"They're doing better than I thought they would." Shirakumo looks up from the collection of black monitor screens to see Aizawa scratching his chin with a bandaged hand. His friend's bloodshot eyes are trained on a different collection of monitors that show the inside of one of the buildings in Ground Beta.
When Aizawa had approached Shirakumo with Nezu's blessings and a binder containing a secret Underground Hero Course curriculum proposal, he knew right away that refusing his old friend was never an option. It also became immediately apparent that the Aizawa he'd known in the past was long gone; this adult Aizawa had years of experience as a pro hero. This Aizawa has a clear mission to prepare the next generations of heroes- in a way, to save them from needing saving themselves. Or, if he really thinks about it, Aizawa's saving these kids from themselves.
After all, every kid has those thoughts that the bad stuff in the world couldn't or wouldn't possibly happen to them. Even the ones who dream of being heroes! Dreaming of stopping the bad stuff in its tracks. Shirakumo would know, after all. He was a kid who bit off more than he could chew and he choked. Y'know, on giant falling debris from a collapsing building. Or maybe a more appropriate analogy would be along the lines of "crushed under society's expectations," but he'd leave that alone for Hound Dog to handle at his new therapy sessions, courtesy of Nezu and UA faculty employment benefits. He's pretty sure there will be a few things that Hound Dog will want to say regarding using dark humor to cope with unimaginable trauma.
At any rate, he has to agree with his old friend. The black screens in front of him are the cameras that the 1A Stealth Course candidates had the keen observational skills and foresight to obscure when breaking into UA grounds. Not to mention, the invisible girl, Hagakure- she did a phenomenal job at pilfering the copy of his teacher ID the other day. He almost didn't notice it, if it weren't for the way the door to the faculty room slid further open by just the smallest amount as she was leaving.
"Yeah," Shirakumo smiles faintly, looking over Aizawa's shoulders. With Nezu's direction, Ground Beta had been outfitted with hundreds of tiny spy cameras and microphones. There was the general expectation that the students would either disable the obvious cameras or find a way to work around detection by exploiting blind spots... but some of the more observant students might also discover some of the spy cams themselves.
On screen, Shirakumo watches as Kaminari and Shoji carefully visit the rooms in which Aizawa had sequentially turned lights on and off. The rooms were semi-random- there wasn't really a rhyme or reason to the room locations, other than one of them holding the next task for the students to puzzle out.
"Smart of Jirou not to reveal Hagakure or Shoji and Kaminari to Kuroiro at first," Aizawa mumbles. "But she just showed him something on her phone... Not to mention that there's a third party..."
"Third party?" Shirakumo asks interestedly, brow furrowing as he scans the wall of monitors in front of them. Aizawa takes a swig of cold coffee and sighs.
"Well, fourth if you count Riyo."
The girl in question is asleep in her own little sleeping bag in the corner of the room. It's an eye-watering combination of purple and orange, but very deceivingly comfortable. A stuffed version of the rescue hero Thirteen is cuddled close, Riyo's purple hat placed carefully on the plush black dome for safekeeping. It was a very cute gesture.
The fondness in Aizawa's eyes as he looks over his charge couldn't be masked no matter how hard he'd try- and it's not even Shirakumo's familiarity that allows him to see through to his friend. Simply put, such adoration couldn't possibly be hidden. As a parent towards their child, it's a deep bond that no one on the outside could ever understand. Shirakumo allows himself a small smile as Aizawa refocuses on the monitors and points to one in the upper left corner.
"There's the third party."
On the monitor, Shirakumo glimpses a grainy head of blond hair, and a tense expression on a young boy's face. Even in poor lighting, it's evident that this student is all too wary of getting caught by the other students investigating Ground Beta.
"Who is he?"
Surprised, the two men look back over their shoulders at the only person who could've telepathically answered Shirakumo's question.
"Riyo? You okay?" Shirakumo asks her curiously. She'd been sound asleep not a few seconds ago.
"Sleepy," she agrees drowsily in Shirakumo's head. There's a few faint echoes of a rather catchy informercial jingle in his head before everything's quiet again.
"Maybe we should've let her stay with Hizashi tonight..."
Aizawa goes faintly pink and clears his throat, avoiding the knowing look that Shirakumo knows is on his face. But alas, they have bigger fish to fry and it's an early morning.
"Anyway, it seems like Hagakure and Monoma may have an intersection soon... though Monoma's not likely to notice."
With a flick of a switch, the camera feeds switch to thermal, revealing a second warm body in the same room that showed Monoma Neito. The female-shaped body noticeably freezes up when Monoma comes into view, before quickly backing down the corridor she'd just traversed.
"Ooh, spotted..." Aizawa mumbles, a smirk twitching the corner of his lips.
Shirakumo grins broadly, simply enjoying watching Aizawa having fun with this whole orchestrated project. It's abundantly clear that he's in his element, that the underbelly of the hero world is Aizawa's domain just as much as the classroom. Combining the two has brought forth a side of Aizawa that Shirakumo didn't really know existed- or he didn't get a chance to know it existed until now. Honestly, there are more and more details that surprise him every day. Little things that remind him of his absence such as small inside jokes that don't make much sense without context, that you just had to be there for. Or allusions to events that happened anywhere from a few weeks ago to- well- their youth. Really, Shirakumo lies awake at night thinking about it rather often. It's only been about a week since he'd been dropped in the middle of a life that he should've been living and had largely missed out on, but it is what it is. He'll enjoy every moment as they come, such as Aizawa's sadistic chuckling as he watches a brightly-colored figure running across the monitors.
"Will this really be finished by the time the school opens?" Shirakumo asks skeptically, glancing at the clock on the wall. It's been about forty minutes since four o'clock, and some of the other faculty that are inclined to arrive early to UA may start showing up around six.
"One way or another," comes the rather noncommittal reply.
"Oh, she found Kaminari and Shoji. Let's listen in..." there's a click of a button or switch, and hushed whispers are heard over the monitor speakers.
"We knew about Kuroiro from Jirou," Shoji whispers quickly, his broad shoulders clearly tense from what Shirakumo and Aizawa see on the screens. "But he doesn't know about us. What's to say that some of his classmates are pulling the same?"
"You think they're teamed up?" Kaminari murmurs.
"I don't know, what do you think is most likely?" The female whisper must be Hagakure. "He didn't seem aware of anyone other than Jirou and Kuroiro... and was muttering something about traitors and our class..."
Aizawa turns to give Shirakumo a wry smirk before switching audio channels.
"-know what he's doing with her. She's from Class 1A! She could be the traitor that leaked information...!"
"They're definitely not working together," Shirakumo surmises.
"Definitely not. Class 1B doesn't have that same level of unity that Class 1A has. Traumatic events do tend to have a lasting bonding effect, breaking most social boundaries rather quickly. In that sense, 1A has formed bonds with each other already because of the attack, while 1B still views each other as total strangers."
Shirakumo is pretty certain that this is one of Aizawa's "teaching moments," and grins. "Well, that makes sense! Risking your lives around and for each other would make one more inclined to trust!"
"So, Shouta! By that logic- I mean- I should be your absolute bestest friend in the whole wide world!"
He's rewarded with a deadpan glare.
Right. Humor to cope with trauma. Talk to Hound Dog about that...!
"Sooooo," he stretches out the word awkwardly.
Rolling his eyes, Aizawa picks up where he left off. "So now, it'll be a test of Jirou and Kuroiro's alliance when they come across Monoma. If he's forced to pick sides... Will Kuroiro feel a sense of obligation for his classmate? Or will he stand by Jirou?" Another grin returns to Aizawa's face as he appraises the monitors with red eyes. "In other words, it's just as much as a split-second decision on who to trust, as who is the bigger threat."
Yeah. He can see that. But-
"Well, would the right choice be to remain allied with Jirou because of their conversation as to why they're here? Or because Jirou's got backup?"
"Who's to say," Aizawa shrugs, rubbing his nose on the back of his bandaged hand, "it depends on the confrontation that happens. With regards to Quirks, Kuroiro definitely has an incredible advantage over all of them. It's dark. Would Jirou be able to hear him to launch a counterattack? But then her backup comes into play. Hagakure provides a lot of cover with regards to stealth and communication between groups... but her physical assessment leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to combat. On the other hand, Shoji may be able to contend with brute strength- but it also depends on how fast he is to keep up with Kuroiro's own speed. The biggest threat to Kuroiro would be Kaminari and the light his electricity gives off- but Kaminari's weakness resides in his propensity to get overwhelmed and hesitate to act, as well as his lack of control over his Quirk. He'd have one shot to knock Kuroiro out, at this point."
"And Monoma? The third party?"
"Monoma's Quirk allows him to copy the Quirk of someone he touches, for up to five minutes. He can hold on to three at a time. So, if he manages to get in close to either Hagakure or Kuroiro, he'd be able to give himself a five minute start before being caught by either Shoji or Jirou... unless he used Kaminari's Quirk at the last minute and staged an ambush. But he'd need to gather all offensive parties into one spot."
The coffee cup on the desk is lifted to Aizawa's lips for a few moments as he takes a gulp. Images flash by on the monitors, but Shirakumo isn't really seeing any of them at the moment. His mind is too busy constructing the scenarios that Aizawa had posed to him, imaginary battles playing out before his eyes.
He almost doesn't catch the moment of confrontation.
"Well, we'll see here what happens next." The rather creepy smile on Aizawa's face has returned as he watches the screens.
Shirakumo blinks. A small, warm hand slips into his own, and he spares a quick smile down at a sleepy Riyo before looking back to what's captured Aizawa's attention.
Kaminari, Shoji, and Monoma are onscreen, in an empty office room. While Shoji and Kaminari don't look too shocked, Monoma looks outraged. Aizawa turns on the audio channel.
"-traitors and spies! Of course the USJ was an inside job! How could it not be!?"
"Shut up," Shoji responds bluntly. This prompts an amused exhale from Aizawa as he watches on.
This is probably more entertaining to him than the shitty daytime TV he was complaining about at home.
"I'm going to report you to the police! To UA! The pro heroes! You'll be expelled, just you wait-" The phone in the blond boy's hand seemingly takes on a will of its own and slips right out of his grasp, floating over to Kaminari's outstretched hand.
"How are you going to do that when you don't have a phone?" Kaminari sticks out his tongue mockingly. "Thanks, Hagakure!"
Monoma's face sours, but at least he has enough sense to compose himself a little. "Well... you've brought me here... I've come. So what now, traitors? Are you going to try to weasel more information out of me? Try to get me to spill UA's dirty secrets? To get to All Might?"
"Firstly, we're no traitors, man," Kaminari crosses his arms haughtily. "We intercepted some weird coded messages that gave us this meeting time and place. Then the lights started going on and off in this building! We came to check it out, and you were here." He leans forward, his body language quite theatrical on the grainy monitor. "And you go accusing us of being traitors!? How do we know it's not you who's the traitor, huh!? It's obvious you don't like our class! You could've spilled the beans to a villain that we were training at the USJ that day out of spite!"
"I did no such thing!"
"You're still super suspicious," Shoji says shortly. "After the attack, you came to our classroom and antagonized our classmates. She didn't do anything to you. You were rubbing it in that she got hurt."
Riyo's hand tightens in Shirakumo's grip. Aizawa's jaw is clenched, and only an idiot would fail to see the fire burning in his eyes.
"Monoma is scared," Riyo murmurs sleepily. "Scary scary. Wants to be hero."
"Do you want to intervene?" Shirakumo asks his friend in a low voice. "Or I could go?"
"No. They need to put the code into the safe and finish up. It's starting to get light."