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The carpet beneath Shouto’s feet was thin over a hard floor, and the room was stuffy and hot and every bit as uncomfortable as it had always been. He stood with his back straight, his chin held high, and his hands locked behind his back.

Standing like this irked him, but unless he exaggerated formal appearances to their logical conclusion, Endeavor would spend at least half an hour nitpicking his posture, then lecturing him on presenting himself properly as a representative of his family name and legacy. Parade rest was a fair trade for avoiding that.

Besides, after this morning’s events, he knew he was on shaky ground already. The subtle flaring of his father’s fiery mantle, close enough for Shouto to feel the heat against his face, confirmed as much.

From the other side of the desk, burning blue eyes fixed him with a glare. “So.”

Years of practice—and the constant threat of punishment—helped Shouto stay still, mentally shrugging off the clear note of danger in Endeavor’s tone. The veteran sidekick standing awkwardly at attention by the door wasn’t so resilient; Shouto could hear the rustle of Mortar’s costume as he shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

Taking pity on him, Shouto decided to press things along. “Have I done something wrong?” he asked, knowing full well what the answer was.

Endeavor’s eyes flashed, and he flung the smoldering newspaper in his hand onto the desk with a loud crack. Shouto gave it a cursory glance. Much of the front-page article was blackened beyond readability, but he spotted his own hero name in the headline, and the full-color central photograph of himself in full costume, blood dripping artfully down the side of his face as he stood victorious over a defeated villain.

“I’m confused,” he lied flatly.

“You had orders, Shouto,” Endeavor growled. “I made them perfectly clear. You had a list of leads to follow up on.”

“And I did,” Shouto replied. “They came up empty, so I took the time to pursue my own.”

“I never authorized you to engage with this villain,” his father spat.

“Didn’t know I needed permission to do my job.”

Endeavor was around the desk and in his face in a flash—literally. Shouto stepped back, blinking spots from his eyes as he averted his head from Endeavor’s bright flames.

“I followed up on a lead, and found the villain,” he went on, voice barely shaking. “I found him in the middle of launching an assault on a public space, so I stopped him.” He matched his father’s glare. “Did you forget that I’m not an intern anymore? My license isn’t provisional. I had full legal authority to take action, and I won the fight with minimal damage to the surrounding area, so I don’t know why you’re upset.” His lip curled. “You should be happy. This is exactly what you trained me for, isn’t it?”

“You know damned well why I’m upset, you insolent brat,” Endeavor snapped. “You pursued a villain without permission from your superior, engaged the villain alone, and in the process, you made me look like a fool.”

Harsh words rose like bile in his throat. It was a bad idea, and punishment would be swift, but Shouto spat them out anyway. “I don’t see how that’s my fault.”

For a moment, Endeavor simply stared at him, as if considering him.

Shouto blinked, and his father’s hand cracked across his face. The blow sent him stumbling back in a daze, and for a split second he accidentally made eye contact with Mortar. The sidekick’s face tensed, and he looked away.

“In the future,” Endeavor went on, his rage hidden behind an aloof mask, “you will follow my orders to the letter. You will bring every lead, every scrap of intelligence, straight to me. I will make the decision to act on it, not you.”

“There wasn’t time—” Shouto began, and fell silent when his father’s hand gripped his hair, hot with warning. Endeavor pulled, forcing his head back until they were eye to eye.

“Do you think I’m a fool?” Endeavor asked in a voice soft with menace. “Do you think I don’t see what you’re trying to do? Going behind my back, undermining me in the eyes of the public to raise yourself up? You aren’t nearly as clever as you think, boy. Try to remember who you have to thank for your power and skill. Without me, you would be nothing. You’d do well to show gratitude in the future, and not disgrace me to raise your own status.” HIs grip tightened, tearing at Shouto’s scalp, then finally released. “Change of plans today. Report to me for training as soon as your work hours are up. I want to make sure there aren’t any other lessons that have slipped your mind.” Shouto fought to keep his emotions off his face, knowing Endeavor was watching closely for them. “For now, get back to your desk, and get working on reports. You’ll return to active duty when I decide you’ve learned your lesson.”

At Endeavor’s dismissal, Shouto turned on his heel and left the office, ignoring the way Mortar averted his head as he passed. Beyond his father’s door, the secretary dropped her eyes to her desk and pressed her lips shut.

Nothing new—Yanagi Ritsu had worked for his father for years. He’d been nine when he first met her, as he limped out of his father’s office on what would later be identified as a hairline fracture in his left fibula. Yanagi had shooed him along so that he wouldn’t disturb Endeavor’s next meeting.

There was no limping now, and with only a few months left until his twentieth birthday, Shouto was old enough not to need to be shooed.

He reached his desk without any other confrontations or uncomfortable interactions. Truthfully, his desk was really its own office; he had his own space, positioned so as to be closest to his father’s office and set apart from the rest of the sidekicks’ work spaces. This way it served two purposes: a show of status, and a measure against distractions.

There was already a hefty stack of unfinished paperwork waiting for him. Clearly Endeavor had planned for this.

“That looks like fun.”

Shouto recognized the voice without having to turn and look. Obviously it was Fracture; no one else in the office was willing to set aside the time just to visit him and sneer.

“Guess the boss is letting you put your feet up after that little stunt with Point Break,” the older sidekick went on. “God forbid you get in two fights in a row like the rest of us. Is he worried it’ll roughen your pretty little hands?”

Shouto slid into his seat and got to work. The best way to deal with Fracture, he’d found, was to ignore him. He was young and hungry for attention, and Shouto was content to let him starve.

“It wouldn’t be too bad if it did,” Fracture went on. “Then maybe they’d match your face.”

Shouto went still. The drop in temperature in the vicinity of his desk was only slightly intentional; the shifting of Fracture’s costume told him the sidekick could feel it. Don’t, he thought, not quite trusting himself to counteract the cold with fire. Don’t talk, don’t move, and he’ll leave on his own.

The tense moment passed, both of them waiting for the other to make the next move, before Fracture snorted and stepped away.

“Whatever. Maybe while your dad’s bundling you up and kissing your boo-boos for the next couple of weeks, the rest of us will get a chance to look nice in front of the cameras.” With that parting shot, he left without a backward glance.

Shouto looked down, and found half of his desk covered in a thin film of ice.

“Hey. Boss says get to Meeting Room Alpha, we have a new assignment.”

Shouto raised his head and blinked, eyes watering as they adjusted. Staring at the small print on forms messed with his vision, especially in his right eye, and it took a moment for the hazy human-shaped blur to settle into a recognizable face.

Of all his father’s sidekicks, of which there were many, Shouto probably minded Snapback’s presence the least. Most of the others treated him with a mixed bag of jealousy, resentment, or in the case of the few who were loyal enough for Endeavor to risk disciplining Shouto within earshot, pity.

With Snapback, who was ignorant to Endeavor’s true colors and far too confident in their own abilities to waste time envying anyone else, Shouto could at least expect the safety of polite neutrality. It almost made him nostalgic for his high school years.

“Hey, Tails, did you hear what I just said?”

Shouto turned back to the stack of paperwork on his desk. There were office assistants who were paid to do this. But after three weeks of punishment labor, Endeavor still wasn’t satisfied that the public’s excitement over his fight with Point Break had settled. “Pretty sure I’m supposed to stay off duty.”

“Well, you’ll have to take that up with your old man,” Snapback said, their voice dropping in volume. “‘Cause he’s the one who said to make sure you show up.”


“Good luck, little man.”

“You are eight centimeters shorter than I am.”

Snapback laughed, tossing a retort over their shoulder as they walked away. “And four years older. I’m still your senpai, Tails.”

Shouto waited for them to leave before finally pushing away from his desk and rubbing his strained eyes.

When he reached the meeting room, many of his father’s favorite sidekicks were gathered. Shouto hadn’t expected that; most members of Endeavor’s agency had spent the past few months pursuing the Ipsos case in collaboration with other hero offices, and as far as Shouto knew, there had been no major headway in a while. But in spite of that, there they were: veterans like Mortar, Drift, Quickstep, and Full Throttle, as well as Fracture and a few of the other brighter up-and-comers whose names Shouto didn’t know. All of them had skills, strong quirks, and most likely high public opinion on their side. Whatever this mission was, Endeavor was putting his best foot forward for it.

There were two others present who were not members of Endeavor’s entourage. Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa caught his eye from across the room and smiled approvingly, and in spite of himself Shouto almost smiled back. He liked the man; in spite of his humble quirk, he had a way of making Endeavor behave himself with his presence alone.

The other man was a stranger to Shouto, though something about his face was vaguely familiar. On its own his face was rather plain, but the way he carried himself pushed him into more attractive territory: straight-backed, impeccably dressed, with a pleasant smile and an air of easy friendliness.

A public figure, no doubt. It would explain why he was vaguely familiar.

Shouto moved toward the front, sidestepping when one of the sidekicks tried to shoulder-check him as he passed. It was Fracture, angling his head away from Endeavor so he could get away with glaring balefully at Shouto. Shouto didn’t meet his gaze any longer than needed; silent dirty looks at a staff meeting were far preferable to getting cornered in the office when Endeavor wasn’t around to discourage it.

It varied, depending on who caught him alone. The oldest of his father’s supporters, who either pitied Shouto or ignored him, were few. Far more contented themselves with quietly resenting him. Some of them thought him coddled, Endeavor’s darling son who rose up on his father’s coattails and protection. Others, especially the younger sidekicks, were convinced that Endeavor saved the most exciting and glamorous missions for him.

And then there were those like Fracture, who could never seem to decide on one, but went either way depending on which would let them indulge their anger the best.

Fracture was still glaring. Shouto turned his head away from the sidekick and made his way over to Snapback, who obligingly shifted over to make room for him.

“The Ipsos case is still active, but I’m pulling everyone who can be spared for a new mission.” All background chatter went dead the moment Endeavor started speaking. “There are two villain gangs to be dealt with on this case, and I’ll be working directly with Detective Tsukauchi to make sure it gets done. Detective, brief them on the situation.”

It wasn’t technically an order, since no pro hero regardless of ranking had any official authority over the police force, but it was worded like one. Shouto caught the brief flash of annoyance on Tsukauchi’s face as he stepped forward.

“Thank you all for coming,” the detective began. “The case before us concerns the Arataka business district in Kiyashi Ward.” Shouto caught a few dissatisfied murmurs from some of the younger sidekicks. Arataka wasn’t exactly glamorous. “For the past seven months, a gang of villains known as Silverteeth has been operating in this area. Intelligence and criminal analysts estimate Silverteeth to have between forty and sixty members at a time, not counting their connections with other criminal entities. Local law enforcement has been struggling with them for a while; some of its higher-ranking members have been identified, but arrests have only turned up easily-replaced footsoldiers. Currently, its leadership is a coalition of the villains Poison Arrow, Eyeshine, Greaser, and Launch, though it’s possible that there are others.”

An audible snort of contempt came from Endeavor, and was duly ignored.

“Armed robbery and theft is their usual crime, though they’ve been known to dabble in drug trafficking,” Tsukauchi went on. “But recent reports show that another gang has invaded their territory and ignited a turf war. And that is where Minami-san is concerned.” He nodded to the well-dressed man, who stepped forward with a polite bow.

“Thank you for having me,” he said.

“For those of you who don’t know,” Tsukauchi continued, “Minami-san and his company work with police and pro heroes across the country to provide intel and surveillance technology that help to combat criminal activity.”

Minami let his politician smile fade to seriousness. “I’m sure the police and hero agencies in Kiyashi Ward have records of my encounters with Silverteeth,” he said. “They have been targeting me ever since I moved my company’s main office to Arataka. It wasn’t immediately obvious; it started small, just making a ruckus here and there, but it soon became clear that Minami Technologies was a deliberate and consistent target.” He grimaced. “They’ve recently started harassing and intimidating colleagues and other businesses, and making threats against my clients. And now they’ve started a war with that new gang, and… well.” His face faltered. “Last Tuesday, another skirmish broke out between Silverteeth and this new gang. One of my employees was staying late, for a business meeting, and was caught in the crossfire.” His composure cracked further, and he sighed with something like grief. “He was a victim of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and he was only there on my request. I take full responsibility for it.”

Tsukauchi stepped forward. “The criminals fled the scene before heroes or police could be summoned, and Yoshida unfortunately died before he could reach the hospital.” Minami winced. “This is the first murder charge that can be leveled against a member of Silverteeth with a chance of actually sticking.”

“Three objectives,” Endeavor spoke up. “First, to stop this ridiculous war and bring down any and all villains involved. Second, to bring an end to the Silverteeth gang so that it no longer poses a threat. Third, to root out this new villain gang and destroy it before it can become more of a problem. You’ll all receive your assignments at my discretion.”

“There are a few more points,” Tsukauchi said. “Bringing Yoshida’s killer to justice—”

“Is more a matter for the police to attend to,” Endeavor broke in gruffly. “I’ll leave that to you, Tsukauchi.”

“As a matter of fact,” the detective replied smoothly, “I’ve already spoken with your management representatives, and they’ve agreed to collaborate on that point. They’re making arrangements as we speak, and assured me they’d be speaking with you about it.” He turned away so that he could ignore Endeavor’s glare. “And there’s one more matter involved—that of the witness.”

“What witness?” Endeavor snapped.

“Ah, it hadn’t come up when we spoke before,” Minami said. “I was going to inform you about it earlier, but you were called away, so I let the good detective know. One of the janitorial staff members was in the vicinity when… when Yoshida was shot.”

“Why hadn’t it come up before?” Endeavor asked, his voice barely tense enough to call it a demand.

Minami grimaced. “The criminals saw him at the scene. He rightfully assumed that he would be in danger.” Endeavor’s lip curled in disdain, and Minami let his friendly mask drop to glare at him. “And before you accuse him of cowardice, Mr. Endeavor, I stand by his decision to err on the side of caution. He’s been sensible, and in any case he’s agreed to testify—at great risk to himself, I can assure you.”

“We have him in protective custody,” Tsukauchi said. “We have our best officers on it, but—”

Endeavor snorted. “You’ll need more than that against villains. Especially villains trying to silence a key witness to one of their crimes.”

He turned to the crowd, eyes roving over each face until settling on Shouto. Shouto tensed, realizing immediately what the old man meant to do.

“Shouto,” Endeavor called out, smiling thinly. “I’m putting you in charge of this witness’s protection. After your recent victory, I can think of no safer place for a witness to be than in your care.”

Shouto kept his face smooth and impassive, while inwardly seething. A few of the younger sidekicks shot him glares, but he hardly noticed them. They thought this was favoritism, or possibly coddling if they actually realized what protective detail meant.

Protective detail meant spending the entirety of the case as far from the line of fire as possible, shut up in some safe house or other. It meant babysitting a civilian on the sidelines, hidden away from the public eye, while the rest of the heroes spearheaded the investigation.

Locking his hands behind his back, Shouto ground his teeth and nodded.

Endeavor held his gaze for a moment more before turning away. “Good. Mortar, get working on patrol schedules for the affected areas.” Sidekicks pressed forward as he began delegating and handing out assignments. Shouto stayed where he was, focusing all his energy on not scowling like a petulant child.

There would be other missions, he reminded himself. Endeavor wouldn’t keep him locked away forever, not if he wanted that precious legacy. All-Might may have retired years ago, but if Endeavor’s bloated ego was enough to keep Shouto on a leash, then it was enough to keep the Flame Hero hungry for the attention that a successful son would bring.

For now, Shouto just had to be patient.

“I really do appreciate this, you know,” Tsukauchi told him. “I know this isn’t the most glamorous job, but having you on it gives me a lot less to worry about.”

Shouto made a noncommittal noise as he slid into the passenger seat. Most of his resentment had already been swallowed down and buried deep, as it should. If his old homeroom teacher knew he’d been pouting over this, he would have raked him over the coals.

Politics happen whenever you have two or more people working in the same space, Aizawa-sensei had once told him. It happens. It’s annoying, but unavoidable, and if I ever catch wind of you letting it affect how you do your job, I will personally track you down and give your adult tax-paying ass a detention, am I clear? There are a host of reasons for a task to end up in your hands. To you and whoever put it there, it’s probably politics—whether it’s a punishment or sabotage or a reward or a favor or whatever. But to everyone else, it’s life and death. Don’t you dare risk someone’s life over politics.

“Who am I protecting?” Shouto asked, as Tsukauchi pulled out into the road.

“Look in the center compartment, there’s a file,” Tsukauchi said. “I can save you time, give you the short version.”

“It’s fine,” Shouto said, already taking out the file. “Are we heading to the safe house now?”

“Not yet. We picked him up today, so he’s still at the station,” Tsukauchi replied. “In fact, your first order of business is to escort him to the safe house. I requested that your father assemble a small team to help oversee the transfer. They’ll arrive at the station shortly after we will, and we’ll move him then.”

This was probably the last time he’d be in public until the case was over. If Shouto were a lesser man, he might have wished for a villain to attack the police cruiser before they arrived.

But no, they reached the station without incident, and Tsukauchi led him inside at a brisk pace. A few officers called out to them as they passed, and Tsukauchi deftly parried questions and conversation-starters until they left the bullpen behind.

The one officer who Tsukauchi didn’t deflect was Tamakawa Sansa, who was waiting for them by his and Tsukauchi’s adjacent desks. At their arrival, Tamakawa stood to meet them, ears pricked.

“Ah, welcome back, detective,” he said, and inclined his head to Shouto. “It’s good to see you.”

“You as well,” Shouto said, coolly polite. His attention was already drifting past him to Tsukauchi’s desk, and the young man sitting uncomfortably in his chair with a duffle bag at his feet. Shouto recognized him easily from the photograph in the file Tsukauchi had given him. “This is the witness, then?”

“Yes, of course,” Tamakawa replied. “I’ve just been sitting with him while we waited. This is—”

“I know you.” The man was looking straight at Shouto, wide-eyed with shock. His slumped spine went ramrod-straight. “You’re—you’re Comet Tail.”

“That’s me,” Shouto said.

“You’re… are you going to be working on this?” the civilian asked, almost slack-jawed with surprise. “To find who killed Yoshida?”

“I will be doing my part,” Shouto replied.

“Comet Tail has been assigned to your protection detail,” Tsukauchi explained. “He’ll be escorting you to the safe house shortly, and will remain with you until those responsible for the killing are in custody, and you can be called to testify.”

For a moment the young man sat stunned, before the usual excitement broke through the shock. “That’s—you?” he said, rising out of the chair in disbelief. “You’re amazing! I saw your fight, with Point Break, it was all over the news and social media! What’s a hero like you doing babysitting somebody like me?”

It took an active effort to keep his face free of emotion, but Shouto was fairly sure he managed it. “No task is unimportant,” he answered. “Especially when lives are on the line.”

“As I was saying,” Tamakawa said with wry amusement. “This is Midoriya Izuku. As you’ve probably been told, he witnessed the death of Yoshida Kenichi, and has since received threats that we can assume were from the killers. He has agreed to share what he knows, and testify if necessary.”

“I wish I could do more,” Midoriya said meekly. “But… Yoshida was nice.” He stood at his tallest height, which wasn’t much—the top of his head barely reached Shouto’s eye level, and that was with the added height from his hair. “I’m glad to do anything I can to help. Thank you for protecting me, Comet Tail!”

Shouto took stock of his new charge. Midroiya was short, but in no way puny. In spite of his height, he was broad-shouldered and sturdy-looking, though Shouto couldn’t get an accurate idea of his build under his loose jacket. (All-Might colors, Shouto noted with satisfaction.) His hands, at least what Shouto could see of them, were callused and rough from working. His hair was a mess of curls, black at first glance but iridescent green when the light hit it just so. If Shouto hadn’t already read his file, he would have thought it was some aspect of his quirk.

Looking at him, Shouto was vaguely reminded of Minami. Midoriya was plain, too. Even with his hair and freckles, there was nothing about him that stood out by itself. But the way he carried himself, from the dimpled smile on his face to his easy, open body language, elevated him from plain to good-looking. The only difference was that Minami had a politician’s bearing, all his ease and openness carefully constructed to be likable. Midoriya seemed to pull it off without even trying.

There were worse people to spend the next few weeks in a safe house with, Shouto thought.

Of course, the words “worse people” had barely crossed his mind when familiar voices rang out within earshot, harsh and carelessly loud. Shouto shut his eyes and wrestled down his irritation as Fracture came swaggering in from the bullpen.

He was dressed for making an impression. Shouto knew he had two versions of his costume, one for hero work, the other kept polished and pristine on the off-chance he might get caught on camera. He was wearing the latter now, scale armor unblemished and buffed to a gleam.

“Todoroki-kun, are you still here?” he asked, blinking as if he was surprised to see Shouto at their designated meeting point. “You should’ve had the witness ready to leave five minutes ago! Not all of us have time to stand around signing autographs, you know. The witness’s safety depends on you being on top of everything!”

Shouto barely glanced at him. “You do realize we couldn’t leave until you got here, right? We’ve been waiting on you.”

Fury flashed in the sidekick’s eyes for a split second, before he recovered himself and shook his head disapprovingly. “You’re never gonna get far if you keep pushing all the responsibility on others. Your charge is quirkless, remember? He’s more vulnerable than most civilians. You gotta be more vigilant!”

Shouto gritted his teeth, but before he could do something foolish, Midoriya bobbed in between them, eyes wide and admiring.

“Hey, you’re Shatter, right? One of Endeavor’s sidekicks? The one who can decrease the breaking strength of solid matter?”

Fracture drew back, looking caught off guard. “It’s Fracture,” he corrected, then recovered himself to preen. “And, uh, yeah. Not to brag, but I’m one of the best. You’ll be in good hands on your way to the safe house.”

“What’s it like, getting to work with Comet Tail?” Midoriya asked excitedly, blissfully unaware of the big red button he was mashing on. “I mean, you’re a few years older than him but you just joined the agency, right? It must be so cool getting to learn the ropes from him!”

“Excuse me?” Fracture spluttered, his celebrity facade breaking for a moment.

“That’s enough,” Shouto said, stepping in. “Like you said, Fracture, we have a schedule to keep.”

Fracture looked ready to argue, only for Tsukauchi to interrupt him with a broad grin. “Gentlemen,” the detective said calmly. “If you’ll follow me to the garage—Fracture, I leave our defense in your hands.”

“Yeah, sure,” Fracture said, then turned on his heel and stalked back to the bullpen.

Midoriya almost tripped over his own feet as Tsukauchi led them toward the elevator. He kept looking over his shoulder, and only when Fracture was out of sight and hearing range did he turn to Shouto with an anxious expression.

“Did I say something wrong?” he asked, cringing.

Shouto pursed his lips. “We don’t get along.”

“O-oh.” Midoriya’s eyes widened. Shouto had never seen anyone look so helplessly mortified. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—I must have really offended him, walking right into that. It’s just, he seemed friendly, and since you work together and he’s sort of new I thought—oh no, if I made things worse for you I’m so sorry—”

“Midoriya.” Shouto cut off the panicked babble. Tsukauchi, ever the paragon of tact, pretended not to hear. “It’s fine. He’s been determined not to like me since I met him. His opinion of me doesn’t matter.”

“Oh,” Midoriya said, visibly relieved. “Okay. Good.”

“It’s not your job to coddle heroes’ feelings,” Shouto told him. “You’re a civilian under our protection. Your only job is to keep breathing under my watch.”

“I think I can do that,” Midoriya said, laughing nervously. “I’ve been really worried, ever since… well. Um. I’m glad you’re the one protecting me. I feel safer already.”

Shouto considered how to respond to that, and simply nodded. “That’s my job.”

There were two plain-clothes officers waiting for them in the garage by an unmarked car. One of them had the head of some kind of bird of prey, either a hawk or a falcon. The other was a doughy-looking man who smiled pleasantly as he bowed to them.

“I am Officer Saikawa,” he said. “And this is Officer Takamine. We will be transporting you today.”

“Is there a plan to avoid being followed?” Shouto asked.

Takamine nodded. “Saikawa’s quirk lets him change the color of things,” she said. “We’ve planned out a route that lets us avoid surveillance, and gives us a lot of convenient places to change the look of the car.”

Shouto glanced at Midoriya. The civilian’s mouth was pressed shut in a thin, tight line. “Let’s get this over with, then,” he said.

Midoriya was tense but quiet as the car pulled out of the police garage and slipped right out into the usual traffic on the main roads. He kept glancing out the windows, only moving his head while keeping the rest of his body stock-still. With eyes that wide, he looked like a rabbit frozen in front of oncoming headlights.

Privately, Shouto did his own check. Fracture was following the vehicle with absolutely none of the stealth that had been drummed into Shouto throughout his high school years. The average citizen might not know the difference (Midoriya apparently didn’t, since he was still searching and looking nervous) but Aizawa would have been apoplectic at a sorry display like that. Even the rest of the squad slipped enough for Shouto to spot them with ease.

“We’re all right,” he said aloud for Midoriya’s benefit. “The others are following closely.” The civilian nodded and hugged his duffel bag like a security blanket.

Takamine left the main road and drove them through a short tunnel. Saikawa reached out through the cracked window, presumably changing the color of the car before they emerged back out into the open. Shouto spotted another of his father’s sidekicks loitering semi-conspicuously by the mouth of the tunnel, rolled his eyes, and kept watch for any unwanted lurkers. Saikawa was doing the same; Takamine’s eyes were locked on the road as she steered them onto another busy street.

Shouto’s fingers drummed against his seat. The whole point of this route was to take advantage of both busy main streets and secluded roads and tunnels; to blend in and get lost in the former, and change the vehicle’s appearance in the privacy of the latter. If Fracture and his lot couldn’t get a handle on their stealth training then it would defeat the purpose of doing it this way at all.

His fingertips drummed again, once, twice, three times. The car was airborne by the time the third set was complete.

There was no explosion, no jolt. One moment all four wheels were on the road, and the next, Shouto was looking up through the car window while the ground pitched and swung wildly above them. For one giddy moment he remembered his old classmate Uraraka. She pulled a move like this on a tank-sized robot in third year—no impact, just a clean flip. Of course, hers had been gentler than this, the tank sailing upward far more gracefully than a tank had any business being. In this case, whoever flipped the car hadn’t put much thought into the comfort of its passengers.

Abruptly, the car halted in midair. Shouto’s head spun as he regained his equilibrium, before they began a much slower, gentler descent.

Grapple and Feather, his whirling mind remembered. They weren’t veteran sidekicks yet, but they weren’t rookies yet either. Grapple’s quirk let her anchor things to a certain point, and Feather’s let him reduce and slow the effect of gravity.

“That’s pretty amazing,” a small, shaky voice replied, and Shouto realized then that he’d been talking out loud. He looked over to find Midoriya with his back firmly pressed to his seat, held in place by Shouto’s arm across his chest. Shouto didn’t remember moving. He usually didn’t, when his body was quicker than his brain.

The car landed with a light thud, leaving its passengers upside-down but unharmed. As soon as they were no longer moving, Shouto struggled with the door. It must have been dented or warped by the attack, because it took a few good kicks before Shouto finally wrenched it open, unbuckled himself, and crawled out.

“Oi, what’s the hold-up, Todoroki!” Fracture’s raucous voice sent a spark of tension down Shouto’s spine. “That car ain’t safe anymore, in case you didn’t know! Now’s not the time to take a nap!”

Why was it that wrenching a jammed car door open with his bare hands was harder than shutting out one man’s voice?

Luckily, the other three doors opened more easily. Takamine and Saikawa were already scrawling out, weapons drawn, as Shouto ran to help Midoriya. He was thankfully compliant; if the frozen look on his face was a sign of panic, then at least it wasn’t the kind that sent him into screaming, thrashing fits. Shouto had encountered those before, and didn’t relish the thought of helping one out of an overturned car.

Midoriya did as he was told, following instructions as Shouto shielded his head and helped him out of the vehicle. The civilian had enough presence of mind to grab his duffel bag before a shout of alarm drew Shouto’s attention back to the situation at hand.

His father’s sidekicks were now gathered within view, throwing stealth and caution to the wind. A muted blast shook the ground, nearby cars screeched to a halt, and the villains came storming in. A few leapt from cars, others from the cover of nearby buildings and side streets. Thugs, mostly—by Shouto’s count, there were about twenty of them, and only four were real threats. Shouto had memorized their mugshots after briefing—Silverteeth had arrived.

Someone, probably Fracture, whooped loudly. The heroes met the thugs head-on. In seconds, the bustling city street had transformed into a pitched battle. It was a familiar scene; heroes and villains clashing, while police officers shouted over radios and civilians clustered nearby, behind cars or at safer distances, to look on in awe and pull out their phones. It wouldn’t be long before news cameras got here, if Shouto knew the media.

And if cameras caught him or Midoriya on the scene, then his charge’s safety could be compromised.

“Come on,” he said shortly, taking Midoriya’s arm. “We need to get clear.” Midoriya was still frozen, his eyes fixed on the battle. Shouto wasted no more time talking, and shoved him forward so that his own body was between the villains and their intended victim. At their first chance, Shouto ducked around a corner to put a building between them and the battle, and pulled Midoriya with him.

His body registered the pop and hiss, and he ducked out of the way of a vicious-looking dart. The alley was already occupied; Shouto recognized three more Silverteeth members, but the fourth—dressed in black and masked to hide distinguishing features—was unknown to him. Not that it mattered; the tranq gun that had fired the dart at him was in their hands, which was a fairly good indicator of their intentions.

Shouto barely had time to take a breath before two of the Silverteeth members attacked the armed figure, while the third lunged for Midoriya with glowing hands. A sweeping kick knocked the woman to the ground; Shouto made sure to ice her to the floor before taking Midoriya and running onward.

Silverteeth was at war with another gang, he remembered. He hated gang wars, hated how carelessly destructive villains were when they were trying to kill each other, but at least their hatred for each other was strong enough to keep them from focusing on killing the witness. Hopefully, between their war and Fracture’s squad making a lot of noise, he and Midoriya could slip away in the confusion. He’d memorized the way to the safe house, but he was no Ingenium; he couldn’t get him there fast—

“Turn right up ahead.” Shouto almost threw fire on instinct, before he recognized Takamine keeping pace with them. The bird woman cocked her head at him as she ran, looking sharply amused. “What, you think we didn’t have backup vehicles? It’s just up ahead, and we have to hurry—you’ve got two more on your tail.”

“Quirks?” he asked.

“Telekinesis and laser vision.” As she said this, she ducked, and a beam of red-pink light shot over her head, nearly singing her feathers. On pure instinct, Shouto threw himself over Midoriya to shield his back, and bit back a cry when his shoulder blazed with pain. Gritting his teeth, he flung an ice wall up behind them, cutting off most of the street, and ran on.

They reached the car at the next street. Midoriya scrambled into the back with Shouto covering him, and Takamine took the wheel.

For the rest of the journey, Midoriya kept his head down and away from the windows. Shouto sat beside him, quietly iced his injured shoulder, and never took his eyes off their surroundings.