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The Atomic Hero

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U.A. towers above you both, like some great coliseum where only the truly worthy may enter. Where only the truly worthy may stay.

“You ready?” you ask Shinsou. Nervousness flutters in your stomach, and your atoms buzz in anticipation. You know you’re going to do well; your quirk is…immense. Still, you’re not exactly the pinnacle of calm.

“How many times are you going to keep asking that?” he deadpans back. “Get a grip.”

“You get a grip,” you mutter. “How’s anyone gonna take you seriously when it looks like you haven’t run a comb through your hair in three weeks?”

Shinsou side-eyes you. “It’s an aesthetic,” he replies. “Ever heard of it?”

“Baby, I invented aesthetic, and you know it.”

The two of you walk through the open doors. The fresh, late-winter air changes to ventilated heat as you enter the building. Worthy, indeed, you think as you take stock of the swarm of students around you. They’re just as hopeful, just as nervous—maybe even more. And from a quick, lazy scan with your quirk, you find that they’re all unique and powerful in their own ways.

You feel bad; not everyone is going to get into the Hero Course. Your worry over Hitoshi has nagged incessantly at you since he decided he was going to take U.A.’s entrance exam. His quirk is amazing; brainwashing could come in handy in any situation, especially when the villain doesn’t know that the moment they speak, they’re his. It doesn’t work on you, of course. You can change the chemical compositions in your brain to counter his quirk, as past experiments have proven. Even if it did, who knew what chaos would be unleashed? You’re only able to control your quirk because you’re you.

Hitoshi doesn’t have any combat experience, though, and he is pretty…lanky. He’s told you not to help him with whatever may come your guys’ way during the exam. You don’t like it, but you’re not going to hurt his feelings by stepping in and helping. It won’t be like middle school—though even that hasn’t been too bad. Hitoshi just likes the loner persona more than he’d ever admit.

You take your seat with him and the other students from your grade that are also going to put their quirks to the test.

“Here,” Shinsou mutters as the clamor of the hall washes over them. He reaches down into his backpack and pulls out a giant muffin. “You didn’t eat much of a breakfast, I can tell. Your hair is getting all dusty.”

Frowning, you give your bound hair a quick pat and discover that yes, it is dusting a tiny bit. Not enough for anybody to notice, Shinsou aside.

Nevertheless, you say, “Thanks,” and take the muffin from him. It’s one with bananas and nuts and chocolate chips in it. The size is reminiscent of Costco muffins in America, and you wonder where he got it. You scarf it down in three quick bites. The food breaks down almost immediately when it hits your stomach and converts straight to energy. “I skipped breakfast because Ferdinand is sick again.”

“Again? Is it the mites?”

“Yes,” you groan, and shovel the muffin’s wrapper into your mouth. A student from another school happens to glance by when he sees you eat it, and you hear a faint, “Wha…?”

“I thought you had them eradicated.”

“I did. But they messed up his poor root system, and now he needs extra surveillance.” You pause, then ask lowly, “Do you have another muffin?”

Shinsou sighs, but you expect it. He pulls out another muffin, this one a double fudge kind. You go, “Ooooo,” and snatch it from him. As you unwrap it, you pause and say, “Wait. Was this going to be yours?”

“No,” he lies nonchalantly. Huffing, you evenly split the muffin in half with your quirk and give him the piece in your left hand. “Thanks.” After another quick check, you feel that you aren’t dusting, anymore, so you settle back into the seat and wait for everything to begin. Part of you can’t help but feel the passing looks. It’s not just the fact that you’re munching on the second plastic wrapper; it’s that, despite the fact that there are literal people with tails and horns and blue skin and six eyes, someone with naturally darker skin is bound to be looked at twice.

You take out a pen and notebook and pretend to ignore it, but not before you give your hair one more pat. It’s in a tight bun and plain black today. If you get hungry again, you always have some spare wrappers and plain pencils to consume.

The lights to the front of the hall come to life, followed by a loud electric guitar riff. You and Shinsou shift collectively in your seats with the rest of the students. “What’s up, U.A. candidates?” a loud voice screeches into the microphone. “Thanks for tunin’ in to me, your school D.J.!” You shudder at the sudden soundwaves disturbing the air. Particles ricochet off you, and you’re tempted to shift your density to make them pass through instead. But you stick through it and focus on the announcer, who turns out to be the one and only Present Mic.

Your pencil quietly taps on the blank page of your notebook.

“C’mon and lemme hear ya!”

You start to slump in your seat to avoid any cheering. Fortunately, the rest of the hall feels the same way. A silence hangs over everyone.

Present Mic doesn’t miss a beat. You’re glad he’s not embarrassed—or at least he’s pretending he isn’t. “Keeping it mellow, huh? That’s fine! I’ll skip straight to the main show. Let’s talk about how this practical exam is gonna go down, okay?” There’s another guitar riff, and he screeches, “Are you reaaaady? Yeah!”

You, again, stay silent. Just the mention of the practical exam forms a ball in your throat.

Are you really cut out for this hero stuff? Like, you have saved people before (and it was an amazing feeling), but to make a profession out of it? If you let your body sweat, you’d be covered in it right now because of the doubts in your mind. Underneath your blank exterior is someone screaming in panic.

Shinsou takes notes like you do while Present Mic goes through the exam. Robots are…easy. Well, you’ve never fought one, but your quirk makes fighting anything easy. Not that you’ve ever really fought. But not that you haven’t done anything with your quirk! Because you have!

You glance at Shinsou. He’s always so calm. Is he just as anxious as you? A quick check of his heartbeat gives a definitive no.

He feels your stare on him and looks over. You make a scared frowny face, eyes all squinted and your chin dimpling. It’s so sudden that he can’t hide his abrupt smile. Shinsou quickly covers it behind the back of his hand, and you turn back to your notebook, feeling a little bit better. It’s good to just accept that hey! You’re freaking the fuck out! But that’s okay!

Afterwards, you and Shinsou are going to get some ice cream before you take the train back home. Celebratory ice cream, where you’re going to have the poor shop employee stack five or six scoops of different flavors on one too-small cone so you can shove it all down your throat like some fucking animal.

Look forward to the ice cream! Ice cream! Ice cream!

Absently, you draw a cone with three scoops on top of it at the bottom of your page. You can hear some boy complaining about the list of villains on the information sheet they’ve been given and how another student is talking too loudly, and as you perk up, you hear that the zero point robot is also going to be the biggest one.

“You think you can take it on?” Shinsou whispers to me.

“Maybe,” you reply in just a low of tone. “We’ll see if I’m feeling brave enough.”

“You should do it. They’re putting them out there for a reason. To see who is brave and strong enough to bring one down. It’s an opportunity.”

As you go to reply, you see the same boy who just stood up and boomboxed his entire voice across the hall whip around and glare at you two from his seat lower in the hall. Does he have the fucking ears of a hawk?

Instead of being humiliated like the other poor student who got publicly reprimanded, you give an awkward, apologetic smile, and mouth “Sorry” to the boy. He gives you one final glare before turning back around in his seat.

Shinsou shares a look with you, and the both of you roll your eyes. Some people are so anal retentive.

“As General Napoleon Bonaparte once laid down,” Present Mic says right before all of you are about to be dismissed to take the second part of your exams, “‘A true hero is one who overcomes life’s misfortunes.’”

“Did he say that before or after Waterloo?” I mutter to Shinsou out the side of my mouth. He only replies with a soft snicker at my lame joke.

“Mmhmm! Now that’s a tasty soundbite!” Present Mic leans forward expectantly, and you can’t help but feel some excitement bubble up through your nervousness. “You ready to go beyond?” He leans back and yells, “Let’s hear a Plus Ultra!”

Now hell, you can’t say no to that.

“Plus Ultra!” you chant, considerably less loudly than some of the other students, but just as enthusiastically.

“Good luck! Hope you practiced hitting more than just books!”

Okay. Okay. You can do this. You’re ready.

You and Shinsou stand to file out of the hall and go to your respective locker rooms to change into workout clothes for the practical. Afterward, you’ll be shuttled out to the battle centers where it’ll commence.

“Which one will you be in?” he asks me amidst the commotion. You hold your card up.

“A. You?”

“C.”

“Damn,” you smirk. “Guess I really won’t be able to help you after all.”

“How are you going to hold yourself together without me, you mean?” Shinsou snarks back. You scoff, mock offended.

“I can hold myself together just fine, thank you. Figuratively and literally.”

You come to the stairs and join the stream of students making their way out the exits. For extra assurance, you snag the end of Shinsou’s backpack strap and hang on. Though you’re about the same height, he’ll never stop gloating that he barely has a couple centimeters on you. You could make yourself taller, you say to him, but you have yet to permanently do it.

Right before the two of you have to split up, you give him a quick hug. He pats your back like he normally does. Hugs really aren’t his thing, but for you, he’ll tolerate it. Mildly enjoy it, even.

“Good luck, Shinsou.”

“Yeah. You too, Mari.”

You let go of him, step back, and give one last hopeful grin. He smiles back, and the two of you part ways.

-

All the girls chatter with one another in the locker room. You’re a little too on-edge to speak, but another girl sidles up to you and blurts, “Oh man, I’m so nervous! Aren’t you?”

She’s all pink and her eyes are inky black. Two little cream-colored horns sprout up from the top of her messy pink head of hair.

“Yeah,” you say, throwing on a black athletic tee whose composition you’ve already memorized. “I really am. Like, this is freaking scary, right? Fighting robots? I mean, I knew we would have to do something, but actually going out and doing it makes me want to crap my pants.”

You don’t actually poop. But the expression still stands metaphorically.

The girl throws her head back and groans in agreement. “Totally.” She zips up the jacket she’s wearing. It’s still chilly outside, but you don’t need any more extra clothing than necessary. It’d all just accidentally get disintegrated, anyway. “I’m Ashido Mina, by the way.”

“Isoko Marigold. Nice to meet you.”

“Girl, same. What battle center will you be in?”

“Uh, A.”

“Darn! I’ll be in D. I thought we could, ya know, team up or something!” She gives the air a one-two punch.

“That would have been nice,” you agree, though you know you don’t need to team up with anyone. Ashido pouts a little but perks up quickly.

“Well hey then! Good luck! Hope to see you in the Hero Course!”

You give her a thumbs up. “You too.”

The shuttles are waiting for the students. You file in with everyone else going to battle center A. It’s an open-seat style, so after a mild panic attack as to where you’re going to sit, you slam your ass down in a random spot before you’re forced to stand.

Nobody talks to you on the short drive, thankfully. You’re afraid you won’t make for very good conversation. You stop yourself from removing your fingers in anticipation. Shinsou says it “Grosses people out” or some shit like that. But is there any blood or bones? No. It’s just like snapping carrots apart. It’s cathartic.

You stare at your pink tennis shoes, which are the only spot of color on your outfit. They’re the slip-on kind without any laces. Less problematic that way. Laces are a bitch to reconstruct.

The moment the shuttle stops, you hear a voice shout, “Outta my way, extras!”

At a glance, you see a boy mercilessly shoving his way to the front, ignoring the cries of other students. His spiky blond hair and red eyes just scream “angry.”

You frown at how inconsiderate he is. Japan has rubbed off on you. But with the boy off the shuttle, you and the rest make your way out with ease.

The entrance to the battle center is closed. You walk toward it, moving past other students who are hanging back and grouping up. You dare not try to cheat and get a preemptive sense of the layout behind the walls. What if the teachers can sense that sort of thing? Like, they probably can’t, but you’re not taking any chances. You’re too scared to get in trouble and be disqualified for something stupid.

The blond-haired boy is near you. He wears his impatience plainly, and it’s mixed with a scowl that makes you want to scoff. You don’t need to worry about him and whatever grandiose quirk he’s itching to use. Just worry about yourself.

There’s ice cream waiting at the end of it.

“RIGHT, LET’S START!” Present Mic announces from the top of the tower positioned in the center of the battle centers. “GET MOVING!”

The door opens wide. You’re already taking off, quirk spreading across the battle center to figure out where the robots are.

“RUN RUN RUN LISTENERS! YOU’RE WASTING AIRTIME HERE!

You veer off down a street, heading toward a nice cluster of robots that are just a couple of blocks up ahead. You’ve increased your bone and muscle strength to run faster. You could just disintegrate and reform where you want to be, but you want to be seen by whoever is watching. The neater tricks can come later.

Nobody else has reached the robots by the time you get to them. There are five three-pointers and four two-pointers. Without skipping a beat, you transform your arms to graphene and dive into the nearest one. It tries to grip you with its claw, but you densify the air around you so its claw stops about a meter away.

Then it explodes, and you’re onto the rest.

When the graphene gets boring and you want to move on, you simply find a few circuits in the last robots with your quirk and snap them. They explode outward, but you keep it contained by manipulating the air. There are more students coming, now, and you don’t want any of them to be hit by shrapnel.

The robots are more scattered when you do another scan. They’ve dispersed to fight the students. By the time you rack up about forty points (it’s not hard to accomplish with the diversity and power of your quirk), you’re more mingled with the other examinees. It’s not your favorite scenario, but you’re glad that you and your quirk are in the area when the blond boy carelessly destroys two three-point robots. His flames propel outward at an alarming rate along with a fair amount of metal. Two students nearby scream and brace themselves for the full front of the blast. You lash out a hand in their direction and solidify the air in front of them. The fire, stopped by an invisible wall, propels upwards. Bits of metal clang off the barrier. When there’s nothing left but smoke, you release it and race over to the students.

“Hey, are you guys alright?” you ask, checking them to make sure they’ve sustained no injuries. One of the students, a girl with electric blue hair, rubs some soot off her arm. She makes a disgusted noise.

“Yeah. Was that barrier yours? Thanks.”

You give her a nod. The other student, a reptilian boy with a tail, disdainfully turns his head toward the culprit of the explosions. “He’s been doing that this whole time. I mean, we all wanna be in the Hero Course, but we don’t want to kill anyone else trying to get in!”

“What a dick,” you say. The students vigorously nod. You start backing up—

A rumble shakes the ground. Your quirk tells you that something’s being brought up from below, and it’s…it’s…

Huge.

“Oh, shit!” the girl screams. “It’s that zero-pointer!”

The robot rises higher and higher above the buildings, its red, electronic eyes sweeping the center. Students who are near it are screaming and fleeing, because what else can they do? Time is running out, and there are fewer and fewer robots by the second.

You take a sudden, involuntary step toward it. “Hey, what’re you doing?” the boy exclaims. “Come on! Let’s just get away from it! That thing isn’t worth anything!”

It’s not you, though. It’s the fucking Way. It’s guiding you, urging you like a pair of hands on your back pushing you forward. “Fuck,” you mutter, then glance back at the students you helped. “Go ahead! Make sure that nobody is trapped and can’t get clear of this thing!”

“Are—are you sure?” the girl asks. She’s hesitant; neither of them wants to leave you.

“Yes.” You grin and try to put on a reassuring face.

After a moment, they take off running in the opposite direction of the zero-pointer. Dirt barrels through the streets with each of its steps. You see the blond boy still taking down smaller robots the closest street. He’s taking advantage of people not wanting to be around the boss robot to finish off the leftovers. You could take some fun out of his day and end them before he can, but you set your mind to bigger things.

Or, the bigger thing.

You start walking forward again. You shake your hands out and then blow on each of the tips. Dirt from the robot’s movement scrapes against your skin cells, and it irritates you.

Shinsou would be proud. Opportunity, he calls it. The bastard just had to put such dumb ideas in your head, and the Way thrived off it.

You let out a frustrated growl and start running toward the zero-pointer. The few straggling students that are coming from the rubble catch glimpses of you as they flee. You give them boosts of speed by using the air on their backs to push them further down the street.

The robot looms. Its mechanical gaze locks onto you.

With a shout, you leap into the air and land on solidified surface. Then you’re bounding up, up, and up, gaining momentum, even though it looks like you’re running on a rising staircase. The robot takes a swipe at you with its massive claw. You twist the air so it bounces harmlessly off nothing. Right as you reach its chest area, you leap again, disintegrating into trillions and trillions of particles, sweeping through the air like a dark swarm of conscious dust. You could have made yourself invisible, but you want to be seen for long enough—

You reform ten feet above the robot’s head. A long spike of graphene forms in your hand, and you tilt your feet up to the sky to find purchase on the solid air. You push off it at a speed you’ve surprised yourself with; usually you don’t move this fast in a corporeal form.

The graphene spear slams through the top of the robot’s head, slicing past metal and wires and gears. It implodes on the inside, stands still for a moment, then begins to topple forward.

BAD!

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuuuuuuck!” you sing operatically, foregoing all sense of restraint and dissipating again. Everyone is down there, and you can’t let them be crushed under the Opportunity. Fuck Shinsou and his stupid words.

You slide through the falling robot and reappear at its front again. You switch back into a body and throw your arms out to latch onto all its particles while simultaneously thickening the air so it doesn’t pitch as quickly as it is.

Hot damn, it’s heavy. You—you don’t usually put in this much effort with your quirk.

The slight challenge spurs you on. Reinvigorated, you push back on the robot and hold fast to its particles. You yourself are floating in front of it, and you push its loose arms close to its body so it doesn’t hit any buildings and cause more damage. Now directed, the robot falls slowly to the ground and lands with a shuddering—but safe—crash. To make sure it’s not going to pop back up for a round two, you disconnect wires running through its body like veins.

Your feet touch the pavement. The robot is about five feet away from you, and you’re starving. That muffin-and-a-half doesn’t really hold up when you’re fucking around with a million-pound robot.

Guiding it down has depleted whatever time you had left to get some more robots. It’s alright. You’re too hungry to do much anyway.

Shuffling, you dig your fingers into the robot’s head and tear off a hunk of metal. It squeals as it roughly balls up to fit in your hand. You bite into it like an apple and begin walking back down the street, toward several of the students who sacrificed their own precious time to watch you take down something worth zero points.

“TIMES’S UP!” Present Mic announces, accompanied with a wailing siren. You scarf down the rest of the metal and pick up another errant piece of shrapnel to snack on. It soothes the dusting effect once more energy to maintain your form is channeled through.

You see the blond boy watching you with nothing but hate. Though he’s surrounded by smoking robot leftovers, it seems like it doesn’t matter to him. You briefly meet his red-eyed gaze, but after another second you drop it. You’re embarrassed by the show you put on. It was an unnecessary display of your quirk, and now everyone will be wondering what it is. You hate giving the answer because of the way they look at you afterward, and how the more they think about it, the more they realize that you have something scary-powerful in your DNA.

You avoid everyone else’s looks, too, and if your leggings had pockets, you’d be shoving your hands into them. All the attention makes you squirm. Fuck Shinsou. You should have just kept your head down and did the same things as everyone else.

But deep down, you can’t deny your pride. Maybe when you’re back on the shuttle, you can tell that spiky-haired knucklefuck to move out of your way.

You don’t, though. You keep to yourself and stay quiet on the ride back to U.A.

-

Shinsou meets you on the entrance steps. “How’d it go?” he questions. You shrug your shoulders and adjust your backpack. The feel of slamming graphene into the robot’s head still echoes in your hands.

“Fine.”

“Did you get that zero-pointer.”

“…Yes.”

He cracks a smile, and it makes you happy enough to grin back. “Alright, nice. So you didn’t second-guess yourself after all.”

You turn the conversation away from yourself. “And how did you do?”

The smile slips. Shinsou turns too placid, and you know that he’s upset. “I could have done better. Robots are hard to brainwash. I doubt I’ll get into the Hero Course.”

“I’m sorry, and what have I said about being negative?”

“If it makes plants sad, then it makes you sad,” he replies automatically, his tone extra dry.

“But hey!” You force yourself to stay optimistic for both their sakes. You don’t always follow your own advice, but you like to try. “Who knows what will happen? I don’t think U.A. would look over someone with a quirk like yours.”

He huffs. “Yeah, okay.”

Grinning, you hop in front of him and walk backwards. The relief of being done with the practical has left you feeling airy. You almost forget that you even took down that zero-pointer and stunned everyone in the battle center. “You know what I want right now, though?”

“Ice cream?”

“Ice cream!” you shout. “Ice cream for Shinsou and Isoko!” In English, you say, “We gonna get chocolate, and strawberry, and peanut butter, and cookies n cream, and key lime pie…”

“Are you going to keep listing off flavors?”

“Maybe.” You rejoin his side with a little skip. “I’m just super excited for ice cream. I’m hongry.”

Shinsou smirks at me. “Then let’s go get some ice cream. In February. So we can be even colder.”

“Hell yeah!” You thrust a fist out in front of you. Shinsou is going to be the only one colder, anyway. You’d be fine in any temperature, kinda like a tardigrade. Should that be your superhero name? “Ice! Cream! Ice! Cream!”