Actions

Work Header

it'll all come true (just as we dreamed)

Work Text:

Ever since she was a kid, Chu Sojung wanted to be a hero.

 

She loved the way her mom could transform small objects into whichever shape she desired. She would spend hours asking her mom to play around with household objects, squishing pens shorter for her stubby little hands, thinning 0.7mm lead into 0.5mm lead for her mechanical pencils, stretching erasers into rubber sticks, loops and curls, and thin sheets like paper. She loved the way her dad, aptly nicknamed “flying squirrel”, could glide from the top of the staircase to the bottom without touching the ground once. She was always in awe of the smooth and elegant way he landed from high treetops and hillsides. And so, she would anticipate excitedly the day when she too received her powers.

 

The day when she could start helping people.

 

The day when she could finally pursue her greatest dream: to become the world’s best hero. To become a legend and an inspiration for all children who want to make the world better.

 

She knows that 80% of the population has a superpower, commonly referred to as a quirk, which generally manifests itself around 4 years of age. She awaits her fourth birthday with restless nervousness but the day comes and goes, showing no signs of a newly manifested quirk. The days keep coming and going, and suddenly it’s two months before her fifth birthday and she’s losing hope.

 

Chu Sojung does have a quirk. In fact, she vividly remembers the day her quirk manifested.

 

It’s 1:17 PM and she’s cleaning up toys in her kindergarten class as the teacher claps and sings the clean-up song. She absentmindedly says to the boy gathering toys next to her, “Would you please hand me that toy over there?” When he doesn’t answer, she looks up curiously and sees the glazed look in his eyes as he robotically reaches for the toy and hands it to her. He is unmoving and stares at her. He looks like he is waiting for something.

 

“What’s wrong?” she asks. He does not answer. “What’s wrong? Tell me what’s wrong!” At that, he finally speaks.

 

“There is nothing wrong with me,” he says emotionlessly. Terror washes over Sojung and she stands up abruptly, backing away slightly. The teacher comes running over and Sojung fearfully explains to her what’s happening.

 

“All I did was ask him to pass me that toy,” she says, pointing at the toy, “but now he’s acting weird! Teacher, what’s wrong with him?”

 

Her eyebrows furrow. “You told him to pass you the toy, right?” Sojung nods. “Go wash your hands,” she orders him. He doesn’t respond. She furrows her eyebrows. Something’s clearly wrong with him. “Tell him to wash his hands,” she says to Sojung.

 

“Wash your hands,” she tells the boy, and he walks unnaturally - not stiffly but not humanlike either - to the sink, turns the tap on, and washes his hands. The teacher gasps quietly beside her. By now, the whole class is watching.

 

He is standing at the sink, staring at Sojung, water dripping from his hands onto the tile floor. “Dry your hands,” she says timidly. He turns around, takes a paper towel from the paper towel dispenser, and dries his hands. A quiet murmur settles over the classroom as kids whisper to each other. Cold fear runs down Sojung’s back.

 

“Clap your hands,” she orders, and he begins clapping. By now, it’s unmistakable. She knows what her quirk is. His claps echo in her head and she’s dizzy, legs weak like jelly with horror.

 

“Stop! Please stop,” she begs him, and he immediately snaps out of it. His hands fall back down to his sides and he looks up, confused because the whole class is staring at him and clearly not remembering any of what just occurred.

 

“What happened to me?” he asks, eyes trembling with fear, and dread washes over Sojung in waves.

 

She turns around to look at the class and they collectively inch away from her, their disgust and alarm obvious. Devastation settles on her innocent features, an expression far too mature and anguished for a four, nearly five year old child.

 

She does not speak. She is afraid that she will end up controlling someone else.

 

“I’ll send you home for the day,” the teacher says weakly. “Nod if that’s okay with you, Sojung.” Sojung nods.

 

Her dad comes to pick her up and she can’t tell him what happened because she is too afraid to speak. The teacher tells him what happened instead, and she can’t even look him in the eyes. She doesn’t want to see him look at her the same way the others did.

 

He hugs her and she bursts into tears that do not stop for the entire car ride home. They continue to fall even as she opens the door, as she walks up the stairs, and as she sits alone in her room for hours, refusing to talk to her parents.

 

Chu Sojung wants to be a hero.

 

She wants to help people. She wants to become the world’s best hero, a legend and an inspiration for all children who want to make the world better.

 

When Chu Sojung uses her quirk for the first time, she sees her future suspended as a repulsive collage of hurting others and she has never been more afraid of herself.

 

I want to be a hero.

 

Can I even do that?

 

...

 

From that day on, Chu Sojung thinks herself incapable of becoming the hero she wanted to become. The world’s best hero. The picture-perfect symbol of success and strength that she envisioned herself being before she received a quirk that branded her as a villain.

 

However, that does not stop her from wanting to be a hero. She’s starting to suspect that nothing could ever stop her from wanting to be a hero. So when fall rolls around and applications to the best high school for aspiring heroes in all of Korea are all anyone can talk about, she applies too.

 

Starship Academy. The prestigious number one high school for young hero hopefuls. Although anyone can apply, the demanding application process intimidates even the smartest of students with the strongest of quirks. Only an elite few born with innate talent manage to get into the hero course, with far more people ending up in the general studies course. Many other applicants choose to apply for the support course, where students build technology like weapons and armor for heroes to use in battle or to rescue civilians, or the business course, where students learn about the hero system, from founding hero agencies, marketing heroes to the public, and assigning sidekicks to the most powerful heroes. It’s easier to get into those two.

 

But Sojung wants to be in the hero course, and nothing else. So she trains, and trains, and trains. She trains until she forgets what it feels like when her muscles don't ache. She trains until she forgets what it feels like when her lungs don't burn. Mind control isn’t enough to get her where she wants. She trains until she can wield any weapon and spar until her opponent has no choice but to admit defeat. She applies for the hero course and keeps her head down as buzz spreads around her middle school about who’s applying and who isn’t.

 

(“Sojung, are you applying to Starship?” She hears a scoff. “Obviously not.” Sojung keeps her head down and doesn’t answer. No one asks why she looks so tired lately.)

 

The exam portion is easy enough. What should you do if you find a civilian underneath rubble from a collapsed building? What should you do if you encounter a villain face to face? She passes easily and moves onto the second round of the applications, essays. The question is the same every year: “Why do you want to be a hero?” She passes that round, too, unlike even some of the most promising students in her grade. But she can’t get too confident. The next part is the hardest part.

 

Practical application.

 

Fighting.

 

...

 

So, basically, she has to destroy robots.

 

There was a big assembly for all applicants who had made it this far at Starship, and she had been a little starstruck by the dazzling celebrity hero speaker, Tiffany, whose power is basically being able to yell really loudly. Sojung listens to her radio show sometimes. And her songs. She’s a great singer. (She’s a huge fan.)

 

She becomes even more distracted when the panel of judges for the practical exam is revealed. All of them are extremely famous heroes, featuring Taeyeon, Hyolyn, Heechul, and current number one hero, BoA. (Sojung nearly faints when BoA smiles and waves at the crowd of students. She spots someone crying a few rows over.)

 

But she gets the gist of the practical exam. The more robots destroyed, the more points.

 

She goes home and trains again. Her muscles scream for rest as she slams her fists into punching bags, deftly tosses knives into the centers of targets, and kicks through layers of wooden boards. She can't rest. She wants to get into the hero course.

 

She wants to be a hero.

 

...

 

She doesn't do well.

 

Of course she's naturally very athletic and her training only serves to make her even better at destroying robots, but that doesn't compare at all to the people with super strength, or fire breath, or telekinesis.

 

She destroys five of the little robots, the ones maybe six or seven feet tall, in the ten minutes of the test. Five points. Good, but not nearly enough. When she leaves the large landscape of the practical exam, she overhears the other students - “I got 18 points overall. I even got one of the big robots that are worth three points!” and “I got 23 points, how about you?” - and she can’t help but feel defeated.

 

A girl taps her on the shoulder. Sojung turns around and finds herself face to face with a girl who looks around her age. She’s really pretty. “Hi! I’m Kim Jiyeon,” she says, grinning. Sojung eyes her warily. “Chu Sojung,” she murmurs, barely loud enough to be heard over the buzz of the other applicants. What does this girl want with her?

 

“I was just wondering,” Jiyeon begins, “I saw that you weren’t using your quirk? Or it didn’t look like you were, at least, I couldn’t really tell. You were ripping the robots apart with your knife and punching them! It looked really cool, by the way. Anyways, I wanted to ask you what your quirk is?”

 

Sojung purses her lips. “Mind control,” she answers, and turns away so she doesn’t have to look Jiyeon in the eyes as she says so. She doesn’t like seeing the expression on people’s faces when she tells them that.

 

Jiyeon doesn’t falter. “Oh, that’s really cool!” She says brightly, and Sojung’s eyes widen in surprise. “Does it only work on living things?” Sojung nods. “Oh, so that’s why...” Jiyeon muses, looking deep in thought. “Would it count as points for you if you controlled someone and made them destroy robots?”

 

Ah, there it is.

 

“I don’t know.” Sojung shrugs. “I wouldn’t use it even if it got me points like that, so I didn’t bother asking.”

 

Over Jiyeon’s shoulder, Sojung makes eye contact with a blonde girl standing a few feet away. The girl looks at her for a few moments, but then the crowd jostles them and Sojung stumbles, leaning on Jiyeon for support. When she’s regained her footing, the girl is gone.

 

...

 

She doesn’t get in. Not into the hero course, at least.

 

She receives an acceptance letter to Starship Academy’s general studies course. The moment she rips open the letter and reads the words “Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to the general studies course,” she grits her teeth and runs upstairs, leaving the letter lying on the doormat. Her mother comes up a few hours later, rubbing her back as she sobs into the blankets, breaths shaky and pained as she clenches her pillow so hard her knuckles go white.

 

She’ll go to Starship, of course. She’s not going to turn this opportunity down.

 

There’s a tournament every year. Students from all courses can compete against each other, although mostly the general and hero courses participate. The school selects brackets for one-on-one battles and students compete for first place, defeating all their opponents. The whole country and even people internationally tune in to watch the strongest students from the strongest hero school in Korea fight against each other.

 

In particular, if students from the general course perform well enough, they can be transferred to the hero course.

 

She’ll be damned if she passes up on that offer. She wants to get into the hero course no matter what.

 

She wants to be a hero.

 

...

 

At orientation, the top forty students on the practical exam are revealed. The scores are revealed to be a combination of “villain points” from defeating robots and “rescue points” for saving anyone in danger from the robots. Sojung clenches her jaw as she hears the students around her whining about how they could’ve gotten higher scores if they’d known that rescue points were involved too. The judges were right not to reveal it, and she doesn’t only think that because she’s a fan. A true hero would rescue others whether or not it earned them points. Besides, she has enough pride to admit to herself that her incompetence is hers, and hers alone.

 

The ones who got into the top forty, plus the ten students admitted from recommendations, who are typically the children of bigshot superheroes, make up the two hero classes, 1-A and 1-B. Sojung can’t help but lean forward in curiosity to better see the screen when the top forty rankings are shown.

 

“In first place is Kim Hyunjung!” Sojung’s jaw drops in astonishment when she reads an overwhelming 106 points on the screen, 35 from rescue and 71 from villains. The room erupts into thunderous applause and she scans the crowd to find this first place applicant. Her eyes land on a blonde girl who is bowing deeply. Sojung sucks in a breath when she straightens to her full height.

 

It’s her. The girl she saw outside the practical exam.

 

Sojung immediately feels self-conscious. Why was the blonde girl - no, she has a name, she’s Hyunjung now - looking at her? She averts her eyes back to the rankings. She’s surprised to see that Kim Jiyeon stands in third with 83 points. Sojung hadn’t found her very intimidating or powerful from their short conversation. Her stomach stirs with nervousness at the thought that such talented people were interested in her after the exam.

 

Her eyes skim over the rest of the rankings - Lee Seokmin in second, Nam Dawon in fourth, Lee Chan in fifth, Son Juyeon in sixth, Lee Luda in seventh, Kwon Soonyoung in eighth, Hwang Eunbi in ninth, and Jeon Wonwoo in tenth. The screen moves on to rankings 11-20 and her eyes drop to her lap, berating herself for her curiosity. She doesn’t need to know their names. They won’t be in her class.

 

I’ll know them for the tournament , she vows to herself. When the assembly is over, there is something new in her eyes. Anger, maybe. Determination, maybe. Hunger, yes.

 

She wants to win.

 

And this time, she’ll use her quirk whether she likes it or not.

 

...

 

Wow, the stadium is even bigger than I thought it would be.

 

The first few months of school go smoothly. Sojung makes friends, studies the quirks of the other students, gets good grades, and trains every day. Her nervousness increases as the day of the tournament grows closer and closer. The school seems to be brimming with talk of who will get scouted by the biggest hero agencies, who might get transferred into the hero course or out of the hero course, who will catch the eye of the public. Who will get first place.

 

Sojung asks herself that question too.

 

Who will get first place?

 

Me , is her mind’s first answer. An instinct. She wants to win. She’ll be damned if a lack of self confidence prevents her from doing so.

 

Kim Hyunjung , is her mind’s second answer. Sojung hasn’t seen her in person since the assembly before school started, but she’s heard of her almost daily. The number one applicant. The strongest student. She dominates her classes and dismantles each and every single opponent with both brute force and admirable grace. She’s impossible to beat.

 

Sojung would like to test that. She has to see for herself if that’s really true.

 

The students file one by one into the center of the stadium on top of the field where they’ll be fighting one another. Students line up by class in front of the podium where Tiffany stands, ready to commence the opening ceremony.

 

“Welcome to this year’s Starship Academy Hero Tournament!” Tiffany booms without the help of a mic. Sojung’s eyes go wide in awe. She’s listened to her voice a million times at home, comforting and soft through the speakers, but hearing it in person is a completely different experience. It’s almost surreal, the way the crowd roars and the students flare up in excitement as Tiffany speaks. She can feel adrenaline coursing in her veins stronger and stronger with each passing second.

 

“And now, the opening speech from the number one student of the freshman class!” Tiffany sets down the mic with a grand gesture as the crowd of students parts to reveal a blonde haired girl walking towards the podium stairs. Students gasp and whisper. Sojung leans closer.

 

Hyunjung walks up to the podium, hair flying loosely in the wind and eyes glinting with a steely determination. She looks like the picture-perfect definition of a top student. Like the kind of person who’s never been told that they can’t be a hero. It only fires Sojung up even more. Hyunjung clears her throat and steps up to the mic.

 

“I pledge,” she says in a smooth voice that’s softer than Sojung expected, “that we will perform with sportsmanship and dignity representative of that which Starship Academy has taught us. We all intend to display our true potential in battle, and I know wholeheartedly that our performances will satisfy not only ourselves, but also our families, friends, and all the hero scouters watching.” A low chuckle passes through the crowd.

 

“I hope that we can ready each other for our futures as heroes today and in the days that follow, not just during this tournament, but also during the rest of our time at this school. Most importantly, I pledge that we fight with every shred of determination, every drop of blood, and every unspilled tear in our bodies.” She pauses. “May the best hero win.”

 

The crowd roars in approval, the applause deafening. Sojung can’t help but admire her. She’s inadvertently pulled in by her unfaltering charisma. She seems like the image that everyone has in mind when they think of the word “hero”, the image that Sojung herself idolized and believed she could be once upon a time.

 

Sojung’s veins fill with the uncontrollable urge to defeat her.

 

After Hyunjung steps down from the podium, the top upperclassmen give their speeches in turn. Everyone waits on the tips of their toes for Tiffany to return to the mic. She will reveal the brackets today.

 

“And now, the moment that we’ve all been waiting for,” Tiffany drawls as everyone leans forward in anticipation, “the brackets!”

 

The brackets appear on the giant screen behind Tiffany. Everyone scrambles to find their name and bracket. Sojung finds her name in bracket H. She’s up against some support student for the first round, and if she wins, she’ll be going against some other general course students that she’s practiced against before. No big threats, except for two hero course students on the opposite side of her bracket, Park Soobin and Im Nayoung, and one on the same side, Yoo Jeongyeon.

 

Sojung does the math in her head. Eight brackets, 32 students each. 256 students total and 50 hero course students means that about a fifth of students in this tournament are hero course students. An average bracket would have 6.25 hero course students. She’s lucky to only have three.

 

However, that luck comes at a cost. She easily recognizes the name Park Soobin; she’s one of the recommendations students, which means she was good enough or had enough connections to skip the application process altogether. Sojung knows that neither of her parents are professional heroes, and given what she’s seen from studying her, she definitely got in because she was strong enough. Thankfully, if she does end up going against her, it’ll be in the bracket finals after winning four rounds.

 

Only one student advances from each bracket to the tournament quarterfinals. Sojung intends to be one of them.

 

...

 

Sojung wins her first two battles without even having to use her quirk, as her raw physical ability combined with their lack of training easily allows her to win and move on to the bracket quarterfinals. So far, she’s only immobilized her opponents for ten seconds, which is one of the ways to win a match. The crowd seems somewhat interested in her apparent lack of quirk, as she chooses to engage in close-combat fights and pin down her opponents rather than use her quirk. However, she can’t keep up this facade for long. Her next opponent is Yoo Jeongyeon, a member of hero class 1-A.

 

Her quirk is teleportation.

 

Sojung already has a plan. Going out of bounds is an automatic loss. Jeongyeon’s quirk also has a few holes, so to speak, that she can easily exploit to win.

 

Sojung looks up at the clock. The student runners should be calling her up to the battlefield any moment now.

 

She slips a ski mask over her face, two jackets and an extra pair of pants over her school uniform, and thin gloves over her hands. Her left glove has a small hole on the tip of her index finger. It’s entirely intentional. Jeongyeon can teleport with people, but only if they have skin-to-skin contact.

 

She exits the room just as the student runner rounds the corner and makes her way to the battlefield. The thunderous roar of the crowd amazes her just like her previous two battles. The students on the field shake hands and leave the field and she steps up to the white lined boundary, adjusting her jacket collar so that it covers her neck.

 

From the other side of the battlefield, she sees Jeongyeon, who looks quite irritated. She’s been studied.

 

“And now, for the next match,” Tiffany booms, “we have hero course student Yoo Jeongyeon with a powerful teleportation quirk against general course student Chu Sojung who has not revealed her quirk yet! She also seems to have prepared her attire for this battle, although it is not clear why!” Sojung smiles. The information that Jeongyeon can only teleport with others by skin-to-skin contact isn’t well known. She walks over the boundary line and well into the battlefield until they’re twenty feet apart. “Ready… set… go!” Tiffany shouts.

 

As expected, Jeongyeon teleports right next to her and immediately goes for her neck, which has the weakest protection under her two jacket collars. Sojung ducks under her hand and grabs Jeongyeon’s wrist, careful to not let her slip off her glove or notice the hole on her index finger.

 

“You studied me, huh?” Jeongyeon hisses as Sojung repeatedly blocks her other hand. Sojung smirks. “You should’ve studied me. Was I not good enough for you, hero course student?” Anger flashes in Jeongyeon’s eyes, along with guilt.

 

Good. She’s provoked and she knows Sojung’s right.

 

Jeongyeon impulsively reaches for Sojung’s mask and Sojung grabs her other wrist with a bruising grip, smiling when Jeongyeon’s face twists in pain as she struggles to free her arms.

 

“Please don’t take off my mask,” she murmurs quietly, watching Jeongyeon’s eyes go blank as she stops her movements. Tiffany yells, “Jeongyeon’s hesitated!” and Sojung takes her chance.

 

“Teleport us so that we’re still in bounds, two feet away from the boundary line,” Sojung orders, touching her index finger to Jeongyeon’s hand. They teleport instantaneously right next to the border, and Sojung reverses their positions so Jeongyeon’s back is to the boundary line. The crowd cheers.

 

“Please stop,” she mutters, watching as Jeongyeon’s eyes regain recognition and confusion. She takes the moment Jeongyeon hesitates to slam a fist into her stomach. Jeongyeon falls onto her elbows and back, out of bounds.

 

“Jeongyeon is out of bounds! Sojung wins!” Tiffany announces, and the crowd goes wild. Sojung sticks out a hand to Jeongyeon, who takes it and pulls herself up.

 

“What the hell was that?” Jeongyeon whispers to her as she smiles and waves at the crowd.

 

“You don’t remember anything, then?” Sojung turns around to wave at the other half of the stadium. Jeongyeon shakes her head. “It’s all blurry. All I can remember is fighting you, you kept stopping me when I tried to get to your skin, a cloudy haze, and then you punched me out of bounds.”

 

Sojung smiles. “Good. That means you can’t tell anyone what actually happened.” She turns away from the crowd and holds out her hand to Jeongyeon. “Good match.” Jeongyeon accepts the handshake and they walk off the field to the waiting rooms together.

 

“You’re right,” Sojung hears from Jeongyeon after a few minutes of silence. “I should’ve studied you, too. I shouldn’t have underestimated you just because you’re not from the hero course. You won fair and square.”

 

Sojung hums. “Thank you. I’m glad we had a fair fight.” She pulls off her gloves and two extra jackets. “Even if it all happened pretty fast, it took a lot of effort from me to make a plan. You’re quite strong. Don’t underestimate yourself, either.”

 

Jeongyeon nods. “You researched me.” It isn’t a question.

 

Sojung stretches her arms, works out the knots in her shoulder. “I researched everyone. I take this very seriously.”

 

“Well, I won’t be surprised if you make it into the hero class.” Sojung gives her a questioning look. “Most people in my class only prepared for the hero students, so you’ve got an advantage. Please teach them a lesson, too.”

 

Sojung grins. “Of course I will. People have a habit of underestimating me.”

 

Jeongyeon smirks. “Don’t get too cocky. If the next battle plays out how everyone thinks it will, you’ll be up against Park Soobin next.”

 

“She’s in your class?” Sojung already knows the answer, but she feels satisfied when Jeongyeon nods anyway.

 

“She’s a lot stronger than me,” Jeongyeon warns. Sojung understands what she means.

 

“I wasn’t taking it easy with you, and I won’t take it easy with her, either.” Sojung replies. “I’m taking every battle here seriously, so you don’t have to worry about me.”

 

It might sound arrogant, but Jeongyeon gets the point clear as day.

 

I’m not going to lose.

 

...

 

Sojung watches Soobin’s fight on the tournament livestream. As expected, she wins against her opponent, the other hero course student in her bracket, Im Nayoung. Nayoung’s agility quirk allows her to move deftly in urban terrain, but she’s at a severe disadvantage on a flat field even with her natural athleticism. On the other hand, Soobin has a vibration quirk that allows sound waves to travel from her hands into the air, immediately sending anyone who fights against her into fits of pain. Thankfully, Sojung already got permission from the tournament authorities to use support equipment that’ll help her in this battle.

 

Noise-cancelling headphones. When she had asked to use them, the support authorities had been quite confused. Soobin’s sound waves are strong enough to get through even the support students’ best noise-cancelling headphones, and they’ll only protect her ears. They allowed it anyway, because many students have already asked to use noise-cancelling headphones. It’s not enough for other people to win against Soobin, but it’ll be enough for Sojung.

 

Sojung makes her way down to the battlefield amidst cheers from the crowd. Although they only really care about the hero course vs. hero course battles, they always enjoy a good underdog story. Sojung cracks her knuckles. She’s not here to entertain them. She steps into the field.

 

“Alright, the bracket finals!” Tiffany cheers. “On the left we have Park Soobin, recommendation student with an all-powerful quirk that shakes the entire stadium!” The stands erupt in cheering. Soobin’s probably a fan favorite by now. Sojung doesn’t hold it against her. Soobin is pretty and powerful, more than enough to attract everyone’s attention. “And on the right, we have Chu Sojung, a general course student who’s turned the tables by being the first general course student to beat a hero course student this year! People are trying to figure out her quirk!” Sojung blinks in surprise. She hadn’t known that she was the first this year. Must be because she went up against a hero course student so early.

 

“This is sure to be an interesting battle! Ready… set...” Sojung slips her headphones over her ears. She doesn’t hear the “go!”

 

She feels it through the ground.

 

The whole stadium shakes as Soobin activates her quirk. Sojung grits her teeth and runs toward her, even as the ground begins to crumble underneath her feet.

 

“Looks like Sojung’s trying to approach her!” Tiffany says from the commentator’s box, not that anyone can hear it. “Not a smart move in my opinion, since the vibrations get stronger the closer you get, but we know very little about her quirk! Maybe it functions in close range?”

 

Sojung slowly but surely crosses the broken terrain, leaping over the debris that’s cluttering the field. It’s exhausting, as the sound waves shake her to the core and she has to jump to a new spot every time the ground starts cracking underneath her feet. It doesn’t matter how exhausting it is. She has to get to Soobin.

 

“Please stop using your quirk!” She yells, but Soobin can’t hear her. If she can’t hear her, it won’t work. Thankfully, no one else hears her, so at least people can’t figure out what she’s trying to say.

 

Soobin’s ten feet away from her. She has to make it that far.

 

Sojung runs as fast as she can towards Soobin as she makes the sound waves even stronger. Sojung screams in pain as the waves travel through her ears, too strong for the headphones at such a close distance. It’s fine. She’ll make it. She has to. Soobin seems wary of her, but she’s not backing away. She seems to think she’ll have an advantage in close combat.

 

Soobin finally rests her quirk for a moment. Sojung leaps at the opportunity. She knew this would happen eventually, because Soobin isn’t powerful enough to keep her quirk running at full strength continuously for the entire battle.

 

In the instantaneous moment that Soobin lets up on her quirk, Sojung runs the last meter, tackles Soobin to the ground, and gasps, “please.” Soobin’s eyes go glassy and unseeing. Sojung nearly sobs in relief. If Soobin had activated her quirk again, she would’ve definitely fallen unconscious.

 

She won.

 

“Don’t use your quirk and don’t struggle,” Sojung orders, chest heaving with breaths as she pins Soobin’s arms and legs down, effectively immobilizing her. She can vaguely hear Tiffany counting down the ten seconds. She knows that she’s won when the crowd explodes in cheers. Sojung slumps in relief.

 

“Please stop,” she pants, and Soobin snaps out of it. She rushes to activate her quirk but stops when she hears the Tiffany announce, “Chu Sojung has won the bracket finals and will advance as the eighth student to the tournament quarterfinals!” Soobin looks down at Sojung, who’s lying unmoving against her body in exhaustion. She awkwardly moves out from under her and supports her with her shoulder.

 

“Nurse,” Sojung wheezes, gesturing with her hand weakly. Her ears are still ringing and her head is pounding. “Get me to the nurse.” Soobin nods.

 

“You won, then?” Sojung nods, too tired to even speak. “Congratulations on winning the bracket. You made it to the tournament quarterfinals,” she murmurs quietly, wrapping Sojung’s arms around her neck and hoisting her up on her back. “I still don’t know how you did it.” Sojung can’t even answer, almost passed out against her back. Soobin carries her to the nurse.

 

“You’re lucky this was the last match of the day,” the nurse scolds her after using her healing quirk to fix the damage done to Sojung’s ears. “Had there been another one after this, you would’ve definitely lost. At any rate, you’re still going to be feeling muscle strain tomorrow in the quarterfinals. Oh, congratulations for making it to the quarterfinals!” Sojung gives the nurse a weak smile. “And what were you thinking !”

 

The nurse patches her up and uses her quirk to relax and heal her tired muscles. She then checks Soobin for injuries as well, despite her protests that she’s really not hurt. Sojung gives Soobin a smile as the nurse fusses over her and she smiles back.

 

Sojung would see it later that day. A photographer had taken a photo at the exact moment Soobin had pulled her onto her back to carry her. “One won and one lost,” the articles would say, “but looking at this, you’d never guess who won and who lost.” Sojung finds it interesting. She fought so hard to win, she had to be carried off the battlefield by the person she beat.

 

Maybe it’s pathetic, she contends. But she won.

 

 

A fist comes flying at her face. Sojung ducks under the blow and hears her opponent skid to a stop behind her. “Please walk out of bounds.”

 

He immediately starts walking towards the boundary. The people from the crowd urgently yell at him to stop, but it doesn’t work. “What are you doing?” Tiffany yells when he crosses the boundary. Sojung tells him, “please stop,” and he looks up at her in confusion and startles when he realizes he's lost.

 

“Chu Sojung has won! She will advance to the semifinals!”

 

In the semifinals, her opponent tries to wear noise-cancelling headphones in hopes that by not hearing her speak, he won't be under her mind control. Unfortunately for him, while it is true that hearing her speak is one way for her quirk to activate, another way for her quirk to activate is for someone to see her say her command. She dodges his attacks and faces him, enunciating her words clearly so he can read her lips: “Please turn around and walk out of bounds.”

 

“Out of bounds! Chu Sojung wins and is the first general course student in Starship Academy history to advance to the tournament finals!”

 

Reporters crowd around her on her way to the waiting rooms to eat lunch. “Your quirk appears to be mind control! However, you were quite careful not to use your quirk in the first few rounds! Why is that?”

 

“Well,” Sojung says, backing away slightly from the mic that’s in her face, “Other students would have prepared for it sooner. I also wanted people to see that I have natural ability and talent, not just a powerful quirk.”

 

“I see! And this powerful quirk is indeed mind control?” Sojung nods. The other reporters immediately push to the front to receive her statement.

 

“Wow, mind control? That quirk would be great for a villain!”

 

Sojung bites the inside of her cheek and studies her shoelaces, willing her tears back. She hates when people say that.

 

I don’t want to be a villain. I want to be a hero.

 

“She didn’t come to this school to be a villain,” a smooth voice interrupts. Sojung immediately looks up in amazement and finds herself staring into the eyes of the first place applicant, Kim Hyunjung.

 

Wow, she’s even prettier up close.

 

“Here’s the number one student of the freshman class and the favorite to win, Kim Hyunjung!” One of the reporters says pompously. Cameras click and flash. Sojung winces.

 

“I have to get to my match, but I actually wanted a word in private with Sojung-ssi, if you don’t mind?” She says curtly. The reporters get the hint and back off, saying their closing statements to the cameras. Hyunjung takes Sojung’s hand in hers and leads her down the hall away from them. Sojung tries not to blush.

 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt your interview, but you seemed quite uncomfortable,” she murmurs lowly. She’s so pretty. Her hand was so warm. Her voice is so smooth. Sojung realizes she’s staring. “Yeah, yeah, I was. Thank you very much, Hyunjung unnie,” she stutters, unable to control her blush. Hyunjung gives her a beautiful smile.

 

“Unnie, huh? So you know I’m older than you. You’ve researched me, then?” Somehow, Sojung blushes even more fiercely. Before she can respond, Hyunjung adds, “It’s not weird. I already knew you’re younger than me, too.”

 

Kim Hyunjung researched me?

 

Hyunjung checks her watch. “I’m probably late to the match.” That’s a lie, Sojung knows the match is in ten minutes and the stadium is a two minute walk. Besides, given how put together Hyunjung seems, she’s probably never been late to anything. “I hope I’ll see you in the stands. Wish me luck.”

 

Sojung nods furiously. “Good luck!” Hyunjung gives her another dazzling smile and Sojung scolds herself for how her heart leaps in her chest. She isn’t admiring her, she’s just jealous. She just wants to beat her, that’s all.

 

Sojung goes up to the balcony to watch the match and convinces herself that she was going to anyway, so she’s definitely not watching in person just because Hyunjung asked her too. (That’s a lie. She would’ve just watched the livestream back in the waiting room.)

 

Well, it’s a good thing she saw it in person anyway, because not even 4K HD quality would’ve done it justice.

 

The matchup is Hyunjung vs. Jiyeon, possibly the most anticipated match from the start of the tournament. Jiyeon’s quirk is the ability to spontaneously create enormous amounts of fire. She can even feel the burning heat from the balcony as Jiyeon warms up, no pun intended, for the match. Jiyeon’s unbelievably powerful and is also naturally athletic, a good close-combat fighter. Sojung has researched her a lot.

 

Sojung has researched Hyunjung even more.

 

The match begins. The stadium is engulfed in flame for a immeasurable fraction of a second, so hot that Sojung can feel its warmth surrounding her even in that brief moment. Then it’s blown away. All of it.

 

The fire clears to reveal Hyunjung’s fist in front of her. A single punch was enough to create sufficient winds to extinguish the 250-foot-tall flames. Sojung gasps in amazement.

 

Hyunjung’s legs glow and she leaps over to Jiyeon, so fast that Sojung’s eyes can barely follow. Jiyeon puts up an immense wall of flames, but even her power isn’t enough to stop Hyunjung.

 

A glowing fist slams into Jiyeon’s stomach and she’s flung out of bounds.

 

“And there you have it! The final battle of this year’s freshman class Starship Academy tournament is Kim Hyunjung versus Chu Sojung!”

 

Chu Sojung is something of a dark horse.

 

She warms up in the waiting room, hopping from foot to foot and stretching her arms as she listens to the newscasters droning on and on about how well she’s done this year, how interesting her quirk is, how no general course student has ever made it this far. She’s proud of herself, she’ll admit.

 

But the reporters talk a lot more about Hyunjung.

 

As much as she hates to admit it, Sojung knows that she respects and admires Hyunjung. It’s practically impossible not to, no matter how much she tries to tell herself she's just jealous. She’s smart and her quirk is awe-inspiring and frankly, she’s gorgeous, but she has to shove all those feelings aside. No matter how charismatic and charming Hyunjung is, she can’t let it end here. She’s made it this far. Even if her position is guaranteed in the hero class by now, she has to show people that she’ll go above and beyond their wildest expectations of her. And she won’t let Hyunjung prevent that from happening.

 

She's right. I didn't come to this school to be a villain. But I didn't come to lose, either.

 

She makes her way to the field. As soon as she steps out into the bright light, the crowd explodes with cheering and screaming. She’s pretty sure she even hears someone propose to her.

 

Hyunjung steps out a minute later and the noise increases tenfold. Sojung pays it no mind. She can hardly feel anything except her blood pounding in her ears and her chest. She hops from foot to foot, keeping her body warm and ready to fight.

 

With Tiffany’s cue, they step into the field. They stop twenty feet apart and face each other. Sojung cannot decipher anything from Hyunjung’s expression. Her eyes are steely and determined. Sojung levels her gaze with her own.

 

“And finally, the final match of the freshman class! On one side we have Chu Sojung, dark horse of the general course with the ability to control her opponents with her mind! And on the other side we have Kim Hyunjung, the star student of the hero course with an all powerful quirk that gives her otherworldly strength! But first, let’s hear some comments! Sojung, is there anything you would like to say?”

 

“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a hero.” Her voice rings out loud and clear as she faces the stadium. “I have never stopped wanting to be a hero, and I never will. That’s why I’m here today.” She turns to face Hyunjung. “Good luck, Hyunjung unnie. Let’s have a good fight.”

 

Tiffany hums in approval. “Hyunjung, do you have anything you would like to say?”

 

“I’ve grown to love this school and the environment surrounding me because I’m never without a challenge.” Hyunjung’s eyes glance over at Sojung. “Today, too, I have a challenge standing before me. And today, too, I am very excited to learn and grow in the face of this challenge.” She turns to Sojung. “Good luck, Sojung. I hope we have a good fight as well.”

 

“Ah, the chivalry and sportsmanship of youth!” Tiffany sighs dramatically. “I’m very excited to see how this match will play out. Ready… set… go!”

 

In a flash, Hyunjung takes items out of her pockets. She ties a blindfold around her own eyes and places earbuds into her ears. Noise-cancelling earbuds, probably. Her arms lose their glow and she stands still.

 

Sojung grits her teeth. She definitely got studied.

 

“What’s this? Hyunjung has blindfolded herself and rendered herself unable to hear!” Tiffany announces. “I wonder what plan she has in mind!”

 

Sojung knows exactly what plan she has in mind. If Hyunjung can’t hear Sojung’s commands and can’t see her make them, then she won’t be susceptible to the mind control. It’s a perfect plan.

 

Except for the part where she can’t hear or see.

 

Sojung runs towards Hyunjung and slams a fist into her stomach. She hears Hyunjung’s pained breath, watches as she stumbles. She slams another fist into Hyunjung’s face, stunned as Hyunjung’s hands fly up to her earbuds to ensure they don’t fall off. Furious, she kicks Hyunjung hard in the stomach, eyes red with rage as Hyunjung runs a few feet off, barely managing to remain standing.

 

What kind of person does she think she is? Giving Sojung some kind of charity win? Or does she seriously think she can win this fight without the ability to hear or see?

 

“What’s going on? The two students are doing nothing, just standing apart from each other! Hyunjung has gotten quite a few hard hits, since she can’t even hear or see! And why is Sojung hesitating?”

 

Tiffany’s voice snaps Sojung back into reality. Even if it’s disgraceful to win like this, there’s no way in hell she’s losing.

 

She runs towards Hyunjung, who has her back to her right now. She raises her hand in a fist, aiming for the back of Hyunjung’s head. If she can make this, it’ll knock Hyunjung out and she will win. Hyunjung might have a concussion, but that’s nothing the nurse can’t fix.

 

Why the hell am I even thinking about what’s going to happen to Hyunjung right now?

 

Sojung clenches her jaw even tighter and swings as hard as she can.

 

She doesn’t expect Hyunjung to spin around and catch her fist in her hand.

 

Sojung doesn’t have time to react before Hyunjung’s glowing fist slams her hand into the ground, knocking her back into the dirt. Pain fills Sojung’s arm but she uses her other hand to swing, getting in a good punch before Hyunjung grabs and pins down that arm, too. Hyunjung pins down her legs with one of her own and Sojung scrambles to free herself, take Hyunjung’s blindfold off, take her earbuds out, anything.

 

“Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!”

 

Sojung tries to rip her right hand out from Hyunjung’s bruising grip but her arm glows and her superhuman strength slams her wrist even harder into the field.

 

“Six! Five! Four!”

 

Sojung tries to kick upward but Hyunjung’s leg glows and presses even harder on her kneecaps. She hisses in pain.

 

“Three! Two! One!”

 

“Please let go of me,” Sojung gasps, hoping that maybe Hyunjung will see or hear her.

 

“Zero! Kim Hyunjung has won Starship Academy’s freshman class tournament!”

 

Sojung goes limp. Hyunjung lets go of her immediately. She lost. She lost against an opponent who couldn’t even see or hear her. She stands up, muscles screaming in agony as she shakes out her bruised wrists. Her pride is even more bruised.

 

Hyunjung takes out her earbuds and takes off her blindfold. She offers a hand to Sojung. “That was a good fight.”

 

Sojung grits her teeth. To you, maybe . She accepts the handshake anyway, because even if she is a sore loser, she isn’t going to show it. She waves at the crowd for a few seconds and then gives up on it, walking towards the exit. She has to leave this stadium.

 

“Wait!” Sojung turns around. Hyunjung is beautiful and she hates it. She jogs up to Sojung, wiping sweat off her brow. Funny. She didn’t think Hyunjung would even have to sweat in order to defeat her.

 

“The awards ceremony is in two hours because the upperclassman fights are still going on, so we have plenty of time. Do you want to go see the nurse together?”

 

Sojung almost answers no, her anger so instinctual at this point that she feels on the brink of snapping. But they’re still in front of everyone and she’s definitely not going to act like a sore loser in front of the person who beat her. So she nods. She doesn’t say yes for fear that if she opens her mouth, something horribly angry and cruel will come out instead.

 

 

“When I said that it was a good fight, I really meant it, Sojung.” Hyunjung’s eyes are earnest and she hates it.

 

Sojung almost tells her to keep her name out of her mouth, but she decides against it. “Couldn’t we have just walked in silence the rest of the way?” She scoffs. She regrets it immediately.

 

Hyunjung isn’t fazed. “I know you’re never going to ask me how I caught your hand, so I’ll tell you.” Sojung opens her mouth to object - don’t be so damn patronizing - but Hyunjung beats her to it. “I could feel your footsteps through the ground as you ran towards me. And you always swing with your right hand first.”

 

Sojung stops walking. “So that’s it, huh?” She chuckles. “Just wanted to see how far you could test yourself? See how many cute little tricks and predictions you could pull off?” Her vision blurs with tears. “Fuck you.”

 

Hyunjung shakes her head. “I wanted a good fight, and you gave me one.”

 

“Which part was the good part?” Sojung sneers. “The part where you caught my punch without looking, or the part where you slammed me into the ground and held me still like I was some wriggling insect caught in your spiderweb?”

 

Hyunjung blinks. “The part where you beat me up.”

 

Sojung jolts and then starts walking again, brushing past Hyunjung and wiping at her tears. She doesn’t have a snarky reply, so she just walks faster, trying not to listen to Hyunjung’s footsteps behind her. Stop being so nice to me. I hate you.

 

“I didn’t expect you to go for my stomach first, honestly. My first prediction was wrong. I thought you’d go for my blindfold.” Sojung snorts. It’s too hard to ignore her and pretend like she isn’t there. Much better to just insult her. “You into that, then?”

 

Hyunjung doesn’t take the bait. Smart. “I also liked the ending part, where you went limp. I didn’t realize I’d let go of you until a few seconds later, and then I panicked a bit because you could’ve been feinting that the match was over - I wasn’t counting - and then you would’ve been free. But then I realized that I let go of you instinctually because I hadn’t even considered that you might try that in order to get free.”

 

Sojung’s heart clenches. She could've won if she’d done that. “What, you thought I’d never pull something ‘underhanded and dirty’ like that?”

 

“Well, no.” Hyunjung shrugs. Sojung spins around in surprise. “Again, I never even considered it. You always fought hard like that’d be the last thing you’d do. Even if it was easier for you to use your quirk, you never liked using it.”

 

“Sounds like something you’d never understand.” Now it’s Hyunjung’s turn to be surprised. “Born with a perfect quirk. The ideal ability that allows you to win any battle. Didn’t have to work hard to be accepted by anyone, never needed to fight hard without it. Never even been considered anything like a villain.” Sojung’s eyes go red and blurry with rage and tears. She wants to stop, but she can’t.

 

“I bet you’ve never been told that you can’t be a hero!” Her voice is hoarse. She angrily wipes at her tears and turns around to see the door to the nurse’s office. “We’re at the nurse. You go in first.”

 

“Sojung.”

 

Sojung turns her head away so Hyunjung can’t see her face. “What do you want?”

 

“Why do you want to be a hero?”

 

No matter how hard Sojung tries to hold the tears back, they fall anyway.

 

“You can’t help the things you dream of.”

 

 

At the awards ceremony, Kim Jiyeon receives a bronze medal, Chu Sojung receives a silver medal, and Kim Hyunjung receives a gold medal. They stand together at the podium and move closer together when the reporters gesture for them to. The photographers ask for a group hug and Hyunjung awkwardly drapes her arms across Jiyeon’s and Sojung’s shoulders. Sojung places an arm around Hyunjung’s back.

 

Physically, this is the closest they’ve been to each other outside of a match, but it feels so, so cold.

 

 

The tournament ends and Friday is Sojung’s last day in the general course. She feels a little nostalgic that she’s leaving, but for the most part she’s excited that at the very least, she achieved one of her goals. She’s been accepted to the hero course, but she doesn’t know which class she’s in yet. She prays that it’s not 1-A, which is Hyunjung’s class.

 

Speaking of Hyunjung, suddenly everyone in the class is whispering about her. It’s five minutes until school lets out and the teacher had apologetically told them that while he couldn’t dismiss them yet, they could chat until the bell. Sojung feels annoyed that they can’t find anything better to talk about.

 

“What are you guys talking about?” Sojung asks, as if she doesn’t already know.

 

“Hyunjung is standing outside the classroom door,” one of them squeals. Sojung squints through the little window in the door and sees familiar blonde hair.

 

“Who do you think she’s waiting for?” “Oh my god, if she were waiting for me, I’d die. She’s so pretty!” “She’s definitely waiting for you, Sojung!” Sojung snaps out of it. “What?”

 

“I said , she’s definitely waiting for you! You guys walked off court together and it was super cute, like-”

 

The teacher dismisses the class and Sojung’s never been more glad to escape a conversation. She walks out the door, pretending to be on her phone. Pretending not to see Hyunjung.

 

“Oh, Sojung!” Sojung reluctantly looks up. Hyunjung’s smile makes her heart flutter in her chest and she hates it. “Let’s walk home together?”

 

Sojung hears squeals. She sighs.

 

 

“To be honest, I haven’t told you the full truth,” Hyunjung concedes. She fiddles with her hands. Nervous is a new look on Hyunjung. Can’t say she minds it.

 

Still, she quips, “I guess it’s hard for you to walk in silence.” Hyunjung ignores that and sighs.

 

“BoA unnie told me I’m not allowed to tell anyone, but I told her I could trust you and she rolled her eyes and said it was fine. And then she lectured me for two hours.” Hyunjung bites her lip. Sojung tries to focus less on that and more on what she just said.

 

“You’re close with BoA unnie?” She blurts out. Hyunjung groans. “You aren’t making this any easier to tell you.” Sojung shuts up.

 

“BoA’s quirk and my quirk are very similar,” Hyunjung starts. “Everyone says so. The reporters loved to talk about it in the articles.”

 

“I know. I’ve read all the articles,” Sojung says, amused, and Hyunjung exhales slowly.

 

“BoA’s quirk and my quirk are so alike because they are the same. She,” Hyunjung inhales shakily. “She gave it to me.”

 

“What the fuck.” Sojung immediately clamps a hand over her mouth. She didn't mean to say that.

 

Hyunjung laughs breathily and gives her a reassuring smile. “I was born without a quirk. I was quirkless until I was ten years old.”

 

“I bet you’ve never been told that you can’t be a hero!”

 

Shit.

 

“Hyunjung, I’m sorry I said that you’ve never been told -”

 

“Relax, it’s okay.” Hyunjung takes her hand and runs her thumb over the back of her hand. Sojung’s breath catches. “I don't blame you. You didn’t know. No one would have guessed. This is a special quirk that can be passed on from person to person, and only the principal and the nurse knew about it aside from BoA unnie and I. It’s called One for All. People generally think that I have super strength, but that’s not exactly right. Basically, my quirk allows me to stockpile power within my body. And the power of this quirk grows as it’s passed on from generation to generation. I’m the ninth holder of this quirk.”

 

“That’s amazing,” Sojung murmurs in awe.

 

“It really is. I was so grateful when BoA unnie gave me this quirk and told me I could be a hero, even when everyone else said otherwise. You know what that’s like, right?” Sojung nods, speechless.

 

“I trained really hard so I could house this quirk in my body without exploding, because if it enters an untrained body, the power is too much and causes it to explode. When I first got it, my arms would break every time I used it.” Hyunjung looks at Sojung. “You could probably house this quirk without much trouble right now. I can tell you’ve trained a lot. I had to use my quirk to hold you down.” Sojung tries not to feel proud at Hyunjung’s acknowledgement.

 

“I trained until my bones stopped breaking when I used my quirk, and then some more until I could wield it with ease, and then some more until I was more familiar with my quirk than kids who had been born with theirs and and had trained for years,” Hyunjung says softly. “But then I started to get bored. I was winning every battle I had with other kids my age. I was even stopping criminals - just thieves that aren’t that strong - but I stopped them anyways because I wanted a challenge. And when that wasn’t enough, I decided to apply to Starship Academy.”

 

Hyunjung sighs. “I lost all inspiration, which made me feel guilty, as if I was turning my back on my younger self that had only ever wanted a quirk. I thought maybe if I lost, I’d remember what it feels like to be satisfied when I win. I hadn’t lost since longer than I could remember, so I was desperate to find a worthy opponent who could finally beat me.”

 

Sojung’s eyebrows furrow. “But I lost anyway.”

 

Hyunjung looks startled. “I didn’t mean-”

 

“Then why were you even watching me? At the exam, at the tournament? Don’t think I didn’t notice,” She snaps coldly. “If you’re oh so strong, if you can’t find any ‘worthy opponents’, then how could I satisfy you? Is that all you were looking for? Some rival to beat you and call it a day?” Sojung scoffs. “I must be so disappointing for you.” Sojung can’t recognize why she’s feeling so angry, but she doesn’t have it in herself to stop.

 

Hyunjung’s flustered. Sojung’s glad that for once, she has the upper hand as Hyunjung struggles to find words. “I was watching you because I thought you were beautiful.”

 

Sojung laughs. Her laughs begin as quiet chuckles and escalate into hearty laughter and then full hysterics, slapping her knees with tears in her eyes. She doesn’t miss Hyunjung’s wince as soon as she says it. She knows she said it wrong. Sojung takes delight in the panic in Hyunjung’s expression.

 

“So that’s it,” she wheezes. “You just thought I was pretty. That I’m some eye candy. I’m just a spectacle for you. Someone to satisfy your interest, but not even good enough to beat you up.”

 

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Hyunjung says, anger beginning to lace her tone. Good. Sojung wants her to get angry too so she doesn’t feel so absurd. “I was watching you because I thought it was beautiful how hard you fought even without using your quirk. I thought your dedication was something that I was lacking myself.”

 

Sojung is speechless. Hyunjung takes it as an opportunity to explain. “When I saw you at the exam, I was strong. Even the biggest robots were nothing to me. I knocked them down one after another. And then I saw you, kicking and punching away at one of the little ones, and I was reminded of when I first got my quirk. You weren’t even using your quirk, but you were so dedicated. I’d lost that.”

 

Hyunjung blushes. “I’m really sorry about watching you. If it made you uncomfortable I really didn’t intend to. I couldn’t help but think you were inspiring. And when the tournament started and your matches came on, I watched them all, and you kept winning and winning and winning, and you looked so happy when you did. I wanted to rediscover that. And I did. Not because I had to lose for winning to be gratifying, but because you made me understand the value of winning. You made all this worth it again.”

 

They’re both quiet. Sojung can’t help but feel stupid. Looking into Hyunjung’s eyes, she can see badly concealed hurt, confusion, and guilt. She feels guilty too, for assuming the worst of Hyunjung. She wants to apologize.

 

She looks down at her shoelaces and laughs. She gets it now. Why she's been acting so impulsively, why Hyunjung’s opinion matters so much to her. “You’re such an idiot sometimes,” she mutters. “You make me act like an idiot too.” Hyunjung pouts. “What do you -”

 

Sojung kisses her before she can finish.

 

For a scary moment Hyunjung is still, but then she kisses her back. Sojung smiles against her lips and pulls back.

 

“I’m sorry I beat you up, even if you didn’t mind. And I’m sorry I yelled at you, and I’m sorry I was super jealous of you.” Sojung takes her hand in hers. “I know this doesn’t make up for it, but I would still like to ask you. Kim Hyunjung, will you be my girlfriend?”

 

Hyunjung’s smile is beautiful and Sojung’s heart leaps in her chest. She doesn’t hate it anymore. “Of course,” Hyunjung says, leaning in to kiss her again. Sojung wraps her arms around Hyunjung’s back. It isn’t cold this time.

 

(Sojung’s heart still leaps in her chest at Hyunjung’s smile, but at least she can lean up to kiss it.)

 

 

Sojung dyes her hair ginger red the night before her first day in the hero course. She wants it to be a surprise when she walks into class 1-A the next morning.

 

When Sojung opens the door, Hyunjung immediately whirls around and runs to her. Sojung puts a hand on the back of her neck and pulls her in for a kiss. The class cheers and Hyunjung smiles against her lips.

 

“You’re beautiful. Are you ready for your first day in the hero course?” Hyunjung asks her. Sojung grins.

 

“Of course. I’m going to be a hero no matter what. It’s what I’ve wanted since I was a kid.”

 

When Hyunjung takes her hand in hers, Sojung realizes that becoming a hero is only half of her dream.

 

The other half is already right here.