“This is fancy.” Inko observed, squinting at an actual champagne chiller set into the console underneath the gigantic window in their VIP viewing station. It was a generously sized little room set about halfway up the stadium walls directly across from the MC station. They had an exquisite view of the fields, but also two view screens in case there was anything they wanted a close up of. She wondered if they’d have to pay for it if they recorded the whole thing from multiple angles. “We don’t have to drink that, do we?”
“No, it’ll just get put away until next year.” Toshinori put a hand in the small of her back and pulled her in close. “Do you like it?”
She smiled up at him. “It’s lovely and private. Everyone will have plenty of elbow room. Thank you for reserving it.”
“Haha.” He chuckled and rubbed the back of his head, both pleased and embarrassed. “I always wanted to rent one of these booths when I was a kid, but after my career took off I never seemed to be able to make the time.”
“You’ll be getting to hand out the medals too.” Inko agreed.
Given who her son was, she’d seen every single Sports Festival during the past fourteen years on television so even she couldn’t miss the excitement and significance of that honor.
She leaned her head on his chest as she watched the stadium begin to fill through their window. Izuku and Katsuki were somewhere waiting to walk onto the field. Mirai-san would be joining them later once his sidekicks got done with the festival booths outside. She’d invited Hisashi, but he’d been called in to work and it was a missing persons case that involved possible child trafficking so he went. He made her swear to get him pictures.
Maybe it was for the best. She wasn’t sure she was ready to have Mirai and Hisashi in a room together, much less be trapped in there with them when they inevitably realized their personalities were diametrically opposed.
Speaking of the devil, Mirai let himself into the booth with a clear plastic bag of stacked festival foods. Most of it went to Toshinori, but Inko was pleased to receive a tray of takoyaki, chicken skin gyoza, and a chocolate covered banana; none of which she’d ever had before. Mirai seemed to have been listening when Toshinori explained what the stalls they’d walked past were selling.
Inko hadn’t expected to end up liking Mirai as much as she ended up doing. Removing the barrier of Toshinori’s successor had a curious effect on the man. Being around Toshi softened him up. He was more patient and empathetic. Toshinori meanwhile focused a bit better if Mirai had been around recently. She could see now why they’d been such a formidable team.
Toshinori had been unfortunately accurate about all the fussing, though. Somehow Mirai found out about the return of her tremors and kept sending her web articles about possible therapies to discuss with Hound Dog. She didn’t understand what the bother was about. They’d only shown up the one time and she knew how to deprogram that bit of her stress response.
Still, she understood where it was coming from.
‘Love languages’ was a concept Mitsuki had introduced her to recently. She knew Inko was not entirely neurotypical and a lot of their friendship had been slipping Inko tips and assistance whenever she thought Inko might not pick up on something by herself. Hound Dog agreed, which had come as a slight surprise although even he couldn’t say for sure if she’d been born that way or if it was a result of early childhood conditioning.
Love languages were supposed to exist within the context of a romantic relationship, but Inko found it to be a concept with wider applications in terms of human interaction.
Mirai’s acts of service were small, but numerous once she knew to be looking for them. His idea of making friends was apparently not making nice, but bringing you tea and fighting your battles until you either gave in or floated away.
“Thank you.” She smiled softly. “How is Mirio-kun? Is he excited?”
“Palpably.” Mirai replied, taking his seat and poking at the console to adjust their cameras. “The support company pulled through with a custom gym uniform for him. He’s beyond happy to not have to compete in costume or a standard uniform like last year.”
“Oh, he would be, wouldn’t he?” Inko hadn’t connected Mirio to one of the big scandals of the previous year’s festival. The news casters and amateur videographers had been warned to be very careful with their angles, but a certain young man had still ended up on live camera. The recordings were edited with modesty blurs, but anyone watching the live feed like Inko had would’ve been confronted with all of Mirio-kun; full frontal exposure. She assumed the support company in question had not worked out how to make his clothing phase with him by that point.
Toshinori kept a straight face, but she could still feel the glow of his happiness. It seemed one of his private charities, which had been more neglected in recent years, supported low income Hero students with special needs. The officers in charge of that program had been focusing on tuition grants in the absence of specific guidance from him; getting bodies into seats, making sure they had their basic supplies, and metabolically appropriate meal plans. They hadn’t been doing a bad job, but they were all civilian people and so had gaps in their understanding of the needs of scholarship student heroes; something that Toshinori had been able to fill in before his accident and was happily back at.
The events always started out with the First Years walking onto the field. That ceremony wasn’t repeated the same way for the second or third years, who only ended up on camera once their representative made the sportsmanship pledge because otherwise people tended to notice how much smaller the upper level classes got from year to year.
“Who is that boy?” Mirai asked with deep skepticism after Katsuki-kun gave his ‘speech.’ His audible thoughts were trying to match him to Izuku. Mirai knew full well that was Izuku’s boyfriend, but he was having trouble reconciling that with the reality of Katsuki-kun.
The funny thing was that Mirai had warmed up to Izuku seemingly overnight. Part of it was the fact that the boy adored each other and Inko knew better than anyone else that affection was contagious; see the examples of Katsuki-Kun and Mirai himself. Part of it was the fact that Mirai and Izuku had a lot in common. The main reason seemed to be that Mirai had two weaknesses; cute things and cheerfully determined people. Izuku was both.
A lot of his thoughts felt like math and the equations going on in there at the moment looked like this: (small, green, acceptable) - (loud, spikey, cocksure brat) + (cheerful, blond, the brightest future) = (superior match).
“Mitsuki-chan would snatch you bald.” Inko informed him.
Mirai’s only response to her reading his mind again was a slow blink. He was a bit like Toshinori and once he got past the initial shock; he actually preferred her lifting things straight out of his mind rather than being forced to explain it. “She could try.” He replied blandly.
He and Mitsuki were already mighty foes. She’d added him to the wedding group chat as a joke, but the joke ended up being on her. There was nothing Mirai liked better than planning something. Mitsuki had her own powerful opinions, but Mirai had followed all of Toshiori’s wedding pinterest boards and had accepted them as the word of God. They were currently gridlocked over a venue; a high class traditional inn with a banquet hall or a walled garden. Inko didn’t have the heart to remind them that the choice would come down to which one was available and they were arguing over literally nothing.
Mitsuki and Masaru had managed to get a pair of seats right by the arena by reserving them around the time Katsuki-kun started taking his mock exams. It was technically a better view and they’d decided to stick with it.
She pressed into Toshinori’s side during the first event; the obstacle course. She knew fully well that Izuku could handle nearly any threat his own size or even a bit bigger. It’s just no one had told her how big the so-called ‘zero pointer’ droids were. Even the smaller ones who swarmed in after them were similar to solidly sized security droids.
Izuku was right however. The zero pointers were very poorly balanced, but it seemed to be a deliberate design choice; perhaps to get the children into the mindset of looking for exploitable flaws in their opponents. If so, Inko approved.
She watched, both fists clenched, as her boys made an excellent showing. Katsuki-kun was made for this sort of race. Todoroki-kun, who she only knew through hearsay, was doing an excellent job as well. He reminded her of someone, although she couldn’t place who. Iuku, though, was closing the gap. She could feel him boosting his own velocity through the Force, but he’d sacrificed time to pick up a broad bit of robotshell that he was carrying with him strapped to his back as he nimbly darted over the canyon obstacle.
“How is that working?” Mirai asked. “The rope isn’t shaking under him. Did he stabilize the entire thing?”
“It’s resting in a V-shaped support.” Inko guessed. It wouldn’t hold up if someone swatted him off the rope, but the Force barrier Izuku was using was enough to support a few minor balance corrections and that was all he needed. He’d been on rope courses and balancing bars nearly every day for his entire life.
“Very clever.” Toshinori smiled.
They all winced when they realized what the metal plate he was carrying was for and the land mines propelled the boy right into first place.
In retrospect, Inko approved. There was always some explosive element in the Sports Festival usually towards the end and there’d been a couple of kids she remembered who used them to good effect in past years. Izuku would have been paying very close attention and he’d made good use of that knowledge.
Katsuki-kun got him into a headlock as soon as they cleared the finish line. Katsuki took second when his sheer outrage gave him a second wind, but his anger was fighting with laughter. He didn’t necessarily distinguish between his success and Izuku’s anymore. He mostly seemed mad about the landmines.
One of the people looking to skid in just under the wire to be included in the next round was a pretty young girl with her shirt open for some reason. Unfortunately she also seemed to have a passenger clinging to her backside. Inko wouldn’t normally involve herself in other people’s business but she could feel the girl’s mounting, tired upset all the way in the stands. This had been going on for a very long time and stood out in her mind like a bruise, but somehow being exploited academically was worse for her than her many, many memories of small hands where small hands ought not to be.
Inko tilted her head and the boy was torn free, knocked back a few feet, and passed up by three or four of his other opponents putting him out of the competition for good. Neither Toshinori nor Mirai seemed to notice that she’d interfered.
Mirai bopped a fist into his open palm. “Sugar Glider.” He realized out loud. “She used a similar move four years ago when the final terrain obstacle was an air cannon gauntlet.”
“I don’t remember that one.” Toshinori frowned in thought. “That might have been one of the years I missed.” He did not elaborate on what might have occupied him during that time.
“She’s that Indie with the skin wings who works with Jetstream sometimes.” Mirai adjusted the camera feeds for a wide view of the area. “She suborned one of the canons and used it to shoot herself over the finish line.”
She seemed to recall Izuku making a very big deal over something like that.
The next battle was something called a ‘cavalry’ battle and everyone got headbands corresponding to their placement in the obstacle race. Katsuki-kun grabbed ahold of Izuku’s elbow as the rest of their year zeroed in on him as their number one target.
It looked like a juvenile show of preference from the outside, but as Inko understood it their Force bond would give them a lethal edge in this sort of competition. Three kids attached themselves to the boys right away; one from their class (the one Katsuki-kun went into jealous conniptions over, if Inko hadn’t missed her guess), a girl from support who was decked out in her own custom gear, and a boy with red hair that Inko didn’t recognize.
They were a well composed team; the redhaired boy was an excellent defense player and the pink-cheeked girl could remove the effects of gravity from the entire warhorse. Izuku’s mindreading, Katsuki’s ability to read Izuku, and the support girl’s jetpack pulled them through the cavalry battle in the end when they spent the end of the competition up in the air out of everyone else’s reach.
They had a close call when some of the kids from 1-B went after Izuku’s group early on before they were airborne. One of the kids in that warhorse could make excellent barriers, but Izuku seemed wariest of their team leader and at one point used his telekinesis to lift that entire warhorse team up off the ground and threw them overhead into Todoroki’s warhorse.
The surprise twist came at the end when, after the bracket tournament was announced, several kids recused themselves from the competition.
“A mind controller.” Mirai interpreted. “The purple haired one. Interesting.”
Interested, Inko reached out to touch the boy’s mind and to her surprise his head whipped up and he turned around trying to spot who was contacting him. “Oh my!” She sent him the equivalent of an apology and withdrew.
“Something the matter?” Toshinori asked when she smiled to herself.
She hadn’t encountered a Force sensitive native to earth before. They existed, of course, but the ability faded without use. Untrained Force users lost the ability as they got older. The boy’s quirk was close enough to Force Persuasion that it must have maintained his connection to the Force.
“He’s more than that.” She slipped out her phone and texted Izuku.
Mom: Could you apologize for me to the purple haired boy? I touched his mind and startled him. I was just curious.
Izu: And he felt you?
Izu: Ok. I’ll tell him.
There was an intermission of sorts then. They broke for lunch. The boys came by to eat and catch some rest ahead of the final event. There was a good chance the boys might end up fighting each other and they seemed to be dealing with it by staying attached at the hip until the last moment. Lunch break was followed up by some other purely fun events that were optional for the children and the opening events for the upperclassmen, but the tournament came all too soon and with it an odd sense of foreboding.
“I don’t like that look.” Toshinori commented as she shifted in her seat. Mirai was, thank goodness, off sitting with his sidekicks to cheer for Mirio-kun where Mirio-kun could see him.
“It’s not the same.” Inko reassured him and almost believed it herself. Still, she appreciated his large arm around her shoulder. “...but it’s something.”
Toshinori’s reply was a low, discontented rumble that implied he was going to take any interruptions to this festival personally.
Ironically, Izuku’s first opponent was the boy with Force Persuasion and that went --perhaps as well as you could expect when a teenager with one lone trick up his sleeve faced off a nearly fully trained Force adept. The boy’s quirk wasn’t entirely like Persuasion she found out when Present Mic described it for the stands. He had to fulfill certain conditions to use it, but she was certain that could be overcome with appropriate training.
She was a bit torn on the subject of Shinsou-kun. She’d told herself that Izuku would be her final padawan and he Temple-influenced instincts said he was too old to start, but Shinsou-kun was enough of a Force adept that he’d eventually experience the same growth milestones as a Jedi. How cruel would it be to leave him to face all that alone?
That was assuming he was willing to have anything to do with either her or Izuku after today.
Izuku didn’t quite laugh in the boy’s face when Shinsou’s quirk failed to work on him. There was no audio from the ring, but Shinsou’s shock and dismay was visible for all to see. The boys talked for a bit. Shinsou got heated, but Izuku stayed calm and friendly. Interestingly, Shinsou seemed angry on the surface and part of that was due to frustration, but inside he wanted to be liked and to be helpful. Something Izuku said to him seemed to penetrate, although Inko wasn’t sure quite what. They put up their fists and settled in to punch it out the old fashioned way.
Izuku took it, but Shinsou was a nasty little brawler -the type who valued results over putting on a good show- and so he made his opponent work for that victory. When they left the ring Shinsou left to the sounds of the entire Gen Ed student body cheering for him and a stunned expression as he looked around, trying to process it.
Both her boys ended up winning their fights. Katsuki was paired off against Uraraka, the girl with the gravity quirk, and won only by a much narrower margin than he should have. The Master in her was displeased to see one of her students walk into a fight so heavily weighted in his favor it was almost offensive and then only make it out by the skin of his teeth, luck, and his opponent’s one mistake.
The girl had an excellent strategy -one Katsuki shouldn’t have fallen for given how often he’d trained against not one but two telekinetics- and utilized the noise and distraction of ‘explosion’ to quietly assemble a drop trap overhead. She had good instincts, but they needed to be tempered by experience. Her plan would have worked, except she said something right before triggering it and gave Katsuki a clue about what was about to happen.
“Ahhh.” Toshinori covered his face with one big hand as Katsuki blew the debris away and Uraraka passed out from quirk overuse. “I think I know what my next lecture’s gonna be about.”
“Don’t call her out on it in front of her peers. They were all watching. They know.” Inko told him. “Psychological manipulation is a valuable skill. She’s just starting out.”
Her fiance gave her a droll look. “Young Uraraka did just fine up until the end. I was going to lecture about the importance of looking up, but yes. You’re right about that too.” He made a thoughtful noise. “The younger heroes are all about the banter and that’s good. It’s marketable, but they don’t use it the way they should. I wonder if I could get Sleight of Hand in for a guest lecture?” He mused.
“Would anyone ever tell you no?” Inko teased.
“You.” He replied with a fond smile. “Mirai. Young Izuku. Young Bakugo, constantly. It’s lovely.”
Like most parents involved, Inko was mostly paying attention to her son’s matches and the matches of the children she knew. That was essentially Katsuki and one other boy, who she didn’t really --but she was pretty sure she’d known his father once.
Todoroki Enji was not a black card, but he partnered with Y.U.R.E.I. every so often when he needed more bodies or subtler allies than his own agency could provide. It was a mutualistic relationship and he was one of the few people who’d ever been introduced to her as herself back in her early days on Earth. Hisashi hadn’t often let other people talk to her or if he did then he introduced her as an observer, a junior admin, or something else boring and forgettable.
It had been that experience that taught her the value of being overlooked, actually.
Dr. Mercury, an exiled Kaminoan that even other Kaminoans found to be repellant and unstable. His real name was Dokka Markari. He’d found his way to Earth somehow and decided to make a retirement project out of solving the mystery of Quirks. Most people knew of him as a serial killer; a ‘torso’ killer, to be precise. He did fit the description as Inko understood it although his motivations surely differed. Kaminoans didn’t really have emotions that were as intense as those of most other sentient species.
When Dr. Mercury took a victim it was because he needed a new research subject and when he left a mangled corpse on display it was to warn off someone who’d been sniffing around his lair; sometimes a hero, sometimes the police, sometimes other villains. The mutilations were all post-mortem and performed on a ‘test subject’ who’d already expired. From his perspective it was all very neat and tidy. Dr. Mercury hadn’t considered the native humans on Earth to be people, really; just a bunch of jeering natives little better than animals with interesting genes. He saw no problem at all with his behavior and truly believed he was just integrating with the norms of Earth --and that meant he would never stop.
Inko had been brought in when someone managed to catch a picture of Dr. Mercury in the middle of a body dump. Hisashi had gotten into the annoying habit by then of showing her pictures of any extreme quirk mutation that crossed his desk to see if they were another alien. He’d been as surprised as she was when one actually turned up, much less a Kaminoan. They were reclusive and secretive on a good day. Most people had forgotten they even existed.
Todoroki had been a younger man then and proud, but he was also so offended by Dr. Mercury’s murder spree that he was willing to forgo the receiving public credit for that takedown if it meant the killing would stop. They hadn’t known exactly where Dr. Mercury was hiding beyond a general neighborhood, but they knew he would pick up and move if hero activity got too close to his base so Todoroki went out and picked some villain fights in the right area to flush him out of hiding. It worked.
When Markari left that night, Y.U.R.E.I. was waiting and so was Inko.
Todoroki the younger was much more delicate looking than his father, which wasn’t hard. Endeavor was a large man. The ice quirk made less sense, but in some ways heat and cold were two faces of the same phenomenon. Inko watched his fight with idle curiosity, noting that he was likely to fight Izuku next if she was reading the brackets right.
Having learned her lesson with Shinsou, she stayed in her own head.
The boy seemed awfully angry; angry in ways that a young person born into privilege in a reasonably peaceful and prosperous society really shouldn’t have been. He reminded her of the young Republic recruits who’d come from worlds overrun by the Mandalorians. He had that same exterior serenity; one that belied a fury raging within the fragile cage of their bodies. It sometimes peeked out through their eyes.
Most of those young people were dead; burned down to ashes in the service of vengeance.
Mirai let himself in just in time for the semi-finals. “Mirio-kun won his events.” He reported with a seemingly bland tone while his mind glowed with approval.
“How wonderful!” Inko smiled. “You’re just in time. Izuku is up next against Endeavor’s boy.”
“You remembered a hero’s name without help?” Mirai was actually surprised. Give him due credit, once he’d started to figure her out he’d finished in record time.
Toshinori piled on. “Should I be worried?”
“Not unless he’s changed substantially in the past seventeen years.” Inko replied, unbothered. The Todoroki Enji she remembered was a pompous ass. She was surprised he had a family at all, but arranged marriages still happened in Japanese society so maybe that was how he came to have children.
“Oh good.” Toshinori chuckled and redirected his attention to the field. “I can’t predict who will win this one. It’ll come down to who uses their quirk better and they’re both very clever.”
Inko comfortable mood evaporated when the boys walked out onto the field. Todoroki-kun was still a still, deep pool of untapped fury --but so was Izuku.
“Did something happen during the intermission?” Mirai leaned forward to zoom in on the children’s faces. He looked and felt worried --in part because he’d never seen Izuku angry before.
She folded her hands in her lap and concentrated on the action.
Izuku’s mouth was a grim line, but his heart was a different story she realized. He was angry, not for himself, but for someone else. This wasn’t anger. It was wrath. The distinction was academic to anyone but a Jedi.
He was intense. He was laser focused. He was going to wreck somebody’s day and the bits and pieces Inko was skimming off his mind suggested they might well deserve it.
Todoroki-kun, meanwhile, had made the mistake of dismissing his opponent before they’d even gotten started. Inko didn’t need mindreading to tell her that. It was written in every line of his body. This fight was a motion to Todoroki and he was going through it. His goal was on a more distant horizon.
“Todoroki-kun is going to lose.” Inko could feel it in her bones. His problem wasn’t skill or determination. It was something else harder to define. Like Aizawa and Mirai as well, to be honest, he wasn’t open to seeing the world as it was. He’d already decided who the people around him were and what they were capable of. It was possible for someone to barrel ahead like that for a while without being noticeably challenged and it seemed like Todoroki-kun had, but a Force adept was a very bad opponent for that type of person.
Having your paradigm upset could be traumatic or liberating. She hoped it was the latter for Todoroki-kun because she could not foresee Izuku leaving the boy to continue on as he was.
“It’s a bit early to call it.” Toshinori’s good mood faded a bit as he took in her serious face. The children were talking a bit on the screen and she’d be interested to learn what was said later.
Inko shook her head sadly. “No, he lost before he ever set foot in the ring today.”
Things were getting heated on the field as they began to fight. Izuku started out pushing his opponent through the Force. Todoroki used his ice to brace himself, but his abilities were strong enough that he could do that and attack at the same time. Izuku was getting a bit knocked around and Inko wondered when, exactly, he was going to actually start fighting back.
The tide turned in an instant.
Todoroki-kun seemed poised to win as he lashed out with a big wave of ice, but Izuku didn’t retreat that time. He had his head cocked like he’d just figured something out and dodged again, much faster than he had before. He was finally pushing himself.
Izuku said something then, Inko wasn’t sure what, but it penetrated Todoroki’s thick hide and he charged for once without the use of his quirk intent on punching Izuku’s lights out. His movements were slow, though; sluggish, even. It was as if…
“Ah.” Mirai reached the same conclusion she did. “His quirk is giving him hypothermia. No wonder he’s been going for the instant kills. He loses stamina the longer his fights go on.”
Izuku clocked Todoroki-kun good just then and sent him flying; not far enough to leave the ring, but he landed on his back. When he picked himself up though, something had changed. Heat began to ripple off his left side. The ice accumulating on his right melted into steam and a familiar crazy-ass grin spread across his face as Todoroki-fun finally took the brakes off his quirk.
“Oh, I see the resemblance now.” Inko chuckled, feeling fond despite herself. She could feel the change in him; shackles of rage falling away in the wake of something he’d forgotten, but found unexpected strength inside.
The next part happened very fast. With his quirk back in balance, Todoroki-kun flooded the ring with ice followed up by a wave of fire. This was his best effort, something he’d been withholding from the program and himself.
Izuku didn’t even try to avoid it. He stood, looking almost peaceful as he held up a hand and dissipated the whole thing with a wave.
The silence left in the wake of Todoroki-kun’s aborted elemental assault was deafening. Even Todoroki-kun stood rooted in place unable to comprehend what had happened or stop Izuku from telekinetically lifting him up and dumping him outside the ring.
Present Mic actually stuttered as he switched gears to announce Izuku as the winner. That triggered a deafening wave of applause and cheers.
Mirai slowly took his glasses off. “That wasn’t possible.” He said. “The boy is a telekinetic.”
“It is.” Inko wasn’t in much better shape, but for very different reasons. She glanced at Toshinori who wasn’t as upset as Mirai. He knew that Izuku’s abilities didn’t follow the same rules as quirks, but that was a bit much even for him. “All temperature is motion.”
Cryokinesis and pyrokinesis were both advanced skills not taught to padawans, but Inko had made a critical error.
It was a well known fact among the proctors and creche teachers that children, especially Force sensitive children, learned best from each other. Most people believed the Creches were meant to create a sense of family among all Jedi and that was a little bit true, but some archivists and scholars argued that the ancient masters had started raising the younglings together for other reasons as well.
Most quirks utilized the Force in some way even when the quirk user themselves wasn’t a Force Sensitive. Every living creature had the potential to use the Force. The difference between a Force Adept and a regular person was the ability to perceive it.
Inko had sent her precocious apprentice in to learn alongside the best and brightest that Earth had to offer. Was it any wonder that his own understanding had grown by leaps and bounds out of sight?
That was not a padawan standing on the field, accepting his due adulations and waving for the camera.
Inko wasn’t the only one who thought so either. She could feel the weight of the Force gathering around them, taking notice of a young person standing at the gates of adulthood.
“We may be in for a rough evening.” Inko said quietly, for Toshinori’s ears alone.
Trials were usually something arranged for a padawan by their masters to mark their transition from an apprentice to a fully fledged Jedi. It wasn’t a practice unique to the Jedi. Ancient traditions of Force Adepts were known to do the same thing --mostly because if they did not or if they waited too long then the Force would conduct its own trial.
Inko had waited too long and her son might pay the price for it.