows their example and turns to the field as well, trying to keep the jitters in control. He knows from all the training they’d been doing together that, physically, Izuku is more than prepared for whatever the sports festival may throw at him.

 

That doesn’t mean that Yagi doesn’t still worry about him.

 

I want you tell the world, “I am here.”

 

“EVERYBODY SAY HEY!” Present Mic yells, this time around getting a much more participative audience who yells back at him with everything they have. “This year’s high school rodeo of adolescence that you all love, the UA sports festival is about to begin! Everyone, are you ready?” He leans his ear out to take in all the enthusiastic screaming of the crowd.

 

“It’s time for the first-year students to enter the stage!” He grabs his microphone and gestures grandly at one of the entrances. “The miraculous new stars who overcame a villain attack with their hearts of steel! Hero Course, Class 1-A!

 

The audience goes absolutely nuts, cheering wildly as the students of Class 1-A step onto the field. They look around in awe of the audience that came to see them, banners and streamers flying into the air.

 

“Uwah, there are so many people here!” Hagakure says, a little stumble in her voice as she takes in all the audience members.

 

“We will have to give our all, considering all the people who came to watch us,” Iida says seriously. “This is also part of the training required to become a full-fledged hero.”

 

“Man, they’re really going overboard with all that praise,” Kirishima says, laughing kind of apprehensively. “I’m getting kind of nervous!” He bumps Katsuki, who’s stalking forward in front of him. “What about you, Bakugou?”

 

“I’m getting fucking hyped ,” Katsuki says, brushing him off as he grins sharply at the gathered people. Izuku eyes him and tries to draw off his growing energy, trying to make his stride more purposeful since he’s walking in the front.

 

“This class may not have gotten as much airtime, but they’re also full of talent and potential! Hero Course, 1-B!” Present Mic says, pointing at a different entrance as the students emerge as well. The audience cheers wildly for them. That’s something to be said about the current viewers - none of them are lacking in enthusiasm at all.

 

“Up next is General Studies Classes C, D, and E!” Present Mic continues. The general course students walk into the field, looking noticeably less enthusiastic than their hero course counterparts. Izuku strains his neck trying to spot the purple-haired boy among them, but he can’t see him.

 

“Support Classes F, G, and H are making their entrance!” Present Mic says. Say what you will about the man, but he does his best to hype up each department even though everyone’s eyes are definitely on Class 1-A.

 

“And finally, Business Course, Classes I, J, and K!” Present Mic finishes, encouraging the crowds to cheer wildly for all the students finally gathered in the field. The students form neat lines and rows, standing in front of the raised platform where their referee is waiting.

 

The sound of a whip cracking draws everyone’s attention to the stage. “It’s time for the player pledge!” declares Kayama Nemuri, better known as Midnight, the R-Rated Hero.

 

As one, it seems that the entire male population at the arena gapes at her risque appearance. “Midnight’s the chief umpire for the first years? What about the principal?” someone in the audience asks.

 

“The principal’s always in the third-year stage,” someone else answers, shushing their friend. “Anyway, who cares? That’s Midnight ?”

 

“What is Miss Midnight wearing?” Kirishima asks nervously, averting his eyes.

 

“I don’t know what it is, but it’s glorious,” Kaminari replies, shamelessly ogling the woman. “That’s the R-Rated Hero for you, I guess.”

 

“Everyone settle down!” Midnight commands, swishing her whip through the air. “Representing the students is Midoriya Izuku, from Class 1-A!”

 

“That’s you!” Iida says, quite unnecessarily, pushing Izuku forward to get him walking towards the platform. Izuku stumbles slightly but recovers, making his way to the platform.

 

Around the arena, the various crowd members burst into murmurs of awe and recognition. “That’s him, right?” some of them say. “That boy from the news? The one who beat the leader of the villains?”

 

Izuku feels everyone’s stares on his back as he walks up the stairs to the platform. Midnight steps aside to let him reach the microphone, and suddenly there he is - the sun in his eyes, the humid air gathering around him, and the weight of everyone’s expectations on him.

 

“I pledge,” he begins. He’d been informed beforehand of his role in the sports festival ceremony by virtue of being the top placer during the entrance exam. He feels the stares of not just the audience, but of the students behind him - the hero course, the general course, the support course, and the business course. Somewhere among them, the purple-haired boy is watching him. And Yashiro. And the girl who’d made his goggles for him, the ones that had helped him so much during USJ. His classmates. Kacchan.

 

Todoroki, who’s essentially thrown down the gauntlet.

 

“I pledge to take part in these games, respecting and abiding by the rules and in the spirit of fair play,” Izuku recites. The teachers had informed him of the lines he must say, before tacking on his own addition the traditional pledge. “To exemplify sportsmanship, by bringing my best to all competition. To serve as a good representative of my school, and to bring honor to it in all respects through my performance.”

 

He reaches the end of the prescribed pledge and pauses, thinking over his addition. “I pledge to use my quirk responsibly, to dedicate my power to productive means, and not destructive ones.” He feels something shift in the air, a slight change in the way the audience looks at him. “I pledge to honor my competitors’ efforts by showing them my best performance, and not to hold myself back.”

 

He holds his head high. “I pledge to be the best .”

 

He remembers Yagi’s words, and adds something else, one last throwaway line.

 

“I pledge to win .”

 

At his bold statement, the crowd goes absolutely crazy. They stand up to cheer and applaud him, the slight smile on his face broadcasted bright as day on the screens surrounding the arena. He descends from the platform to raucous applause from his classmates.

 

“That was gutsy, Deku-kun!” Uraraka says, a little bit of shock lingering on her face. “I didn’t think you to be the type to make those kinds of declarations!”

 

“That was manly as hell, Midoriya!” Kirishima says gleefully, clapping him on the back. “Aw man, you’ve got me all pumped up now!”

 

“That actually sounds like something Bakugou would say, though,” Kaminari says. “Oh man, can you imagine what he’d do if he’d been the one to do the student pledge? He’d probably tell all of us to go and die or something!”

 

“I’ll tell you to fuck off and die if you don’t shut up, Sparky,” Kacchan says warningly.

 

As Izuku returns to his spot, he catches Todoroki’s eye. The other boy looks back at him briefly before turning away, silent. Izuku shrugs it off and takes his place at the front of the lines once more, all of them watching as Midnight prepares to explain the first game to them.

 

“Now, let’s get started right away!” Midnight says, waving her whip with a flourish. “The first game is what you’d call a qualifier! Every year, many drink their own tears here!”

 

She cracks her whip again, looking positively delighted at the prospect. “Now, let’s see what the fateful first game is!” Behind her, a slot visual pops up onscreen, running rapidly through various words. “This year, it’s…!”

 

The slot visual comes to a rest on a large block of text, displaying the contest they’re to take part in - “An Obstacle Race!” Midnight says. By the field, the students begin to mutter among themselves, wondering what kind of obstacles they’ll be encountering.

 

She rests her hands on her hips as she begins to explain. “All eleven classes will participate in this race. The course itself will be the outer circumference of this stadium - around four kilometers!”

 

Suddenly, she cracks her whip with a much stronger ferocity than ever before. “UA’s selling point is freedom,” she says. She tilts her head and licks her lip, her aura abruptly changing. “As long as you stay on the course, it doesn’t matter what you do!”

 

The students gasp at the implications of that statement. Izuku breaks into a slight sweat. So much for using their quirks responsibly. It’s likely to become a free-for-all very, very quickly.

 

“Everyone take your places!” Midnight says, pointing to the narrowest entrance of the stadium. They follow the direction she’s gesturing to, eyes widening when they see how narrow the exit is. The students who think fastest immediately make their way to the front for an optimal position, Izuku leading them on the front.

 

Three flashing lights appear on the top of the entryway, signalling the countdown. Izuku crouches slightly, letting One for All run through his body. Whatever the obstacles are, his main strategy will be to blast through them, powerfully and quickly.

 

3...

 

2…

 

“Start!”

 

Like a spring, coiled tight, Izuku leaps forward, exiting the narrow corridor before it becomes crowded by the bodies of the students all straining to get through. He hears people shouting behind him, all clamoring to get through, but he imagines that their bodies must be squeezed tight in the tiny, tiny path.

 

He also hears other people catching up.

 

“I’m not letting you off so easy, Deku!” Kacchan yells behind him, the telltale sounds of explosions drawing closer as the boy uses his palms to propel himself forward at a great pace. He hears his other classmates catching up as well - they must have been able to quickly muscle their way to the front of the crowd before the start as well.

 

He lands heavily on one foot, muscles tensing.

 

Then his gut twists .

 

He leaps into the air, more upward than forward, narrowly avoiding the sheet of ice that suddenly envelops a good portion of the opening track. The air around him suddenly turns cool and dry, puffs of frost rising off the the glacial display.

 

“Did he actually just freeze us?” Izuku hears someone ask loudly, clearly in disbelief. He looks back behind him and sees Todoroki using his ice to slide forward rapidly, a large amount of the students still stuck near the entrance, trapped in ice.

 

As Izuku turns forward, carefully landing on a still unfrozen tract of land, he smiles privately to himself.

 

Not a single student of Class 1-A had been caught in Todoroki’s ice trap.

 

They’ve all seen him use it in USJ, after all.

 

“Fucking Half-and-Half!” Kacchan yells, enraged. Izuku can hear him getting ever closer, explosions popping furiously. He hears some of his other classmates calling Todoroki out, but they sound more exasperated than anything.

 

“Oho! Looks like all the students of Class 1-A were able to dodge Todoroki’s icy trap!” Present Mic yells from the booth. “What would you say about that, Mummyface?”

 

“Don’t call me that,” says a dry voice. It seems that Present Mic has chosen Aizawa as his commentator partner, which doesn’t seem all that wise. “Of course they dodged it. These students have seen each other in combat - they’ll need to pull some spectacular moves to really surprise each other at this point.”

 

“What an astute observation!” Present Mic says supportively. “But it looks like your students are coming up against the first obstacle right about… now!”

 

A loud, mechanical whirring distracts the students of 1-A. Izuku looks up, stilling mid-air as he’s faced with the zero-pointer from the entrance exam - no, several of them . There are multiple actual zero-pointers, all making their way menacingly towards the students.

 

“The zero-pointers again?” Sero says, skidding to an abrupt stop, his face twisted in concern. Behind him, the rest of 1-A pauses as well, all looking up to watch the gigantic robots roll toward them.

 

“Seriously? The hero course students had to fight these?” someone asks disbelievingly, presumably someone from the other departments.

 

Izuku lands in front of them, looking up. He’s pretty sure that he can just rush past them with One for All if he goes quickly enough, but that wouldn’t make for a very impressive showing. He rolls his shoulders back, getting ready to destroy the robot that’s taking the lead at the front, when he suddenly feels the air around him get very, very cold.

 

“So this is what they used for the regular entrance exam…” Todoroki says, stalking forward slowly. His right hand is glowing icy blue, swirls of frost gathering around him. “If they had gone to the trouble of preparing something, then I wish they’d brought something a little better.”

 

He stops just in front of Izuku, before kneeling and pressing his hand to the ground. As he does so, literal spikes of ice burst from the soil, abruptly trapping the robots before creeping up over their outer layer, freezing the robots where they stand. A large gust of icy air erupts from them as this happens, sweeping everyone within the vicinity and sending violent shivers through their bodies.

 

In the mist that gathers, barely anyone can see Todoroki as he rushes to the front by passing in between the legs of the frozen robots.

 

“He’s going! Between the legs! Let’s go!” someone calls.

 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Todoroki idly calls back. “I froze them while they were unstable - they’re going to fall - ”

 

His statement is interrupted by a deafening crash, the distinct sound of metal grating against metal and the telltale heat of something enormous exploding. He turns back just in time to see one of the bigger robots exploding into bits of shrapnel and wreckage, and in the steam that arises from the center, sees a much smaller figure coming rapidly at him.

 

“And it looks like Midoriya Izuku of Class 1-A has blown those robot popsicles into itty bitty pieces!” Present Mic crows, whooping delightedly. “He’s certainly giving us quite the show!”

 

“Thanks for giving me something to punch!” Izuku says brightly, landing on his feet just a few meters away from Todoroki. The dumbfounded expression on the other boy’s face makes everything worth it - if he can show off, then he’d better believe that Izuku will do the same damn thing.

 

“Also, I know you were trying to keep them from catching up, but maybe next time don’t actually try and cause them bodily harm, okay?” Izuku tells him. “I’ll see you later!”

 

He crouches deeply, concentrating power in his ankles, before leaping forward even faster than before, making sure to leave a trail of dust in his wake for Todoroki to choke on.

 

Let it not be said that Izuku has never felt a petty grudge in his life.

 

Todoroki stands there shell-shocked, until smaller and quicker explosions snap him out of his stupor. “Eat my fucking dust, Half-and-Half!” Katsuki yells, setting off a particularly powerful blast to far outsrip Todoroki and set him closer on Izuku’s tail. “Go ahead and stand around like a dumb fuck!”

 

Todoroki grits his teeth in annoyance and speeds off after them, letting out probably more ice than was necessary behind him. He hears people shout, “Oh, come on , Todoroki!” but he doesn’t care. All he’s focused on is the steady back of Izuku, which doesn’t feel like it’s getting any closer.

 

“Hey, hey, wait up you guys!” Kirishima shouts, using his hardening quirk to hack a path past the littered debris from the fallen robots. Sero grins and shoots out tape from his elbows, swinging himself forward using the still standing parts of the robots, while Ojiro and Tokoyami both use the wreckage as leverage to propel themselves past the patch of ruins.

 

“Let’s not waste any more time, everyone!” Iida calls, using his powerful legs to kick a stray robot into pieces. The rest of 1-A cheers and follows suit, dodging and attacking the robots with no hesitation in order to catch up to the ones who’ve taken the lead.

 

“It seems that the ones who’ve gotten ahead are mostly, if not all from 1-A,” Thirteen says thoughtfully, leaning forward to observe the screen better.

 

Yagi nods slightly. “Class 1-B aren’t slacking off, and neither are the other courses. However…”

 

Present Mic looks at Aizawa and asks, off-mic, “Just what have you been teaching those kids of yours, Shota?”

 

“This is all coming from them, as students who’ve undergone and survived the USJ attack,” Aizawa says dryly, not looking away from the screen. “Those who’ve experienced firsthand the world that lies beyond - these kids who’ve had fear implanted into their hearts by actual villains - those who bore it and pushed through…”

 

Yagi leans forward, chin resting on his intertwined hands. “They’ve all used that experience to grow and to crush any lingering hesitation they might have felt at these games,” he says, watching Jirou use her ear jacks to disable two robots at once.

 

“These kids are ready for anything this festival can throw at them,” Aizawa concludes, leaning back in his seat.

 

Present Mic grins at him, before grabbing the mic and turning to the screen. “Hey, hey, hey! It looks like most of the students have already gotten past the first obstacle! But what about the second?”

 

Izuku sees the land before him and lands carefully. He has to land carefully because his trajectory places him mere inches from a gigantic chasm , one whose depths he couldn’t even properly gauge. He looks down then immediately steps back, not wanting to pitch forward and fall accidentally.

 

He carefully eyes the various pillars of land scattered across the gap, thin ropes connecting them and serving as a paltry path. If he tries to crawl over them, he’ll lose his lead. So instead he crouches, invokes every physics class he’s ever taken, and takes a calculated leap, aiming for the largest flat surface near the middle of the canyon.

 

“And it looks like Midoriya Izuku has taken a leap of faith!” Present Mic says, clapping his hand on the table enthusiastically. “And oh - who could that possibly be, following right behind him!”

 

The students still gathered at the edge of the chasm watch warily as a girl with bright pink hair and rather familiar-looking red goggles laughs maniacally. “This is it! This is my chance to show off!” she declares, the various pieces of machinery glinting brightly as they shift over her body. “Aki-nee, I hope you’re watching closely!”

 

“Hang on, you’re allowed to bring items in here?” Ashido asks, watching as the girl adjusts different knobs and dials on the different machines all over her body.

 

“But of course! I’m from the support department!” the girl explains, stepping closer to the edge of the canyon. With a push of a single button, long strips of wire shoot out and anchor themselves to one of the land pillars, quite a distance away. “You hero course students have your combat training, and we have our support items! We can bring anything in here, as long as we made them ourselves!”

 

She cackles madly as she pushes another button, activating the soles of her boots and causing her to hover slightly in the air. “Which means this is the perfect opportunity for me to show off my beautiful babies to all the support companies watching right now!”

 

With the push of another button, she’s abruptly yanked forward, her entire body trusting in her machines as she free-falls over empty space and swings toward the pillar her wires have latched onto. She presses another button, prompting two mechanical hands to emerge from her backpack and sink themselves into the solid surface of the pillar, keeping her from falling. “Everyone, please take a look at my super cute babies!” she says loudly, sailing majestically from one pillar to another.

 

“Wow, she’s really something,” Uraraka says, watching with wonder as the girl makes her way across the canyon.

 

Ashido barely has any time to agree before a rush of ice and heat goes past her. She looks up just in time to see Todoroki use his ice to quickly slide himself across the ropes, while Katsuki uses his explosions to essentially fly himself over the canyon. Their eyes are both on Izuku, who’s already cleared the field with another leap and is running towards the third and final obstacle.

 

Todoroki narrows his eyes, a clearly displeased expression on his face.

 

Izuku comes to a sudden stop as he reaches the last obstacle - a clear path of land that’s completely free of murderous robots and pitfalls. Instead, however…


“It seems that our student in the lead has finally reached the final obstacle! And it turns out to be - MINES! A whole path full of active landmines, ready to detonate at the slightest pressure!” Present Mic cackles wildly before remembering his audience and sitting down to soberly add, “But of course, as they will be used for games, these mines are not harmful! They are, however, loud and flashy enough to cause quite a disturbance, so our students will still need to be careful!”

 

Izuku tilts his head, knowing he’ll need to think fast of a way to clear this obstacle before the others catch up. Already, he can hear Todoroki and Kacchan behind him, quickly gaining on him.

 

One leap may not be enough to cross this obstacle in one go.

 

One leap enhanced by the explosives, however…

 

He takes a deep breath, and hopes that Present Mic is telling the truth when he says that these mines won’t harm his body.

 

He concentrates on a patch of earth that seems much more different than the rest. He crouches once more, pooling One for All in his legs -

 

And leaps right into the pile of explosives, gritting his teeth when heat and light engulfs him from all sides. The force from One for All is exponentially multiplied by the energy from the blast, sending him careening towards the exit -

 

He sees it -

 

He’s so close -

 

And then suddenly it’s covered up with a solid wall of ice.

 

Izuku falls and rolls, stopping a few feet from the now blocked exit. He looks back and sees Todoroki at the far end of the landmine course, his hand outstretched. A thin path of ice traces its way across the path, leading all the way up to the exit, which is now blocked by gigantic spikes of ice.

 

“OH! And in a surprise move, it appears that Todoroki has cut off the exit of Midoriya! What will happen now?” Present Mic says, yelling loudly.

 

Todoroki begins to run over the ice towards Izuku, the icy path preventing him from tipping off any of the landmines. Barely behind him, Kacchan is close, rapidly closing the distance between him and Izuku.

 

Izuku feels some irritation rise up inside of him, seeing Todoroki’s move as a desperate throwaway move. He can’t really blame him, though.

 

He just wishes Todoroki would’ve done a better job of it.

 

In one move, Izuku grits his teeth and swings his arm in a solid arc, ramming his powered fist into the wall of ice and smashing it into pieces, causing a large gust of mist to erupt from it. Before Todoroki or Kacchan can catch up to him, he powers his legs one more time, and crosses the threshold in one fell swoop.

 

-

 

“Status?” the voice from the screen asks.

 

Kurogiri nods idly, watching as the boy named Midoriya Izuku punches through the wall of ice in one hit. “If the readings are right, then it’s working. All channels except those which are showcasing the UA sports festival are currently down due to interference from our transmitters. If people try switching their channels, all they’ll get is static.”

 

“Excellent,” the voice says. “No interference yet?”

 

“Well, a lot of channels are running the sports festival anyways, so I don’t think any of the media stations have noticed yet,” Kurogiri says. “I’d say it’ll be at least an hour before there’s any major notice that we’re interfering with their signals.”

 

“That’ll be more than enough time,” the voice says. “Our transmitters are powerful as well - it will take quite some time for them to completely block out our interference.”

 

“So now, all we have to do is wait,” Kurogiri says, turning to face the screen.

 

“Yes,” the voice agrees, chuckling slightly. “Our job is lightened considerably when the little heroes do most of it for us, hm?”

 

-

 

“We have our winner!” Present Mic declares exuberantly, his loud voice mingling with the deafening roars of the audience. Izuku skids to a stop, chest heaving, and walks slowly back into the field. “Midoriya Izuku of Class 1-A has just made a big splash!”

 

Yagi lets out a breath he hadn’t even known he was holding. He’d been gripped with nervousness the entire time, even seeing Izuku outperform the rest of the students, but his anxiety spiked when he saw Todoroki cut him off last minute. It seems he needn’t have worried, however - Izuku’s made it through just fine.

 

Izuku lets the yells of the crowd wash over him, adrenaline taking the place of One for All in his veins. He lets out a guttural roar, before raising his head and pumping his fists in the air.

 

The crowd absolutely loves it, their cheers growing even louder. Izuku turns around just in time to see Todoroki cross the line, followed shortly thereafter by Kacchan, both of them looking less than happy about the result of the first event.

 

Todoroki reaches him first. “You…” he says, trailing off, his expression uncharacteristically aggressive.

 

Izuku stares back at him, calm. “We still have the rest of the festival to get through, Todoroki-kun,” he says, meeting his gaze levelly. Then he turns around and walks away to where Kacchan is waiting.

 

“Fucking Deku,” Kacchan says, in his own version of a greeting.

 

Izuku laughs, too exhilarated to let Kacchan’s prickly attitude get to him. “We did it, Kacchan! We got through the first round!” he says, grinning widely.

 

Kacchan just scoffs and brushes him off. “It isn’t over yet, shitnerd. I’ve still gotta beat you - and beat that shitty Half-and-Half into the ground,” he growls, looking over to where Todoroki is standing. “Fucking useless bastard springing ice all over the track…”

 

Izuku chuckles and leaves Kacchan to his angry muttering, watching as both Iida and Uraraka emerge from the exit to run to him. “Deku-kun! You were so cool!” Uraraka says, pumping her fists excitedly.

 

“Why did I fall behind… with a quirk like mine…” Iida mutters darkly, absently following Uraraka’s lead.

 

Izuku meets them with a smile, then looks over their shoulders to watch as the rest of the students make it in. When a set amount of students make it past the threshold, a ringing noise sounds around the arena.

 

“And it’s done! We’ve gotten the top forty-four students who will all be moving into the next round!” Midnight says. Behind her, a visual pops up on the screen, showcasing the names of the students who’ve made it into the next round.

 

“Looks like everyone in our class made it!” Uraraka says, quickly scanning the board. She grimaces slightly in sympathy when she sees Aoyama’s name at the very bottom. “Poor Aoyama-kun - I think he overused his quirk!”

 

“It may be unfortunate, but don’t worry even if you didn’t make it through! We’ve prepared other opportunities for the students to shine!” Midnight says, looking at the throngs of students waiting on the other side of the exit.

 

“And now, we’ll move onto the next event!” Midnight continues, as the same slot visual from before pops up behind her. She gleefully notes the dumbstruck faces of the students. “What, did you think that you’d get a breather before the next event? This is UA! We don’t do breaks! Now, I wonder what the next event could possibly be?”

 

The slots stop abruptly like before, displaying the next trial.

 

“A cavalry battle?” the students say as one, reading the words on the screen. “God, knowing UA, they’re going to find a way to mess this up, too,” Satou says, to the emphatic agreement of those around him.

 

“It’s not an individual event, so I wonder how it’ll work out,” Asui says thoughtfully.

 

“Allow me to explain!” Midnight says. “You guys will form teams of four for this event! It’s basically like a regular cavalry battle, except that the main difference is that based on the results of the last game, every one of you has been assigned a point value relative to your rank.”

 

“Just like the entrance exam, huh?” Jirou says, crossing her arms.

 

“In other words, teams will have different point values depending on who’s on the team!” Hagakure says, while Ojiro nods beside her.

 

“That’s right!” Midnight says, cracking her whip again. “The points go up by five starting from the bottom. In that vein, 44th place gets five points, and 43rd place gets ten points. However…”

 

She extends a graceful arm, pointing directly at Izuku, who stands at the very front of the crowd. “The point value assigned to first place is ten million!”

 

Izuku’s jaw falls open.

 

Ten million?

 

“Ten million, huh?” Low mutterings begin to surround Izuku, who’s suddenly feeling like a tiny rabbit surrounded by a whole pride of hungry lions. “That means if you take out the first placer’s team…”

 

He feels their aggressive auras press into him. You can take first place, no matter what place you’re coming from!

 

“That’s right,” Midnight says, smiling wickedly. “It’s survival of the fittest, with an equal chance for those at the bottom to take out those at the top!”

 

-

 

Due to the sheer number and diversity of the people present, it’s easy to go unnoticed.

 

Barely anyone pays any attention to the tall, slender man who’s leaning on the wall, his face hooded by the dark hoodie that he’s wearing.

 

In fact, he blends in so well that nobody notices when he leans too far back into the wall and disappears into a dark portal.

 

-

 

“Looks like Midoriya doesn’t have any teammates yet,” Satou says, looking over to where Izuku is standing alone. The rest of the students have already started pairing off, trying to make as much use as possible of the fifteen minutes of prep time that they’ve been given.

 

Kirishima winces in sympathy for him. “Yeah, it’s rough, but I’m sure he understands it’s a better strategy for the rest of us to just try and steal the points from him,” he says, stretching his arms as he listens to Ashido and Sero bombarding Bakugou with fake strategies. He wonders how cool it might feel to wear a headband with the humongous number of ten million printed across it. “Knowing Midoriya though, I’m sure he’s already running a perfect plan through his head right now.”

 

Oblivious to the observations of his classmates, Izuku looks at the ground, his mind going a hundred thoughts per second. If he can come up with a strong enough plan, he’s sure he can convince the people that he needs to join his team. After all, all they’d need to be doing is evade - they wouldn’t need to take any more points.

 

Lost in thought, Izuku barely notices when Uraraka draws up to him to tap his shoulder. “Deku-kun?” she says, gently calling his name. “Uh, you okay there?”

 

“Uraraka-san!” he says in surprise, jolting to attention. “Oh, yeah, I’m fine. I was just thinking.”

 

Uraraka giggles. “Of course you were!” she says. “Looks like you don’t have any teammates yet, though - wanna partner up with me?”

 

“You want to partner up with me?” Izuku says in disbelief. When she nods, Izuku finds it very hard to keep from grinning. Her quirk is definitely something he can work with - in fact, just a few seconds in, a half-baked plan begins to form in his head.

 

Now, he just needs someone to provide some speed - he looks around, sees Iida, and begins to walk over -

 

“Excuse me!” someone steps into his path. He looks up and sees the support department girl who’d nearly caught up to him in the chasm obstacle, kitted out in the same machinery she’d come in with. Now that he’s getting a good look at her, he realizes that she looks extremely familiar. Her puffy pink hair and golden eyes, not to mention those red goggles -

 

“Hello there, Midoriya Izuku! I’m Hatsume Mei of the Support Department!” she says brightly, extending a gloved hand. “And I’m the younger sister of Hatsume Aki, formerly known as Red Eagle, the Valiant Hero!”

 

In a flash, Izuku freezes and remembers Red Eagle on the day of his grandfather’s funeral.

 

He sees none of her then timidness in this exuberant girl standing in front of him.

 

“This isn’t exactly how I wanted our first meeting to go, but I was so busy fixing my babies up that I completely forgot to introduce myself to you before the sports festival arrived!” Hatsume says, grabbing Izuku’s hand without waiting for him to take her own. “How do you like the goggles that I made for you?”

 

Izuku’s jaw falls open. “ You’re the one who made my goggles?” he asks, dumbstruck.

 

“I am! And I must thank you for letting them get featured so prominently on your face while you were fighting off those villains at USJ!” Hatsume says. “My babies got such great screen time! I was so happy to see them on TV!”

 

“I - um - well, thank you for making them!” Izuku says, honestly unsure what else to say. “They really helped me out a lot - I don’t think I could’ve done what I did if I didn’t have the goggles helping me!”

 

Hatsume beams . “Please say that again once you’re in front of a camera, alright? All in the name of advertising my babies!” she says. She finally lets go of Izuku’s hand and steps back, Uraraka looking concerned for him. She’s… definitely a lot .

 

“There’s so much more I’d like to talk to you about, but time is short! As the first placer and therefore the student who’s sure to get the most screen time - ” Oh - that’s why she wanted to team up with him, “ - you must recruit our final member and come up with a plan to win in the most entertaining way!”

 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Izuku says, frowning thoughtfully. Looking at Hatsume’s gear, it seems that her hover gear will more than make up for the added speed that he’s going to need for the plan to work. Looking over at the other students still milling about, he catches Todoroki’s eyes once more.

 

This time, though, the boy meets his gaze with narrowed eyes, a clear undercurrent of challenge in them.

 

Izuku’s mind gets to work, knowing that for his plan to work, he needs a way to counteract Todoroki’s ice. He looks around and tries to spot who else he could possibly recruit to his team -

 

When he sees them.

 

A small smile blooms on Izuku’s face, growing only wider as he approaches the person.

 

-

 

“Are you sure you didn’t want to pair up with Midoriya, Iida?” Kaminari asks, from where he’s supporting Shouto’s left foot. Beside him, Yaoyorozu nods, clear that she had been thinking of the same question.

 

“I’m sure,” Iida says resolutely, eyes set straight forward. “Even if he had asked, I must make my own name here at the sports festival. I cannot rely on him all the time - we may be friends and classmates, but we are still rivals.”

 

“Tough,” Kaminari says, but Shouto, who’s keeping silent, agrees. They’re not here to play at being friends.

 

They’re here to become the best.

 

His eyes stray over to Midoriya’s group. He can’t explain it, but there’s something drawing him to the boy, whether he likes it or not. Maybe it’s his power, maybe it’s really the fact that he’s caught the eye of All Might, or maybe it’s the fact that… that he’s like him. In a way.

 

(But Shouto is worse. His scar stings with phantom echoes of hatred and fear, not honor.)

 

Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem like Midoriya’s the one who’s sitting on top of the group. It’s someone else, someone that he doesn’t know. He’s paired up with Uraraka, and that manic girl from the support group. He’s working with people he must not know very well, meaning he might be at a disadvantage.

 

Shouto frowns and steels himself. Disadvantage or no, he will take the ten million points from Izuku.

 

He will defeat him.

 

And not once will he use his despicable left side.

 

“Are you guys ready?” Midnight says, brandishing her whip. “If so, then let’s start!”

 

A loud airhorn sound blazes through the arena, sending all the students into action.

 

As one, they all make a beeline towards Midoriya’s team.

 

Deku! ” Bakugou yells, propelled forward by the steady feet of his team, composed of Kirishima, Ashido, and Sero. It looks like they’ll be the first to reach Midoriya, when suddenly -

 

Midoriya crouches -

 

And seems to disappear from sight.

 

“Where did he go?” someone yells. Shouto, who’s farthest and has the highest vantage point, sees exactly where Midoriya is.

 

He hasn’t disappeared - rather, he’d just stepped so quickly to the side that it seemed like he’d vanished from their vision. In a flash, Shouto understands.

 

Uraraka must have used her quirk to make all of them weightless. Meanwhile, the hover boots of the support girl, with Uraraka wearing one and the girl wearing the other, gives them extra speed and lets them maneuver. Izuku, who must not have been made weightless, is using his raw strength to essentially dart across the field, carrying his teammates effortlessly and making it easy to dodge any potential attackers.

 

“What a smart strategy,” Yaoyorozu comments. Shouto had instructed them not to move right away, as all the teams were sure to target Team Midoriya first. Keeping Midoriya trapped now would be extremely difficult… but not for Shouto.

 

“It’s smart, yes, but unfortunately not good enough,” Shouto says, raising his right hand. He eyes Team Midoriya as they dart across the field, easily evading any of the teams that are trying to pursue them. If they won’t stay still, then he’ll just make them stay still.

 

He raises his hands high, then brings it down sharply.

 

A rapid stream of pure ice makes it way towards Midoriya, trapping the feet of a few others that had strayed into its path. Shouto has no time to worry about them - his eyes are fixed on Midoriya.

 

The ice is coming in too rapidly for him to jump or evade - Shouto is transfixed, waiting for the moment that the ice reaches them and traps them in its hold -

 

Then watches in disbelief and shock as his ice evaporates into thin air.

 

Below him, he can sense his teammates’ shock.

 

“What just happened?” Kaminari asks, dumbfounded.

 

-

 

Izuku grins.

 

His plan had worked.

 

Your ice isn’t going to help you out today, Todoroki-kun. Not while we have him.

 

Secured into place by the two grabby hands from Hatsume’s backpack, their fourth member and rider extends his hand, breathing somewhat heavily.

 

“Good job, Yashiro!” Izuku calls, and hears his friend’s exuberant whoop in reply.

Chapter Text

More than fifteen minutes prior, Izuku had just barely assembled his team.

 

“Wow, so you’re the only business student this year who made it through?” Uraraka says, looking at Yashiro in amazement. “That’s awesome!”

 

“Yeah, well, all my classmates weren’t interested in competing at all, but I thought that I’d like to participate seriously, even if I may not for the next two years,” Yashiro says, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “I’m sure my classmates will be mobbing me with questions about your quirks once this is over, since I’m going to be getting first hand viewings of them.”

 

“Please make sure to tell them about my babies as well!” Hatsume says, coming forward quickly to grab Yashiro by the shoulders. “I want everyone to know and talk about my babies!”

 

“Alright, we can chat with each other after we’ve come up with a plan,” Izuku says, amused.

 

“But haven’t you already come up with a plan?” Yashiro shoots back, grinning. Izuku rolls his eyes but does not deny it - the plan had been shaping up ever since he’d spotted Yashiro.

 

Although he’d known that his best friend would be taking the games seriously, he’d forgotten about him somewhere along the way - an understandable thing, considering that both Todoroki and Kacchan had been consistently on his heels the entire race.

 

Now, however, he’s been handed the biggest trump card.

 

“Okay, before I tell you guys what we’re going to do, we all need to know exactly what we can do with our quirks - and equipment,” he adds, giving a respectful nod to Hatsume. “You basically know what my quirk is - it’s a basic strength augmentation quirk that I can use pretty flexibly.”

 

He does not miss Yashiro’s meaningful grin as Uraraka begins to explain her quirk. “My quirk is called Zero Gravity - basically, I can remove the gravitational pull from anything that I touch with my fingers,” she says, flashing the pink dots on her fingers. “I can set multiple things afloat, and if I clap my hands together, their gravity will be restored. Oh! I can also choose which objects have their gravity restored, and which don’t, if I focus. I can use it quite a lot since I’ve been training, but using it on too many objects at once or on myself for too long will make me queasy.”

 

“I’m next!” Hatsume says eagerly, raising her hand high into the air. “I call my quirk Zoom - it allows me to see at quite a great distance! If I focus really hard, I can see things for up to five kilometers.” Izuku nods, impressed. It sounds exactly the same as Red Eagle’s quirk, which isn’t unusual considering that they’re sisters.

 

“As for my equipment - ” here, she pauses to pat her bag, her golden eyes glinting mischievously. “You’ve already seen my hover shoes, the grabby hands, the wire hooks, and my goggles, but I have a lot more babies that I haven’t used yet!”

 

She looks at Izuku, beaming proudly. “Thanks to the wonderful quality of the videos from USJ, I was able to get quite a good grasp of what the quirks of Class 1-A are! Although I wasn’t able to do so for all of your classmates, I came up with quite a few items to counteract some of your quirks!”

 

Hatsume cheerfully begins to open up her bag, ignoring the dumbfounded looks on both Izuku and Uraraka’s face after her, honestly, quite worrying statement. “This is a lightning rod for that sparky classmate of yours,” she says, pulling out one contraption. “This is a bright beam for that shadowy fellow - oh! I have some sunglasses in case your invisible classmate tries to refract that light to distract us!”

 

“This is amazing, Hatsume-san,” Izuku says, equal parts awed and wary. He wonders what she might have used to counteract his strength, if they hadn’t been teammates. “I take it this is why you’ve been so busy these past weeks?”

 

“Yes, and that’s why I couldn’t meet you!” Hatsume says, none too sadly. “But instead, I got to make these babies, and I’d say that’s even better! Oh - this spray dissolves all adhesive substances. We might need it for that sticky purple guy and that guy with the big elbows! And these! Oh, I can’t wait to use these!” She begins to cackle gleefully as she pulls out a few spherical items.

 

“And what are those, Hatsume-san?” Uraraka says curiously, leaning in to look at the slightly squishy white globes in her hands.

 

“These are for your spiky friend, the blonde explosion guy!” Hatsume declares happily, holding one up for Izuku to see. “They contain a substance similar to what’s used in fire extinguishers! If he bothers us too much, we can chuck one of these at him and keep him from using his explosions for some time!”

 

Izuku imagines the look on Kacchan’s face if they threw what essentially would be fire extinguisher foam all over him.

 

...It’s too funny to resist.

 

“Kacchan’ll only get more riled up if we try and use these on him, so we should use them sparingly, if not at all,” Izuku says, taking one of the spheres in his hand. “It’s an amazing invention though, Hatsume-san.”

 

“Of course it is! It’s one of my babies!” Hatsume agrees cheerfully. “Unfortunately, a lot of your other classmates’ quirks were either too complicated or too powerful for me to counteract in the little time that I had! So basically, this is what I’ll be contributing!” She turns to Izuku, beaming. “I hope you come up with flashy ways to showcase my babies’ capabilities!”

 

“I definitely will,” Izuku says, nodding. He gestures to Yashiro, a grin starting to form on his face. “Now why don’t you tell us what you can do, Yashiro?”

 

Yashiro grins right back at him. “My quirk basically allows me to shift water - and a lot of other liquids, actually - through the different states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. I can do this with plain old water, or water vapor, but most importantly… I can do it with ice .”

 

Uraraka’s eyes widen. “Ice… so that means - ”

 

“Yup,” Izuku says, clapping Yashiro on the shoulder. “He’s going to help us no-sell Todoroki-kun’s ice.”

 

Uraraka claps her hands together, jumping excitedly. “Oh my gosh! So if Todoroki-kun tries to - and he catches up - but Yashiro-kun will be - oh my gosh, this is amazing!

 

“That’s how I got through the obstacle race,” Yashiro explains. “I could pass through the ice blocks that Todoroki left all over the track, then froze up the paths again so that they couldn’t pass through like I did. I felt a little bad, but it’s still a race!”

 

“That’s awesome! ” Uraraka says gleefully. “I’m so excited now!”

 

“Okay, okay, now that we all know what we can do, it’s time to explain the plan,” Izuku says, motioning for them to gather closer. “We only have a few minutes left, so we’ll make this quick.”

 

“Yashiro will be our rider - that way he can focus on counteracting Todoroki-kun’s ice instead of running around,” he explains, when his teammates seem to be surprised. “Besides, it makes sense for me to be on the ground and in the front to support all three of you, since I have the strength quirk.”

 

“Uraraka-san, please use your quirk to make you and Hatsume-san weightless,” Izuku instructs.

 

“What about Yashiro-kun? Shouldn't I make him weightless as well?” Uraraka asks, pointing to Yashiro.

 

“Only if I say so. Keeping him with his normal gravitational pull on top of the two of you will keep you guys from floating away and will lend stability. Unless we absolutely have to run away really fast, in which case you should make him weightless, to make it easier for me to run faster. Basically, with this strategy, I’ll be doing most of the running and the evasion.”

 

He kneels down to gesture at Hatsume’s impressive hover boots. “I’d like for you and Uraraka-san to each wear one of these boots - Uraraka-san on your right foot, and Hatsume-san on the left foot. We’ll use it as additional speed and for you guys to help me maneuver. This part is really important, so please do your best.”

 

“Yes!” Uraraka says, as Hatsume stands up to attention and declares, “Anything for my babies!”

 

“Speaking of your machines, Hatsume-san, please use the grabby hands from your backpack to secure Yashiro on top of your shoulders,” Izuku asks. “That way, Yashiro is free to move his arms around, and you can focus both on hanging onto him and onto my arms as we move around.”

 

“Roger!” Hatsume says, raising her hand to salute him.

 

“We’ll mostly be darting across the field, avoiding the other teams who’ll be coming after us,” Izuku explains. “However, we can’t count on being able to avoid them all the entire time. There’s a high likelihood that we will get caught at some point. In that event, we have to have a back-up plan.”

 

“Before anyone catches up to us, we’ll need to get at least one banner from one of them,” Izuku says.

 

“Oh, as a back-up score in case our banner gets stolen!” Uraraka says.

 

“Yes and no,” Izuku says, smiling. “Here’s what we’re going to do with the banners.”

 

After he explains his plan to them, there’s not a single face among his teammates that doesn’t sport a wide, excited, and frankly quite mischievous grin. “Brilliant,” Yashiro says, nodding already. “That’s so good!”

 

“A lot of this plan is riding on you, Yashiro,” Izuku says, turning to his friend. “You’re sure you can do this?”

 

“I can do what you want with no problem,” Yashiro says, giving him a thumbs up. “It’d be exhausting to do, not to mention really cold, but I could do it. I could probably do it a maximum of two, three times, if I really try.”

 

“Once should be plenty,” Izuku says, smiling. “Now let’s go out and win this thing.”

 

-

 

“Ooh, Todoroki-kun looks mad,” Uraraka says, hanging on for dear life as Izuku zips across the field after narrowly avoiding Todoroki’s attack. The weight of Yashiro on her shoulder provides a welcome source of stability to keep her from floating away. “Deku-kun, he looks really mad.

 

“Good!” Izuku yells back, abruptly skidding to a stop then darting away to evade the steely, open arms of that silver-haired boy from Class 1-B. He roars at Izuku as they dart away. “He should!”

 

“Midoriya, on your right!” Hatsume yells cheerfully, her golden eyes zooming in on Team Bakugou as they come after them yet again. Uraraka flinches as she sees Kacchan coming up on her side. “Explody Boy at 3 o’clock!”

 

“I will fucking gut you!” Kacchan yells, apparently hearing Hatsume’s nickname for him. Izuku smiles a little, and relishes the equally dumbfounded and enraged look on Kacchan's face when he turns around to face him head-on, crouch, then leap clear over Team Bakugou, landing behind them with a clean thud.

 

“I think I left my stomach somewhere back there!” Yashiro jokes, voice sounding jittery with excitement. Kacchan glares at them for evading him a second time, before muttering something to his team and turning around.

 

“Namikawa, catch!” Hatsume yells, eyes wide, throwing something up at Yashiro, who barely manages to catch it. “Hold it out to your left!”

 

Yashiro quickly obeys, holding out a sleek steel rod just in time to catch the beam of electricity that Kaminari had let loose from a few feet away. “Thanks, Hatsume!”

 

“Are you kidding me?” Kaminari yells disbelievingly. “You're messing with my quirk, too?” Above him, Todoroki’s expression is positively mutinous.

 

“It's nothing personal!” Izuku says apologetically, right before catching sight of another team heading right after them.

 

Sitting on the steady shoulders of his teammates, the purple-haired boy finally makes his appearance. He watches Izuku with a steely gaze in his heavy eyes, his teammates eerily quiet.

 

“Let's go,” Izuku says, feeling wary. He doesn't know what the boy's quirk is, and he doesn't want to risk finding out through a first-hand experience. He turns his team around and crouches, ready to leap away.

 

-

 

Hitoshi grits his teeth, watching as the green-haired boy turns around at the sight of him and prepares to run away.

 

It's simple. What he has to do is simple.

 

Wait!

 

If he says that, then there's a high chance the other boy will turn around. If he does, there's an even higher chance that he'll say something in reply, judging from how chatty he's been all day.

 

If that happens, what Hitoshi has to do next will be even simpler.

 

Come closer.

 

Then he’ll trick their rider into switching headbands with him, and Hitoshi will spend the rest of the time remaining running away, commanding the rest of the teams to stay away, and then he'll win this. He'll win, he'll move onto the final round, and hope it's something that he can win using his shitty quirk.

 

And then he'll be in the hero course, and he'll let himself feel the massive guilt that's washing over him from tricking and manipulating these guys.

 

Wait . He watches the green-haired boy's back, seemingly in slow motion.

 

The alley flashes before him.

 

Are you a hero or a dumbass?

 

He opens his mouth to yell at him.

 

Then closes it just as quickly when an endlessly dark portal appears in front of him, cutting off his path and his vision.

 

-

 

Aizawa’s eyes widen underneath the bandages covering his face. He stands up abruptly from his chair, hand slamming into the table in front of him.

 

Hizashi leans back from the microphone, startled by his sudden movement. “What’s wrong, Shota?” he asks, watching as Aizawa leans forward to look at the field and screens more closely.

 

He hadn’t imagined it, had he? He’s certain he didn’t. He would recognize that inky black portal anywhere, no matter how briefly it had been present.

 

He’d seen it. For a split second, a small black portal had appeared in front of one of the students, and he knows that the student had seen it, too, judging from the way they had abruptly come to a stop even if, supposedly, there was nothing there. The portal had vanished as quickly as it had appeared, but it had definitely been there.

 

His heart starts pounding. What could this mean? Is there someone interfering with the events? Have the villains from the USJ incident somehow managed to get through UA’s defenses?

 

Whatever is happening, he needs to alert Nezu, and fast. Show of strength and security be damned, UA will never recover from the fallout that's sure to occur if villains stage a successful attack on such a publicized and densely attended event like this.

 

He's just about to rise from his chair when he feels the most imperceptible touch on his shoulder.

 

Suddenly, Aizawa’s mind goes blank.

 

“What's wrong?” Hizashi asks again, his voice slower than usual.

 

“It's… nothing,” Aizawa says monotonously, eyes glazing over. What had he been worried about? Right. The cavalry battle. Hizashi wanted him to be his co-commentator. He should talk about it more. He sits back down on his chair, his body oddly but pleasantly relaxed.

 

“Nothing,” Hizashi agrees absently, moving closer to his microphone to give commentary on the cavalry battle. The only thing that he has to focus on, and nothing else.

 

Focused as they are on the event, neither of them pay attention to the tall figure in a hoodie behind them, their hands resting on Aizawa and Hizashi’s shoulders, firmly keeping them seated.

 

They watch the students run around on the field with glazed eyes, never moving an inch, not even when the figure retracts their hands and steps back into a shadowy portal. They exit somewhere else in the stadium, just in time to intercept Thirteen as they exit the teacher’s balcony, seemingly in a rush to get to Nezu themselves.

 

-

 

“Maybe we should stop going after Midoriya-san,” Yaoyorozu says, watching as the boy in question leaps clear into the air in order to avoid two teams that had been coming after him from two different directions. “It doesn't look like anyone's going to catch him anytime soon.”

 

Shouto grits his teeth. After two more failed attempts at trapping Team Midoriya with his ice, he'd been forced to give up on it for the time being. Iida’s added speed didn't help much in terms of catching up with them, considering the fact that he still had to carry the full weight of three other members, unlike Midoriya who only had to worry about his own weight. Even Kaminari, their only hope for a long-range attack that could possibly even tamper with the support student's machines, was useless against them.

 

They wouldn't be able to catch Midoriya at this rate… working by themselves.

 

Looking around, Shouto takes quick stock of possible allies. He immediately spots a promising match-up. “Everyone! Bring me closer to those guys,” he instructs, pointing.

 

His teammates exchange puzzled looks, but obediently change directions and head for the team in question. Shouto steels himself, knowing he'll have to compromise for them to cooperate.

 

Once they're near, the other team’s rider looks back at them in shock. “Todoroki!” Mineta says, peeking out from under Shoji’s wing-limbs. Behind him, the heads of Asui and Tokoyami poke out as well.

 

“What's this about, ribbit?” Asui says, slightly  suspicious but not unkind.

 

“Look, I'll make this quick,” Shouto says. He notices that Mineta already has two bands stuck to the balls on his head, and he looks around to spot a bannerless team composed of students from 1-B trying to get points from somewhere else instead of trying to retrieve their banner. It makes sense that this team would perform well in this event - their quirks together make quite a formidable team, both for offense and defense. “I want you guys to help us get Midoriya.”

 

Asui, Tokoyami, and Shoji’s eyes go wide, but Mineta leers at him instead. “What's in it for us?” he asks, just as bluntly.

 

Shouto feels his blood begin to boil, but forces himself to stay calm. He'd hoped that maybe they'd just agree to help him, but he should've known that Mineta wouldn't do such a thing if it wouldn't benefit him.

 

“You guys have two banners,” Shouto says. “If this works, I'll let you have the ten million points. Trade me over your banners - combined with our point value, they'll be enough for us to advance to the next round.”

 

Beneath him, his teammates’ eyes go wide. Iida looks up and behind him, startled. Shouto didn't plan on keeping the ten million points for himself? Which means…

 

“You must really want to beat Midoriya, if you're willing to give us the ten million, ribbit,” Asui says thoughtfully.

 

Shouto says nothing. He doesn't know when the goal shifted from beating everyone to just beating Midoriya , but it has.

 

“Todoroki-san, are you sure?” Yaoyorozu asks, voice sounding uncertain herself.

 

He's not. “We won't be able to trap Midoriya on our own, so this is our best shot,” he says instead, forcing his voice to stay steady. He turns back to Mineta’s group, well aware that time is running fast. “Do we have a deal?”

 

Mineta looks at him, a reply on the tip of his tongue, obviously taking it slow to irritate Shouto even further.

 

As such, they're all taken off guard when Midoriya darts up to them and leaps, ripping the banner clean off of Shouto’s stationary and, more importantly, vulnerable head.

 

“Oh! And it seems that Team Midoriya swooped in for the kill!” Present Mic yells enthusiastically. His voice, after an odd break in commentary, startles them all. “What a turnout!”

 

Did he just - ” Shouto says, cutting off due to sheer disbelief.

 

“He did,” Tokoyami says sympathetically, while Mineta falls forward and bursts into loud and raucous laughter at Shouto’s expense.

 

“That's what you fucking get, Half-and-Half!” Bakugou yells as his team passes by, sporting three extra banners on his neck. It seems that his team has chosen to target other teams instead of Midoriya’s - but it's too late for Shouto and his team to try that tactic.

 

“We'll team up with you,” Asui says, sounding suspiciously like she pities Shouto. “What's the plan?”

 

Shouto takes a deep breath, exercising extraordinary effort to remain calm. “Gather close,” he says, mind racing.

 

(He feels his gaze from amongst the crowd. Shouto hopes it won't come to using his flames.)

 

-

 

“He’s coming after us, right?” Izuku asks, dashing to a relatively free corner of the stadium. All throughout the event, he'd been paying close attention to the situation unfolding around them.

 

Currently, Kacchan holds three extra banners aside from his original one. Mineta’s team had two, including his own. At the moment, Izuku’s team still has the ten-million point banner and now Todoroki’s as well. After scanning the field briefly, it seems that the purple-haired boy has the other three banners. With all eleven banners being controlled by these four teams, seven other teams are running around, bannerless.

 

Izuku hopes some of them try to chase after him as well, because he needs them for his ruse to work.

 

“Yashiro-kun, ice incoming!” Uraraka yells, looking behind her. Her voice is a little faint - she's been weightless the entire time. She must be feeling terribly queasy, especially after the way Izuku darts across the field.

 

Yashiro twists from where he's fastening Todoroki’s banner around his neck to spread his arm out, evaporating the incoming burst of ice from Todoroki’s team. He's only just nullified that attack when another burst of ice follows, then another, then another.

 

“He's really turning up the heat, guys!” Yashiro says, panic beginning to creep into his voice. “Uh, I mean the cold? Turning down the - you get what I mean!”

 

“Hatsume, is there anyone else trying to surround us?” Izuku says, looking around, himself.

 

Hatsume turns quickly, her golden eyes zooming in and out of focus at their surroundings. “Team Sticky Purple Guy appears to be trying to sneak around!” she reports. Perhaps to anybody else, Shoji’s stealthy movements may gone unnoticed, but not under Hatsume’s piercing gaze. “I think they’re trying to sneak up on us while Team Todoroki keeps us distracted with his ice!”

 

“Perfect,” Izuku says. “Alright, Yashiro, get ready!”

 

“Oh boy, I sure hope you know what you’re doing,” Yashiro says, raising his hand to dispel another flurry of ice from Todoroki, whose team is getting closer and closer with every attack.

 

“Don’t worry, I’m like, sixty percent sure it’s going to work,” Izuku says, before turning abruptly on his heel in order to meet Todoroki’s next wave of ice head-on.

 

“Team Sticky Purple Guy has just leapt into the air,” Hatsume warns. “They’re gliding and coming rapidly towards us!”

 

Izuku lets go of Yashiro’s feet, counting on the two girls to keep him up, watching as Todoroki’s next wave comes at him. It’s possibly the biggest one that the boy has sent all day.

 

In a split second, he grits his teeth, pumps One for All into his ready fist, swings it back, and punches a breach right through the oncoming ice.

 

The force of the impact shatters the ice into a million tiny crystals, a fog of icy mist erupting from the resulting gap. Izuku observes as everyone disappears out of focus behind the mist, including Todoroki and his teammates.

 

He knows they only have a very narrow window of time.

 

“Now, Yashiro!” Izuku commands, and feels the world freeze over.

 

-

 

Shouto grits his teeth, shielding his face from the sudden gust of mist that came with Midoriya smashing his ice into pieces. All this time, Midoriya could have destroyed his ice himself - he’d just been holding back to evade them and letting his teammate do the nullifying for him.

 

Whatever. Midoriya doesn’t realize that he’s just done himself a huge disservice. Shouto looks up at the sky, watching Shoji glide high into the light with his teammates still on his back, before suddenly turning downwards to where Midoriya’s team would be waiting. With all this mist, he won’t be able to see them coming, and yet -

 

In a split second, Shouto sees Shoji’s partially obscured eyes widen before swerving sharply out of his dive.

 

For a moment, he’s confused, but then the mist clears and he understands why .

 

Where Midoriya’s team had been standing, a large dome made of pure ice has appeared instead, shielding them from view and from any possible attacks.

 

“Holy fuck!” Kaminari says loudly, and nobody even chides him for swearing. “Midoriya isn’t fucking around!”

 

Everyone on the field pauses in their tracks, jaws hanging open at the sight of the majestic, pale blue ice. That is, until the sound of Midnight’s voice startles them all back into action. “One minute remains!” she calls from her perch. “Better hurry up!”

 

“Todoroki, what now?” Iida asks, sounding panicked. “We don’t have any points - we need to break in there somehow!”

 

“I can make ice picks for us to try and break it down, but the ice looks really thick - I can’t even see inside.” Yaoyorozu says, worrying her lip. “It might take us too long!”

 

Shouto lowers his head, contemplating the situation. “Bring me to the dome,” he finally says after making a swift decision, voice quiet. “I’ll break us in.”

 

His teammates look at each other, before rushing forward and bringing him to the edge of the icy dome. They’re not the only ones to do so - many of the other teams, particularly the ones without banners have all come rushing up to the dome in hopes of breaking in and stealing the points from Team Midoriya.  Up close, they can all feel the sheer cold emanating from the ice.

 

Shouto looks up, steels himself -

 

- and then raises his left hand.

 

“And it looks like Todoroki is using his fire to get through Midoriya’s ice dome!” Present Mic says enthusiastically. “What power! Commanding not just ice, but fire as well!”

 

“Whoa, that’s so cool!” someone in the crowd says. The amazement picks up, spreading to the rest of the members of the audience. “That’s one powerful quirk!”

 

“He’s the son of Endeavor right?” someone else asks, and soon that information gets passed around as well. “As you’d expect from the son of the Number Two hero!”

 

Shouto grimaces, eyes narrowing. He can feel his satisfaction all the way from the stands - nevertheless, he doesn’t let up with his flames, gradually melting an entry point for him and his team.

 

By the time he’s widened the path enough, he’s painfully aware of the limited time left. Wasting no time, Iida immediately activates the engines in his legs, going right into overdrive and heading straight for Team Midoriya, standing prone in the middle of the numbingly cold dome with their backs to them.

 

“Ten seconds!” Midnight shouts from outside, prompting Iida to go even faster.

 

“Izuku, they broke through!” their rider shouts, looking behind him, and Midoriya turns around just barely in the nick of time to see Shouto’s team rushing towards them at full speed.

 

They have nowhere left to go.

 

As if the world has slowed down, Shouto swears he can feel and see every little shift around him as Iida brings him closer and closer towards Midoriya’s team.

 

His hand reaches out - closer - their rider leans back, trying to evade him -

 

But it’s no use. Shouto grabs the headband on his head and rips it off, victory flooding through his veins the moment he claims it in his hand.

 

“And time’s up!” Midnight says, not a beat later. A loud buzzer sounds through the arena, prompting all the participants to stop in their tracks.

 

“We did it!” Kaminari whoops loudly, pumping his free fist in the air. Beneath Shouto, Yaoyorozu and Iida let out twin sighs of relief. Across from them, Team Midoriya settles down, setting their rider on the ground and, for some reason, huddling close.

 

Shouto feels like sighing himself. He stretches out the precious banner in his hand - the banner that is worth ten million points and would carry his team to the next round in first place.

 

He freezes , his eyes going wide.

 

“What’s wrong, Todoroki-san?” Yaoyorozu asks, noticing his dumbfounded expression and his sudden silence. Kaminari and Iida look up as well, concerned expressions on their faces.

 

“This… this isn’t the ten-million point banner,” Shouto chokes out, hardly able to believe it. Shakily, he holds it out to them, flashing the number on the piece of cloth. “This is our banner.”

 

The shocked looks on his teammate’s faces would have been priceless if not for the fact that Shouto feels much like freaking out, himself.

 

“Surprised, Todoroki-kun?” Midoriya’s voice says, snapping him out of his daze. He looks up, seeing Midoriya’s infuriatingly calm face. Behind him, their rider steps out - wearing the ten-million point banner around his neck .

 

“We switched the headbands as soon as we were in the dome and out of view,” Midoriya explains in a level tone of voice, as the rest of Shouto’s teammates look at him with gaping mouths. “We figured that even if anyone managed to break in, they wouldn’t look too closely to check which number they were getting, not when time was running out. And it worked. You grabbed your own banner.”

 

It’s a smart move. It’s smart, and it’s cunning, and it absolutely worked.

 

It absolutely pisses Shouto off.

 

Midoriya says something to their blue-haired rider, who nods and waves his hand, evaporating the ice dome into nothingness. When it’s gone, the bright light from the sun high in the sky causes all of them to blink, adjusting to the sudden brightness.

 

All of them shuffle near to the edge of Midnight’s platform, waiting for her to announce the scores. Shouto drags his feet along, mind racing. While they still had the points from their own banner, the point value isn’t enough to beat the combined point-value of Mineta’s team, who still had their banners.

 

Unless something drastic had happened while they were inside the dome, Shouto’s team would most likely not be proceeding to the next round.

 

“What a heart-poundingly exciting event!” Midnight says, brandishing her whip delightedly. She turns to the screen behind her, saying, “Alright! Let’s see the results of the event!”

 

The screen begins to display the pictures of the teams that Midnight calls out. “In first place, we have Team Namikawa!” she begins, the picture of the blue-haired boy from Midoriya’s team flashing on the screen.

 

Somewhere off to the side, Midoriya’s team explodes into loud, ecstatic cheers. They circle around their rider, no doubt spewing off enthusiastic praise. Shouto squares his shoulders and forces himself not to look at them, or at his teammates, who are paying the price for his recklessness and single-mindedness.

 

“In second place, we have Team Bakugou!” Bakugou himself doesn’t seem too pleased by this result, but he looks more determined and resigned than actually angry. There are seven banners around his neck. Shouto looks away from him as well - it just reminds him again of his failure in the event.

 

“Coming up in third place is Team Shinsou!” Shouto has no idea who that is, until their picture flashes on the screen. It’s that purple-haired boy from some other department, most likely general studies. He vaguely remembers him as the one who’d showed up nearly two weeks ago to challenge their class. There are - two banners around his neck. Two? But then -

 

“Hang on,” Yaoyorozu says suddenly, her brow furrowing. “Aren’t there only eleven teams of four? If Midoriya-san has one banner, Bakugou-san has seven, and that boy has two… then that means - ”

 

“In fourth place - Team Todoroki !”

 

Shouto’s head shoots up. “ What? ” he says, disbelieving. He looks around sharply, searching for Mineta’s team among the throngs of the other students. Sure enough, Mineta’s missing the headbands that he’d been wearing just scant moments before, a look of pure despair - and confusion - on his face.

 

“What happened to the headbands that Mineta’s team had?” Iida asks, clearly confused as well.

 

“Who cares about that?” Kaminari interrupts, pure glee evident on his face. “Somebody must have stolen their banners while we were inside the dome with Midoriya! We’re moving onto the next round!”

 

The question, however, is who had taken their banners - Mineta had attached the banners to the balls on his head, meaning that if anybody tried to take them off, it’d be almost impossible for them to do so. The only possible way they could’ve lost their banners is if they’d given them away.

 

Shouto blinks, shaking himself out of that train of thought. It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done. What matters now, like Kaminari had said, is the fact that they had in fact made it into the final round. Meaning he still has a chance to redeem himself and regain his control.

 

He barely even registers Present Mic announcing that there would be noon-day break before the afternoon activities. His eyes follow Midoriya as he follows along in the crowd, heading towards the cafeteria.

 

...It’s time they had a talk.

 

-

 

“Status?” asks the voice from the screen.

 

Kurogiri lets out a sigh, finally able to look away from the television that had been broadcasting the cavalry battle from a bird’s eye perspective. “Midoriya is in first place. They managed to keep the ten-million banner - with little assistance from me, might I add. I only had to ward his opponents off with a portal three times - and don’t worry, I never did it with any of the 1-A students. In doing so, however, I think I provided that blonde boy’s team some prime opportunities to steal the other's banners.”

 

“That's fine,” says the voice, satisfaction evident in their tone. “And no alerts have been sounded?”

 

“None,” Kurogiri affirms. “Anyone in the audience who might have seen the portals probably dismissed them as tricks of the light or part of a student’s quirk. As for the two teachers who might’ve recognized them, our insider reports that he’s taken care of making sure they forgot about it.”

 

“Good,” the voice says. “Now let’s see how he’ll fare for the rest of the festival.”

 

-

 

“What did you want to talk about, Todoroki-kun?” Izuku asks, leaning against the wall behind him. When Todoroki had approached him and asked to talk in private, he’d honestly been clueless as to what the usually taciturn boy could possibly want with him.

 

...He’d also made sure to inform Yashiro of where he was going, in case Todoroki tried anything funny after losing to him in the cavalry battle.

 

Todoroki at first says nothing, only looking back at him with a steely expression in his eyes. This goes on for a few seconds before Izuku starts to get annoyed. “If we don’t hurry, the cafeteria’s going to get insanely crowded,” he says, by way of prompting the other boy to speak. “We only have an hour’s break before the next events, so - ”

 

“I was overpowered,” Todoroki says, voice carefully neutral. “By you, and your team. So much so that I… broke my pledge.”

 

Izuku’s brow furrows in confusion. “Pledge? What are you talking about?”

 

“I mean this,” Todoroki says, raising his left hand. “My pledge to completely reject and disavow my left side, and never to use fire under any circumstances.”

 

“Iida, Yaoyorozu, and Kaminari - we all felt it. The complete and utter frustration that came with going up against you - someone as overwhelmingly powerful as even All Might.”

 

“Funny you should mention All Might,” Izuku says, raising an eyebrow. “In fact, why mention me at all? Yashiro was the one counteracting your ice, not me.”

 

Todoroki ignores this, lowering his left hand and returning it to his pocket. “That quirk of yours, and the power it gives you - I thought at first that that had been what caught All Might’s eye, but maybe it goes even deeper than that; especially given how similar your quirks seem to be. Scratch that, they’re not even similar - they are exactly the same.”

 

Imperceptibly, Izuku’s eyes widen by just a fraction. Could Todoroki actually have figured out -

 

“Midoriya,” Todoroki says. “Are you All Might’s secret love child or something?”

 

 

Okay, maybe Izuku’s given Todoroki a lot more credit than he should’ve.

 

“That is the absolute most ridiculous thing that I’ve ever heard,” Izuku says bluntly, not even bothering to hide the total disbelief in his voice. Kacchan’s assumptions about Yagi being his step-dad at least had some basis - Todoroki’s theory is just absolutely bonkers. “You do realize the implications of what you’re saying, right? What it would say about Ya - All Might? About my mother ?”

 

To his credit, Todoroki seems to get the message and backs off. “Believe me, I do,” he says, quiet as ever. “And if you say you aren’t, I’ll take your word for it. I’m not one to pry too much - I don’t really care either way.”

 

“Then why would you ask that?” Izuku says. “Why have you called me here?”

 

( Because I wanted to know , Shouto thinks, unbeknownst to Izuku. I wanted to know if we’re the same, and if so, I want to figure out how we’re so different. )

 

“You know Endeavor, right?” Todoroki asks.

 

“Yeah,” Izuku nods. It’s almost impossible not to have heard of him considering his status as the Number Two Hero. “Todoroki Enji, your father, right?”

 

Todoroki blinks. “Yeah. He’s my… father. And I’m certain you also know that he’s been the Number Two Hero for a long time, right behind All Might - who I know has singled you out. It’s because of that connection that I have even more reason to defeat you.”

 

Izuku frowns, but does not say anything - Todoroki doesn’t seem finished with his piece.

 

“My old man has a burning desire to rise in this world,” Todoroki continues. “As a hero, he made a name for himself through crushing force, but it was never enough. Because of this, the living legend All Might has become an intensely sore point for him. And since he couldn’t surpass All Might on his own, he moved onto his next plan.”

 

It’s because of that connection that I have even more reason to defeat you.

 

“Have you ever heard of quirk marriages?” Todoroki asks quietly.

 

Izuku’s eyes widen in shock. Could he possibly mean… surely not, right?

 

“They became an epidemic for the second and third generation quirk-users - choosing a spouse based only on combining or strengthening your quirks and passing them onto your offspring - essentially creating more powerful quirks. Brought about by an old-fashioned way of thinking that was furthered by the shocking lack of ethics among people.”

 

“Todoroki Enji was a man of both many accomplishments and a large fortune,” Todoroki says, dispassionately. He seems to have calmed down considerably since the cavalry battle, composing himself to speak to Izuku now. “As such, he was able to win over my mother’s parents and coerce her into a marriage, despite her status as a Pro Hero herself.”

 

“The Glacial Heroine, Shirayuki,” Izuku interrupts. “Endeavor’s wife, and your mother, Todoroki Rei.”

 

Todoroki’s head shoots up. “You knew of my mother?” he asks, mismatched eyes growing wide.

 

“Of course I do. Their marriage was well-documented. Your mother is… was a beloved hero in her time,” Izuku says, remembering the various news clippings detailing Shirayuki and Endeavor’s marriage. It had been quite the big event during its time.

 

Todoroki regards him pensively, before pressing on. “Regardless, my mother remains trapped in a sham of a marriage, helpless and powerless against my old man. He’s trying to fulfill his own desire of becoming the Number One Hero by grooming me into a hero who can surpass All Might.”

 

“In my memories, my mother is always crying,” Todoroki says, raising his hand to touch the scar on his face. It’s almost the same shiny red hue as the scars on Izuku’s palms. “ Your left side is unsightly - that's what she said to me, as she poured boiling water on my face.”

 

Izuku swallows suddenly, feeling a phantom chill run down his spine.

 

“I challenged you because I wanted to show him what I could do, without using my damned old man’s quirk - without using his fire,” Todoroki says, in the same level tone as before. “I’m going to reject him completely by taking first place without using his quirk - no, I’ll become the Number One Hero on my own.”

 

And that’s when Izuku knows that he can’t let Todoroki continue any longer.

 

“That’s not going to work, Todoroki-kun,” he says quietly. Todoroki looks at him questioningly, confused. “What do you mean?” he asks.

 

“He wants you to become the Number One Hero,” Izuku says. “And yet you say you’re going to become the Number One Hero without using his quirk, in order to reject him.”

 

“That’s right,” Todoroki affirms. “I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of - ”

 

“Do you honestly think it’ll matter to him how you do it?” Izuku asks calmly, looking Todoroki in the eye.

 

Todoroki visibly stiffens, a flicker of shock running through his face.

 

“What difference will it make to him if you use your fire or not? If you become the Number One Hero, you’d still be doing exactly what he wants, and I don’t think that’s what you want,” Izuku points out, well aware of the effect he’s having on Todoroki. Nevertheless, he can’t help it - it needs to be said.

 

Todoroki stares back at him, seemingly at a loss for words. When a few seconds pass with no reply, Izuku sighs and turns away. “What your father has done is despicable - there is no other way to put it,” he says quietly. While he’s aware that Endeavor isn’t the same shining paragon of virtue that All Might is, he never expected that he would actually do something like this. Izuku’s face darkens - another life ruined by the hero industry. And yet...

 

“However, I don’t think you’re going down a good path by doing this - you’ll only be hurting yourself in the end,” Izuku says, thinking of his own hate-fuelled rage and despair after his father and grandfather’s deaths. “And where will you be then?”

 

“I… you don’t understand,” Todoroki says, gritting his teeth. “The things he’s done - what’s happened to my mother, what’s happened to us - ”

 

“You’re right, I don’t understand,” Izuku says. “And I never will, not the way that you do. But I do know this - whatever your goal is now, I will not roll over and hand you the victory. Not when I have my own loved ones who I’m fighting for. Not when everyone out there is giving their all, while you’re using only half of your power.”

 

He remembers Aizawa’s words. Whatever your quirk is, you have it for a reason. And you have to find a reason of your own, a good reason, to use it.

 

“I said it in the pledge, didn't I?” Izuku continues, voice softening. “I pledged to honor my competitors’ efforts by giving them my all. That goes for you, too.”

 

“I’ll see you later in the games, Todoroki-kun - I hope you figure out what you want.”

 

With that, Izuku turns on his heel and leaves Todoroki alone with his turbulent thoughts, newfound determination fuelling his every step.

 

In the corner behind the hallway, tucked neatly out of sight, Katsuki does the same.

 

-

 

“It’s time to decide the brackets for the final event of the festival!” Midnight declares. The students and the audience have assembled once more in the stadium, the noon break finally over. “We’ll have you guys, the sixteen students who made it through the cavalry battle, draw lots to decide the matchups, after which the recreational games will begin. After that , the final event will take place! The sixteen finalists, by the way, are not obligated to take part in the recreational games if they prefer to save their energy for the main event.”

 

“Aw man, this is it!” Kirishima says, eyes shining with excitement. “We finally get to stand on the stage I’ve been watching my whole life!”

 

Midnight picks up a box, presumably containing paper lots for the students to draw. “Now, can I have the members from the first team to please come over and - ”

 

“Um… excuse me!”

 

Everyone in the crowd turns towards the source of the voice, only to see Ojiro raising his hand. “I… I would like to withdraw,” he says, a conflicted look on his face.

 

“What?” Ashido says, turning to him with a shocked expression. “Ojiro, what are you talking about?”

 

“This is an extremely precious chance to get noticed by Pro Heroes!” Iida tells him, looking quite concerned.

 

“I… I can barely remember anything from the cavalry battle right until the end,” Ojiro says, lowering his hand. “I came to my senses just before the end of the game - I think it may have been one of my own teammates’ quirks.”

 

Izuku frowns thoughtfully. If he remembers correctly, Ojiro had been with the purple-haired boy, the boy whose identity still eluded him. Izuku searches for him in the crowd, only to find him staring at the ground, a pained look on his face.

 

“I’m well aware that this is an amazing opportunity and that it’s foolish of me to just throw it away like this,” Ojiro continues. “But - everyone here competed and got to where they are by giving their all. I can’t take one of the coveted places in the finals without even knowing what I did to get there.”

 

“Ojiro, you’re worrying too much about it!” Hagakure says, approaching him. “It should be alright as long as you focus on getting good results during the finals, right?”

 

“No one’s asking you to step down, Ojiro,” Jirou adds, nodding. “You deserve a spot in the finals as much as anyone else here.”

 

“If you’re going to say that, I didn’t really do anything during the event, either,” Ashido says, trying to sound consoling. “I was basically just running around.”

 

“That’s not it,” Ojiro says, cutting in. He lowers his head and covers his face with his hand. “It may be foolish, but it’s… I’m talking about my pride, here, and my integrity as a heroics student. Knowing that, I can’t…”

 

Amidst all this, another student steps up. “Um, my name is Shoda Nirengeki, from Class 1-B,” says a short, stocky boy with bluish-gray hair. “I would also like to withdraw for the same reason.”

 

He looks down and clenches his fist. “Regardless of ability, don’t you think it goes against the spirit of this sports festival for those who didn’t truly do anything to move up to the final round?”

 

“What’s with these guys?” Kirishima asks, shiny tears appearing in the corners of his eyes. “How can they be so manly?”

 

Everyone turns to look at Midnight, the chief umpire and ultimately the one to decide on the matter. The woman herself lifts a perfectly manicured hand to her chin, appearing to contemplate deeply on the issue.

 

“Youthful talk like that is something…” she begins, raising her whip, before abruptly bringing it down with a resounding crack - “ I like! Shoda! Ojiro! I accept your withdrawals!”

 

She decided based on her tastes! runs through everyone’s minds.

 

Aoyama discreetly moves close to place a hand on Ojiro’s shoulder. “Ojiro, you don’t mind if I go ahead, do you?” he asks, a sheepish but determined look on his face.

 

“Hm, in that case, we’ll need to move two people up,” Midnight says, placing a finger on her chin. “I would say move up two people from the fifth-placed team, but none of the remaining teams have any points…”

 

“How about this?” someone else raises their hand. It’s Kendou Itsuka, the class representative of Class 1-B. “Since one student each from Class 1-A and 1-B are withdrawing, maybe we should move up one student from each class as well.”

 

“That works,” Yaoyorozu says, to the agreement of several others. “It’s fair.”

 

“Alright!” Midnight agrees. “Please choose quickly which of your classmates you’ll be sending, so that we can decide the brackets as soon as possible!”

 

In the end, Class 1-A decides to send Tokoyami on as their representative, while Class 1-B elects on a girl with thorny green vines for hair named Shiozaki Ibara. “Alright! Now, will everyone please come forward to draw their lots!”

 

The sixteen participants obediently come forward, forming a small and orderly line in front of Midnight. Izuku wrinkles his nose when he sees the number he’s chosen: one. He’ll be in the very first match of the first round.

 

“Now, let’s see the results of the lottery!” Midnight says, gesturing towards the screen behind her. After a flurry of visuals, the match-ups get displayed on the screen.

 

Izuku’s eyes travel to the very top, checking who his opponent will be -

 

brackets

 

“Deku-kun!” Uraraka says, coming up to him. She holds up the number that she’d picked out, and sure enough it’s the exact same one as his own. “Oh no - it looks like we’ll be up against each other!”

 

“Looks like it,” Izuku says, holding up his own number.

 

Uraraka looks at the paper in his hand, then looks at him. “Um, Deku-kun, I - I just want to tell that you’ve helped me so much with training at the dojo, and I'm really thankful for that. I know I’m far from being at your level…” she pauses, taking a deep breath. “But please - if you’re thinking about it, don’t go easy on me. Come at me with everything you have.”

 

Izuku stares at her, the determination plainly etched across her face. “I wouldn’t dream of it, Uraraka-san,” he says, shaking his head. He smiles at her. “I’ve seen you fight and use your quirk in all sorts of amazing ways. There’s no way I can win against you without giving my all.”

 

Uraraka blushes. “Thanks, Deku-kun,” she says, smiling as well. She extends a hand, which he takes, feeling the small pink bumps on her fingertips. “See you out there.”

 

Barely a moment after Uraraka leaves, Yashiro takes her place, rushing up to Izuku with a look of abject horror on his face. “Izuku!” he cries, draping himself over his friend's shoulders. “Izuku, did you see who I'm up against?”

 

Izuku looks up at the brackets again, then winces. “Oh boy,” he says, sympathy in his voice. “That's rough.”

 

“He's gonna kill me,” Yashiro wails. “We kept pissing him off during the cavalry battle and now we're going to be fighting one-on-one, and there's not going to be anything in the way of his wrath!”

 

“Oh come on, Yashiro. Todoroki-kun won't kill you - it's against the rules. Besides, he didn't freeze us a single time - doesn't that say something about your skill? You might even win!” Izuku says encouragingly.

 

“Oh yeah, and if I win, I'll be fighting you - and I hate to say it, but you're technically stronger and scarier than Todoroki,” Yashiro says, pouting.

 

“That's not set in stone, you know. You might end up fighting Uraraka-san, not me.”

 

“Shh, Izuku, let me have this moment - remember me as I am, and not as the human popsicle I'm gonna be after Todoroki’s through with me.”

 

After this, Midnight announces the start of the recreational games. Some of the finalists opt in, but most of them choose not to participate and instead spend the time before the main event practicing, calming themselves, or sharpening their senses. Izuku doesn’t know where Yashiro disappeared off to, but he knows his friend must be incredibly nervous - he’s facing a probably incensed Todoroki right after facing off with him during the cavalry battle.

 

Izuku himself chooses to stay at the waiting room, idly letting One for All course through his body. Already, he’s thinking of a way to win against Uraraka without hurting her too much. He reasons that it’s not technically holding back if he’s doing it to avoid giving her serious injury. After all, there’s no way he can directly strike Uraraka with one hundred percent of his power without possibly leaving any lasting injuries, something he’s not keen on doing.

 

Lost in thought as he is, Izuku almost misses it when Kacchan calls him from the doorframe. “Oi. Deku. Shitnerd,” Kacchan says, aggravated.

 

“Kacchan!” Izuku says, turning around in his seat. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

 

Kacchan motions with his head, signalling for Izuku to follow him into the corridor. Izuku gets up from his seat, wondering what this could be about. He sighs internally, remembering the conversation he’d had with Todoroki earlier - he hopes this conversation won’t go down similarly.

 

“You saw the brackets, right?” Kacchan says. Izuku nods, curious. “Yeah,” he says. “And if I remember correctly, you’re up against Kaminari-kun, right? That’ll be an interesting match-up, but I think if you tire him out quickly then it’d be an easy thing for you to - ”

 

“I didn’t call you out here for fucking advice, you goddamn nerd,” Kacchan says, cutting him off and rolling his eyes. “What else did you notice about the brackets?”

 

“Um, Todoroki-kun’s gonna be up against Yashiro, and I’m a little worried about that - and oh! Yaoyorozu-san’s going to be up against Hatsume-san, and between her quirk and Hatsume-san’s inventions, that’s gonna be pretty interesting too - ”

 

“God, you’re fucking dumb,” Kacchan says, cutting him off for the second time. “Look, I’ll spell it out for you, since you clearly don’t fucking get it - the only way that we’ll face off against each other is if we both make it to the final round.”

 

Izuku pauses, running the brackets through his head again. Kacchan’s right. Unless they both make it to the finals, they wouldn’t be facing each other at any other point.

 

I’m making it to the finals, and then I’m going to fucking win,” Kacchan declares, looking Izuku in the eyes. “And I expect you not to lose to any of these shit losers and make it there, so that I’m the one who beats you. I haven’t beaten you outright at all today, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone else beat you before I do.”

 

Izuku is silent for a beat, before lowering his head and laughing. “That's some twisted logic you've got going there, Kacchan. Do you even realize what you're telling me to do?”

 

“What I know is that I didn’t go through shit in the cavalry battle, picking off the small fry instead of going after the ten million points, just to end up fighting losers who aren’t worth my time,” Kacchan says. “If you’ve absolutely got to lose, then lose to that shitty Half-and-Half bastard - I want to crush his head into the gravel.”

 

“Why didn’t you come after us during the cavalry battle?” Izuku asks, tilting his head. “I would’ve expected you to want first place, of all people.”

 

“I do,” Kacchan says, eyes narrowing. “But losing in the obstacle race doesn’t fucking matter. Neither does losing in the cavalry battle. They don’t decide who ends up the champion in this festival - this last event does.”

 

“So, I’m telling you - you better fucking make it to the finals, Deku,” Kacchan growls, looking dead serious. “And you’d better damn give me everything you’ve got, because I still want that indisputable first place.”

 

He glares at Izuku for a few more seconds before shoving his hands into his pockets and stalking off, seemingly choosing not to wait for Izuku’s reply. But Izuku inhales deeply, a smile crossing his face.

 

“I’ll meet you there,” Izuku says quietly, not even sure if Kacchan’s close enough to hear. “Come hell or high water.”

 

There’s a beat of silence, before Izuku hears Kacchan’s telltale snort and the sound of footsteps gradually carrying him out of the hallway.

 

Izuku lets out the breath he’d been holding, turning around to return to the waiting room. Before he even takes two steps, however, he’s distracted by the sound of voices coming from behind him, around a corner.

 

“I know that I had those headbands stuck on my head!” says an agitated voice. As Izuku comes closer to investigate, he realizes that it’s Mineta. “There’s no way anybody could have gotten them off while they’re stuck with my quirk, let alone get them without Shoji, Asui, Tokoyami, or even Dark Shadow noticing!”

 

Izuku rounds the corner and sees Mineta, Shoji, Asui, Tokoyami, and Ojiro gathered in the narrow confines of the hallway. “Hey, guys,” he greets them. “What’s going on?”

 

Ojiro turns to him, a troubled look on his face. “I was asking these guys about what happened during the cavalry battle, to try and see if my suspicions were right.”

 

“We had two banners just before Todoroki managed to break into your dome,” Shoji explains, crossing his many arms. “But, for some reason, none of us noticed them being taken. The next thing we knew, the event was over and we were bannerless.”

 

Izuku’s brow furrows. “Do you know who took them? Was it Kacchan?” he asks.

 

“No,” Ojiro says, shaking his head. “It was my team.”

 

“Do you remember what Ojiro said earlier, when he asked to withdraw, ribbit?” Asui asks. “He said that he didn’t remember anything until nearly the end of the cavalry battle.”

 

“I think it’s because our rider, Shinsou Hitoshi from the general department, has a brainwashing quirk of some sorts,” Ojiro says. “I think it causes you to go into a trance of sorts, where you’re unaware of what you’re doing and are highly suggestible.”

 

“He must have gotten all four of us, somehow, since none of us remember Ojiro’s team taking the banners from us.” Tokoyami says. “What a quirk of true darkness.”

 

“Why did he target us, though?” Mineta says, obviously still incensed at losing. “He hadn’t gone after us all day! We’d noticed him running around with three banners - we figured he wouldn’t come after us, since we had really good defense and he already had so many.”

 

Izuku thinks about that, until a realization dawns on him. “Kacchan’s team must have stolen their banners,” he says, remembering seeing Kacchan with only four banners, but having seven at the end of the game. “So they were bannerless. They probably couldn’t steal them back from Kacchan, and Todoroki and I were still in the dome. That’s why they went after you.”

 

“Most likely, ribbit,” Asui agrees, while the others nod. “I can’t help but be disgruntled about it, but a victory is a victory and I guess they hadn’t really violated any rules.”

 

“Do you know how his quirk is activated, though?” Izuku asks. “Maybe if we know that, we can be careful if we end up facing him.”

 

His classmates look at each other. “The last thing I remember before blacking out was the fifteen-minute prep time we had before the battle,” Ojiro offers. “If I’m remembering it correctly, he came up to me and asked me what my name was. After that, nothing.”

 

Asui nods. “I saw his team approaching us while we were standing outside the dome, ribbit,” she chimes in. “I remember alerting everyone to their presence. I think… I think he asked us, ‘Are you guys from Class 1-A?’ And that’s the last thing I remember.”

 

“Actually, I remember a little more,” Mineta says, raising his hand. “Asui and Tokoyami replied immediately, but when Shoji and I didn’t, he looked at us and asked, ‘What about the two of you?’”

 

“Could that be the trigger?” Izuku says, touching his chin thoughtfully. “If he asks you a question, and you reply?”

 

“I think so,” Ojiro says, nodding. “I saw him talking to Aoyama just before he talked to me, and after that Aoyama was already trailing after him with a glazed kinda look in his eyes.”

 

“So we just have to make sure that we don’t answer his questions,” Tokoyami muses. “That should be quite easy to remember.”

 

Even as the rest of his classmates nod in agreement, Izuku can’t help but feel that they’re missing something - that that isn’t all there is to the Shinsou’s quirk. Nevertheless, they have nothing else to go off of - they'll just have to hope their hunch is correct.

 

The sound of Present Mic’s voice calling all sixteen participants to the stadium jolts them all to attention. “It appears they're calling for you guys, Midoriya,” Shoji says, looking towards the the source of the voice. “You're in the first match, right? Good luck.”

 

“Yeah, you're up against Uraraka, right?” Ojiro says. “Sounds like an… interesting match-up.”

 

“Thanks,” Izuku says, looking past them and into the bright light of the stadium just outside the hallway. The real event was just about to begin.

 

-

 

“Everyone!” Present Mic yells enthusiastically, to the excitement of the crowd. “The finals that you’ve all been waiting for are finally starting! Let’s get into it without any further ado!”

 

He gestures to one entrance of the stadium, coming from one side of the newly constructed battling platform, courtesy of Cementoss. “Here’s the first match! From the hero course, it’s Midoriya Izuku!”

 

The crowd goes absolutely wild as Izuku walks out into the bright sunlight, striving to make his strides purposeful and calm. Everyone in the audience, if they didn’t already know him from the USJ incident, knows him as the boy who’s consistently outperformed everyone else today - they must be expecting a lot from him.

 

Present Mic extends a hand towards the opposite entrance, grabbing his microphone violently. “And, from the hero course as well, it’s Uraraka Ochako!”

 

Uraraka walks out of the other entrance, her shoulders tense, but her face set and determined. She walks up onto the platform with Izuku, both pausing a few feet away from each other.

 

“Alright!” Midnight says, coming in between them. “The rules are simple - force your opponent out of bounds, or immobilize them! You can also force your opponent to yield, and that will be considered a victory as well. Recovery Girl is on standby for any possible injuries, so you may go all-out if you wish, but Cementoss - ” she pauses, gesturing to the blocky teacher who waves at them, seated near the platform “ - will intervene if things get too heated or dangerous.”

 

Atop the bleachers, the rest of Class 1-A sits, waiting for the match to begin. “Uraraka is definitely at a disadvantage,” Sero says, rubbing his chin idly. “Hell, anyone would be at a disadvantage if they’re fighting against Midoriya.”

 

“I’m sure Midoriya’s going to try his best not to hurt her, ribbit,” Asui says thoughtfully. “Uraraka’s surprisingly good at combat and her quirk is versatile, but I’m not sure if anyone could stand against Midoriya if he’s attacking at full power.”

 

“Still, it’s possible for Uraraka-san to win this,” Yaoyorozu muses. “She can set things afloat if she touches them, right? If she touches Midoriya-san once and sets him afloat, he won’t be able to move. She can win if she can just get close enough to do that.”

 

“What do you think, Bakugou?” Kaminari asks, nudging the spiky-haired blonde beside him.

 

“Deku’s going to win,” Katsuki says flatly, prompting everyone to turn and look at him. “I told him to.”

 

Asui blinks. “You sure have a lot of faith in him, ribbit,” she says, tilting her head.

 

Katsuki snorts, not diverting his gaze from the platform. “ He fucking has to win,” he says quietly, not audibly enough for anyone else to hear. “So that I can beat him.”

 

Midnight raises her whip and brings it down sharply, crackling in the air. “And start!

 

Uraraka wastes no time, immediately coming at Izuku with her arm outstretched. Izuku has seen this coming - he knows that the best strategy for her to take him out would be to land a tap on him and set him afloat, thereby rendering him helpless. It’s tricky for him, considering he would usually fight close-range, but he can’t allow himself to be caught by her.

 

So what he does is charge up his fist, put all of his power into it, and slam it head-on into the concrete below him.

 

The sheer force of the blow shatters the concrete into pieces, sending a shockwave of force accompanied by a sudden gale of wind that erupts outwards, blowing debris into the air. Uraraka squeals, suddenly forced to stop by the blow as she digs her heels into the ground, trying not to get blown away.

 

“What an explosive first move!” Present Mic says, standing up to see the battle better. “Midoriya is going all out!”

 

“He’s trying to force her out of bounds without directly attacking her,” Aizawa notes. “He knows that as soon as she touches him, she can reverse his gravity and immobilize him, so he’s trying to keep her as far away as possible.”

 

As soon as the smoke clears, Izuku shifts gingerly on the pile of rubble he’s standing on to see if his move had worked.

 

It hadn’t, not completely.

 

Uraraka has in fact been pushed back by the sudden gale of wind his smash had produced, but she’s still a few feet away from the boundary.

 

“You’re not going to get me that easily, Deku-kun!” Uraraka yells, dusting off her scratches as she runs towards Izuku again. Izuku grimaces, realizing that he’d also inadvertently sent shrapnel flying towards her with his attack. He needs to be more careful.

 

He watches as she sets the bigger chunks of concrete afloat in order to get past them before stepping quickly to the side as she reaches out and tries to grab him. As soon as he’s dodged, he lets loose another attack on the ground, knocking her away from him, but still not far enough to land out of bounds.

 

“They’re really tearing up the platform!” Present Mic crows. “Midoriya appears to be overpowering Uraraka with brute force!”

 

“She won’t be able to catch him like this,” Iida says, worrying his lip. “Midoriya is far too fast and powerful.”

 

“But Midoriya can’t touch her, either,” Satou says, eyes trained on Uraraka as she lunges for him again, this time getting extremely close. When Izuku punches the ground again, Uraraka manages to roll out of the way, evading most of the resulting shockwave.

 

“At this rate, he won’t have to,” Shoji says. “Every time she’s hit by the shockwaves he makes, her body takes more damage. He can keep going all day, but she can’t - Midoriya must be hoping to either tire her out or successfully push her out of bounds.”

 

Izuku grits his teeth, watching Uraraka stumble back after his latest shockwave. The platform at this rate is nothing more than rubble - they’re running on the ground underneath it.

 

“Uraraka-san,” he calls. “Are you alright?”

 

Her uniform is nicked and torn in various places where shrapnel had hit. Izuku is sure that she’s sustained a lot of bruising - she’d been knocked over several times by his shockwaves. She stands unsteadily, nearly wobbling on her legs as she looks at him panting.

 

“She looks really beat-up,” Jirou says, worried. “But she doesn’t look like she’ll be giving up any time soon - but I don’t want to watch this, anymore!”

 

“Wait,” Sero says, looking suddenly into the air. “Hold up, hold up, hold up, what’s that?

 

Ochako breathes deeply, trying to remain steady through the haze of pain that’s clouding over her senses. She looks at Izuku in front of her, looking none the worse for wear. She chuckles bitterly.

 

She can’t win.

 

But she has to try, for the people that she’s fighting for.

 

“I’m fine, Deku-kun,” she says, forcing her voice not to tremble with discomfort. Her stomach is protesting, ready to bring up its contents after abusing her quirk so much. This was her one chance.

 

She holds her head up high, smiling as she looks briefly into the sky to look at the chunks of rubble and concrete hovering right above Izuku.

 

“Is that rubble from the stage?” Ojiro asks, gaping at the floating spectacle.

 

“Every time Midoriya destroyed a part of the platform, she must’ve used her quirk to send them up, using the resulting smoke to hide it from him,” Tokoyami theorizes, looking up as well. It seems that everyone else in the audience is starting to notice as well, except for Izuku.

 

“She had such a desperate ploy up her sleeve all this time?” Hagakure asks, amazement and disbelief in her voice.

 

“She knows she can’t beat him head-on,” Yaoyorozu says. “Which is why she had to come up with a plan like this.”

 

Kirishima grits his teeth, tears threatening to spill over his cheeks again. “Dammit! You’re so manly, Uraraka!”

 

Ochako steadies herself, trying to ignore the pain in her ankle. She must have twisted it at some point - a smile comes unbidden to her face. This is just like the entrance exam, all over again.

 

Only this time, she will not be helpless.

 

“Deku-kun,” she says, breathless. She brings her fingers together, ready to let her trap come crashing down. “Thank you for focusing everything into this fight.”

 

“But you might want to look up, now.”

 

Izuku’s eyes widen by just the smallest fraction as he looks up and sees a veritable hail of rubble and concrete crashing down around him.

 

“What an amazing move!” Present Mic says, nearly beside himself with excitement. “All this time, Uraraka has been using Midoriya’s blows to her favor! Now, there’s sure to be an opening for her to get close and immobilize Midoriya!”

 

Uraraka rushes forward, unheeding of the chunks of stone and concrete that are falling around her. Izuku’s head is still upturned, watching as a particularly dense chunk of debris comes straight down on him.

 

In a split second, however, he throws his fist back and connects it, skin on stone and stone on skin, before blowing that chunk apart and everything else with it.

 

The resulting shockwave is the strongest yet, turning the stone into tiny bits and crushing the smaller rocks into pieces as well. All that debris spreads suddenly outward, carried forth by a shockingly explosive gust of wind. Uraraka yells, covering her face and body, gritting her teeth and forcing her body to stay still and not get swept up by the resulting wind.

 

“He destroyed it in one hit!” Kirishima exclaims, standing abruptly from his seat. Even from as far away as they are, many of them turn away, feeling the wind and dust whip past their faces. “He just completely obliterated everything!”

 

“Where is Uraraka?” Iida says, standing up as well to scan the field. “Has she been knocked out of bounds?”

 

Eventually, the smoke clears. When the audience finally spots the platform, Izuku is the first thing they see, standing steadily in the middle of the ruined platform. All that’s really left of it is bits of the outer boundary, indicating the confines of their battle.

 

Somewhere in between all the chunks of rubble, Uraraka lays down, her uniform long since ruined. She’s face-down, and for a moment everyone thinks it’s finally over, that she’s been beaten - but when they look closer, they see that she’s still trying to get up.

 

“Oh no, Uraraka-san,” Yaoyorozu says, clapping her hands over her mouths. “Please, don’t try to get up anymore.”

 

“I hope she doesn’t try again,” Sero says, grimacing. “She’s in no condition to be fighting at this point.”

 

The audience watches, restless and on the edge of their seats, wondering what will happen next. They’re slightly startled when they see Izuku begin to walk towards the vulnerable Uraraka.

 

“What’s he going to do?” Kaminari says, standing up to get a better view. “Surely he’s done attacking, right?”

 

“Maybe he’ll ask her to forfeit?” Kirishima suggests, but he looks unsure. “At any rate, if he gets close enough, she could still try and levitate him!”

 

Everyone else falls silent as Izuku reaches Uraraka, watching with bated breath to see if he’ll attack again, or if she’ll try to reach out and set him afloat.

 

Neither happens.

 

Instead, Izuku crouches down and gently picks Uraraka up, tucking her securely into his arms. Nobody moves or speaks as they watch him carry her carefully to the boundary, his arms gentle and steady around her.

 

“Deku-kun,” Uraraka rasps. She winces when her speaking causes her chest to ache - she must’ve been hit there by rubble at some point. “I lost - what - what are you doing?”

 

“I’m bringing you out of bounds,” Izuku says in reply, looking straight ahead. In a flash, Uraraka understands what he’s doing, and tears come unbidden into her eyes.

 

 

He’s making it so that she hasn’t lost, and neither has he won the battle - she’ll just have been pushed out of bounds.

 

One could’ve heard a pin drop in the arena, so silent is the audience as they watch Izuku set Uraraka gently outside the boundary, allowing her to tuck her head into his shoulder as she starts to cry in earnest.

 

There is a profound silence that takes hold of the entire stadium, broken only by the sound of festivities going on outside and in the other stadiums. Then, one person begins to clap, then another, then another, until the sound of respectful and awed applause rings out through the arena, a tribute to the incredible show of sportsmanship which has just taken place.

 

Midnight, still perched on the umpire’s platform, seemingly breaks out of staring at the spectacle at the sound of the applause, just in time to recover herself. “Uraraka is out of bounds!” she declares, bringing her whip down spectacularly. “Midoriya is the winner of the match!”

 

Uraraka leans back, her face red from exertion and from her tears, but she’s trying valiantly to smile in spite of it all. “I - I guess I still have a long way to go, huh?” she says, hiccuping slightly.

 

Izuku laughs lightly, watching as Recovery Girl accompanies two men bearing a stretcher to the stage. “Maybe,” he concedes. “But I’ll be helping you every step of the way in any way I can.”

 

She smiles at him again, a brighter one this time, and she allows him to lift her once again and lay her down on the stretcher. “Thanks for trying to minimize the damage, Midoriya-kun,” Recovery Girl says, pinching his cheek. Uraraka giggles slightly when she sees this. “Here, have some gummies!”

 

“Thank you,” Izuku says, taking the gummies before briefly crossing over to Cementoss, who’s approaching the stage. “I’m sorry for ruining the platform,” he says, bowing.

 

Cementoss raises a blocky hand to stop him. “No, don’t be,” the teacher assures him. “Stages can be built again and again. Character cannot. That was an excellent match, Midoriya. Congratulations on your win.”

 

Izuku smiles, before turning on his heel and exiting the arena amidst raucous applause and cheering. He’s made it through the first round, but the event isn’t over.

 

His eyes rake across the arena, landing on the balcony where Class 1-A would be sitting and wondering if Todoroki had been watching.

 

The next match would be one to watch.

 

-

 

“What a dramatic turn of events! What a heartfelt first match!” Present Mic says, tears shining at the corners of his eyes. “Truly, this year’s Sports Festival is one to remember!” He takes a brief pause as Cementoss takes the ruined platform and fixes it, reshaping the chunks of debris and and mixing them with new cement to fix the stage that Midoriya had so thoroughly destroyed. “Alright, it seems that the stage has been repaired! It’s time to move onto the next match!”

 

Shouto stands ready in the entrance, waiting for his name to be called. His opponent is Namikawa Yashiro, the rider of Midoriya’s team during the cavalry event and the one whose quirk could nullify his ice. However, that doesn’t matter anymore.

 

Shouto will not lose control again.

 

“From the hero course, Todoroki Shouto!” Present Mic yells, prompting Shouto to stroll forward into the bright sunlight. “And from the business course, Namikawa Yashiro!”

 

The blue-haired boy walks nervously onstage, an apprehensive look on his face as he looks at Shouto. People cheer wildly, recalling the epic match-up that had transpired between the two of them in the previous event. Back then, Namikawa had been able to negate each and every one of Shouto’s attacks until Midoriya had destroyed the last one himself.

 

This time, however, Shouto would overwhelm him to the point that it wouldn't matter.

 

“And, start!” Midnight says, cracking her whip.

 

The first blast of ice comes so fast that Namikawa’s just barely able to evaporate it, stumbling back from the sheer force of Shouto’s attack. “And it looks like Todoroki is wasting no time!” Present Mic says. “Namikawa was able to break the attack, but how long can he keep it up?”

 

Shouto raises his right hand and brings it down again and again, sending flurry after flurry of ice at Namikawa, who stumbles back with every attack. Shouto himself walks forward slowly, feeling the ice biting into his skin with every attack.

 

“The poor guy’s completely overpowered,” Satou notes, watching Namikawa fall back a mere foot away from the boundary. “Todoroki must still feel sour about losing to him in the cavalry battle.”

 

Shouto sees Namikawa fall just within the boundary, eyes looking wide and panicked, before raising his numb hand one final time and concentrating , watching as gigantic spikes of ice spring up from the ground and encase the helpless boy, trapping his limbs and keeping him from moving at all.

 

A sudden mist of cold air settles around the arena, causing the audience members to gape at the glacier that’s suddenly appeared in front of them.

 

Midnight blinks, abruptly bursting into shivers as the chill bites into her skin. “N-Namikawa is immobilized! Todoroki is the winner!”


“Wow! What power! That’s, er, a little excessive, though!” Present Mic comments, laughing nervously.

 

Helpless, Namikawa hangs his head and sighs, knowing this is too much ice for even him to get out of. “D-don’t you think this is a little m-m-much?” he asks Shouto, teeth chattering.

 

Like with Midoriya’s match, the audience falls silent, unsure of how to react - that is, until one little girl with long red hair runs forward and clutches the railing at the edge of the arena.

 

“Yashiro-nii!” Akari shouts, jumping up and down and waving until Namikawa cranes his head to look at her. “It's okay! You were really cool! Don't mind it!”

 

Another child comes down to the edge, using hia elongated arms to pull himself beside Akari. “Don't mind it, Yashiro-nii!” Yuuto shouts as well, and soon all the other children from the dojo are coming down and yelling, “Don't mind it!”

 

The audience watches as the children try and encourage Namikawa, before eventually clapping their hands and cheering along with them. “Don't mind it!” they call out kindly, voices mingling with those of the children. “Don't mind it!”

 

Shouto walks forward, a slightly remorseful expression on his face. “Sorry,” he says to Namikawa, who watches him, shivering. He gently raises his left hand and begins to thaw his opponent out, warming him. “I was still mad at you. I apologize for going overboard.”

 

“It's c-cool, man,” Namikawa says, before realizing his unintended pun and chuckling. Laughing is the very last thing Shouto feels like doing right at this moment.

 

He's won, hasn't he? He beat this boy with his ice - proving definitively that he doesn't need his fire.

 

So why, as he extends the gentlest of flames amidst an audience calling, “don't mind,” does he still feel so lost?

 

-

 

In hindsight, having Izuku and Todoroki in the first two matches probably wasn’t a good combo, even if it had been decided with a lottery. Both times, the stage had been rendered utterly unusable - in Izuku’s case, however, Cementoss had only needed to rebuild the stage, but after Todoroki’s explosively icy attack, a short break had been called in order to clear the arena of the glacier he’d conjured.

 

Wiping the last vestiges of tears from her eyes, Ochako turns the faucet on in the girls’ bathroom to splash some water on her face and hopefully get rid of all the puffiness. While she’s sure that all her classmates saw her crying into Izuku’s shoulder, she doesn’t want to greet them with such an obviously tear-stained face.

 

The door to the bathroom opens, and Ochako hastily stands up, shutting off the faucet. She spots the newcomer in the mirror, locking eyes with them.

 

“Oh - are you okay?” asks a beautiful girl with long blonde hair, wearing a white dress. Ochako recognizes her as Izuku’s friend from earlier, the one that Mina and Tooru had said was a model. She tries to remember her name… Kimi?

 

“Uh, yeah, it’s nothing,” Ochako hastily says, wiping the residue of water from her face. God, she’s done so much crying today - after the match, and even more after the phone call with her parents. She’d missed Yashiro’s match with Todoroki while Recovery Girl had healed her in the infirmary, and from the sounds of it, Tokoyami’s match with Kirishima is just about to begin. She really needs to get her act together - she’s missing the opportunity to watch and support her classmates.

 

Kimi smiles sympathetically, before rummaging in her purse. “Here,” she says, handing a packet of tissues and another of wet wipes to Ochako. “Do you want some water? It’ll help you compose yourself, as well.”

 

Ochako takes the offered toiletries with a grateful smile. “Water would be great, if you could spare some,” she says, wiping at her puffy face.

 

Kimi takes out a small bottle of water and hands it to Ochako. “You’re Uraraka Ochako, right?” she asks, moving to place her bag on the counter. “Izuku’s told me a lot about you. You’re classmates, and you also train in Shiori-san’s dojo, right?”

 

“Yep.” Memories of training in combat with Izuku flash into Ochako’s mind, briefly making her smile. Izuku’s helped her so much, and even when fighting had done his utter best to minimize the damage to her. “He actually helped me train for this festival - I owe him a lot.”

 

“I know that feeling,” Kimi says, a small smile crossing her face as well. “Izuku’s always been that way, I guess - he just can’t help helping others. Even when I was being a brat when we were kids, he never hesitated to… well, to help me out.”

 

“Deku-kun really is amazing,” Ochako says quietly, prompting Kimi to look at her. “That’s… I guess that’s why I’m so frustrated about it all, you know? I knew from the start that I couldn’t win - that even if I came up with a plan to beat him, even if my plan worked, Deku-kun would still come through it and find a way to win. That’s just the way he is. And I…”

 

She bites her lip to try and keep her emotions in check, not wanting to cry anymore. “I can’t even be sad about losing to him. I just keep wanting to get better and better, and maybe surpass him - but even if I didn’t, I’d be happy, just knowing that I could maybe keep up.”

 

Ochako laughs shakily, picking up another tissue to wipe her face. “I'm sorry, I just started spouting all of this stuff. It’s stupid, isn’t it?” she asks, the self-deprecation evident in her voice.

 

She’s startled when Kimi suddenly approaches, placing a delicate hand on her shoulder. “Not at all,” Kimi says gently. “I completely understand how you feel.”

 

-

 

“Congratulations, Tokoyami!” Ashido says, while patting a disconsolate Kirishima. “That was a really great match!”

 

“Aw man!” Kirishima says, pouting. “I can’t even be mad about it, because Tokoyami completely knocked me out of the ring. Dark Shadow probably didn’t even care about my hardened skin, huh?”

 

“Thank you,” Tokoyami says, nodding politely. “But it was due to your hardened skin that Dark Shadow could strike you with greater force without me worrying about injuring you too much - so I must thank you for giving me that opening.”

 

“It’s okay, dude,” Sero says, comforting Kirishima, whose pout grows even more pronounced. “At least you got knocked out of the ring in a really cool way.”

 

“Guys, the next match is starting,” Ojiro says, shushing everyone. When he checks the copy of the brackets that Iida has made, he frowns. “It’s that Shinsou guy from the general course, versus, uh… Shiozaki Ibara, from Class 1-B. Oh! I know her! She’s the one with the vine quirk, right?”

 

“She’s incredibly powerful,” Shoji remarks thoughtfully. “She finished fourth during the obstacle race, and her quirk is extremely versatile for movement, defense, and offense.”

 

Izuku nods in agreement. While he hasn’t really had the chance to pay much attention to her, Shiozaki had been a definite standout all day. He’s itching to get a clear view of her quirk, and this is the perfect opportunity.

 

“Wait, she doesn’t know about Shinsou’s quirk, though, does she, ribbit?” Asui asks. “It wouldn’t matter how powerful she is if he manages to brainwash her before she can do anything.”

 

They all watch as Midnight signals for the match to begin, with Shinsou standing coolly in front of Shiozaki. The girl stands with her face upturned and her hands clasped together, before abruptly extending her vines in an impressive and fearsome display.

 

“Man, those vines look powerful!” Kaminari says, whistling. The vines rapidly shoot towards Shinsou, looking as if they’ll push him out of the arena at any minute -

 

But then they freeze in midair, their tips mere inches away from his face.

 

“He got her!” Izuku exclaims, standing up slightly to see better. They all watch as Shiozaki slowly retracts her vines and returns them to their original length, before turning meekly around and walking towards the boundary of the platform.

 

“And it seems that Shinsou has trapped Shiozaki in his hold - and, yes, she’s walked out of the boundary! Shinsou is the winner of the match! What a swift victory!” Present Mic says.

 

“It’s that easy for him, huh?” Ojiro says, frowning deeply. “Tokoyami, you’ll be fighting him in the next round. Remember not to answer any of his questions, alright?”

 

Tokoyami nods. “I will.”

 

“That was really quick,” Hagakure comments. “Who’s fighting next?”

 

“Yaomomo and that girl from the support department!” Ashido says. “This should be interesting - a girl genius who can make anything, versus another girl genius who’s already made everything! How do you think it’ll go?”

 

Before anyone can reply, though, a small voice interrupts them. “Hey, guys,” Uraraka says, smiling weakly. Although she looks completely healed, she seems tired, which must be a side-effect of Recovery Girl’s quirk. “What did I miss?”

 

“Uraraka-san!” Izuku says, turning to look at her. “Are you okay?”

 

“Yup!” Uraraka says, smiling brightly and giving him a thumbs-up. Her eyes are still slightly red, but she looks much better than before. “I’m completely fixed up now! Recovery Girl just told me to take it easy, but I’m totally fine now.”

“Thank goodness,” Izuku says, sighing in relief. “Well, you missed Tokoyami-kun’s match with Kirishima-kun, and the match just now - Yaoyorozu-san’s match with Hatsume-san is just starting.”

 

“Ooh!” Uraraka says, sitting down. “That sounds super fun!”

 

In the end, the match turns out to be a glorified arms race - every time Hatsume pulls out a bigger, flashier contraption, Yaoyorozu makes an equally complicated machine, often assembling it on the spot. Since Hatsume hadn't been able to show off most of her machines during the cavalry battle, she's using them all excessively against Yaoyorozu.

 

To make matters worse, Hatsume doesn’t even seem interested in fighting Yaoyorozu, or winning - she’s using her limited screen time just to demonstrate and advertise her machines to possible scouts from support companies.

 

Izuku snorts with poorly suppressed laughter when Hatsume, seemingly done with her spiel, abruptly hops out of the boundary line and forfeits. Yaoyorozu looks at her, stunned, as Midnight hides a giggle behind her hand and declares her the winner of the match.

 

“Hatsume-chan really just goes at her own pace, huh?” Uraraka comments, watching Hatsume use her hover boots to hop nimbly out of the stadium.

 

“Yeah.” Briefly, Izuku wonders if Red Eagle - Hatsume Aki - would be here today to cheer her little sister on. He hopes he gets to talk to her sometime today, if only for a little bit - he'd like to see how she's doing, and if maybe she remembers him.

 

(It's a testament to how far he's come that he thinks of her and feels no bitterness.)

 

“Iida-kun and Aoyama-kun are up next,” Izuku continues, watching the match-up appear on screen. “I wonder how that will go?”

 

The match, as it turns out, is finished in thirty seconds flat - Iida dodges Aoyama’s beams at high-speed and maneuvers behind him before grasping his shoulders and pushing him out of the ring with his leg boosters churning powerfully. Izuku and Uraraka stand close to the railing to cheer loudly for him, and it seems that he hears, because he turns to wave at them and smile.

 

The next match - Ashido versus Sero - is finished just as quickly. Any time Sero gets any of his tape on Ashido, she quickly dissolves it with her acid. In the end, Ashido manages to manhandle him out of the ring, leading quickly to her victory. She flashes a peace sign up at the cameras, grinning widely for the audience.

 

Then, it's finally time for the last match in the first round.

 

Kacchan against Kaminari.

 

One match closer to making it to the finals together.

 

One match before Izuku fights Todoroki.

 

“Good luck, Kacchan!” Izuku calls, as both blondes exit the balcony as Ashido and Sero leave the stage themselves. Kacchan simply responds with a raised middle finger as he stalks off, not even bothering to look back.

 

Uraraka and Asui share a look between them, before turning to Izuku. “How do you think it'll go, Deku-kun?” Uraraka asks, a smile in her voice.

 

Izuku smiles slightly, facing forward to the stage. “Kacchan will win,” he says confidently. “This is nothing against Kaminari-kun, understand that. But Kacchan can't lose, not here, not now.”

 

Uraraka and Asui turn to each other again, then sigh in unison, smiling. “You guys have such a lot of faith in each other that it's kind of unbelievable, ribbit,” Asui comments lightly.

 

“I suppose it's the power of the childhood friend backstory,” Uraraka says, giggling.

 

The final match ends just as quickly as the ones before it - except it's a lot more explosive . At its peak, Kaminari manages to get up close to Bakugou and shock him at full power, at point-blank range. For a moment, everyone in the audience thinks that maybe Bakugou had been overpowered, but then he raises his head and grins so sharply that his canines glint visibly even on the screens capturing their battle.

 

“Bakugou just frigging tanked that shock!” Kirishima says enthusiastically, pumping his fists. “I feel kinda bad for Kaminari now, but that was so cool!”

 

“He just took it head-on,” Sero says, shaking his head in amazement as Bakugou hurls the now dopey-looking Kaminari none too gently out of the ring. Izuku wonders briefly why he hadn't continued the fight, until he realizes that Kacchan wouldn't consider Kaminari an opponent truly worth fighting.

 

“Kaminari doesn't seem to mind,” Jirou says privately, giggling at the blonde boy’s unflatteringly dopey face.

 

“What an electric finale! What an explosive conclusion to the first round of the final event of the Sports Festival!” Present Mic says enthusiastically, even as Kacchan's ever-constant scowl is displayed along every screen in the stadium. “Is everyone as excited as I am?”

 

The audience's cheers serve as a resounding yes . “Looks like you are! Now, let's get into the quarter-finals without any delay! Oh boy - looks like we have quite the promising first match ahead of us! Will Midoriya Izuku and Todoroki Shouto please assume their places at their respective entrances?”

 

Izuku rises, exactly at the same time that Todoroki does. They catch each other's gazes, but Todoroki looks away immediately - without a word, they leave the balcony together, splitting up to go to their respective entrances.

 

Izuku calms himself, preparing himself mentally for the battle up ahead. As he walks down the twisting hallways, he feels a sudden wave of heat wash over him, spotting bright, flickering orange lights coming towards him.

 

“You,” says the Flame Hero, Endeavor, pausing in his step as his eyes land on Izuku. “Hn. So I did take a wrong turn.”

 

Izuku swallows, suddenly feeling small in every sense of the word in front of Endeavor, the Number Two Hero. Taken a wrong turn? He must have meant to meet Todoroki at his entrance.

 

“Never mind. This actually works out. You're that Midoriya boy from the USJ attack, aren't you?” Endeavor asks, his flames blazing.

 

“Yes, I am. And I'm sorry, but I need to go. I'm fighting in the next match,” Izuku says, bowing politely and walking around Endeavor, maneuvering around his bulky frame and his burning hot fire.

 

“You've been leading my Shouto around by the nose this entire day, but you'll be no match for him now, fighting him head on,” Endeavor says. Izuku pauses in his step.

 

“Still, you have a truly impressive quirk - its power reminds me a little bit of All Might. I expect you to give Shouto a truly epic match to add to his list of victories.”

 

Izuku inhales, then exhales. “I am not All Might,” he says calmly.

 

Behind him, Endeavor tilts his chin up in confusion. “No, you most definitely are not,” he says.

 

“And Todoroki-kun is not you,” Izuku finishes, turning around to look Endeavor in his cold, cold eyes. “Whatever happens in our match is between us - you will never fulfill your own desires through him.”

 

And with that, Izuku turns around, walking straight into the arena without waiting for Endeavor’s reply.

 

The audience's cheers mix with Present Mic’s enthusiastic commentary and the blood pumping in his ears. In front of him, Todoroki steps forward, a haunted look on his face.

 

“Todoroki-kun,” Izuku calls, snapping the other boy out of his reverie and prompting him to look at him. “Eyes on me. This is our match.”

 

He raises a hand and clenches it into a fist, fingernails digging into the scars on his palms. “Let's give it our all,” he says, watching as a positively pained look crosses Todoroki's face.

 

“And start !”

 

A wave of ice springs up predictably towards Izuku, but he punches through it just as quickly, shattering it into tiny ice crystals and mist. He takes a step forward - “Is that all, Todoroki-kun?” he asks, shaking his hand idly.

 

Another wave of ice comes at him, stronger and faster, and Izuku bats it away with his other hand. He keeps walking forward. “I can and will destroy all the ice you send at me, Todoroki-kun!” Izuku tells him, destroying another icy attack, then another. “We can keep going all day if this is all that you're going to do.”

 

Todoroki doesn't reply. It doesn't even seem as if he's listening - he just swings his right hand back and forth, tracing erratic patterns in the air and sending wave after wave of ice for Izuku to destroy.

 

Up in the seats, the audience begins shivering. “Man, e-everytime Midoriya destroys Todoroki’s ice, it's l-like someone's cranking up the a-a-air conditioner,” Kirishima remarks, teeth chattering.

 

“W-Why doesn't he just knock Todoroki out of the ring, though?” Jirou wonders, rubbing her arms. “I'm pretty sure M-Midoriya could do that, if he tries.”

 

Katsuki leans forward with his eyes narrowed, seemingly unaffected by the cold. “Come on, Deku,” he mutters.

 

Izuku swats away another wave of ice, before his gut twists . He’s a little slow to respond however, which results in him literally freezing in place, looking down to see that ice has crept up his legs without him noticing. He sighs. “Are you even trying anymore, Todoroki-kun?” he asks, kicking his way free out of the ice.

 

“Shut up,” Todoroki says, speaking for the first time since the match had begun. “Just - please, stop talking , Midoriya.”

 

“You're getting cold,” Izuku observes, noting the patches of frost that has started to gather on Todoroki's limbs and clothing. “Wouldn't that be solved if you use your left side?”

 

“No!” Todoroki roars, sending two waves of ice in quick succession towards Izuku. “I will never use his fire! I'll win without ever using it!”

 

“And then what?” Izuku asks, never ceasing as he walks forward. Todoroki sees him advancing and takes a couple of measured steps back, eyeing him warily. “Suppose you become Number One Hero without using your fire. What next? Will your father magically change? Will everything suddenly be better? Will you erase everything your father has done by doing this?”

 

“Shut up! ” Todoroki screams, and his voice gives way to a literal shockwave of ice, exploding from all around him. The ice that Izuku doesn't manage to destroy extends behind him and the platform, stopping just shy of the spectators’ seats.

 

“Then what happens when you become a full-time hero? Are you going to hold back when you're fighting a villain?” Izuku continues ruthlessly, even as his own limbs begin to shiver from the numbing cold that's taken hold of the entire stadium. “Are you going to risk having the blood of innocents on your hands just because you don't want to fight with your full power? Are you going to earn that Number One Hero spot driven by hatred and spite and fear ?”

 

“Midoriya,” Todoroki croaks out, trembling. “What are you even talking about?”

 

Izuku blinks, momentarily shaken. Shit. He'd lost himself for a moment, there. “It doesn't matter,” Izuku says, shaking his head. “The only thing that matters is that unless you do something else, I am going to push you out of this ring .”

 

“I am never going to give in to what my goddamn father wants!” Todoroki screams again, but this time he simply cradles his head in his hands.

 

“Your father this, your father that - what is it that you want, Todoroki-kun?” Izuku asks.

 

Todoroki looks up, the patches of frost shining on his numb skin.

 

“All this time it's been about your father and what he wants,” Izuku says, finally stopping in front of Todoroki. At this point, they're barely a meter apart, surrounded by glacial spikes of ice and snow-like white powder. The mist gathers around them, biting at their skin. They faintly register the sound of Present Mic’s commentary amidst the rushing of air past their ears.

 

“But what do you want?”

 

A single tear traces a path slowly down Todoroki’s left cheek, sliding past his scarred skin. “I - I...” he stammers, partially from cold, partially from uncertainty.

 

“It's okay, Todoroki-kun,” Izuku says, injecting every bit of reassurance he possibly could into his voice. “You can do it.”

 

The other boy takes a ragged breath, exhaling shakily. “I don't - I don't know… I can't - ”

 

“Do you still want to beat me?” Izuku asks. “Do you still want to win by rejecting half of yourself? Is that still what you want?”

 

Todoroki swallows, then shakes his head once, almost imperceptibly. “I just - I just want to be free from this all. I don't - I don't want to be…” he trails off, abruptly pausing when a violent shiver makes its way through his entire body.

 

“Todoroki-kun,” Izuku says, reaching a shaky hand forward to grasp Todoroki’s left wrist. “It's okay. You can use your fire. It's okay.”

 

Todoroki shakes his head vehemently. “No, no, no, no, no ,” he mumbles. Around them, the audience huddles together for warmth as frost begins to creep up the railings. Those in the front seats have abandoned their places, huddling on the stairs in between the seats.

 

“Todoroki-kun,” Izuku says again, voice softening. “It's okay. Nothing bad will happen if you do. You can use it. You won't end up like him.”

 

“It's your quirk, after all.”

 

At that, Todoroki's eyes widen - and when Izuku looks, he sees wisps of smoke and the barest of flames begin to creep up the arm that Izuku's holding.

 

Izuku inhales softly, letting go of Todoroki's wrist as soon as he feels the heat, the first warmth he's felt since entering the match. “See?” he says, stepping back and smiling.

 

“It's cold,” Todoroki mumbles. His head is downcast, his right arm is still shaking, and the flames on his arm are getting brighter and hotter and bigger - but his mouth is twisted into a small smile of his own. “Really, really cold .”

 

“It is,” Izuku agrees. “Maybe you can fix that.”

 

He hears a faint thank you from the other boy before he's consumed by light and heat, and suddenly all the cold is expelled into a rushing wave of pure air and force.

 

The last thing Izuku knows before blacking out is the familiar sound of explosions, the sound of people panicking, and the sensation of covering his face and flying through the air until his back hits a patch of grass.

 

-

 

Kurogiri fumbles, dropping the glass in his hands. It falls onto the table, thankfully not shattering. “What's wrong?” asks the voice from the screen, noticing the sudden noise of his movement.

 

“Just a minor crisis,” Kurogiri says reassuringly, eyes already trained on the screen as he concentrates. “Don't worry, I'm on it.”

 

-

 

Izuku wakes up to a ceiling of white tiles.

 

He feels incredibly groggy, but when he tries to move his limbs, he feels nothing more than the usual heaviness that he gets when he wakes up in the mornings.

 

His movement draws the attention of the other people in the room. “Oh, are you awake?” Recovery Girl says, trotting over to his bed. Behind her, Yagi, in his lanky form, follows. “Young Midoriya!”

 

“Recovery Girl,” Izuku says, before turning to Yagi. “And - All Mi-”

 

Yagi holds up a finger to silence him. “Call me Yagi,” he says, nodding towards the other side of the room. Izuku turns to follow his gaze and sees Todoroki lying down in an identical bed, covered in blankets with his eyes closed. Right. Todoroki isn't aware of All Might’s true identity and thus wouldn't recognize him as Yagi.

 

“How are you feeling?” Recovery Girl asks, while Yagi hovers anxiously over her shoulder.

 

“Tired,” Izuku replies. “But I feel fine, other than that. But, uh… what happened? I don't really remember how our match ended.”

 

Recovery Girl and Yagi look at each other. “Well, you won,” Yagi says, smiling slightly. Even looking at Izuku in his sickbed, he can't seem to keep the pride out of his voice. No wonder Kacchan and Todoroki had thought of him as a father figure to Izuku. “But for a moment there, it was hard to tell.”

 

“After Todoroki-kun used his fire, all the cooled air in the stadium suddenly expanded into a colossal explosion,” Recovery Girl explains. “Cementoss quickly erected walls around the platform to protect the audience from the blast, but the two of you were in there and got the brunt of it. When the smoke had cleared, we saw the result - Todoroki-kun had landed out of bounds, but you managed somehow to stay within.”

 

“It was hard to tell at first, considering there wasn't much of a platform left to truly gauge it,” Yagi adds. “But the umpire and other members of the faculty agreed that young Todoroki clearly landed out of bounds. So you were declared the winner, even if both of you were knocked unconscious.”

 

Izuku frowns. “Are you sure that I landed within the boundary?” he asks, brow furrowing. Even if he doesn't remember much, he distinctly remembers landing on grass -  which would be outside of the platform.

 

“As sure as we could possibly be,” Yagi says, nodding. “It had been a unanimous decision.”

 

Izuku's frown remains, until he feels a slight itch on his scalp. He lifts his hand to scratch it, but pauses when he feels a slight stiffness in his skin.

 

“Oh - careful,” Recovery Girl cautions. “You have burns on your arms. They're not as severe as the scars on your palms, but you shouldn't move them too much until your next match.”

 

Izuku turns his arms over to observe patches of skin that look red, but not scarred. “That's right - I remember shielding my face right before the blast,” Izuku says, recalling his almost instinctive act of defense.

 

“Thankfully, these are only first degree burns - you're incredibly lucky to have sustained only minor injuries,” Recovery Girl says, patting him gently on the shoulder.

 

“What about - what about Todoroki-kun?” Izuku asks, craning his neck to look at the still unconscious boy.

 

“Young Todoroki suffered almost no injuries,” Yagi assures him. “He did, however, come very close to succumbing to hypothermia and even frostbite - the effects of the cold were much worse for him, because his body temperature had continuously been dropping while he used his quirk.”

 

Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of groaning from Todoroki's bed. They all turn to look to see the other boy stirring, moving around under the blankets that had been piled on top of him.

 

Yagi and Recovery Girl share a look once more, noting Izuku's gaze on Todoroki. “Midoriya-kun, if you want, why don't you talk to Todoroki-kun?” Recovery Girl suggests kindly. “We'll likely keep him in all day to observe his condition, so I can talk to him later on.”

 

Izuku blinks, looking at them. “...Yeah,” he says finally, turning back to Todoroki. “I think we should talk.”

 

Recovery Girl pats him on the shoulder, at the same time that Yagi pats him on the head. After that, they turn to leave together, closing the door behind them.

 

Izuku carefully gets out of bed, testing his arms’ movement as he does so. They're stiff, but not painful - he'll likely be able to move them soon. He makes his way to Todoroki’s bed, standing beside him just as the other boy tries to sit up.

 

“Midoriya - ” Todoroki says, before a shiver suddenly racks his frame. Izuku's face knits in concern, quickly gathering the boy's many blankets and piling them up on him.

 

“You have to keep warm - you almost got hypothermia during our match,” Izuku says, wrapping him in blankets. He grimaces a little with the movement of his arms, which Todoroki does not miss.

 

“What's wrong with your arms?” Todoroki asks insistently, leaving Izuku no choice but to show him the burns on his skin. He extends his arms, displaying the rather large patches of burnt skin.

 

Todoroki looks at them in horror. “Did - did I do that?” he asks, lightly touching the raw skin.

 

“Well… yes. But it's my fault that you did what you did,” Izuku says, withdrawing his arms. “And please, don't worry about them. Recovery Girl says that they're only minor burns. They'll heal completely in no time.”

 

Todoroki lets out a small sigh of relief, before lying back down and covering his face with his hands. “Thank goodness,” he says quietly, from underneath all the blankets. “So they won't scar, right?”

 

“No, they won't,” Izuku says, shaking his head. “But I wouldn't have minded. Not all scars are bad.”

 

Todoroki opens his fingers by a crack to peer through them. His expression is unreadable, yet vulnerable. “Yeah?” he asks, barely louder than a whisper. “Even mine?”

 

Izuku smiles. “It's like I said,” he says, holding up his scarred palms, the red tissue so similar to Todoroki's. “Not all scars are bad.”

 

-

 

Meanwhile, in the newly rebuilt stage (for the third time that day - people are starting to get apprehensive of watching Midoriya Izuku whenever he fights), Hitoshi is standing coolly, trying to mask the anxiety he's currently feeling.

 

He'd heard them, in the hallway - those students from Class 1-A, including Midoriya, had come up with a theory on his quirk. Hitoshi thanks the stars that he'd had the good sense to deliberately mislead people about his quirk - now, they think that they only have to avoid answering his questions, when really they should avoid answering him at all.

 

He's loathe to give away the advantage he's held all day, but his opponent now, that bird-headed fellow from Class 1-A, has already seen through the whole question charade. He'll need to trap him in using a statement.

 

And if he wins…

 

He'll be fighting Midoriya, the USJ boy wonder from Class 1-A and the boy Hitoshi only knew as the dumbass boy from the alley.

 

And that will be the true test of how much guilt he can take for using his quirk until it breaks him.

 

His opponent, Tokoyami, draws near. Hitoshi knows that his quirk, Dark Shadow, has a mind of its own and could possibly even speak. While they've all figured out the replying part, they don't seem to have figured out that it's relatively easy to break out of his quirk’s hold. Hopefully, the guy's companion won't try and break him free.

 

They walk towards each other, eyeing each other warily. This Tokoyami fellow seems like a polite person - Hitoshi has already planned on what to say.

 

As Midnight rambles beside them, getting ready to start the match, Hitoshi suddenly sinks into a low bow, as if in show of respect. Startled, Tokoyami bows as well, albeit warily.

 

Hitoshi straightens up, as does his opponent. “I think you've already figured my quirk out, especially since I used it on your team in the cavalry battle,” he begins, forcing himself to sound as contrite as possible.

 

“So instead, I'll be coming at you with everything I have,” Hitoshi says. Midnight raises her whip and declares that the match has started. “May the best one of us win.”

 

Tokoyami nods his head. “Indeed - ” he begins, and never finishes.

 

Hitoshi bows again, not as deep as before, but still respectful. “Do not bring your quirk out,” Hitoshi commands him. “Now, walk out of this ring.”

 

Blank-eyed, Tokoyami obediently turns around and walks to the edge of the ring. Hitoshi can hear the groans of dismay from the Class 1-A balcony, but they're helpless to do anything as their classmate steps out of bounds.

 

“Tokoyami is out of bounds!” Midnight declares, brandishing her whip. “Shinsou is the winner of the match!”

 

Hitoshi lets out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. He's done it. He's making it to the semi-finals.

 

Two matches until the match. He'll need all the time he can get before he has to face him .

 

-

 

Izuku ends up missing Iida’s match against Yaoyorozu, and Kacchan's match against Ashido, with both Iida and Kacchan moving forward to face each other in the semi-finals.

 

The reason for him missing their matches is standing in front of him now.

 

“Midoriya-kun?” In front of him, Red Eagle - no, Hatsume Aki stands, accompanied by her little sister, who's still proudly wearing all her gear. “Wow - you've really grown! I think you're even taller than me now!”

 

Izuku chuckles slightly. Aki has retained the petite yet lithe frame that she'd been known for during her Pro Hero days. He stands just a few inches taller than her now, but she's grown in other ways - her pink hair reaches her waist, neatly braided back, and the bandages that had adorned her limbs during the funeral are replaced by little scars on her skin.

 

“It's been a long time,” Izuku says, bowing slightly. Aki returns the gesture - meanwhile, Hatsume bounces with excitement beside them.

 

“You know, Aki-neesan helped a lot with the design of your goggles!” Hatsume pipes up proudly. “She's actually the one who saw your and recognized your name when she was visiting me at our workshop!”

 

“Wow!” Izuku exclaims. “Thank you so much, both of you. The goggles helped me so much during the USJ attack - I'm sure things would've been much worse without them.”

 

“Oh, it's nothing,” Aki insists, gently straightening him up. “I'm glad that we were able to help you, in any way possible.” Hatsume beams beside her sister.

 

After Izuku had finished talking with Todoroki, he'd left the infirmary to let him rest and to hopefully catch the other matches. However, Hatsume had intercepted him in the hallways, accompanied by her older sister, insisting that the two of them meet and talk, seeing as Aki seemed to know Izuku. He takes it that she's not aware of the incident nearly five years ago - maybe it's for the best.

 

“How are you?” Izuku asks. “You retired from being a Pro Hero a few years ago, right? And you're working for a support company now?”

 

“Actually - ” Aki begins, but Hatsume interrupts her enthusiastically. “Actually, no! Aki-neesan quit her job a year ago to start her own support company! She wanted to be able to focus on making gear that she really wanted to make. That's why I was trying so hard to show off my babies today - if the big companies have a good impression of my products, then maybe they'll want to invest in Aki-neesan’s company!”

 

“That's amazing!” Izuku says, genuinely impressed. “That can't have been easy.”

 

“We've definitely run into some roadblocks along the way, but I think we've really become established recently,” Aki says earnestly, her whole face lighting up. Izuku's glad - she's found her true passion in the support industry, and would no longer be trapped in a job she felt too small for.

 

“And since the company’s a lot more stable now, Aki-neesan has been able to devote more time to her most beloved project yet!” Hatsume pipes up again, waving her arms around excitedly.

 

“Oh?” Izuku says. “And what would that be?”

 

Aki flushes, a bright hue of red coloring her cheeks. “Um… I wanted to start working on prototypes for body armor. Specifically, lightweight and comfortable but durable body armor that could be worn under the clothes. I want to make a design that’s strong but cost-effective, so that it can be mass-produced… for civilian use.”

 

Izuku blinks, speechless.

 

Hatsume does not seem to pick up on the significance of what her sister has just said, instead hopping up and down in excitement. “Isn’t it an amazing idea?” she gushes. “Not only will it be unique from a commercial standpoint, can you imagine the amazing effect it will have for civilian safety? This could be revolutionary! We could prevent injuries, accidents, casualties!”

 

“We really could,” Aki says quietly, a small smile on her face. “I really, really, want to work on this.”

 

“It’s an amazing idea,” Izuku says emphatically, a strange emotion welling up inside of him. “I really think it could bring about a newfound sense of safety and security for civilians. This - this will save lives .”

 

Aki looks at him for a moment, before turning briefly to the side to brush away a tear. “Sorry,” she apologizes, when she sees Hatsume and Izuku's worried faces. “It's nothing. It's… it's so good to see you again.”

 

Izuku smiles. “Likewise,” he says. “It really has been a long time.” Aki smiles back, and Hatsume, although confused, can't help but feel happy that her sister looks happy herself.

 

“You're up to fight soon, right?” Aki asks after a moment. “I've been watching you all day - you're doing incredibly well. Everyone in the seats around me gets so excited every time you do something cool - although they're getting a little scared to see you fight! You always seem to manage to wreck the stage somehow.”

 

Izuku laughs sheepishly. “I’ll try not to wreck it in the next fight - I’m sure Cementoss-sensei can only repair the stage so many times before he gets fed up with me destroying it.”

 

“Your next fight is with the droopy purple guy from general studies!” Hatsume exclaims. “You’ve done really well up to this point, so you better keep it up! I need you to look good as the future spokesperson and ambassador of Eagle Eye Incorporated, so you need to maintain your good image and stellar track record!”

 

“Mei!” Aki chides her sister, but Izuku laughs. “I’ll do my best,” he tells them, smiling. “If I can help you guys out in any way, you can count on me.”

 

Hatsume beams, and although Aki’s smile is smaller, it’s just as happy and genuine. Even so, Izuku cannot fully enjoy the moment - his upcoming match lingers insistently at the back of his mind, keeping him from feeling too carefree.

 

One match with the boy he’d saved back in the alley.

 

One more match until he can keep his promise to Kacchan.

 

...Somehow, Izuku feels this one might be the most draining one yet.

 

-

 

Meanwhile, in a different city, a certain Pro Hero runs through the winding streets, heading the latest manhunt for a notorious villain.

 

The deeds of this particular villain are almost to heinous to say - a series of gruesome, seemingly random murders all across Japan. The only link had been that they were all Pro Heroes - some retired, some active. As of yet, police still had no leads on why those particular heroes had been targeted.

 

“Squad A, go north! Squad B, check the west side!” Iida Tensei, or rather, Ingenium’s legs pump furiously as he issues the command, listening for the affirmation from the respective squads. When they reply, he goes into overdrive, boots digging into the gravel as he runs at full speed.

 

He wishes dearly that he could have gone to see Tenya at his schools sports festival, but this mission had prevent him from doing so.

 

A hint of movement inside a dark alley catches his attention, and he skids to a stop to return to it. His blasters go off, propelling him forward and above a building, cushioning his fall as he drops down to the dark area he’d missed.

 

When he sees him , his hands begin to shake.

 

“Squad A! Squad B! Come in! I’ve found - !”

 

He never finishes the sentence, the sickening sound of steel penetrating steel cutting off his voice as he falls.

 

-

 

“What happened, Tokoyami?” Ojiro says, face knit in confusion. In their little podium, Present Mic is hyping the next battle up, considering it’s the first one in the semi-finals. “We all knew about his quirk, right? How come you still fell for it?”

 

Tokoyami narrows his eyes. “It’s not just questions. Replying to him, period, will trap you under his quirk. He said, may the best one of us win - and I replied, thinking it was safe since it wasn’t a question. You saw where it got me.”

 

“Wait - Midoriya doesn’t know about this!” Mineta says suddenly, sitting up. “We haven’t seen him since his fight with Todoroki, have we?”

 

“No, I think he’ll be coming into this match straight from the infirmary, ribbit,” Asui says, worried as well. “If that Shinsou guy tries to do him in with a statement like with Tokoyami, he might get trapped by the other guy’s quirk.”

 

“But doesn’t that guy seem to know Midoriya already?” Shoji asks. “Remember, back when all the students from the other classes were crowding our classroom? He was the one who really came up with a declaration of war, then bolted the minute he saw Midoriya.”

 

“Midoriya seemed to recognize him too, ribbit,” Asui agrees. “There’s some history there between them - I wonder how it’ll come into play in this next fight, ribbit.”

 

Down in the stage, Izuku strolls up the stage, shoulders tense. This is the third time he’s walked up the same stage today, and it hasn’t gotten easier. With every match, more and more emotions are brought to the surface - he wishes he could have just somehow ended up battling someone like Ashido or Aoyama, people he doesn’t have unnecessary emotional baggage with.

 

In front of him, Shinsou Hitoshi walks up as well, mirroring his stance and his pace. He looks even more conflicted than Izuku feels, and it’s jarring to see each other once again under such different circumstances.

 

Nevertheless, Izuku will not lose - he has a promise to keep.

 

“And start!” Midnight declares, cracking her whip.

 

“You already know about my quirk, right?” Shinsou begins, voice quiet. Izuku does nothing - does not speak, does not nod, does not shrug. He doesn’t know what constitutes a reply under Shinsou’s quirk - it’s much safer for him to do nothing.

 

“Looks like you do. You won’t reply to me at all,” Shinsou says, seemingly attempting to sound disappointed, but not doing a very good job of doing so. He looks more resigned and reluctant than anything. “So what should I do now?”

 

Izuku, again, says nothing. Instead, he begins to walk forward steadily towards Shinsou.

 

“Are you going to push me out of the ring?” Shinsou asks, once again receiving no reply. He chuckles bitterly. “This quirk of mine is pretty useless, huh? As soon as people know about how to avoid it, I can’t use it against them anymore. I’m basically powerless without it. I don’t - ” he pauses, looking down. “I don’t even really deserve to be here in the semi-finals.”

 

Izuku frowns, but says nothing. He does not stop walking, but he does slow down.

 

“It’s funny - recently I can’t seem to stop thinking about that day back in the alley,” Shinsou continues. He doesn’t really seem to be expecting a reply anymore, just talking to speak his mind. “I’m supposed to have the quirk that’ll let me tell people to do what I want them to, right? So why couldn’t I drive that man away? Why couldn’t I save myself?”

 

He pauses to take a deep breath, and Izuku pauses in his step as well. “Why do I even have this quirk? I want to be a hero, have always wanted to be a hero. But this, my quirk - this is a quirk that brainwashes. That enslaves. That controls . It’s not a hero’s quirk - it’s a villain’s quirk,” Shinsou says quietly. Meanwhile, the entire audience watches with bated breath, intrigued to see that Izuku hasn’t been forced to walk out of bounds yet, and neither has he started throwing any of his devastating punches.

 

“You saved me that day,” Shinsou continues, voice growing heated. “But why? You didn’t know who I was - and if you’d known who I was, what my quirk was, what a terrible quirk it was, you wouldn’t have saved me. You owed nothing to me - you could’ve died, too. So why?”

 

Izuku, again, says nothing. He resumes walking instead, his steps slow and purposeful.

 

“Why save me, damn it?” Shinsou yells. “Why come rushing in like an idiot? To save someone you didn’t even know? Why go rushing into danger like a dumbass?”

 

Are you a hero, or a dumbass?

 

“Why save me?” he asks again, his voice barely louder than a whisper. He hangs his head. “I was ready to die .”

 

And at that, Izuku freezes, mere feet away now from the other boy.

 

“I didn’t want to keep going anymore, being treated like a villain, being treated like I had the most terrifying quirk. No one would talk to me. No one would look at me. I didn’t want to keep on going like that… knowing I would never become a hero. That I would never reach my dream.” Shinsou takes a deep, shuddering breath. “Why would you save me?”

 

“Because you looked like you wanted help.”

 

Shinsou looks up, and looks at Izuku’s somber face. “I could see the light draining from your eyes, but you were alive . You didn’t do anything to fight him off, maybe, but I could see it - there was a cry for help in your gaze,” Izuku explains. “How could I have left you there, knowing that?”

 

He smiles slightly, looking at Shinsou -

 

- then his eyes go blank, and his limbs go slack.

 

“Oh, no! It looks like even Midoriya has fallen under Shinsou’s quirk!” Present Mic exclaims. Collectively, the entire balcony of Class 1-A groans in dismay. “Is this the end for Midoriya?”

 

For a tense moment that felt like it lasted an eternity, the audience watches with bated breath as both Shinsou and Izuku stand still, not saying anything. Then, Shinsou opens his mouth, speaking so quietly that nobody except for the boy in front of him hears it.

 

“Midoriya,” he says. “Push me out of bounds.”

 

At once, Izuku reaches his hands out, grasping Shinsou firmly by the shoulders. “Oh!” Present Mic yells, leaning in to get a better look. “Has Midoriya somehow broken out of Shinsou’s hold?”

 

“He hasn’t!” Ojiro exclaims, standing up from his seat. “Look at his eyes,” he says, pointing to the screen currently displaying a close-up of Shinsou and Midoriya’s faces. “They’re blank and white - he’s still definitely under Shinsou’s influence!”

 

“Then how? How is he doing that?” Mineta asks anxiously, hopping up on his seat to get a better view as well.

 

“Could Shinsou possibly have told him to push him out of bounds?” Shoji suggests. “It seems like the only possible explanation.”

 

They all watch as Izuku pushes Shinsou steadily out of the ring, the purple-haired boy offering no resistance whatsoever. Just before he lands outside of the boundary, Shinsou reaches out a hand, then sharply pinches Izuku’s arm.

 

Izuku blinks -

 

- just as Shinsou takes the last step and sets himself outside of the platform line.

 

“Shinsou is out of bounds!” Midnight declares, pointing her whip in their direction. “Midoriya is the winner of the match!”

 

Izuku leans back, retracting his arms which had still been stretched out. “Did you just - ”

 

“Give up a shot at winning this whole damn tournament? Yes, I did. In my defense, what you did was even dumber - you already knew about my quirk, and yet you still replied,” Shinsou says dryly.

 

“Why, though? Why would give that chance up?” Izuku asks, tilting his head.

 

For a moment, Shinsou is silent. “Why do we do anything? Why did you reply to me? Why did you save me back in that alley?” he eventually says, shrugging and lowering his head. “Maybe I felt indebted to you, especially after what you said. Or maybe I just felt it was… the right thing to do.”

 

“In any case, what’s done is done. You’re moving onto the finals.” Shinsou looks up and meets Izuku’s gaze head-on. “You better win, dumbass. I won’t forgive you if you throw this opportunity away.”

 

“I won’t,” Izuku promises. “And for the record, about the way you feel about your quirk… I don’t agree with you - and neither does the audience, or your classmates, for that matter.”

 

Shinsou’s eyes widen, and he looks past Midoriya to look at the balcony where his classmates are seated. “You’re awesome, Shinsou!” they shout, waving at him. “You made it this far! You’re representing everyone here in the general department!”

 

Various Pro Heroes in the audience nod in agreement, apparently noting already what a useful quirk Shinsou has for hero work. The audience claps and cheers, and not all of it is just for Izuku, the victor - they’re clapping for Shinsou as well, the underdog who’s been a surprise threat the entire day, making it farther than anyone - including himself - would ever have thought he could.

 

Amidst their cheers, Shinsou smiles slightly, a little disbelievingly. “Thanks,” he says quietly, so only Izuku would hear.

 

“No problem - ” Izuku begins, before going blank-faced and slack once more.

 

Shinsou snorts, rolling his eyes. “You really never learn, huh?” he says, exasperated. “Don’t lose too badly, you hear me?”

 

When he breaks Izuku out of his quirk, Shinsou laughs, the first time he’s done so in a long, long time.

 

-

 

“You really gave us a scare there, Midoriya!” Ojiro says, once Izuku climbs up to the Class 1-A balcony. “Why did you even reply to him?”

 

Izuku shrugs, laughing slightly. “Who knows?” he says jokingly. “Maybe I am a dumbass.”

 

“That’s not a very nice thing to call yourself, Midoriya,” Ashido chides him, completely missing the joke in his words. Ah, well. It’s not like anyone other than Shinsou, Yashiro, or Kimi would get that joke anyways. “Congrats on making it to the finals though! Ooh, who do you think you’ll be fighting - Iida, or Bakugou?”

 

Izuku frowns as he sits down. While he wants to support his friend in his match, the truth is that he wishes Kacchan would be the one to meet him at the finals. It would be anticlimactic, to say the least, for everything to have been building up today in both of their matches, only for Kacchan to fall short now. Even though Izuku has the utmost faith in Iida’s capabilities, he has more faith in Kacchan’s drive and motivation - Kacchan won’t allow himself to lose, not here, not now.

 

“They'll both give their all,” Izuku says evenly, leaning back in his seat. “I expect nothing less from the both of them.”

 

“Say, where is Iida, anyway?” Sero asks. “I haven't seen him since Midoriya’s match with that guy started.”

 

“Didn't he leave earlier to answer a phone call?” Uraraka pipes up. “It could be that it took so long that he didn't have time to come back here. Maybe he's already at his entrance, before his match?”

 

“It could be,” Izuku concedes, but before the rest of them can posit any more theories, Present Mic alerts everyone in the stadium for an important announcement.

 

“Um, everyone, we have some rather unexpected news!” Present Mic begins. “I’m afraid that the next match-up between Iida Tenya and Bakugou Katsuki, both from Class 1-A, will have to be cancelled. Iida has asked to be excused due to family-related reasons - as such, he’s forfeited the match. Therefore, we’ll move directly into the finals! The last match will be between Midoriya Izuku and Bakugou Katsuki, and it will begin after a fifteen-minute break!”

 

Izuku’s head snaps towards the commentator’s podium, his jaw dropping. “ What? Iida-kun forfeited?” he exclaims. Oh, no. Aside from being terribly unfortunate on Iida’s part, it’s sure to piss Kacchan off - he’ll hate moving up due to his opponent forfeiting, instead of an indisputable victory.

 

He swivels around to look at Kacchan, whose face has darkened immensely. To his credit, he says nothing, but the rage is evident in his face as he stands up and stomps off, leaving the balcony with a dark cloud hanging around him.

 

“So you’ll be fighting Bakugou… man, I can’t even begin to guess how that match-up will go!” Kaminari says. “On the one hand, Midoriya’s an absolute powerhouse, and he’s great at strategizing. On the other hand… this is Bakugou we’re talking about here. He’s got a powerful quirk, too, and he’s really good at using it.”

 

“Not to mention that he took a full-on charge from you with almost no damage,” Jirou adds. “Either he’s really tough, or your shocks aren’t really that strong.”

 

“Hey! I'll have you know my shocks are really strong,” Kaminari retorts. “Bakugou is just a monster.”

 

“Are you ready, Deku-kun?” Uraraka asks, placing a hand on Izuku's shoulder. “And um, do you think Bakugou-kun is okay? He stormed off looking pretty angry just now.”

 

“I'm fine,” Izuku says reassuringly. “As for Kacchan, he's probably just mad that he was handed his spot in the finals, instead of being able to fight for it. He'll cool off eventually… and if he doesn't, well, I'd rather he take it out on me than anyone of you guys.”

 

Uraraka frowns, concerned. “What about Iida-kun? I wonder what's happening with his family. Should we text him to see how he's doing?”

 

“Ah, yeah, that's a great idea!” Izuku picks up his bag from under the seats and rummages around until he grabs his phone. “We probably shouldn't call him, but we can leave a message - I hope nothing bad has happened.”

 

“Me, too,” Uraraka says, worrying her lip.

 

“Yo, Midoriya, someone's here for you!” Kirishima calls. Izuku turns around in his seat to see Yagi waiting by the entrance to their balcony. “Yagi-san, right?”

 

It's more than a little hilarious to think that the living legend, All Might, is standing in the midst of his students who are all none the wiser about his true identity.

 

“Ah, thanks, Kirishima-kun!” Izuku says, bounding out of his seat. “I'll see you later, Uraraka-san!” he says, waving.

 

Yagi gestures for him to follow him into the hallway. Izuku does so, falling into step beside him as they begin to walk. “Did you want to talk about something now, Yagi-san?” Izuku asks.

 

“Hmm, I suppose you could say that,” Yagi says thoughtfully. “But I suppose I just wanted to check in on you before you fought in your final match. Young Iida’s sudden exit was quite unexpected, so it’s must be a little shocking to be fighting again so soon.”

 

“It’s been a little tiring today, yeah,” Izuku says. When Yagi turns idly into a corner, that’s when he realizes that they’re walking towards the direction of his designated entrance. “First Uraraka-san, then Todoroki-kun, and then Shinsou-kun - I don’t know if it’s just me, but my matches were probably a lot more intense than they should’ve been.”

 

Yagi chuckles. “It might have something to do with the way you are, young Midoriya,” he suggests, smiling. “You don’t seem content to simply beat your opponents - you seem to want to make sure that the both of you learn something from the match, whether you win or lose.”

 

Izuku flushes with color. “That’s not it,” he says quickly, waving his hands. “I just, um, well…”

 

Yagi laughs. “No need to get all shy or defensive now, young Midoriya. Your matches today have been nothing short of spectacular. I must ask though, how are you feeling about this next match?”

 

Izuku lowers his hands, frowning. “I’m… nervous, to say the least,” he admits, looking down at the ground. Their pace has slowed considerably, but they remain mobile. “Out of all the matches I’ve had today, this will probably be the most important, for several reasons.”

 

“It is, after all, your first true match against young Bakugou,” Yagi says, clapping a hand on Izuku’s shoulder. This causes them to come completely to a stop, prompting Izuku to look up and meet Yagi’s gaze. “Before you go into this fight, let me just say this, young Midoriya - you have done exceedingly well today. Even under the immense pressure from the expectations of the crowd and the masses, not once have you faltered. You’ve made me incredibly, unspeakably proud.”

 

Izuku feels his face flood with color once again. “I… thank you, Yagi-san. That means a lot to me,” he says simply. “I won’t let you down in this fight.”

 

“My boy, you could never let me down,” Yagi says kindly. “You’ve exceeded my every expectation time and time again. If you can go out there and give your all, and end the match with no regrets whether you win or lose, then I’ll be even prouder.”

 

He smiles at Izuku, holding out his hand for a fist bump. “Can you do that for me, young Midoriya?” he asks.

 

Izuku swallows, emotion welling up inside him. “Yeah,” he says, bumping his fist gently against Yagi’s. Izuku remembers that he's doing it for him , too. “I’ll do it. I promise.”

 

-

 

“It’s finally here!” Present Mic yells into the microphone, arms waving wildly around. “The last battle of the UA High School Sports Festival! The top of the first years will be decided with this one very important match!”

 

“From the hero course, it’s Bakugou Katsuki!” The screen zooms in to focus on Katsuki as he readies his stance, eyes deadly serious. “And also from the hero course, it’s Midoriya Izuku!”

 

In front of him, Deku walks up, looking irritatingly calm. There’s determination in his gaze, something Katsuki has always seen but hasn’t realized until only recently.

 

“I’m glad we both made it here, Kacchan,” Deku says quietly, using the godforsaken nickname he’s always had for him since they were children. Made it here? Katsuki didn’t fucking make it here - he got here by beating Sparky and Pinky, two people who weren’t even worth his time. Not only that, he didn’t even fight in the semi-finals - his spot here in the final match was handed to him by his opponent’s forfeit, instead of being earned through a real fight.

 

“You’re going to come at me with everything you fucking have,” Katsuki demands darkly, noting the sudden shift in Deku’s expression. “And I’m going to beat you, fair and square, an indisputable victory by all accounts. Do you hear me?”

 

For a moment, Deku looks at him with his annoying wide eyes, before he has the fucking nerve to laugh . “Loud and clear, Kacchan,” he says. “Loud and clear.”

 

“And, start!”

 

Katsuki wastes no time, immediately rushing forward, powered by his blasts. Deku has the annoying tendency to avoid harming his opponents, favoring using indirect attacks like his shockwaves instead of outright hitting them - fuck that . Katsuki’s going to force him to fight him head on.

 

“And it looks like Bakugou is going directly for the first move!” Present Mic exclaims. Everyone watches as Katsuki launches himself towards Deku, who predictably dodges and steps off to the side. Katsuki twists in the air, abrupt shoving his hands behind him to change direction - he sees Deku’s kick before he lands it, and manages to give him a faceful of his quirk before he makes contact.

 

“Oh! Midoriya attempts to attack Bakugou but is quickly shut down by his explosions!” The impact sends Deku flying into the air, but he lands heavily on his feet and uses his momentum to slide away from the boundary. Aggravatingly, he seems to have suffered no damage.

 

“That was nothing, Kacchan!” Deku calls, a taunting smile on his face. That little shit. Does he think this is a game? “Come at me with everything you have!”

 

“That's my line, dipshit!” Katsuki roars. Deku crouches deeply, before surging forward, his fist drawn back and ready to aim.

 

Katsuki ducks under his bullet-like punch and returns with an uppercut, adding an explosion for good measure. “Hoo boy! What a heated start for the final match!” Present Mic exclaims. “Midoriya and Bakugou are going all out!”

 

“Now this is a fight!” Kirishima says excitedly, pumping his fists. “The top two from the entrance exam, duking it out, no holds barred! So manly!”

 

“They look pretty evenly matched so far,” Ashido notes, watching as Katsuki matches Izuku punch for punch, neither managing to land a clean hit on each other. “This might actually take a while!”

 

“Yes, but remember, Midoriya-san is a powerful endurance fighter,” Yaoyorozu says. “Out of all of us, he probably has the greatest stamina and can outlast any of us in a normal fight.”

 

“This is Bakugou we're talking about, though,” Sero cuts in. “The guy's tenacious as hell - he'll match Midoriya minute for minute, just you watch. He won't let himself lose by being outlasted like that.”

 

Katsuki grits his teeth as Deku launches himself toward him, seemingly aiming for an attack before abruptly shifting his trajectory downward. It's the same fucking tactic he'd used during his fight with Round Face, and feeling the resulting shockwave from this close up is almost enough to knock him off his feet.

 

Almost.

 

Round Face hadn't had literal blasters on her hands, after all.

 

“You think that's going to fucking do me in?” Katsuki roars, keeping himself in place with a powerful blast from both hands. He uses the residual force to enhance the arc of his leg as he swings it sharply to kick Deku in the ribs. “In your fucking dreams!”

 

Deku takes the full force of his kick, barely even flinching. That crazy fucker - he'd kicked him clean in the ribs! What kind of insane defense did his quirk give him?

 

His quirk .

 

Deku’s quirk.

 

The quirk that everyone, including Deku himself, had given up on ever waiting for.

 

(Katsuki had never truly given up.)

 

Deku charges again and swings his fist in a dangerously sharp curve, narrowly missing Katsuki’s head. He follows up with another, then another, then another, all in rapid succession. Katsuki glares, quickly dodging each one, but becoming well aware that he's close to being forced out of bounds.

 

He retaliates by catching Deku’s oncoming fist with his hand, ignoring the painful sting he feels from the impact.

 

(It's probably nothing compared to how Deku felt when his palms got burned off.)

 

“Think you're just gonna punch my lights out and call it a day?” Katsuki growls, heat smoldering in his other hand. “In your fucking dreams!”

 

He swings his heated fist back and pushes Deku, boosting his force with a particularly powerful explosion. Deku ricochets way back, but again, not close enough to the boundary. Katsuki scowls, shaking his hand. That blast, as powerful as it had been, is definitely taking its toll on his hand.

 

Up in the Class 1-A balcony, Yaoyorozu frowns. “Is it possible that Bakugou-san’s quirk actually has negative side-effects on his skin when he uses it?” she asks thoughtfully.

 

“What do you mean, ribbit?” Asui asks.

 

“Well, Bakugou-san’s quirk isn't necessarily the ability to simply produce explosions, right?” Yaoyorozu says. “It's that he sweats nitroglycerin, which he can detonate at will. I think it's pretty obvious that no matter who you are being exposed to those kinds of explosions aren't good for your skin or your body.”

 

“But Bakugou’s had his quirk for a long time! He's probably gotten used to it, right?” Ojiro says.

 

“Yes, but I think he still has a limit - a threshold beyond which using his quirk would actually become damaging to him,” Yaoyorozu explains. “Look, see - he's trying to minimize the number of big explosions his setting off.”

 

“If he has a limit, Midoriya might eventually be able to push him to it,” Shoji interjects. “Which is not good for Bakugou, seeing as we still haven't seen Midoriya’s limits yet, if he has any…”

 

“Is that why Midoriya hasn't put out any of his strongest moves yet?” Satou asks. “Is he trying to drag out this match to tire Bakugou out?”

 

“It's possible,” Yaoyorozu concedes. “But at this rate, with how careful Bakugou is being, that might take a long time yet.”

 

Katsuki grimaces slightly in pain, hiding it with a murderous glare. Shit - he really shouldn't overdo it with his hands, especially without his gauntlets.

 

Can't lose, won't lose, can't lose .

 

Deku darts up to him again, letting loose another shockwave by striking the ground once more. This time, Katsuki digs his heels in and weathers it out - he's starting to get seriously pissed.

 

“What the fuck are you playing at, shitty Deku!” Katsuki roars. “You haven't hit me seriously a single time since we started this goddamn match! Are you just going to dance around me this entire time?’

 

Deku, infuriatingly, does not reply - instead, he leaps again at Katsuki, managing to get a solid shove against his chest before Katsuki can do anything about it.

 

“Goddamn it!” Katsuki screams. “What part of come at me with everything you have do you not get? If all you're going to do is knock me around, I'm going to haul your ass out of this ring!” He punctuates his sentence with a shove of his own against Deku, releasing a powerful blast from both of his palms as he does so.

 

Won't lose, can't lose, won't lose.

 

“I am giving it my all, Kacchan!” Deku fires back, shoes skidding on the gravel.

 

“Bullshit!” Katsuki yells. “I will not accept the fucking victory if you're fighting so shitty! You need to be at a hundred fucking percent - it's the only victory I'll accept!”

 

“I am giving it my all, because I want to win too, but I don't want to hurt you, Kacchan!” Deku protests, and Katsuki snaps .

 

“Stop it!” Katsuki roars. “Stop that, stop fucking looking down on me! I'm not made of glass, you fucking idiot!”

 

Deku gapes at him, aghast. “How could you ever think that I'm looking down on you, Kacchan?” he asks, his voice genuinely shocked.

 

“Don't fucking deny it,” Katsuki demands, seething. “During the hero expo. During the obstacle race. During the cavalry battle. Fucking now .”

 

“I thought we were past that,” Deku says, voice going soft with disbelief. “I thought you were past that.”

 

Katsuki grits his teeth, for some reason extremely disturbed by the expression on Deku’s stupid face. “I'm going to beat you here and now,” he begins, charging up the blasts in his palms. Even as the skin near his wrists begins to burn , he soldiers through the heat. “And I'm going to prove, finally, to myself and every other shithead here, that I am better than you. That I'm not just some shitty kid with a powerful quirk for you to look down on.”

 

Won't lose, won't lose, won't lose .

 

Katsuki charges Deku, swinging setting off the explosions that had been building up in his palms. He draws one back and swings the other towards Deku’s head -

 

But faster than lightning, Deku’s hand shoots up and grips his wrist firmly, cutting its movement short.

 

“Eighty,” Deku says quietly. Katsuki scowls, unable to free his hand from the other boy’s vice-like grip. He tries to punch him with the other hand, but Deku intercepts it effortlessly as well.

 

“Haah? What the fuck are you talking about?” Kacchan growls.

 

“Eighty villain points,” Deku says, and, gripping Katsuki's wrists, he abruptly lets go to deliver a sharp and yet calculated kick to his abdomen, sending him falling. “During the entrance exam, you had eighty villain points, and I had sixty-six.”

 

Katsuki's eyes narrow practically into slits. What the hell is he going on about? “Fucking Deku!” he yells, before charging at him again.

 

Quick as a flash, Deku sidesteps him, jabbing his elbow into his back. Katsuki takes the blow, falling from the impact and his own momentum. “During the USJ attack, you took out twelve villains, while I took out basically two,” Deku continues, unimpeded.

 

Katsuki grits his teeth, anger rising to the surface. He pushes himself off the ground with his hands, before swinging them and punching Deku square in the head. It does little to keep him from talking.

 

“Today's cavalry battle,” Deku continues, as if he hadn't just been punched in the head. “ Seven banners. I only managed to keep one.”

 

“Shut the fuck up!” Katsuki roars, quickly pooling sweat in his palms and clocking Deku in the head once again, this time strong enough to knock him clear back. “Don't you get it? None of that fucking matters! I didn't take first place in the entrance exam! I didn't take take first place in the race or the cavalry battle! I didn't take out the motherfucking leader of the villains!”

 

“Would you just cool it with your ego and listen to me for one second?” Deku roars, and despite himself, Katsuki freezes. Anger doesn't belong on Deku’s face, no matter how righteous it is. “Why do you do this to yourself? Why do you hold yourself up to your stupid, impossible standards? Why are you so blind to all of your achievements?”

 

“They're not - ” Katsuki begins, but is cut off by Deku’s resounding growl.

 

“Would you stop that?” Deku demands, looking furious. “You're Bakugou Katsuki , or have you forgotten that? Have you forgotten everything you've done just to make it to this day?”

 

“Shut up - I won't be satisfied until I beat - ”

 

“Oh fuck that!” Deku shouts. Katsuki blinks at the curse word - he must truly be angry. “What are you going to prove, by beating me? Tell me, what exactly is that'going to accomplish?”

 

“To prove that I'm still fucking worthy of being a hero, you dumbass!” Katsuki roars, finally fed-up. He realizes his mistake when Deku’s face goes slack with shock once again, and he doesn't reply.

 

Katsuki swears under his breath, knowing it's too late to go back on his words. “Why is it that you, the shitty quirkless nerd who was supposed to just follow behind me - why are you surpassing me? At every goddamn turn? You never even cared about being a hero, and yet here you are. And I...” he trails off, then shakes his head bitterly. “I need to beat you outright, to prove to myself that I'm still on top. That I'm still the best.”

 

“Kacchan,” Deku says, in a broken voice. There is a naked sincerity and vulnerability in his gaze that is almost too much to bear. “How can you think for a single second that I don't admire you? That you aren't amazing?”

 

Katsuki stiffens.

 

“You're Bakugou Katsuki, aren't you? You're going to be the Number One Hero one day, or have you forgotten?”

 

(“I'm going to be a hero,” he says slowly, face turned away from Deku. “And not just any shitty hero, the best hero.”)

 

“You don't have to worry or be scared about anything, Kacchan,” Deku continues, eyes soft. “I'll always be right behind you.”

 

That's not true , Katsuki thinks, lowering his steaming palms. You leapt at the zero-pointer when no one else would. You rushed at the misty fucker, expecting me to cover you. You sprinted all the way to first place in the obstacle race, and each and every time I had to watch your back as it got farther away from me.

 

Katsuki fucking hates the idea of being left in the dust like that.

 

But maybe, in time, he can learn to live with it. Just like he might be able to learn to live with himself and his crushing feelings of inadequacy.

 

(Maybe someday he'll even leave them behind.)

 

Besides, Deku says he'll always be right behind him - Katsuki will make sure to hold him to that.

 

“Deku,” Katsuki says quietly, voice so low that only the other boy could possibly hear. “I'm going to hit you with my most powerful attack. You are going to do the same.”

 

Deku’s brow furrows in confusion, before understanding dawns on his face. “In one blow? Really? You want to end this just like that?” he says, scrunching his nose.

 

“Just to set the record straight, once and for all,” Katsuki says, deepening his stance as he prepares to leap into the air for his final attack.

 

Deku looks like he might hesitate, but eventually he just sighs. “This is so like you, Kacchan, to be so dramatic about things.”

 

“Like I give a shit what you think,” Katsuki snorts. His hands and feet are ready . “Some things don't change, and one of those things is the fact that you're a goddamned nerd who thinks too much.”

 

Deku actually chuckles , the little bastard. “May the best one win,” he says, smiling cheekily, before rushing towards Katsuki with a terrifying speed that he has never known.

 

Katsuki leaps -

 

He sets off the explosions, one after the other -

 

“HOWITZER IMPACT!”

 

“DETROIT SMASH!”

 

Time seems to slow down, as both boys hurtle towards each other -

 

Then, both fists find their mark.

 

The sheer force of their combined attacks sends a veritable ripple through the stadium, whipping up a sudden gale of wind, and with it, a cloud of dust. Audience members throw their hands up to protect their faces, feeling the wind wash over them.

 

When the smoke clears, the audience sees two figures sprawled out on the platform, both bodies having been sent crashing into the cement by each other's attacks.

 

“Oh, my!” Present Mic exclaims. “It looks like both boys have suffered heavy damage from their respective attacks! But who will stand up and be crowned the champion?”

 

Vaguely above him, Izuku feels Kacchan stirring. A small smile comes unbidden into his face.

 

“A draw, huh?” he murmurs, knowing Kacchan is close enough to hear. “Hn. How do you feel about that?”

 

There is a beat of silence, before Kacchan snorts. “You're such a shitty liar, Deku,” he says irritably. “Obviously you can still get up. Now get your ass up and help me stand, I think I literally fucking broke my back when landed on the stage.”

 

Izuku laughs, bright and merry, before gingerly standing up and dusting himself off. When Kacchan fails to do the same for a straight ten seconds, Midnight brings her whip down with a flourish. “Bakugou is unable to continue! Midoriya is the winner of the match!” she declares.

 

“AAAAAAMAAAAZING!” Present Mic yells, brandishing his mic stand around. “What an explosive finish! What a thrilling finale! What a heart-stopping conclusion to this monumental Sports Festival! Ladies and gentlemen, it is my proud honor to present to you this year's champion of the freshman stage - from Class 1-A, here's Midoriya Izuku!”

 

Izuku beams as the crowd's deafening cheers wash over him, before promptly turning around and extending his hand to Kacchan, who's still lying down. Kacchan only glares at him for a few seconds before taking it, pulling himself up using Izuku's arm as support.

 

“For the record, you probably could have gotten up, too,” Izuku informs him, his cheeky smile returning.

 

“Like hell I would've - my back is killing me,” Kacchan gripes, but Izuku knows it's half-hearted. He does, after all, know Kacchan better than anyone. “Do you fucking see that on the cement, shitty Deku? We left fucking imprints on the ground. That's how fucking hard we hit it.”

 

“Oh, you're fine,” Izuku says dismissively, grinning. “A little back pain never hurt anybody.”

 

A little back pain - you little shit, get over here, I'll show you a little pain!”

 

For the second time in his life, Izuku finds himself reduced nearly to tears in front of a crowd by a combination of aggressive tickling and absolutely monstrous noogies, courtesy once again of Kacchan.

 

This time, however, feels different.

 

Because this time, there's now a silent bridge of understanding between them, promising hopes of deeper trust and connection than ever before.

 

-

 

Meanwhile, as the celebration begins back in UA, Tenya finds himself in the most horrible living nightmare he could ever have imagined.

 

This weak, pale man, hooked up to various cords and tubes cannot possibly be his brother, Tensei. Tensei is strong, Tensei is powerful - it is simply unthinkable for him to have been brought down to this stature.

 

“Nii-san!” Tenya cries, rushing to his brother's side. The doctors had informed him and their parents that Tensei had woken up some minutes ago, but would still be woozy. The hero Ingenium’s deep blue eyes shake as they look at Tenya, who swims in and out of focus.

 

“Ten...ya?” Tensei breathes out. Through his streaming tears, Tenya manages to nod, grasping at the lethargic hand that his brother reaches out. “Yes, nii-san, it's me,” he says, voice trembling. “You'll be fine. We're all right here with you now.”

 

“Tenya. Tenya… Ten - ” Tensei mumbles, but is cut off by the sudden pain that floods his body.

 

“Fame… money… prestige… tch. None of you actually deserve to be called heroes.”

 

“What is it? What do you need? I'm right here. What do you want?” Tenya says anxiously.

 

“A pity for you, too - I wasn't even planning on going after you, but you showed up in front of me, challenging me.”

 

Tensei’s heart monitor suddenly begins to pick up, beeping erratically. “He's getting agitated,” warns one of the doctors present. “What is he trying to say?”

 

“Did you actually think you could catch me? How naive. Typical hero.”

 

“Your - your friend,” Tensei rasps out, struggling to speak. “Need to warn - him.”

 

“There are only two heroes in this world who I'd allow to kill me.”

 

“Warn? Friend?” Tenya frowns, baffled. “Nii-san, what are you talking about?”

 

“All Might…”

 

“Him,” Tensei croaks, fighting to remain lucid. “Him… the, the boy.”

 

“And Midoriya Izuku.”