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As It Is, Isn't, Could, Should

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Bakugo Katsuki would first like to establish that he's the best, fuck you very much. All his life, he's been surrounded by compliments and praise, like he very well should've been. After all, his Quirk is flashy and powerful, and he's going to surpass All Might.

No, that's not a goal. That's a fact.

He had the highest scores on the entrance exams, obviously. While it's one thing to know that he's better than everyone else who scraped by, he still likes having official proof. Ranks and numbers endorsed by UA are indisputable. He is the best at this school, and he will always be the best for so long as he's here. Records will be smashed and reset, and Katsuki will make his permanent mark on UA, and then, the world.

So when Katsuki walks into UA on the first day and kicks his feet up on his desk, only to be reprimanded by a fucking four-eyed Somei Academy extra, he's feeling pretty good. In his mind, the fact that a kid from a richy-rich private academy background is coming after him the moment he sits down is telling enough. He's a threat. That's why Four-Eyes is on his ass already. Katsuki's a threat to him and he knows it.

Is it lonely at the top? Nah. There's just simply not enough room for losers like Four-Eyes.

Already bored of whatever the hell Four-Eyes is spouting, Katsuki glances lazily around the room. Some of his classmates are filing in the room, but one in particular catches his eye.

A dopey-looking girl who seems to be staring right at him with odd, flickering eyes.

Shitty fucking Quirk, probably, Katsuki scoffs to himself. He doesn't look away, though. Instead, he settles his face into a glare. Because Katsuki is definitely not gonna be the first one to look away. He's not meek like that.

But she just keeps.

Fucking.

Staring.

Until-

"Oh."

It's a quiet exclamation of surprise- if Katsuki can call it that. And damnit he's looked away from her to see who intruded.

Some asshole with a shitty face and shitty half-and-half hair. Katsuki has half a mind to tell him off before the kid speaks again in an annoying monotone.

"It's you," he address the girl flatly.

Her eyes slowly focus on the newcomer as he stands beside her desk.

They know each other? Tch.

"No. I'm fine."

Katsuki frowns. Is this guy seriously talking to himself? What a fucking weirdo. And that girl, too.

There's another pause before Half-and-Half speaks again. "I still don't know what you mean by that."

Silence.

"And your... friend?"

More silence. The girl stares at the boy, pinching her arm rather rhythmically.

"I see. Apologies."

What the fuck is going on?

"I have to decline. I'm not here to make friends."

And at that, Half-and-Half sits down at a different desk. Just as Katsuki's about to call out to him to let him know he looks like a fucking idiot, another idiot comes bumbling through the door.

Blood thunders in Katsuki's ears as he takes in the mop of green hair and round eyes. Suddenly, he's back in that stream, his ass soaked and water rushing past cheerfully. He's looking up to the large log spanning the chasm above him, two neighborhood kids whose names he never bothered to remember waving down at him. And then that same irritating mop of green hair.

Those same huge eyes, mildly tearful, and a trembling hand reaching out to him.

Are you okay, the tiny voice mocks him.

Are you hurt?

As if he could ever do anything about it. Useless, Quirkless-

"DEKU! What the hell are YOU doing here!?"

"Waaa! Kacchan!"

And like they always had, those green eyes fix on him with fear, and Katsuki feels vindicated for a moment before he realizes those eyes are sliding away from him, and onto-

"Aaaah! You're- you're the chicken girl!"

What?

For some reason, seeing Deku looked more spooked about the weird glowy-eyed girl really rubs Katsuki the wrong way. Not to mention- what the hell does chicken have to do with anything!?

"What!?" Deku flails in a panic, eyes still fucking glued to the weird dopey girl. "Ah- n-no! Well... I just-"

Deku stops himself for a moment, frowning as he becomes a little more composed. He seems to be staring intently.

"No, he's... just Kacchan!"

What.

"Deku," Katsuki growls menacingly. His hands pop with barely-contained frustration. "Just what the heck do you think you're pulling, hah!? You think you can go ignoring me!? Why the fuck are you even here!?"

Because Deku shouldn't be here. He's a shitty, Quirkless nobody that Katsuki had stepped over a long time ago. Deku has no business being at UA, let alone the Hero Course.

He must've cheated! That fucker!

"Shut up and sit down," a tired voice calls from the front of the classroom. It takes a moment for Katsuki to stop fuming to the degree of shutting the rest of the world out. But that's fucking fine, because what's the point of listening to shit that doesn't matter?

Any stragglers quickly seat themselves at open desks and a bedraggled man gets up from the floor and steps out of an atrocious yellow sleeping bag. He looks like a hobo. Katsuki's immediately skeptical, because if this guy's the home room teacher, then who the fuck else is teaching classes?

Then again, Katsuki reminds himself, this is UA. So this dirty old man must have some worth.

"First things first, I'm Aizawa Shouta. Your home room teacher. It took entirely too long for you all to settle down," the man says, looking quite irritable and cranky. "That better not happen again."

Katsuki appreciates how blunt this guy is. Straightforward without any unnecessary bullshit.

"Secondly, go dress out." A gym uniform is tossed on the teaching podium. "Meet out in the courtyard, and if you're late you'll regret it."

Perhaps it was the nasty tone that he'd used, or maybe the poignant glare that seemed to strike every student in the room. But Katsuki's not about to kid himself, the reasons he's the first out onto the field have little to do with the unspoken promise of consequences. He's going to be first because he's the best, and there's no point in wasting time by fraternizing with extras who are beneath him. Especially that Deku.

And fine, he's hoping he can blow some shit up today. Especially that Deku.

Except, Katsuki's not the first person out on the field. It's that dopey-girl, who stands right next to their home room teacher. The dazed look on her face makes Katsuki's skin crawl. There's something not right about her, how she seems to be completely spaced out and just... stupid.

How would a girl like that get into UA?

The girl stiffens slightly before blinking and rubbing her eyes with her fists.

"Riyo?" Aizawa asks the girl quietly.

The girl doesn't answer but for pinching her arms a few times before spacing out.

What a fucking joke.

It's like he's staring at Deku number two. He's not sure which is worse. Being stuck in the same class as that fucking Quirkless waste of space, or this chick who can't seem to focus for one fucking second.

Oh well. She'll learn real quick to pay attention to Katsuki, or else he'll blow her to smithereens with his explosions. He's the best. And he can already tell he's way out of her league. She must be a pity case, and his speculation is only further solidified as Aizawa announces a Quirk aptitude test and the girl doesn't participate in any of the tests, despite Aizawa's threat of the lowest-performance getting expelled.

A fucking weakling, Katsuki seethes, glaring at her once more as she stands demurely to the side. He's only getting more and more pissed off. Especially when he realizes that fucking Deku has been hiding a super powerful Quirk all this time.

Liars.

Cheaters.

Scum.

Worthless.

Weak.

So imagine Katsuki's surprise when Aizawa doesn't name the spacey dunce as the expelled student, but instead some tiny purple-balled freak. He's not about to bend and swallow his pride to point out the glaring fucking obvious problem with the dope not taking any of the aptitude tests. Predictably, one of the extras points it out.

"Excuse me, sensei!" Fucking Four-Eyes raises a stiff hand. "What about our peer standing beside you? She hasn't taken the aptitude tests yet. It doesn't make much sense, or seem fair to decide on the expulsion of one of the students in our class without having the entire class take the tests!"

Aizawa scratches the side of his face, looking down at the girl beside him. There's a pregnant pause.

"Very well," he nods at the girl before looking up at the class.

Purple Balls stops crying hysterically at that. "I still have a chance! There's so many hotties in this class, I can't be expelled yet! And that chick's not all there in the head, huh? Even if she fails, I might still be able to-"

He's instantly ensnared in Aizawa's Capture Scarf and bound tight. Katsuki looks away, disgusted and uncomfortable. Being trapped in that scarf is one of the few things that made Katsuki feel the beginnings of panic. But rather than dwelling on the unpleasant feeling of constraints and restricted movement and the smell of sewage-

"You're expelled no matter what." Aizawa's voice is sharp and cold. There's a fury present in his Quirk-nullifying gaze that would make any villain freeze.

Katsuki rolls his shoulders to ease the coming soreness and refocuses on the girl with weird eyes when Aizawa finishes restraining the purple pervert.

"So what's the big idea?" One of the other extras asks stupidly.

Tch.

"Yeah, why couldn't she have just taken the tests with the rest of us?"

It's Deku's shifty expression that sets Katsuki off again. Because that fucker has that look on his face. He knows something, and he's hiding it. Just like he hid his stupid, shitty Quirk. But Katsuki isn't just going to ask Deku what he knows.

"Deku, you know something about this!" Katsuki barks. "So spit it out!" He spins to round on the other fucker that pissed him off this morning. "And you too, you Half-and-Half bastard! Fucking talking to yourself like a fucking idiot!"

The class looks confused, and mildly wary of Katsuki. Aizawa simply raises an eyebrow.

"Are you done, Bakugo? I'd like to wrap this up today but if you'd rather run your mouth, I have no problem with making you and your classmates run until the final bell."

There's worried murmuring and dissenting grumbles half-heartedly directed Katsuki's way, but he simply rolls his eyes and crosses his arms. "Tch."

"Anyway," their teacher sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. "I guess this is as good of a time as any to address it... The reason why Riyo- Chihoshi- hasn't been participating up until now is for a multitude of reasons, including a brief request from the principal."

"The principal?" Whispers erupt amongst the class.

"That sounds serious!"

"Maybe because of her Quirk?"

"She does seem a little odd..."

"Keep in mind that Riyo can hear you," Aizawa says crossly. "She has an exceptionally powerful Quirk that allows her to see the future... amongst other things."

"Uhm..."

Katsuki glares at Deku as he raises a hand.

"Midoriya?"

"Does... does that include, uh, telepathy?" Deku asks meekly.

What a fucking joke-

"See me after class," Aizawa frowns seriously.

"Eep!"

What the hell is that about!?

"Riyo- Chihoshi's Quirk affects her quite strongly, in ways that make it very hard for her to focus. This is potentially very dangerous... I'm sure I don't have to explain why."

"Then why is she even in the Hero Course?" Some blonde idiot asks.

Aizawa closes his eyes for a minute, and Katsuki can practically see the effort that it takes him to refrain from losing his shit.

"Riyo."

At the sound of her name, the girl blinks once, looking rather sleepy. Her chin lifts up as she looks up at Aizawa. There's a moment of silent eye contact.

"Yes. You can."

The class watches her with no small degree of anticipation as she walks over to the fifty-meter dash. The robot counts her down.

"On your mark! Get set! Go! One point one-eight seconds!"

Katsuki is shocked. One moment, the girl was at the starting line. The next, she was at the finish line. She's quite literally disappeared and reappeared in a second.

He swallows hard.

Whatever. Teleportation Quirks are rare, but they don't mean shit for hero work, not for a puny thing like her.

But it doesn't stop.

The long jump test is moot because of her teleport whatever. So is the distance run. The side hops are in the fucking hundreds, because that makes sense!? The ball throw ends up matching Round Face's infinity score. The tool measuring grip strength is fucking shattered, her sit-up score is also in the hundreds? And then the seated-toe-touch has the girl blasting apart into particles before she's suddenly reforming and practically folding herself in half.

This dopey girl has maxed out every single score in the aptitude test by astronomical margins, with the exception of a matching infinity for the ball throw.

"Do you understand now?" Aizawa asks the shell-shocked class as the girl dissolves and reforms by his side, looking much smaller and holding a fistful of his sleeve. He looks down and frowns, before digging in his pocket and handing her a collection of protein bars. She accepts them wordlessly, looking rather bored as she unwraps one and starts munching. Aizawa lets his stare linger on her for a second longer before continuing to address the class. "It was illogical and irrational for you all to take your tests at the same time, because class morale would've plummeted during the tests and you all wouldn't have performed close to your bests."

Katsuki gets what he's saying. He really does.

And he hates it.

Because how?

How can he compete with something like that?

The girl is still mindlessly gnawing on a protein bar, and Katsuki's chest seizes as he stares. This girl- who looks like a complete idiot, and utterly hopeless, who doesn't seem all there in the head- is somehow worlds ahead of Katsuki's abilities. The thought makes him sick.

He really gets it.

What's the point of trying if there's already someone who will always be better than you? If you already know that you'll be beat, no matter what you do. No matter how hard you struggle. No matter how you want it so much more, more than anything, more than anyone could ever want it-

"Chihoshi's unique situation calls for an adjustment in her curriculum to better suit her needs," Aizawa interrupts Katsuki's wild spiral. "So she will not be competing at large with the class. Think of it as like she's a separate class on her own, but you're taught at the same time. There will be different requirements for her as compared to the rest of you, in order to accommodate the challenges that her Quirk presents for her."

Well isn't that fucking comforting.

Chapter Text

There have been a lot of ominous things that Midoriya has had said to him before. Most of them have been threats by Kacchan, but Kacchan is Kacchan after all. Death threats, threats of bodily harm, threats to ruin his life-

Par for the course.

Having a teacher ask- no, tell him to see him after class?

Well, all things considered, Midoriya has heard things way more concerning but somehow this makes him way more nervous than his childhood friend spouting constant vitriol. And maybe Midoriya needs to seriously re-examine what he has and hasn't become desensitized to experiencing, in conjunction with a serious lack of faith in authoritative figures in an educational setting. After all, they never did much for him in the past. But that's something that's probably better left for analysis at a later date, when he's not actively dealing with the pain of a broken finger and frayed nerves from possibly being expelled.

Or when he's not face-to-face with- as he's taken to calling her, the Chicken Girl.

When he'd asked All Might who all knew of his secret- of the secret of One For All- All Might told him that only about five people knew. None of them were Midoriya's age. He was a little surprised at Midoriya's questioning about ages, but didn't press the issue.

Maybe that was a little dumb of him, but Midoriya was far too occupied with knowing that a chicken-eating, Quantum-Quirked girl prone to dissolving just told him his greatest- no, the world's greatest secret to his face, and then disappeared. He'd gone back to that shopping mall countless times after that. He'd staked out the chicken store and accidentally got on a first-name basis with the poor cashier the girl had called "the chicken man." Awkward conversation, a few chicken meals, and a coupon book later, he still had no results. Midoriya had equally hoped and dreaded running into that girl again, but he still had so many questions and too many notebook pages dedicated to that encounter with the Chicken Girl. A lot of those pages had notes on quantum physics, and the potential of a Quantum Quirk.

See, Midoriya isn't a dumb, useless Deku, contrary to what his childhood friend believes. He's actually terrifyingly smart, and incredibly unaware of it. Of course, Midoriya would be bashful and deny it over and over if ever confronted with this truth. To be fair, confrontation of any sort isn't really Midoriya's strong suit- and he'll admit that. That's sort of an issue regarding his aspirations to be a hero and solve conflicts of varying proportions in the future, but trust him, that's completely different, I swear! At any rate, being called up by the teacher at the end of the first day of class isn't exactly giving him any warm and fuzzies.

Aizawa doesn't start speaking until everyone else has cleared out of the room. Midoriya watches him take extra caution to peer out the door with a Quirk-laced glare before shutting it behind him and closing his eyes. A heavy sigh leaves his teacher's lungs, and like some sick Pavlovian response, Midoriya automatically feels dread welling up from the pit in his stomach.

Every time a teacher sighs like that, it's not good for Midoriya. It's usually a sign that he's caused trouble again. A precursor of consequences to come.

"Mm?" Aizawa looks back at the Chicken Girl.

"Our Izuku thinks he's in trouble," the girl whispers without speaking.

Midoriya shivers.

"Our Izu-? No. No," Aizawa frowns sternly at the girl. "There is no our. There is no my or your, Riyo. We talked about this." He glances at Midoriya and sighs again. "And you're not in trouble, Midoriya. But by your question about telepathy, I assume Riyo spoke to you."

"Ah- y-yes?" He stutters awkwardly.

"We had chicken," Chicken Girl- uh, Riyo supplies helpfully.

"Chicken?" Aizawa frowns in confusion. "What? When?"

"Riyo sent my Shou chicken. Hungry, hungry. Chicken and our Izuku, both in The Way."

"Wait, you're her Shou!?" Midoriya yelps in surprise, his voice cracking as he reaches new registers that he'd not expected himself to be able to reach. He claps his hands over his mouth to keep his soul from leaving his body.

"Do me a favor and never call me that again," Aizawa directs him through gritted teeth.

"Sorry," he squeaks through his fingers.

"So you can hear her." It's not a question.

Midoriya nods frantically, not trusting his voice to break the stratosphere.

"She told you things."

More frantic nodding.

"She mentioned...?"

"Our Izuku is very smart," the girl interrupts, drawing both of their gazes. She's swaying gently, the corners of her mouth pulled just enough to give her a mysterious smile. "Thinks about Quantum. Good Izuku! Riyo knows our Izuku is good." Eyes turn on Midoriya and he's not sure what to make of the exasperation and suspicion on his teacher's face.

"What does she mean by that?"

Swallowing nervously, Midoriya runs his mouth and recounts his first encounter with Chihoshi Riyo the Chicken Girl. Everything from the "chicken money" to mentions of an uncle, and the weird discussion that followed. Well- that part was heavily edited. One For All, despite its name, was not for everyone to know about. Midoriya just tells his teacher that he was confused about what The Way is, and what it means, and Riyo's promise to uh, show him the universe... or something.

Yeah, he's going with or something.

"Riyo, is he... of The Way?" Aizawa asks the girl carefully, keeping an eye on Midoriya the whole time.

"No," Chicken Girl answers, the sound of a delicate bell ringing cheerfully. "Silly Shou! No, our Izuku is in The Way!"

His fingers twitch with an urge to take notes.

So there's a difference to being  in  The Way and  of  The Way? What's the distinction? What does that mean for  me?  Are there people who are  out  of The Way? Or never come into contact...?

Per the usual, Midoriya has a million more questions than he has answers.

"Our Izuku is very smart," Chicken Girl whispers. "And very nice. Gives Riyo chicken..."

"I'm gonna have to have a talk with Mic," Aizawa grumbles, rubbing his eyes with a hand. His free hand takes out a tiny green bottle of eye drops that he administers in quick succession. The fluidity of his movements tell of years of routine, and Midoriya mentally catalogues that detail away to add to his notebook entry on EraserHead.

"So... this uh... Quantum Quirk...?" Midoriya hesitates.

His teacher sighs before giving him a pointed look. "Officially, Riyo's got an exceptionally powerful psychic-type Quirk. Don't got telling your friends about this. If word of her Quirk spreads around, I can't imagine you wouldn't know how dangerous that would be- for her, and everyone else."

And wow. Doesn't that sound familiar? Looking down at his broken finger, Midoriya nods slowly. It seems that Chicken Girl- uh, Riyo? Chihoshi? Has a Quirk that's far more powerful than anyone realizes. A Quirk that she has to keep secret. Just like him... Midoriya looks up again at Chicken Girl Chihoshi Riyo, and his resolve solidifies. Her eyes are flickering with muted golden light, like embers of a dying fire.

If she's seeing everything all the time, that's gotta be overwhelming. Every possibility... of every moment. All that could happen, will happen, won't happen... of  course  that would be overwhelming. No wonder she acts like she does. So juvenile in one moment, and so  serious  in the next... I wonder how that would affect her mental age? If her Quirk is Quantum... would it be such a stretch to hypothesize that maybe she-

Her eyes flash a brilliant gold, derailing Midoriya's train of thought.

"Riyo?" Aizawa asks quickly. "Are you okay?"

She looks dazed, but her eyes have cleared up significantly. Much more present. She blinks a few times, looking mildly confused as she turns her head and looks around.

"Riyo?"

She looks up at Aizawa with that same, lost expression. Midoriya's stomach flips as he sees her eyes soften and her lips twist into a sad smile.

"I'll do my best," she says quietly, lips ever unmoving. "Because Shouta deserves to be happy."

Chills race down Midoriya's spine, and he's not exactly sure why. Nor is he sure that he should be privy to this moment between the two. Both the girl and his teacher seem to have some sort of... bond?

Aizawa simply maintains a neutral expression. A few moments pass before he sighs again and seems to have come to a decision. He looks tired- and Midoriya's realizing that's his default expression- when he finally speaks. "Midoriya."

"Y-yes!"

"There are a few things that I must make clear to you. I'll reiterate- under no circumstances are you to spread information about Riyo's Quirk around. Similarly, you must understand a few more things." Aizawa glances at Riyo briefly. "Her appetite makes her very hungry."

"I remember," he smiles awkwardly, hands coming to clasp together as he reminisces on napkin notes and buckets of fried chicken. "She wanted seven buckets of chicken!"

"I'm..."

Another sigh.

"I'm not surprised. Her Quirk is very demanding. Another thing to make note of- she doesn't communicate with people that aren't deeply implicated in the things that she sees."

Midoriya blinks. "Doesn't...?"

"Hungry," Chicken Girl hums fretfully, evidently ignoring the conversation directly about her. "Will my Shou take Riyo home soon? Dinner... hnnn... Zashi-uncle..."

"Take her... home?" Midoriya squeaks.

Aizawa's face sours as he glares down at the girl, and Midoriya's not sure if he's using his Quirk or not.

"She's technically my kid," he says through gritted teeth before turning the full force of his ire on Midoriya.

Holder of One For All or not, he's barely holding onto his bladder.

"O-oh Okay!" He squeaks, crossing his legs a little tighter.

"And if you tell anyone," his teacher continues threateningly, "then-"

"My Shou will not expel our Izuku," the girl scowls, tugging at his Capture Scarf. "Not The Way." She turns to look at Midoriya again and she looks at him with a rather dazed expression. Her eyes flicker. Then, she slowly reaches for his hand, and Midoriya's about ready to just ceasing to exist.

A girl is touching me!

A girl is holding my hand!

A girl is holding my hand in front of her father!

There's a crisp pop that breaks the tense silence, and Midoriya yelps as his broken finger flares up in intense pain. But as soon as it had become unbearable, it fades away... and by the looks of his hand, the skin and flesh is no longer swollen or discolored.

How...?

Like a baby first discovering its own hands, Midoriya opens and closes his fist a few times before stretching and examining his fingers. Little does he know, his mouth is running faster than his brain realizes.

"She healed my hand! But she doesn't have a healing Quirk, so it has to be part of her Quantum Quirk, so does that mean that she can mess with the probabilities that my hand is or isn't damaged? Is this some sort of speeding up time or rewinding my body to the point where it's no longer injured? Or since this is Quantum, does that mean that she could potentially reach sideways and pull in a version of me with a non-injured finger?"

He gasps, eyes wide and a little frantic at the pair in front of him.

"Am I the same Midoriya Izuku in this universe now? Or am I different? Would I be able to tell!? Could there be a universe out there where I was just plucked out and placed into a new timeline and I-"

"I thought you said he was smart," Aizawa mumbles to Riyo, who is watching Midoriya stumble over his words in a panic. He manages to catch himself and stop mumbling as Chicken- Riyo's mouth twitches up in a smile, and the sound of bells jingling rather sweetly fills his head.

"Our Izuku is too smart!" She pats the side of his freckled cheek and he doesn't even have time to freak out about it as she makes a strange gesture with her hands. A ring of clover and daisies seemingly bloom out of nowhere, and it makes Midoriya's breath catch.

Incredible.

His cheeks heat up as he's handed a dainty circlet.

"I thought you liked the other boy," Aizawa grumbles irritably.

"My Tamaki," she croons in response. "So lovely! My Tamaki is special! Our Izuku is nice and good! Good hero! Good like All Might!" Golden eyes gleam warmly at Midoriya, and he clutches the ring of flowers carefully to his chest. His eyes already sting.

She really thinks I'm like All Might?

Midoriya fidgets a little.

From what she said last time... she can see everything all at once. Everything that's happened in the past... everything that can happen in the present... and everything that will happen in the future. She can see it all, and I...

It's so selfish...

But I wonder now, if I was always meant to have One For All? If All Might had chosen Chicken-chan to inherit his power, then... there wouldn't really ever be any villains that would be able to-

He swallows.

"It would've been simpler if I just expelled you," his teacher says flatly, no real significant heat or intent behind his words. Evidently, Riyo is still humming to herself, but watching Midoriya intently.

"Our Izuku, hmmm," Riyo hums, her faint smiling curling just so. She looks as if she knows something they don't.

And she probably does, Midoriya reminds himself.

"Our Izuku... is  always  meant to be a hero. It is The Way."

His heart leaps.

He's meant to do this.

He's  meant  to be a hero.

Strong words echo in his head, words that were nearly a year old, but from a moment he'd never forget.

"Young man! You too, can be a hero!"

He sniffs heavily with a watery smile and wipes his nose. "Hey... Ch- Chihoshi-san... do you wanna eat lunch together tomorrow?"

Maybe they'll serve fried chicken.

 

Chapter Text

The Hero Course at UA is the top standard for any aspiring hero. After all, a UA education automatically comes with top notch teachers for every class, participation in the most anticipated sports events in the nation, and arguably the easiest time of matching and partnering with top agencies for internships, work studies, and sidekick positions after graduation.

So of course, every student with heroes on the brain is going to apply to UA.

Shoji Mezo was one of them. And of those accepted this year, he was one of the forty one students accepted into the Hero Course.

Forty one, he'd thought, is an odd number to admit in a year.

After all, there were many more attractive numbers for UA to round things out. Such as forty- that's the typical number of students accepted, and Shoji would know, because he researched and prepared meticulously for every aspect of UA's entrance exams. Any student worth their salt would keep the entrance rates in mind when applying to any course- though it's not like he's going to say that within earshot of that Iida guy. He seems intense when it comes to school. Shoji's studious, but he likes to think that he can relax when appropriate.

Still, forty one was an interesting number to accept in a year, and as far as Shoji could find, UA has kept with the unofficial forty-student-rule for as far back as the records go. At least, the records he could find.

He had a lot of free time after the exams, okay?

Forty one.

Not forty.

Not even an even number like forty two.

Forty one.

Obviously, whoever tipped the scales to forty one was special, since they made UA make an exception. He was curious as to which of his classmates it was, since there were twenty one of them. But he didn't have to wonder for long- that Chihoshi Riyo showed them all up after the Quirk aptitude test. She even topped his strength score with her tiny hands.

Was he a little miffed? Maybe. A little.

She's just so small.

He still thinks she's small when he's called up for his turn at combat training the next day. As he walks by, she looks rather dazed with the face of a dreamer rather than a fighter.

But, Shoji shakes his head gently, you can't judge someone based on their appearance.

After all, he would know that firsthand.

There's a small amount of pride that Shoji allows himself when he's able to pinpoint the location of their two classmate adversaries and point them out to his partner, Todoroki. He doesn't really feel much of that pride diminish when Todoroki freezes over the entire building. Was Shoji expecting to get into a little more combat in combat training? Yes. But to be fair, he did his part, Todoroki did his part, and it was clean cut and satisfying. Especially after the absolute chaos that the one named Bakugo wrought.

Yeah, Shoji will definitely let himself indulge in how clean his and Todoroki's performance was in their first-ever bout of combat training.

"Right!" All Might proclaims powerfully, his whole presence filling the observation room. "The next teams to compete will be Team G and Team C!

Oh? Team C is the girl who analyzed the Bakugo fight. Yaoyorozu? She got in on recommendations. And her partner is the special student, Chihoshi Riyo...

For the most part, it seems that Chihoshi has been keeping mostly to herself. Occasionally that Midoriya kid would try to talk to her, but Shoji hasn't heard a peep out of the girl- and he would know. But now that Midoriya had to be carted off to Recovery Girl, Chihoshi has been standing to the side under All Might's watchful eye. The Number One hero seems to be extremely cautious around her. It's an interesting detail to pick up on, and if Shoji keeps a spare eye out to watch, no one really pays him much mind. Besides, it's All Might.

Shoji watches the two teams depart, and the preparations that Yaoyorozu and Chihoshi undertake are shown onscreen. Yaoyorozu seems a little at loss with Chihoshi- her expression is a bit frustrated. It doesn't seem like Chihoshi is paying attention to anything at all. So, Shoji watches as Yaoyorozu barricades the room in which they've settled the dummy warhead, and Chihoshi merely sits beside it on an upturned crate.

There's some inaudible dialogue. More visible frustration on Yaoyorozu's face. Meanwhile, Kaminari and Jirou are nearly to the room.

It's over the second the opposing team touches the doorway.

In an instant, the metal barricades explode into shimmering dust, buffeting Kaminari and Jirou's advances. Chihoshi's eyes are burning a brilliant gold as she twists a dainty wrist to flick at the intruders. The shimmering dust flies towards them, solidifying into two substantial metal braces that encase Kaminari and Jirou, from their wrists all the way up to their forearms. Their ankles are similarly bound.

"The... The villain team wins..." All Might's announcement of the victors is nowhere near as jubilant as before. He seems... shocked.

Everyone is shocked.

The restraints on the opposing team disappear, reforming into the metal barricades that used to adorn the door, simply stacked neatly to the side of the doorway. In another moment, the class watches Chihoshi dissolve into dust onscreen, and reform right by Shoji.

He's maybe a little startled. But all the same, he appreciates how quick and clean Chihoshi's match was.

"That was insane!"

"So fast!"

"Just like the Quirk assessment!"

Chihoshi doesn't seem to care much for all of the attention, simply fishing out a protein bar from one of the many pockets of her hero costume. It's a rather interesting getup, if Shoji examines it with a critical eye, or two. Or three. She wears a pair of tough pants and boots, seemingly made up of many pockets. She's also wearing a long sleeve thermal with a vest made up of even more pockets. On top of that, a scarf that's curiously similar to EraserHead's.

Now that he thinks about it... her whole get up is just EraserHead but With Pockets.

Weird... but not bad.

Shoji's snapped out of his musings as he notices Chihoshi fumble with the wrapper of her protein bar. He's sure she can open it herself- he knows she could probably do that dust-teleporting thing to bypass a wrapper- but he can't help himself from reaching down and opening it really quickly for her with a spare couple of hands.

There.

After all, EraserHead said that Chihoshi would have special accommodations, and Shoji can clearly see that her Quirk must be a lot to handle. With the way her eyes flicker and flash, and she seems to be somewhere far, far away... that's rough. And Shoji is firmly of the belief that heroes shouldn't just define themselves by their biggest triumphs, but their smallest kindnesses.

Winning his match in combat training was exciting, but he's sure that heroism is rich in the little things.

Golden eyes glisten as Chihoshi looks up at him, her protein bar held a little loosely between her fingers. It's a striking gaze, wide and childish, as if seeing Shoji for the first time. And in a way, he's used to it.

Really, he is. It's not like he's the most average-looking guy around, with such a blatant physical Quirk. The mask he wears is... also a measure to keep stares at bay...

But Chihoshi? She stares not with mild confusion or thinly-veiled distaste. She doesn't stare because of his differences, or because wow, you don't see that every day. She's staring because-

"Pretty."

Shoji blinks.

Did he hear that right?

Chihoshi nibbles at her protein bar, still staring up at him with wide eyes.

Right... sensei mentioned that she had some form of telepathy, and she's quite shy... so is this...?

"Pretty," the small voice repeats quietly.

His stomach flips. There's a confusing cocktail of emotions that arise- confusion, surprise, pleasure- Well, it's certainly odd to be called pretty. Shoji's never been called anything like that before. Comments are usually along the lines of freaky or cool or macho or something to do with his imposing figure. Six arms and muscle-building tend to do that. But compliments like good looking or handsome or... Pretty?

It makes a warm feeling settle in Shoji's chest.

He's known Chihoshi for all of five minutes, and if anything happened to her, he'd probably use all six of his arms to acquaint the enemy's face with the ground.

Shoji morphs the end of one of his tentacles into a mouth and gives her a big grin. "You're pretty cute, yourself, Chihoshi."

Chihoshi simply takes another bite of her protein bar and chews, still looking up at him with a curious gaze. "Shoji Mezo is pretty," her small voice sounds sweetly in his head. "Riyo is... cute?" Her head cocks to the side as she considers this. "Hnnn... but my Tamaki is... hnnn..."

Her... Tamaki?

Shoji grins again.

Of course she has a beau. She's too sweet otherwise.

"Sweet?" She chirps again, cocking her head to the other side. The protein bar is gone at this point, the wrapper tucked into one of her many pockets. Her thin fingers are meticulous when plucking at a new pocket and taking out a couple of candies. Chihoshi blinks once before offering him a candy.

Shoji vaguely wonders if he can form an extra heart before he experiences cardiac arrest.

"My Tamaki has candies that are sweet!"

Shoji accepts the candy and follows suit when Riyo pops her own in her mouth. The spicy-sweet flavor bursts into being on his tongue.

Ginger. Yum.

"Oh, so you're friends?"

Huh?

Yaoyorozu stands there awkwardly, her arms crossed as she appraises Chihoshi briefly before focusing her dark eyes on Shoji. "You're friends?" She asks again.

Shoji forms a third mouth to smile and talk with while his second one works on the candy. He's acutely aware that there's multiple pairs of eyes on him at this point.

An audience...

"Friends," Chihoshi hums dreamily in his head. It's an odd sensation, but not unwelcome. And... was that a bell ringing?

"Apparently," Shoji grins, rolling his shoulders.

"I couldn't... really work well with her during the exercise," Yaoyorozu admits awkwardly. "She wouldn't really communicate with me."

At this admission, Shoji frowns.

Well... it's clear that Chihoshi doesn't communicate with most of our class, but then again... we all just met each other, after all. And since Chihoshi is different because of her Quirk...

"Yaoyorozu Momo..." Chihoshi murmurs.

"Huh?" Shoji looks down at her curiously.

"She is... of The Way... but doesn't think Riyo... hnnn..."

What's that supposed to mean?

"Does she communicate with you?"

"Doesn't think Riyo is a real hero student."

Oh. That makes... a lot of sense. Chihoshi thinks Yaoyorozu doesn't think that she's qualified to be a real hero student. And that's obviously impacted Chihoshi's willingness to communicate with her. Not something Shoji can blame her for, to be honest. He never liked talking to people who thought he looked scary.

On the other hand, Shoji can see where the assumptions on Yaoyorozu's part have been made. Throughout their classes, Riyo had not really been given the same assignments. Rather than worksheets and readings, she'd been given tasks that involve using her Quirk to create things to express her knowledge in a different form. And those forms... haven't been something that the class has been able to understand. But Shoji had seen the blank look on Present Mic's face during English class after asking Riyo a question, and then carrying on with the lesson for the rest of the class like nothing had happened. He had seen Ectoplasm pause for a length of time by Riyo's desk as she manipulated numbered blocks and tiles with her Quirk. And what about when Aizawa had sat across from her after giving his lecture and closing his eyes?

Chihoshi Riyo is different. How she learns is different. But that doesn't mean she's not meant to be here any less than anyone else.

Let's forget about that creepy purple dude that was expelled. That was an outlier, and should not be counted.

Either way, Shoji's mind is made up. After all, he gets what alienation Chihoshi must be feeling. And he gets why Yaoyorozu doesn't understand. Shoji's had to have accommodations for his own Quirk all his life, while Yaoyorozu seems to genuinely not understand why Chihoshi's differences shouldn't equate to pity and walking on eggshells.

And this isn't  something exclusive to Yaoyorozu. It's clear that his other classmates who are looking on are just as confused, just as curious. It's not intentionally offensive- well, he won't do any mental backflips for Bakugo. But it's just... a lack of understanding.

Chihoshi Riyo is different. She'll be treated differently her whole life. But she's training to be a hero, just like everyone else.

"She can hear you, you know?"

Yaoyorozu blushes spectacularly. "Y-yes! I- I just was wondering... how to get her to talk to you, since she seems comfortable around you already!"

He glances down at Riyo, who stares blankly at Yaoyorozu. A few more eyes form on his tentacles to look at the other classmates who are listening in and watching.

"Well," Shoji sighs, "maybe take her seriously, for one."

It's surprising that Yaoyorozu can go any pinker, but she's not alone.  Some of their peers take on a sheepish look, embarrassed and averting their eyes.

"She might be different than the rest of us, but really, there's not really a standard to follow. Her normal will be a different normal than mine, and my normal is different from yours, and so on. That doesn't mean she's weaker or less capable, or stronger and more capable." He scratches the back of his neck awkwardly. "It's just that she's going to do things differently to reach the same goal as everyone else. Chihoshi? Did I get that right?"

There's a ringing of a bell in the back of Shoji's mind again.

Chapter Text

There's a radical shift in many classmates' attitudes towards Chihoshi in the following days. There's less skepticism, less avoidance and rumors... and it definitely seems helpful that Midoriya is making an effort to continue talking to her. She's talking back- which Shoji realizes she must've have been doing all yesterday, and he just hadn't reached that level with her yet.

Most of the class hasn't reached that level yet.

Even so, some of them seem quite charmed by her habits to nibble on something from her pockets, or her typically gentle expressions. However... There's no other way to put it but today, Chihoshi looks... ill.

She started looking ill right after Iida's emergency-exit debacle. 

It's something that everyone immediately picks up on, because Aizawa walks into the classroom with a rather subdued Chihoshi in his arms. She's no longer her normal size- she's about the size of a small child. Even though that detail is startling enough for the whole class to erupt into chatter, Shoji notices that her eyes are no longer burning gold.

They're a dull, muddy brown. Sparks flicker here and there.

"I'll be teaching class like this today," Aizawa sighs, shifting his hold on the girl to one arm as he picks up a stack of papers. "Since Chihoshi is having a difficult day with her Quirk."

"Sir!" Iida's hand shoots up. "Is there anything we can do to help?"

Iida's taking his new position as Class Representative very seriously.

"Unfortunately, that remains to be seen."

Chihoshi doesn't respond, and Shoji doesn't like it. He doesn't like how despondent she seems. The past couple of days she was bright, cheerful even, with proclaiming "It is The Way" and sharing her candies with Shoji once she realized he liked them too.

"Something you must understand about Chihoshi's Quirk," their teacher begins hesitantly, glancing around at them all before closing his eyes and grimacing. "She... has an intense sort of future-sight."

The class starts chattering at this new information. Chihoshi squirms a little, small hands coming up to cover her ears.

"Loud," she whispers, and Shoji stiffens just as Midoriya's gaze snaps to her.

"So what, is something shitty gonna happen in the future?" Bakugo barks. "I'll just blow it to hell!"

"Something bad is gonna happen?" Mina rubs her arms fretfully. "To all of us? Or to Chi-chan?"

Chi-chan ? Isn't that what Midoriya calls her?

"That's kinda ominous, isn't it?"

"What's gonna happen?"

"Chihoshi? Can you tell us?"

"What's gonna happen, sensei?"

"Too loud," Chishoshi whines, turning away from the class.

"Stop it!" Midoriya stands up abruptly. Everyone's voice die down as they turn to look at him. "You're making her uncomfortable!"

"Shut up, Deku," Bakugo snarls. "If the brat's seen something bad happening in the future, she better spit it out so that real heroes can deal with it instead of causing a scene! You can go cower in the corner with her like the useless shit you are!"

"Enough," Aizawa snaps, glaring at the class with an intimidating use of his Quirk. "I did not mention Chihoshi's Quirk to you all for you to speculate! Just be on your guard today for anything potentially dangerous. Report anything even remotely suspicious and stay alert."

Shoji glances at Iida again, who is sat ram-rod straight in his chair.

More than half those reports will be made by him bythe end of the day.

And so, Shoji and his classmates keep a vigilant watch. Nothing of note really happens all day, and yet Chihoshi refuses to let go of their teacher. There are even a few older students waiting outside the classroom at the lunch break looking very concerned for the small girl. Shoji doesn't linger, but he can't help his curiosity as Aizawa clears out the classroom for a discussion.

They must know Chihoshi, too, he figures. Friends of hers- though it's surprising that they'd be second or third-years. Maybe she knew them before attending UA.

All the same, there's not much Shoji can do but keep extra eyes and ears about him at all times. His information-gathering is something he prides himself on, but unfortunately there isn't much information to gather that could pertain to Chihoshi's current state. All he gets are rumors that someone kissed someone behind the indoor training gym, rumors about Present Mic holding a pop quiz next week- he'll study just to be safe- and spoilers for a cheesy hero drama that's been airing on TV. And okay. Sure, Shoji didn't see the main character actually being the bad guy the whole time coming, but then again, why would anyone want to manufacture their own "unseen nemesis" to beat over and over, just to impress his chick sidekick?

Ugh. He's not getting anywhere.

All the same, when rescue training is announced, a small chill goes down Shoji's spine. He's not sure why- maybe it's because of how Chihoshi's been acting, or maybe it's because heroics is the last class of the day and if anything was going to happen, it would be during training.

A cursory glance at his classmates clue him in that most of them seem to be thinking the same thing. All the same, they load up on the bus with unfortunate disregard to Iida's loading strategy- poor guy, he's doing his best. Hiding a yawn behind his mask, Shoji glances out the window as the bus starts moving. There's general talkative chatter and friendly teasing- much to Bakugo's chagrin. It makes him smile a little, not that anyone could tell unless Shoji formed a second mouth to show it. Bakugo just seems like the kind of guy that needs to chill out for once, and not take everything like a personal attack.

"Thirteen," Chihoshi mumbles, and Shoji nearly startles at hearing her voice in his head. He forms a new eye and peeks over at them discretely. Aizawa's staring at her intently, too. "USJ... The Way is restless there... today? Hnnn... today..." her eyes flash a brilliant gold for a split second and she blinks in surprise. "Not a cloud in the sky." Nothing more is said after that. Chihoshi takes out a protein bar from her costume- that seems to have shrunk down to fit her smaller form- and starts nibbling.

I've got a bad feeling about this...

That bad feeling eases marginally when the bus makes it to the USJ and Thirteen greets the class. It's really cool to be meeting all of these heroes that he's looked up to from TV screens. Having pro heroes this close by definitely puts his mind at ease, because they're pros and they know how to keep people safe. Besides. He's at UA and surrounded by like-minded peers that seek to be the best of the best in the world. What could go wrong?

"What's that?"

And despite all his extra eyes- on Chihoshi, on Thirteen, on his peers- Shoji isn't the first to notice the spot of inky-black something down in the plaza.

"I thought this was gonna be rescue training," the red-haired Kirishima guy laughs nervously, his hands already coming up to a fighting position in preparation for combat.

"Stay back!" Aizawa commands them sharply. "This isn't an exercise! Those are real villains down there! The real deal!" Their teacher's arms tighten into a vice-like grip around Chihoshi, holding her close as he glares down at the intruders. "Riyo!" He barks. "Did you know about this!?"

Is this what she saw!?

Aizawa gives the girl a shake, a wild look in his eye. "Did you know!?"

She doesn't respond, staring down at the spectacle in a rather catatonic state. There's an absolute vacancy in her expression, as if she's lost the ability to comprehend the world around her. No one speaks, but no one needs to. Everyone is thinking the same thing, even Shoji.

If she saw this coming, why didn't she say anything?

"Kaminari, try to use your Quirk to contact someone!"

The lights flicker and a few lights blow out around the stadium. "I can't get a signal to anyone outside!" Kaminari exclaims, fiddling with his headset and some of his hero gear.

"They must have someone with a Quirk jamming the signal," Aizawa growls. Chihoshi is quickly passed off to Thirteen. "Thirteen!  Look after her and the rest of the students! Get them out of here!"

"Roger!"

Shoji doesn't hesitate to follow Thirteen's lead. In fact-

"Thirteen-sensei! I can carry Chihoshi!" Shoji contorts his tentacles into the perfect shape to cradle the girl on his back. After all, since Thirteen is a pro hero and uses their Quirk through their hands, they're gonna need them free and not occupied with another body.

"I'm counting on you," they tell him seriously as they pass the girl off. She's very light, and very warm.

"They knew we would be here," Yaoyorozu frowns as she watches the villains emerging from what Shoji realizes is some sort of portal. They pour out like ants from a disturbed dirt pile, and there seems to be no end to their numbers. "This was calculated- the alarms aren't even going off-"

"So what's their goal?" Todoroki cuts in smoothly. His mismatched eyes flash in anger. "They've planned to come this far, but there's definitely some grand goal in mind."

"Everyone to the doors," Thirteen directs them sternly. "We need to evacuate as quickly as possible!"

"The Way is restless," Chihoshi murmurs. "Something wrong..."

"She keeps saying that," Thirteen says as they run. "And now I think I know why."

"She sensed this coming?" The petite brown-haired gravity girl asks worriedly.

"Since last year. She would tell me that The Way is restless here!"

"What's-"

"It doesn't matter! All of you, keep running to the exit! As long as we reach the outside, we can send a message to the main campus!"

As long as one of us can get there...!

Wait.

"Chihoshi, can you teleport out of here?" Shoji asks her urgently. "Even if it's just you! Teleport to the main building and tell them what's going on here! Tell them to send backup- tell them to send more heroes!"

She doesn't respond. Her eyes flicker feebly.

"Chi-"

"There is no escape," comes an eerily deep voice. It makes Shoji's stomach turn unpleasantly, because by all means, it's an appealing voice. Pleasant to Shoji's several ears. A contradiction in of itself, by the resonance in his chest andthe dread in his gut. "It's a pleasure to meet you. We are the League of Villains."

A wall of inky-black haze erupts in front of them, blocking the exit to the outside. Shoji's feet skid to a stop as he readies himself to fight for his life- and Chihoshi's. Violet and black tendrils curl in on themselves as electric yellow streaks narrow in pleasure.

Are those... eyes!?

"I know it's impolite, but we decided to invite ourselves into this haven of justice to say hello." The villain pauses delicately. "And besides... isn't it a fitting place for All Might, the Symbol of Peace, to take his last breath?"

So this is what  evil  is.

This is what it is to face a villain.

"The Way..."

Shoji's startled to see Bakugo and Kirishima sail over his head to strike at the hazy villain. Kirishima tries to land a powerful blow, while Bakugo releases a large explosion with a fierce war cry.

"Didja think we were just gonna stand by and watch you tear this place up!?" Kirishima challenges the wall of haze.

But it simply gives a condescending laugh.

"You certainly live up to your school's reputation." The dark void widens, growing larger and moving fast to encompass the class. "But you should be careful, children. Someone could get hurt. I'll scatter you across this facility to meet my comrades!"

Just as the haze descends, Chihoshi's weight on Shoji's back disappears.

"Chihoshi!" Shoji shouts as the dark mist whips about violently, forcing him to his knees. His classmates' screams ring in his ears. The darkness is nearly suffocating, and when it clears...

Most of the class is gone.

Before he can think, Shoji's already forming multiple ears and eyes, fanning out his tentacles as far as he can in the desperate hope that maybe his classmates are still nearby. After all- if they don't want anyone to escape-

"They've been scattered," he calls out to Thirteen, who's getting to their feet. "All around the USJ! They're still here!"

"What about Riyo!?"

But that's the thing about Riyo. He can't hear her, because she's always so quiet. He can't see her from anywhere at his vantage point- not to mention the current pressing issue of a villain blocking their path outside.

"I asked her to teleport out of here and tell the school what's going on! I... I don't know if she left, but-"

"Oh? There's a teleporter amongst you children?" Menacing yellow eyes glow with malice. "Now that wasn't in the report..."

Report. They had some sort of report? Do they know who everyone is? Evidently not. They certainly don't know anything about Chihoshi.

The void villain looks about and only seems to become more disgruntled. "Nor is All Might. Tell me... where is he? He was supposed to be here today. No matter... I'm sure that if a few of you die, it will still leave just as dark a stain on the Symbol of Peace."

Chapter Text

He can't remember when he had ever been anything other than Kurogiri. Kurogiri is his name, it is who he is, and he had been there by his master's side ever since he could remember. And his master was knowledgeable. His master was kind. He never pushed Kurogiri to the conclusions he wanted, but guided him to the ones that were true.

Really, why would Master ever lie?

"You're powerful," Master would tell him. "So useful. Such a beautiful Quirk."

Kurogiri thrived on that praise, craved it. This man had been wronged by society, wronged by heroes, yet he's given Kurogiri new life beyond the one that he might've lost. The one that's shrouded in mist darker than what makes up his body, the one that sometimes keeps him up at night with strange voices muffled through layers of forgotten memories. The one that doesn't matter anymore, because whoever he once was- whoever he might have been- is not who he is now.

Whoever he was before he was Kurogiri wasn't important. If he was, he would remember. But he doesn't, and Master never faulted him for that, never pressed him for answers he didn't have like the Doctor would. Master was gentle, despite all of his power. He was kind, despite what the world offered to him.

There is nothing he wouldn't do for Master.

"Look after him, Kurogiri," his master had directed him. "He is young and needs guidance, and must go where I cannot follow. But you- you are wonderful."

That had given him such a delicious feeling.

"Kurogiri,  you  can guide him where I cannot. You can stay close to him and watch over him. Counsel him, as you would counsel me. And if he strays too far... I  know  you can bring him back to us."

The one he'd been charged with was a young boy seething with hate, another one wronged by a world that decided it was better off without him. A young master, Kurogiri had decided. No wonder Master decided to take in the boy... and the boy seemed all too eager to flourish under Master's gentle instructions.

Shigaraki, he was christened. Master's own name.

Shigaraki Tomura.

Kurogiri knew right then, he was to be protected at all costs.

Master was right to say that Shigaraki Tomura needed guidance. He was prone to childish fits of rage and decimating his surroundings with a deadly five-finger grip. Kurogiri himself was quick to adapt- and oh, how Master praised him for it.

How clever.

How useful.

He never reprimanded the boy. Nor did Master. Shigaraki Tomura's hate was a weapon, the spearhead that would tear gaping wounds into the flesh of a flawed society. It was something that the boy wanted for himself- starting with All Might. And rather than protest or dismiss such monumental, childish ambition, Master encouraged it. He provided for Shigaraki Tomura and Kurogiri. He provided for them like he'd always had, nurturing the boy, praising Kurogiri for taking such good care of him. Many years were spent guiding the boy, many years had led up to this moment where he would announce himself to the world.

"I am here," he would say, "and I am furious."

The Doctor once commented on how Kurogiri had a bland personality, how quick Kurogiri seemed to adopt Master's views to be his own.

"He has never been wrong," was his simple reply.

Though, at this moment, learning that one of the brats in this facility had teleported...

No. Master was not wrong. The fools who stole the schedule of classes were wrong as to not anticipate the abilities of the students. All the same... this would spell a rather difficult realization for Shigaraki Tomura. The pro heroes would arrive in excess, and they would be forced to retreat.

Yes. It's better to return to the bar, return to Master, and rethink this plan to eliminate All Might. But first... to leave a mark.

A few of these young ones should die, at the very least, to send a message.

Kurogiri feels no small amount of thrilling amusement when Thirteen and the remaining children act like they can put up a fight. After all, Master said himself that Kurogiri is wonderful, that his Quirk is a powerful gift. And use it, he shall. So long as he is here, no other student will escape the facility, and some of them will perish.

Surely, he could deal with that much.

Except...

Except he couldn't.

He didn't.

He miscalculated.

He was wrong.

The child with the suit of armor had escaped.

He was pinned within the arms and extra limbs of another.

He had failed twice over.

"Chihoshi!"

There's that name some of them had shouted at the beginning... are they lost?

Kurogiri manages to warp himself away a short enough distance to recompose himself and mount a counterattack when something goes terribly wrong. A small hand grasps his own- which should be hidden in waves upon waves of mist- and pulls.

It's a pain unlike any he'd ever experienced.

Except-

Except he did experience something like this before, didn't he?

Images and sounds and memories from another life fly through his head faster than he can comprehend. He's frozen. He can't breathe. He can't think.

The hand pulls harder and harder.

Master, he pleads feebly. Help me!

"Help?" A delicate voice asks shakily.

Kurogiri's vision disappears... until- until it doesn't.

The scenery changes. He's no longer in the USJ. He's sitting on top of the main school building, and there's something small and furry in his hands. When he looks down, his hands are... normal. Tanned. A little calloused, and holding a small kitten as delicately as possible.

As the kitten is lifted up to eye level, something soft brushes by his face. Hair, maybe? It's a pale, gentle color. The kitten looks a little scrawny as he looks up at it against the blueness of the sky.

The cat starts peeing.

He feels his chest start heaving with laughter. "Ha ha ha! You little scamp!"

His voice sounds all wrong.

What is this?

The next thing he knows, he's lying on his back, still on the rooftop, arms stretched over his head. It's relaxing, and the sun is just warm enough on his skin.

"...gotta have a nice rooftop space," he finds himself saying. "Where we can eat our meals together every day!"

A new voice joins in. "That's weird logic." A girl's voice.

"I want a soundproof studio," someone else sighs. "Somewhere where I can really let my voice out and shout freely now and then!"

"That would be good," he responds. "After all, we should all have our special places in our agency!"

Agency?

His body sits up.

A blurry figure comes into view. "Any special places you would want in our agency,  Shouta?"

Kurogiri feels like he's ripping apart.

The figure turns.

What is this?

"A cat tower."

It's so  painful.

"I think the three of us could manage a cat, together."

He turns-

Make it stop.

He's tearing. He's tearing apart and he doesn't know how to stop it, but he's him, he's Kurogiri, he's-

A blonde boy laughs and tosses an arm around the darker haired one, the one who wishes for the cat tower.

"Sure, an agency cat! Kayama can't hold onto him forever!"

What is it about the damn cat?

"Right, Shirakumo?"

There's an almighty ripping sound, and Kurogiri knows no more. He knows no more, because he's not Kurogiri, he's never been Kurogiri, he's Shirakumo.

He's Shirakumo Oboro.

. . .

There's a grip around his wrist that feels like a vice. Or like if a boa constrictor decided his arm was its next meal. Or like... someone is just gripping his wrist really hard.

What happened...?

The last thing he can remember was that there was a huge villain going around and wreaking havoc like some large, overgrown toad from hell. And then there were kids...

The kids!

Shirakumo's eyes snap open and he's immediately aware that this is not where he's supposed to be. He was supposed to be outside, fighting against a giant villain alongside his best friend. He was supposed to be using his Quirk to save school children from falling debris. He-

He'd gotten hit.

He'd gotten hit in the head.

He'd gotten hit in the head and he didn't have a head anymore to be hit.

So why is he still here thinking with a head?

"Forcible... rebalance," a weak voice whimpers.

It takes a monumental effort for Shirakumo to turn his head because wow he's in a lot of pain. But what he sees is an absolute mess of blood.

He's pretty sure it's a girl. Or what used to be a girl. She's gripping his wrist with that same unnatural strength, and if he looks behind her, there's a massive crater, and something dark and writhing in the center. Two streaks of yellow bob here and there in the midst of the roiling black mist.

That's an issue for someone else to focus on.

"Chihoshi!" He hears someone scream. More voices soon join in chorus.

"Chihoshi!"

"Riyo!"

That must be her name, Shirakumo grimaces, lifting his free hand weakly. And she's dying.

Blood pools around him at an alarming rate, and he can't tell if it's his or hers. The rest of his body seems bigger and wrong. He's wearing clothes he doesn't recognize and he feels so pathetically weak.

"H-hey," he wheezes, touching a bloody tear track on her face. Her eyes are closed, and there's blood streaming from her ears, her nose, welling up in the seam of her lips and beading underneath her closed eyelids. "Don't give up."

Don't give up, Shouta!

You can do it!

She opens her eyes. The sclera have gone completely bloody, nearly an opaque crimson, but her irises burn.

"It was not always The Way that you came to be Here," a voice tells him haggardly. The girls lips don't move, but Shirakumo is certain it's her"You were meant to be in The Way, Shirakumo Oboro.A wet cough bubbles from her throat, spittle and blood spraying from her small mouth as her thin chest heaves. "I- made it so."

A shudder runs down his spine.

The girl coughs again weakly, and dark lumps of something escape her lips and slide down her chin.

Her eyes dim, smoldering gently.

"Cloud Friend," she coos gently. "By The Way... not like this... so Riyo took... and pulled  you into The Way."

Par for the course for the last five minutes, Shirakumo has no clue what's going on. But the girl manages to sit up and she looks grotesque. Paper white skin stretched over thin bones, the clothes on her shoulders falling pitifully to the side. Hair starts breaking and falling from her scalp, brittle and dull.

She's dying, he panics, eyes welling up in frustration as he struggles to push himself up. She's dying and I can't save her. His entire body feels like it weighs a ton.

Dust swirls around the girl, and she shudders.

There's the sound of a crack.

Her head snaps to the left, eyes horrifically wide and unblinking.

"HUNGRY. I AM... SO  HUNGRY."

A million voices overlap, a million voices talk over each other and form this single statement that triggers every natural prey response to flee. It allows Shirakumo to sit up enough and watch as the girl digs through the clothing that's far too loose on her body. Pockets upon pockets- and it looks a little familiar?

It reminds him of Shouta.

Shirakumo's eyes fall to the bloodstained scarf pooled around her waist.

Shouta...?

"Chihoshi!"

A dude with way more arms than Shirakumo rushes to her side, eyes wide behind a mask and more than two hands fluttering in distress. Despite his killer migraine, the appearance of this kid is all Shirakumo needs in order to kick-start his brain.

"Careful," he rasps, patting the ground weakly for the guy's attention.

"Were you a hostage!?"

Hostage?

"Never mind that!" Coughs interrupt him once more before he manages to say- "her Quirk- seems like it makes her ravenous. Don't know if she'll eat people!"

The multi-armed guy pales considerably. "Eat... people?"

"STARVING. I'M STARVING."

The girl- Chihoshi- turns her gaze on them.

Ah. Fuck.

"SHOJI. PRETTY SHOJI. CLOUD FRIEND."

Her wide-eyed expression pinches for a moment before she gasps quietly. Bony fists rub at her eyes- it seems like she's almost struggling with herself. The Shoji guy takes the chance to shout out to others- evidently there are others here.

"Sato! We need you over here quickly!"

Buff and suited up in yellow, the Sato in question sprints forward and the next thing he knows, Shirakumo is watching the two heroes-in-training feed the wraith-girl packets of sugar.

There's still sounds of battle occurring all around them.

"What's going on?" Shirakumo asks when he can catch his breath, more than a little desperate for information on whatever the fuck is going on.

"Our class was supposed to have rescue training at the USJ today," Sato answers briskly, digging through more pockets in Chihoshi's suit and pulling out packaged snacks and candy. As soon as he hands them off to her, she eats them- wrapper and all. Thankfully she's calmed down a little- the madness in her eyes seems to have disappeared. Now she's lying limply in Sato's lap like a broken doll.

"Our training session was attacked by villains," Shoji continues to inform him. "They're keeping us pinned in here, but, one of our classmates was able to escape outside. The pros and teachers from UA will be here any minute, sir, don't worry."

Sir?

"Shouta," comes a pitiful sob. It's small and weak, echoing faintly in Shirakumo's head.

Shouta?

"My Shouta, want  Shouta!"

Chihoshi seems to be outwardly crying now, clumps of her hair still breaking and falling from her scalp, blood and tears smeared all over her face. All that's audible are rattling gasps.

She might die.

She saved me and she might die.

"Sir, can you move?" Shoji recaptures his attention.

Better than that-

With a few fumbled snaps, a cloud appears underneath him and Chihoshi.

"Where to?" He asks, lips twitching in a weak smile.

Chapter Text

Aizawa's arm is snapped in two separate places. In one moment, he was fending off the hoard of villains with steady success. The next, there was a hand on his elbow and it was slowly crumbling away. He didn't even want to know how ruined it was when he pulled away.

The leader- the ones with the hands all over him- he was saying something about his Erasure when a grating voice that could only be his kid decided to shatter his concentration.

"STARVING.  I'M STARVING."

Something happened.

Something bad happened. Bad enough for Riyo to turn ravenous.

His kid.

Now, Aizawa's arm is snapped in two separate places and the beast called Nomu is probably about to kill him at the word of the man covered in hands. His chest is pinned to the ground underneath a massive knee, broken arm pulled behind him at an unnatural angle, and a massive hand grips his head in preparation to rip it off or smash it like an egg.

Riyo.

If he didn't have her to worry about, he'd be... well, he wouldn't be fine dying here, but there's so much more regret. This past year was filled with- with so much more than Aizawa's life had been before she came around. Holidays were enjoyable, if not just for seeing her enjoy them. Long nights on patrol were no longer lonely, because she would be waiting for him to come home with Hizashi-

Oh, Hizashi.

Aizawa's a coward, and he hides it under the guise of logic and stoicism. He will die here, without ever letting on how much Hizashi means to him. His dumb hair, his dumb wordplay, his dumb way of finding some way to make the worst cloudless days not seem so bad.

What had Riyo said on the bus?

Not a cloud in the sky.

And maybe, maybe at a different time, Aizawa would've given up. Would've just let himself go limp, leave his life in the murderous hands of these villains and just wait for the inevitable. But now, he has Riyo, he has Hizashi- more of him than he'd had before, and he has his class. What kind of hero would they think he had been if he just gave in?

The massive hand around his head pulls up, and Aizawa recognizes the windup for smashing his head into the concrete.

He glares at the hand-villain to stop him from killing his students, and he gets mocking praise in a grating voice. Midoriya and Asui watch on in horror.

He's sorry that they have to see this.

He hopes he survives this.

"Shouta!" Comes a wretched sob as his face starts to descend towards the concrete.

"Riyo," he grunts, squirming and struggling as much as he can.

"MY  SHOUTA!"

There's a flash of light.

Or maybe, it isn't light.

Aizawa feels tingly, and it feels weird, because he just doesn't do tingly. It feels as if his entire body fell asleep and now it's just pins and needles everywhere.

All the same, the next thing he knows is that he's lying on something soft.

His chest seizes.

Did I just fucking die?

The Erasure Hero blinks, frowning as he takes in the fact that he's lying on a fluffy... cloud?

"Well fuck me," a raspy voice groans to his left. "I get hit in the head once and now you've aged like twenty years!"

Bloodshot eyes slowly rise to see a rather battered and bloody man lying on another cloud adjacent to him, reclined in such a way that he can hold a very frail, very thin, very sickly looking Riyo.

And then, Aizawa starts spiraling madly.

I'm dead. Oh my god, I'm fucking dead. I  died.  I'm dead and-

"Shou..." Riyo's voice whimpers weakly. "Help me."

And fuck if that doesn't shatter his very soul.

"Riyo!" He shouts, throwing himself off the cloud.

"Sensei!" A few students cry worriedly, but he doesn't care, because Riyo is so very bloodyDespite his chronic dry eye, he feels the beginnings of tears forming in the corners.

How irrational. After all- there's a fucking war going on right now. Because that's what it has become.

Riyo was hurt.

His kid is hurt.

So now, Aizawa is at war.

The doors to the USJ burst open, and All Might is suddenly here. Aizawa's head is spinning from assessing All Might's entrance and engaging of the enemy, while also-

"You need to shave or commit, Shouta," the man rasps with a laugh like a death rattle.

And Aizawa finally lifts his gaze to the face of the man holding his kid. He'd been avoiding looking at him for too long, because he knows Riyo must've done something incredibly dangerous for something like this to happen. Because in all those years since that day, Aizawa has never met someone who can make clouds like these, who says his first name with such a specific fondness, who would make a joke with him while being so obviously injured.

Soft waves of white hair frame a sallow face, faint tints of blue coloring the ends- at least, all that isn't dyed in blood. There's an incredible scar on the right side of his forehead, and the usual bandage over his nose-

Usual?

Aizawa's feeling faint.

The... usual bandage over his nose is also red with blood. And through it all, tired, cerulean eyes look back at him and a smile stretches his face.

"Sorry for getting knocked out," Shirakumo chuckles hoarsely. "I guess a lot of time has passed... I can't remember anything after that day we had to fight in the rain. We were teamed up with His Purple Highness? You know the one with that big toad-thing?"

Oh yes. He knows the one. He remembers the worst day of his life.

He remembers when he realized what kind of hero he was meant to be.

And Shirakumo, who looks older, who looks completely oblivious to anything going on in Aizawa's head, who was supposed to be dead is talking on like he must've always been here with Shouta.

"-our students said that they-"

Our.

Our  students.

"Sh- Shirakumo," Aizawa's voice cracks, and his students and old friend pause to look at him.

Shirakumo's face immediately falls. "Right, Chihoshi here is really weak." He looks down at the girl and a pained expression pinches his face. "She needs food- and a lot of it. It's her Quirk, right?"

Aizawa's arms are ruined, so he allows Shoji to take off his belt and pour out whatever shit he stored in it for Riyo to eat. When Aizawa leans forward to check on her, his soul shatters a little more.

She's tiny but in all the wrong ways. Nearly just bones. Her hair is almost gone- broken off in choppy frizzy lengths, random tufts sticking out of her scalp and offsetting the massive bald patches. Dark circles look like bruises around the tender flesh of her eyes- eyes that still flicker and flash.

My Riyo.

Her eyes slowly slide to look over at him. He hears the chiming of her bell- but it's all wrong. It's dull, only a few weak clinks.

There's a burst of wind- All Might is standing before them suddenly, looking serious in a way that Aizawa had personally never seen. Midoriya and Asui are beside them, shaken and pale. "Eraser," All Might addresses him, glancing down at Shirakumo and doing a double-take when seeing Riyo.

"Is that-"

"Riyo's very injured from Quirk backlash," Aizawa says quickly, glancing at Shirakumo as well.

"I'll leave her to you," All Might nods seriously. He's gone in another burst of wind, Midoriya looking after him anxiously.

"It's because she was defending the rest of us from that warp villain," Shoji supplies readily, a couple of spare hands helping Riyo drink down a nutrient packet.

"Warp villain?" Shirakumo coughs.

"The one that was holding you hostage," Shoji nods, gesturing over his shoulder at a massive fucking crater. "He escaped after Riyo pulled you free, and took-" Shoji shakes his head. "He got Thirteen."

Shit.

"Half the class has been scattered around the USJ. Iida escaped and ran back to get the other teachers. Thirteen's being looked after by the rest of us," Sato picks up the rest of the explanation quickly.

"But we might be facing some trouble when the villains taken out by Aizawa-sensei start recovering," Asui pipes up, putting a gloved finger to her lips in contemplation. "Ribbit. And sensei's arms are broken."

Yep. His arms are useless.

"We'll regroup with the others," Shirakumo says firmly, wincing as another cough rattles his throat. "Most of the villains are knocked out in the plaza, and the rest of the class is at an elevated position. If we take the higher ground, we can force them into a funnel and take them out a few at a time." He grins tiredly. "EraserHead can negate ranged fighters with his Quirk and even the playing field."

His students look between him and Shirakumo hesitantly. It makes sense- they have no idea who this guy is, but evidently he knows Aizawa. And he can strategize like a hero.

Aizawa closes his eyes briefly.

The most important thing right now is getting out alive. Everything else will follow.

Get out alive, then think about Riyo and Shirakumo.

"Loud Cloud is right," he tells his students, who nod obediently. "Asui take the front. Sato, the flank. Shoji will guard Riyo and I'll provide support."

"Sensei, what about-"

"I don't want any other students of mine injured, Midoriya," he says shortly. "Stay with the group, and don't use your Quirk unless you absolutely must. What I said before about your lack of control becoming a liability is a very real danger."

It might not just spell the end of your life, but someone else's if they have to save you.

Properly chastised, the group starts hurrying towards the main entrance. Despite being out of sugar, Sato's physique doesn't have to be augmented by his Quirk to pack devastating blows to a few gutsy villains. Shoji is also able to alert the group of incoming enemies and eliminate any element of surprise. Asui is able to clear frontal assaults with astonishing ease, tossing villains several hundred meters away with her tongue.

And then, of course, Midoriya goes running off.

Damn it! I  told  him-

There's an incredible gust of wind, punctuated by the distant shattering of a rooftop panel.

"All Might just punched the brain-guy through the roof!"

Good. Fuck that Nomu thing.

But now he has to decide to go after Midoriya or see his other students to safety. And Shirakumo can see right through his internal struggles, as always.

"We're doing fine here," his friend assures him hoarsely. "Go after him!"

Thankfully, Aizawa doesn't have to think too hard on his shattered arms as he runs towards the fray.

Midoriya, you problem child!

His boots skid on the pavement as he dodges a few blows from a couple of villains who had recovered enough to get a second wind. But even with his ruined arms, Aizawa's able to take them down quickly. He makes note of that for later- it's obvious that the masterminds behind this plot were hoping that numbers would be more overwhelming rather than actual skill. It says a lot that he can take them down with just his legs.

A few more villains come up from behind, but there's a crackling of ice when Aizawa turns to glare at them. Todoroki stands there with a frosty sheen and visible breath. "Sensei," he nods blandly.

"DIE!"

"Attacking students is so unmanly!"

Oh. Bakugo and Kirishima, too.

"Regroup with the others at the entrance," he commands his students. "Defend yourselves if necessary, but reinforce your classmates' positions!"

Kirishima nods. "Roger!"

Aizawa takes off running again. Just as he's able to catch up to the setting of the main battle, Aizawa sees Midoriya leap in front of All Might. A deep, violet void opens in front of the hand-villain and Midoriya's face.

He can see it.

He can see Midoriya crumbling away.

Burning eyes glare harshly at the void villain, and the mist dissipates enough for Aizawa to glimpse a dark, navy hand.

Midoriya falls to the ground, still whole.

Detention,  for the  rest  of his  life!

"Heroes," the hand-villain spits angrily, scratching at his neck like a dog with fleas. "Are so annoying!" He might've been inclined to fall into a rage, and Aizawa readies himself to dodge for his life. Suddenly, a series of loud shots ring out, and Aizawa blinks reflexively. As if someone decided to cut the strings of a grotesque marrionette, the villain collapses, howling in fury. Blood seeps through his dark pant legs, and then the void villain descends, swallowing him up and disappearing in an instant.

Damn.

Several more shots ring out, and Aizawa's colleagues come flooding into the facility. Thanks to Snipe's incredible aim and the quick movements of the other pro heroes, the facility is quickly secured. Villains are rounded up with ease, someone administers first aid, and he's ushered to the exit with little protest.

Outside on a stretcher, Aizawa finds Shirakumo lying unconscious and surrounded by medical personnel. They're not frantic, so he must be alright. Just exhausted. Yamada is standing close by, pale as a sheet. He turns when he sees Aizawa approach the stretcher on Yamada's other side, where the figure lying on it is much too small.

"Shouta!" Yamada gasps as if he was drowning, and Shouta's name was the air he needed to breathe.

"Zashi," he mumbles, the adrenaline high finally wearing off. He stumbles forward before leaning his full weight into the Voice hero. Arms instantly wrap around him to support his weight, surrounded by the scent of leather and that surprisingly-fruity body spray Yamada likes.

"Shouta, what happened? Why is Riyo so- and is that- Shirakumo's-"

"I don't know," he shakes his head awkwardly on his friend's shoulder. "Riyo had something to do with it."

"She looks really bad-"

"Need to be with her and 'Kumo," he mumbles tiredly."

"We can do that. You need to go to the hospital too."

Aizawa glances at Shirakumo, watching the rise and fall of his chest for a second before allowing Yamada to pull him into the same ambulance that Riyo is loaded into. The medical personnel allow him to rest after he answers several important questions and Yamada goes to ride with Shirakumo.

It takes a monumental effort to force one of his arms to rest beside his kid's body. She's got all sort of wires and tubes about her, looking even worse than when he'd first found her in that dark room.

Riyo, he thinks tiredly, brushing her tiny hand with a finger.

What have you done?

 

Chapter Text

Riyo was admitted to intensive care the moment the ambulance arrived at the hospital. Yamada was torn between staying with her and Shouta, and staying with Shirakumo.

Because apparently Shirakumo is alive.

Apparently Riyo has something to do with that.

Either way, now is not the time to be hysterical with worry. He can do that later, when he's no longer on duty, when he's no longer worried that the people closest to him keep coming scarily close to death or cheating it entirely. So Yamada does what he does best- he talks. He talks and talks, charming the hospital staff, pulling at heartstrings and strumming them like a guitar ballad. Shirakumo's treated incredibly well out of compassion for Yamada's plight, and he learns more about his friend's condition than is probably legal, but that's okay, because he's Shirakumo, and he'd never mind if it was Yamada or Aizawa poking their noses into his business.

Our business, he would say.

Buddy, what happened to you?

As it turns out, Shirakumo is actually pretty healthy. He was severely dehydrated, so the doctors put him on a drip. Understandably, they were confused as to why Shirakumo Oboro was marked deceased over a decade ago, as was the rest of the law enforcement that found their way to his room for interviews. It took a few hours, but the story had been largely figured out before they'd arrived.

Somehow.

From what Yamada's been told by police, his friend was taken to the hospital after the events of that day. Something then must've happened- he was somehow kidnapped and held hostage by the League of Villains all this time. And then, when the attack on the USJ happened, little Riyo somehow managed to save Shirakumo from his hostage situation. Never mind why the villains would bring a hostage along on a mission to kill All Might. There's a lot of holes in the story, but evidently all that's left is talking to Shirakumo. Something that Yamada decides he shouldn't be present for. The police need a statement, a clear psych evaluation, and any information Shirakumo may be able to present in order to further the investigation.

But this whole narrative of Shirakumo being kept hostage this whole time- for nearly fourteen years? This doesn't sit right with Yamada.

He was there.

Aizawa was there.

Shirakumo was dead.

And now he's not.

Yamada stayed outside the room when Shirakumo woke up, as he'd elected to let Shirakumo tell his story to the best of his ability without distraction. He didn't let on to anyone that he'd be waiting here, and asked the nurses to not tell Shirakumo himself as to not stress him out too much.

"I'm sorry," he hears his friend apologize, sounding a little hoarse. Yamada's chest tightens at the sound. He hasn't heard that voice in nearly fourteen years. "I don't remember. The last thing I remember was when I was fighting a huge villain alongside EraserHead- we were interning under His Purple Highness."

That's the last thing he remembers?

Yamada rubs his forehead and sighs in frustration, a headache forming behind his eyes.

Something is very wrong.

"I heard that I was held hostage," Shirakumo pipes up. "I can't remember anything from that. One moment I was fighting alongside EraserHead, and the next- I was lying in the middle of the USJ. And Chihoshi- she was so sick."

What did she do?

"But I figured I must've gotten hit in the head pretty hard. Thankfully our students really picked up the slack! I'll have to apologize to them later."

Our students?

Yamada feels sick.

He... Really doesn't know what's going on. He thinks that we... we're all teachers at UA...

The tears that Yamada had been so desperately ignoring start to fall, and he calmly puts away his hero glasses before covering his face and drawing a few ragged breaths. Bursts of color bloom behind his eyelids as he presses the heels of his hands to his eyes and stifles a hiccup.

All this time! All this time... and he... he thinks that we've stuck together. That we've-

"What?" There's an edge of panic in Shirakumo's voice. "I'm not... no, no, that's not right. I have to be a teacher at UA. I'd never just ditch Hizashi and Shouta. We promised to be heroes together!"

We'll be heroes together! Our own agency! Whaddya say!?

Yamada takes another ragged breath, shoulders shaking with his effort to remain silent.

"Sir, it's natural to be confused, you've gone through a lot as of late."

"I- well... yeah. I guess. Can you tell me when I can get outta here? I feel fine. Can you tell me where I can find Aizawa and Chihoshi? Are they okay?"

What a mess.

Pull yourself together. You're about to go on-air.

Wiping his face and rolling his shoulders, Yamada steps into the hospital room. Shirakumo and the interviewing detective turn to look, and Yamada nearly breaks down again when Shirakumo hits him with a blinding grin. "Zashi! I was wondering when you'd show up! Turns out, I have no clue what's going on! And holy shit! Your hair is huge!"

He manages a weak smile, nodding at the detective. "I'll take it from here."

Shirakumo's grin slides a little from his face once they're left alone and the door closes, adopting a more pensive expression. "Is... everything okay? They're telling me I was held hostage- for years? I don't know about that, but then again, I have no memory of anything to do with being captured by villains."

Yamada sits down at his bedside, lips pressed in a thin line. "I know."

"The last thing I remember is a bunch of rubble falling on me during the-"

"I know."

Tanned hands grip the hospital blankets in a tight hold and twist this way and that in a frustrated frenzy. "It's- it doesn't feel right. It doesn't sound right. I wouldn't've let myself just... get captured, no way! Why would anyone want me?"

There's no answer that Yamada can give him, nor can he quite believe that his friend is alive and evidently healthy, and not... not like before.

"I... wasn't a hostage, was I." It's not a question. Yamada watches Shirakumo fiddle with his blanket, and he almost wants to ask him to do it again, or maybe even punch him in the face, if only for proof that he's really here.

But he has to reign that in. He has to focus on the matter at hand.

"It has to do with Chihoshi, doesn't it? She wouldn't let go of me."

What great effort it takes, to meet his long-dead friend's gaze.

It's just as he remembered. Open and kind, with a perchance of those pale brows lifting into mischievous expressions. A smile as light as a cloud on a cheerful day, just as uplifting as the ones he makes with his Quirk. Blue eyes soften, and his lips twitch into a regretful smile. "You look so much older now, Zashi. Shouta, too."

"Look at yourself," Yamada laughs softly, reaching out with a hand and placing it on his shoulder. He knows Shirakumo will notice how his hand trembles.

He's warm.

"You're... you look just the same, but so different."

That was the wrong thing to say. Pale brows pinch together and Shirakumo's face twists into a pained expression. "Why are you talking to me like you haven't seen me in a long time? Why did Shouta have such a devastated look on his face? Did I do something wrong? Did we have a falling-out? I'm sorry I can't remember-"

"You died."

There's a pregnant pause. Yamada takes a deep breath, but it catches just so.

"Oboro, we haven't seen you since that day. That last fight that you remember."

Blue eyes desperately search his friend's face, searching for any evidence of a joke or prank, Yamada knows that Shirakumo would never think he'd joke about something as serious as this. As the seconds pass by, he looks more and more devastated.

"What... happened to me?" He looks down at his hands and back up at Yamada. "Zashi, what do you mean I was dead? Are you trying to tell me that that nightmare was real?"

And wow, does Yamada feel nauseated.

He remembers dying.

"There's- 'Kumo, there's a lot that you should know about Chihoshi Riyo."

Once again, Yamada talks. He talks about the fight, about the day they lost him and he doesn't leave out any details. For his sake, for Aizawa's sake, for Shirakumo's sake. He talks about how different that day was, how dangerous the enemy was, how desperate the heroes were to contain the damage and minimize casualties. He talks about how Aizawa had single-handedly taken down the villain. And how-

"My head was caved in," Shirakumo volunteers softly.

Yamada sniffs.

Anguish wells up in his friend's blue, blue eyes. "I saw the rubble coming. I saw the kids in the way. I moved before I could think, and then I couldn't think to get away fast enough." He looks haunted. "So how am I here?"

Yamada continues his narrative. He spares no detail about his reaction, Kayama's reaction, Aizawa's reaction to losing him. How it shaped Aizawa to be the hero he is. He tells Shirakumo about Riyo. About how Aizawa was recruited on a top secret mission and found the poor girl surrounded by the worst circumstances. He tells him about how Aizawa reluctantly adopted the girl and started raising her as his own to be a hero. Yamada tells him about how he's witnessed Aizawa fight for her tirelessly, and somehow he's begun to pick up the pieces all these years later. How he seems so much more lively and happy. He tells him about Riyo's impossible Quirk.

Quantum.

How she can manipulate reality in ways unseen. How she sees countless possible futures nearly every waking moment. How she claims to be guided by The Way. How she can make the impossible possible.

How she can apparently reach beyond the veil of death.

"And Shouta is raising her," Shirakumo mutters, face in his hands. "Fuck." He takes a deep breath, inhaling through his nose before letting it all out, brow furrowed in concentration. "Well. I'm not dead anymore. Evidently, I'm homeless, jobless, and without a valid hero license- shit, does this technically make me a high school drop out!? Whatever. I'm gonna be released soon, so we gotta go see Chihoshi and Shouta and figure out what the hell is going on."

Yamada couldn't agree more.

Shirakumo meets his gaze with a roguish grin. "Couldn't get rid of me that easily. Even the universe said so."

"Yeah, yeah," he chuckles wetly, wiping his face for the umpteenth time. "But just so you know, I'm the cool uncle."

"Nah, you'll graduate to papa soon."

Yamada nearly chokes as Shirakumo folds his arms behind his head to get more comfortable. "What!?" He protests, nearly slipping up and accidentally using his Quirk in his flustered state. "No way-"

"Ah, still dancing around each other!"

"I- we- we're not...!"

"Once this drip finishes, I'm gonna hug the shit outta you," the pale-haired man tells him seriously. "Then, I'm gonna go find and hug the shit outta Shouta. After that, I'm gonna get down on my knees and grovel for your forgiveness for being such a dumbass and getting myself killed."

"Obo-"

"Then I'm gonna go find the biggest fucking fruit basket and bring it to Riyo because she's been doing a better job of taking care of you guys than I have."

"You were-"

"Being dead isn't an excuse!"

"But-"

"That's it! Get over here!"

"You're supposed to rest! You're in the hospital!"

Needless to say, Yamada did get squeezed half to death, and Shirakumo quieted down enough to allow the nurses to come in and check him over again. And of course, he charms them like he'd never known anything else. It really brings Yamada back, bittersweet and nostalgic.

"Let's go find Shouta and his daughter," his friend shakes his pale head. "Though... I think I need a change of clothes. Hmm... But also don't have any money to my name- heck, I didn't have my name for a while 'cos the cops thought I was joking around."

A set of bartered scrubs later- Yamada gave out autographs and promised to visit the children's wing- and the two are set to find the last of their trio.

The three of us again... like old times. Although...

"Nemuri's gonna go nuts," he realizes suddenly.

"Nemuri? You're on a first name basis? When did-" Shirakumo stops himself suddenly at Yamada's awkward expression. "O-oh. When I- yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. Shit." He rubs his scarred forehead with a hand and sighs. "Man. You guys have like fourteen years on me, huh?"

"Well- uh... just- we'll have to piece this together with Shouta and the little listener."

Hopefully the little listener is okay. She was so...

So... what? Defeated? Injured? Battered?

Decimated?

Yamada doesn't know how much more his heart can take. All the same, he and Shirakumo reach the right room, and his friend takes a deep breath. The nervousness is coming off of him and waves and nearly feels contagious.

"You good?"

"Yeah," Shirakumo breathes nervously. "Just... wow. He has a daughter. Who saved my life. And he's older. You're older. We're older."

They enter the room.

It's pretty plain, the same kind of standard sterile hospital room that Shirakumo had just left. Except every surface is filled with food. Aizawa is sitting with his back to the door, meticulously spoon-feeding Riyo a bowl of soup with shaky hands. His arms are bandaged up past his sleeves of his hospital gown- evidently healed enough for him to feed Riyo.

She's already looking better, Yamada notices with no small amount of relief. Already, he's tearing up again as he moves to put a hand on Aizawa's shoulder.

Shouta.

"Shouta, you've gotta rest."

There's some unintelligible grumbling.

"Hey. We got this. She's safe, she's eating. You need to rest because we have a lot to talk about." He glances at Shirakumo, who slowly approaches Riyo's bedside.

"Shouta," Shirakumo says softly.

Aizawa turns quickly to look at him with wide eyes.

"We got this. You can count on us. Just rest now."

He doesn't say anything, simply returning his gaze to Riyo's face for a moment- she's fallen asleep, breathing softly. She still looks frighteningly frail... but she's no longer in danger.

"Right," Aizawa mutters, rubbing his face with a bandaged hand. Slowly, he sets down the bowl of soup on the bedside table and rests his head on the bed, gripping Riyo's hand delicately.

He closes his eyes.

Chapter Text

If he's being honest, Shirakumo feels really guilty. His friends look exhausted, and Chihoshi Riyo nearly died because of him. Logically, he knows that it's not really his fault, but he feels at fault. After all, he's not exactly supposed to be here. The only thing that might assuage his fears would be discussing how the hell he's alive right now, because according to everyone else, he was supposed to be unalive.

Answers would have to wait, however.

Yamada is quick to follow Aizawa's example, falling asleep on his other side and resting his head on his arms. That's good, because Aizawa will definitely react well to a familiar face, especially Yamada's. And well, they both need to relax. Unfortunately, Shirakumo is fully rested after the complete shit show that happened yesterday. It feels a little surreal. Not to mention, there's a lot that has changed from what he remembers.

Flipping through shitty daytime channels that seem to be a staple of every hospital TV, he manages to find news stories regarding yesterday's events. And like a good hero, he listens and soaks in as much information as he possibly can.

League of Villains.

Nomu.

USJ.

All Might.

Shirakumo frowns.

And somehow, I'm connected to all this- especially the warp villain.

He keeps the TV volume low while continuing to watch through news segments. The news networks get tired after a while, talking on the same few facts that the public was allowed to know, and move onto current events. Something that Shirakumo feels woefully behind on. But each time a news program ends, he surfs around to find a new one that's just starting or midway through the broadcast. New celebrities, rehashing of hero activity during the day, more mentions of the attack on the USJ, the weather forecast...

It's important, because the world a decade ago is not the same world he's in now. The Top Ten heroes are different- though All Might seems to be constant. Endeavor is solidly Number Two, and who is Hawks again? Oh well. It's also pretty bizarre to see his old classmates up in the rankings. They've gone and achieved what they aimed to achieve, which...

That's really... good for them...

Yeah. Good for them. And now, there's a lot of work to do in order to catch up.

Shirakumo also supposes he's going to have to try to test to get a high school degree equivalent, eventually. And he's gonna have to train his ass off to catch up to Yamada and Aizawa. There's no way he's leaving them after what Yamada told him about that day. But before all that, he's gotta figure out how to reintegrate into society.

Deep in thought, he frowns, threading his fingers together and staring intently at the TV.

First, a job. I can probably sleep rough for a couple of months- maybe find some sort of shelter program until I make enough to get a cheap apartment. I don't wanna bum off of the others. But I'll take multiple jobs. Save up as much as I can and study at the library for a while. Test for a degree equivalency...

"Man," he sighs quietly, rubbing his eyes. "It would be so much easier if I could just test for a hero license right away... but I only ever had my provisional. That's probably invalid, now, and even if it wasn't, education is part of the pro license prerequisites."

He sits up quickly, eyes wide.

"Unless they've changed," he whispers in horror.

What if there's other prerequisites now? Ones that I can't-

Honestly put, Shirakumo's life is a wreck. He chuckles dryly. At least he has a life to be a wreck. And it's not like he's alone. He's got Aizawa and Yamada that will surely insist on helping him out, but he doesn't want to burden them with his troubles. After all, Aizawa's got a kid now, and if he knows Yamada, he's probably in the swing of his own lifestyle with the radio show that he always talked about starting.

It's baffling, really, because all of these things that his peers had talked about- they're reality, now. Or reality in a way that was more sustainable than lofty high school dreams. For Shirakumo, it almost feels like yesterday when they were in the thick of their training. And now...?

Where does that put me?

The TV powers off with a quiet click, and Shirakumo startles just a little, looking up to see who turned it off. Both Yamada and Aizawa are still sound asleep beside Riyo.

Oh. It was Riyo.

Shirakumo watches her owlishly as she stares back with wide eyes.

Uh.

"H-hey there," he smiles awkwardly, giving a little wave.

She blinks.

Sweat rolls down the back of Shirakumo's neck. He tries again. "Are... are you hungry, Riyo?"

"Cloud Friend." Her lips don't move even a little, and Shirakumo shivers.

"Yeah, that's me."

"Shirakumo... Oboro."

"Mmhmm..."

An awkward silence falls, and Shirakumo wonders briefly is this is supposed to be some sort of staring contest. But just as he's preparing himself to refrain from blinking, Riyo yawns and flicks a hand lazily to a bowl of fruit on the bedside table. It floats sluggishly towards her, settling on her lap.

"Ah- do you want me to peel some apples for you?" In his haste to stand up and be helpful, Shirakumo stumbles a little, and there's a small tinkling of a bell somewhere.

"Now my Shouta can be happy," she hums, picking up an apple with one hand. Her other is still held by Aizawa, who sleeps soundly on.

"Shouta... can be happy?" Shirakumo repeats carefully.

Riyo frowns at the apple in her hand, as if trying to figure out how to eat it.

"Here, let me."

He makes quick work of the apple with a pocketknife he filched from Aizawa's belt, handing pieces of apple to Riyo as he cuts them from the core. It's a good thing; keeping his hands busy and focusing on a single task helps Shirakumo relax a bit more and take in details about his best friend's daughter.

Still can't believe he's got a  daughter...

"Daughter?" Riyo cocks her head, munching on an apple slice.

He hesitates.

"Mmm... apple..."

Okay, evidently she can read minds. Cool.

Well, she brought me  back to life,  so mind-reading must be nothing.

"Not brought back to life. Brought back to self."

Shirakumo is certain he's doomed to a life that makes no sense. Fair enough, he probably deserves it.

"Back to myself," he repeats uncertainly.

"Shouta's Cloud Friend... went wrong." She pulls a face, frowning intently at the apple slice in her hand. "Mm... not The Way... tainted?"

Well doesn't that make him feel good.

"Put together wrong," Riyo decides, shoving the apple slice in her mouth and looking up at Shirakumo. "Shirakumo-Cloud is Shirakumo-Cloud. Not mixed up. Riyo unmixed Shirakumo-Cloud. Mixing was not The Way."

Mix? Unmix? Well, he has no idea which category he falls into now, but his brain has had enough mix-unmixing, thanks.

"And- and The Way- that's the universe, right? Like the will of the universe? That's what Hizashi told me. What does that mean, Riyo?"

She blinks, her eyes shining mysteriously. Wordlessly, she reaches out her free hand to touch his face. It's small. All of her is small. Delicate and frail. Her hair is gone, patchy stubble left across her scalp. But her hand is warm. It's... comforting. He lifts up his larger hand to cover her own and sighs, closing his eyes.

"Look, I- I don't know where I am, anymore," Shirakumo confesses quietly. "I mean... I know where I am, but I'm- I don't know where I fit."

Not to mention this mixing-unmixing thing... or how I'm supposed to be dead.

A memory comes unbidden to the forefront of his mind. A memory full of laughter and hope for the future. A memory full of promise and excitement and rightness, because there was no way in that moment that it could be wrong.

"We'll all be heroes together!"

His eyes sting, and Shirakumo huffs back a sob as to not wake his friends on the other side of the bed. Clutching at Riyo's small hand, he cries silently, pressing his face into her tiny palm. Hot tears spill down his cheeks until his eyes are sore and his head hurts. The tear tracks on his cheeks are tacky and make his face feel tight.

And all the while, Riyo is humming. It's not a tune that Shirakumo could put a name to, but it reminds him of warm days spent on the UA rooftop.

UA.

He knows what he has to do. He's gotta go back. He's gotta find some way to get his hero license- after all, he made a promise to the other two men in this room that they'd make it together. Sure, he's over a decade late, but if he's lucky, maybe they'll wait a little longer. And he'll catch up. He'll do it. He'll finally, finally become a hero.

"My Shouta's Cloud Friend is already a hero," Riyo murmurs dreamily.

Shirakumo pulls back from her hand, looking up at her with reddened eyes. 

She smiles. "My Shouta's hero."

If she keeps making me cry, I'm gonna get dehydrated and need another IV drip! Jeez!

Letting go of her hand, Shirakumo lets out a big huff of air and scrubs his face vigorously. "Right!" He clears his throat, standing up and stretching with intent. He looks down at the girl determinedly, and she watches him with wide eyes. "Riyo! I'll do my best! And you'll do your best, right?"

Riyo smiles again, and there's that ringing of a bell in his head again.

He grins widely.

"Riyo will be good! Do my best! Follow The Way!"

"Right! And I'll help!"

"And help!"

"So! Let's get plenty of food in you, so we can be heroes together with Hizashi and Shouta!"

The bell rings again and it sounds like someone decided to ring it with unbridled excitement. Shirakumo is startled for a moment before noticing Riyo's smile looks to be way too big for her thin face. It doesn't take much prompting for him to match her intensity.

"Heroes together!" She chirps excitedly, eyes glistening with excitement. Shirakumo can't help himself- he reaches down and rubs the top of her fuzzy head.

Small, sure. Delicate- maybe. But so, so strong.

Like- shit- she's strong.

"You know, Riyo," he smiles gently. "You're my hero now."

The bell rings loud and incessant.

"Ugh," comes a groan from her other side. Aizawa seems to be waking up, grimacing and clumsily wiping sleep from his eyes.

Shirakumo's heart leaps in excitement. He and Aizawa have so much to talk about. And he'll have to be very careful in approaching the subject- after all, from what Yamada had told him, Aizawa was... well, he took it hard. Way hard.

I've gotta be gentle. Delicate. Tactful.

Naturally, he goes about it like a dumbass.

His mouth moves before he can stop himself. "I'm sorry for dying and leaving you alone and sending you into a lifetime of depression!"

Aizawa blinks at him with an incredulous frown.

"Heroes together!" Riyo exclaims, throwing her free hand out as if celebrating. She's still excited. Shirakumo appreciates the enthusiasm, and tells her as much.

"You got it!" He grins, offering a closed fist to her.

"Mm?"

"You bump it with your own fist. Like this!" Taking her free hand, he gently folds her fingers into a fist and lightly taps her knuckles to his. "See?"

"See!"

"Okay, put 'er there! Bump it!"

"Bump-bump!"

"What the hell are you teaching my kid?" Aizawa asks flatly, appraising Shirakumo with a shrewd expression.

"Super-awesome-super-special-secret-hero handshake?"

"Hero handshake! Bump-bump!" Riyo babbles, bouncing a little in her hospital bed. "Shirakumo Oboro is very good! Like my Shouta and his Zashi! Riyo pulled him into The Way! My Shouta has his Cloud Friend! Happy, happy!"

Much to Shirakumo's concern, his friends expression darkens a little as he listens to his kid's excitement. And while he might be a bit much sometime, Shirakumo can read the mood.

Aizawa takes a deep breath, sighing through his nose before turning to see Yamada fast asleep next to him. There's a small amount of surprise coloring his face- something that would've been lost on anyone who didn't know Aizawa well, and even if he's aged thirteen, fourteen years, it's still noticeable to Shirakumo. He takes note of the way his friend's face softens, and the rather innocent hesitancy in his bandaged hand as he reaches out to shake Yamada awake.

"Zashi. Hizashi. Your neck is gonna hurt if you keep sleeping like that."

"Mmfph," comes the intelligent reply. Yamada is still for a moment before slowly sitting up and yawning. It's about when he's halfway through stretching and blinking tears away that he realizes Shirakumo is still there.

"Heroes," Riyo hums again, chomping through the plastic wrapper of a couple of crackers. Shirakumo quickly reaches down and opens them for her, accidentally beating Aizawa to the punch.

"Your arms," he says quickly. "You need to let them heal."

Aizawa's face is unreadable. "Yeah," he says quietly.

"Oh. You're- you're still here," Yamada says quietly, and wow does that make Shirakumo feel like an outsider.

It must be showing on his face, because there's a significant amount of flustered backtracking that follows.

"I- I thought I was dreaming! I don't- I didn't- uh, Shouta?"

The man in question takes another deep breath, slowly getting to his feet and taking a few steps towards Shirakumo. The bizarre thought of making a run for it flits through his head, but it's immediately tossed out when Aizawa pulls him in for a crushing hug.

"You..." his friend's breath comes raggedly. He hasn't any words, and it's not like Shirakumo has any to give him other than-

"I'm sorry," he whispers back, hugging Aizawa tightly. "I'm so, so sorry, Shouta. I'm sorry you had to see that. I'm sorry you had to go through so much alone! I'm sorry that I wasn't there!"

"You're here now," Yamada pipes up in a warm voice. "That's what matters."

Aizawa pulls away roughly, not meeting anyone's gaze. He sniffs. "Yeah," he grunts. "And now we have to figure out how and why."

"Hizashi gave me his version of what- what happened. He explained as best he could about Riyo-"

"Yeah. Well... sit down. We have a lot to catch up on."

Shirakumo starts peeling more apples.

 

Chapter Text

If you had told Aizawa a little over a year ago that he would adopt a child with a god-tier Quirk and that child would bring one of his best friends back from the dead, he probably would've detained you for suspected substance abuse.

Yet, here he is, having just explained as much as he could about Riyo's everything to his recently undeceased best friend as he feeds his kid a variety of fruits. There's an interesting swirl of emotions going on inside him at the moment. Aizawa's feeling excited, certainly. Someone he thought was gone forever is back and holy shit that's- that's...!? Well, he can't put a label to it yet, because his kid almost died- hence why he was worried, is still worried, and a bit scared. Granted, she seems to be doing a lot better now, so he's relieved... But on top of this crazy emotions-sundae, he's confused.

Very confused.

Riyo's been fed steadily all day, and it really inspires the image of a sultan being fed grapes as he lounges- because that's what Shirakumo's doing, he's hand-feeding Riyo grapes while he snickering with Yamada.

I'm surrounded by idiots.

Nonetheless, Aizawa ducks to hide a smirk in his scarf... which isn't around his neck. Right. It got destroyed. Thankfully he's got some back-ups, but neither he nor Yamada have run back to his apartment to grab changes of clothes, and Shirakumo's in scrubs.

"Dr. Loud Cloud, what's your prognosis?" Yamada asks dramatically, holding Riyo's hand.

Riyo's eyes are wide as she looks back and forth between Yamada and Shirakumo.

"Well," the proclaimed Dr. Loud Cloud hums, eyebrows furrowed as he flips through his clipboard prop- a bunch of self-informative pamphlets are jammed under the clamp. His eyes widen as he pulls out a pamphlet titled Erectile Dysfunction: Where To Go From Here.

Yamada snickers before clearing his throat. "Doctor? Is it fatal?"

"Ahem. Excuse me," Shirakumo shakes his head, grinning wildly. "One of my other patient's notes was on my clipboard."

Aizawa rolls his eyes.

"Here," Shirakumo hands him the pamphlet. He's got a shit-eating grin on his face. "This is for you."

"I hate you."

Cue the dramatic gasp from Yamada- and Riyo even gasps a little bit too.

"Now, Riyo," Shirakumo turns around with a stern expression. "Your diagnosis is far more serious."

Riyo's eyes go wide.

"Doctor!" Yamada cries, "isn't there anything you can do!?"

"I hate both of you." Aizawa still goes unheard.

With a mighty stance, Shirakumo points at Riyo with an air of finality. "I diagnose you with cute!"

Fucking hell.

There's a knock on the door, and Aizawa breathes a sigh of relief- if only because this interrupts his two best friends from being complete idiots. He stands up to greet the newcomers.

"Are we interrupting something?" A new voice asks in a mildly interested tone.

"Yes, thank god, and please continue to interrupt or I'll lose my mind," Aizawa says in a dull tone. "What's with the entourage?"

"A lot has come to our attention since yesterday's attack, EraserHead," Nezu says grimly. He scurries up an empty chair next to the window as the rest of the group of people he brought with him file inside. The door is shut.

Shirakumo puts down his clipboard of erectile dysfunction pamphlets and adopts a more serious manner, and Yamada's grip only tightens on Riyo's hand. The atmosphere of the room has thickened in moments.

Yikes.

"I'm sure you're acquainted with Detective Tsukauchi," Nezu nods, gesturing to a man in a smart trench coat.

"We've worked together before," Aizawa nods at the man in recognition.

"Eraser," the detective nods back, a tight smile on his face.

"Sir NightEye also," Nezu introduces his other companion. It's not really for Aizawa's or Yamada's- or Riyo's benefit, but more for Shirakumo.

All in all, Nezu arrived with the detective, Sir NightEye-

"And of course, All Might," Nezu concludes.

"He seemed bigger on TV," Shirakumo blurts out before turning beet-red.

"Long story," All Might smiles understandingly. "This is what I looks like normally, I only assume the form that you've seen on TV when I go out and do hero work."

NightEye subtly crosses his arms and looks the other way. There's a tangible tension between the two, and All Might actually looks a little sheepish after noticing NightEye's cold disposition.

More drama that we don't need. Ridiculous.

"Why are they here?" Aizawa doesn't care that he sounds rather irritated- mainly because he is, and All Might and NightEye have nothing to do with this. Of course, the fact that they're here means they do have something to do with this and that's not necessarily a good feeling. He doesn't want them to be implicated in the USJ attack. Or in Shirakumo's rescue. Or in Riyo's tumultuous visions and musings of The Way. He wants her to be safe. And for the first time, he kind of regrets pushing her into the world of heroes.

"Heroes are in The Way," Riyo murmurs quietly in his head. "Riyo will be with heroes. Be with Shouta and his Zashi and his Cloud Friend."

Yeah... his Cloud Friend. That's one of the reasons why Nezu is here, to help piece together what Riyo must've done at the USJ. He really needs to understand this deal with Shirakumo.

"Riyo, are you well?" NightEye breaks the awkward silence once they're all settled. Much to Aizawa's chagrin, NightEye has seated himself right on Riyo's left, showing a clear preference for his kid as compared to literally anyone else in the room. Aizawa stays on the right side of her bed, with Yamada and Shirakumo close beside him.

"Hungry," comes his kid's reply.

A plate of small sandwiches is quickly settled on her lap. Riyo blinks and looks up with wide eyes.

"Riyo gets food all the time here," her voice comes in a whisper.

NightEye cracks a rare smile briefly before pulling out a package of ginger candies from his pocket. "Mirio and his friends have been worried; they asked me to bring you this." He hands it over and Riyo takes it carefully in her hands, looking down at it with a small amount of distress in her shimmering eyes.

She hugs it gently to her chest, and Aizawa nearly panics at the fat tears welling in her eyes.

Ah shit, I didn't think about that.

Clearing his throat, NightEye turns to address everyone else- except All Might probably. "Well. We know why we're here."

"N-no, not really," All Might admits awkwardly.

"I'll explain," Nezu says breezily, "Aizawa-san, feel free to make your own additions where necessary. Detective, it would be prudent that this meeting goes unrecorded. The discretion in which the next hour must be handled is very much on the level of All Might, in terms of secrecy.

Tsukauchi's brow furrows.

"Agreed," NightEye murmurs quietly.

"Mirai-" All Might whispers incredulously. "What...? What's going on?"

"First, to explain Riyo's Quirk... or at least, explain it in such a way that might be best understood."

It's a little surreal to listen to Nezu voice his speculations about Riyo's Quantum Quirk in front of other people. This time, there's no beating around the bush. No teasing with loopholes, no thinly-veiled excuses. Everything that Nezu had speculated about in front of Aizawa was repeated with a higher degree of confidence from the furry principal. And while everyone is taking it in, Aizawa gauges the room.

NightEye is as stoic as ever, adjusting his spectacles as he glances every so often to check on Riyo- who has since carefully opened the bag of ginger candies and popped one in her mouth. The rest of the package is tucked under her pillow in a place of importance. Meanwhile, Tsukauchi is listening intently, breaking Nezu's monologue up with quiet inquiries. All Might looks stunned.

Turning to the two men beside him, he sees Yamada looking a little tense and pensive- like this isn't news to him and he's thought about it before. Aizawa feels a fierce admiration bloom in his chest for the other man. He's smart, despite his over-the-top antics. And Shirakumo-

He looks lost. His blue eyes are wide, focused on every word Nezu utters. And it's not the sort of lost as in a lack of comprehension- Shirakumo looks miserable.

A heavy silence falls after Nezu has finished speaking and everyone tries to take it in. Riyo looks to be a little spaced out, humming quietly in the backs of their minds.

"So," Shirakumo says shakily, running a hand through his hair for the umpteenth time. "Where does this put me? Because Riyo's Quirk allows her to manipulate probabilities. Somehow I was there at the USJ when the League of Villains showed up."

There's a look of hesitancy on Tsukauchi's face. "Well-"

Everyone turns to look at him.

He closes his eyes and sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. "This makes sense, and doesn't make sense."

"What makes sense?" Shirakumo asks desperately.

Aizawa has a sick feeling in his gut.

"Eyewitness accounts from the students around Riyo at the time of your rescue report you being pulled directly from the portal villain called Kurogiri."

"So I was pulled out of a portal?"

"No," Tsukauchi shakes his head. "No, I don't think that's it. Let me first explain about the villain they called the Nomu." He glances around at the room. "This is technically a leak of information- it's definitely not something I should be sharing with you all. It goes without saying that we're still under the oath we took as to protect Chihoshi Riyo and conceal the truth of her Quirk."

"Tsukauchi," All Might frowns. "What is it?"

The detective's face twists into a frustrated frown, looking away from his friend.

It's silent again.

It's grim.

A small cup of water slowly floats across the room, bumping the detective's elbow. He looks up in shock, eyes immediately darting to Riyo, who still looks rather dreamy.

"Thirsty," she says gently. "Truth Detective is thirsty."

Tsukauchi's eyes soften. "Thank you, Chihoshi-san," he smiles tiredly. Accepting the cup, he takes a drink of water and sighs again, seemingly steeling himself.

This isn't good, Aizawa thinks to himself, but then again, nothing about this situation has been good with the exception that Shirakumo is alive and siting next to him. Even then it's still uncertain.

"We've looked into the background of the villain they called Nomu. He doesn't appear capable of responding when questioned. Quite frankly, he hasn't done anything, and it's like... it's almost as if it can't think for itself."

Chills run down Aizawa's spine at a flitting memory of the hand-villain screaming orders at the beast.

Tsukauchi frowns at his water cup. "The individual that Nomu used to be was just a small-time thug, but there's... there's been extensive body modification. He's not even- I'm not sure how to say this."

"Just say it how it is, and nothing less," NightEye says bluntly.

"Right... the Nomu- it has multiple Quirks, as All Might and EraserHead discovered."

Aizawa's heartbeat speeds up.

"That aside," the detective continues, "it was also uncovered through tissue samples and analysis that Nomu actually contains DNA from multiple people. Don't misunderstand- it's not a contamination event. I mean that the genetic material obtained from samples shows integrated DNA from multiple people."

There's a potent sense of horror invading the room. It's not a quick thing, but slow and creeping, curling around Aizawa's heels before slowly constricting around his chest. Slow, silent, and terrifying.

"Mixed and unmixed," he hears Shirakumo whisper.

"What?" Yamada asks worriedly.

Shirakumo's face looks absolutely haunted when he lifts his head from where he's been staring at his hands. If it's even possible to feel more dread, Aizawa feels it. Heavy and hard and deep and painful.

"Riyo said... she said that she unmixed me."

Holy fucking  shit.

All eyes turn to Riyo, who has a small sandwich in hand and stares at it contemplatively. There's a notable absence of a childish air about her. Her eyes flash a brilliant gold as she looks up at Shirakumo.

"Riyo?" Shirakumo's voice breaks.

"It was not yet in The Way to bring you to yourself again," she says quietly, the sandwich in her hand dissolving to dust. Her voice sounds much older, much more worldly. "I think... It was not time. But the thing about time, is that there is never enough."

The room is frozen.

"It is difficult to see beyond infinite futures, infinite possibility. It is difficult to account for everything to go wrong," she nods at Nezu. "I am not infallible. I will not pretend to be. But know that I refused to leave you behind so that-" Riyo's expression crumples and her eyes start flickering at an impressive rate. A sharp breath comes from her mouth as she grasps at her head.

"Riyo!"

"Listener!"

"Riyo!" Aizawa reaches for her. "Riyo, what's-"

"Hurts," she whines, panting. "Too much! Too much-"

"I'll call a nurse-"

"-something to-"

"Erase her Quirk," NightEye says quickly.

"I-"

"It's too much for her right now, you see it too, don't you!?"

It only takes one second longer to see how Riyo's body starts to shake with effort and the edges of her form become blurred. Aizawa fixes her with a quick Quirk-laced stare, and she relaxes. The panic in the room settles a just a second later, but everyone is clearly on edge. Shirakumo looks completely lost.

"Is that better, listener? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me," Yamada tells her quietly, wiping a few tears from her face.

She squeezes his hand.

"Are you in any pain?" NightEye asks carefully.

She shakes her head tiredly.

"You can rest now, okay?"

She shakes her head again. "No," she whispers, pink lips moving quickly. "Have to tell you."

"Did she just-"

"Shhhh!"

"What is it?" Aizawa asks quickly, eyes stinging.

"Went out of The Way... for Shouta. For Hizashi. For Oboro. For my family."

Aizawa can't help it. He blinks. It's only a moment of breaking eye contact with his kid, but it's a moment too long, in his opinion. However, her Quirk doesn't seem to be having any negative effects on her again, by the warmth in her glowing eyes. She sighs in contentment, and her lips move no longer.

"Cloud Friend is here," she hums in his head once more. "With My Shouta and his Zashi. Right where needed. Now... It is The Way."

 

Chapter Text

There have been a lot of fantastic things that Tsukauchi has witnessed in his lifetime. The number of fantastic things had only increased when he'd befriended Yagi- after all, he's All Might. Even so, there were some things in the world that Tsukauchi had reconciled himself with never quite understanding. Some things that he would come close to discovering the truth about, but lacking the final piece that would complete the puzzle of human comprehension.

And the thing is, Tsukauchi Naomasa is a lot of things. A friend. A brother. A detective.

He's no quantum physicist. Even so, there are elements that he understood from Nezu's speech of theories layered on theories surrounding the puzzling little girl, Chihoshi Riyo. Elements that applied to understanding how Shirakumo Oboro supposedly came back from the dead.

But... that's... that's got to be impossible.

Cheating death is something out of a comic book. Or a movie. Legends and myths tell of forces and magics that may reverse the very state that almost all things strive to avoid at nearly any cost. Avoiding the natural consequences following an organism's daring to exist is a secret that has always been kept hidden by a most jealous universe. Granted, what quantum entails... the simple explanation that if Chihoshi Riyo can think of it, she can make it happen seems a bit too fantastical for Tsukauchi's mind to wrap around.

Like undead-ness, for example.

Then again, that could be explained away with the simple application of the hypothetical Schrödinger's Cat.

No.

No, That's not it. There's something else that he's missing, and he'll find it somewhere. Sifting through interrogations and death records and quantum physics, he'll find it.

Oh-

Wait a second-

"Shirakumo Oboro was pronounced dead," he says simply, as if stating a fact. And it was a fact. Shirakumo Oboro was pronounced dead. The records that he found detailed that he was killed in action while attending an internship partnered with UA. It was a very depressing thing to read. But... "But was he ever dead?"

The room is silent. He could probably hear a pin drop. Instead he hears the rustling of Riyo's bag of ginger candies. Sir NightEye looks up from his unwrapping of a candy.

"He was," EraserHead says stiffly. "I saw it happen."

Tsukauchi has never seen EraserHead so tense. Even in their past history in taking down the drug ring in Naruhata, and the absolute mess that followed with the ring of speedster villains five years ago. This sort of tension is different.

This sort of tension is new.

Or, what if it was always there, and Tsukauchi is just now noticing it?

Nonetheless, he feels the rightness in his Quirk, that little zing of honesty that resonates with a deep fiber of his being. EraserHead is telling the truth... or his truth, at least. It's something that he believed was true.

"And I remember it," Shirakumo mutters. He has his head in his hands, his pale hair a rather stringy mess from running his fingers through it in agitation.

Zing. Also truth.

His voice rises a little. "I got taken out by a bunch of falling rubble to the head. I was- was definitely-"

"How can you be certain?" Nezu interrupts. Somehow, he's found an electric kettle. His white paws carefully pour out a cup of tea before he turns to face Shirakumo. "How can you be certain?" He repeats. "I have never met someone who has died and been brought back to life a decade later."

Zing. True.

"But Shouta and Hizashi-"

"Gave eyewitness accounts for that day, as how things appeared to them. However, it's important to consider every possibility that they might've been wrong."

Aizawa noticeably stiffens.

"So he was alive?" Yamada whispers, his blonde brows pinching in confusion. Tsukauchi kind of gets where Nezu is going with things, and manages to catch the his own comprehension reflected in Yamada's changing expression. Green eyes go wide. "Wait."

"I'll propose a hypothesis," Nezu continues. "That day, fourteen or fifteen years ago, it appeared that Shirakumo Oboro died."

"Right," the man named as such waves a hand, sounding a bit hollow. "Go on."

"It could be that when his body was recovered by medical personnel, that he was declared dead. However, it is possible that he was not. Perhaps he was sedated or possibly brain dead. But I think that it is possible that his body was stolen away at this time. It doesn't make much sense as to why a dead body would be more useful than a live one. Nor can I imagine it makes sense to kill a body that was already brain dead. Genetic material is very fickle after cell death, very quick to decompose. It's unclear if the conditions of the subjects utilized to create Nomu require a live state, but I am inclined to believe as such. No- I'm fairly certain of it that it was at his supposed time of death when Shirakumo Oboro was stolen away."

Zing. True.

"So... I was mostly dead..."

"Preservation would be top priority for any tissue or organism sample when it comes to genetic experimentation," Nezu smiles humorlessly, something far more sinister- and dare Tsukauchi think it- animalistic behind those beady black eyes.  "Body retrieval would have been impossible in the middle of such a large-scale villain attack, even if there was only one apparent casualty.  Decomposition starts the moment that the brain ceases sending signals to the body- approximately five minutes for brain death, and a few hours for complete cell death of the body... By my own calculations and with no small amount of consideration, Shirakumo-san was, by definition, dead for all intents and purposes."  Nezu shifts a little before exclaiming softly, "Ah! Rather, for all legal intents and purposes."

Aizawa grips his not-dead friend's shoulder, his glare at Nezu not going unnoticed by the detective.

"At any rate, a brain dead body would not be able to subsist without artificial support- so I suspect there might have been a mole among the emergency personnel who stole away the body, and that is where Shirakumo-san must've undergone... modifications."  The wicked look in Nezu's eyes dilutes as he looks down at his own little paws.  For some reason, Tsukauchi suddenly realizes how small the principal actually is.

"Modifications as in... being mixed," All Might says quietly. 

"Indeed," comes the solemn response.  "Keeping Shirakumo-san alive- or his body alive- was the ultimate goal.  It cannot be denied.  I think it is highly probable- near to the point of negligible margins of error- that there was some manner of healing done on Shirakumo-san in order to ensure that the... components that he was to... donate to the formation of Kurogiri were viable and had the best odds of- how would you humans put it?" 

The taste of bile is sharp on Tsukauchi's tongue.  He knows that various manners of horrifying experiments were inflicted on the UA principal... However, the nonchalant air with which Nezu indirectly references his experiences and accumulated knowledge from such a hell is undoubtedly unnerving.

A paw comes up to rest on Nezu's chin.  "Fresh specimens provide the most promising results, especially the ones that are live."

Zing.  True.

It looks like Shirakumo's going to be sick.  Meanwhile, Chihoshi Riyo sits quietly, staring at nothing in particular with a solemn expression on her face.

"So he was taken and- and preserved,"  Yamada sums it up shakily. "Taken where?"

"Wherever they made the Nomu," All Might says in a tight voice. "Nezu-"

"Detective, if you would?" Nezu looks at him expectantly.

Tsukauchi sips more water from the cup Chihoshi Riyo had sent his way before speaking, seeking to rinse his mouth of such a bitter taste. "It... Like I said before, eyewitness accounts from the students stated that you were pulled from the portal villain- Kurogiri. Not from a portal. Physically from him."

"Unmixed," Aizawa mutters. His knuckles are white as he clenched his fists in his lap.

"You were part-"

"I was part of a villain," Shirakumo smiles humorlessly. "Great. So." He nods, swallowing hard. "Since I, uh... Are you gonna arrest me?"

Tsukauchi blinks. "What? Uh... not- not that I'm aware of?"

"But I-"

"You're not a villain," Aizawa snaps angrily. "So shut up. Stop thinking what you're thinking. You're not at fault. You were vulnerable, and those sick fucks just fucked with your body."

Well, that's not how Tsukauchi would've worded it but-

Zing. True.

"In short," he nods in agreement. "You're not culpable for these crimes- you're as much as a victim as the class of students, in this instance."

"But-"

"The entity known as Kurogiri is still at large," Tsukauchi cuts him off seriously. "Even after you were pulled from him, he remained an autonomous being acting of his own will to defy pro heroes and law enforcement."

"Cloud is not Kurogiri," Riyo hums tiredly, breaking everyone's train of thought. "Cloud is Cloud. Dark is Dark."

Zing. True.

"Think of it this way," Nezu interrupts. "If Riyo was able to discern you from within this Kurogiri, and pull you out... is that not proof enough that you are not Kurogiri?"

"But-"

"Why are you so determined to be a villain?" NightEye scowls angrily. "Why are you insisting on martyring yourself for a cause you never had a chance against? Do you want to be a villain? I can guarantee that if that were the case, Riyo would've never saved you if she thought you would be a danger to EraserHead! She saved you, and you want to spit in her face?"

Well. That was surprising. Tsukauchi shakes his head, sighing.

"I don't want to be a villain, I was training to be a hero-"

Zing-

"And that's all that has to be said," All Might says sternly. "You're not at fault for being taken advantage of, you are not villainous."

True.

And if the number one hero, the Symbol of Peace himself decrees it? Well, if his word isn't good enough for anything, Tsukauchi would do as the Americans do and eat his hat.

What a phrase, he muses. He probably picked that up from Yagi at some point.

"At any rate," Tsukauchi clears his throat pointedly, recalling the attention of the rest of the room. "Shirakumo Oboro's rescue poses a lot of unforeseen circumstances. Not to mention- if whoever created the Nomu and Kurogiri realize that Shirakumo has been- ah..."

"Unmixed?" Shirakumo offers a little hysterically.

"Unmixed," Tsukauchi repeats slowly. "If the creator notices this... then that may put Chihoshi and her classmates in Class 1A under higher scrutiny by this unseen enemy."

"Extra security measures have already been underway," Nezu nods. "With the coming Sports Festival, additional security will be implemented in anticipation of the event. By showing the public that life will continue on at UA as normal, we will be able to regain partial favor and confidence in not only the institution, but the heroes who are faculty members."

"I'll be overseeing such security," NightEye adds shortly, adjusting his glasses purposefully.

Makes sense. He  does  have the Quirk for it. I wonder how that'll turn out with All Might being on UA faculty...?

"Nonetheless," Tsukauchi nods at Shirakumo, "records regarding your incorrect date of passing will be amended. The official police record will simply mention that you were rescued from a hostage situation related to the USJ attack. You've already given your statement in that regard."

The poor man looks shattered.

And he probably was, going by Nezu's description of Chihoshi Riyo's Quirk.

Shirakumo Oboro is an unfortunate soul. A boy with such promise thrust into the role of a man with nothing. Even with Present Mic patting his back and EraserHead keeping a watchful eye on him and Riyo, Tsukauchi can't help but feel a little guilty that he can't do more. After all... he has nothing.

But what could he offer? What could he offer as a detective and officer of the law, as to not leave this man out to fend for himself, but still remain objective enough and not personally involved in this case?

But then again, Tsukauchi reminds himself darkly, there's the issue of this creator of Quirk amalgams. There's only one being that could possibly force multiple Quirks-

"Riyo, you should drink some water," Present Mic's voice interrupts his train of thought.

The girl accepts a cup from the Voice Hero obediently, sipping slowly as she watches Tsukauchi with a dazed expression.

Right. She reads minds.

Did he just royally screw up? Maybe?

"Secret, secret," a whisper curls around his brain. "Riyo won't tell. Not Riyo's secret to tell. Not The Way."

This "Way" stuff seems pretty deep.

"It is The Way that all may live prosperous and happy lives," Riyo responds.

Zing. True.

And isn't that something? His Quirk works with her unspoken dialogue. But Tsukauchi has to wonder if everyone else is hearing this? They don't seem disturbed in the slightest, quiet conversations breaking out amongst them. NightEye is still very pointedly ignoring All Might, who is speaking with Nezu in a hushed voice. EraserHead seems to be having an exchange with NightEye, and Present Mic seems to be talking to Shirakumo and frowning slightly.

Do they not hear? Does Riyo simply choose...?

"Truth Detective is good. It is The Way."

So he's Truth Detective. That coaxes a small smile from him. After all, it's a nickname combining his profession with his Quirk- and not all are actually familiar with what his Quirk is and how he ends up knowing the moment words are said, that they are truth or falsehood. But Riyo? She knows. She knew all along.

She probably knew before they even met, going by Nezu's explanation of her Quirk.

"Detective, a word?" Nezu asks him respectfully, standing by the door of Riyo's hospital room. Yagi nods at him meaningfully.

"Right," Tsukauchi nods back. He already knows what this is about.

The three bow before taking their leave, and not before NightEye's piercing gaze is noticed by Yagi- who noticeably stiffens a small amount before bowing and leaving.

"So... There's something going on between you and Sir NightEye?" Tsukauchi asks curiously as they walk down the hall.

"A disagreement," Yagi admits uneasily.

"We'll discuss it in here," Nezu gestures to an empty conference room. "In private."

The door clicks with a shut once they're all inside, and Yagi sighs.  "He's mad. Well- more mad than before our falling-out. He called me to tell me he found a prime candidate to receive One For All."

"That's great news!" Tsukauchi says excitedly.

Maybe now, his old friend will be able to have at least a little weight lifted from his shoulders!

"Well... That's the thing, Naomasa. I'd already found my successor. I'm training him now, as a teacher at UA. Mirai... he didn't take it well at all. He's refusing to speak to me about it. He doesn't see the boy as worthy of my power. And the only way he'll speak to me again, is if I convince my successor to turn over One For All to his chosen candidate."

Zing. True.

"It's not his place," he shakes his head. "NightEye means well, I'm sure, but it's not his place. No matter if he was your sidekick or not."

"I know," Yagi nods. "It's complicated. When I accepted this power, I knew it would make everything more complicated." He looks down at his clenched fists. "Such are the fates of those who wield One For All."

"And now, we have an adversary appear," Nezu says solemnly. "One who seeks to destroy you, and what you stand for. We also mustn't forget that Chihoshi Riyo may very well be in danger by the same one that governs the League of Villains, and the mysterious Creator behind Kurogiri and the Nomu."

"We already know of one being that could potentially force someone to take on multiple Quirks," Tsukauchi points out carefully. It leaves a very bitter taste in his mouth. After all, the return of someone like him isn't something he would suggest lightly.

"You don't think-"

"We must be prepared for the worst." Nezu clasps his paws together smartly. "Just as there was a man like that, we also cannot discount the advancements made in Quirk science... whether ethical or not." His beady eyes take on a rather cold bitterness. "Humans can be cruel."

"I'll keep you updated on any new information regarding the ongoing investigation," Tsukauchi promises. "Though, I can't promise there will be much more. There aren't really any strong leads regarding the ringleader villain or Kurogiri other than Shirakumo- and he doesn't remember anything. As far as the other villains rounded up- they were only told bits and pieces. Where to show up and when."

"This is most disturbing indeed," Nezu frowns. "We'll keep our guard up."

Chapter Text

It takes a while for NightEye to be satisfied that Riyo is okay, and it takes even longer when Aizawa discovers that they're having a completely silent conversation. The fact that NightEye has become so comfortable as to allow Riyo to read his responses as readily as they form in his head... is a rather weird realization.

Mainly because it makes Aizawa realize that when he's thinking of what to say to Riyo- or even what to think to Riyo- she's probably privy to his whole thought process. Then again, she does wait for his final formulated response- the one he chooses as his response- before she decides to accept it or not. So maybe that makes him feel a little less weird?

No... not really.

"From what I understand, Riyo," NightEye speaks suddenly, taking off his glasses to wipe the lenses. They're cleaned meticulously with a flamboyant All Might cleaning cloth- Aizawa is pretty certain All Might would lose his mind if he saw. "Your injuries were a result from unmixing Shirakumo Oboro from the entity called Kurogiri. And you said it wasn't The Way. Or at least, not the appropriate time for you to unmix him?"

Are we seriously just adopting this mix-unmix thing into our vocabulary?

Riyo blinks at him.

"Is this the 'forcible rebalance' you'd mentioned?"

Aizawa distantly remembers those words from nearly a year ago, while looking at a package of All Might crackers.

Revealing something before its time.

His hand moves to grasp Shirakumo's shoulder, who gives him a rather surprised look.

"Hard to unmix," Riyo says quietly. "Hurt Riyo and my Shouta's Cloud Friend. Not in The Way... hnnn... Not yet. But Riyo really wanted My Shou and Zashi and Auntie to be happy."

Well, that was news. Aizawa knows Riyo was stuck on him being happy, but this is the first time she's included others.

Others that she called  family.

"So this was... your own desire, rather than what The Way called for," NightEye summarizes.

"Hard to tell." Riyo rubs her eyes and yawns. "The Way... not always clear... restless. Riyo can push and pull when The Way is restless..."

Quiet. Restless. These things have been used to describe The Way before, and it's a rather interesting thing for Aizawa to notice. After all, back at the beginning, when Riyo showed him what she showed him, she described The Way as being quiet, hadn't she? That's why he could be allowed to see what he saw, right?

There's a quiet ringing of a bell, and Riyo is smiling sleepily at him.

Quiet. Restless.

"Restless," Yamada repeats, pondering the idea out loud. "Quantum... it's another way of describing variability! So when The Way is restless, maybe the listener is getting bombarded with all sorts of futures."

"That... makes a lot of sense," NightEye admits, looking a little impressed.

"So then we have to realize that some points in time are more variable than others, yo!"

"That also implies that there are points that are constant or near-constant in the timeline."

"But this could have more to do than just with branching timelines, what about alternative realities? Fits the description of Quantum better, I think," Yamada points out, crossing his arms.

Aizawa has never been more impressed and more attracted to Yamada, and it's making him mad. How dare he be so- so-

"Apologies for the brief interlude," Nezu's voice comes from the doorway. Aizawa has to crane his neck a little to see the small principal walk back into the room.

"Not at all," NightEye nods at him before standing. "It's past the time for me to leave. I canceled a couple of meetings, and it seems I'm late to my next one."

Sir NightEye and being late? Aizawa never thought he'd see this in his lifetime.

"Of course," Nezu bows. "Thank you for your concern over young Riyo, and your attendance and cooperation. We look forward to working with you in the coming months."

"Indeed," NightEye says simply before taking his leave.

Once the door slides shut, Nezu looks at the three old classmates with a knowing smile. "Well," he says, climbing up NightEye's recently vacated chair. "What do you plan on doing now, Shirakumo-san?"

Shirakumo looks surprised at being addressed, and rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. "I've been... wondering that myself. I never got to finish at UA. My provisional hero license is most likely void now, and I've got not a yen to my name and I'm in borrowed scrubs."

"Sounds like quite a poor state," Nezu observes placidly.

"You've got us, man!" Yamada complains loudly. "Ya don't think we won't take care of you!? Huuuuh!?"

"Yeah," Aizawa scowls irritably, squeezing his friend's shoulder firmly. "To think that we'd just dump you in the street- or even let you leave- is completely irrational."

"I don't wanna be an burden on you guys!" Shirakumo protests, his hands waving wildly. "And Shouta, you've got a kid! You should be focused on Riyo-"

"Cloud come live with Riyo and my Shouta?" Riyo asks no one in particular, her eyes wide. They flash a brilliant gold, and her lips curl into a lazy smile. A bell jingles cheerfully. "Hmmmm," she hums, sounding super smug. "It is The Way."

Jeez, kid, at least let him put forth the offer first.

But it seems that Riyo already has Shirakumo wrapped around her little finger, since his old friend answers her with a gentle smile. "If you want me to be there, Riyo." He looks up at Aizawa and grins sheepishly. "And you, Shouta."

"Hey, hey, hey! What about me!" Yamada exclaims. "Riyo, aren't I already the cool uncle!?"

She cocks her head to the side in consideration. "Auntie and Cloud said no."

"WHAAAAT!?"

"Ahem," Nezu clears his throat pointedly. "Going back to the topic at hand, Shirakumo-san. You were a student enrolled at UA at the time of your unfortunate accident."

"Yeah," he nods. "Guess I can't just re-enroll as an old man," he laughs awkwardly.

"UA takes care of our own. I have a proposition for you, if you'd be willing to hear me out?"

"What? Y-yeah! Of course, Nezu-sensei!"

The furry being smiles. "What would you say to being a student-teacher?"

"Student-teacher?" Shirakumo repeats in confusion. He blinks. "I don't think... I'm qualified?"

"Class 1A will certainly be under a more watchful eye on all sides. There's a need for extra security around them all, not entirely unrelated to Riyo, either. As I read from your record, you were approximately a year away from graduating UA."

"Yes." Aizawa watches his friend's fists clench. "I was."

"If you choose to accept my proposal as a student-teacher for Class 1A, you'll serve as an additional instructor- or helping hand for Aizawa-san in his teaching. You'll be able to get a feel for what it is to be an instructor of a new generation of heroes while simultaneously receiving the remainder of your own instruction in order to complete your degree. At the end of the year, you'll take the hero licensing exam, and receive your diploma from UA."

Nezu. He's done it again.

Aizawa can't hide his smile at Shirakumo's barely-contained excitement.

"Yes!" He exclaims, leaping up from his chair. Several puffs of cloud pop into existence, swirling around his head excitedly. "Yes, yes, I'll do it! Thank you so much, Nezu-sensei, I won't let you down!"

"You'll be paid a student stipend of course," Nezu nods, his eyes closing as he nods with a smile. "And receive joint faculty coverages. I'm sure we can work this out in the following weeks, once things settle back to normal. I'm sure that Aizawa-san and Yamada-san will be agreeable to be listed as your supervisors...?"

What a transparent leading question, Aizawa rolls his eyes.

"Logically," he answers.

"This is sick, yo!"

"Sick, yo!" Riyo parrots excitedly.

Shirakumo tosses his head back and laughs heartily. Such a deep and heartfelt laugh gives Aizawa a warm feeling. His friend is back. His friend is alive, and they can...

We're gonna be heroes together.

It's a surreal feeling. A bright spot that shines past the horror of yesterday. A hope for tomorrow, and every tomorrow that follows. And sure, Aizawa's feeling extra sappy and he can't help but feel sappy and relieved, because Shirakumo is back and Riyo is recovering and has multiple heroes looking after her.

His point is only proven further when FatGum calls a few hours after Nezu had left, asking for updates on Riyo's condition.

"She's fine," Aizawa sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.

"She eatin' enough? Maybe I can send-"

"Don't-"

"-sure there's a coupla' places in the area that still owe me-"

"Fat-"

"-and there's another place that had a catering discount-"

"Don't send a catering service!" Aizawa barks into the phone.

Shirakumo jolts awake from where he'd been sleeping in a chair by the window. "Wassgoinon?" He slurs, rubbing his eyes. They're still a little swollen and red. Aizawa makes a mental note to force his eye drops on the other man.

"Riyo's fine," Aizawa repeats in a quieter voice, but no less stern. "She's eating plenty, and NightEye's agency has already been supplying her with plenty of food. She's doing much better. Hospital says she can go home tomorrow."

"Really? Y'sure?"

"Am I su- I'm not dignifying that with an answer."

Besides, Aizawa knows his kid. What the hell is FatGum implying!?

"Alright, alright! Just wanted to make sure. A reporter on TV said that one of your students was hospitalized. And how are you, Eraser? Heard you got worked over by that Nomu guy."

Of course it was the media that spread that around. How irritating.

"Broken arms. I'll make a full recovery. Granted, Recovery Girl insists on taking it slow to make sure that all the bone fragments anneal to each other properly during the healing process. I'm fine."

"I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear 'bone fragments,' because that sounds  awful  and  not  fine. Though I'm glad to hear you and the little one will be a-okay soon! Hope you guys come to visit soon, too! Found a new barbecue place that Ri-chan would like!"

It seems that everyone is enamored with his kid.

"Right," Aizawa says noncommittally. "We'll see."

"I'll go ahead and let ya go! I can tell when you're not keen on talkin' and I'm sure you wanna get back to the little one! Tell 'er I said hi! And Mic's there too, right? Tell him I said hi, too! Later!"

Aizawa doesn't bother with a farewell, and he knows Fat Gum knows that just as well. Working together in Naruhata those years ago definitely gave Toyomitsu enough time to nail down some of Aizawa's habits. However... what's with the automatic assumption that Yamada would be with him?

There are certainly no butterflies in his stomach when he glances at Yamada comparing two different types of noodle dishes with Riyo. And his chest certainly doesn't swell at the fact that he's indulging his kid by listing out pros and cons of two different types of noodle.

"Why're you blushing, Shou?" Shirakumo asks him in a stage whisper.

Okay. Maybe he needs to hit his friend in the noodle.

Shirakumo smiles knowingly, wiggling his eyebrows and unknowingly drawing Aizawa's attention to the scar on his forehead.

Maybe no noodle-hitting today.

"Don't know what you're talking about," he answers gruffly. "Anyway, since you're staying with Riyo and I, we'll have to go and grab you some stuff."

"You don't have to-"

"Shut up. You already know how this conversation will go. How that argument will end. Stop wasting time. It's illogical."

"Ugh." He's rewarded with a sour pout. "I'm paying you back, though. When I become rich and famous and Riyo joins me as my sidekick-"

"Riyo will go where she wants," Aizawa frowns.

"Let a man dream! Besides, your daughter's gonna need internship experience, right? Depending on where I end up to get some field experience as a pro, maybe I can convince a partner-agency to bring her on, too!"

That was too far ahead in the future to think about.

"Let's just keep to the present, thanks."

"Present," Shirakumo nods seriously before breaking out into a sly smirk. "Present... Mic?"

"You fucker."

"Language!" Yamada calls over at them. "I might be hard of hearing, but you should set a better example for the little listener, yo!"

"Yeah, Shouta, come on!"

He can't keep himself from rolling his eyes, hiding a subtle smirk under his hand. "Whatever."

 

Chapter Text

The universe must be laughing its' ass off at the bizarre sense of deja vu that Aizawa's currently drowning in. Not only is he finding himself going shopping for clothing for another person and then planning to get more groceries to feed three people, but Riyo's just coming out of the hospital after nearly dying. This might be what other people call a sign. Aizawa's not sure what this sort of thing would mean, but then again, he writes off most superstition as completely illogical.

"I can't believe I've been ousted as the cool uncle," Yamada complains under his breath as he watches Shirakumo walk in front of them. A big, puffy cloud holds Riyo at eye level as their friend chats enthusiastically with the girl. Since most of her hair broke off, it had been uniformly buzzed down to the scalp by a kind nurse, and covered with a purple knit hat.

Yet again, Aizawa doesn't know why his friends have insisted on competing for such a position but in another life where he wasn't emotionally constipated, he might've been smooth enough to ask Yamada to be Riyo's other dad. And no sooner than that thought has crossed his mind, Aizawa wishes he could just poof out of existence like how Riyo is able to dissolve into dust. Instead, he settles for hiding his face in his scarf and grumbling something unintelligible as to not let on his own embarrassment.

"I've been thinking!" Shirakumo exclaims, which is never a good sign.

"Oh?" Yamada prompts.

"I should grow facial hair!"

What?

"Riyo agrees with me!" He nods confidently, planting his hands on his hips.

"Agree!" Riyo chirps from her position on her cloud.

"Where did this come from?" Aizawa asks blandly.

"Both you and Hizashi have your own thing going on! The five o'clock- no, more like four-AM shadow, and then the hip radio-DJ 'stache- man, I want in!"

Puffs of cloud poof onto his face and he poses dramatically, like a model on a magazine spread maybe a decade ago. It makes sense, Aizawa reasons. Yamada's probably gonna have a field day, catching him up on all that he's missed these past years.

"Should I go for a full beard?" Shirakumo asks, fluffing up the clouds on his face. "Or should I go for a big ol’ handlebar?" He tugs at the puffs by his nose to pull them into a particularly egregious shape.

Aizawa snorts, and that only fuels Shirakumo's fire.

"What about a goatee?"

"If you get a goatee, I'll scream," Yamada threatens. "They're just so unfashionable!"

"So a mustache?"

"First you replace me as the cool uncle, and now you want to tread on my territory!?"

"Fine, no mustache," Shirakumo laughs, swiping some of the cloud from his face. "Beard maybe?"

"You look ridiculous," Aizawa shakes his head, smiling faintly as he hears Riyo's jingling sound of contentment. She's watching from her cloud, but lifts her arms out to Aizawa when he steps near. And since she just got out of the hospital and is in her small form... well, he'll indulge her by carrying her on his hip. Since his arms are still rather busted, it’s more effort on Riyo’s part to cling to him, but nonetheless it’s still secretly pleasing to Aizawa that she wants to be close to him.

"Shouta," she sighs in satisfaction. "Happy!"

Yeah, kid. Happy.

"There!" Yamada huffs, having swiped a lot of the cloud from Shirakumo's face to leave behind a rather tidy-looking goatee. Thankfully there's no mustache or crazy length to it. "If you insist on a goatee, that's how you do it!"

Shirakumo fluffs his cloud goatee thoughtfully. "Hmm... it'll take some getting used to."

"Not like you can grow anything anyway," Aizawa shrugs, turning away and continuing his walk with Riyo.

"Hey! I resent that! And what about that hero who literally uses his fire Quirk for facial hair!?"

"He's an asshole."

"Mmm," Yamada hums in agreement.

"Mean," Riyo hums, eyes flashing.

Shirakumo deflates a little, his cloud goatee dissipating with a quick wave of his hand. "Ah, well. Riyo and I will just have to be the ones without sick mustaches or whatever you're doing, Shouta."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Shou's just lazy," Yamada whispers loudly, grinning mischievously.

Riyo pats her own face in a daze. "Smooth," she hums.

"Smooth club," Shirakumo nods wisely, holding his fist up to Riyo in solidarity.

"Bump bump." She reaches out and taps her fist to his, and Aizawa doesn't know how to feel about it.

"Whatever man, we gotta get you some clothes!" Yamada looks a little too enthusiastic- and for good reason. Now he might have someone to brave shopping centers with him rather than dragging Aizawa along. To be fair, Aizawa doesn't actually mind shopping for things- if they're practical. And on sale.

"You don't like my Dr. Loud Cloud look?"

"Just pick some clothes," Aizawa sighs.

"Pockets are good for snacks," Riyo suggests, tucking her head by Aizawa's neck. His capture scarf bunches a little as she shifts.

So, Aizawa and Yamada contribute to helping Shirakumo back on his feet with a new wardrobe among other things. Typically, Aizawa would make comments on the utility of some items or if they were really needed, but considering that Shirakumo is back in his life, he finds it harder to insist on forgetting about items that may be less than necessary. And by the look on Yamada's face, he knows it too. Thankfully, Yamada steps in and acts as a complete enabler in his stead. When Shirakumo starts protesting about the merits of certain types of admittedly pricey shampoo in favor of getting the three-in-one crap that Aizawa uses, Aizawa considers the trip a success.

Not that he'd tell anyone that.

Well, Riyo would know. Buts he's bribed her with an ice cream cone, and she's having the time of her life.

"Sweet!" She croons, cheeks pink with pleasure.

"You wanna do takeout and help unpack him?" Aizawa asks Yamada, nodding his head at Shirakumo, who's struggling with quite a few bags on his arms.

Yamada grins fondly, reaching out to straighten Riyo's hat on her fuzzy head. "Sure, Shouta!"

Has Aizawa just gotten hit by a rogue Quirk, or is he legitimately experiencing cardiac arrest? Either way. He's going to completely refuse to examine just how utterly domestic Yamada's actions were and how they made him feel all warm and melty inside. That warm feeling doesn't really leave when they all manage to get back to Aizawa's apartment, nor does it leave when Yamada unlocks his front door for him since he's still carrying Riyo.

Such an action of unlocking his front door shouldn't be attractive. But somehow, Aizawa's noticing the little movements that Yamada does around him more and more. Little touches. Little things.

"My Shouta's Zashi," Riyo hums wisely. "My Shouta and his Zashi and Riyo and her Tamaki."

"Nice place you got, Shouta," Shirakumo complements him with a genuine smile. "Thanks for letting me stay with you. I really appreciate it."

He looks up at his old friend and gives him another rare smile. "Yeah. Don't mention it. You'd do the same, it's only rational. Come on, I'll show you the room you'll be staying in. It was supposed to be Riyo's room, but..."

"Not The Way," she whispers, bells jingling in amusement.

Okay. You  can't  have planned this, that's what we established before!

More jingling bells.

Shirakumo chuckles as he follows Aizawa down the hallway. It's not a big room, but it's not cramped for anyone to use as a bedroom. What was supposed to be Riyo's bed is still there, as well as basic furniture. With a relieved sigh, Shirakumo sets down the bags of necessities on the floor.

"Hey guys!" Yamada calls from the kitchen. "I'm ordering pizza!"

"Pizza," Riyo parrots appreciatively.

"How many do you want, little listener!?" Yamada continues shouting.

"Three," she responds, plucking at Aizawa's scarf before lifting it over his head.

He grunts in surprise and ducks his head a little to help her maneuver it off his shoulders. She bunches it close and tucks her head under his chin.

"You got it!" Yamada exclaims.

"I'm surprised you're not living together, even just as roommates," Shirakumo says softly, looking around at the empty walls.

"It... didn't feel right to ask," Aizawa says uneasily. The mood has shifted to something a little more melancholy.

"It's only been a few days, but... sometimes I feel like we're all still in high school. Like we've picked up exactly where we've left off," his friend says in curiously flat voice. "But then, I see how old we've gotten. How I look different. The scar on my head, the changes in you and Hizashi- you're both really cautious, aren't you?"

Where is this coming from? Perhaps this is everything that Shirakumo didn't want to air out at the hospital?

"There's so many reminders that you guys have been living on without me- and I'm glad! I swear! It's just- it's surreal?" Tanned hands come up to nervously run through soft tufts of pale hair. "It's- I don't know many people who have this opportunity to see what- to see some of- of what life is like- or would be like? After they died...?"

Ah. So that's what this is.

"Not to mention, Shouta! You have a kid now!"

And... there's the other thing.

"Out of you and me and Hizashi and Nemuri, I would've thought you'd be the last person to have a kid!"

"Crap, we never called Kayama," Aizawa sighs, wiping a hand across his face. "Ugh."

Shirakumo's eyes light up. "How's she doing? Can- can, uh..." his fingers fidget with the hem of his scrubs. A few whispy clouds curl nervously around his head, out of view.

He's so easy to read, just like always.

"Hizashi," Aizawa raises his voice, listening for a reply.

"Yeah!" He shouts back

"Can you call Midnight? Better get this over with now rather than tomorrow at school."

"YEAH!"

Aizawa winces. "No Quirks in the apartment!"

"Sorry!"

"Seems like you've got a welcome back party," Aizawa sighs, feeling a bit pleased with himself.

"Party?" Riyo asks quietly.

"A celebration. Like for special occasions, or birthdays," he explains automatically. Wait. "Hang on. Riyo, it's been nearly a year, hasn't it? When's your birthday?"

"You don't know your own kid's birthday?" Shirakumo gasps dramatically, slapping his hand over his mouth at this grave offense. "Shouta!"

"Ugh. So, Riyo?"

"Don't know."

"There you go," Aizawa nods at Shirakumo. "She doesn't know either."

"That's so sad!"

"Sad? Riyo is not sad. Riyo is happy. Shouta and Cloud and Zashi and Auntie are here."

"Who's Auntie?"

"Kayama. Evidently she came by when Hizashi was watching her and... well..."

"Sounds like her."

Aizawa examines his friend's face critically. He remembers that Shirakumo was slightly partial to Kayama back in their school days. If that has or hasn't changed... well, he supposes he'll find out when Kayama gets here. Romance by nature is illogical. The idea of his rational thought being clouded because he finds someone else attractive sounds so completely unappealing-

"Hey Shouta," Yamada calls his name from the doorway, walking up to where he and Shirakumo are standing in the center of the bedroom. Yamada takes Riyo from him with ease, and Riyo readily rests her head on his shoulder and yawns. "Go shower," Yamada nods. "You'll feel better. I'll send the little listener after you, before Kayama gets here. She's finishing up a faculty debriefing, and said she'd grab the pizza on the way here."

Shirakumo watches with a knowing smile.

"Yeah," Aizawa clears his throat. "Okay."

Yamada grins, Aizawa's stomach doesn't flip, and Shirakumo asks, "Can I shower after Riyo?"

It's with no small amount of relief that Aizawa finds sanctuary in his bathroom, freshly showered and dressed in a pair of hot pink sweatpants and a random shirt. He squints at his reflection past the condensation on the mirror. His arms are sore and ache after having to take such care in moving them about to clean himself. The bandage rolls rest on the counter.

Why do I keep thinking about him?

About Yamada.

He's always been there. Always dragged me along. Never a dull moment, and he never leaves me alone.

But there's something else about it, Aizawa realizes. It's not so much that Yamada's voice has been part of the soundtrack of his life for so long- maybe too long, if he's thinking about radio-related analogies. It's more that a life without Yamada doesn't seem like a life at all. And isn't that scary?

Life without Shirakumo was difficult. It was hard. Painful. After he was gone, Aizawa found that every memory was tainted- stained a deep, forget-me-not blue. And every time he looked up, he would be reminded of what it was like living in a cloudless world. It wasn't the same. It would never be the same. He wanted nothing more to forget, but it wasn't unbearable, because Yamada was there. Why wouldn't he be? Yamada was always there, shouting about something or another that happened on his morning commute, a joke he found hilarious the other day, or talking softly on the radio while Aizawa sat on an empty rooftop during a break on his nightly patrols.

And now? Yamada is still here. Taking care of Riyo. Taking care of Shirakumo. Taking care of him. He's on better terms with Kayama, Aizawa can't deny it. Yamada is what's kept them all together. What helped Aizawa understand Riyo better. What kept him from getting into increasingly dangerous situations.

Fuck.

Blonde hair. Green eyes. A personality larger than life, and a voice that... well, it's something. And Aizawa has to wonder- in a different life, in a different world, would he be able to live without that voice? Without the jokes and the radio talk and the stupid poses and the affectionate way Yamada will pat his shoulder for just a little too long?

No.

No, he wouldn't. But why is he thinking of this now? Is it because he's got a kid now, and Yamada just fits so seamlessly into their lives? Is it because he's proven himself to be good with Riyo?

Is it because Shirakumo is back, and Aizawa can stop feeling guilty about letting their best friend die?

The creaking of the door alerts him to the presence of another person in the bathroom. He's ready to adopt a blank face, to pretend he wasn't almost having a breakdown in the bathroom, that he's completely fine and rational and in control.

A purple hat peeks around the door, golden eyes looking at him carefully before Riyo dissolves into dust and reforms to be her high school height. She moves slowly- still a little cautious and careful of her weakened state- and gently wraps her arms around his waist, her ear pressing against his sternum.

"Riyo," he whispers, nearly choking on her name before he hugs her carefully to his chest.

She doesn't say anything. She doesn't need to. Instead, she offers him thoughts of summer beach days, lazy mornings, and the warm touches on his forehead when she takes his headaches away. Memories full of fondness, where there's no rush to be anywhere other than in the moment. And finally, Aizawa allows himself take everything in, and process what happened. The attack on the USJ. His students. Riyo. Shirakumo. Himself. How he felt, how he feels... Riyo simply indulges him, and there's the faintest melody accompanying his thoughts. Sweet, nostalgic, nameless.

So undeniably Riyo.

Aizawa tucks his nose into the purple hat on Riyo's head and sighs. She smells like hospital and ozone, surprisingly.

"Auntie is almost here," she murmurs finally.

Auntie. Kayama had to insist, huh?

"Okay," he says gruffly, pulling away and holding Riyo's shoulders at an arm's length. "Clean yourself up, alright? Then we'll eat."

Riyo blinks at him. Her eyes look a little owlish as she stares. "Shouta is okay?"

He pauses before smiling faintly.

What a kid.

"Yeah. Thanks, Riyo."

Chapter Text

Her heart was in her throat.

Shirakumo is back. Alive. Because of sweet, little Chihoshi Riyo.

Kayama had never wanted a meeting to end so badly. As soon as Nezu had finished going over the important changes to UA security and villain protocol, she was in and out of the faculty locker rooms in her civilian clothes, hero suit wadded up in her bag.

Shirakumo. Alive. Riyo. USJ. Shouta. Hizashi.

For someone who prides herself on the effort it would take to get her flustered, Kayama is floundering. Her breath comes in quick pants as she finishes taking the stairs up to Shouta's apartment two at a time, grateful that she'd forgone heels this morning. The knock she taps against the door is nothing short of erratic, and she realizes belatedly that her hero mask is still on.

But that doesn't matter, because the door opens and Yamada is there, arms already open to receive her. She hugs him tightly, pulling back as her desperation mounts.

"He's really here?" She asks him quickly. "Really?"

"It's a long story, Nem," Yamada tells her gently, holding her trembling hands steady and leading her into the apartment.

Her hands aren't the only things trembling, as her voice comes out far shakier than anticipated. "I got the short version from Nezu... he said that Shouta's class was attacked, and Riyo saved a hostage. And then she was hospitalized. Is she okay?"

"She's fine-"

"Auntie is here," a familiar breathy voice sounds in Kayama's head. A small amount of tension leaves her shoulders as a feeling of relief floods her body.

"Riyo!"

The girl's wearing an oversized shirt with Fat Gum's face, and a pair of drawstring shorts. A purple knit hat covers the majority of her rather bare head. Kayama doesn't care how she looks- Riyo is alive and home and that means that Kayama can do all she can to help her get better again. Starting with tucking the girl into her arms for a gentle hug.

"Happy," Riyo sighs, accompanied by a dainty trilling of bells.  The girl pulls back and smiles dreamily. "My Shouta and Zashi and Auntie. Cloud Friend is here!"

Cloud Friend... Shirakumo...?

Kayama looks up at Yamada nervously, who has since been joined by Aizawa. He looks more exhausted than usual, but there's something about him that seems to be in higher spirits. That's a detail that would usually make Kayama feel very concerned- a whole class of expelled students makes for a very interesting point to be proud of- but given that Shirakumo's name no longer seems to be taboo... that Riyo might've achieved the impossible?

There have been nights where Kayama lay awake at night and tried to imagine what life would be like if Shirakumo was still in their lives. She's thought of what she would tell him, what he would say, the laughs they'd share at Aizawa and Yamada's expense. Kayama's imagined what he'd look like when he got older, how they'd not notice the little changes throughout the years until they look back on their high school graduation photos and say, "Wow, you sure filled out!" Or, "Hero training did you well!" Long discussions about hero missions. Getting through the bad times, celebrating the good times. Eating lunch on the rooftop of UA as teachers.

And with all that, Kayama had also dreamed wistfully of a universe where Shirakumo came back. That he returned miraculously from some unknown place, and he says, "Sorry I've been gone, I had to take care of a few things!" A dream where all the bad was wiped away and didn't matter, because the missing piece of their lives was finally tucked back where it belonged. Yes, Kayama often dreamt of a scenario where Shirakumo returned. It would be dramatic, like in the movies. Tears would be shed, heartfelt hugs, promises to never leave again.

This is not what Kayama gets. No intense reunion filled with significant eye-contact, stuttering voices, shaking hands, "is it really you? Oh my god, you're alive-"

No, Shirakumo comes striding down the hallway, taller than she remembers with a towel wrapped around his head that adds an extra six inches of height. A large, fluffy cloud cover conceals his lower body, and Shirakumo plants his hands proudly on his hips and says, "Shouta, your water pressure makes me feel like I've died and gone to heaven for real this time!"

A beat passes.

Blue eyes widen with delight as they land on Kayama, still hugging Riyo in an awkward crouch.

"Hey, Nemuri!"

If Kayama had any doubts that Shirakumo would be here in the flesh, or that whoever was in Aizawa's apartment was actually Shirakumo, they've been completely obliterated. Blown to smithereens by a familiar blinding smile and lack of propriety.

"Put some clothes on!" Aizawa hisses, throwing a pair of shorts at the man. They hit his face with a small thwap before falling in his hands. "You're not gonna be walking around naked in this house in front of Riyo!"

"Naked?" Riyo asks curiously.

"Look at her!" Yamada exclaims, picking Riyo up and holding her out towards Shirakumo. "You're tainting her innocence!"

"Well, if I understand quantum correctly, then she already-"

"HEY MAN, SHUT YOUR MOUTH!"

"No Quirks in my apartment!"

"Hungry..."

"I put the shorts on, man! I get it, I'm just kidding around!"

"Don't kid around Riyo while naked!"

"Again, the innocence thing-"

"She has gone on a date, Shouta."

"Hizashi, you're not helping."

Truly, it's as if the trio was never separated. And maybe if Kayama had gotten the tearful dramatic reunion she'd dreamt about, she would dissolved into tears and it would've been a very heartfelt moment.

Instead-

"That's enough, you naughty boys! Behave yourselves, or I'll make you!" She punctuates her threat with a crack of her nine-tailed whip.

Three sets of wide eyes jump to focus on her, while Riyo simply yawns, still held out over Yamada's head. She dissolves and reforms on the couch a few seconds later.

"Seriously, what kind of example are you lot setting for my cute little niece!" Kayama pouts. "Not to mention-" she points an accusatory finger at Shirakumo- "I haven't seen you since- since...! Ugh! You know when! And you come out here, bare as they day you were born to make a joke and completely ignore me!? I thought you were dead! What happened!? All three of you have a lot of explaining to do!"

Properly chastised, the three men finally look a little sheepish- though Aizawa, the stubborn bastard, simply keeps his gaze trained on Riyo.

Despite her front, Kayama is actually ecstatic. She wants to hug all three of these dumb idiots and then hug them all again. She wants to lavish her attention on them and dote on them and show them all how much she's glad that they're safe, that Shirakumo is back, that her boys are back- but she's still been woefully kept out of the loop. And that hurts.

It really hurts.

In their school days, she didn't have to worry about them not trusting her. After all, she was an upperclassman. She looked out for them, and pulled Aizawa and Shirakumo onto an internship. They trusted her without hesitation, because that's what you do when you're with your senpai. You confide in them, and they comfort you. She told them what they needed to know and kept the stickier parts of hero work to herself to protect them. But somewhere along the way, they grew up. And now that they're all adults, that year's difference between her and them is so much smaller.

Now, it feels like roles are reversed. They don't confide in her anymore. They tell her what she needs to hear and never look behind to see her follow.

"Auntie is sad."

Kayama freezes.

"Riyo?" Shirakumo asks gently, and it makes Kayama's heart ache every time she hears him speak.

"Sad," Riyo repeats solemnly as she sits on the couch. Her little socked feet dangle. "Auntie thinks... her fault? Her fault that Shirakumo-Cloud went away?"

The air thickens. Kayama can't breathe.

"Sad because so many secrets... want to help." Riyo looks up at Kayama and her eyes swirl gently with golden light. "Don't leave Auntie behind."

And so, the tears that Kayama had thought of so many times, the tears she always kept herself from shedding finally start to fall from her eyes. She drops her bag and her whip and covers her face, desperately trying to wipe them away, but they keep coming. Her nose burns, her hands are too wet to save her makeup, and her breath comes in quickened gasps.

A firm grip on her elbow is the only warning before she's pulled into a warm embrace that smells like leather and citrus.

Zashi.

"I'm sorry," he murmurs in a tight voice.

As always, sympathy makes it worse. Kayama cries harder.

"I didn't mean to make you feel like that, Nem. I'm sorry."

"Ah, fuck,"  she hears Aizawa swear quietly. And then she's passed along to Aizawa, who gives her an awkward pat before wiping at her face with a disturbingly-orange handkerchief.

Probably on sale, she thinks faintly.

"Look, stop crying, your face is getting all weird," Aizawa mumbles uncomfortably.

My mascara probably ran.

"Rude," she hiccups wetly, but nonetheless, she gives him a watery smile.

"I'm still figuring out things with Riyo," he ignores her little quip, continuing to wipe at her face. He's surprisingly gentle. "There's a lot about her situation... I don't make it a habit to tell everyone everything about her. Even Hizashi doesn't know all that I do. Shirakumo... is an outlier."

"Hey!"

Kayama laughs quietly, gently pushing Aizawa's hands from her face. "I know, it's... it's just me overthinking..."

"Don't downplay your own feelings," he tells her sternly.

"That's rich coming from you!" Kayama laughs again, already feeling a lot better.

"Yeah, yeah." Aizawa's clearly peeved, but he still fixes her with a significant look. "Still, I'm sorry that I made you feel like you were unimportant. I'm only going to say this once... but I... you're good people."

Well, that's the closest I'm ever gonna get to affirmation from someone like Shouta.

"Guess it's my turn, huh?" Shirakumo pipes up, stepping forward. He finally put a shirt on- and it has Yamada emblazoned across the front with a bold PRESENT MIC captioning a series of heroic poses.

His shirt aside, Kayama feels her heart in her throat. She takes the time to take him in completely now. Somehow, he's the same old Shirakumo she remembers, but he's definitely changed. His jaw is sharper, and his face has lost some of the boyishness from her memories.  A boy in a man's body, with a burden that's so much heavier than what any mortal soul should have to bear. And the evidence is in a large, pale scar that marks his forehead. It's a little surreal for Kayama to see it, because that's surely the devastating blow that changed all of their lives. Yet, it's healed. Shirakumo watches her with solemn eyes, his previous cheer and jovial aura taking a more serious tone.

"I'm back, Nemuri," he says gently, one of his fists bouncing nervously on the outside of his thigh. "And I- I promise, I'm not goin' anywhere again."

Her lip trembles.

"I'm so sorry that I-" his voice breaks a little, and he breathes out a sigh, looking up at the ceiling before closing his eyes. His brow furrows, and Kayama feels fresh tears stinging at her eyes as she sees him swallow his words a few times.

Oboro-

"It wasn't your fault," Shirakumo says suddenly, blue eyes snapping open with intensity. "It wasn't- what happened to me wasn't any of your faults! If anything, I was careless- or maybe it was inevitable!"

Yamada is crying openly now, not bothering to wipe his face as he stares at their friend with such unadulterated desperation. And Aizawa- he's got his head bowed, but there's no disguising the silent shake of his shoulders. Riyo remains sitting on the couch in silence.

"But all I know-" Shirakumo's, voice cracks. "All I know now is that I'm supposed to be here now! Riyo made it so! And she saved me and I'm back and I will fight so fucking hard to stay!"

They're all the words Kayama has dreamt about, the words that she'd been most desperate to hear... and by the looks on the others' faces, she hasn't been the only one through all these years. She'd never been the only one wishing she'd said something different, been a little faster, been a little smarter- anything to keep the horrors of the hero world at bay.

It's hard to breathe.

Kayama wants to move but it's as if Shirakumo put a spell on them.

Like the slowly fraying fibers of their lives have finally been respun into one thread, now pulled near its breaking point.

Riyo shifts slightly, watching with a solemn gaze. Her eyes flash a brilliant gold. "Family is... The Way."

Just like that, Kayama gasps for air and pulls Shirakumo into a tight embrace. She feels him bury his face in her shoulder, which quickly grows damp. And now, Kayama is getting the reunion she'd dreamt of to cope with the loss of the friend in her arms. Tears. Promises. Affirmations.

Family.

Shirakumo is eventually passed around, and everyone has a good cry- of course, the men trying to be nonchalant about it, sniffing and avoiding eye contact. Lots of grunting and clearing of throats, awkward pats on the back, and deep breaths.

Mission accomplished, Kayama thinks fondly, smiling at the three pairs of puffy eyes.

"I'm beat," Shirakumo finally sighs, sinking into the couch. "And I think we forgot to pick up the takeout, huh?"

Yamada suddenly sits up straight. "Oh shi-"

"Zashi, I swear-" Aizawa doesn't even finish his warning before Riyo points at the coffee table and multiple bags of takeout and a couple of boxes of pizza form out of dust.

"Riyo helped!"

"My hero," Shirakumo swoons dramatically.

"I'm too tired to eat."

"Shouta! You need food-"

"I can just-"

"If you go get one of those disgusting pouch-things out of your cupboard-"

"Pouch-thing?"

"He eats them as a meal substitute and they're gross! So totally gross!"

"They're gross," Kayama backs Yamada shamelessly. "Besides, after such an emotional catharsis and all that crying, we all need to replenish our energy."

"Food," Riyo agrees dreamily.

"Especially you, sweetie!"

"Sweetie!" The girl parrots back.

"Mmhmm!" Kayama pats the purple hat on Riyo's head. "That aside, we never... we never talked about what happened back then. And with what's happened now?" Smiling gently, she wraps her arms around herself. "I think it's time. What happened back then, and what's happening now. It's all connected, right Riyo?" With a deep breath, she continues. "I want you to be able to rely on me, like you used to. It's always been us, no matter where we were. Always. Maybe it didn't feel like it, but Ri-chan brought us all back together for a reason."

There's a little fear in putting all of her cards out on the table, but that fear slowly ebbs as Yamada, Shirakumo, and Aizawa all share a meaningful moment of eye contact before nodding or murmuring their assent.

"We're in this together, yo," Yamada grins. "Whaddya say, little listener?"

All four of the adults already know what her response will be- so much so that it doesn't need to be said.  The girl in question simply smiles, a jingling wind chime sound ringing in Kayama's head.

 

Chapter Text

Sato was losing his mind.

Okay. Maybe not completely losing his mind, but there's a reason why all of the countertops in the house have been completely taken over by homemade sweets, cakes, and confections. But there are only so many things that one can make and bake until the recipes have all been tried and reworked and tried again. Not to mention that he'd blown through his allowance this month by making multiple trips to the grocery store for more ingredients. At one point, his mother had simply put her hand on his shoulder before his fifth trip, gave him a solemn look of understanding, and pressed her change purse into his hand.

He made her favorite chocolate ganache that evening. Multiple tiers. He went hard.

But all this to say, Sato's hobby of baking cakes and making sweets has sort of devolved into a stress outlet, and he's currently wondering if he can sell all of these confections before they go bad... or just give them away.

Lost in thought, he fiddles with a bag of granulated sugar, frowning deeply at the white crystals. Sometimes, when he blinks, he's back there, in the USJ. He's holding an impossibly frail little girl and pouring sugar packets and stuffing food into her mouth as fast as he can. He keeps unwrapping things and sticking them in her mouth with the worry that if he broke rhythm, if he fumbled with another wrapper, she might die-

He couldn't stop.

The bag of sugar busts, and he sighs, watching it spill over the counter. It's a good thing he was going to make sugar cookies next.

At some point when taking out a few trays of perfectly golden-brown cookies, his mother sits herself down at the kitchen table in the only area clear of wrapped baked goods. She pulls out a stack of colored cellophane bags and twist ties, and starts attacking a plate of macarons, slipping a few into each bag and placing them gently into a cardboard box.

"Mom?"

Sato's mother looks up at him with a warm smile. "After such a scary experience... I think your classmates would appreciate something sweet, Rikido."

"Yeah," he says quietly, setting the tray of cookies down on a rack to cool. "Okay."

"We can also visit your old elementary and middle school, and see if they would like any start-of-term treats for their students," she continues, moving on to pack the next few bags of treats.

Mom always knows what to do.

So, on the following day, Sato's dressed in his school uniform, armed with his bag and a huge box filled with as many bags of treats as his mother could pile in. Way more than what his class would be able to eat, but then again-

"You're all growing heroes!" His mother had cheered from the doorway.

Right...

The train ride was awkward- and it only seemed downhill from there when Sato finally managed to get through the door to the classroom. As soon as he enters and a few classmates who'd arrived before him zero in on the giant box in his arms, Sato becomes acutely aware that he's known these people for less than three consecutive days.

"Whatcha got there?" A chipper voice asks by his elbow.

He jumps a little- the invisible girl still gives him quite a shock here and there.

"Ah- I, uh... it was weird, having a couple of days off. I baked too many things, and my family's going a little nuts..." he can feel his face heat up as his explanation spirals, and it's kind of hard to gauge the reaction of his classmate- with her being invisible and all.

"You brought them for the class?" The girl asks- Hagakure, he thinks is her name.

"Yeah..."

She silent for a moment, and Sato stares at the space that's supposed to be her head for a moment.

"Awesome!" She cheers, shirtsleeves waving wildly. "What did you make? Those look like cookies!"

"Macarons," he smiles awkwardly, privately relieved at her enthusiasm.

"Ooh, so fancy!"

"What is this cause for jubilation?" The boy with the raven head seems mildly intrigued.

"Sato made cookies for the class!"

"Cookies!" Kaminari exclaims from atop his desk, hopping off and completely ignoring Iida's reprimands. "What kind!?"

"Macarons!" Hagakure cheers once more.

More classmates start crowding around Sato and his box, excited for the sweet treats. And as he's handing them out, he feels a lot of the tension from the past few days dissipate.

"I must commend your thoughtfulness regarding class bonding!" Iida tells him seriously. "Communal sweets are definitely an effective manner to form a unified classroom!"

"You're not eating them in here," comes a dry voice from the doorway.

"Sensei!"

"You're okay!"

"Sensei!"

Sure enough, their rather bedraggled teacher steps through the doorway of the classroom, his arms heavily bandaged but all in all- he's still whole.

Probably, Sato thinks faintly.

"Eh?" Aizawa hums, glancing at the doorway. "They won't make fun of you. Come on, R- Chihoshi. Class is about to start."

"Chihoshi!" Midoriya exclaims. "She's here? She's okay!?"

"Shouldn't she still be resting?" Kirishima asks seriously. "She was really banged-up!"

Sato's hands shake a little as he stares at the doorway. A little purple hat peeks through before Chihoshi shyly enters the classroom. The first thing that Sato realizes is that all her hair is gone, but her eyes are bright and her lips are twisted into an anxious frown. She's a little sickly, if he's being honest, and maybe that's what prompts him to approach her. To make sure she's okay. To make sure she's on the mend. To- to get that awful nightmare out of his head.

Chihoshi watches him with heavy-lidded eyes, looking like five kinds of miserable and three kinds of exhausted. Sato slowly reaches out with a small bag of macarons, and Riyo blinks suddenly, head jerking up to look him in shock. Her eyes flash with golden light for a split second before filling with a few tears.

"Glad to see you back, Chihoshi," Sato smiles gently. "I made a lot of macarons... these aren't even all of them," he chuckles. "Your Quirk- you have to eat a lot, right? I can bring you more of the stuff I made tomorrow."

Somehow, it's way easier to face the girl he'd thought would die in his arms than Sato thought it would be. Maybe it's because her quiet sniffles remind him that she's alive and well enough to try one of his macarons. A tanned hand rubs her shoulder comfortingly, and with a sudden jump, Sato realizes it's-

"Y- you're the hostage-guy!"

The pale-haired man grins widely, white bandage of his nose wrinkling as he winks. "That's me!"

"Hostage guy?" The class whispers amongst themselves.

"Chihoshi," one of Shoji's tentacles snakes through the crowd, giving her a grin. "Glad you're okay."

Chihoshi sniffles again and nods tearfully, patting the top of the tentacle with a trembling hand.

"Everyone, back to your seats."

"Can we eat the cookies?"

Silently, Hagakure puts a bag of the treats on the teacher's podium. Aizawa lets out a long sigh, glancing at Chihoshi before conceding with a nod. "You're all sweeping up afterwards. No crumbs. Anyway, this is-"

"Shirakumo Oboro!" The pale-haired man presents himself proudly, planting his fists on his hips. He's wearing a simple pair of slacks and a button-down shirt, but the UA badge at his belt catches Sato's attention. "Hero name- Loud Cloud! I'm the new student teacher for Class 1A!"

Sato remembers Aizawa referring to him as Loud Cloud... but things still don't add up.

"Student teacher?" Yaoyorozu repeats curiously. "I wasn't aware that UA had such positions...?"

"Very unique circumstances have arisen surrounding your class!" A chipper voice answers from Aizawa's direction. A furry white head pops out of his scarf, and suddenly there's a lot of mixed feelings for Sato to sort through. On one hand, he's glad that it wasn't Aizawa that had spoken in that voice. That would've been rather disturbing. On the other hand, Aizawa willingly lets the school principle hitch a ride in his scarf.

Some things, Sato supposes, you shouldn't think too hard about. The principal using his home room teacher's scarf to rappel down to the floor- that's probably one of those things.

"In short," their principal addresses the class, one of Sato's macarons in a paw, "Shirakumo-san had been held as a hostage by the organization that launched the attack on your class. Upon his rescue by your classmate, Chihoshi Riyo, it was uncovered that he has a few more required credits to obtain before officially being able to register for and take the hero licensing exam. Seeing as we had faculty openings and the cooperation he demonstrated in minimizing injury and casualty alongside your class- he's now Class 1A's student teacher!"

There's general hesitation and a rather tense air about the classroom.

Honestly, Sato gets why his classmates seem so hesitant. After all- who is this guy? Getting a position at UA is no easy feat- for students or teachers. And yet- the guy who was a hostage is now gonna be helping to teach his class. How does that work out, indeed?

"What are we supposed to learn from someone who got himself caught?" Bakugo asks haughtily.

Not how Sato would've phrased that question... but it's pretty valid.

"How to stay alive," Aizawa answers bluntly.

That's also very valid.

"It's important to utilize every resource made available to us as students," Iida says smartly, adjusting his glasses. "UA has given us a unique opportunity!"

"That's the spirit!" The principal says encouragingly. "I'll not bother your class now, there's a lot of learning to be had today!" Everyone watches him nibble on a macaron as he exits their classroom with a quiet, "Oh, this is delicious!"

Shirakumo picks up the bag of treats Hagakure had left on the teacher's podium and sticks a macaron in mouth, not so discretely handing one to Aizawa. To everyone's surprise, their teacher just sighs and accepts the cookie, taking a bite and raising an eyebrow at the taste. "Oh. These are pretty good."

A small spark of pride ignites in Sato's chest, and he can't really help it that he sits up a little straighter. At their teacher's words, his peers also begin quietly nibbling on macarons. Chihoshi is still standing up at the front of the room with Shirakumo and Aizawa, still looking a little subdued.

"So Chihoshi-chan saved Shirakumo-sensei?" Tsuyu croaks thoughtfully, putting a finger to her lips in contemplation. "Thats really amazing, Chihoshi-chan."

"Absolutely!" Hagakure exclaims, shirtsleeves waving in the air. "She's a real hero!"

Sato has a feeling that she's extremely cheerful like that all the time for attention- not in a narcissistic way, but it would be very hard to be noticed if you've been entirely invisible all your life. He makes a mental note to chat with her more. Of course, Hagakure also just seems like she's a bubbly personality in general.

Shirakumo laughs quietly before patting Chihoshi's shoulder again. "See, Riyo? I told you."

"She'll be taking it easy this week to recover. As you might guess, her Quirk backlash was substantial. But she also doesn't wish to scare anyone."

It almost feels like time stops for a moment as Sato takes in his teacher's words. Chihoshi doesn't want the class to be scared of her. Of her Quirk... of what she can do. Of what she did to that warp villain. Of... of the aftermath of her Quirk.

Gold eyes somehow find Sato's own, and he can't breathe. The spaces between his heartbeats feel impossibly long as his mind races with the images unique to his nightmares. She was so small, too small to fit in his arms, and he remembers being handed all sorts of vague food items to try to coax her to eat- to stay alive. Her gaze was a muddy brown, her chest was too thin, and the voice that had invaded his head to proclaim how she was starving-

"Sorry," a quiet whisper brushes past his thoughts.

Sato inhales in shock.

What?

"Sorry for bad dreams."

Chihoshi is still staring at him solemnly.

Is this... her?

"Sato saved me. Sato is Riyo's hero. Makes yummy cookies." The girl's lips don't move, but they do tremble with anticipation. "But Riyo is scary."

Scary? The little girl in the purple hat with teary eyes, scary?

No, Sato was scared that she would die.

He wasn't scared of her. He was scared for her.

There's a rather dainty ring of a bell, as if a memory. Sato doesn't know what that means, but the tension in Chihoshi's shoulders seems to lessen as Aizawa gestures for her to take her seat.

"Sato is good to Riyo," she whispers in his head as she sits down. Her notebook materializes on her desk from a small flurry of dust. "Thank you, Sato."

 

Chapter Text

"Now that that's out of the way," Aizawa sighs after he finishes one of Sato's macarons. "The fight isn't over."

Asui Tsuyu can't exactly claim she's as shocked as the rest of the class is with this information. In fact, she's more surprised that most of the others seem surprised.

"You mean the villains are coming back!?"

"Are they following us!?"

"They want revenge?"

Again, Tsuyu is left wondering why this is a shock. The visit from Principal Nezu was pretty indicative enough of the school's sentiments regarding the events at the USJ. Chihoshi is still obviously in recovery, but present in class. Not to mention the new student teacher, Shirakumo. He was the hostage that Chihoshi rescued... and there must've been a substantial reason for that League of Villains organization to want him. UA was the safest place to put him- that's pretty obvious.

"The UA Sports Festival is coming up."

Ah.

Well.

That surprised Tsuyu.

I should train extra hard for that, she muses, thoughts turning to visiting a nearby lake. Though, it's pretty likely that the Sports Festival won't have a swimming component...

While her classmates are avidly chatting and expressing their excitement, Tsuyu finds her gaze drifting back to Chihoshi Riyo. The girl is quiet as ever, though there's something about her that Tsuyu can't quite put her finger on. But as of right now, she seems...

Lonely.

Maybe it has to do with her Quirk, or maybe it has to do with Tsuyu's big sister instincts. What did Aizawa say earlier? That she was worried that the class would make fun of her?

Tsuyu puts a contemplative finger to her lower lip as she stares at the other girl. She's not sure why Chihoshi would worry about the class making fun of her- all of them are largely impressed at her abilities! Not to mention, she'd saved a hostage at the USJ! It was a real life-or-death situation! Was it her appearance she was self-conscious about? The different treatment she received from the teachers? Maybe there was something else...

The morning classes pass without much incident after Aizawa impressed the importance of preparation for the Sports Festival upon the class. Their new student teacher is actually pretty funny- he gets along well with the class, and he's pretty handy in being able to field questions here and there. Not to mention- he can take Bakugo's explosive personality without batting an eye. That, Tsuyu supposes, is because Shirakumo and Aizawa have some sort of history. It's pretty evident in the way they interact- and Tsuyu remembers Aizawa calling him by his hero name in the USJ.

Regardless, right when they break for lunch, Class 1A finds themselves trapped in their classroom by a large hoard of students from other classes.

Well, at least they won't run out of jello in the cafeteria if they're all here, Tsuyu thinks dryly.

"Why are you here!? What do you want with our class!?" Uraraka exclaims, looking rather anxious.

"Please state your business with Class 1A!" Iida calls our clearly, punctuating his request with a decisive gesture of his arm.

"They're scouting out the competition," comes a grating growl. Bakugo straightens up to his full height- a detail not lost on Tsuyu. "We're the class that survived a real villain attack. Now they know what a future pro looks like." Bakugo saunters towards the doorway, brow angled threateningly as his vermillion eyes glare. "Now move it, Extras!"

"Bakugo! You can't just call people you don't know 'Extras!'"

The students outside their classroom door whisper amongst themselves as Tsuyu and her peers- save Bakugo- glance at each other.

"So this is Class 1A."

Tsuyu blinks once, cocking her head slightly. The newcomer is a boy with rather wild hair- Tsuyu thinks vaguely of midoriya- and intense violet eyes. He's a tricky one, she can tell already. One of the types to plan and stick to it.

A small movement to her left catches her eye- Chihoshi's eyes flash a bright gold as she looks at the purple-haired boy. She pinches her arm hard.

"Chihoshi-chan," Tsuyu says quietly, turning to face the girl completely. "Are you okay? That looks like it hurts."

Golden eyes blink a few times before focusing on Tsuyu, who ruffles through her bag before pulling out a cute, green pen. It's got a lily pad and frog printed on the side, and the top button clicks very loudly when Tsuyu clicks it twice.

"Here," Tsuyu offers the pen. "You can have this. My younger brother would often pick at his nails when he was nervous, or trying to focus and stop fidgeting, kero. It was very hard for him to stop, but he found that clicking pens helped out a lot. This one's pretty satisfying."

Chihoshi accepts the pen carefully, purple hat bobbing a little as she looks down at the pen and jumps slightly after clicking the pen herself. There's a quiet jingle of a bell somewhere, and Tsuyu looks back up towards the door out of habit.

It seems that the crowd is getting a little heated because of Bakugo. Tsuyu's not surprised.

"Very nice," a quiet little whisper sounds in Tsuyu's ear. Or maybe it didn't?

She looks back at Chihoshi and smiles when she sees the girl click the pen once more and smile at the noise.

Better than giving herself those bruises. Those must hurt.

"Asui is very nice."

Now that surprises Tsuyu.

This must be the telepathy that Sensei was talking about! That's really neat.

"Call me Tsu. I hope this crowd leaves soon. I'm getting pretty hungry. Do you want to have lunch together, Chihoshi-chan?"

Chihoshi straightens her purple hat carefully, looking a little dazed. The frog pen is still in her hand. "Mmm... lunch together with Tsu-not-Asui...? Tsu can call Riyo by Riyo's name too!"

There's that little jingle again. Tsuyu smiles again.

She's a really cute girl to be friends with!

"Sounds good to me, Riyo-chan!"

And Chihoshi- Riyo- looks content. Excited, even, with how her lips curl into a smile and her grip tightens on the frog pen.

Her expression changes in a split second.

Happy-

And then devastated.

"Riyo?"

"Class 1A, huh?" A smooth voice hums teasingly from the doorway. "Ah- there's the one who almost died!"

It seems that some of their classmates have managed to make their ways to the cafeteria- only Shoji, Tokoyami, Aoyama, Koda, and Todoroki seem to be in the classroom now. The crowd's largely dispersed- though the purple-haired boy seems to hesitate at hearing those words.

The boy who spoke, Tsuyu notes, has neat blond hair and rather icy eyes. He's smiling, sure, but there's nothing too friendly about it. It makes her skin crawl- and not in the delightful way when she's actively seeking out bugs in the pond back home.

Tsuyu immediately takes Riyo's hand in her own, squeezing comfortingly.

"Him," Riyo whispers worriedly.

Is she..  scared  of this guy?

"Such a shame that a weakling managed to weasel their way into the Hero Course!" The blond boy laughs airily, waving a hand as he smiles deviously at Tsuyu. "You know, UA used to only accept forty students into the Hero Course? She pushed it to forty-one this year! And to think she's that weak..." he shakes his head in mock disappointment. "Stealing seats from better applicants."

"Chihoshi is not weak," Shoji says shortly, standing up and crossing his arms. The first two, at least. He strikes an imposing figure, but the blond boy doesn't seem intimidated in the slightest.

What's his problem!?

"You know nothing," Todoroki speaks next. That surprises Tsuyu- she wasn't really expecting him to speak up. He remains seated, but his eyes are icy.

A soft laugh, and the boy's grin widens.

Tsuyu squeezes Riyo's hand again. "Riyo-chan saved Shirakumo-sensei," she says, loud enough for the boy to hear, but she studiously ignores him. "There's nothing weak about that. Heroes put their lives on the line for others, it's just what they do, kero. If that's weakness, then I guess I'm in the wrong class."

The grip on Tsuyu's hand is vice-like, but she leads her to the doorway, past the smirking boy. Shoji follows silently, obviously acting as a sort of guard. The purple-haired boy watches Riyo with a puzzled frown. The girl in question looks dazed again, as if her mind were somewhere else.

"Plenty of heroes achieve that without becoming liabilities," the blond boy says as they pass by, "but I do find it interesting how she refuses to fight her own battles." The boy won't wipe that cruel smirk off his face, and Tsuyu's annoyed. More than annoyed. She's very irritated.

It's also surprising to think she'd already encountered someone she doesn't like. It's only the beginning of the school year, after all.

"Though, it makes a lot of sense seeing as how she was hospitalized," he muses. "She must not have fought back against those villains either. Let's see."

The boy reaches out to touch Riyo, whose golden eyes go wide with what Tsuyu can only describe as terror. The telepathic scream she projects in Tsuyu's head, however,

"DON'T  TOUCH- "

She dissolves in a flurry of dust, just as the boy sticks his hand out. It's a narrow miss, but she's reformed behind the purple-haired boy, clutching at the back of his blazer.

"Wha-!?"

"Riyo!" A shout comes from down the hallway.

Tsuyu is surprised again. Three upperclassmen are jogging down the hallway, a rather serious expression on the face of the one leading the charge. He looks strong, brow narrowed in a determined expression, scars criss-crossing his arms. He completely ignores everyone except for Riyo, who looks up with wide, teary eyes.

"My Mirio!" She squeaks in obvious relief. It's almost tangible- Tsuyu almost finds her eyes tearing up a little.

They seem to know Riyo-chan. That's good, they can keep that mean boy away!

"Hey hey, there," the blue-haired girl frowns at the blond boy, who looks a bit peeved. "Are you messing with our Ri-chan? Are you teasing her? You shouldn't do that, you know, that's very mean, isn't it? How would you feel if you were recovering from something awful and someone went to rub salt in your wounds?"

"It wasn't like that," the boy huffs, crossing his arms coldly. "I'm trying to better understand why she's here."

"Because she's a hero," the third upperclassman interjects quietly, not looking at anyone but the girl behind the purple-haired boy. Riyo watches him with wide eyes, her grip loosening on the purple-haired boy's blazer.

"And who are all of you?" The blue-haired girl squints at the purple-haired boy suspiciously. "Are you friends with Ri-chan? She doesn't just cling to anybody, you know! What are your intentions?"

"Shinsou Hitoshi, Class 1C, and I have no idea what's going on," he answers smoothly, putting up his hands slowly in a placating manner. "Seemed like that guy was gonna try something, and uh- Ri-chan decided I was a good shield."

"Not time yet," Riyo whispers quietly. "Not time yet. Riyo almost... No... not time yet..."

Tsuyu wonders if this is a future-sight aspect of Riyo's Quirk. How does that work? Does Riyo have to operate on a certain timeline?

Either way, Shoji seems to decide that Riyo's in good hands with these three upperclassmen. He nods at Tsuyu with a sort of camaraderie. She watches as her classmate walks back to their classroom. Tokoyami had evidently been keeping silent vigil outside the doorway, watching the events progress with an unreadable face, but he, too, gives Tsuyu a nod. 

And so, Tsuyu supposes, the unspoken contract to look out for Chihoshi Riyo had been formed.

"My name is Hado Nejire! Please remember it! Thank you for protecting our Ri-chan! And you, whatever your name is-"

"Monoma Neito! And-"

"You like to hear yourself speak, huh?" Hado looks at him curiously. "Is that why you keep trying to talk to Ri-chan? She doesn't speak to you? Maybe you should go talk in the mirror then? Or I can get a teacher, and you can talk to them?"

Monoma Neito gives her the most indignant expression before turning on his heel and leaving in a huff.

"Good riddance," Tsuyu finds herself saying aloud. "Oops, kero."

"Thanks for looking out for our friend," the taller blond upperclassman smiles gratefully. "I'm Togata Mirio! And these two are Hado Nejire and Amajiki Tamaki. Third years, Class 3B!"

"Asui Tsuyu, call me Tsu. You seem to be quite close with Riyo-chan."

"She's a special friend of ours!" Togata proclaims proudly. "And Tamaki's muse!"

"Mirio!"

"Oops! Sorry, Tamaki! Tsu! I must request that you please forget I said that!"

The dark-haired upperclassman, Amajiki Tamaki is completely red in the face. However, when he looks up at Riyo something in his eyes makes Tsuyu feel like she's intruding on something private. Once again, she's rather surprised.

Wow, Riyo-chan and an upperclassman are like  that!  Well... she's very cute and nice.

"Let's head to lunch! Ri-chan needs to eat a lot of food to recover quickly!" Togata exclaims.

Riyo hums quietly in agreement, her hand gently clasped in Amajiki's own, the tension and panic from earlier finally gone from her posture. She smiles faintly at Tsuyu, a rather dreamy expression on her face. A small hand reaches out, palm up in invitation.

"My Tsu is a very nice friend, too. Come eat lunch with Riyo and  Mirio  and  Nejire  and Tamaki?"

Tsuyu doesn't hesitate to take her hand, smiling at the way Riyo's fingers curl around hers. It reminds her of her little siblings, and really, what's one more? Riyo definitely faces a lot of unique challenges, and needs a lot of support in different ways. Honestly, Tsuyu doesn't mind. She's excited to make new friends, and it's fun when they're so unique!

There's the sound of ringing bells, and Tsuyu feels Riyo squeeze her hand this time. "Riyo will support my new friend Tsu, too!"

Especially when they surprise her in the best ways.

Chapter Text

It was almost like the whole armored-van incident had happened all over again, if only the part where Amajiki had really actually believed Riyo had died. Only, there was no armored van, it wasn't a training simulation, and Amajiki wasn't there.

That's probably what scared him the most.

He wasn't there when Riyo's class got attacked. He wasn't there when Riyo's Quirk had exceed them demands of her body and she had experienced some really extreme Quirk backlash. He wasn't there and she almost legitimately died.

To say that he had cried in relief when Togata had gotten the confirmation that Riyo was alive would be an understatement. Oh, he had cried, certainly. He'd wept, and he and Togata and Hado had comforted each other through it all. But Riyo survived. She lived, and Amajiki had never thanked any gods or the universe or The Way more than he had when Togata's shoulders had drooped with relief and he'd croaked, "She's alive."

The hospital didn't take visitors. Understandable, because Riyo was recovering and Aizawa had also been heavily injured. FatGum had also called Amajiki to check up on him and assure him that he'd checked in with Eraser and he'd declined FatGum's offer for ordering an food catering service for aiding in Riyo's recovery. At least he'd gotten Togata to pass along a package of ginger candies to his mentor, who'd been able to pass it along to Riyo.

Yeah, Amajiki had been in rough shape.

But all of the terror, all of the uncertainty, all of the directionless grief from hearing that Riyo had been... might've...

It all faded away, washed out by those bright, burning eyes of hers as she met his gaze in the hallway.

Riyo!

Amajiki couldn't find it in himself to pay attention to anything else, though he did make note of that Monoma kid. That guy seemed pretty troublesome. And if he was going to mess with Riyo, well-

He'd be messing with Togata, Hado, and Amajiki himself.

And Amajiki didn't care what he'd have to eat in order to defend his Riyo.

His Riyo.

Amajiki blinks.

My Riyo...?

The familiar chiming of bells in his mind has his eyes stinging when he reaches for her hand. She meets him halfway, as she always does.

There's another girl- she's a classmate of Riyo's- who takes Riyo's offered free hand after being invited to eat lunch with them. Amajiki smiles to himself.

She's making more friends... I'm so glad.

Yes, it's certainly another point to be relieved about, though not as pressing as the relief at seeing her alive. Riyo's long hair is gone, her head covered by a little purple hat. She still looks rather thin, and he makes a mental note to ask Lunch Rush for eight helpings of katsudon at minimum.

"My Tamaki," she whispers sweetly, smiling sadly. "Sorry to make you worry."

I'll always worry, Amajiki thinks in response. He knows she's listening to his thoughts. But that's just because I l-

"Do you think there will still be jello left?" Riyo's classmate asks thoughtfully. He's pretty sure she said her name is something like Tsu- Tsukino? Or was it just Tsu? "I like the green flavor."

"Green," Riyo hums in agreement. "Like Our Izuku's hair."

"Hair?" Hado repeats in confusion. "Hair? Who would eat hair?"

"Ha ha ha! That's so strange, Nejire-chan!" Togata laughs.

"No, one of our other classmates has green hair," Tsu- or maybe her name was Tsukino- explains. "It's pretty curly."

"Riyo has no hair."

"It will grow back," Togata assures her kindly. "Or if you eat enough, maybe you can do what you did before, remember? You had hair like mine!"

"Ooh, Ri-chan, Togata is right! You also changed your appearance to have hair like Amajiki!"

Amajiki's shoulders tense a little at the mention of his name out of habit before relaxing again.

"Oh, kero? You can change your appearance, Riyo-chan?" Tsu-possibly-Tsukino asks curiously. "How does that work?"

"She's special!" Hado grins widely, as if that explained everything. "Our Ri-chan is super special!"

"Riyo... could have hair like my Shouta?"

Hado, Togata, and Amajiki shiver. Tsu seems to be vaguely confused.

"Whatever makes you happy, Ri-chan!" Togata smiles awkwardly.

If she had hair like Aizawa-sensei... they might look related...!

Amajiki's not sure how to feel about it. Either way, he's pretty certain she would still look just as breathtaking no matter what she had on her head- hair or her cute purple hat, or nothing at all. As long as her hand is in his... as long as she's happy... that's enough for him.

He hears a jingle. Then-

"Hungry."

Thankfully, Lunch Rush had a cart of food ready and waiting for Riyo. And they attract a lot of attention.

lot of attention.

Normally, Amajiki would feel himself crumbling under the weight of so many gazes. Normally, his breath would catch and stick in his chest, his hands would shake and his vision would narrow- but that simply doesn't happen this time. He doesn't let it happen this time. Instead, he keeps his attention focused on Riyo, on how Lunch Rush gives her a gentle pat on her little purple hat and sincerely tells her that he'll make her as much food as she needs to eat in order to get better again.

That attracts more attention- it's not often that Lunch Rush leaves his post from behind the line to talk directly to a student. Let alone outwardly show a fondness for one.

Whispers that might've deafened Amajiki a week ago seem inconsequential when he thinks about Riyo even being here to be whispered about. They still make his heart rate pick up, still make his hands sweaty, but it's not debilitating.

No. He's got different priorities now. And one of them is holding his hand.

Then, there's Tsuyu- as Amajiki later relearns her name, but is most certainly Tsu for short- she turns out to be a rather easy person to get along with. Her calm demeanor has a way of putting his nerves at ease. Normally, Amajiki would feel all sorts of nervous and flustered, meeting someone new. Perhaps it's because she simply says what she thinks and doesn't leave hardly any room for misinterpretation? Or perhaps it's because she'd been so thoughtful towards Riyo? Or, maybe Amajiki is just too tired to be nervous around the newest addition to their lunch table. After all, the majority of the past few days were spent nearly sick with worry. Either way, Tsuyu makes for a good buffer when other Class 1A students approach their table.

"Chi-chan!" A boy with a spattering of freckles and curly green hair approaches quickly, his face rather red.

He called her Chi-chan, Amajiki realizes in a daze.

"Oh? Hello there! A classmate of Ri-chan's?" Togata greets him with a warm smile. Amajiki's not fooled. After the run-in with that Monoma guy- which Tsuyu carefully relayed to Hado after a series of questions- both Togata and Amajiki had shared a solemn look.

While the older students had most of last year to get used to seeing Riyo around, or understanding Riyo's mysterious affiliation with EraserHead, Riyo's incoming class had no idea. That sort of inadvertent protection didn't extend to the incoming class.

"Mm?" Riyo looks up with interest from her third bowl of rice. "Our Izuku."

Our Izuku?

Amajiki's sweating a little more now. The familiarity between these two... makes him feel a bit weird.

"Hey Midoriya," Tsu greets the boy.

"H-hi Asui!"

"Call me Tsu."

"I'm sorr- I uh- sorry!" Midoriya exclaims as he flusters rather spectacularly.

There's a small amount of reluctant sympathy that wells up in Amajiki's conscience. He doesn't know why he feels... a little odd about hearing Riyo being possessive of the newcomer.

"Hey, hey!" Hado waves at Midoriya. "Can we help you with something? We need to hurry and eat, lunch hour will end soon!"

"I- I just wanted to check on Chi-chan. How are you feeling?" The boy asks nervously, wringing his hands. "That's- I..." his lips tremble. "I just... s-saving Shirakumo-sensei seemed to... to really hurt you, Chi-chan."

Riyo's gaze is solemn as she meet's Midoriya's gaze. It's easy to recognize one of her more present moments for Amajiki and his friends these days. By the looks on Hado and Togata's faces, they see it too.

"It was The Way."

Verdant eyes blink once in surprise.

Togata, Hado, and Amajiki share another look, oblivious as to how Tsu watches them thoughtfully.

Dangerous territory. Very dangerous territory. Besides... what is this news about saving a teacher? Was the hostage reported on the news actually a UA teacher?

Shirakumo-sensei. Amajiki frowns. The name doesn't sound familiar. Something big must have happened.

"Yep, kero," Tsu agrees thoughtfully. "The teachers thought you'd might have bled out. Though, I don't think I was supposed to hear that."

Bled out?

Amajiki's fists clench.

She was in the hospital for a reason, he reminds himself, trying to take a deep breath.

"It doesn't matter," Togata interjects with a concerned look at Riyo and Amajiki. "She's recovering! It doesn't do to dwell on the bad parts, Midoriya-kun, the focus should be on healing."

"R-right! Sorry!" He squeaks. "A-anyway, I also- I also wanted to apologize, Chi-chan!"

Riyo blinks.

"Apologize?" Hado asks suspiciously, her blue eyes narrowing as she appraises the green-haired boy. "For what, Midoriya-kun?"

"I..."

At least he has enough sense to look contrite for an apology as he bows.

"I feel like I put you in a dangerous situation, Chi-chan. I- I know I ran off, but All Might- it sounds so stupid, but I felt like he needed my help!"

"All is well, Izuku," Riyo says serenely.

Her tone has Amajiki turning to look at her, and she's wearing a patient smile. Reminds him of his mom, a little.

"But-" the boy's voice halts as he stares at Riyo intently, brow pinched as she stares back with that same serenity.

Tsu looks back and forth between them a few times before looking over at Togata for an answer.

"They're having a private conversation," is all Amajiki's friend says, his shoulders relaxing as he takes up a cup of water. 

The message is clear to Amajiki and Hado- this Midoriya boy isn't a threat to Riyo if they are on such familiar terms, and if Riyo seems comfortable enough to converse with him privately.

"Thanks, Chi-chan," Midoriya finally says, wetness in his eyes. He smiles gratefully all the same. "That sounds good."

Hado is clearly bursting with curiosity, eyes darting between them. But even she knows that sometimes it's more prudent for some questions to remain unasked.

"I'm glad you two reached an understanding, kero!" Tsu smiles sweetly.

"Indeed!" Togata agrees boisterously. "I just realized! We haven't introduced ourselves as your upperclassmen! I'm Togata Mirio!"

"Hado Nejire, but hey, hey, Midoriya-kun, what were you saying about Ri-chan being in danger?"

Oh, so she asked after all...

Though, Amajiki really wanted to know, too.

"Safe," Riyo interjects dreamily, pulling a bowl of soup towards her. "Riyo had Uncle Kumo, and my friend Tsu. And pretty Shoji and Sato- yummy cookies!" She croons, her hands cupping her face. "Yummy, yummy!"

"They were really good!" Tsu agrees.

"Yeah! I wonder... does he bake stuff like that to compliment his Quirk? As far as I understand it, when he eats sugar he can convert that to raw strength..." Midoriya dissolves into a muttering ramble as he contemplates the baking hobby and Quirk of someone Amajiki has never met.

"Midoriya?"

"Ah! Sorry!"

"Anyway," Togata laughs, nodding at Amajiki.

"Amajiki Tamaki," Amajiki mumbles, not meeting the boy's eyes.

"Oh!" Midoriya exclaims, his fist tapping on his open palm lightly. "That sounds familiar! When I first met Chi-chan in the shopping district, she talked about an uncle of hers, and someone named Tamaki!"

This information makes Amajiki blush spectacularly.

She talks about me!? To strangers!?

"You have a special bond with Riyo-chan, huh, Amajiki-senpai?" Tsu observes bluntly.

"I-" he gulps, shoulders rising uncomfortably. The attention on him is too much now. "I wanna go home!"

"How did you meet Ri-chan?" Hado asks curiously. "You said you met her at the shopping district?"

"Yeah! We had fried chicken!"

Riyo simply hums in agreement, having finished her soup rather quickly. As Midoriya finally sits down to chat to Hado and Togata alongside Tsu, Amajiki is able to recompose himself, have a ginger candy, and refocus on Riyo. Already, she looks a lot healthier after having a lot of the food that Lunch Rush had prepared especially for her. There's still a couple of dishes on the cart, so Amajiki carefully stands and starts swapping out the empty dishes for the ones still holding food.

"My Tamaki," Riyo whispers affectionately in his head. "Riyo missed Tamaki."

Amajiki swallows.

I... I missed you too, Riyo.

He takes a deep breath. The idea is there- he's formulated it in his head and he's scraping up the courage to ask her- mentally, of course. And Amajiki knows she sees what's in his head, he knows that she knows what he's trying to ask- what he's about to ask.

Even knowing that she already knows doesn't help his confidence, but the warmth in Riyo's irises as she looks up at him with a sleepy expression does.

Riyo... will... would you want to-

His thoughts devolve from words to recollections of how he felt when he'd heard there was an attack. He'd been on patrol all the way in Esuha, the city where FatGum's agency had been stationed. That day, Amajiki had become acquainted with how fragile the reality of heroes could be- a fragility he never wanted to examine, lest a glance from him shattered that careful balance. Lest he end up tripping right over the side. But the thing is... He'd never considered if he'd already fallen.

Amajiki's eyes sting a little with the memory of grief, of mourning in preparation to mourn what could have been- what Riyo surely may have seen- and countless futures of snowy walks and tea shops, and butterfly kisses.

Her eyes are wide.

The taste of ginger is spicy on his tongue. It urges him forward, the sharp flavor spurring his thoughts to untangle under Riyo's watchful, burning eyes.

I don't want to be so cowardly  and hide away  until it's too late.  And maybe it's selfish of me to ask, but...  Riyo... can I  still  ask...? I want  to see you every day. I- I want to go on more walks, and listen to your songs! I want to hold your hand and see you smile- I want   the  future-  every future you could ever see, with you!

Amajiki's hands tremble.

I want them all… and I know that’s- that’s selfish of me. So... so would  you ...?  Do you want... that? With me?  Would you want to be with me, too? To have every future with…?

Riyo's lips part in surprise.

There's a lot to unpack with what he's asking, Amajiki knows that. And he doesn't blame Riyo if she doesn't want- or can't- or if it's not The Way-

The gentlest chimes of a bell ring quietly as Riyo sets down her chopsticks and looks up at Amajiki with that same, surprised expression on her face.

"Ri-chan?" Togata notices her odd behavior. "Is everything alright? Tamaki?"

Her fingertips brush across the back of Amajiki's hand, which is clenched in an anxious, white-knuckled fist under the table. His hand slowly relaxes as he feels the softness of her touch, as she carefully unfurls his fingers and fills the empty spaces between them with her own.

"I want to hold your hand," Riyo murmurs in his head. "I want to hold your hand and never let go," she admits with a pink blush. "I... want be with you.”

Amajiki's fingers curl around her hand.

Me too, he thinks as hard as he can, accepting the sudden clarity in her private dialogue with him. As long as you want to be with me, I want to be with you, too!

A small, contented sigh leaves her lips, surprising the rest of the table who had all fallen silent. That aura of surprise is what reminds Amajiki that he and Riyo are sitting in the middle of a cafeteria with an audience of friends watching their private telepathic conversation- and Amajiki's not sure what expressions he was making but-

"Hey, hey, Tamaki, it looked like you had a bad bout of indigestion!"

Normally, he would've flushed and stammered, and proclaimed his desire to go home. But Riyo is holding his hand and smiling faintly, the two underclassmen are watching in confusion, and Togata is gently chiding Hado for misreading the atmosphere.

Amajiki chuckles quietly, which halts Togata's speech.

"Oh? Tamaki? Is everything okay?" The surprise is clear in his voice.

"Mm," he nods, his eyes focusing on the table as he tries to contain his giddiness in front of the others. Warmth curls in his chest as he hears the dainty chiming of a bell.

He'd tell Togata about it later.

 

Chapter Text

There weren't a lot of things that Monoma Neito didn't like. However, that Chihoshi Riyo might be one of them.

His lips twist into a slight frown as he walks down the hallway, away from the unexpected confrontation by three upperclassmen. He's smart, and he knows when he's outmatched. But honestly, it's not his fault that people get upset when they hear the truth. That girl- Chihoshi Riyo, he knows her name- nearly died when those villains attacked the USJ.

Originally, Neito was just going to- how did that Bakugo put it? Scout out the competition. He wasn't going to say a word, only sharing in the same curiosity as the rest of the students that had piled in the hallway. But then, he saw her. Chihoshi Riyo. Yes, Neito saw her and he felt a mix of emotions. The first?

Pity.

She looked so fragile. So small. Sickly, with that purple hat over her fuzzy head and a thinness to her face that made his stomach twist uncomfortably.

Then, he was angry.

Villains. Villains did this... and she wasn't strong enough to fight back.

Now this? Again, Neito is smart. To expect Chihoshi- or really any of their Hero Course cohort- to be able to go toe-to-toe with real villains on the second or third day of class? Completely unrealistic. But that's the thing. Class 1A and Class 1B were supposed to have only twenty students each, per UA tradition. But there were twenty one students in Class 1A. And by listening to conversation in hallways, and hearing Chihoshi Riyo's name, and how she's actually a student this year- it's not hard to connect the dots.

Chihoshi was the student that pushed the Hero Course capacity to forty one students. Well- now there are only forty, because evidently one of the students in Class 1A was expelled. But nobody seems too keen to talk about that.

Either way, Neito is angry. For a student who evidently was so promising as to practically force UA's hand to make an exception especially for her, she didn't exactly live up to his expectations.

Well, she nearly didn't live.

Seeing Chihoshi up close didn't help like he thought it would, either. Because it's obvious that she's different from the rest of the Hero Course students- she's spacey, juvenile, timid, delicate. There was no way she'd be able to make it through her first year of UA, let alone as a pro hero out in the field. And yet, her peers- peers that were also attacked and must have witnessed Chihoshi nearly die- they're all defending her place in the Hero Course!

There's a bitter taste in Neito's mouth, and he honestly can't remember when it first appeared. Maybe it first became noticeable after the novelty of discovering what his Quirk was had worn off. Well- it hadn't worn off, not in the way that people might think. Rather, it was soiled. Soured.

At first, he was the envy of his preschool class. He could have any Quirk he wanted for a couple of minutes. Any Quirk his peers had, he could have it too. It made him feel... powerful, in a way. It made him cool to all of the other children. Until one of them had said-

"So you wouldn't have a Quirk if it weren't for us, right?"

Neito could hear a pin drop after that statement. It wasn't something the five-year-old really thought about, and well?

He didn't like that.

Neito didn't like the truth.

But, as he thought and thought on it, the more he realized that the assertion of his reliance on other people- on their Quirks- that was true, wasn't it? If there's no Quirk to Copy, then he's as good as Quirkless. And if he was going to be a hero, he needed a good Quirk.

But, the boy had realized, that's just it.

Copy a Quirk. Use it for five minutes. He had a time limit- and another bitter truth. How could he Copy and learn and master a Quirk in the span of five minutes, and still be effective?

It was an interesting realization, and he didn't get many answers until he reached middle school. He learned another fundamental rule- people don't like it when you use their own powers against them. However, it was a good deterrent for any cocky idiots looking to mug him for his lunch money.

Thief, that became his moniker. Quirk Thief.

Wholly inaccurate. People are idiots. They hate the truth. They hate their own truths. They hate someone who can use their Quirks against them.

They hate it when someone knows their weaknesses.

Monoma Neito never wanted to be cruel- it was the world that wanted him to be cruel.

A sigh escapes his lips as he sits down at his desk in the 1B classroom, resting his hand on his chin. He didn't care if people thought him cruel. He really didn't. The truth of the matter is that if Chihoshi Riyo keeps on in the Hero Course, she'll be eaten alive. That's all that he was trying to say. Meaner words get the point across quicker, don't they?

Besides, Neito grumbles to himself, that other guy that declared war on Class 1A... He wants to be in the Hero Course, too. Chihoshi Riyo is just taking up space.

No one likes hearing the truth. Chihoshi wasn't meant to be a hero. Life is just like that, and it would be better to crush a dream before letting it grow into something unattainable, right?

"Monoma-kun, are you alright?"

Neito blinks once, gray eyes sliding up from his desk to see Kendo giving him a concerned smile.

"You looked like you were thinking hard about something!" She shifts her weight to one side, hip popping out slightly as she crosses her arms. Neito can see she's a little uncomfortable, a little awkward. They all were- it's only been a few days of knowing each other.

"I'm fine," he smiles easily, closing his eyes. People don't like the truth, after all. "Just wondering about how the Sports Festival will turn out this year, what with that attack happening and all... increased security sounds like an interesting move. Do you really think that will keep the villains away?"

"I heard that a hero agency is going to be partnering up with the school, as well as several pro heroes volunteering on an individual basis." Kendo's vibrant ponytail swings forward as she sits sideways in the seat in front of Neito, her forearms coming to rest on his desk.

"A hero agency?"

This is a surprise.

"Yep!" Kendo nods, grinning. "I don't think we'll have to worry too much on that front!"

"Do you know which agency?" He asks curiously.

"'Fraid not. I just heard it in passing from a couple of upperclassmen."

The mention of upperclassmen has Neito's mood souring a little once again. This doesn't escape Kendo's notice- she's an aspiring hero too, and good enough to elected as the Class Representative. She doesn't say much, though, simply waiting for Neito to explain the change in atmosphere.

"There's a few upperclassmen that are really fond of that Chihoshi Riyo. The one from Class 1A that almost died." He doesn't mean to sound so callous, but honestly, he couldn't really bring himself to care.

"From what I've seen, the staff really care about her too," Kendo shrugs. "It makes sense- she almost died. And she also saved the new student teacher for their class."

Neito's ears prick.

"Student teacher?"

"Yeah!" The chair squeaks a little as she leans forward, eyes bright. "The hostage that was reported on the news- that's Class 1A's student teacher, Shirakumo-sensei!"

Well this is certainly news. Neito scoffs.

"So not only do they have incompetent students, but an incompetent student teacher? Class 1A must be inferior!" He laughs.

"That's not really funny, Monoma-kun. Chihoshi-chan almost died."

"Then she's not cut out for the Hero Course," Neito shakes his head, still chuckling. "You tell me, Kendo- what use is there for a hero who can't defend themselves? Who is twice as likely to become a liability than a civilian? At least a civilian has the sense to stay out of danger, while that 'hero,'" he frames in air quotes, "runs head first into something they can't handle!"

Kendo looks rather uncertain, rubbing the back of her neck with a hand. "Well, when you put it like that..."

"Exactly."

"Still, there's a reason why UA accepted her into the Hero Course! The principal wouldn't allow a student in if he thought that they couldn't handle it!"

"Sure," he waves a hand. "But all the evidence points to the contrary. So it must have something to do with her Quirk."

"Her Quirk?" Kendo repeats in surprise.

"She's not all there in the head," Neito shrugs.

"That's so rude!"

"It's true."

People don't like the truth.

"W-well," the Class Representative stutters, cheeks gone pink.

"It has to be her Quirk that got her into UA. And I'm gonna find out what it is."

"Do you really think that's a good idea?" Kendo asks him skeptically.

"It's the only way we're going to get answers."

"Or you could, I dunno, ask her what her Quirk is?"

"Those upperclassmen and 1A idiots wouldn't let me near her," Neito grumbles irritably. "Not to mention when I tried to Copy her Quirk, she- dodged? Dissolved? I couldn't get her."

"That's really rude."

"I know!"

"I meant you."

Planting a hand on his chest, Neito makes a big show of faux-betrayal. "Kendo, how could you! You wound me, Class Rep!"

"Yeah, yeah," she rolls her eyes. "But still, I don't think that's a good idea. If she dodged you, it's obvious she doesn't want to be touched. Besides, isn't it a psychic Quirk?"

"Where'd you hear that?"

"The upperclassmen?" There's a little exasperation in her voice. "Y'know, if you just talked to other people, you'd learn a lot!"

"Well, how do the upperclassmen know?"

"They talk? To other people?"

"I'm talking to you."

"You're impossible!"

"Anyway," Neito drawls, rolling his eyes dramatically, "psychic Quirk or not, I'm still getting down to the bottom of this."

"Why are you so obsessed with getting Chihoshi Riyo kicked out?" Kendo frowns. "Seriously, that almost seems villainous."

Neito's smile tightens. "Well, it's better to be alive and expelled than dead in an accident, isn't it?"

Kendo still looks doubtful. "That's not fair. You don't know her situation any more than the rest of the school. Besides, she got hospitalized by trying to save a hostage- if anything, that's heroic, and good enough for me! It's not like it was some training simulation freak accident, Monoma-kun. This was a real villain attack. I think the fact that Class 1A held their own and survived- with a rescued hostage- is testimony to why all of them deserve to be here."

"And when Chihoshi Riyo inevitably gets involved in a tragic accident?" Neito counters. "Heroes need quick judgement, a sharp mental capacity for danger and combat, Kendo. You've seen her, right? She's nothing like us."

"She doesn't have to be! Couldn't her normal be different from everyone else's?" She frowns, looking a little cross. "I'm not supporting you in this crazy scheme of yours! There's reasons why she's here- why she deserves to be here- and why she must not want to be touched. Shouldn't you just respect that and move on?"

But the thing is, Neito can't just move on.

"And when someone else gets injured or killed on her behalf? When our class gets dragged into the next mess? What then, Kendo?"

The Class 1B Representative scowls, crossing her arms again. "It won't be their fault. None of them want anyone to get hurt. Listen, Monoma-kun. I can see where you're coming from- and I'm telling you, it's really misguided. There are better avenues to go down than the one that you seem so insistent on taking. There's a good reason for Chihoshi to be here. A good reason for why she is how she is. And I really don't think copying her Quirk is a good idea- especially when it seems like she really doesn't want you to. I can't stop you from scheming, but I can stop you from harassing Class 1A. So cut it out before someone gets hurt."

Kendo looks on at him, standing up from her seat as the ending lunch bell rings and their peers start to return to the classroom. It's clear that she's waiting for Neito's response- either relenting in his course of action or declaring his intents to move forward. It doesn't matter. Neito keeps his sly smile.

"Whatever you say," he waves a hand noncommittally. That seems to satisfy her- for now. She still seems a little unconvinced, but for good reason.

She wouldn't have liked the truth.

Neito will get down to the bottom of this. Like it or not, he'll find out what that Chihoshi Riyo's Quirk is. And once he does, he'll be able to confirm that she's nothing but a danger to his classmates and UA. So what if his methods are unorthodox? They always have been. For someone like him, a Quirk Thief, he's got no other choice.

So if he's to be shunned... if he'll be called a villain... if that's the price to pay to keep everyone safe from danger, then he'll gladly drown in this isolation of his own making.

That's the truth.

 

Chapter Text

With the Sports Festival on the horizon, Toshinori feels that familiar spark of excitement in his chest. The thrill of competition is something that he feels quite rarely nowadays, though entrusting the legacy of One For All to young Midoriya has rekindled that feeling. He wants the boy to do well- he wants him to excel! After all, there's nothing quite like the sensation of standing before the country, before the world at the UA Sports Festival.

Competition between classmates, the rush of adrenaline that just cinches the victory- he wants it all. He wants it all for Midoriya.

Toshinori smiles faintly as he recalls standing on a podium, crowds cheering before they ever really knew his far more popular hero moniker. He remembers the sweet taste of tea-flavored ice cream, the kind that his mentor loved, and the weight of the gold medal around his neck.

"You really showed 'em, huh, kiddo?"

A warm smile. A hand ruffling his unruly hair. The feeling of home.

It's a bittersweet nostalgia, tasting faintly of green tea, but Toshinori can't wait to see what his young successor is capable of- to see how much more he's grown! No matter the results of the Sports Festival, he knows he won't be able to be anything other than proud of the boy. Though, this is an opportunity to get his name out there. A big stepping stone on his hero journey.

He should be arriving any minute...

Toshinori had asked to speak with Midoriya at the end of the school day today to discuss a game plan for the Sports Festival. Giving the boy a healthy bout of motivation ought to really get him going. Especially since his admiration for All Might isn't exactly a secret.

Sure enough, the door to the empty classroom slides open a few minutes later. "Sorry I'm a little late," Toshinori hears the boy say sheepishly. "I hope you don't mind that Chi-chan came along, too."

Huh? The girl Aizawa's looking after?

He'd met her before, after the raid of the mysterious compound that housed her had been concluded. She'd been in the hospital, refusing to speak to anyone- anyone aside from Aizawa, evidently. And even then, it was strictly telepathic. There were a lot of things that didn't add up with that raid, though. The guards of the compound that had been apprehended had no memory of the place. And when a team of heroes went back to check it out, the compound was completely gone.

Toshinori doesn't know if the girl had anything to do with it... but all the same, whatever she's been through, she's been through enough.

And then, the USJ attack happened.

Chihoshi Riyo has her hand fisted in Midoriya's blazer, the poor boy's face a brilliant glowing red as his companion looks at Toshinori curiously. She looks a little sleepy, if he's honest, and that almost makes too much sense when he reminds himself that Aizawa had officially adopted the girl. He shivers slightly, and Chihoshi's eyes glimmer in warm waves of gold and ochre.

"Midoriya-shonen, I'd intended for this to be a private conversation," he admonishes his successor gently.

"I- yeah," the boy hangs his head a little, rubbing the back of his neck. But when he looks back up, Toshinori is taken aback by the serious expression on his face. "But! I figured- well, Chi-chan already knows about One For-"

"Midoriya-shonen!" He coughs, the familiar copper tang of blood aspirating with his choking breaths.

"Eep!"

Chihoshi simply watches on, still looking drowsy.

"I- I- I mean," Midoriya stammers in a panic, arms waving wildly. "When I ran into her months and months ago at the shopping center, she knew who you were! AH! I mean, who wouldn't know who you are, you're All Might! I mean, she sought me out! She knew I was the next holder of One For All!"

Honestly, Toshinori should've seen this coming. After all, this child- the one that had Mirai reaching out to him after years of silence- is most certainly special. Seeing countless futures- seeing in Quantum? It's obvious that she would have an idea of the connection between him and the boy. And maybe Toshinori has known that for a while, deep down, and just simply refused to address it. Because the moment it's said out loud- the moment he concedes and recognizes that Chihoshi Riyo is undoubtedly aware- isn't that when she's drawn into this mess of uncertainty, too?

"Unmixed," a quiet whisper curls around his brain. Goosebumps travel across his arms as he shivers again. "Riyo already unmixed Uncle Kumo. If there is something to know it is already known because this is The Way, now..."

Right. Right, the Creator- the one responsible for the Nomu might already know...

"It was always The Way for Riyo to be Here. No fault of Toshi-Might. No fault of our Izuku."

Is this supposed to be comforting...?

"A-anyway," Midoriya stammers awkwardly, still looking uncertain as he looks up at Toshinori. "I guess that kind of answers my question as to if Chi-chan was one of the people you told about One For All. Though, it makes sense that she would already know because of... well..."

Ah. So he knows about the true nature of Chihoshi Riyo's Quirk...

"Our Izuku~ so smart!" The girl chirps, startling both mentor and mentee alike.

"Chihoshi-chan," Toshinori begins solemnly, his talk body folding to sit atop an empty desk. "It goes without saying that the secret of One For All must be kept absolute."

The words are stale before they even come out of his mouth. Toshinori knows this. He knows that Chihoshi has known for a long time. Perhaps- perhaps even since the moment that they first met. He remembers it vividly- a tiny, limp body in a white shift that nearly swaddled her emancipated form. Like a rag-doll in EraserHead's arms. There was a deep ache in his heart upon seeing her sunken face.

That ache is still there, it still constricts his chest even now. Especially since her eyes are so similar to that of Mirai's. Golden eyes that see the future. Golden eyes that look on fondly-

Toshinori clears his throat, blinking rapidly to refocus.

"Midoriya-shonen," he gestures to the boy, who obediently stands before him, guiding Chihoshi to sit on the chair beside him. A small smile curls his lips on how carefully Midoriya settles Chihoshi on the seat. "How are you?" He asks after Chihoshi settled.

"I'm doing okay," Midoriya smiles, eyes glimmering. "How about you, All Might?"

The way the boy's mouth forms around his hero moniker is nearly reverent, untold troves of respect bolstering his speech. It's not something that escapes Toshinori's notice, and he can't help the warm rush of fondness that breaks on him like an ocean wave.

"Just fine, my boy. The Sports Festival is coming up, isn't it?"

"Right! Aizawa-sensei brought it up today!" Midoriya beams before his excitement tempers a bit. "If I'm honest, I'm pretty worried. There's going to be a lot of agencies watching us, evaluating us... recruiting..." Midoriya's fist clenches as he looks down at it, as if the answers to the world were nearly within his grasp. His brow pinches. "But I can still barely control One For All. I managed to throw that punch against the Nomu without breaking any bones, but..."

"Crunch crunch," Chihoshi whispers.

This doesn't seem conducive to Toshinori's attempts to mentor his successor.

"It takes time," Toshinori nods encouragingly, electing not to respond to their one-person audience. "You've already made progress and subconsciously regulated One For All when you threw that punch. Can you remember what it felt like?"

"Well, I guess..."

"Draw upon that feeling. And then, at the Sports Festival... that's your chance to debut. Work hard, train hard... and then, at the Festival, you'll have your chance! I want you to announce to the world, 'I am here!'"

"Here!" Chihoshi chirps, swaying from side to side. "One~ Two~ Three~!"

"Do you really think I could manage that?" Midoriya asks Toshinori with wide eyes.

"Four~ Five~ Six~!"

"My boy," Toshinori smiles fondly, "I have no doubt."

"Seven~ Eight~ Nine~!"

"Chi-chan?" Midoriya chuckles as the girl tugs at his sleeve.

"Nine, nine!"

Midoriya's smile turns puzzled. "What does that mean?"

The significance of the number isn't lost on Toshinori. How could it be? But this is just further confirmation that the secret of One For All is yet another thing that little Chihoshi has seen. It's possible- no, more than probable that she has seen all that Toshinori knows. All that he's seen. All that he's too scared to tell young Midoriya.

That he's-

"Hurting," Chihoshi murmurs, her watchful eyes glowing as she observes him with a solemnity that only comes with age. How unnerving.

He wants to say something to her- needs to say something to her. He has questions- so many questions. How is Mirai? Has he been well? Does he ask about him- about how All Might is doing? Does he ask about how Toshinori is doing? What about the NightEye agency? Are his sidekicks well trained? Will the future still come to pass- the future that Mirai warned him about? Is he destined to leave young Midoriya sooner rather than later? Will his successor be okay? What about-

"Leaves," the girl's voice cuts him off with a serene understanding.

"Leaves?" He repeats quietly, watching the girl in wonder. Young Midoriya looks up in surprise.

"Leaves... Toshi-Might has so many questions... as many questions as leaves on a tree," she smiles softly. "Answers will come when it is time. It is The Way."

The tang of blood is still on his tongue when he swallows, feeling all sort of uneasy despite what seem to be words of comfort. Midoriya, as perceptive as ever, is quick to pick up on this discomfort. His brow pinches, green hair unruly and bouncing slightly as he leans forward to address Toshinori.

"Is... is everything okay?"

Keep smiling.

He clears his throat. "Yes! Yes, it's fine. I'm still coming to terms with Young Chihoshi's power."

"It's quite incredible," Midoriya smiles faintly, almost seeming a little sad. "She managed to save a hostage- Shirakumo-sensei, have you met him?"

Oh yes, I've met him. Very energetic fellow. Good for Aizawa and Yamada. They seem... so much more lively?

"Yes! I have."

"Loud Cloud... the name isn't very familiar, and I couldn't really find much on the internet other than an accident report..." the boy dissolves into muttering, and Toshinori sweats nervously.

His successor is very thorough in his information-gathering and analysis, after all. Plus, if he finds out the truth... would that possibly be a leak of private police information? All in all, he feels both concerned and proud at the same time.

Chihoshi shifts uncomfortably, lips pulling into a small frown. "Our Izuku... Sports Festival. Toshi-Might. Important."

"Oh! Right!" Midoriya sits up straight, eyes wide. "Though, to be honest... since I already have my idol mentoring me, making a big impact at the Sports Festival either way..."

Toshinori frowns. "There's a difference between those who settle and those who strive for the top, my boy. With the power of One For All being so unpredictable, you should view the Festival as a chance to prove yourself regardless!"

"Prove myself... and tell the world 'I am here,'" the boy ponders, looking down at his hands again.

"Important," Chihoshi chirps in agreement.

"What about you, Chi-chan? You could win the whole thing right away."

Oh.

Green eyes meet gold, and there's that solemn smile again on Midoriya's face. And Toshinori gets it, finally. The elephant in the room.

"Riyo could win?" Chihoshi ponders childishly, blinking in surprise.

"Your Quirk is incredibly powerful. You- you see in quantum. Every possibility, all the time, right? You would know what would happen. What to do to counter. No one would be able to beat you."

Midoriya, my boy-

"All Might? How do you win against someone you know will beat you?"

How am I supposed to answer that?

It's not as if that was a problem he frequently faced. Many crimes that are committed these days are easy to thwart. A single punch can take down a villain. A simple sprint to catch a runaway train. One big move on his part as All Might is enough to deter criminal activity in any area he's in for weeks. There's never been an opponent that he couldn't beat. Not one. Not since-

No. It's not confirmed. It could be anyone, it might not even be  him.

"Midoriya-shonen, you shouldn't compare yourself to young Chihoshi," he tells his successor gently. "Your circumstances are different. The way you learn is different. And the future-"

This is what they call "bitter irony," a nasty voice snarks in his head.

"-isn't set in stone."

With a careful hand, he pats the young man's shoulder. "I am not asking you to win the Sports Festival, my boy. Just to do your best."

He gets a teary smile in return.

"I'm sorry, Chi-chan," Midoriya wipes his face miserably, sniffing heavily. "I don't mean- it's just-"

"Our Izuku is good," the girl says softly, her lips quirking up in a soft smile. "Good for Toshi-Might. Good for The Way. Good hero."

Predictably, the boy starts sniffling again. Toshinori pats his shoulder a little more, glancing at the odd girl who nearly reduced his successor to tears.

"Sports," Riyo hums quietly. "Riyo can win? Hnnn... is not The Way? What is The Way? Sports Festival and our Izuku... and Toshi-Might." There's a brilliant flash of gold, fleeting and rather startling.

"Chi-chan?"

"Oh."

A lazy smile curls her lips. "Hmm... Nezu-sensei. It is The Way."

 

Chapter Text

"Got it, Shouta! Thanks!"

Aizawa sighs as he shuts the door of the teachers' room, having successfully delegated the grading of the first quizzes of the year to Shirakumo. After all, his arms aren't completely healed yet, and don't get him started on his hands. They've had a consistent full ache to them all day. Not to mention the tell-tale signs of a headache forming behind his right eye.

Ugh.

That's not his biggest problem though. With the announcement of the Sports Festival, there's an important decision to make. Which is why he's headed to Nezu's office to discuss what sort of expectations there are for Riyo, since it's not the best idea for her to compete.

He runs right into someone in the hallway.

"Woah, there! Oh- Shouta! How's it hangin'!? Is Oboro settling in alright?"

Hizashi.

The Voice Hero has got a gentle but firm grip on his shoulders as they right themselves. Aizawa ducks his face into his scarf a little, feigning annoyance. "Yeah," he mumbles. "He even wanted to grade the first quizzes I gave the class. That man's enthusiasm is a force to be reckoned with."

Yamada grins widely, and it's almost blinding. Aizawa actually has to squint.

"It's like old times," Yamada says, his voice softer than expected. There's an emotion in his voice- nostalgia? Excitement? Whatever it is, it's a positive thing. And it's contagious.

"Yeah," he mumbles again, because what else can he say?

"Y'think we can swing a lunch break on the roof today?"

Oh... that sounds good.  Really  good.

But then again... "Depends. I'm meeting with Nezu about the Sports Festival, and if he runs into my lunch hour..."

"Oh, okay! No worries, Shou! We could probably try tomorrow or something!"

Still, he kinda feels bad turning him down. Aizawa raises a painful hand to brush the hair from his eyes, but only succeeds in mussing it around his forehead and making it messier. He sighs heavily. One disappointment after another, it seems.

Nimble fingers carefully pluck the hair from his face and Aizawa's met yet again with a blinding grin. "You okay?"

Decidedly, Aizawa's absolutely not okay. So naturally, he says, "'M okay."

Yamada's expression turns pensive as he tucks a lock of Aizawa's hair out of the way absently, as if he did this all the time. "The Sports Festival meeting is about Riyo, isn't it? Is she going to compete?"

"It wouldn't be wise," he says hesitantly, eyes following Yamada's retreating hand for a moment before refocusing on his face. "Not only because her Quirk is what it is, but there are the other students to consider." He steps closer, keeping his voice down as his eyes dart around the hallway. "To put it bluntly... she could win the whole thing if she participated. Once she demonstrates the power of her Quirk..."

"The students would lose motivation," Yamada realizes quietly, brow furrowing in consideration. "That's pretty tricky, yo. How do you keep goin' against someone you know will win?"

"That's the thing," Aizawa clears his throat, shifting his arms awkwardly. "It would depend on if Riyo wanted to win. If she showed her potential, any other victory by any other student would be lukewarm."

"Shit," comes the eloquent reply.

Shit indeed.

"Not to mention- going public isn't really... well, the little listener is powerful... but is it safe?"

Aizawa's mouth twists. Images of a tiny little body covered in blood flash across his mind's eye. Locks of hair on the ground. Limbs trembling with the effort of simply being. The desperate scream of his own name in a voice that should've been raw with such force had it been out loud rather than in his head.

"No," he mutters. "It's not. There's still so much we don't know. I don't want her to compete... but it's her choice."

"You're letting her choose?" Yamada looks surprised.

"I have my own reservations... but it's up to her to decide what kind of hero she wants to be. She's already well aware of how I think, what I'd choose for her, what I think would be safe."

A quiet breath escapes Yamada's lips as he removes his glasses and smiles at Aizawa. His green eyes flicker to his face before focusing on cleaning one of the lenses with his shirt. "You've changed, Shou," he says softly.

Changed? What?

"I don't know what you're talking about," he huffs, feeling his face grow hot.

"Awwww, come on!" An arm is tossed around his shoulders, jostling him slightly. He feels even warmer.

"I have a meeting to get to, let go of me."

"You really care about the little listener! It's adorable!"

I am not adorable, I am not adorable, Aizawa chants in his head.

"Get off!"

There's a knock on the doorframe of the teacher's room behind Aizawa. "Y'know, some of us are trying to get work done around here!" Shirakumo scolds them playfully. "Go take your flirting somewhere else! Wait- Shouta, you told me you have a meeting with the principal at this time!"

Aizawa just manages to detangle himself from Yamada in his flustered state to see Shirakumo's mischievous glee before his friend's face turns playfully stern.

"Now I see!" The shit-eating grin on Shirakumo's face is too wide to be hidden by his hands. "see! A 'meeting with the principal' is just an excuse to go around canoodling with Hizashi during work hours!"

If there are two things that Aizawa doesn't do, it's making excuses and canoodling.

"Shut up," he gripes, pointedly avoiding Yamada's eyes. "I'm going to the meeting."

And Shirakumo, the magnificent bastard, calls after him, "But you didn't deny it!"

"Shut up!" He hears Yamada whisper hurriedly.

Ass, Aizawa decides fondly of his old friend, just barely managing to glimpse Yamada throw a weak punch at Shirakumo's laughing form before turning the corner. Whether he denied canoodling or not, he'd find a way to spin it into something it wasn't. And besides, it's not like Aizawa needs excuses to see Yamada. He just does it. And flounders for an excuse as to why he does it later. No point in getting ahead of himself, right? It's only logical...

Right?

And it's not like Yamada denied canoodling with him either- which they don't, thank you. Though, it's not like Aizawa would be opposed to a change of pace. Not necessarily canoodling. Whatever the hell Shirakumo meant by that. Just... maybe holding hands. Or a brush on the shoulder. Or- heavens forbid, he has a reputation to uphold- a hug.

Feeling utterly ridiculous and a little humiliated, Aizawa walks into Nezu's office with most of his face concealed in his scarf and a little more frustration in his stride than he would like. Nezu, of course, simply looks up and smiles before pouring him a cup of tea. He idly wonders if he has enough dexterity in his injured hands to pick it up by the dainty little handle.

"Aizawa-san! You wanted to discuss young Riyo's participation in the Sports Festival?"

"I'm sure I don't need to list the reasons why her participation would be a bad idea, but it's up to her," he nods, shoulder slowly loosening from their previous state of tension.

"Mm," Nezu nods cheerfully, sipping from his own teacup. "Competing against the very theory of quantum itself... would bode for poor morale amongst the students who have already witnessed a demonstration of young Riyo's power. Not to mention, it would be a bit inadvisable to display such power on a world stage! We should technically already assume she's a target of the League of Villains given her successful rescue of Shirakumo-san. How is he settling in?"

A big shit-eating grin rises to the surface of Aizawa's recent memory.

"Peachy," he says irritably, fighting his own smirk. "He even wanted to grade papers. But this isn't about him."

"Indeed!" Nezu laughs. "In fact, I think we should be expecting young Riyo's arrival any moment now, as this is an important discussion to have all together!"

As if on cue- it probably was on cue- swirls of dust erupt beside Aizawa's seat on the couch and coalesce to form his kid, from her baggy blazer to the purple hat on her head. She blinks up at him. "My Shou!"

"Hey, kid."

"Now then! Riyo-chan-"

Since when did he start calling her 'Riyo-chan?'

"-we were just discussing the Sports Festival and the opportunities afforded to you to participate in this high-publicity event. I'm sure that the pros and cons have been discussed with you exhaustively, or rather, you have heard and considered them all on your own!" Nezu smiles, clasping his paws together.

"Sports," Riyo agrees, nodding thoughtfully. She's pinching the crook of her arm again in a slow rhythm. "Riyo will be in the Festival. Sports are... Not in The Way."

Nezu smiles, eyes shining with excitement. It makes Aizawa feel a little unnerved when those same beady eyes are refocused on him. After all, when Nezu gets a look like that on his face, he's concocting some elaborate plan that has at least eight different contingencies and who knows how many pulled strings.

"Aizawa-san, wouldn't you agree that UA's Sports Festival is rather biased towards students who choose to go into a... more public route of heroism?"

Oh?

Oh.

Oh.

Now Aizawa's feeling excited, too.

"It is," he says slowly, tugging his scarf from his face while watching the principal with an unblinking gaze. "You've always known my views. Especially regarding the Entrance Examinations being heavily slated towards applicants with physical Quirks... so where are you going with this?"

Nezu traces the rim of his teacup with a surprising amount of elegance for a small mammal. His nose twitches slightly as he sniffs, looking back up with an uncanny intelligence. "I'm thinking that it's high time for UA to include a new sub-section in the Hero Course, Aizawa-san. With the allowances and accommodations made for Riyo's matriculation, and the incredible flexibility and willingness of the faculty and staff to adapt... I'm absolutely certain that we can implement and make available this new branch of education."

Any thought of canoodling is far from Aizawa's brain. His thoughts are flying faster than he can dare to process them, but they're all easily summarized by an internalized voice that sounds a lot like Yamada shouting, "Sick, yo!" That's a detail to be examined later, because something that Aizawa has been voicing for the past few years is not only being accepted, but a new branch to the Hero Course is being suggested to him by Nezu?

There's the familiar chiming sound of Riyo's happiness, and she's grinning with excitement at Nezu as he smiles back.

"So you want to open a separate education track for the Hero Course students?" Aizawa asks, just to be extra sure of what he's hearing.

"More of a... secret track, you might say," Nezu hums. "After all, it shouldn't be made too entirely public that there's a program at UA for underground heroes. It would be counterintuitive, wouldn't it?"

If Aizawa bothered to put stock into overly dramatic descriptions of his own emotions, he might've said that his heart jumped, stomach flipped, and some sort of tingly feeling started happening his his fingertips. But that would be irrational. He's simply got an increase of adrenaline affecting his heart and possible nerve damage in his hands- he'll go see Recovery Girl later. As of right now? He's- well, he's got a lot to discuss with Nezu.

"So you're leaving it up to the students with Quirks better suited for underground heroics... to discover this underground Heroics Course?"

"Not quite a course... more of a supplementary class. Exclusive to those who will focus on stealth, information gathering, going undercover... of course, Aizawa-san, you would be most helpful in training these young students." A teacup clacks gently on its saucer. 

This is happening?

"Since Shirakumo-san is under your supervision, you may also include him in this endeavor. I fully trust that you'll make the most rational and logical decisions regarding this new direction UA is undertaking."

"Shouta is happy," Riyo coos, her small hands gripping excitedly at Aizawa's sleeve. She looks euphoric at the look on his face- it's about now that Aizawa realizes he's grinning.

"Riyo has already served well as a beta tester, of course!"

Right.

Nothing that Nezu does ever has one singular purpose. Honestly, he should've guessed that Nezu's suggestion of supplementing Riyo's classroom experience with different assignments was more than adjusting to her way of learning- there must've been some content relating to underground heroism mixed in.

"Riyo would be good at disguises."

Huh. Well... yeah, probably. Being able to change your appearance on a whim would definitely be useful.

"To tie this in with the question of Riyo's participation in the Sports Festival- we'll treat this as a secret entrance examination for students who would flourish outside of a major spotlight!" Nezu tosses his paws up in the air with excitement.

"Excited!" Riyo mimics Nezu with gusto.

"Riyo-chan, you'll have your own mission to undertake during the Sports Festival- you'll be acting as a liaison for the formation of this group, as well as conduct supplementary assignments to assure our successful networking with viable hero agencies- specifically, agencies that would endorse and cultivate budding underground heroes."

Aizawa's eyes go as wide as Riyo's. "You think that she'd be able to do that? Talk to and convince other hero agencies to take on underground heroes?"

"There is one thing that holds true, no matter if you are a student, teacher, faculty member, or alumnus of UA," Nezu nods with a cunning smile. "No matter what, we always go back to the core of what makes UA so distinguished."

There's a flash of gold.

"You go beyond. Plus ultra."

"It is The Way."

 

Chapter Text

Another day, another class, another mildly-hero flavored disappointment. But, it could be worse.

Yeah, Shinsou Hitoshi supposes, looking out the window with a dull disinterest. He could be in any number of worse positions, ranging from a high school not affiliated with heroes at all, or perhaps dead in a ditch. Y'know.

It could be worse.

He could be at the house.

See, his current foster family is nice enough- when he's not talking, of course. It's not like he blames them. He doesn't blame anybody these days, really. And it's not like they're a bad foster family, either. They feed him. He's got clothes. They're just...

Well, at least he's got a whiteboard to write on, this time. They're really nice in that regard. Gave him purple markers and cat magnets to put on it and everything. Except when he might slip up- that's when it gets less than nice. It's like a secret switch to turn them from gentle, kind folks to the main antagonists of Hitoshi's own personal living hell. Not that it was detectable. Not that social services would necessarily know.

See, this couple of foster parents this time around are very well versed in mental and psychic-type Quirks. They pride themselves in being able to take in the "problem children" like Hitoshi and "fix" them. Sure, there are a lot of regulations for physical Quirks, but the Quirks that are invisible to the eye? How do you regulate the use of something that people can't tell you're using? Like his foster dad's Quirk- it's called Dream. Hitoshi thinks it would be better named "Nightmare." And oh, is it a lovely pair with his foster mom's Quirk, Insomnia.

His foster parents have never laid a hand on him. There's no case in his favor. No one would believe him, because he's a problem child with a scary Quirk. He was the monster under the other foster kids' beds, the one that everyone warned everyone else about. Who would believe him if he accused his foster parents of abusing him with their Quirks? They have the perfect front. An impeccable record.

"Damn, Shinsou! How late did you stay up to finish your homework?" One of his nameless classmates laughs.

Shinsou grins sluggishly, all performance as he chuckles at the joke that stings a little too much for comfort. "Ah, I got carried away reading," he rubs the back of his neck bashfully.

"Come on, man, you look like a zombie!"

He knows. He knows. Sleep had never come easily to Shinsou after his parents had passed away. Now he's being kept awake if he misbehaves. Tormented with nightmares when he finally gets to rest. Even the nights where he knows he didn't do anything to provoke his foster parents, he stays awake as long as he can, just in case.

It's a miracle he even got in to UA.

The bell rings, signaling the start of the lunch hour, and Hitoshi yawns, feeling excited despite being so exhausted. If he eats quickly, he'll be able to catch a short nap, and that is what will help him survive through the day.

Fully intending on heading out to the courtyard, Shinsou grabs his bento. He makes them himself, because after the first time experiencing the harrowing cycle of sleep deprivation and nightmares, he wasn't able to stomach the cutesy arrangements and notes from his foster mom. It took a lot of sweet-talking on his whiteboard. Explaining that he wanted to take responsibility, that his foster mother always took time for him and he appreciated it immensely, and that he wanted to show her appreciation by letting her get more rest because of her frequent migraines.

Migraines she would get from using her Quirk on him.

Yeah.

A small tug on his sleeve stops him in the hallway, and Hitoshi jumps a little. A smaller body draws closer to his elbow.

What the... this kid again?

The girl from before- the one with the smooth head and purple hat- she's clutching at his sleeve again, looking rather drowsy as well.

Hitoshi swallows as luminous yellow eyes slowly look up at him. They seem solemn.

"Uh..."

She blinks.

What was her name? Ri-chan?

Her eyes slide to the bento in his hands and Hitoshi can hear her stomach growl.

Does she want my lunch? Am I seriously about to be shaken down by a Hero Course student for fried eggs and rice?

The girl simply blinks at him with those big, yellow eyes, cocking her head to the side. Hitoshi gives an experimental shake of his arm to see if she'd let go of his sleeve- but her little arm simply shakes with his movement, fingers firmly grasping the fabric.

"Uh... can you let go?" He asks her bluntly, brow furrowing in frustration. This is the same girl who almost got taken out during that villain attack. And sure, Hitoshi would feel bad if he wasn't so exhausted. But another thing about Ri-chan is that she seems to have a consistent guard of Hero Course students around her at all times- and they're loud. Not to mention those upperclassmen who interrogated him about her. On one hand- what the heck, he was just leaving! Passing the other way when that other guy started spewing vitriol. On the other hand-

Wasn't he a little jealous?

The thing is, Hitoshi had always been a lonely kid. Still is. And for a moment, he thought about how nice it would be to have a few friends like that- who would have your back no matter what, stand up for you when you can't, to take care of you.

It's fine. He doesn't blame the girl. He doesn't blame anyone, really.

He's okay by himself.

He can take care of himself.

So she just needs to let go.

Ri-chan simply blinks at him once more, before her eyes widen.

For a moment, her eyes might've looked like the headlights of a car, but Hitoshi's a bit shocked when her surprised expression turns incredibly... sour.

She looks upset. She looks mad. And then...?

Big, fat tears start rolling down her face. Her little pink lips twist with the effort of holding it in, shoulders shaking as her fist twists in the fabric of Hitoshi's sleeve.

"Wah- hey!" He exclaims in a panic, because holy shit why is she crying and what do I do about it!?

Ri-chan's tears refract light from her luminous eyes, looking like molten gold for fractions of a second before they drip down her chin.

"If you want my lunch so badly, just take it!" Hitoshi pushes his bento into her free hand. But this seems to be the wrong move because she shakes her head rather hard, still crying silently. The box dissolves into swirling dust a split second before Ri-chan does.

And for a moment, Hitoshi stands there, frozen.

What the-

The girl reforms suddenly, a bit taller than before.

"Shit!?" His voice cracks when Ri-chan gives him a serious, watery stare. The look in her eyes is different than before, more... present. Knowing. Determined.

"Hitoshi," a voice says quietly.

Hitoshi's jaw clenches, eyes darting.

"Hitoshi," his name is repeated, a little more insistent this time. The voice sounds like a young girl. His mouth goes dry when he realizes it must be the girl holding his sleeve.

"What do you want?" He asks carefully, his lips pressing into a thin line.

Answer me. Answer me, so I can get you to let go of me.

"Mission," the girl's voice pouts slightly, Ri-chan scowling as she wipes her eyes with a free hand.

"Mission?" Hitoshi repeats skeptically. "What are you talking about?"

"Mission," Ri-chan repeats. She looks around carefully, eyes darting with surprising calculation about the hallway. "But first, food for Hitoshi."

"Yeah. Food. Sure. Especially since you stole my lunch."

"Riyo gives Hitoshi better lunch. It is The Way."

Dust swirls around her gently before Riyo reaches into a positively garish backpack on her shoulder and pulls out two bentos, neatly wrapped in handkerchiefs- one printed with Gang Orca and another with a purple cat print.

What the hell is going on?

"Is this your way of telling me you want to have lunch with me?"

"Lunch with Hitoshi," Ri-chan sniffs, her lips lifting in a wobbly smile. "Please?"

Well...

"What about all of your Hero Course friends?" Hitoshi asks her bitterly. "I'm just in General Education. They'll be missing you, huh? Not to mention those upperclassmen- they don't like me."

"Riyo likes Hitoshi."

"You don't even know me."

"Riyo knows Hitoshi."

"No you don't."

"Then... Riyo  will  know Hitoshi. It is The Way. Hitoshi and Riyo will be heroes together. Secret, secret!"

Hitoshi's mouth goes a little dry. This has to be some sick joke. Another nightmare concocted by his foster parents. Shit, did he forget to do the dishes? Or did he forget to do the laundry? Did they ask him to clean out the gutter again?

His chest is tight. It's getting hard to breathe.

Riyo's eyes flash gold, and suddenly, their surroundings blur like smearing wet paint. Suddenly, he's outside, in the shade of the trees on UA's campus, and he's on his knees.

He knows it's about to get worse.

That's how it always is.

Instead, small hands gently cup his cheeks and a forehead meets his own.

Peace.

It's peaceful now.

There's an odd sensation in Hitoshi's fingers- they're tingling a little. He feels weightless. He absently wonders if he has eyes that he can open to see what's going on. He was worried about something, wasn't he? He should open his eyes to check.

Yeah.

Maybe he'll find out if whatever he's worried about is okay now.

Was he worried?

He's not worried, what's there to be worried about? This darkness is soothing. It's nice. The music is nice.

The music is nice... yeah, it's soothing. Something's touching his face-  right,  of  course  he has a face. And hair. Something's touching his hair, too. And if he has a face and hair, he probably has eyes too, right? He can open his eyes. Just... in a few minutes. Not yet. This is too nice.

What a comforting song. It sounds familiar. Like something he might've heard a long time ago. Back when days were impossibly long and smelled like sun, nostalgic like the taste of birthday cakes of years past. Hitoshi hasn't had a birthday cake in a long time, has he?

That's okay. He doesn't blame anyone. Really. He probably didn't deserve it.

He doesn't deserve to feel this peaceful.

He doesn't deserve to have this music soothing his emotional aches.

He doesn't deserve to open his eyes.

"Hitoshi deserves the world," a trembling voice croons in his head.

With a quick gasp, Hitoshi's eyes fly open. He's immediately met with the sight of Ri-chan's face wearing a forlorn expression. His head is on her lap, one of her hands petting his hair softly, and in the other, an orange handkerchief.

"Sorry," she whispers, lips ever still as she offers him the handkerchief when he sits up.

His hands are shaking when he accepts it, and he notices there are small damp spots on it- upon touching his cheeks, he realizes she must've been wiping tears. A lump forms in his throat. How humiliating. He'd never get into the Hero Course if he can't get his shit together.

"Even heroes cry," Ri-chan hums, a small hand patting his back.

Sympathy just makes it worse, Hitoshi thinks miserably.

"Whatever."

"Hitoshi can cry. Hitoshi will be a hero."

"Yeah?" He hisses looking over his shoulder from where he was facing away from the girl. "And how would you know?"

"It is The Way," comes the serene answer. "The Way... that all may live happy and prosperous lives... Riyo listens to and follows The Way. And Shinsou Hitoshi is in The Way." A flurry of dust in front of Hitoshi yields Ri-chan- Riyo. She smiles at him.

Chills run down Hitoshi's arms. What is he supposed to do with this information? But the way this girl is speaking- it has weight to it. Her mannerisms are odd- childish sometimes- but then he gets hit with these bizarre ramblings that seem... profound? What a roller coaster.

Not daring to hope, nor to look into anything that this girl says any deeper than surface-level, Hitoshi tosses her handkerchief into her lap and stands up, grimacing. He's got an odd soreness in his back.

Shit, I need to hurry up and eat lunch before-

"So this is where you've been all day," comes a bored voice.

Hitoshi's shoulders hunch in alarm.

"My Shouta!"

"Y'know, when the principal gave you permission to use the rest of today for your special assignment, he meant for you to be discrete," Eraserhead emerges from the trees with a rather tired stride. Hitoshi's heart nearly stops, and he's ready to pass away after experiencing cardiac arrest because holy shit it's EraserHead.

Wait, did Ri-chan just refer to him as "My Shouta?"

Wild.

"Important!" Ri-chan insists, pushing herself to her feet. She brushes off her skirt quickly, looking up at EraserHead with an odd persistence. "Special mission!"

"And you dragged someone else along into skipping classes, huh."

Skipping classes!?

"I'm not-! I- I'll head to class right away!" Hitoshi stammers, bowing his head quickly. "I swear, sensei, I'm not skipping class! She brought me here and I-"

Oh. Right. I was having some sort of psychotic break.

Not like he could voice that aloud to his idol.

"Classes are over for the day," EraserHead sighs, shifting his bandaged arms carefully to rest more comfortably in their slings.

Hitoshi can practically feel the blood drain from his face. "Wh- what? But it was just the lunch hour! It couldn't have been more than ten minutes!"

Yep. It's official. He's finally been driven batshit crazy. Hitoshi has had a real break from reality and is starting to lose time. It was only a matter of time before his psyche completely and utterly snapped, after all- with all the intense sleep deprivation and nightmare exercises his fosters had subjected him to for the past year, it was bound to happen-

"No," Ri-chan tugs at his sleeve, looking worried. "No, no, Hitoshi!"

Wetness falls from his eyes, and he blinks in surprise, his blurred vision clearing for a moment to see Ri-chan starting to tear up again.

He missed the school day.

It's not his fault.

Isn't it...  hers?

No. He doesn't blame her. He doesn't blame anyone, these days. He should've been more conscious of his time. Shouldn't have let her get to him-

"Riyo," EraserHead calls the girl sternly.

There's a high-pitched ringing building in Hitoshi's ears.

"Riyo, let him go.

It's growing louder.

"Riyo!"

Hitoshi's lost his mind, hasn't he?

"UNFAIR!" Comes the loud, raw shout from the girl clutching his sleeve. A wave of dust rockets forward in a large radius. The force of her declaration almost seems to reverberate through the trees, making the very ground shudder under Hitoshi's feet. He freezes, eyes wide as he stares down at Ri-chan's grip on his sleeve. And Ri-chan herself?

She's shaking. Trembling with anger. Her brow is drawn in a fierce angle, teeth bared as her golden eyes swirl with dizzying light like an angry wildfire.

EraserHead's goggles are in place, his Capture Scarf in his grip.

"Enough!" EraserHead barks harshly.

Hitoshi flinches.

For a moment, Hitoshi is certain that it was the wrong thing to do. But then, something happens. Something changes. Something shifts.

Riyo turns and buries her face in Hitoshi's blazer and starts sobbing. Full, heartbreaking sobs.

Why do I make this girl cry so much?

"Hitoshi! Don't go! Don't leave! Stay with Riyo! Don't go back to the sad house! Stay with Riyo and take naps and have nice dreams! Don't go ! Come home !"

EraserHead freezes, hand outstretched. Hitoshi can't see his eyes through his goggles, but the way the older man's mouth parts is enough to clue him in to the hero's surprise.

"What?" He murmurs quietly to himself.

"She keeps clinging to me," the words burst forth from his mouth, desperation flavoring every one. "I- I don't know why!"

"I'm sorry!" Ri-chan cries, letting go of his sleeve quickly and scrubbing at her eyes. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Riyo can't- not strong enough! Too much! Not allowed!" Her fingers pinch fiercely at her arms as she stands there, her hat lopsided as she cries. Tears flow forth faster than she can blink them away, and her orange handkerchief has fallen on the ground.

"Riyo," EraserHead says in a surprisingly soft voice, kneeling in front of her and taking her face in his hands. Hitoshi gets the sense that he's intruding on a private moment- not to mention, wow, EraserHead is really familiar with-

"Not fair!"

"You have to tell me what's not fair," EraserHead prompts gently. "Can you tell me?"

"Not Riyo's secret! Not Riyo's place to tell!"

Eyes fix on Hitoshi and his blood runs cold.

Oh.

Suddenly, things start making more sense when Hitoshi considers the full implications of the apparent psychic connection she's using to communicate- and it's not too much of a stretch to realize that while she can project what she's thinking... she can probably see what other people are thinking, too. And if her allusions to unfairness and naps with regards to Hitoshi are to be taken into account...

Not her secret to tell. Not unfairness against  her. She's talking about me.

His palms are sweaty as EraserHead stares. Ri-chan sniffles, burying her head under his scarf.

She knows.

She knows about his home life. She knows about how he can't sleep. She knows why he can't sleep. She knows and she's given him the opportunity to speak.

She's crying for  me.

If Hitoshi tried to write on his whiteboard right now, he's sure his handwriting would be illegible. But he can't quite find his voice to say anything. Because no one would listen to him before. No one would trust anything that came out of his mouth, because what if he brainwashed someone into thinking it was true? He didn't blame them.

Really, he didn't...

But he should.

"It's nothing," he says instead.

 

Chapter Text

As soon as he was sure that Aizawa was out of earshot, Yamada rounds on Shirakumo.

"Oboro! You can't just say that Shouta and I are canoodling!"

His friend is roaring with laughter, hands planted on his knees as Yamada swats at him.

I wish I could say that I can't believe he'd do that! But! I absolutely  can  believe he'd do that! How am I gonna be able to look Shouta in the eye now!?

"Oh come on, Hizashi! Evidently it's been over a decade and you two are still dancing around each other! Get a move on, man!" Shirakumo plants his fists on his hips and gives Yamada a shrewd smile. "I'd think that being heroes would've accelerated a relationship, or even a proposal. We won't live forever, y'know?"

Yamada watches as his friend's face grows overcast.

Right, he thinks, the brewing solemn atmosphere thickening around them both. He would know that better than any of us, huh...

"I just want my two best friends to be happy," Shirakumo sighs, smiling faintly. "And... well, so does Riyo. She loves both of you very much. So much, that she pulled me from wherever the hell I was- unmixed and all." Grinning widely, Yamada receives a hearty slap on the back. "So go and get your man, Mic!"

The amount of emotional whiplash from the past few minutes makes Yamada's head spin. Bouncing from serious topics to lighthearted teasing, to oh shit he's hot and a rather heartfelt sentimentality from the man who's whistling rather cheerfully as he steps back into the staff room. Yamada follows automatically, still trying to process everything he's feeling as he sits down at his own designated desk. It's only the beginning of the semester, so he doesn't really have anything to grade yet- Aizawa's crazy, giving the students pop quizzes so soon.

Yamada resigns himself to eating his lunch quietly at his desk and thinking things over.

According to Shirakumo, the newest resident of the Aizawa household, Yamada and Aizawa have been dancing around each other. Joke's on him, though, because Yamada doesn't know how to dance. Aizawa does... though, it's very, uh, dispassionate.

Dancing around each other... like he would ever...

Taking a gloomy bite of rice, Yamada sighs.

He came close to confessing to Aizawa. Multiple times. So many times. But every time he comes close- whenever he thinks he might have a chance- it seems like he just manages to slip away. And Aizawa is good at slipping away. He's got everything that Yamada feels like he lacks, and that includes all of the stealth of an underground hero. But it's not like Aizawa thwarts Yamada's attempts on purpose. The life of heroes, of teachers- of teachers of heroes- it's chaotic. Not to mention Aizawa's nighttime patrols and Yamada's radio show. And then when Riyo came along, things got even more hectic.

Hectic... in the best ways.

Aizawa started reaching out more. Asking for advice. Asking for help. Asking for him.

There's a painful squeezing sensation in his chest as Yamada thinks about it, his mouth twisting into an awkward smile. He clutches the front of his jacket with a hand and tries not to let out any noise- he's pretty sure he might accidentally activate his Quirk if he's not careful.

Ugh! How is it possible to feel this  much  about somebody!

But Aizawa isn't just somebody. He's Aizawa Shouta. And gosh darn it, something's gotta happen.

"Oboro's right," Yamada whispers to himself, voice muffled by his hands. "I gotta get my man!"

"Get a man?"

Oh shit.

Half-lidded cerulean eyes give Yamada a knowing look, and he can't help but feel like prey when seeing that kind of smile on Kayama's face. She looks positively predatory.

"Are you talking about Shouta?" She asks, bending down and blowing a breath of air across one of his ears.

"Nemuri!" Yamada hisses.

He knows he technically never left his high school, but sheesh, it's suddenly like he never left high school!

"Oh? Oh?" She chuckles darkly. "Are you finally gonna make a move?" At lease she has the decency to keep her voice down. Thirteen and Snipe are the only other teachers in the faculty room aside from Shirakumo, but Shirakumo's got a pair of Yamada's borrowed headphones on and nodding his head to unheard music. He'd taken up Yamada's offer of a crash-course in the past decade-and-a-half's worth of music and has been steadily consuming media for the past few days.

"I'm not that obvious, am I?"

"Only to the ones who know you well! Like me and Oboro! Shouta's really dense when it comes to matters of the heart." Kayama's expression softens. "It's been so long, Zashi. And we both know that Shouta hardly has time to think about himself. He never really did, you know? Between hero work and teaching, he never slowed down. And these days? So much has happened- Ri-chan happened, Oboro happened..." A comforting hand squeezes his shoulder gently. Kayama looks at him with a raw sort of sincerity. "Hizashi. If Shouta can't think about himself, you have to do it for him. Riyo's helped him so much. She's also just a kid. A really special kid who loves Shouta and loves you."

Right. Because if there was any individual who knows exactly what Yamada feels about Aizawa, it would be the little listener! She reads minds. Emotions. Sees futures. Does all of the wild particle manipulation stuff- he's got a theory about Riyo's behavior, too.

At any rate, both Shirakumo and Kayama have told him to go for it. That Riyo loves him...!

"Could I really...?" Yamada finds himself asking Kayama in a rather vulnerable voice. He's trembling ever so slightly. "Do you... do you really think that I could be- that I could be good for both of them?"

His friend's next words flood him with warmth.

"You already are."

And if his eyes sting a little, who's to say? If he feels a wave of massive relief, who can say? But as that wave breaks, Yamada's resolve is revealed.

His fists clench briefly as he takes a deep breath. Squaring his shoulders, Yamada takes a brief moment before he exhales sharply. "Okay," he tells Kayama. "I'm going for it. I'll find a way to ask Shouta to be the co-host of my life! And I, his!"

"Maybe don't phrase it like that..."

Still, it can't be denied that Yamada's got a new determination in his stride. Even the students pick up on the different energy in the afternoon classes, as he's louder and more enthusiastic than usual. An accomplishment in its own right- he knows he can be a bit over-the-top on any typical day. With a goal in mind- confessing to Aizawa- can anyone really admonish him for his nerves? And it's not like it's a deterrent to his performance.

So, after the final classes let out, he waits for Riyo at the front gate- the little listener is under his care tonight, since Aizawa's got an appointment with Recovery Girl and a couple of doctors to check up on the progress with his arms. Shirakumo's got supplementary instruction after the normal school day by Nezu and another faculty member- the student half of his student-teacher position. The other faculty member is on a rotating schedule, depending on what subjects they're reviewing or teaching Shirakumo. Tonight's... Ectoplasm, if Yamada remembers correctly.

Waving to students as they leave the school, Yamada waits.

And waits.

And waits.

He's half a mind to start sending phone calls to Nezu until Aizawa shows up, carefully carrying a shrunken Riyo on his back and accompanied by a student with wild, purple hair. All three of them look exhausted.

"Riyo had a tantrum," Aizawa says in leu of a greeting as Yamada rushes to take Riyo from him. The little listener quickly hides her face in Yamada's shoulder, hiccuping silently.

"What happened?" He asks worriedly.

"Something to do with this one," Aizawa nods his head at the student beside him.

The kid looks terrified.

"Not Hitoshi's fault," Riyo whispers in weak protest.

"Something about a secret he's keeping," comes the amendment.

Contrary to popular belief, Yamada's not an idiot most of the time. Simply, he can gauge a lot about someone's character when they think he's stupider than he actually is. It's one of the things that drew him to Aizawa in the first place- no matter what antics Yamada and Shirakumo got up to in school, Aizawa was eventually able to recognize that some of it was carefully planned bullshit.

Yeah. Yamada knows bullshit.

"What's your name, kiddo?" He asks the purple-haired boy. The bags under his eyes, nervous fidgeting, lack of eye contact- none of it escapes the Voice Hero's notice.

"Shinsou Hitoshi, Class 1C," he answers obediently.

General Education... hmm... by all means, he doesn't really stick out...

But Yamada knows that Riyo wouldn't get this upset over just anyone. Everything she does, everything she says has a reason. Well... when she's not playfully extorting him for seventh servings of food.

There's something about Shinsou Hitoshi. A supposed secret... and it's distressed Riyo so much that she threw the first tantrum Yamada's ever heard about. And it seems by how the boy's fidgeting, he knows exactly what secret Riyo's talking about.

"I found them sitting in the courtyard; Riyo was given the rest of the day to rest by Nezu, and she ended up bringing Shinsou along. By the sounds of it, she might've..." Aizawa hesitates slightly, glancing at Shinsou briefly before his eyes flick up to Yamada. "Well, they lost track of time."

Translation: Riyo probably used her Quirk and Shinsou didn't or doesn't realize it.

"I didn't mean to skip classes," Shinsou bows low, clearly stressed but trying to keep his voice and face as neutral as possible. "I promise I'll make up all of my assignments."

"It's not your fault," Yamada finds himself saying before he can really think about it. Shrugging, he shifts Riyo's weight to one arm to let her rest more comfortably and avoid his directional speaker. He smiles warmly at Shinsou, who seems a little dumbfounded as he straightens up.

Aizawa makes eye contact with Yamada briefly.

"Riyo's very attuned to those around her," he explains carefully, nodding at Aizawa. "She's... got a special sense, if you want to call it that. You must be very important to her."

"But I only just met her!"

Yamada chuckles.

"Her Quirk is a powerful one. She's spoken to you in your head, answered your thoughts?"

Shinsou nods slowly, eyes wide.

"She also sees the future. Multiple futures, in fact."

"I'm late to my meetings," Aizawa sighs, looking skyward for a brief moment before returning his gaze to Yamada. "I'll leave this to you."

Yamada's heart swells.

Translation: I trust you.

He could swoon right now if it weren't for the kids. That would be awkward. Not rock 'n roll at all.

Shinsou seems to still be processing the news that Riyo can see a lot more than what people would expect. Yamada can practically see the gears turning in his head. The boy rubs his eyes tiredly.

"So... we're friends or something... in the future."

"Sounds like it!" Yamada nods cheerfully. He can't help but be reminded of a teenage Aizawa when looking at the boy. It's... bittersweet, in a way.

But... then again... this behavior of Shinsou's...

It really matches Aizawa's behavior after Shirakumo had died.

Which is not a good thing.

The exhaustion. The lack of liveliness. Aizawa's never been a lively person, but he was more carefree before Shirakumo's accident, even when he was struggling to figure out the course of his hero career. This kid? He's got the look of someone battle-worn.

A look that a kid should never have.

"So, Shinsou! How is UA treating you?"

Are you being bullied?

"It's... it's cool."

Ah. Just gotta tune into the listener's frequency. Gotta find a way to get him talking...

"Classes are well? I know they just started-"

"I- uh... it's late, Mic-sensei. I need to get home." The boy rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably, and that rings more alarm bells.

"Right," Yamada smiles awkwardly. "Well! See you tomorrow, listener!"

At least he gets an awkward wave in reply. Riyo's grip on his jacket tightens and her breath hitches.

"Riyo?"

"Unfair. Not right. No good."

"Will you tell me what's wrong, Ri-chan?"

Riyo pulls back to rub at her eyes, which have dimmed to a dull yellow. The surrounding skin is red and irritated. She must've been crying a lot.

"Mission," she mumbles in his head. "Sports Festival... much to plan..."

Seems like she's had a rough day. We'll get some take-out tonight and put her to bed early.

Yamada also kind of wants to go to bed early, too. There's been too much emotional whiplash today for him to want to keep his eyes open past dinnertime.

There's a brief flash of gold and Riyo looks down the road, where Shinsou had since left.

"There will be a reckoning."

 

Chapter Text

It started with something small and rather innocuous.

At first, it was just a weird tapping. Then, it became rhythmic over the following week- an interesting series of taps during study hall. In fact, there's always a different pattern of taps that sound off at exactly two minutes and forty seven seconds into the study hall period. Never a second early, never a second late.

Shoji would know. He timed it himself after he realized it was consistent.

The thing about his Quirk, is that no one ever really batted an eye when he'd form an extra eye to see the chalkboard, an extra hand to pick up a dropped pencil, an extra ear to hear the lecturing teacher. With the technical rule barring Quirk usage in class, he'll be the first to admit that he gets away with a lot- but perhaps since he's got an obvious heteromorphic Quirk, it's only frowned upon if he decides to smash something up.

Either way, the tapping was rhythmic and it wasn't always clear where it was coming from. Even with extra eyes and ears, Shoji was scouring the classroom every study hall, after exactly two minutes and forty seven seconds.

It wasn't until he was listening to an old documentary of some sort while doing his homework, that he realized those taps might be more than just distracting. As soon as the narrator on the program mentioned spies using all sorts of codes and ciphers to communicate during pre-Quirk wartimes, Shoji knew.

Morse code.

It takes a few days for him to learn. Then, he's prepared with an extra pair of arms under his desk when the tapping starts exactly two minutes and forty seven seconds after study hall begins.

Painstakingly recording each letter as it comes, Shoji blinks in surprise, staring at his worksheet on the top of his desk without really seeing it. His extra set of fingers trace over the letters he's written in his hidden notebook.

F-E-S-T-I-V-A-L.

Festival? The Sports Festival?

Something is up- obviously something has been up for the past two weeks. Something to do with the Sports Festival.

Shoji realizes he has two options at this point. The first option being to ignore this mysterious tapping completely. Most of the class seems to be doing just that- or they just don't notice. Shoji's eyes narrow at his worksheet and he completes a couple of questions to avoid arousing the suspicion of his classmates. Being a Hero Course student of the class that was targeted by that League of Villains, there's no way he can simply ignore this mysterious message about the Sports Festival. Especially if he's accidentally intercepted a message that could be meant for a spy.

So his only other option at this point is to pursue this thread of Ariadne deeper into the labyrinth of the unknown.

Shoji shakes his head. He's been spending way too much time with Tokoyami if he's thinking up of dramatic and surprisingly poetic analogies for his situation.

His pencil eraser bounces lightly against his paper as he thinks, staring unseeingly at a question on his paper yet again. He's almost going to decide to leave this line of thought until tomorrow when his eyes catch on his bouncing pencil and he freezes.

Maybe there's a third option.

With careful fingers, Shoji lets his pencil bounce again, the eraser making a quiet tap that's muffled by the paper layer on the desk.

Maybe Shoji could try sending his own message.

He taps his pencil again and swallows.

Should I do that? I haven't told anyone about the tapping and the morse code. I don't know if anyone has even noticed it.

Glancing around the classroom briefly, he slips his notebook from his lap and tucks it into his bag. He answers another question on his worksheet.

Or maybe someone has noticed it but they don't know that I've noticed it too.

This poses a new question for Shoji- out of all of his classmates, who would be the most likely to have picked up on the tapping- and perhaps worked out what it's been saying.

Tap tap tap.

Shoji immediately picks up on tapping behind him. It's Jirou- she's tapping her pencil.

In morse.

Of course she would notice- she has the best hearing in the class, aside from himself.

W-H-A-T W-A-N-T.

Evidently, Jirou had made the choice to initiate contact with the other party. Shoji grimaces a little- he would've liked to at least collaborate a little before making contact. But hey, here he is now. And he has to give Jirou credit for having the guts to ask what the messager wants directly.

It's quiet for a moment, and Shoji's straining his ears to listen for a response. Jirou's message repeats again after five minutes, and honestly, he wouldn't put it past her incredible hearing if she heard his heart pounding in anticipation.

T-H-U-R-S-D-A-Y.

Shoji's jaw clenches as he traces the letters on his leg with an extra hand. He hears Jirou let out a long exhale, masking the tension she must be feeling by stretching her arms slowly overhead. Before she can respond, the tapping resumes.

F-O-U-R A-M.

Four what?

B-E-T-A.

Shoji's eyes widen just as Jirou lets out another shaky breath.

It's a  meeting .

He doesn't need to turn around to know that the girl behind him is likely to go on ahead to meet with this mysterious stranger. Sure, he's not close to Jirou at all, but then again, this is the beginning of the semester. He respects her straightforward thinking and efficiency when it comes to hero training. So of course he snakes an extra hand down by her foot and taps out his own morse message, relying more on her sense of touch rather than hearing.

D-O-N-T G-O.

Jirou almost reflexively kicks him before she carefully steps on his extra hand. It's not at all malicious- more of a reception of his message. When the bell rings and signals the end of study hall and Shoji casually turns to glimpse Jirou in his periphery, she gives him a knowing look. However, it wouldn't be until after classes had ended and she tapped her own message with her earphone jack on his shoulder that they would be able to discuss what happened today.

The evening light casts a warm glow as Shoji bids Tokoyami farewell- while he has a preference for the dark and moody, he's a rather kindred soul. Little Chihoshi Riyo passes by, holding the hand of who appears to be her beau- an upperclassman, to Shoji's surprise. But they seem to suit each other well, especially when he notices the older boy passing her a wrapped candy.

"Bye-bye, pretty Shoji! See you tomorrow!" Her voice chirps in his head. He smiles- under his mask, rather than with an extra mouth.

See you tomorrow, Chihoshi.

He gets the sweet sound of a jingling bell in response.

Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpses Jirou heading out the front gate of UA, giving him a meaningful look.

Right… Yeah. Don't wanna discuss this in UA. The walls have ears... and who knows if they're as good as ours.

He follows casually, scrolling through his phone as if he hadn't much a care in the world. But he follows the sound of Jirou's footsteps until they find themselves outside a quaint little tea house, not too far a distance from UA. Jirou leans casually against the wall, and Shoji privately thinks she looks kind of cool when she does that in such an effortless way.

"So you heard it too," she says finally, lips twisting as she frowns at him. "The code."

It's not so much of a question as an affirmation, so Shoji nods all the same. "Yeah. I noticed it last week. I didn't put together that it was a message until a few days ago. It took me a while to be able to recognize the patterns."

Jirou nods as she digests this information. "Yeah. I didn't notice it was morse code right away, but I've been listening for the past week or so. It's always the same."

"Even when you tapped out a message of your own?" There's a thrill of adrenaline that heightens Shoji's senses. His mouth goes a little dry.

"Well... I got that time and a place for a meeting." The dark haired girl twists an earphone jack around her finger nervously. "And honestly... I don't think I could ignore it if I tried. I know it could be a trap- how else did those villains know about our schedule, and the USJ? This could be a complete setup. But now that I'm not the only one who's noticed..."

Shoji can practically see her thought process.

"You want to set up a sting," he breathes.

"I mean, if it turns out to be something like that, yeah."

Taking a deep breath, Shoji nods once. "Right. So you and I noticed the messages. Do you think anyone else in our class noticed?"

"No," Jirou answers quickly. "None of them have hearing as sensitive as we do."

The small use of "we" is kind of pleasing to Shoji. Like he's a part of something.

"Should we tell the others?" He asks. "I can't see what good that might do. It could just incite panic in the school, and we lose out on our lead. What about the pro heroes?"

"They'll tell us to back out. We still lose our lead. Besides, I was the one given the meeting time and place. If we get the pros involved, whoever's sending the messages might find out and get cold feet."

"Seems like you guys are between a rock and a hard place."

Jirou jumps and Shoji immediately takes a defensive stance, several more eyes and ears morphing into existence for the intruding eavesdropper. He almost doesn't catch her- until two blazer sleeves and a UA uniform collar appear from the other side of the short wall.

"Hagakure," Shoji relaxes a little, still watching her warily as one of his tentacles morphs into a second mouth. "You followed us."

"You guys seemed to be communicating with each other during class," the invisible girl shrugs. "Maybe it's because I'm invisible and not many people notice me, but I notice them."

That's fair.

"How much did you overhear?" Jirou asks cautiously.

"There's someone communicating in a secret code. And you two want to meet with them!" A blazer sleeve swings up accusingly at Shoji and Jirou, who sighs. "I want in! You'll need backup."

"That... could actually work," Shoji admits slowly. "I'll act as a lookout. Jirou goes to meet the messenger. And if we have you as backup..."

"Three heads are better than one! Trust me!" The smile is audible in Hagakure's cheerful voice. "They won't even notice me!"

Fitting, seeing as Shoji didn't notice her in the first place. It makes sense that an invisible girl would know how to get around without being seen, but the way she moves is nearly silent- quiet enough that no one would know of an invisible audience. This is good, because Shoji hates the idea of sending Jirou in alone without backup. Not that sending two girls is better than one- of course, the two of them together could fend off an attacker well enough on their own. But there is something to be said about confidence in numbers.

Jirou and her sensitive hearing. Hagakure and her ability to move unseen. And he, Shoji, with unparalleled scouting skills and sheer brute strength. It's a solid team.

"I don't think anyone else has noticed anything up," Hagakure is telling Jirou as Shoji refocuses on the girls. "It's just you two and then myself, because I followed you. Sorry about that, but you guys looked so tense!"

"We're lucky that it worked out," Jirou shakes her head. "Either way... the message gave us a time and place. Ground Beta, on Thursday at four in the morning."

"Four... in the morning? That's so early..."

"UA would have a record of us showing up so early on campus," Shoji crosses his main arms contemplatively. His tentacles still have a couple of eyes and ears out for any other potential eavesdroppers. "If we're trying to avoid detection... There's be no way to get around UA's impenetrable defenses. We would have to pass through the main gate and use our student ID cards to do it."

"Damn," Jirou mumbles, brow furrowing. "How would we get around that? If we get caught, we're in deep trouble. Plus, we would have to be able to leave and then come back for classes so that there's record of us showing up to campus."

"Maybe... we could borrow a teacher's ID? It's realistic to think that they could forget it somewhere, right?"

"Maybe... but I don't think the teachers would be so careless as to leave them lying around. Especially after what happened at the USJ."

"So we pickpocket," Hagakure's sleeves come up in front of her chest. Shoji imagines a generic determined expression in her posture.

Could we really pull something off like pickpocketing a teacher? Unless...

"If we're caught, we're done for," he says quickly. "Unless... well... We could bring someone in on this who could get away with it and return the ID in an instant..."

"Who?"

"Well..." Shoji feels terrible for simply thinking about it, let alone pitching the idea to his newfound teammates. "Chihoshi has that ability of hers to kind of teleport herself... and I think I've seen her do it with objects, too."

The other two are silent for a moment, Jirou pursing her lips before she speaks. "I don't think it would be right to ask Chihoshi to do something like that. I don't want to take advantage of her- especially if we're caught. It wouldn't be right."

"I can sneak into the faculty room easy to try to get an ID before Wednesday is over," Hagakure assures Shoji confidently, her shoulders wiggling a little. Then, she freezes. "Oh wait! I have an idea! Shirakumo-sensei ends up staying late after school ends for his own additional classes! If we sneak in as he's leaving- we could stay the night, until four o'clock rolls around!"

"The longer we're on campus, the higher the likelihood we'll be caught," Shoji disagrees. "It needs to be quick and covert."

"Not to mention all the cameras," Jirou jerks a thumb back in the general direction of the school.

They're not likely to have many blind spots, if any...

"I can always sneak up and hold a leaf up to the camera- like a leaf blew off a tree and covered it for a moment," Hagakure offers.

"I can interfere with sound if I have too," Jirou also nods, waving an earphone jack to underscore her point. "We just gotta get in."

"Maybe implement a bit of everything. Cause audio feedback with your earphone jacks, Hagakure does the leaf thing, and then you and I use a teacher ID and slip in the gate. Hagakure follows right after."

It's a flimsy Swiss cheese slice of a plan. But it's the best they've got. After all, letting this meeting time roll over isn't an option at this point. If worse comes to worse, Shoji knows that he and the girls will explain everything to the pro heroes, and they'll face whatever consequences they have to. But if this turns out to be a prevention of another USJ-scale attack...

Shoji thinks of a tiny little body lying in a pool of blood.

If we can prevent that from happening again, I don't care if UA decides to expel us.

 

Chapter Text

A lot of people thought- or still think- that Kaminari Denki is kind of an idiot. Now, Denki enjoys self-deprecating humor as much as the next poor sad bastard, but he's not- like- a total dunce.

So when Bakugo gives him the moniker of Dunce Face, he laughs it off, and then pretends it doesn't hurt at least a little bit. Perhaps this was payback for the whole "your-personality-is-flaming-shit" comment he made... but to be fair, he'd been kind of an asshole to Midoriya during the whole Quirk assessments thing. And Midoriya's a sweet guy! Nerdy and friendly!

Either way, Denki's not an idiot, not when he doesn't want to be. He simply has problems focusing on boring stuff and doing deep dives into the stuff he likes or finds interesting.

Like electricity.

Especially when he's noticing some odd flickering in the classroom lighting for the past week. Call it boredom or a product of his ADHD, but there's something about it that he can't let go. He even mentions it to Kirishima at one point, who shrugs and says he can't notice it after the next class. But still- the lights are flickering oddly, and it's usually during study hall. He's always had an interesting affinity with electricity- he's gotten struck by lightning once before and it overloaded his brain, certainly, but he's pretty good with circuitry. Electricity. Amps, Ohms, Volts- heck, he had a contingency plan for entering the Support Course if he didn't pass the Hero Course entrance exams.

So naturally, when it's his turn to clean the classroom after school, and he gently pressures Shoji into leaving early and letting him finish sweeping up, Denki does the most logical thing.

He shuts the door, closes the blinds, and makes an interesting stack of desks to the ceiling in order to carefully unscrew one of the covers of the fluorescent lights. A long rod lightbulb shortly follows. And then, without an ounce of fear or hesitation, Denki balances the rod on the stacked desk and sticks both fingers into leads.

Electric current races through his fingertips, his hair slowly standing on end as he frowns, getting a sense of the voltage and current of the electricity passing through him.

Denki knows a lot about electricity. And while he doesn't know what UA's standard is for lighting their classrooms, he does know that the voltage should generally be consistent. After all, the voltage directly affects how bright a lightbulb can be, and this one has been flickering rather annoyingly. So when he feels the odd fluctuations of current running through his body, he frowns.

Faulty wiring, maybe? But for  just  this light? That doesn't make much sense...

If he's decided to become an electrician, maybe Denki would be able to diagnose the problem. However, he's a hero in training on top of a tower of desks, precariously balancing a rod bulb and sticking his fingers into electrical sockets. If anyone walked in on him now, he might just look like the weirdest thing they'd ever seen.

The door to the classroom slides open.

"Hey, Kamina- uh...? This is the weirdest thing I've ever seen."

Well, Denki thinks nervously to himself, what do I say? It's not what it looks like!?

"It's not what it looks like!" He tries.

"What is this supposed to look like?" Shoji tosses up all six arms incredulously. "We're supposed to be cleaning the classroom, not- whatever you're doing!"

"I thought you went home!"

"I forgot to sign the classroom duty sheet that Iida drafted up! What about you?"

"The bulb's been flickering for the past week and a half and it's been driving me nuts!"

"So you decided to change it!?"

"No! I wanted to know why!"

Denki's fingers are still pressed against the electrical leads. Small sparks are dancing across his skin.

"Put the bulb back and get down!"

"No!" Kaminari pouts slightly, frowning down at Shoji from his rather dangerous perch. He finally removes his fingers from the leads and starts placing the bulb back in place, quickly restoring the cover panel... before starting to open the one next to it.

"Kaminari!"

"I have to check! Now go flip the light switch!"

"What?"

"I need to know if these two lights are in series! I don't think they are but you're here already, so just do it!"

There's a saying that goes something like "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." And Kaminari is trying his hardest to be someone that Shoji won't beat at this point because he has to know what's making the light flicker. Does he seem crazy? Absolutely, but all scientists are deemed some sort of crazy in pursuit of the truth!

At least, that's what his mom said once. She also proceeded to stick a fork in the toaster without a second thought. They needed a new toaster later that day.

Denki can see the hesitation and internal struggle in Shoji's body language. The stuttering steps, the frustrated posture- and then his classmate turns and flicks the light switch.

"Yes! Thanks, Shoji!"

Just like he thought, the faulty light is the one "emergency light" that doesn't turn off when all the others are turned off.

Weird.

"You could just tell Aizawa-sensei if it's bothering you this much," Shoji sighs irritably.

"The current shouldn't be fluctuating as much as it is," Denki responds quickly. "The voltage is inconsistent- like somebody keeps jamming resistors into the circuit, or something is periodically drawing the building's power, or..." he trails off, thinking of hazy memories of electric discharge and villains.

The League of Villains... they messed with the electricity in the USJ. Blew out all the lights and jammed communications... could this be...?

"What is it?" Shoji asks sharply, recapturing Denki's attention.

"Something's funky," Denki settles on saying after a few seconds. "Help me get down, I wanna stick a paper clip into the electrical socket."

"That's...!"

"Relax! I do it all the time!"

Shoji crosses his arms doubtfully. "That's not exactly reassuring."

Somehow, Denki manages to clamber down his desk tower. It looks a lot more imposing than he remembers from ten minutes ago. Maybe that's why Shoji was so insistent that he get down from there. Oh well.

"Look, I know it's kinda weird, but I just gotta know," Denki explains poorly. "Is it just that light or is it the whole building? What's that light connected to? What's drawing power?"

"I still have no idea why you're so interested in a faulty light," Shoji sighs.

"It flickers and I can't focus."

"Most people would ignore it."

"I'm not most people, my friend!" Denki lays a hand on his classmate's bare shoulder and they're rewarded with a rather potent shock. "Oops! Sorry. Do you have a paper clip I can borrow?"

Needless to say, Shoji refuses to supply Denki with any supplies to electrocute himself. That's fine by Denki- friends don't let friends do dangerous stupid stuff! Shoji's a good guy! And Denki managed to find a paper clip on his own. It's a shame he forgot his power cord at home.

Cue sticking it into the wall socket. He gets the familiar jolt that comes with recharging after a long day of hero training, but nothing different from normal. No fluctuations or lesser power output- so the flickering light is still an isolated case.

"What are you trying to achieve?" Shoji asks curiously.

Honestly, at this point, Denki doesn't really know. It's more of a gut feeling. He tells Shoji this, and the guy looks a little... apprehensive.

"Is there a... pattern to the flickering?"

A pattern?

Denki considers this for a moment.

A pattern...

"I- maybe? I just keep noticing it during study hall. Usually it stops but it's been flickering all day today- it's really subtle, but I sit right under it so I noticed." With a strong heave, Denki starts setting the desks back up how they're supposed to be. Shoji helps him silently, making short work of replacing the desks in their original positions. They've signed the sheet in the binder that Iida had insisted they use so no one can slack off on their duties, and have just walked a few blocks from UA's front gate when Shoji stops walking and stops Denki with a hand.

"Can you write the pattern?"

"Huh?"

"Can you write the pattern of the flickers?"

Pattern of the flickers? Wha-  wait a minute-

"You think it's a code?" Denki exclaims excitedly.

"Shh!"

code!?  That's cool! Wait- maybe  not  cool, because who would be sending messages by messing with the electricity to the emergency light!? And who would the messages be  for?  What if... what if it's really nothing?

What if it's really  something?

Denki's fingertips tingle with nervous static as he runs a hand through his hair. He only succeeds in making it stand on end and he sighs. "One second," he tells Shoji before touching a hand to a street light. It flickers to life. "Needed to ground myself," he says quickly.

Shoji glances at the light post briefly before returning his gaze to Denki's. "Anyway, write the flickers down- a dash for long ones, and a dot for short ones."

"You think it's morse code? Really?"

"Ah," Shoji sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. "I've been noticing a tapping sound recently. It only happens during study hall. And it was only a few days ago that I recognized it as morse code."

This really  is  something.

"What did it say?"

"Gave us a time and place for a meeting. Not sure who or what it is..."

Denki's flabbergasted. "And you're going!? Wait, wait, wait- us? Who else has...?"

"Jirou. And Hagakure. We're planning a sting operation. We have to avoid spooking the lead, and letting the teachers or the pro heroes know is not an option," Shoji says sharply. "Not yet. If this turns out to be a similar caliber to the USJ..."

Shoji doesn't really need to finish that sentence. The streetlight flickers and dims as Denki pulls away his hand and thinks hard. The USJ attack was pretty terrifying. It's also pretty terrifying that he was nearly... well, he was nearly useless the whole time. Even when Jirou and Yaoyorozu used him as a human taser, he only lasted so long until he shorted out.

His lips twist into a frown.

I was a liability, in the long run, wasn't I? I couldn't hold my own... I cowered behind my classmates...!

Brow furrowed in determination, Denki looks up at Shoji and nods. "I want in. I want to help- to protect my friends before tragedy strikes again! I can't stand being the one who needs to be protected, every time I overuse my Quirk! Maybe this way..." Denki clenches his fist as a small tendril of electricity arcs between his knuckles. "Maybe this way, I can make it up to them!"

Make it up to her.

Shoji looks at him critically with a few extra eyes. "This could work better than expected... how good are you with shorting out a security system?"

Denki blanches. "What?"

"We need to bypass the UA security system to reach Field Beta at four in the morning, tomorrow."

If I mess with UA's security and they find out, I'm done for!

"What if it goes wrong!?"

"Then we accept the consequences. Jirou, Hagakure, and I have all accepted what those might be. Detention, expulsion... I'll gladly accept that if it means that our class is safe. And if they are, I'll argue that if we were so easily able to tamper with security, then they need to improve it."

"You're that confident that your plan to infiltrate our school will work?"

"Out of our class, Jirou, Hagakure, and I are some of the best suited for stealth." Shoji looks in multiple directions at once with a few more eyes- Denki makes an errant comparison to a flesh Christmas tree with rolling eyeball ornaments before he shakes his head to clear the image.

"Y-yeah... well, should I go back and check that light for flickering again?"

"Yeah. You have an excuse." Shoji turns his head away, but he still has a second mouth beside Denki that speaks. "I... might've slipped your phone from your pocket and left it in your desk."

Denki quickly pats down his blazer and pants before giving Shoji a betrayed look. "Really, man!?"

"Well, it gives you an excuse to go back that's not so suspicious. We don't know who will be watching."

Fair, Denki muses grudgingly as he starts walking back to UA.

"I'll wait here," Shoji says, sounding pretty sheepish.

"Okay."

And so, after a quick trip back to the classroom, a discrete video of the flickering light, and a feigned double-check of Iida's signature page, Denki's finally out of UA for good today.

A couple of Shoji's tentacles stretch over to greet Denki, his head still tucked and his main arms still crossed as he leans against a side wall.

"What did you find out?" The mouth on his right asks.

"I took a video- it wasn't flickering before I stepped into the classroom, but started when I crossed the threshold. Same thing when I left. I don't give off latent electricity, either. If that was the case, we'd see a lot more, uh, destruction?"

"Got it," Shoji hums, an eye drawing nearer to watch the video. "Huh. It really is a subtle flickering," he says after a few moments. "But I see what you mean. You can't really notice it unless you're directly under the light."

Finally, validation!

"Well... is it random? Or code?"

"Code," Shoji affirms. And while part of Denki is excited, the other parts are chilled with dread and anxiety.

"What's-" his voice cracks, "what's it saying?"

"It's spelling out numbers," Shoji lifts his head finally, brow furrowing. "Ones and zeroes."

"A code... telling us another code?" Denki frowns at his phone.

"Zero, zero, one, zero, one, stop. Then it just repeats. I... don't think it's binary. Eight digits- ones or zeroes- code for a single character. This is only five. We don't even have a single letter, let alone a word or message."

"So it's not binary," Denki mumbles to himself, scrolling through his phone. "It's telling us this in English, right?"

"That's how morse code works. Binary's different."

"Does it mean anything for the messages to be in English?"

Shoji's eyes- there are five of them, if he's counting- widen. "Maybe? At least, whoever is sending these messages knows enough to send messages in English through a code. We can't really make many assumptions based on that limited information, though."

"Five numbers," Denki muses.

What do they mean?

Chapter Text

The rather sheepish grin on Kaminari's face was too much for Jirou to handle at three in the morning. After all, he wasn't supposed to be here, and none of their agreed plans from before account for an additional classmate- let alone a classmate with a rather rambunctious personality.

"Shoji!" She hisses, feeling a mixture of exasperation, frustration, and betrayal. "Why is he here!?"

You've got to be kidding me!

"He found another piece of the puzzle," is all he says, his tentacles fanning out to keep a few extra eyes and ears out. "Is Hagakure here?"

"Yep!" Comes a disembodied voice to Jirou's right. "I've gone full stealth- this is a serious mission!"

Meaning she's running around in the nude, as, uh, they planned.

"Look, I know I'm probably the last person you want here, Jirou," Kaminari says quickly, a determined expression on his face. "I wasn't much help at the USJ, and when I did- I only had a few rounds in me until I was completely useless... I really hindered you and Yaoyorozu in the long run- so please let me make it up to you!"

That gives her pause.

He thinks he was useless? But his electricity really kept us afloat after I kicked him! We would've been overrun if he hadn't stepped in for a while.

Of course, it's not like she's gonna tell him that right now.

"I wanna help," Kaminari reiterates, a spark in his eye that has nothing to do with his Quirk. Glancing at Shoji briefly, Kaminari pulls out his phone. "Shoji walked in on me yesterday when I was... uh... checking on something."

"He was climbing a bunch of desks to mess around with the lightbulbs in the classroom," Shoji summarizes bluntly.

"Didja have to put it like that!?"

"Come on! What's the deal with the lights?" Hagakure recaptures the boys' attention. Pretty impressive, seeing as she's invisible. Jirou's grateful for her returning the focus on the actual main issue.

"The lights had a code," Shoji nods at Kaminari's phone, which shows a rather weird video of faint flickering.

"It's morse code, according to Shoji," Kaminari explains.

More morse code? But...  lights,  this time?

"What's it say?" Hagakure asks quickly.

"A few ones and zeroes. Uh, Shoji?"

"Zero, zero, one, zero, one, stop. On repeat."

"It's not binary," Kaminari says quickly. "Just... a few zeroes and ones."

"I wonder what it means," Hagakure hums worriedly.

"Are you sure it's not just a coincidence?" Jirou asks skeptically, raising an eyebrow at the newest member of the Sneak-Into-School-Because-Reasons team. Whether she likes it or not, it seems like Shoji's clued him in to the current situation. Why else would they be meeting in an alley by the train station at three in the morning?

"The light only flickered when I was in the room, and I don't give off latent electricity," Kaminari explains, showing her the phone again. "When I was checking the lights, it was a clear manipulation of the current- like something else was temporarily drawing the current. Whatever it was, it was intentional."

"It's definitely a code of some sort," Shoji backs him up briskly. "To what, it's unclear. But it's best to keep this in mind as we try to go forth with our mission. Whether it means anything now or comes up later, the fact that we caught this makes it important. So let's go over the plan again."

"More like make a new one," Jirou mutters. "Okay. Hagakure, you got the teacher ID?"

"I managed to sneak it off of Shirakumo-sensei," she says hesitantly, lifting a plastic card into view. "I feel so bad! I hope he doesn't get into trouble for this, but his was the easiest one to grab!"

Guilt aside, they have what they need.

"Right, so right before we reach the front gate, Hagakure will cover the cameras with leaves," Shoji continues laying down the plan once more. "We'll only get a few moments of visual cover before she knocks them off to try to make it seem like a gust of wind. We'll enter with Shirakumo-sensei's ID and Hagakure will sneak in as quick as possible. After which, Kaminari will send a small electric charge through the system."

"What? Why!?" Jirou frowns.

"To make it seem like a glitch in the security system," Kaminari grins roguishly. "That way, it doesn't seem too weird that Shirakumo-sensei's ID was detected by the security system at this hour."

"Of course, it can't be such a big charge as to immediately alert the school that something's up," Shoji nods. "Not to mention, we still need a way into Ground Beta."

"Using the ID from Shirakumo-sensei to gain entry for a second time within UA grounds would definitely look suspicious," Hagakure agrees worriedly. "Kaminari-kun, do you really think you can get us into the training grounds?"

"It really depends on what kind of system they're running... and there's two ways to go about messing with it! Either I overload the system with a lotta juice and it fries, or I act as a drain!"

"We'll go with the drain," Jirou smirks. "After all, most of what goes in your brain just drains out anyway."

"Hey!"

"What time is it? I don't have a watch or anything on!"

"We have forty five minutes to make it into UA unseen and access Ground Beta," Shoji informs the group. "Let's get moving." At that, he pulls his hood up on his sleeveless hoodie and folds his extra tentacles tightly against his body. It might not do much up close, but Jirou supposes it's good enough for a camera feed from afar, in the event that they might get caught. Jirou pulls up her own hood and cracks her knuckles.

Showtime.

Kaminari simply pulls a hat over his head and pops the collar of his dark jacket. With a wink and double finger guns, he starts heading towards the school.

What a dork, Jirou smiles inwardly. But he's not a bad dude.

After all, he's shown himself to be quite capable in a pinch- even if he doesn't particularly believe it. And well, maybe she's even glad he's here. There's something comforting about that happy-go-lucky smile that helps her believe that things might turn out okay.

"Okay," Hagakure breathes in Jirou's ear.

Ack!

A single leaf waves by her elbow. A piece of chewed bubblegum is stuck to the underside.

"I'll give you a boost," Shoji nods towards the leaf, forming a step with his hands. "The cameras I told you about are on either side of the entrance, left and right. We'll cover this one in a blind spot I scoped out earlier during the day."

"Where's Kaminari?" Jirou whispers to Shoji.

"Covering the other cameras hidden across the street."

Capable guy.

Jirou smirks, one of her earphone jacks plunging into the ground to listen for any unwanted visitors, as well as for Kaminari's return.

"One, two, three!"

Jirou's sure that Shoji's launch of Hagakure into the sky is a spectacular show of strength on his part, and grace on Hagakure's part. However, the landing makes her want to cover eyes, even if she can't see Hagakure falling through the air. Shoji had said that it was on Hagakure to land in his safety net of branching limbs. Jirou counts at least eight hands before they curl in on an invisible body.

Shoji coughs awkwardly. "Sorry," he mumbles.

"Don't worry about it!" Comes a cheerful whisper. "I know you're a good guy, Shoji!" A floating piece of bubblegum disappears, and Jirou can hear her chewing quickly.

The second camera finds them regrouping with Kaminari, who assures them that the other hidden cameras are covered for now. After a repeat performance with launching their invisible acrobat into the air- twice, this time, since she missed the camera on the first toss. Hearing Kaminari gasp and cringe and flinch whenever Shoji threw Hagakure was a little distracting, but all the same- the cameras were covered.

"Right on!" Hagakure whispers excitedly. "I'm giving you guys thumbs up!"

"Awesome! Great work Hagakure!" Kaminari grins, shooting double thumbs up.

"I'm behind you! But I appreciate it!"

He spins around. "Right!"

"The only thing is that I won't be able to knock them off like we planned... so we'll have to leave the cameras blind until we manage to get out."

Right. Tossing an invisible person into the air is tricky enough, but throwing her and sprinting to the gates? Let alone if Hagakure could successfully land on her own- it's too risky.

"It's your time to shine, Sparky," Jirou nods at him as their group makes their way towards the front gates.

A more serious expression slides into place as the blond looks up at the gates. Shoji takes out the teacher ID with Shirakumo's grinning face and there's a small stab of guilt that assaults Jirou's conscience.

It's for the greater good, she reminds herself. If he gets in trouble... no, we'll take full responsibility. He shouldn't get fired because of us... right?

There's no time to dwell on anything but the present moment. Jirou, Shoji, Kaminari, and Hagakure quickly pass through the gates. Kaminari's face pinches in concentration as he lays his fingertips against the side of the gate, small arcs of electricity sparking up and down his arms. "Control, control, control," he mouths to himself quietly- so quietly that Jirou nearly doesn't pick up on it.

Come on, Kaminari! You can do it!

He sucks in a big breath, eyes darting around the wall of the gates before he slowly lifts his hands away.

"I alternated between sending shocks and drawing power," he breathes heavily. "Try scanning Shirakumo-sensei's ID!"

Shoji waves the ID by the gate. It shudders, moving a few inches before closing again.

Kaminari goes pale. "Maybe that worked too well."

"We'll come back to that," Jirou says quickly. "We've got thirty minutes until the meeting. Shoji, will you take the lead? You know where the blind spots are."

"Right. Stay close."

It's an interesting route that the group takes, with the exception of Hagakure scouting ahead. She returns periodically to assure them that she hasn't seen any night security, nor any suspicious individuals. It's a little disconcerting.

Why is there such lax security? Our class was  attacked,  wouldn't they have at least one patrol at all times?

Nonetheless, they make it to Ground Beta without consequence. Jirou quickly plunges her earphone jacks into the wall surrounding the training grounds, listening intently. There's not a sound on the other side, and that...?

That's really worrisome.

Shoji and Kaminari approach the doors and examine the outside.

"Doesn't seem like anyone's here yet," Jirou mutters to the others. A quick glance at her watch tells her that they have a little less than five minutes. Swallowing hard, Jirou turns to face her companions. "Okay. I'm going in."

"I'll be your backup, like we planned," Hagakure whispers. "If anything goes wrong, I'll signal to Shoji and Kaminari!"

"We got your back," Kaminari affirms, putting a hand on Jirou's shoulder and giving her a reassuring smile. It makes her feel a little better about what sort of danger they might be willingly walking towards- not so much that they're all screwed if things go wrong, but that they're not going to leave her high and dry.

Of course, verbalizing this appreciation wouldn't be very punk rock, so she simply returns Kaminari's grin with her own nervous smirk and says, "I know."

"We'll keep to the shadows," Shoji tells her. "We won't be too far, but in the event that the one sending those messages didn't come alone either... we might need to keep a further distance." Fanning out his extra limbs, Shoji rolls his shoulders and fixes them all with a serious gaze. "This is a battle of stealth. Whoever notices the other first has the upper hand. Keep your eyes and ears peeled."

And so, they push the doors open to Ground Beta and slip inside. The false cityscape is rather imposing and as lifelike as Jirou remembers it from training- though the atmosphere a stark contrast. Where a real city would be brightly lit and populated with people hustling and bustling home from work or out for errands or entertainment, Ground Beta is dark and silent. No lights shine through windows, no sound but for the early morning breeze and the sound of four students breathing in the magnitude of their mission.

Jirou looks down at her watch.

Three minutes.

Taking a deep breath, she nods at Shoji and Kaminari, who nod in return and slink into the shadows. A gentle touch on her shoulder let's her know that Hagakure is still with her.

"Okay," Jirou whispers, stepping forward down the empty street.

Her eyes are drawn to her watch in a consistent pattern, unable to help herself from counting down the remaining seconds until it's precisely four o'clock in the morning. Nothing monumental happens once her watch displays those fated numbers- it's just four o'clock. Jirou's sneakered feet slow to a stop.

It's still quiet.

Glancing to the side- the side where Hagakure is, with an invisible hand on her shoulder, Jirou clenches her fists.

"I'm here," she announces clearly to the empty street. They have to be in the heart of Ground Beta by now.

It's silent.

Jirou plunges an earphone jack into the sidewalk to listen.

Nothing.

Then-

Footsteps?

Hagakure's grip on her shoulder squeezes frightfully, and that's all it takes for Jirou to spin around, fists up and at the ready as she faces the person who had approached her from behind.

"Are you the one who sent the message?"

Chapter Text

"Are you the one who sent the message?"

It's a male voice, Jirou realizes somewhere in the back of her head, but it also sounds young.

She squints at the figure in front of her from under her hood, feeling the pressure of Hagakure's grip leave her shoulder. A fierce appreciation wells up in her gut for the invisible girl, who no doubt is taking a closer look at the newcomer.

Then-

Hagakure's grip returns on her shoulder, squeezing a few times. Unfortunately, Jirou's fried nerves aren't exactly helping her understand what Hagakure's trying to convey to her.

"It's four in the morning, Thursday. Ground Beta, like you said."

A crumpled sheet of paper is tossed at Jirou, and she catches it reflexively, unfurling what appears to be a a page from a hero magazine and a Hero Course homework assignment.

They're from the Hero Course!?

Hagakure's grip leaves her again, and Jirou swallows, feeling a little exposed and quite nervous.

If they're Hero Course, then they could be a classmate. But I would recognize their voice if they were in Class 1A. So they could be in 1B... or an upperclassman.

Jirou frowns as she looks down at the papers in her hand. The magazine page has a speckling of tiny holes in it, but as she smooths the page out, she realizes that letters from all over the Hero Course worksheet peek through.

What...?

THURSDAY.

FOUR.

BETA.

Someone else was called here with the same message in a different way!?

Jirou glances up at the dark figure in front of her curiously, but not before she realizes that she recognizes the Hero Course assignment. Sure, it's blank and there's no writing to be discerned- but it's the same worksheet their class had completed a few days ago.

"You're from Class 1B?" Jirou finds herself asking quietly.

The figure stiffens a little.

"You didn't send the message."

Jirou reflexively taps out the message in morse code with an earphone jack, audible enough for them to hear. "This is how I got mine."

The figure curses, but it's not at all directed towards Jirou- it's more incredulous.

"Who are you?" Jirou presses.

"Kuroiro Shihai." A hood is pulled down from the figure's head, and pale hair gleams in the faint moonlight. "You?"

"Jirou," Jirou says simply, letting her own hood fall to her shoulders. She realizes why it was so hard to make out his figure- his skin is entirely pitch black, almost melding perfectly with his surroundings.

"Anyone else here?" Kuroiro asks her bluntly, thin eyes glancing around.

Jirou swallows, still eyeing him suspiciously. He could still be a spy- or even the one responsible for leaking their class's schedule and location to the villains that attacked the USJ.

How do I vet him out? He could be lying or pretending to be a sympathizer. Or-

A light flickers on in a tall building behind Kuroiro. One single room, one single window. Kuroiro turns quickly, just in time to see it turn off, and another light turn on below it- a different floor.

Then, it turns off and another light flickers into being on the top floor.

"Another code," Kuroiro says quickly, pulling out a pen and snatching the crumpled pages from Jirou. His eyes dart back and forth between the flickering building and the margin of the worksheet, dribbling harsh lines on the white paper.

He's making a grid.

Kuroiro quickly marks the grid with an X in each window the light turns on. This continues for a while, looking up to the building and down at the paper and pen in Kuroiro's hands. It's not without great caution that Jirou slowly approaches.

"Codes on top of codes," Kuroiro mutters, wiping his nose with a dark finger as he glares down at the paper. "We're being played with."

That makes a lot of sense.

"How'd you get in for the meeting?" Jirou asks quickly, earphone jacks trembling in anticipation.

"My Quirk." In an instant, Kuroiro vanishes into the darkness of the shadows before appearing several meters away. "It's called Black."

Useful... and very tricky.

"It let you bypass the UA Barrier?"

"Nah. I've been here overnight. Slipped my ID on a classmate and they passed through the gate for me. I'll get it back later today."

Very clever... but there would still be a lack of footage showing you  actually  leaving campus, if anyone bothered to check.

"I know you suspect me of being a spy," Kuroiro says bluntly, fading back into the shadows. Jirou swallows, plunging a jack into the ground and keeping her fists at the ready. She can hear Hagakure also shift her weight, clearly ready to provide support.

"Prove you're not!"

"Same to you! I don't want my class put in danger, either! One of yours already almost died, who's to say Class 1B isn't the next target!?"

A dark face suddenly appears in the alleyway to Jirou's left, twisted in a frustrated grimace. And she knows, she knows how he must feel. That's why she's here. That's why the others are here, too! To nip this thing in the bud, to stop the next crisis in its tracks before it has a chance to blow up in all of their faces.

Not all hero work is glamorous.

"I'm here because I don't want anyone else to get hurt," Jirou says carefully, lowering her fists slowly. "I noticed the tapping, noticed the coded messages... something's gonna happen at the Sports Festival. So I tapped back a message and I got this time and place."

The other boy is silent for a moment, his face hardly visible in the shadows, let alone readable. Jirou wouldn't be able to spot him if it weren't for his white hair.

"Whether you're a spy or not," Kuroiro huffs, turning away, "it would be most beneficial to me if we worked together either way. The new puzzle with the building lights needs to be addressed." He starts walking, not caring to look back to see if Jirou would follow. She would, of course, because there's no way she's gonna let this guy out of her sight as long as she can manage.

"I'm not a spy," Jirou mumbles, before retracting her earphone jacks and jogging after him.

The good thing, if things go south, is that it seems like she's got numbers on her side. Hagakure, of course, who's jogging along beside her with light steps and quick breath. But also, Shoji and Kaminari are trailing behind them. By the looks of Kuroiro's Quirk, it seems like he travels through shadows. Technically, he's at an advantage with this terrain until Kaminari reveals himself.

Jirou smiles quietly to herself as she runs alongside Kuroiro.

I'm glad Kaminari's here.

She and Kuroiro slow to a stop in front of the building, which shows no signs of life. Kuroiro gives her a cautious look before he tries to open the door- it's some sort of replica of an office building. His dark hands grip the side of a sliding glass door, fingers digging into the crevice before he pulls, arms straining. Jirou plunges a jack into the wall to listen, closing her eyes.

Footsteps. Two pairs. They sound like...

Quiet tapping soon follows.

AM SHOJI.

Ah. It's them. They must be in the building already- or at least nearby.

WHO?

Meaning, who is with her? Jirou glances at Kuroiro, who is watching her after having pried open the door. "Can you hear anything?" He asks.

Should I tell him about the others?

"Prove you're not a spy," she blurts out.

The dark boy scowls, baring his teeth. "Look. I know I look the type, like a freak, but if you wanna fight it out right now, then throw the first punch!"

Jirou stiffens in surprise.

"I don't have time to waste," Kuroiro spits. "So-"

"Yeah. There's no threats in there that I can hear," Jirou cuts him off quickly, stepping through the door. "I don't think you're working with the villains, either. Really," she hesitates, rubbing the back of her neck awkwardly, "I don't want you to be. That villain attack shook my class up bad- and yours too, by the sounds of it. The fact that you're even here, after hearing about everything..." Jirou bobs her head, trying to look aloof as she holds out a fist and turns away. "That's pretty metal. I- I respect that."

The resulting silence is a little weighty with tension and just when Jirou's arm is starting to get tired, there's a hesitant touch of knuckles to her own.

"Yeah," comes a far more reserved response. "Same- same to you."

When she looks up, there's no sense of animosity in Kuroiro's gaze. Caution, certainly. But at least the tension is gone.

"The walls have ears," Jirou nods to herself as they start walking into the lobby of the building. "But mine are better. Tell me what you know, and I'll tell you what I know; whoever set us up already knows the details."

And so, Kuroiro explains that he typically reads hero magazines during the lunch period- rather than going to the cafeteria, he likes winding down on his own before hero training in the afternoons. But slowly, he noticed that certain letters of his magazine would be cut out, leaving the tiniest holes behind. At first, he thought perhaps there were bugs in his bag, eating at the pages. Then, after disinfecting his bag, the holes kept appearing in the magazines- always in the pages closest to the center of each issue. Realizing it was a sort of punch card was on accident- slipping yesterday's homework into his magazine when he was running late for school.

Nonetheless, he showed up at Ground Beta at the specified time, so Jirou has to give him credit. She's not sure if she'd prefer the morse code messages or the magazine method, to be honest.

No, an audible message was definitely better, she decides. Because Shoji heard it too, and now we have Hagakure, and Kaminari with his own code from the classroom lights...

"Should we head up or down?" Kuroiro asks her as they finish searching the lobby. There's nothing there of particular interest- the building looks move-in ready for a business, with no loose articles to be seen.

"The lights down here never turned on when we were outside, did they?"

"No. Only on the higher floors. We'd have to stay on the east side of the building to enter the rooms that had the lights turned on." Kuroiro pulls out the crumpled worksheet and examines his quick drawing of the building. "There's six rooms that had lights go on and off."

"Do you remember the order?"

"Shit. Uh... yeah, I think...?" He takes out his pen from his pocket and uncaps it with his teeth writing furiously. "It was either the second floor center room or the eighth floor corner that turned on fourth or fifth..."

Hopefully we don't need an order of some sort...

Jirou feels Hagakure's hand squeeze her shoulder.

"Go on ahead," Jirou breathes quietly.

Two squeezes in response. Hagakure's hand leaves her shoulder.

"Let's try to hit up the rooms in order," Kuroiro decides finally, looking up at Jirou. "There's gotta be something about them. It's some kind of puzzle, like the others. When we get to the fourth or fifth room, we can split up."

"You said the fourth and fifth rooms were second floor and eighth floor," Jirou frowns. "It would be better to stick together rather than willingly be split up from each other so far away."

A dark hand comes up to scratch pale hair and Kuroiro sighs. "Yeah... I'm just paranoid about the order of the rooms now, since you brought it up. What if we're supposed to visit them in a specific order?"

"Whoever's messing with us has put a lot of effort into passing secret messages in very personalized ways. They know about how sensitive my hearing is, and how you read those magazines. They wanted us. And if they put in that much work, I doubt that they're gonna drive us into a dead end."

Jirou plunges a jack into the wall and listens carefully.

"They're having fun jerking us around," Kuroiro mutters irritably. "There's no need to stall us with puzzles if they wanted us here at exactly four in the morning. It's a game."

"A game we've got no choice to play. We've come this far."

Jirou takes out her phone and sends a quick message to Shoji.

"What are you doing?"

She tosses her phone to him. Kuroiro's dark face is illuminated a little by the light of her phone screen as he reads over the most recent message.

"Just because we're playing the game... doesn't mean we have to play by the rules."

 

Chapter Text

"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.

Oversights.

Dumb mistakes.

Hubris.

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?"

"Monoma Neito."

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.

Really, Shouta?

"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.

"-doing here!?"

"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!"

"Exactly-"

"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."

 

Chapter Text

Out of all of the possible outcomes that Monoma had thought of, getting ganged up on by students of Class 1A was probably one of the worst ones. Mainly because he didn't want to believe that any Hero Course students would have a hand in the USJ attack. That, and well...

It's Class 1A.

It's with equal parts of adrenaline and dread that Monoma stands there, staring down the one with multiple arms and the one with electric yellow hair and a stupid expression. Plus, his phone was taken! Wasn't there-

"The invisible girl is with you, huh," he smiles, a small beads of sweat running down his neck. "That makes sense. It would be easy for her to-"

"Shut up," the largest one crosses his arms irritably. "We're not traitors, we told you. What brought you here? What codes or messages did you get that told you to be here on this day, at this time?"

Codes? Messages? So I wasn't the only one...? Or they're  lying .

"For me, it was the lights in the classroom!" the blonde one explains, pointing to the ceiling lights in the room. "They kept flickering, and it drove me nuts! Then Shoji walked in and... well..."

"For me, it was morse code," Shoji rolls his eyes. "A series of patterns decoded-"

"Yes, I know what morse code is," Monoma snaps. "So you're trying to tell me that it wasn't you who sent the cyphers?"

"Cyphers?" The large guy who evidently goes by Shoji looks a little surprised, as does the other guy. Monoma's pretty sure his name is something like Kaminari...?

What the hell is going on?

"What's the point of all these puzzles?" Kaminari buries his hands in his hair out of frustration. "They just make my brain hurt!"

Monoma really can't help himself when he responds, "I'm surprised you can claim to have one!"

An aggravated sigh leaves Shoji's mouth. "Tell us about the cyphers."

"Why should I!?"

"Well, if we were the ones who coerced you to be here, you wouldn't be telling us anything we didn't already know."

That's...! True... ugh!

Just because he's been given sound logic doesn't mean he'll be cooperative, however.

"Look, we're wasting time! We still need to get out of here without being detected, and turn up to class like normal," comes a girl's irritated voice from seemingly nowhere. It makes Monoma jump a little, eyes darting before turning his ear towards the voice. If he can but pinpoint the invisible girl's location for a moment- if he could touch her and copy her Quirk- he could make a getaway!

The other two boys nod solemnly. "Right. Jirou and Kuroiro are canvassing the other rooms."

"So Kuroiro is working with you...!"

"Dudechill!" Kaminari scowls, tossing Monoma's phone back at him.

In general, telling someone like Monoma to chill is generally a terrible idea. However, before he can make it known to these Class 1A imbeciles just how  un-chill he could be, he fumbles to catch his phone. Part of him is triumphant when he manages to grab the device- after all, he didn't drop it, and he didn't have to do anything to get it returned.

"Ha! You'd willingly give me back a form of communication!? Knowing that I could ruin you all!? Is your class stupid!? Ahahaha!" The laughter spills past his lips before he can stop it, sounding quite a bit unhinged. The adrenaline in his veins isn't doing much for the incredible anxiety he's been experiencing since receiving those mysterious cyphers. After all- they'd been left at his desk- unrecognizable characters written in silver marker on clear pieces of tape. Against the gray background of his desk, they were pretty much invisible from afar. If not for feeling the minute differences in the desk surface and the tape, Monoma might've missed them entirely. He'd peeled the tape up... and saw the symbols.

"Just try it," Kaminari shrugs.

Monoma taps on his phone screen.

It's dead.

"Wh- I ju- I just charged this before I left!"

"You can do that?" Shoji asks the shorter boy, impressed.

"Charge phones, drain batteries- yep! I just gotta release some of the extra electricity here and there before I short out!"

Ugh! Of course Class 1A would have someone with a Quirk as annoying as that! No matter- he just needed to touch that idiot just  once  to recharge his phone battery.

However, before he could make a move the lights in the room suddenly begin flickering wildly.

"Holy shit!" Kaminari yelps, eyes wide in shock.

"Now's your time to shine," Shoji says quickly, pushing the boy towards the wall. "There's an electrical socket-"

Monoma's a bit dumbfounded to see the blond boy pull out a fork from his pocket and shove it fearlessly into the socket. By the looks of the blackened utensil, it seems like it had been, uh, repurposed for quite some time. There's a loud snap and crackle as Kaminari's eyes widen and his hair stands on end. Perhaps the scene could've been comical, if not for the primal sense of self preservation Monoma had thought was ingrained into every living being.

Not this guy, evidently. He just goes and sticks fucking forks into the walls. Monoma almost asks if he's crazy before the kid sparks alarmingly and the lights go out again.

Yes. Yes he's crazy.

Small arcs of electricity are jumping from Kaminari's skin- and between the tines of his poor blackened fork.

"I'm not sure what that accomplished," Monoma huffs irritably.

"Me neither?" Kaminari agrees uncertainly. "But uh, there's a door that opened over there," he points to the far side of the room. "Hagakure? Was that you?"

"I'm right next to Shoji-kun!"

Monoma makes eye brief eye contact with Kaminari before he lunges, taking the Class 1A student by surprise. This provides the perfect opportunity for Monoma to copy Kaminari's Quirk! Which! Backfires rather spectacularly when he makes contact with the boy's skin! He's blown backwards with a bright flash. For a moment, he just lies there and stares at the ceiling in shock. Every muscle in his body aches. This must be how it feels like to get tased. It's really not something that Monoma feels like he would recommend as he tries to roll over onto his belly. There's a small, happy chirp from the phone in his pocket though- it seems like that instant of electrical discharge from Kaminari completely powered up his battery.

He really hates Class 1A.

"Sorry," Kaminari says, offering him a hand which he quickly backs away from. "But uh, you kinda deserved it, man."

"Just don't touch me," Monoma spits quickly.

"Right. Anyway- Shoji, Hagakure, come check this out," he gestures to the door. "There's a door behind the door that opened."

Limping behind the other three, Monoma gingerly steps up to peer around one of Shoji's tentacles- which has an eyeball watching him carefully. Sure enough, behind two metal shutters is another steel door. It's too slick for Shoji to get a grip at the seam where the halves meet, nor does there seem to be enough room for leverage.

"It's got a keypad," Hagakure's voice whispers excitedly. "So we put in a code!"

"Maybe the one from the classroom lights?" Shoji suggests.

"Sure," Kaminari shrugs.

Classroom lights? Codes?

Too prideful to ask, Monoma watches the blond idiot press some buttons, but there's hesitation when the door refuses to budge.

"Whatever nonsense you're typing, it's obvious that it's not the right code," Monoma scoffs, rolling his eyes.

"Who has the right code, then?" Kaminari wonders aloud. "It's not mine... Shoji?"

"I don't have anything. Hagakure?"

"No, sorry... do you think Jirou would have an idea?" She asks hopefully.

"Hard to say," Shoji sighs, checking his phone for messages. "She hasn't mentioned anything about it, but she's with Kuroiro checking out the lower rooms as well. It's possible that Kuroiro might have something..."

"Or-?" Kaminari points at Monoma, who smirks meanly.

It serves them right, those Class 1A fools thinking themselves so high and mighty. They've been acting really shady from the start by sneaking into the school at this obscene hour- though he did follow- and stealing his phone- though he did threaten them- and only now are they realizing that he could be the key to this puzzle! If he was with anyone else, he might've at least tried not to let that go to his head. But this? This was too rich. So naturally, Monoma let it go to his head.

"Ooh, what's this?" Monoma cackles, covering his grin with a hand. "Class 1A needs my help? I thought your class would have already had a handle on this situation? After all, you've had so much experience with villains already! Oh, I forgot, you nearly got one of your own ki-"

There's a sharp pain delivered to the top of Monoma's head, startling enough to trip up his speech. He ends up accidentally biting down hard on his own tongue.

"Ack!"

"We're all on the same side here, if we're all to be believed," Shoji says crossly, withdrawing one of his extra hands from smacking Monoma upside the head. "The more time you waste, the worse the outcome for everyone. So what will it be, Monoma?"

Eyes watering, Monoma wipes his nose with a thumb and glares at the keypad.

The tape cipher is fresh in his mind. How could it not be, having lost hours of sleep over the messages left on his desk? Especially about the last message he'd received yesterday afternoon.

WE KNOW ABOUT CHIHOSHI RIYO.

How could he not show up? Even if she doesn't belong here, she's in danger. And heroes save everyone.

That's the truth.

Monoma hates it.

So he steps up to the keypad and examines the markings on the keys. They're marked with numbers, as well as a romaji system. His mouth is dry as he swallows, reaching out to tap a few numbers.

Two, four, four, four, six, seven, four, four.

The doors slide open slowly.

"What was the code?" The invisible girl asks curiously.

Hiding his trembling hands in his pockets, Monoma smirks uneasily. But before he can answer, two more people enter the room from behind them- drawing their attention from the steel doors.

"Monoma?" A voice asks incredulously.

"Kuroiro," Monoma answers quickly, stepping once towards him.

"What are you doing here?" Even with a face that's hard to read, Monoma knows he's confused and rather guarded with that tone of voice. He's a smart guy, and given that they share the same class and hadn't colluded about whatever the heck is happening- Monoma doesn't blame Kuroiro for being auspicious.

"I was passed secret messages, in a cypher," he answers quickly, shifting to cross his arms uncomfortably. Maybe his hands will tremble less if they're squished under his armpits. "They mentioned this time and place... and a name."

"A name?" Kaminari echoes."

"What name?" Jirou frowns, earphone jacks at the ready. They glint in the moonlight passing through a nearby window.

"The code for the door," Shoji realizes, turning his whole body to join the few eyes he'd grown to keep tabs on what was behind them. "It was a name?"

"Chihoshi," Monoma says slowly, mouth thinning with nerves. "Whatever this is... she has something to do with it."

"Are you sure that isn't your grudge talking?" Shoji asks bluntly, several eyes narrowing in suspicion.

As Monoma opens his mouth to refute the comment about a grudge, he realizes it would be pointless to argue for once. Instead, he rolls his eyes and looks to what's behind the steel door. It's-

"Chihoshi?" Hagakure asks incredulously.

Sure enough, the girl is there in the space behind the door- she's lying there in an orange and purple sleeping bag, snoozing away without a care in the world. A small, plush version of the rescue hero, Thirteen, is adorned with a familiar purple hat. Shoji is the first to rush into the room, six arms scooping the girl into a quick hold, checking her over for injuries or signs of discomfort.

"Shit," Monoma swears under his breath, looking towards Kuroiro, who makes significant eye contact before melding into the shadows. Monoma's not sure what that was supposed to mean, but his gut is telling him that Kuroiro isn't the threat here.

"Chihoshi, are you okay!? Wake up!"

Sleepy golden eyes blink open and a lazy smile curls across Chihoshi's face. "Shoji," comes the happy whisper in Monoma's head, and he shudders. It's creepy how her lips never move.

"What happened!?" Hagakure asks quickly. "How did you-"

"Guys, we're not alone!" Jirou calls out warningly, one jack plugged into the ground and the other at the ready.

Monoma quickly taps the person closest to him- Kaminari, unfortunately- and receives a static shock that sets his hair on end. It's not ideal- Monoma would've much rather collected the invisible girl's Quirk- but he's also not about to leave himself defenseless against whoever set them up.

And isn't that ironic, that suddenly he's thinking in terms of us and them?

"Took you lot long enough," comes an eerily-familiar voice, completely flat and devoid of much else other than vague interest. "And there's more of you than I would've expected, not bad."

Out from the shadows steps the Class 1A home room teacher.

Oh fuck.

 

Chapter Text

Aizawa sees the exact moment when the four visible students come to the conclusion that he is a threat. He doesn't have much time to consider the other two invisible students, but by how a pair of hands grab his ankles and another voice shouts, "RUN!" before tackling him in the chest, it's clear that such a conclusion was unanimous across the board.

A large arc of electricity races towards him, just as a wave of darkness obscures his vision- fair enough, as he's able to cancel out Kuroiro's Quirk easily and send him tumbling through the air. Jirou's earphone jacks are narrowly avoided with a few backwards steps, but Shoji's still got-

"My Shou!"

"Riyo-"

That weird tingly sensation engulfs Aizawa from neck down, and he suddenly finds himself a considerable distance away from the group of kids he'd corralled here. He quickly fixes them with a Quirk-laced glare.

"I'm gonna pretend you didn't just try to attack me," he says flatly, fighting the strong urge to grin. "But in the event that I was an intruder, you probably would've wanted to split into a series of teams and launch a multi-pronged attack. Showing your full hand to the enemy is just serving yourselves up on a silver platter, especially when you know that the enemy is smarter."

Kaminari blinks dumbly, and for a split second, Aizawa wonders if he accidentally shorted himself out. "Wait, so- I'm? Wait, what's going on!? We got all these spooky messages and-? So- so Aizawa-sensei is the one behind all of this?"

"I'm so confused!" Comes a distressed voice from behind Aizawa. Must be Hagakure.

"How do we know you're not a spy?" Kaminari squints suspiciously.

"You really think your sensei would shatter his arms for your sake as a show?" Shirakumo steps forward with his arms folded behind his head. He looks very lax- very comfortable.

"Shirakumo-sensei!" Hagakure squeals in alarm.

"Nice job pickpocketing me!" He laughs boisterously. "I almost didn't notice!"

"What kind of setup is this!?"

Looking away from Shirakumo's sunny grin, Aizawa focuses on the kid, Monoma, from Class 1B. The one who sort of has it out for Riyo, from what he could tell from the pieces of dialogue he could catch from the monitors. Oh well. Riyo can definitely fend for herself, but since that kid has a Copy Quirk, he's not sure how that would work if he tried to copy... whatever Riyo's got going on.

"You're being recruited," Aizawa says bluntly.

"Recruited... for what?" Shoji asks slowly, his arms still holding Riyo securely on his back. She doesn't seem to mind, humming an opening theme to some show that Shirakumo had been watching yesterday on the TV.

"UA's secret Hero Course track." There's a strange, giddy sense of pride welling up in Aizawa's gut. He can't even deny how excited he is at the prospect of cultivating a small group of elite stealth heroes. Sure, they still definitely have the option to become mainstream and well-known heroes. As he looks at the faces of the five students he can see and knowing that the invisible one is listening- as well as his own kid- he speaks. "Hero training with regards to the typical UA Hero Course has always emphasized to strengthen your training and training to strengthen. Useful, certainly, but very generic in the long run. Such is the design of a curriculum meant to teach large groups for generic hero situations. This new, secret course? This course is meant for expanding the context in which heroes can use their strengths. This course relies on honing abilities that are incredibly specific and unique to individual students- abilities that only they have. This course is training to save lives that would never know they needed to be saved in the first place. It is an utterly unglamorous, unrecognized, and thankless job without any recognition you would typically receive from a public spotlight."

Ducking his chin in his scarf, Aizawa surveys these students carefully for a moment. They look a bit dumbfounded.

"So all these puzzles- all these hints... were to recruit us for this secret Hero Course?" Jirou asks carefully, eyes shining with a strange emotion. "To... be able to stop a crisis in its tracks... before it becomes a crisis...?" Her voice is shaky, fists clenched and shoved deep into her pockets as she looks up at him with a sort of desperate hope in her eyes.

It fuels a surge of mixed feelings. On one hand, Aizawa knows that with a look like that, Jirou will be one of the students that will excel in a course like this. On the other hand, he hates that Jirou has experienced enough this early to have that expression on her face.

You're preparing them, he reminds himself as he closes his eyes briefly. You're preparing them so that they don't have to make that expression anymore.

"In short, yes," he answers her bluntly. "Like I said, it doesn't hold the same glamour as a typical hero's job."

"Why call us here at such an hour?" Kuroiro interjects, much to Aizawa's surprise. "Why not... just pull us aside?"

"It's a secret course," Shirakumo smiles knowingly. "You think we picked you especially? Maybe, maybe not."

"Ugh," Aizawa sighs. "What he's trying to say, is that you only got this far because you noticed the signs."

Dubious looks are exchanged amongst the students.

"So... the hero course worksheet...?" Kuroiro frowns.

"Yep," Shirakumo nods proudly.

"And the morse code-"

"Mmhmm!"

"The tape!?" Monoma exclaims exasperatedly.

"An annoying habit," Aizawa glares at Shirakumo, who only snickers.

"I used to pass notes to Shouta during our schooldays on pieces of tape!" He points to the white strip of tape over his nose and winks. "Worked out really well, wouldn't you say?"

"You said that you know about her!" Monoma points towards Shoji and Riyo, who wiggles a little bit in his grasp. She blinks owlishly.

"What is Chihoshi doing here?" Shoji asks carefully, more than a few eyes darting warily between Aizawa and Shirakumo.

"You could say that she was a beta tester of sorts," Aizawa answers evasively.

"And that she's your sensei's kid," Shirakumo adds with a shrug.

"Oboro."

"Mm? They'd find out soon anyway, Shouta."

"That's not the point."

"Hungry."

Aizawa sighs, looking over to his kid. "Did you pack enough snacks?"

"Pretty Shoji is hungry. And others."

"Well, come on."

"What?" Kaminari asks desperately. "Wait, what do snacks have to do with Chihoshi being your kid!?"

Oh, right. They can't hear her.

"Right," Shirakumo nods voicing Aizawa's thoughts, "you guys can't hear her."

"I can," Shoji says carefully.

Monoma glares to the side. "Same here..."

"What!? I'm left out!?" Kaminari complains.

"So are Kuroiro, Hagakure, and myself," Jirou frowns. "It's not just you, thought I wouldn't be surprised..."

Oh, the joys of  teaching the youth.

There's a sudden flurry of dust before Riyo materializes by his side, her normal size, thankfully. Shirakumo hands her a small bag of shrimp chips and gives her a pat- the purple knit hat is back in place over her fuzzy head.

"Crunchy," she hums, opening the bag with interest.

"So this secret Hero Course," Kuroiro breaks the silence. "Is this taking place of our normal enrollment...?"

"No." Thank goodness, they're asking relevant questions now. "You'll still be in your respective classes, but you'll occasionally receive alternative objectives or training goals. Sometimes we may have meetings like this one, other times you might have covert examinations."

"Think of it as a second layer," Shirakumo suggests, punctuating his statement with the crunch of a chip. "You'll just be getting different or additional special instruction."

"Do we even have a choice?  Do we get to choose?" Monoma asks scathingly, still glaring at anything and everything. Aizawa can already tell that there's something deeper to this kid. There's a buried bitterness that seems familiar, but dwelling on that bitterness won't get him anywhere. After all, a resentful hero could be worse than any vengeful villain. But addressing... whatever this is would have to wait until later.

Instead, Aizawa simply raises an eyebrow. "I was under the impression that you already did."

The students look around at each other in surprise. Eyes widened, bated breath, and they search each other for answers that they seem too reluctant to lay on the table. Except-

"Yeah," Jirou steps forward, brow furrowed. "I'm- yeah, I have." She turns around and looks at the rest of them. "The moment we knew something was up, wasn't that the moment when we each decided we couldn't stand by? We were all thinking it, weren't we? Shoji? Kuroiro? What if this happened to be like the USJ all over again? We were ready to try to stop it- to do something to keep that from happening again!"

"Yeah," Shoji agrees succinctly.

"Mm," Kuroiro nods, trying to appear aloof. "It... was suspicious. And I didn't want that befalling my own classmates. One class was more than enough."

"When I overheard you guys..." Hagakure starts speaking suddenly, causing most of the group to jump in surprise. "No... what am I saying!? I knew something was up with you, Jirou! And then you, Shoji! I knew it was something big, so I followed you! I made my choice when I followed after you, didn't I?"

They're figuring it out.

Shirakumo catches Aizawa's eye with a subtle nod. Blue eyes meet his own for a brief moment, before he blinks and watches the students.

"The lights were driving me nuts," Kaminari says quietly. "They... they were really distracting. And through it all... I think it was just a mistake that I'm here."

"What?" Hagakure exclaims. "But-"

"Whatever was up with the lights- it didn't have anything to do with this, did it, sensei?"

For a moment, Aizawa's genuinely surprised. His student sounds far different from the rather rambunctious personality he's known in the classroom this past week. Not much time has passed at all, and yet, he can already tell that Kaminari's usual electric disposition hides a deeper insecurity. But that's just human nature, isn't it? Him, Kaminari, Monoma... that Shinsou kid. Riyo, Shirakumo, Yamada... everyone has something that they tuck away and hide so that nobody can see the vulnerable soft spots. And it's almost certain that the other students here have them, too. He just hasn't seen them yet.

So when Kaminari practically declares his presence useless- a fluke- Aizawa frowns. "What are you talking about? There wasn't a mistake."

Yellow eyes widen incredulously.

"There were various cues and hints set up by the principal himself- clues that had the potential to be recognized by any and every first year student for the inaugural selection for this new, secret course. You noticed, you grouped up with others, you made it here." Crossing his arms, Aizawa looks away, feeling a bit awkward with trying to give roundabout reassurance. "Nezu always did like making things way more complicated."

"Here," Shirakumo tosses a curious contraption towards Kaminari. "Take a look!"

"Uh... what is it?"

It's a curious thing. A metal cylinder with a series of spinning rings about the center. Each ring can be spun like a combination lock, numbered zero through nine.

"A cryptex," Monoma frowns, his icy demeanor dropping slightly. "It's by Leonardo Da Vinci's design. If you try to force it open, a glass vial of vinegar would break and dissolve the message written on papyrus inside the tube. But..."

"Think acetone and ink," Shirakumo shrugs. "Acetone would lift off the ink and still render the message unreadable. Same principle, more modern. Anyway... Got the code?"

Kaminari sparks quite literally with excitement. "Yeah!" The students slowly crowd around as he spins the dials into place, and slowly pulls either end of the codex. The rings slowly slide apart, revealing a small roll of paper around a glass vial, which he carefully slides out and hands to Shoji.

"What is it?"

"Another puzzle," Aizawa sighs. "By Nezu's design, you would have found that thing in this room, and after opening it, it would've lead you to a different section of Ground Beta where there was a one-way radio receiving a bogus transmission, which you would've worked out that it was coming from underground," he nods at Jirou. "Then I'm assuming Kuroiro and Hagakure would've taken point, found a hatch, realized it was being monitored by the robots from the entrance exam, and so on and so forth. But there was no way that you lot were going to be able to make the end goal by the time school started, so rationally, I cut it short because it was illogical to prolong the inevitable."

"You're kidding," Kuroiro breathes, looking quite exhausted despite nearly being swallowed up by the darkness of the dim room. "Is our principal just sadistic?"

"Puzzles... are a hobby."

"Ugh."

"So what is Chihoshi really doing here?" Monoma interrupts once more, looking pointedly at the girl as she finishes her bag of shrimp chips. She looks up and considers the group carefully.

"She's also part of this group," Shirakumo answers easily.

"She's been here the whole time?"

"She's fast."

"But you said she's EraserHead's kid!"

"Didn't you hear me?" Aizawa scowls. "It's irrational to prolong the inevitable."

The Class 1A students exchange knowing looks, while Kuroiro simply looks indifferent and Monoma looks pissed.

Seriously, what does he have against Riyo?

"Doesn't want Riyo to get others hurt," Riyo whispers in his head. "Thinks Riyo is weak. Thinks Riyo is... not strong enough."

Well that's stupid.

"There are some things that you just wouldn't be able to understand," Shirakumo answers wisely, crossing his arms and closing his eyes knowingly. "I'll tell you when you're older."

"What!? Obviously this is Class 1A favoritism! See, there are four Class A students and only two Class B students!"

"With this kind of division," Shirakumo calls over to Aizawa, "You think it's realistic to dream of becoming a hero?" He looks back at Monoma with a frown. "I mean, I know I'm not there yet, but either way you'd have to set aside your differences to save lives. Otherwise, people could get hurt or die."

That seems to still Monoma's tongue. Aizawa's quite frankly impressed at Shirakumo's easy handling of Monoma's spitfire attitude.

"Look, are you in or are you out?" He asks the boy. "I'm not gonna pretend to know you, and you don't know me. But you also don't know Riyo. That's what I meant when I said, I know about Chihoshi Riyo. She's different. And you're different. If you keep comparing yourself to your classmates or your classmates to other classes, you'll never be satisfied. Focus on what you can do."

It's silent for a long time.

Riyo hums quietly.

Then-

"Fine. I'm in."

Chapter Text

Riyo ends up distributing most of her snacks amongst the six recruits for the secret Underground Hero Course. Most of them- at least, the kids from Class A- munch happily on a selection of chips, crackers, and a few protein bars. Monoma and Kuroiro, from Class B- well, Monoma looks reluctant and Kuroiro simply seems confused.

"We've got about two hours before the rest of the faculty will show up to school," Aizawa addresses the group. "So go home, change, and get ready for class."

"I'm exhausted," Hagakure yawns, a chip bag seemingly floating all on its own.

"When you showed up, you basically agreed to follow through to the end. Get used to it."

"Easy for you to say," Monoma scowls grumpily.

"Sleepy? Nap time?"

Aizawa looks to where Riyo is offering her sleeping bag to the group. She particularly avoids Monoma, he's noticed.

"So Chihoshi was like a beta tester for the course," Jirou hums around a protein bar, watching Riyo with a curious expression. "I didn't think she'd want to be an underground hero..."

"Publicizing her abilities would put a bigger target on her," Shoji points out. "She can do incredible things, but not everything."

Well...

"I guess that's just how it is- having an OP Quirk is cool and everything, but she's also got a huge debuff."

Whatever just came out of Kaminari's mouth makes absolutely no sense to Aizawa, but Shoji and Jirou simply nod along in agreement. Kids these days. Maybe he should brush up on some aspects of slang, that way he can have some idea of what they're talking about... without letting on that he knows what they're talking about. Could be useful.

"What even is her Quirk?" Kuroiro wonders aloud. "You keep talking about how she's really powerful..."

The floating chip bag crumples in on itself as Hagakure responds. "She can like... talk to you in your mind! And read your mind! And then she can also sort of turn into dust? She's really fast! Oh! And she can turn other things into dust and almost, like, teleport them?"

Kuroiro blinks before looking at Monoma- who scoffs.

"Whatever."

"Riyo should talk more," Riyo whispers in Aizawa's head. "Secret friends... don't have faith in Riyo."

Yeah... given the events of the USJ, he can see multiple sides. Firstly, the failure to protect his students- no one should've ever gotten hurt. However, Aizawa isn't so hopeless or narcissistic to believe that he alone would've been able to single-handedly repel the villain attack on the USJ. That's more All Night's area. And speaking of All Might... There's a certain amount of culpability that rests with All Might's dismal prioritizing and time management- that can't be ignored. All the same, no matter what the outcome happened to be, there would still be the general perception that UA had failed in some way. And that's undeniably true. What's important to recognize is that it's not only the public's perception of the school that has been shaken, but the perception of the students enrolled at UA. What kind of message did the USJ attack really send to their students? Especially the ones in the Hero Course? That their teachers are incapable? That UA has grown complacent in the apparent invulnerability that comes with the reputation of one of the top hero schools in the world?

But aside from that, what does the USJ attack say about the students? To the public, they're incredibly brave to face down evil as fledgling heroes. And that's right. Aizawa will agree with his whole chest, out of sight from all of them because certain students of his do not need the ego boost. Being able to defend oneself from villains who have explicit intent to kill is no small feat, and that's been acknowledged... and in a sense, it's alienated Class 1B. At this point, they're behind. They're the one class who hasn't been confronted by villains- whether by a freak attack, or during a somewhat controlled situation on an internship or work study. And it isn't so much that there would be students in Class 1B that would be jealous of being attacked or nearly killed. It's a resentment of the attention that Class 1A is getting. There's always been a rivalry between hero classes in each year, and with this... well, there's no other way to call it. It's jealousy, it's fear, it's worry that since this happened to one class, what's to say it won't happen to the other?

But with specific regards to Riyo, it simply has to do with the fact that she's the only one who was seriously injured. Everyone has seemed to discount the broken bones that Midoriya had collected during the incident because Riyo's injuries were that much more severe.

And they were because of her Quirk's backlash.

So, putting that together... well, obviously there are going to be people who think she'd be too weak or delicate to be in the Hero Course. And when thought of in the context of Class 1B?

At that point, it's obvious that Monoma must resent Riyo's spot in Class 1A because he thinks she's too weak and needs to be protected. But that's not an exclusive line of thought. Subtract the resentment, and it's clear that a lot of Class 1A also believes that Riyo needs protection. Maybe that's true to an extent, but it's an extremely foolish and naive thing to believe.

Naturally, Aizawa decides to do nothing. This isn't his point to prove- it's Riyo's. It's up to her to decide the kind of hero she wants to be. It's up to her to prove herself.

There's a familiar tinkling of a little bell- something that Aizawa has sorely missed since the USJ attack. Part of him wants to scoop her up and take her home- maybe invite Yamada over for dinner and the continuation of Shirakumo's "culturing" or whatever he calls it. The other part of him recognizes that he would never do that in front of any of his students. Ever.

Instead, he straightens her already-straightened hat, and gives Shirakumo a significant look.

"Right!" He exclaims, a mischievous look in his eye as he turns back to the students. "Get home! Get dressed! Don't skip classes. We'll be in contact regarding your next assignment."

"Is it gonna be through those puzzles again...?" Kuroiro asks hesitantly.

"No. Riyo will probably be the main point of contact. It's easiest that way, at least for now." Aizawa rubs at his face with a bandaged hand, mildly irritated that he can't give his stubble a good scratch. "Eventually we'll have an established mode of communication. But we're still in the recruitment phase."

"There's gonna be more people in this secret class?" Hagakure asks excitedly.

"Recruitment is happening out of all of the first year classes. That being said, you can't tell anyone about this. Believe me," Aizawa glares at each of the students pointedly before glancing at Riyo. "We'll know."

"But how-" Kaminari's cut off by a sharp elbow thrown by Jirou. "Ow."

"How?" Monoma asks, ignoring them completely. "How would you know?"

At that, there's a flash of gold that captures everyone's attention. Riyo blinks slowly, eyes burning with promise. "It is The Way," she murmurs. Jirou and Kaminari visibly stiffen, as does Kuroiro.

Guess she's talking to them now. That's good. They need to get used to it.

"Woah. Wait...What- what way?" Comes the predictable question.

This... this is getting old.

"You'll figure it out eventually," Shirakumo shrugs mysteriously.

"And we're just supposed to trust you?" Monoma asks haughtily.

"Pretty much, or accept expulsion."

"What!?"

"You broke into UA after hours," Aizawa points out flatly. "That's grounds for expulsion."

"So if I don't join this- this secret club, I'm expelled!?"

"Yep."

"Shouta... shouldn't you be a little more sensitive?"

"That's completely irrational. These kids knew the risks. To back out now is just cowardly or being difficult for the sake of being difficult. If either one of those things are true, then they need to find a new career path. Even if they tell anyone about this secret recruitment... no one would believe them, anyway."

It's silent for a few moments as his words sink in.

"Dude," Jirou breathes quietly.

"Hardcore," Kaminari echoes in awe.

"I'm one hundred percent committed!" Hagakure exclaims, her crumpled chip bag waving erratically. "Let's do it! Right Shoji?"

"Way ahead of you."

"I'm seeing this through to the end," Kuroiro reaffirms. "The shadows are where I'm meant to be."

The four- or five, since Aizawa can't see Hagakure- turn to Monoma.

How many times are we going to do this whole "I'm gonna join" pass-around? Isn't this the second or third time? How irrational.

"I have no choice," Monoma sniffs, looking away.

"Whatever. I've told you all to leave about three times already. Get lost, I don't want to see you until class time."

"Yes, sensei!"

. . .

The rest of the morning passes with little issue, thankfully, but Aizawa certainly isn't the only one who notices the dark bags under Shoji, Jirou, and Kaminari's eyes. They laugh it off and evade questions pretty easily, but to be honest, he doesn't really have any care or worry about what they might say. His students- and that Kuroiro kid in Class 1B- are not a concern as far as the integrity of the Underground Hero Course.

"First on the agenda," he sighs, struggling to lift a paper from the top of a stack with a heavily-bandaged hand and ultimately giving up. His dexterity is still severely handicapped by the sheer amount of first aid that Recovery Girl insists piling on him. "You all are or should be in the midst of your preparation for the Sports Festival. As I said before, it is imperative to put your best foot forward... but that same idea should apply to your everyday lives. The festival is just the beginning of the amount of attention you'll receive from the public. Even though you're all still heroes-in-training, there will be eyes on you from here on out."

Let's see how the Underground recruits respond to this idea.

"So what you're saying is... The Sports Festival can really make-or-break the beginnings of your fame as a hero!" Aizawa hears Kaminari exclaim excitedly.

Well then.

Aizawa sighs irritably. "Fame isn't really the point. From here on out, assume that your own personal conduct will be equally scrutinized. The press is sometimes a friend, but more often than not, it is an enemy that you cannot retaliate against without repercussions." 

"Take note of that, Bakugo!" Sero snickers. Other classmates chuckle, but Bakugo ignores them with smoking palms.

"Whatever," he growls irritably.

"Sensei? Why did you bring up this topic?" Yaoyorozu asks Aizawa with a worried look. "Our personal conduct is to be scrutinized- it is inevitable on our paths to become heroes... but why discuss this now?"

"Practice," he responds shortly, attempting to shuffle through the stack of papers on his podium and ultimately knocking them to the floor. There's a short silence as he and the class stare at the fallen papers- there's no way that Aizawa would be able to bend down or pick them up, but there's also no way that he'd ask someone else to pick them up for him. Shirakumo had left on an errand to the principal's office, too.

Someone coughs awkwardly.

The fallen papers vaporize into dust before reforming into a neat stack on the podium, and Aizawa mentally thanks Riyo with an errant thought. He's met with a small jingle.

"Practice," Aizawa repeats, "and an example of what happens if you fail to conduct yourself appropriately. Mineta has been expelled due to his lack of self-control. I'm sure I don't have to explain why. Just as UA has no qualms about the expulsion of Hero Course students, there are also no qualms about moving students to or from the Hero Course based off of performances in the Sports Festival."

"We could lose our spots," Uraraka murmurs worriedly.

"Sensei!" Iida's hand shoots up stiffly. "So what you're really saying is to do our best!"

It's not so much of a question or inquiry for clarification as it is a pronounced statement from the boy. But, if he wants to take Aizawa's bluntness for some sort of encouragement, it's not like Aizawa will stop him. He's too tired for that, and he's been trying to work up the guts to ask Yamada to lunch on the roof today. Ever since he'd brought it up- before Shirakumo's canoodling comment- the idea of a rooftop lunch break as some sort of homage to his and Yamada's and Shirakumo's school days has been occupying Aizawa's mind. He'd also have to ask Kayama- she'd surely agree as well.

"Whatever," Aizawa tells the Class Rep. "Just exercise appropriate control over yourselves and your Quirks during the Festival." He looks pointedly at Midoriya, who seems to be muttering under his breath as he stares hard at an open notebook.

"Shut up, Deku!"

"S-self control, Kacchan!"

"Whatever!"

The bell rings, and Aizawa nods at the stack of papers on the podium. "Pick up a worksheet; they're due tomorrow at the beginning of class. Read the next chapter in your textbooks about hero bylaws, and be able to tell me in which of the listed scenarios is Quirk use appropriate with convincing reasoning. Minimum of five sentences each. Midoriya, your page limit is three. Class dismissed."

General chatter starts filling the room as Aizawa sighs, sitting down in his chair and hiding a yawn in his Capture Scarf. In the doorway, Shirakumo dodges a couple of exiting students and smiles warmly at Aizawa, who nods at a waving Togata and Hado outside of Class 1A's door.

"My Shouta will have a good lunch today," Riyo hums warmly in his head as she reaches the door.

"Ri-chan," Togata smiles, patting her purple hat. "Hungry for lunch?"

"Uncle Kumo has my Shouta's bento," she reminds Aizawa thoughtfully.

Along with his yawn, Aizawa hides his small smile in his scarf, too.

"Riyo's secret training continues today, too," she adds as she takes Amajiki's hand and smiles up at him. "Important mission."

"Shouta! Wanna eat on the roof today? I saw Hizashi and Kayama earlier, and gave 'em a head's up!"

The sound of Riyo's fondness rings gently in his head as Aizawa looks up at Shirakumo. It's fitting that he'd set up the rooftop lunch plans before either he or Yamada would get a chance. After all, he's been busy with the Underground Hero Course. But now that the ball is rolling and Riyo's in an opportune position to continue recruitment with at least five willing allies, Aizawa can afford to relax just a little.

"Yeah. Sounds good."

Shirakumo punches the air excitedly. "Nice!"

 

Chapter Text

The sun is bright today, with just a few puffy clouds hanging in the sky. It's a deep blue, lightly marbled by high-hanging cirrus clouds in the distance. A gentle breeze tickles Yamada's face as he lets out a loud yawn. He'd stayed late at the studio for a late night session to take his mind off of things.

Mainly, that Shinsou kiddo.

Something's not quite right... and he wants Aizawa's input. Yamada's no underground hero- any social nuance he's learned has come from publicized events- but Aizawa's surely had all kinds of experience reading minute cues from individuals who have things to hide. It's just a shame that he's been so busy lately. But perhaps busy isn't really the right word. Between getting Riyo ready for UA, villain attacks, and scores of meetings with the principal... well, perhaps busy was the right word after all.

He's still surprised that Shirakumo was able to snag Aizawa for a lunch break on the roof. But then again, maybe Yamada's not surprised, because Shirakumo simply has that gravitational charisma about him. People can't help but to be drawn in- that was certainly the case for their trio's friendship, as well as their friendship with Kayama. Granted, that was also cemented with a kitten.

The door to the roof opens, prompting Yamada to look up to view the newcomer.

"Zashi!"

"Hey, Nem."

Kayama surveys Yamada critically as she makes her way towards him with long strides. The heels of her boots clack softly.

"You seem quiet," she observes bluntly. "Something wrong? Is it Shouta? Oboro?"

"No- I... just feeling nostalgic, I guess," he grins faintly, looking back out at the horizon. There's a brief desire to see the point which the sky meets the earth, but it's a fleeting thing; many trees and buildings hide the great divide from sight.

"Mmm," Kayama hums in agreement, folding her arms as she contemplates. "The last time we were all together was... before that day. It was raining so we didn't get to..."

"Yeah."

A solemn silence passes between them. It's not a heavy thing, just a mutual observance of a crisis past.

It was so long ago. Feels like it was long ago... the little listener brought him back, and it's only been... not even two weeks? But that time, that day already feels like a lifetime ago.

The door opens again, and Yamada looks up, barely lifting his head from where he'd tucked his chin to his chest. A head of brilliantly white hair with a healthy blue sheen invades his view of a rather disgruntled Aizawa. With a scarf covering half of his face, he's glaring pointedly at Shirakumo.

"Lighten up, Shouta!" Shirakumo laughs, slinging an arm around Aizawa's shoulders and effectively jostling him around. "Think of it this way- you're already an old man!"

"Stop talking," the proclaimed old man demands flatly.

"You've got nothing to lose-"

"I'm losing patience, I can tell you that."

"Bickering already? Naughty!" Kayama interrupts strategically, eyes narrowing critically before softening with a subtle fondness.

"He's just cranky 'cos I was more logical for once!"

"What about?"

"I'm taking a nap," Aizawa ignores everyone pointedly, pulling out his ratty yellow sleeping bag and fumbling with the zipper. Unfortunately for him, it seems that the dexterity in his fingers still hasn't quite returned. Yamada can practically see the moment where Aizawa's realization sets in.

I wonder what's got him in such a mood?

Yamada approaches Aizawa carefully while Kayama and Shirakumo chatter to each other, putting a light hand on his shoulder. A gentle touch, one that can easily be shrugged off or brushed away. Aizawa stiffens slightly, and Yamada frowns.

"Shou? You okay?"

Aizawa grumbles something unintelligible, his face sinking deeper into his scarf. Curious, Yamada ducks his head a little to meet Aizawa's eyes. He's unsuccessful- the other man is dutifully avoiding his gaze, brow furrowed. So, Yamada reaches a finger out and hooks the folds of his scarf, pulling them down far enough to see his friend's face.

And oh, is Aizawa a vision.

Yamada doesn't think he's ever seen Aizawa blush. His friend is far too conscious about showing his true feelings- something about it being irrational or dangerous to let on to the enemy or whatever. And maybe Yamada could kinda see his point. But this?

A pink flush has colored Aizawa's pale skin rather beautifully, spreading across his cheekbones and disappearing behind waves of dark hair. Yamada would bet his entire studio that such a lovely color continued past where he could see and turned the other man's ears red. As he stares, the pink slowly darkens behind the unkempt stubble of Aizawa's jaw, and Yamada can feel his own blood rushing to his cheeks. He swallows hard.

Would he get mad if I kissed him right now?

"Zashi?" Aizawa whispers hoarsely.

Fuck.

Does that do something delicious with Yamada's insides. His stomach completely flops over, his heart no longer beats but consistently stutters for a few solid seconds, and Yamada's fingers burn.

It's not often that Yamada finds himself speechless, but for some reason, he can't find anything to say. He just wants. He wants to kiss Aizawa. He wants to kiss him and go home to his apartment, to Riyo and Shirakumo. He wants to hold Aizawa's hand on a Sunday at the grocery store and argue about three-in-one shampoo. He wants to play a shitty board game at the table and complain about his dismal luck when Aizawa wins before grudgingly cuddling him before bed. He wants to fight side by side with him like they used to in high school, but this time, with more to lose.

More to lose.

Yamada swallows as he stares into Aizawa's dark eyes. That gaze has always made him feel bare.

I'm in love with you, Shouta. I'm so in love with you that I think I might die.

And then, Aizawa does something so very uncharacteristic that Yamada completely blanks. Slowly, carefully, Aizawa reaches out a bandaged finger and brushes the back of Yamada's hand- the one that's dangling by his side. It's not a gesture that could be brushed off as accidental- it's deliberate. It lingers. The back of his knuckle brushes Yamada's hand and lingers, trembling. Whether with effort or nerves, he can't tell. But then, a second knuckle joins the first, slowly rubbing against the back of Yamada's hand.

Somehow, Yamada's finger that had hooked on Aizawa's scarf has turned into a fist.

"I can't tell if you're about to make out or get in a fist fight," Shirakumo comments interestedly.

And right before his eyes Yamada can see Aizawa shut down, his bandaged hand withdrawing as if he's been burned and avoiding eye contact once again.

Yamada wants to scream.

Instead, he takes a deep breath before withdrawing his hold on Aizawa and folds his arms, closing his eyes.

Keep it together. You were finally syncing on the same waves, but someone changed the frequency again. That's okay. Just keep spinning the dial of your heart till you can find his again. It's okay...

It's okay.

It's fine, really.

"H- hey, Hizashi?" Shirakumo asks, sounding gentler and a little guilty.

Pull yourself together!

"What's up?" He looks up suddenly, shooting Shirakumo a winning smile.

He looks surprised- then hesitant. "You good, man?"

"Just have a lot on my mind!"

"Do you want to talk about it?" Kayama asks him carefully.

"Mm..." he muses, glancing at Aizawa, who seems to have a rather impassive expression. "Well, there's a listener in General Studies... I'm a little worried about him."

"Worried how?" Shirakumo asks curiously, pulling out a couple of bentos and handing one to Aizawa. For a brief moment, Yamada feels an irrational spike of jealousy. Then guilt.

He shakes it off and pulls out his own bento. The four teachers arrange themselves in a circle, sitting on the rooftop with familiarity and ease. Ten, fifteen years... really, it feels like only yesterday.

"A lot of his mannerisms remind me of..." Yamada looks down at his chopsticks. "Well... they remind me of someone coping with the unimaginable. The signs are there. Something's wrong, and I don't know what."

Though, back then, I knew what was wrong. I just couldn't or didn't do anything about it to help much.

"You're talking about Shinsou Hitoshi," Aizawa observes, holding a spoon rather awkwardly. His chopsticks are forgotten beside him. "Riyo threw a fit over him the other day."

"Wow, really?" Kayama asks, eyes wide. "Was she being bullied by him!?"

"No," Aizawa shakes his head. "She was upset over something that he's hiding. A secret of some sort. She said that it wasn't her place to tell."

"She... also said that there would be a reckoning," Yamada admits uneasily.

"Reckoning," Shirakumo echoes pensively. "That almost sounds like... well, I know Riyo's not really the type for it... but almost like revenge?"

"What would she want revenge for? The Shinsou boy?" Kayama asks worriedly.

"Something or someone is hurting Shinsou," Aizawa surmises quickly, brow furrowed. "And as for revenge... Riyo wouldn't be petty for the sake of being petty. Revenge... I don't think she would go as far as revenge it doesn't appeal to her. Though...When she was upset, she kept saying it was 'unfair.'" Tired, bloodshot eyes look up at the group. "We've already established that Riyo knows more than we'll ever know or understand."

Yamada instantly understands what Aizawa's saying.

"It's not revenge," he says slowly, drawing the attention of the other two to him. "That's not it at all.
It... maybe from Riyo's perspective... it's justiceAnd if you consider her connections with the universe, couldn't that mean that... well, maybe the universe is seeking justice?"

They're silent for a moment, taking a few slow bites of their lunch as they contemplate the whims of a girl that is far too powerful or knowledgeable for her own good.

Then-

"So now it's a matter of what she's seeking justice for," Kayama murmurs. "Is Shinsou Hitoshi being bullied? I never noticed anything in my classes."

"Me neither," Yamada admits uncomfortably. "He's a quiet kid, keeps his head down, does his work."

"He applied for the Hero Course," Aizawa mentions nonchalantly. "He's got a good Quirk."

"What's the Quirk?" Shirakumo asks.

"Brainwash."

"Huh... and he still got stuck in Gen Ed..."

"The Entrance Exams put too much emphasis on physical Quirks. For a kid like him? He was at a disadvantage before he even applied."

The bitter tone in Aizawa's voice doesn't go unheard by the rest of the group.

"So... do you think that that's why Riyo was upset? That is unfair," Kayama shrugs, popping a piece of fish into her mouth.

"No, she wouldn't get that bent out of shape about something like that," Shirakumo disagrees. "Would she, Shouta?"

"No. She'd contrive a way to get around that. Like..." Aizawa shudders a little. "Almost like Nezu. Just a happy little coincidence."

The other three shudder.

Yamada takes a bite of rice and sighs, looking up at the sky.

The listener's not being bullied... at least, not from what any of us can tell. He wants to be a hero- but at this school... who doesn't? There are tons of kids in the Gen Ed Course who missed the cut for the Hero Course.

"Do you think there are issues with his home life?" Shirakumo poses the idea to the group.

The idea is a little nauseating. There's not much a teacher could do- even a pro hero teacher- about something like that. Without definitive proof, Shinsou wouldn't be able to be removed from his home. And by the looks on everyones' faces, they know this too. Aizawa's eyes narrow as he glares down at his bento, deep in thought. Yamada knows that look. It's the looks Aizawa gets when things make sense... and he doesn't like it at all.

"We can't do much about that without any physical proof," Kayama frowns. "But it adds up... a secret, an unfair situation, Riyo's want for justice. It really does sound just like her, to be so upset for something like this..."

"So what do we do?" Shirakumo asks helplessly, rubbing his forehead. His nails scrape bluntly across his scar.

"We won't do anything," Aizawa says pointedly. "You don't have a Hero License. And even if you did, this is the gray area between being a hero and being a teacher. As a hero, you could argue that you have the right to stick your nose into other people's business, but as a teacher that would be an incredibly inappropriate violation of privacy."

"So you're just gonna let it happen," Shirakumo scoffs disgustedly.

"It's all alleged," Kayama reminds him. "We don't know for sure. We don't have any context, we don't have proof."

"So we put a tail on him!"

"Oboro, we don't even have any formal reason," Yamada says softly. "Riyo's word wouldn't hold up in a court setting. Not to mention, we would have to prove how she knows what she knows and demonstrate reliability... we can't expose her."

There's a hardness in Shirakumo's eyes. "I hate this."

"All we can do now is keep an eye on the boy," Kayama continues to try to soothe. "Thankfully Riyo was able to give us a heads up. We'll do what we can from our end, and hopefully Shinsou will be able to open up to Riyo."

Or the little listener will do something first, Yamada thinks privately.

 

Chapter Text

In all honesty, Sasaki wasn't surprised that his agency was one of the ones that was approached first when it came to the potential of training budding underground heroes. However, he was surprised that it was little Riyo who had posed such an idea when he'd visited with her during a trip to UA to go over security details with Nezu.

"Secret secret," she'd whispered in his head. "Secret mission, secret heroes! Like my Shouta. Does my Sir-Sasaki train secret heroes? Secret for training our Mirio. Secret training for secret heroes?"

Admittedly it did take him a few short moments to figure out what she was asking about. Riyo seemed especially juvenile today.

Secret heroes like EraserHead?

He's gotten into the habit of conversing with her in a purely mental setting, completely relaxed with her seemingly latent abilities to see the thoughts in his head. Plus, it was faster. Though sometimes he expects Bubble Girl or Centipeder to know what he's thinking if he's been with Riyo for a long stretch of time. That's when it gets a little awkward. Nonetheless, he's not irked when they do ask him to clarify when needed.

"Secret heroes go underground," Riyo told him with a childishly-serious look on her face. She nods to herself as she blinks, eyes burning. "Riyo's mission... find good training for secret heroes. Riyo's secret friends... Nezu... My Shouta... secret mission..."

At that, Sasaki laces his fingers together and surveys the girl over the the hills and valleys of his interlocked hands. Riyo doesn't pay it much mind and gnaws on a protein bar. Realistically, Sasaki knows she probably would've rathered Mirio, or his friend, Amajiki as lunchtime company. She'd already finished Lunch Rush's spread that he'd prepared for her especially. It was rather quick- but, Sasaki supposed, she's a growing kid.

Nezu put her up to this- what's he playing at? Secret friends... so other than Riyo herself, she's got friends or classmates who wish to go underground...? So she's what, a sort of Class Representative for this collection of students? No, unless Nezu finally decided to open a new avenue for heroic development.

Furrowing his brow, Sasaki watches as Riyo sips a bottle of orange juice.

He's got EraserHead- arguably one of the best teachers for the job. It would make sense- Riyo's his responsibility, and she has to be protected. Is he training her to be an underground hero? It would make sense, so she was likely a catalyst... and that USJ attack was only accelerating the timeline for Nezu's plans, more than likely. With Nezu, nothing is done unless the payout is thrice the effort put in.

Riyo takes a chomp out of the empty plastic bottle, and Sasaki sighs, resting his forehead against his interlocked fingers. With a purposeful movement, he removes the empty orange juice bottle from Riyo's mouth and tosses it in the waste bin beside him.

I don't think underground heroes would be able to get away with eating literal trash, Riyo. The noise would give up your position.

She blinks at him. "Then take away the ears?"

I... don't think that's how it should work.

"Then... quiet snacks. Secret snacks."

Secret snacks, Sasaki reaffirms in his thoughts, nodding seriously at the girl in front of him. Ones that are suitable for secret heroes.

He has no idea where this is going, but Riyo's eyes quite literally light up in some form of realization.

"Snacks!" She crows excitedly, her hands cupping her cheeks as she sways in her seat. "Secret snacks! Sir-Sasaki is very good! Riyo will find secret snacks for secret heroes!"

At this point, Sasaki decides to speak aloud. He's not sure what's going on, so it's better to have a more cemented question for Riyo rather than having her attempt to answer the half-baked ones buzzing around his head. "Riyo, I'm not sure what you're asking of me. You mentioned secret heroes and secret training. What is your end goal?" He leans forward a little, meeting the girl's golden gaze as she settles down and adopts a more serious expression.

"Some of the best heroes... are heroes that no one knows about," Riyo hums contemplatively. "Save those that never knew they needed to be saved. My Shouta wonders... Sir-Sasaki wonders. Friends wonder. Our Mirio, my Tamaki, my Nejire wonder... what kind of hero will Riyo be?"

A small smile turns up the corner of her pink lips. It's almost a secretive little thing, as if she knows something more that she will not share. That's probably the case, Sasaki reminds himself.

"Riyo will be a hero for heroes."

A hero... for heroes...

"What do you mean?"

"Prevent bad before bad is bad," Riyo explains poorly. Despite this, Sasaki kind of gets what she's saying, but this still doesn't answer his question as to why she's telling him this. Riyo's cheeks puff in admittedly adorable frustration. "Does Sir-Sasaki want to train secret heroes?"

There it is. He was wondering when she would ask him outright. Naturally, he'd already considered the idea of nurturing budding young heroes who would want to step away from the limelight and delve into the more... engrained and systematic problems of society. The main issue is that any kid who wants to be a hero wants to have the recognition and fame and attention that comes with the territory. Trainees that want to be hidden from the public eye are rare to the point of practically nonexistent. Sasaki's not stupid- the few heroes who work in the shadows are definitely recruited and under the thumb of the Hero Public Safety Commission. And in every long-standing institution, there's always corruption afoot...

As of the present, the only independent underground heroes of note are… well, really only EraserHead. But he only came to a more public light because of his teaching position at UA. It's unclear if there are any other independent underground heroes that exist outside of the Commission's direct influence.  Discounting vigilantes, of course...

All in all, it would be advantageous to cultivate underground heroes- or heroes with underground skills- that are as far from the Hero Commission's influence as legally possible. Not so much to stage a coup or force some sort of change of leadership, but for... insurance. Maybe it's Sasaki's intuition or a gut feeling, but he's pretty sure that things will hit the fan eventually, if his Quirk-unrelated foresight is worth it's salt. Not to mention, Nezu's paw prints are all over this idea.

"Okay," Sasaki nods to Riyo, smiling faintly. "I'm open to the idea. This is because the Sports Festival is soon, isn't it?"

Riyo returns his nod slowly. "Secret, secret. Riyo will give Sir-Sasaki names to watch for the festival. Everyone needs to go to the best place. It is The Way. Lots of work for Riyo. Hmmm..."

The door opens abruptly, and Sasaki already has a hand in one of his suit jacket's pockets with a weighted seal in hand to fling at the intruder. Two stiff projections of blond hair peek into the room and All Might startles backwards, quickly wiping a droplet of blood from his mouth.

"I AM HERE! Looking for a place to hide!"

With a crooked finger, Riyo gestures towards All Might and he's pulled into the room by some invisible force, the door to the empty staff room shutting behind him. A huge puff of steam erupts from the Number One Hero, accompanied by a few rattling coughs.

"Chihoshi-chan," All Might wheezes, drawing another boney wrist across his mouth. "That startled me!"

An uncomfortable lump forms in Sasaki's throat as he turns to look out the nearby window. He'd known that there was a chance of running into All Might when he'd agreed to have a meeting with Nezu at UA. He'd known that seeing what his beloved hero like this would do much more than sting- hell, it's been eating him alive every single day. Doubt, fear, and regret sink their teeth into his gut and shred what they find every night. He feels the weight of a future without All Might, the anger of the man's refusal to stop sprinting towards an early grave.

But most of all?

Sasaki feels... sad. Not for the Symbol of Peace, not for the Number One Hero. He feels sad for Toshinori. For a society that's sucked him dry, that has insisted on taking and taking and taking from the most selfless man, until one day he has nothing left to give.

It's why Sasaki has kept his distance. He didn't want to keep taking from the man. In leaving All Might's side, he thought could delay the inevitable with making him find and vet and hire a new staff. In fucking up his agency, maybe Sasaki could give him more time. But he's All Might, after all. All that Sasaki gave him was a bitter taste and a strained relationship. And then, when he tried to give him a successor- to train up Mirio and give them both all that he could-

"Toshi-Might is sick," Riyo observes softly. "Toshi-Might should sit with Riyo and Sir-Sasaki. Have snacks."

Sasaki stiffens.

Absolutely not. I'm leaving.

With that thought directed at Riyo, he moves to stand up. However, there's a gentle tap on his knee, and Sasaki suddenly realizes that his legs... don't work.

"Riyo," he says sharply, risking a glare at the child.

Let me go!

"Sir-Sasaki is tired too, hmmm," Riyo ignores him pointedly, simply giving him a lazy smile.

"I- I don't wish to impose," All Might says hesitantly. Sasaki turns his head again, blatantly avoiding eye contact.

Riyo, release me  right now!

All Might takes a seat on the couch across from him, facing him and Riyo. Sasaki thinks he's going to lose his mind.

"Mirai- how- how have you been?" All Might asks hesitantly.

Part of Sasaki's heart soars at the question, while the other part sinks like a stone. What a funny thing, to be so at war with himself!

He's tried, he's really tried to keep his beloved hero alive! So why is it that Riyo, or the universe insists on making Sasaki suffer? To force him to watch the man he's admired incomparably through all these years- die?

What is this cosmic injustice!?

"Toshi-Might and Sir-Sasaki should talk."

"Chihoshi-chan," All Might sighs softly. There's a shuffling sound, followed by a large sigh. "I think it's best if we just sit quietly for now. There are some things that you just don't know about."

That's just like him, Sasaki muses, staring at the trees in the courtyard. He might've laughed, in another life. He might've laughed about All Might's forgetfulness of Riyo's abilities.

"Then... how can Sir-Sasaki and Toshi-Might know if they never talk?"

Ah. The bluntness of youth.

"I..." All Might trails off. "Erm, well, I'm not going to force someone to talk to me if they don't want to," he explains gently.

"But Sir-Sasaki wants to talk to Toshi-Might?"

Sasaki closes his eyes briefly and reconciles himself with the fact that Chihoshi Riyo is a little meddling traitor. So, to exact retribution, he turns and slips a ginger candy from her blazer pocket. Golden eyes follow the candy and he gives her a shrewd look.

There are reasons why private thoughts are never said aloud, Riyo.

"Sorry."

She is not sorry. She's still smiling.

"Mirai...?"

Finally, finally, Sasaki drags his eyes up and looks at All Might head on. Through the dark shadow over his eyes, the gauntness of his face, the fragility of this form... it's still him.

"Toshinori."

And if Sasaki gets a surprising stab of pleasure from seeing his beloved hero's face light up, well, at least Riyo is prudent enough not to mention it. Instead, there's a sweet jingling of bells in Sasaki's head. It's an appropriate sound to pair with All Might's- Toshinori's- ecstatic expression.

All too soon, the old hero's expression turns serious. "I'm... I'm sorry," he tells Sasaki hesitantly. "I haven't reached out... and I haven't approached you since before. I want to tell you that I'm sorry that it's taken so long, but I-" a skeletal hand curls into a fist on All Might's knees. "I was scared."

There's a tension in the room that follows in the wake of such an admission. It makes it hard to breathe, but Sasaki tries anyway. Anything for All Might. For Toshinori.

"I was... mad," Sasaki admits awkwardly, rolling the wrapped finger candy between his fingers as he sorts out his tongue. "But most of all, I was scared, too. I... I don't want to watch you die. If anyone deserves a long life, it would be you. So I thought that... that if I could prolong your life- whatever it took-"

"The world needs All Might. I couldn't step away. Not when there are so many people crying out for help."

"But what about those who need Toshinori!?" Sasaki snaps. "Would you throw your friends away for the world!?"

"Yes. Because they are part of this world."

There’s a long pause.

"I want to help you," Sasaki sighs, dropping the candy and removing his glasses to rub harshly at his eyes. "Why won't you let anyone help? You don't have to do this alone-"

"You say that, but you're the one who left," All Might says softly.

Well doesn't that sting.

"I'm not contributing to your death. You live for others, Toshinori, I see it. But don't- just- won't you live for yourself? That's all I ask."

It's quiet for a moment as All Might considers this. "What I can promise... is to stay alive as long as I can."

Those words seem to lift a fog for Sasaki. It's not completely gone, but the path to a more ideal future might just seem a little clearer. And really, isn't that what he wanted from All Might- from Toshinori- all along? A promise not to throw his life away blindly? A promise that he'd live? Really live?

"That's... good," Sasaki murmurs awkwardly, looking down at his hands.

"Hungry," Riyo hums, suddenly reminding the two men that she's been present all along. "Talking makes Riyo hungry," she hums. "It is still lunchtime? More lunch… it is The Way..."

Sasaki clears his throat awkwardly before glancing at All Might- Toshinori. He swallows. "I don't suppose... you'd want to grab a bite, then?"

Toshinori smiles radiantly. "That sounds wonderful, my friend."

Bells ring once more, and Sasaki smiles.

 

Chapter Text

There are a few things that bring Amajiki joy without fail. Quiet walks, a good book, maybe a trip to the butterfly gardens- but recently, he's found the joy in sharing those things.

Walks with Togata around the neighborhood. A book shared with Hado, who has rather insightful questions. A trip to the zoo with Riyo.

His...! Girlfriend!?

Wow!

Amajiki fights the urge to wriggle in excitement. He'd gotten permission from Aizawa to take Riyo to the zoo today. It was... quite awkward, approaching him after classes on Friday. The teacher looked absolutely exhausted, or at least, more so than usual. Truly an impressive and somewhat concerning feat when Amajiki considers it's Aizawa of all people, but he knows that it wouldn't end well if he even tries to express any sort of concern. Not to mention, he really wants to stay on the man's good side to be able to take Riyo to the butterfly gardens next summer.

The sun is shining brightly today, and there's the faintest breeze. It's rather warm today, too, so that bodes well for the animals. Hopefully they'll be taking advantage of the weather. Riyo's never been to the zoo, so it would be really special to show her the animals as they move about their enclosures. Then again... as far as Amajiki's concerned, any experience with Riyo is bound to be special. Such a thought teases a small smile from Amajiki's lips as he walks down the street, readjusting the small backpack on his shoulder. He was sure to fill it with the essentials- wallet, phone, keys... spare tissues, a notebook, a pen... a package of ginger candies, spare protein bars, a couple of packed lunches for Riyo... as well as a first aid kit and pepper spray.

Perhaps it's a little silly that he's packed pepper spray. But, Amajiki reasons, I have my Provisional Hero License, and Riyo doesn't.

Not that the girl would need it- but for legality's sake, if they happen to run into trouble, she won't be able to use her Quirk. And Amajiki would protect her, of course, but it makes him feel a little better knowing that she can legally defend herself if need be. Call him paranoid, or call him prepared.

Swallowing his nerves, Amajiki knocks softly on the door to the Aizawa apartment. No sooner has his arm started to drop when the door bursts open.

"Hiya!"

Amajiki's pretty sure his soul has exited his body with the fright of such a sudden greeting. The man at the door doesn't pay this any mind, pulling him inside by the arm.

Oh  god  I'm in Aizawa-sensei's  apartment again -

"Riyo! How come you didn't tell your Uncle Kumo that your friend was here!?"

"My Tamaki is here!"

"Well I can see that!" The man calls back into the apartment, finally deciding to give Amajiki his full attention. He's got light hair, a scar on his forehead, and a handsome grin that's quite mischievous. That makes Amajiki very nervous.

Oh no, Riyo has an uncle!? Why didn't she tell me!?

"Riyo has Uncle Kumo," Riyo hums serenely in his head as she rounds the corner.

I can see that!

The prospect of meeting Riyo's family never really crossed Amajiki's mind- mainly because, well, he wasn't aware that she even had a family other than Aizawa as her parental guardian. It was a given that he'd have to make a good impression on Aizawa- although, he's not entirely sure what kind of impression he's made on the man. At the very least, it doesn't warrant being strangled by Aizawa's Capture Scarf. But an uncle? Well, the uncle is a whole new ballgame. Amajiki's never played baseball, but he knows he'd be horrible at it. Not because he'd strike out, but more along the lines of his nerves getting the better of him and a high probability of hitting himself with the bat.

Hopefully he doesn't hit himself with this metaphorical bat. He must make a good impression on Riyo's uncle. If he doesn't-

Then he won't want Riyo to be with me! And then he'll talk to Aizawa-sensei and Aizawa-sensei won't want me being around Riyo! And then-

"You okay, kid?" The uncle asks, smiling kindly. "You look pretty nervous."

"I- I'm! I'm f-fine! Nice to m-meet you, I'm Amajiki T-Tamaki! I'm Riyo's...!"

Amajiki can't finish the introduction with the man staring at him with those observant blue eyes that are completely oblivious to his internal meltdown.

Why are you trying to introduce yourself as Riyo's boyfriend!? Aren't you getting ahead of yourself!? I should've asked her if she had family members that I needed to impress, I shouldn't have assumed it was just Aizawa-sensei!

"So you're Riyo's!" The man laughs heartily, slapping Amajiki on the back. He doesn't notice the small squeak of surprise that escapes Amajiki, thank goodness.

"Oboro, back off," Aizawa's voice comes from behind the man. "You're cornering him and the kid's god anxiety."

"Whoops! My bad! I'm so sorry!" The man bows his head quickly in apology, rubbing the back of his neck with a sheepish grin, "I got excited, hearing that Riyo's favorite person was coming over! By the way, I'm Shirakumo Oboro, the student teacher for Riyo's class, best uncle, and resident pain in Shouta's ass!" A tanned hand is held out for Amajiki to shake, and he accepts it meekly. He may be timid, but he's got a firm handshake, which doesn't seem to be lost on Shirakumo Oboro, whose grin turns soft at the edges.

"Where's Riyo?" Aizawa asks, frowning as he turns his head to look down the hallway.

A flurry of dust immediately answers his question as Riyo forms amidst a cloud of particles. She's dressed in a pair of what obviously appear to be gray work overalls, shrunk to fit her size, and a purple shirt. Her purple hat is in its rightful place atop her head, bobbing a little as she finishes carefully putting away a small package of crackers in one of her many buttoned pockets. She's also wearing a pair of clashing yellow rain boots, and Amajiki can't help the smile of fondness breaking out over his face. He might not be as into fashion as Hado, but even he recognizes that Riyo hasn't the faintest clue as to what clothing to pair with what. Or, if she does, she doesn't care and dresses however she feels.

Amajiki adores that.

"Isn't there supposed to be clear weather all week?" Shirakumo asks Riyo, placing a familiar hand over top of her hat. "Why'd ya pick the boots, squirt?"

"Bright," she answers simply, looking up at the man. "My Tamaki likes bright. Like the sun."

If he could vaporize on the spot like Riyo could, Amajiki would have done so in less than a heartbeat. On one hand, he's absolutely floored by the thought that Riyo would wear something with the thought that he'd like it. On the other hand, both adults are looking at Amajiki like he's an absolute weirdo.

"I, uh," he squeaks.

"Boots also for wet," Riyo adds thoughtfully. "It is The Way."

The air is a little hard to breathe right now.

"Hey, do you want a glass of water or something?" Shirakumo asks suddenly. His pale brow is pinched in mild concern as he watches Amajiki struggle.

He nods his head before he can really register what he's been asked, and then Riyo's taking his hand in hers. There's a gentle wave of calm that washes over him- not his own, he's still freaking out a little- but Riyo's, as she leads him into the apartment. It's a familiar place, as he's been over a few times before, and he blushes at the thought of sitting down with Riyo on the couch. Banishing memories of  documentaries and sleepy cuddles, Amajiki hesitantly accepts the cup of water from Shirakumo, who gives him another friendly smile.

I should say something...

"Y- you said that you're the student teacher for Riyo's class?" He finds himself asking. After all, he knew that there was an addition to the faculty surrounding the first years- he'd heard of it from Hado, who very much enjoys knowing what's going on around the school.

"Yep!" Shirakumo nods. "It's thanks to Riyo, really! She sorta saved me from a hostage situation at the USJ, you might say."

So this is the guy? Oh... wow... she saved her own uncle? Or...?

"Uncle Kumo is my Shouta's best friend," Riyo informs him after picking up on Amajiki's confusion. "My Shouta was sad. But Riyo unmixed Uncle Kumo and now my Shouta and his Zashi and Uncle Kumo and Auntie are happy now!"

Amajiki sort of understands...?

"Aww, I'm your best friend, Shouta?" Shirakumo coos, elbowing Aizawa in his ribs.

Naturally, Aizawa ignores this and focuses on Amajiki and Riyo. "Have her back by curfew. The usual. She has spare money for food in one of her pockets, just in case."

"Y-yes sir!"

"Ooh, he's calling you sir, Shou! What great manners!"

Aizawa's eyes close as he takes a deep breath through his nose, and it's evident to Amajiki that he's trying not to lose whatever's left of his patience. Accepting this cue, Amajiki downs his cup of water quickly.

Time to go!

Thankfully, Riyo agrees.

"Zoo time with my Tamaki," she informs the bickering men of her household. "Mm... our Zashi wants to see Shouta and Uncle Kumo today. Visit Zashi? Hmm. It is The Way."

"N-nice to meet you!" Amajiki stutters, bowing quickly. "And th-thank you for letting me take Riyo to the zoo! I'll take good care of her, Aizawa-sensei!"

"Be safe, come back in one piece," Shirakumo cheers as dust starts flurrying around Riyo and Amajiki. He's got an arm tossed around an unenthusiastic Aizawa, who seems to be stamping on his foot repeatedly with little mercy. "Don't get into any trouble!"

"Trouble?" Riyo considers thoughtfully. "It is The Way...?"

Well, Amajiki doesn't think that sounds too good, but he can't exactly say as much when their surroundings start blurring and running like wet paint. By the time he blinks again, there's warm sunlight on part of his face and he's looking at the entrance to the zoo. The ambient sounds of the outdoors mingle with the cheerful conversations of fellow attendees. It washes over him in a gentle wave.

"R- Ri-chan, you didn't want to take the train?" He asks the girl holding his hand. "Won't you get tired from using your Quirk so much? N-not to mention, you're still recovering!"

Luminous eyes look up at him as she gives him a sheepish smile. "Excited," she whispers. That teases a smile from his mouth, but he still elects to offer her a protein bar from his bag. She looks contemplative as she accepts it, and stows it away in one of the pockets on her overalls. "My Tamaki takes good care of Riyo," she hums, clearly pleased.

Uwa...! She's saying something amazing...!

Blushing heavily, Amajiki accepts the compliment in mildly flustered silence and simply takes Riyo to the entrance of the zoo. Somehow, purchasing entry passes isn't as nerve-wracking as he'd initially anticipated. And sure, he's been making leaps and bounds in interacting with other people- but perhaps there's just something about having his motivation close at hand. Or in his hand.

It's Riyo. His motivation is Riyo.

"We, uh... have a map," Amajiki releases her hand as he unfurls the colorful zoo map. Riyo watches him with interest, peering over his arm. "We're here at the entrance, see?" He hands her the map so she doesn't have to stand on her tip toes- no matter how cute he finds it. "So... what would you like to see first, Ri-chan?"

Riyo's lashes brush her cheeks as she looks down at the map, biting her bottom lip in apparent concentration. Amajiki can't quite tell at the moment, but he's sure that the girl is looking into the future- many futures- all branching out from this particular point in time when he asked her this exact question.

"Penguins," she decides, leaning into him cutely.

"You like penguins, Ri-chan?"

"Penguins... the TV..."

Amajiki can't quite believe his eyes when he sees Riyo's cheeks flush a spectacular pink.

What's that reaction?

"Penguins on the TV when we..."

Oh. Ohhhh... yeah, he vaguely remembers hearing about penguins on that documentary they were watching when they-

"When my Tamaki and I..."

When they- she said "and I," didn't she?

And I...

When we...!

The two of them stand there for a moment, arm in arm and blushing profusely.

She said something amazing again!

And on an even higher note- Amajiki realizes that Riyo effectively flustered herself. Or better yet- she was flustered because of him. Then there's the implications that she remembers much about the night of their first date- it was certainly memorable! But such a detail...!

Honestly, Amajiki would be untruthful if he'd denied ever wanting to... to get his face close to her face... and... you know...!

But this new development?

This is...!

She thinks about it, Amajiki finds himself latching onto that detail. She remembers it and she thinks about it. About me.

Amajiki takes a deep breath, closing his eyes briefly to clear his mind. It's a tactic that FatGum had suggested when getting overwhelmed in a battle scenario. Or overwhelmed in general. Ginger candies can only do so much, you know.

Tugging Riyo along gently, he moves them away from the crowds at the nearby lemur exhibit. Amajiki refuses to let his hands tremble as he gently cups Riyo's cheeks and ducks in for a swift peck. It's short and sweet, and thank god he didn't miss. The familiar sensation of battle awareness has heightened Amajiki's perception all the while. But the main thought at the forefront of his head is-

She's so soft.

There's a sound of a rather- choked? Can bells sound choked? A choked jingle.

Still cupping her face, Amajiki can't help but smile at Riyo's shocked expression. He wonders briefly if her shocked face is a rare thing to see, since she can see multiple futures.

"Tamaki," Riyo whispers in a hushed voice. Not in his head- out loud.

Holy  sh-

Riyo gives him a nearly blinding smile, letting out an audible giggle.

He can't help it. He kisses her again, his nose bumping into hers in a clumsy haste to get more giggles out of her, to make her laugh so that he could burn it into his memory. And she does- she giggles again, against his lips, and it's the best thing Amajiki's ever tasted.

There's a sort of dazed feeling about him as he watches Riyo compose herself, eyes quite literally sparkling. Usually, this would be the part where Amajiki would apologize for being so forward and impulsive, but the thing is? He's not sorry.

Riyo is watching him fondly, and he simply grins at her, his hands withdrawing but for catching one of hers. She squeezes it tightly.

"You surprised me," she tells him sincerely, her shoulders trembling with another giggle. Her teeth flash in a grin. "I thought I knew what was coming but you surprised me, Tamaki!"

surprised  her...?

"I didn't... I didn't think that was possible," he admits with a small laugh.

"With you, I feel like everything is possible."

Hhhh- she said something  really  amazing again!

Riyo swings their joined hands between them, cheeks still pink, her hat doing nothing to cover the blush spreading over her ears. "Penguin time?"

"Yeah," Amajiki breathes, feeling quite elated. "Let's go see the penguins!"

 

Chapter Text

"Okay, kid. Let's try it again."

Aizawa watches as Riyo takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, her mouth forming a small frown as she concentrates. Part of him wonders if he's being too harsh, but the other part of him remembers a bloody ragdoll in the USJ. At that, he doesn't feel as bad. His jaw clenches as Riyo's eyes open again, eyes darting from place to place as she sees things unseen. But it's different from before- different than the spacey attitude she usually has. This sort of foresight is controlled. Calculated.

"Okay, Mirio," Sir NightEye says from beside Aizawa.

"Right!" The youth nods, taking off at a run. Riyo's eyes narrow as Togata makes his move- a right-handed punch aimed close to the center. Riyo dodges effortlessly, stepping out of the way with a open left-handed parry. Togata switches tactics and grabs her wrist, which Riyo quickly pulls forward in an attempt to send her opponent off balance.

"You're not going to win out using brute strength," NightEye calls out as Riyo tosses out a counter punch. It passes through Togata without resistance. "Engage! Look ahead! Predict and execute!"

Eyes glowing dangerously, Riyo twists her grappled wrist and bears down hard on Togata's elbow. It takes him by surprise and he reflexively pulls Riyo forward with the forced bending of his elbow. There's a solid thunk as Riyo's head bashes into Togata's chin.

"Ow!" Riyo exclaims telepathically, grimacing with discomfort. Her headbutt does the trick, though. Togata releases her and she creates distance.

"All your life, your Quirk has been commanding you," NightEye approaches Riyo slowly, arms crossed behind his back as he addresses her. "It is time for you to command your Quirk."

Riyo breathes heavily, eyes flickering like flames as she stares at Sir NightEye with a rapt attention. Aizawa will have to admit- NightEye's training has been incredibly effective in the past week since he'd started visiting UA regularly. Evidently, he's on better terms with All Might- a miracle, if Aizawa would ever have to describe one. NightEye grudges are legendary. He'd know.

Either way, Riyo's control over her Quirk has excelled in the past week, and he's seeing much fewer bruises on her forearms during class. She still does alternative assignments, courtesy of Nezu, but her capacity for focus has already improved leaps and bounds. What a world of difference it makes, when the mentor and the mentee have such a rapport. With NightEye's Foresight and Riyo's Quantum, they seem like the perfect match for student and teacher.

Not that Aizawa's jealous or anything. Absolutely not. In fact-

"Cannot control The Way. Only seek guidance and adjustment," Riyo responds to NightEye, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. There's a red mark on her forehead that will surely bruise. "Swimming against current. Tidal waves."

It makes sense, Aizawa considers. Who are we to stand in The Way?

NightEye is quiet for a moment.

"Ah- then why not go with the current, Ri-chan?" Hado pipes up, stretching in place. She also agreed to help with Riyo's training. "I think- I think right now you're fighting the current and getting swept away, yeah? Don't fight the current- The Way is supposed to be guiding, right?"

"Then how is she supposed to be able to fine tune her Quirk?" Togata ponders aloud.

"Well, divert the river!"

Riyo blinks.

"You've done it before," Hado shrugs, spiraling yellow shockwaves allowing her to twist and dance aimlessly in the air. It's quite graceful, but Aizawa would never say anything. He's too busy thinking about what she said rather than what she's doing.

"Before...?" NightEye murmurs, slim fingers coming up to his chin.

"Like with the old man at the ramen shop! Or when she gives us great advice! Oh! And from how it sounds, when she rescued Shirakumo-sensei!"

The man in question is absent, much to his chagrin. He has his own hero training to attend. But still, Hado has a point. A very valid point. Riyo has been pushing and pulling things having to do with The Way for a long time. Not to mention, her ability to manipulate things on a molecular level, according to Nezu. Well, that ties in with Shirakumo's unmixing, but Aizawa really rather not think about those implications.

"Don't try to block the river," Hado continues with a raised finger, smiling gently at the younger student. "Allow it to flow, and divert it into streams. Then you can adjust where you want it to go!"

"That was very... insightful," NightEye says with mild surprise, appraising the girl. "I see why Ryukyu is so keen on you, Hado-san."

"Hey, hey, Mirio-kun?" Hado calls down to the blond. "Where's Tamaki-kun? Don't you think he would want to help with training Ri-chan?"

Aizawa continues watching Riyo, who seems rather thoughtful as she looks at her hands. They're the same hands that pulled Shirakumo from Kurogiri, the same hands that helped him refocus in the aftermath. Small, but powerful. Hands that used to grab hold of his own, and now they reach out to others. Like Togata and Hado, and Amajiki most of all. There have been a lot of things that Aizawa's had to reconcile himself with. Riyo isn't a normal kid, nothin the slightest, but that shouldn't bar her from normal life experiences. School, hero training, hanging out with friends... dating.

Yes, she was very excited to tell Aizawa about how Amajiki was her favorite. About how they're going to be heroes together, and all the mushy stuff that young love is typically about.

Gross.

She's his kid.

Double gross.

There would always be parts of him that would feel protective, so jealous as to want to hide Riyo away from the world. She's come incredibly far from the tiny thing he rescued in a dark room. Learning, communicating more- heck, she even wanted to share her experiences at the zoo with Amajiki! She was so joyful, that words escaped her and she simply projected visuals and sounds and sensations directly. Aizawa caught glimpses of animals, felt the sensations of holding hands, the scent of... well, it was a zoo after all. But all the while, he heard the cheerful ringing of bells and wind chimes.

It would be cruel to deny her that joy after everything she's been through. As long as she was safe- as long as she and Amajiki knew the expectations- Aizawa would allow it. He almost didn't- not until after Yamada had mentioned his theory about Riyo's Quirk. The theory that had led to this week's special Quirk training.

"Divert the rivers," Riyo hums in his head, interrupting his train of thought. "Rivers... possibilities... okay. Try again, it is The Way. Sir-Sasaki? Riyo is ready."

"Okay. Mirio, Hado-san," NightEye gestures for the two to attack.

The two upperclassmen spring forward.

Dust particles begin swirling around Riyo's feet as she gathers her hands into fists. With a decisive gesture, she tosses her arms out and the dust erupts into glittering, golden powder. "Change the flow."

Aizawa blinks in surprise, breath catching.

Golden dust has seemingly settled on invisible surfaces, showing a variety of irregular shapes and textures suspended in air. True to their training, Hado and Togata don't even hesitate, attempting to dodge under the dust, but it doesn't seem to do much when they pass through it. They move forward to strike, Mirio disappearing from sight underground, while Hado sends a controlled wave from above.

Riyo sidesteps to avoid the wave, reaching out a hand and twisting her wrist in a graceful swirl. Gold dust begins to cling to Hado and Togata. With a start, Aizawa realizes NightEye's coated in gold dust as well.

What is this?

"Go with the current," Riyo murmurs. "Don't fight the flow... direct the current."

The golden dust expands, each individual acting as an epicenter for smaller waves of gold. Particles gather and hang suspended in the air, as if resting on invisible surfaces. It takes a few seconds for Aizawa to realize that the irregular gatherings of gold dust seem to outline figures of people.

Togata springs from the floor, aiming to strike at Riyo. But Riyo simply closes her eyes and moves. It's exceedingly graceful. And Togata? Every movement, every step and strike carry him through the different poses of the golden figures outlined in dust.

This is what she sees, Aizawa watches in awe as Hado matches her own gilded dust-figures. Every move, coalesced into something like this? Every future, guided into a pinpoint-prediction outlined in golden dust...

NightEye looks similarly dumbfounded as Riyo casually steps and dodges and leaps away from the two older students. They slowly begin to speed up, lowering their inhibitions. Hurting Riyo is not the goal, obviously- but to not land a single hit? Not a single tag on the shoulder, or catching the girl in their arms?

With no warning at all, golden dust suddenly flies out past Aizawa, and he turns quickly to see-

"Hey, all! So sorry I'm late to the party, yo!"

Yamada walks into the gym, his own steps matching each gilded dust-figure as he strides into the room, only taking notice once he sees Riyo engaged with Hado and Togata. However, Yamada's entrance seems to have broken NightEye out of his trance, as he claps twice with a sharp crispness. "That's enough!" He calls to the others.

Hado drops herself to the ground, breathing heavily as she lands in one final golden outline, and Togata rockets from the floor to land on his butt- also conveniently outlined in golden dust. Riyo simply watches, waving her arm about in the golden particulates that surround her with curiosity.

"Riyo?" Aizawa calls, stepping forward into what he realizes are his own golden outlines. They're interesting, and he makes note that they only coalesce when he's decided to step forward with each foot.

Like preemptive tracking...

Riyo looks up at him with wide eyes. "I can see things," she whispers in his head.

Well, yeah. Generally speaking, you can usually do that.

"Hard to explain," she mumbles, looking back down at her hands. "The Way is usually so restless... but if Riyo separates the Now and the Later, I can see what Is and what Will instead of what Could and what Might."

"So you're finding ways to sift through the uncertainty?" Aizawa asks her.

She blinks. "Mm... yes... not as difficult as before... but I like seeing what Will, Could, Might... helps to prepare... helps to see The Way..."

Aizawa reaches out, a gilded arm forming a split second before his own bandaged arm takes its place. His hand rests on her shoulder. Riyo looks up at him, her eyes still shouldering but holding an interesting clarity. "I am... hungry. And..." she looks back at Togata and Hado, who also watch with curiosity. A small smile curls on her lips. "Happy," she decides, the familiar sound of ringing bells and wind chimes accompanying her declaration. "How is my Shouta feeling?"

Riyo's smile turns a little mischievous and Aizawa watches in half-concealed awe. Riyo's reactions are usually so... muted? But with this new clarity she has... she almost seems like a normal kid.

"Riyo has never been normal," she reminds him amusedly. "Just too busy looking ahead..." her eyes slowly go out of focus, flickering like flames. "There is much to see. Much to prepare. Must look ahead."

The gold dust slowly dissipates, and where it goes, Aizawa hasn't the faintest idea. He turns to NightEye, who seems to be similarly surprised, and Yamada simply looks thoughtful.

"Did you hear that conversation?" Aizawa dares to ask aloud.

"Yeah," Yamada nods. "So the little listener doesn't always have to see in Quantum? Or she does? Is it a choice or preference or-?"

"I think it's a new technique," NightEye interjects, watching Riyo thoughtfully as she takes Yamada's hand. "It didn't seem like a choice at the beginning... but she's been training daily."

"She took Nejire-chan's advice!" Togata agrees. "Instead of swimming against the current of her Quirk, divert the current!"

"Riyo can't swim," Riyo hums dreamily, seemingly back to her... typical self. Yamada looks down at her fondly, and it does something to Aizawa. But before he can discern what that something is, Yamada speaks.

"I think that's just further proof of my theory, huh, Shou?"

"Your theory," Sir NightEye adjusts his glasses as he crosses his arms. "Right..."

"Theory? What theory, Sir-san?" Hado asks curiously.

NightEye's mouth twitches with vague amusement at Hado's address; after all, it's rather redundant. "Present Mic," he gestures.

Yamada plucks a bit of lint off of Riyo's hat and smiles. "Well, the little listener's Quirk is supposed to be something totally rad like Quantum, right? With the way it seems she strums the string of reality, it stands to reason that since her Quirk is Quantum, she must be in a state of quantum, too!"

"Eh?"

"I don't follow," Togata says slowly, brow furrowed. "Ri-chan is Quantum... but...? A state of quantum?"

"It's like this," Yamada explains. "Riyo's constantly looking into The Way- whatever that is, right? And she's been known to make comments on whether The Way is quiet or restless. I don't think the universe has a volume button, but it's more that... whatever point in time that Riyo mentions as quiet or restless must be particularly important!"

"We've gone over this before, Present Mic," NightEye frowns. "That implies that there's an original timeline, whatever that may be, and that Riyo is somehow an outside observer. Sure, that fits Schrodinger's thought experiment with regards to an observer dictating the outcomes of an event, but Nezu has already refuted that Riyo would be an observer."

"I'm lost," Hado stage-whispers to Togata, who has a deeper frown on his face.

"Think about it! The label of quiet would insinuate less variability of that moment! While restless would imply a significant amount of variation in the possible futures or courses that the future could take!"

"Incorrect," NightEye disagrees. "Quantum implies infinite possibilities, so there's no such thing as less or greater variability."

"Oh, come on!" Yamada exclaims dramatically, tossing out his arms. "You know what I mean, yo! Those possibilities in the quiet moments all lead to what would basically be the same outcome but with minute, negligible differences in details. Restless moments imply that the outcomes would be wildly different! Don't just be difficult to be difficult, Sir!"

Is it hot in here or is it just Aizawa? Because hot damn did he catch maybe eighty percent of what Yamada was saying and the other twenty percent was lost to oh fuck I get why Nemuri says smart is the new sexy.

Brushing his internal meltdown aside, Aizawa gets what Yamada is saying. It makes sense. lot of sense, especially when thinking back to the beginning, when Riyo had assured Aizawa that The Way was quiet, and he was allowed to listen. If his seeing and listening and witnessing The Way was going to have a huge effect on- on the timeline or universe, then why would Riyo let him see and hear what he did back then?

Riyo takes one of his bandaged hands gently in her free hand and hums. "My Shouta is in The Way," she murmurs as if in answer.

Right.

Maybe he was always going to be hopelessly caught in over his head with this kid. He hears a wind chime tinkling in amused response, and he sighs.

Resistance was futile.

 

Chapter Text

It was relatively simple to figure out that something was afoot in the halls of UA. However, that didn't necessarily mean that Shinsou was equipped to handle this realization. Nonetheless, he couldn't help but feel like someone was watching him. A bit absurd, considering he's in a school for heroes and he's in the General Course. Who'd be paying attention to him?

Present Mic.

Present Mic is paying attention to him. And it's... weird? Being called by name by a pro hero, getting enthusiastic hellos and questions about how his day has been going- it's giving him the impression that he's actually wanted around here. And isn't that a weird concept? But aside from Present Mic giving him grins and greetings, EraserHead seems to be cropping up a little more frequently in Shinsou's routine.

Frequently, as in Shinsou never used to see EraserHead at all. But yet, he's sometimes down the hall chatting with another teacher when his passing period happens, or walking the other way when Shinsou's headed for the courtyard during the lunch hour. EraserHead doesn't give Shinsou enthusiastic hellos or smiles like Present Mic does. Instead, he makes eye contact with Shinsou and nods at him. Usually without breaking stride or conversation with another faculty member.

Honestly, if Shinsou had to describe it, it's... kind of cool.

Shinsou swallows as he passes by EraserHead again- this time, the hero is talking to a man with fluffy, pale hair. EraserHead's eyes fix on Shinsou's and he gives him a small nod, mouth hidden by the folds of his scarf. The pale-haired man looks over his shoulder and sees Shinsou, blue eyes wide and curious before smiling brightly and waving. Unsure of what to do, Shinsou just ducks his head and speeds up his pace.

His heart is beating strongly when he makes it out into the courtyard. He grips the front of his blazer tightly, the stiff fabric wrinkling as he fights the urge to smile.

Getting acknowledged by EraserHead of all people is really cool.

Even if they met when he accidentally made his special student cry. It could be that this acknowledgement by Eraser is a sort of warning to stay away from Riyo- like it's an unspoken agreement or expectation. But... at least Shinsou has that, right?

It's not weird to look forward to being sorta maybe judged a little bit by your idol, right? At least he knows who Shinsou is, right?

Ah. Who am I kidding?

He doesn't blame EraserHead for probably wanting him to stay away from Riyo. He really doesn't. He'd probably tell other people to stay away from him too if he were a teacher.

That's what they all did, in the end.

The bench is slightly warmed by the sun, prompting a small sigh to escape his lips. It feels nice. Maybe he can lay out on the bench and catch a few moments of sleep. He'd forgotten to sweep the house last night, so class was especially rough this morning. Add in his forgotten bento on the counter, and Shinsou was really running on empty.

He yawns deeply, squeezing his eyes shut as the exhaustion rolls over him. His stomach growls a bit to remind him that he hasn't eaten, but it's not like he can do anything about that.

Fuck, I'm tired.

Something bumps into his leg. It takes a few moments for Shinsou to gather the strength to open his eyes, but when he does he's left completely puzzled.

Right there next to his leg is a wrapped bento. It's a sizeable thing- the kind that upon a single glance, you can tell it has multiple stacked tiers. Wrapped in a cat-print cloth, the bento looks really inviting. Shinsou spends a few moments admiring the different variations of calicos on the thing before catching himself.

Where did this come from?

Then-

Am I hallucinating?

Then-

Oh, this must be another nightmare.

Honestly, it's a little terrifying that Shinsou's so tired and so used to his foster parents' Quirks, that sometimes he can't quite distinguish dreams from reality. It's especially cruel that he's so hungry and his foster dad would make him dream of a huge-ass bento right in front of him.

With a cat print cloth.

calico cat print cloth.

Should I open it?

As if on cue, his traitorous stomach decides to make itself known again. Shinsou sighs, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.

Might as well get it over with.

Usually in these types of dreams, Shinsou would open the bento without hesitation. He'd be so hungry and so grateful to have food that he'd tear open the bento in an instant. Once he'd lift the lid, he'd feel revulsion and horror, as the bento would always be full of roaches and worms and maybe a few flies would fly out from under the lid. The vermin would writhe and squirm and scuttle out of the box, a few always clinging to Shinsou's arms until after he'd flung it away. He'd hear the sounds of roach bodies hitting the ground and scuttling away, the buzzing of fat bot flies by his ears.

And when it got too much, Shinsou would scream- he'd scream to drown out the buzzing, the scuttling- he'd scream because he would still feel the weight of tiny bodies and tickling legs- so many legs- skittering up his arms. He'd scream, and scream himself hoarse until the burning in his throat woke him up from his nightmare.

But never screamed out loud.

Shaking his head, Shinsou swallows the bile in his mouth as he picks up the bento.

Might as well get it over with.

With shaky hands, he unfurls the calico cat cloth, wincing as it falls away from the lid. A pair of chopsticks rest mockingly on top of the bento, and Shinsou sets them on the bench beside him. He's half a mind to throw them away- the thought of picking up maggots with chopsticks is enough to trigger his gag reflex.

Still, the nightmare won't end unless he complies. He knows his foster father's brand of discipline well.

When Shinsou lefts the lid of the bento, he's fully expecting all manners of roaches, flies, worms- anything with a shiny body, too many legs, or no legs at all.

Instead, he finds halved cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and a fried cutlet topped with the fluffiest eggs Shinsou has ever seen.

What?

Shinsou looks up, looks around the empty courtyard. No one's here. He looks back down at the bento, and his stomach yowls.

This is so unfair.

Wait, what? Did he really just have that thought? That this whole thing- this sick joke- is unfair?

"Be  grateful , Hitoshi. Be grateful that we took you in. No one wanted you, but we  wanted you. Because we know that we can  fix you. Don't bite the hand that feeds you, Hitoshi, because there aren't many people like us who will feed you. Just do as we ask, and we'll love  you. Do what you're told and we can be  happy  together.  Like a family.  Don't you want a  family again, Hitoshi?"

Shinsou lets out a tortured gasp, squeezing his eyes shut and breathing quickly. Small, rough pants come quickly as he picks up the chopsticks and clenches them tightly in his fist.

I can't do this.

I can't do this.

I can't  do  this.

His foster father must've decided that he needed more discipline. Why else would the bento look so appetizing? Shinsou is sure that the moment he puts a bite of food in his mouth, that bite will turn into a mouthful of roaches and worms.

He knows that's what's going to happen.

He knows he's not going to get out of this nightmare unless he complies.

It's my fault. I should've been better. I should've listened. I should've  been better.

Shinsou picks up the box with shaking hands. He tries to pick up a bit of egg but fumbles with the chopsticks. His stomach is at war with itself, because the bento smells so good, but it has to be a lie.

Yellow egg shivers in his chopsticks as his hand trembles. He takes a bite.

It...

It tastes like egg.

It tastes good.

Hot tears prick at the corners of Shinsou's eyes as he takes another bite, bracing himself, waiting for the inevitable transition of food into vermin in his mouth. But it never comes.

Shinsou finishes the egg. He eats a cherry tomato. It's cool and refreshing. A tear falls, blazing a trail down his face.

It's good.

So he wipes his face and eats another tomato. And then a piece of broccoli. And then he tries the cutlet- pork. It's salty and savory, and the rice is perfectly fluffy. He's opening crying now as he eats the bento, shoveling the food into his mouth because it's so good. His eyes don't leave the box, even when he swipes at his tears. He's watching, waiting for the next bite of food to uncover a maggot or a roach- but each bite is as clean as the last.

Soon enough, the last bite of rice is consumed, the last tomato is gone, and Shinsou has eaten the whole meal. But... there's at least two more layers to this bento.

Truly, this is a special kind of torture.

Shinsou lifts the now-empty tray to reveal a second meal. An attractively pink piece of salmon lying on a new bed of rice, sautéed spinach and tofu nestled next to a few small sausages and a couple of tamagoyaki. A red pickled plum is nestled cutely in the corner of the rice.

This is so unfair.

So, he digs in. The fish pairs deliciously with the rice, the pickled plum adding a bite of sour and salt. The tofu is tender and sweet, and the spinach is delightfully earthy. Shinsou is waiting, when he picks up a sausage, and then another. He's waiting for the turning point of his nightmare. But he finishes the bento, and it was all-

So fucking good.

There's a third layer, and Shinsou kind of wants to throw it across the courtyard. Except he doesn't. Because the last two layers were so fucking good.

So he sets his eyes on the third layer of the bento, and he's really not too hungry anymore after the last two layers, but he has to know what's there. Glazed chicken. Vegetable tempura. Glass noodles. Shredded cabbage and carrot.

He eats the last layer of the bento. No bugs. No roaches or worms. Just... food.

Good food.

Shinsou re-stacks the bento with shaking hands. He ties the calico cat cloth around the box. Slides the chopsticks neatly under the knot. Licks his lips to chase the lingering taste of food and disbelief. His cheeks feel a little raw and chaffed. They sting when another tear escapes the corner of his eye.

"Was it good?" A rough voice asks from behind.

The height that Shinsou gains when he jumps in fright is actually pretty impressive. Nonetheless, he's pretty sure his soul has evacuated this plane of existence.

EraserHead is leaning his hip on the back of the bench, one of his arms still carefully tucked in a sling. Both hands are bandaged to his fingertips, but at least there's a newer degree of mobility allowed... right?

"I- what?" Shinsou asks hoarsely.

"Lunch," EraserHead nods at the empty bento.

What kind of fresh hell is this? Is the food going to turn into bugs in my  stomach?  Am I going to dream that my idol is going to berate me? Force me to eat more bugs?

The man frowns as Shinsou's breathing picks up pace, moving around the bench to sit beside him. "You okay, kid?"

The fabric of Shinsou's pants wrinkles as he grips it tightly in his fists. "Fine," Shinsou manages to force out. "I'm fine."

He was not fine.

"Mmm," EraserHead hums, seemingly not believing him one bit. But he lets it go, and Shinsou is grateful until Eraser speaks again. "Riyo was insistent that Shirakumo make a large bento this morning."

Riyo? Shirakumo?

"Ah, Shirakumo's my roommate. The man you saw me talking with earlier," Eraser clarifies, tilting his head up to look at the sky. A few puffy clouds break up an impossible shade of blue. "Old friend. He's staying with Riyo and I until he can get back on his feet." There's a brief pause. "Riyo's... Riyo's my kid."

There's a hot feeling in the pit of Shinsou's stomach. He doesn't want to name it. It feels shameful and so much like the color green before fading into a deep, deep sadness. He swallows.

"She wanted Shirakumo to make a huge bento," Eraser continues. "So he did. We didn't realize that it was for you."

Shinsou's eyes sting. His heart hurts with that admission. He'd eaten Riyo's bento, enjoyed it, and it was never meant for him.

Isn't it... so unfair?

This really is a nightmare.

"Look..." EraserHead sighs, leaning forward to catch Shinsou's eyes. "You and I both know that something's up. Something isn't right. Riyo's worried about you. She's also a damn-good meddler. She doesn't meddle without good reason. Quite frankly, neither do I. So I'm asking you right now, Shinsou. Answer me honestly."

Bloodshot eyes stare deeply into his own.

"Do I need to meddle?"

Shinsou can't breathe.

A firm, bandaged hand comes to squeeze his shoulder and he flinches. EraserHead's nostrils flare as he inhales sharply.

"Shinsou-kun." The grip on his shoulder is warm. "Breathe."

He sucks in a breath.

"Tell me what's going on," his hero prompts him, urgency in his face. "Whatever it is, whatever trouble you're in, let me know. I'll help you. Will you let me help you? Tell me what's wrong."

"I'm tired!" Shinsou gasps wildly, his hands latching onto EraserHead's sleeves. "I'm so tired! All the time! I can't- I can't sleep! They won't let me sleep, I can't- she'll keep me awake and he'll give me nightmares, and this is the worst one!"

It all comes spilling out, because this is the design of his foster father's nightmares. Prey upon a weakness. Lower Shinsou's guard. Present a small ribbon of hope.

Let it fray in Shinsou's hands.

So if his idol is going to fray in his hands, Shinsou will at least give himself this. At least he can confess to some form of EraserHead, at least he can pretend he'll be able to escape from that hell house. He'll be punished worse for sure, for talking in his nightmare and airing out his grievances with his foster parents- his foster dad sees everything in his nightmares, after all.

EraserHead wraps his good arm around Shinsou tightly, and Shinsou goes boneless, shoulders shaking something awful.

"Just let me pretend," Shinsou begs quietly. "Just for a moment, and then I'll be good. I promise, I'll be good!"

"Kid, you can't-" EraserHead starts to say something, but Shinsou panics.

"No, no, no, no, no, don't do that!" Shinsou's voice turns a little hysterical. "Don't make him say that, please don't make him say that!"

"Shinsou, what-"

"Don't make him say I can't be a heroplease, it's all I have left!" Shinsou clings to this fake EraserHead nonetheless, he has to be fake, he has to remember he's fake. "Don't make him say it, dad," he whimpers. "Please, don't make him say it."

Shinsou's vision slowly blacks out.

 

Chapter Text

Well, that just happened. Aizawa takes a moment to take inventory and assess the situation.

Currently, he has an armful of vulnerable teenager, no small amount of shock marbled with intense anger, a thirst for justice, a headache, and just enough pocket change to get a drink from the vending machine- the fruity kind that Yamada likes.

Fuck.

He sighs deeply. Shinsou's passed out, and he needs to get him inside to Recovery Girl. Then, he needs to talk to Nezu and hopefully find Midnight and Yamada. Since Shirakumo is his student teacher, he'll take charge of his homeroom class during training today while he dissects what Shinsou just told him about...

Think later.

It's only logical. However, logic doesn't help him lift Shinsou on his back with one slightly-less-busted arm. He shoots Yamada a quick text, and the man is out in the courtyard in less than five minutes with his tinted glasses sliding low on his nose. Aizawa sees concern in his friend's green eyes, concern and worry. He picks up Shinsou and holds him tightly.

"What happened?" Yamada asks in a strained voice.

"Riyo gave him her bento. The one-"

"Oboro mentioned."

Aizawa nods, rubbing his bandaged hand over his face. The gauze catches on his stubble but he couldn't care less about such a small discomfort. Shinsou's pleading echoes in his ears.

"Just let me pretend! Just for a moment, and then I'll be good. I  promise , I'll be good!"

He closes his eyes. "Let's get to Recovery Girl. I'll call Nezu. Whatever's happening in Shinsou's home life is worse than we thought."

Without another word, Yamada and Aizawa walk into UA in tense silence. It's second nature to walk these halls, to guide Yamada down the ones Aizawa knows will be deserted because they certainly don't need an audience. They don't speak until Recovery Girl opens her office door and her eyes zero in on the boy in Yamada's arms.

"An attack?" She asks sharply, already guiding Yamada to an empty bed. Her stethoscope glints in the fluorescent light as she tugs it around her neck.

"No. I think it's exhaustion."

"Name? Class?"

"Shinsou Hitoshi, he's in General Education, Class 1C," Yamada says quickly. He's seated right next to the boy, long fingers gripped around the youth's wrist. Aizawa can recognize that he's taking his pulse.

Recovery Girl is swift and methodical in checking Shinsou's condition, her face grim but not betraying anything other than discontent over the state of her new patient. It's difficult for Aizawa to take that as a sign that the boy's okay- it's very clear that he's not- but physically speaking-

"A little skinny, but he's otherwise healthy... just really fatigued," Recovery Girl delivers her assessment. "His blood pressure is a bit elevated, but not at a point where he'd be hospitalized."

"High blood pressure?" Yamada asks in confusion.

"Sign of sleep deprivation," Aizawa mutters. He'd know.

"There's not much I can do other than let him sleep," Recovery Girl sighs. "I can speed up the healing process for many things, but I can't speed up the restorative effects of sleep. This is something that can only be remedied over time." She settles on her stool with another small sigh, looking at Aizawa and Yamada with a careful gaze. "So, how did this happen, you two?"

"Indeed," comes a less-than-pleased voice from the entrance of the office. Nezu comes into view, walking rather briskly into the room. He's followed by Riyo, who looks rather solemn.

Yamada looks surprised. "Riyo?"

She says nothing, simply sitting beside Yamada and burying her face in his shoulder.

"I thought it prudent to have her present with us in this discussion," Nezu says delicately, one of his paws gently checking Shinsou's forehead. "Since it seems that she might have foreseen this event."

Why not give us any warning?

Riyo simply keeps her face hidden in Yamada's jacket.

"Well, Eraser." There's another grim look on Nezu's face. "Do tell us how this came to happen."

And so, Aizawa recounts the events of the past thirty-or-so minutes. How he'd seen Shinsou pass by into the courtyard. How he and the others were keeping an eye on the boy because of Riyo's strong reaction. How he'd gone to check on Shinsou and saw him eating Riyo's bento rather... miserably. And then, how Shinsou broke down.

The room is very solemn indeed.

"No, no, no, no, no, don't do that! Don't make him say that, please don't make him say that!"

Shinsou lies on the infirmary bed, pale.

"Don't make him say I can't be a heroplease, it's all I have left!"

He wants to be a hero.

"Don't make him say it, dad!"

His father is involved.

"Please, don't make him say it."

This is something that Aizawa certainly has to meddle in.

"He said that 'she' keeps him awake and 'he' gives him nightmares," Nezu recalls, clasping his furry paws together in thought. "And then, he pleaded with his father to keep you from discouraging his aspirations to become a hero? Is this correct, Eraser?"

"Yes," he answers stiffly. "I'm inclined to believe that his parents are misusing their Quirks."

"His guardians on file are fosters," Recovery Girl offers up this information from where she sits at her computer. Her feet dangle from the stool. "Their Quirks are registered as Insomnia and Dream."

The perfect storm. She won't let him sleep. He gives him nightmares.

"He's not going back there," Yamada says quietly, his voice deadly calm. 

"Mic-"

"He's not going back there, Nezu. I won't allow it."

"We don't have sufficient proof or the authority to make a motion to remove him from his home," Nezu sighs, scrubbing at his face.

"Proof!?" Yamada demands, his voice slowly rising. "Proof!?" His arms gesture dramatically to Shinsou's sleeping form, his voice straining from the effort not to scream out his frustrations. "Is this not proof enough!? He's being tortured, and we're just sending him back!? Not to mention that Riyo has seen-"

"Zashi!" Aizawa barks.

Yamada's shoulders are trembling, fists clenched so tight that the leather of his gloves is nearly ripping at the seams.

"See," Riyo whispers quietly. "See it with your eyes."

Aizawa swallows.

"See with your  NightEyes."

The door to the infirmary opens again, and Riyo releases Yamada, walking over to a very surprised Sir NightEye. Nezu stands purposefully, his height admittedly not changing much with regards to his perch on a nearby stool. "As I said, we don't have proof or authority. But recently, UA partnered with a hero agency that specializes in pinning down the most cunning of villains."

Of course.

"You-!" Yamada chokes, his face screwing up in desperate relief.

"What's going on?" NightEye asks, brow furrowing seriously. "I heard Riyo calling for me, despite my meeting with Hound Dog over patrol schedules for the Sports Festival."

"A situation has come to light with a student," Nezu says delicately. "It's become evident that we... have little evidence to remove him from a damaging situation. In short, it has come to the attentions of everyone in this room that Shinsou Hitoshi is a target of Quirk misuse by the very people who took him in."

NightEye blinks once, his jaw clenching noticeably. However, his expression remains largely unchanged.

"Quirk testimony is fickle at best in a court of law," NightEye says quite bluntly. "Even if I used my Quirk to see this boy's future, it would largely be on my word that he is being abused. Hero or not, to base a case around such a flimsy testimony is laughable. You know what this means."

Aizawa sucks in a breath through his teeth.

"It means that if we want solid evidence, we will have to use a combination of your Quirk testimony detailing the predictions of Shinsou's interactions with his foster guardians, as well as record of these events coming to pass. Establishing probable cause with your Foresight, and corroboration with surveillance." All eyes turn to Aizawa, who stares down at his bandaged hands.

Probable cause by means of NightEye's Quirk is clever- exactly what he'd expect from Nezu, since Riyo's Quirk must remain a secret for her own safety. NightEye's ability to see the future akin to Riyo's abilities is a good workaround. However... the surveillance and confirmation of NightEye's predictions would typically be his role in the boy's rescue. Except... his arms aren't healed yet. If things went south, he might not...

Fuck.  Fuck!

"The Sports Festival is tomorrow as well," NightEye reminds them all. "I must retain use of my Quirk for the next few days in order to see out my duties for security. I... Shinsou will have to hold on, for three more days."

Three more days.

Three more days!

"That's not good enough!" Yamada interrupts, standing abruptly. "He's been suffering-"

"I don't like it any more than you do," NightEye interrupts quietly. "I don't like having to choose between who to save. If I could use my Quirk a hundred times a day, believe me, Present Mic- that boy would be out of that house tonight. But the reality of the matter is that I am still just a man. I'm overseeing a large portion of the security of UA during the Sports Festival. I'll be responsible for tens of thousands of spectators... and I cannot put them all in danger for one boy." His shoulders slump a little as he adjusts his glasses, the glare hiding his eyes from view. "Three more days. Three more days, and I swear to you that we will move to rescue this boy."

Bile bites at Aizawa's tongue as he looks away from NightEye, staring at the sleeping boy in the infirmary bed. All of these arguments, all of these discussions, and he hasn't so much as stirred the entire time.

"You've been keeping close eyes on him for this long," Recovery Girl says finally. "I'll watch over him, too. It would be best if you act on as normal, and don't acknowledge a change in dynamic with this boy when he wakes. He may panic if he realizes that all of us know of his plight; we don't want to exacerbate his condition or his position with his guardians, for the possibility that he may be punished for revealing such happenings." Her wrinkly mouth twists with sadness. "I don't like it, not one bit... but for this young man's sake, for the next three days, we must be business as usual."

"It's so unfair," Yamada mutters to himself, his fingers digging into his gelled hair. Messy strands have started to fall around his face. "I hate this."

NightEye doesn't say anything more, but he doesn't really have to in order for Aizawa to get that he feels a little useless with the limitations of his Quirk. After all, Aizawa feels useless because his arms are still not fully healed. And isn't that a huge elephant in the room? Would he even be healed enough within three days to go case out Shinsou's house to corroborate NightEye's Foresight?

His hands throb painfully when he forces his fists to relax.

No one has pointed it out yet- perhaps they haven't thought that far ahead, too preoccupied with the fact that the boy in the bed will have to wait longer to be rescued. Nezu probably has an idea that Aizawa might not be recovered enough to resume patrols, let alone undertake a covert mission like this. However, the facts remain that after Aizawa, no one else is truly suitable for the job. Maybe Ectoplasm could do something, but using his clones for surveillance is a double-edged sword; he could canvas a larger area, but more bodies means it's more likely he could be caught.

What a mess.

To think that Riyo could tell what was happening with Shinsou- to think that she's probably seen more of what he's gone through, felt what he's gone through- it's making Aizawa a little ill.

Yamada stands by Shinsou's bedside as NightEye and Nezu leave quietly, talking in lowered voices. Recovery Girl brings over a blanket to cover Shinsou's legs and simply huffs out another world-weary sigh. The kind of sigh that's weighted with the knowledge that even heroes have their limitations. Laws, Quirks, injuries... reminders that heroes are nothing more than mortal, and painfully so.

Riyo looks uncharacteristically calm. Not quite dreamy, like how she gets when looking into The Way, but not quite present, either.

"Hey, kid," Aizawa murmurs, his hand coming to rest atop her purple hat. "You saw this coming, huh?"

"Bits. Pieces. Hard to say. The Way is restless. What to do, Riyo has to choose... as do others." She sighs, closing her eyes. "Hitoshi is sleepy."

"He ate the bento you made Oboro make for you. You didn't want it for yourself, huh? Are you hungry?"

"Mm."

"I have a protein bar?"

"Mm."

"Riyo?"

She turns her head, looking out the window instead. "Riyo is... not hungry."

Yamada catches Aizawa's eye with another concerned look. He wants to smooth the wrinkle in his brow out with his thumb and assure the man that he'd work things out and he'll take care of everything, but something that Aizawa had realized when he was back in the courtyard- when Shinsou was clinging to his sleeves- well...

It's really quite hard to carry the weight of another person's hope when his own arms are still broken.

 

Chapter Text

Excitement is rolling off of the crowd in waves. The stadium is packed with spectators, and more are still finding their ways to their seats.

There's something particularly special about attending huge events. There's something special about waiting in lines for hours in order to enter a stadium and sit elbow-to-elbow with complete strangers, and there's something special about the taste of absurdly buttered popcorn, cheering until your voice gives out, and washing it all down with a splash of soda. And at the end of the day, there's something special in heading home with the salt of dried sweat on your skin as you slowly come down from a prolonged adrenaline high and feel just how tired you really are.

Hagakure loves the energy in the stadium today. She's excited- she really is! Everyone's going to be looking at her today- really looking!

How exhilarating! But I'm kinda nervous!

Her hands are shaking as she dresses out in the locker rooms, not that anyone could really tell.

"Meeting in C wing. Don't be followed. It is The Way."

A small shiver runs down her spine. Honestly, she's not sure if she'll ever get used to how Chihoshi talks! It's really cool- but also kinda spooky, in a way. Hagakure rubs her forearms absently.

Chihoshi-chan wants a meeting in the C wing. Right before the festival's about to start? Really?

She turns her head to look at Jirou, who seems to be completely calm and collected, zipping her uniform shirt. Jirou's always so calm. It's part of why Hagakure was so inclined to follow the girl's lead; her own nerves were put at ease. But today-

Today, she has to stand out on her own. Today, she's got to get noticed! Being a follower can only get her so far, so Hagakure doesn't wait up for Jirou or try to signal or make any sort of allusion to what she'd heard in her head from Chihoshi. This is her time to take charge, her time to make her own mark. Slipping away from the locker room is easy- being invisible means Hagakure doesn't really have to make excuses. Even so, she's got a uniform on, so she still can't be careless. Between ducking around corners and sneaking past a couple of pro heroes- probably here for security reasons- Hagakure manages to escape into the C wing.

Hallway...

Sure enough, once Hagakure peeks around the corner, she sees Shoji and Kuroiro, both of them looking rather nonchalant. Shoji looks up and nods when he sees her coming. Behind him is Chihoshi, who seems to be resting her head against the wall in deep thought. Her eyes are closed, brow furrowed and hands buried deep in her pockets.

"What's up?" Hagakure asks quietly, looking up at Shoji curiously.

"Our first assignments," he answers with an extra mouth. A couple of his tentacles grow a couple of extra ears and eyes to make sure they're not being watched.

How useful!

"Better be quick," Kuroiro murmurs, crossing his arms. "Our classmates will notice us missing sooner rather than later."

"Important," Chihoshi hums in their heads suddenly. Hagakure notes that her eyes are still luminous despite being closed; it's a rather odd dynamic to notice the translucence of her classmate's eyelids.

Our first assignments as underground hero candidates... I wonder what they'll be? Aizawa-sensei said we'd still be participating in class like normal...

"It is The Way," Chihoshi affirms- to the others or to herself, Hagakure isn't really sure. "Important. Must get this right. It has to be done right. Important." Chihoshi turns around slowly, opening her eyes just a fraction. "The Way is... hnnn... Get this right. So many variables- what to do? One chance. Riyo thinks... One chance to get it right."

"You good?" Shoji asks her carefully.

"Mm... important. Assignments are important. Kurioro."

The boy from Class 1B looks up in surprise. "Yes?"

"Take." Chihoshi cups her hands and dust swirls in her palms like a miniature sandstorm. It only lasts for the same span of time that it takes Hagakure to think, oh, neat!

Shiny cards about the size of an average business card materialize in her hands. They're sleek, gunmetal gray, and inconspicuous. Well- about as inconspicuous as they could be, considering that they just materialized out of seemingly nowhere in the past three seconds. But, Hagakure guesses, Chihoshi isn't really one to care about being inconspicuous in front of fellow Underground Candidates.

"What are these?" Kuroiro asks curiously.

"Important," Chihoshi repeats unhelpfully. She pauses, a finger coming up to her lips. "My Sh- hnnn... Our... sensei... End of recruitment phase." Chihoshi shakes her head quickly, patting her cheeks a few time and sighing in frustration.

It seems like she's having trouble focusing... is it really a good idea for Chihoshi-chan to be our liaison?

But no sooner has Hagakure had that thought than she starts feeling kinda bad.

No! I can't doubt her! Or Aizawa-sensei! When we agreed to to the underground program, we agreed to have each other's backs!

And so, Hagakure gently puts a hand on the smaller girl's shoulder and gives her a squeeze.

"Oh. Rivers," Chihoshi mumbles- can she mumble if she's using telepathy to talk? Either way, she seems to have a renewed resolve. "Cards are for recruiting. Secret messages for the last recruit."

Kuroiro shuffles through the small cards, flipping them back to front in his examination. "Right, EraserHead said we're in the final stages of recruitment. So these cards- what kind of message do they hold?"

"Break one."

He's a little hesitant, but Kuroiro takes a card and makes to bend it down the middle. It's surprisingly inflexible and quite brittle, yielding with a small snap. Kuroiro examines the two halves and pulls them apart- revealing a thin paper card that had been encased.

"Neat!" Hagakure chirps, peeking around Shoji. "But won't they break during the Sports Festival Activities?"

"That's the point, I think. It's not like anyone new would have a lot of time to figure out a code on the fly," Shoji points out. "And it needs to be discrete. This isn't something that can be televised, after all."

"So I have to slip the cards to the last of the recruits during the festival?" Kuroiro predicts.

Chihoshi blinks once. "Yes. But only one recruit left."

"How will we know if they figure out the message in time?"

"Hagakure."

A thrill runs down Hagakure's spine. "Oh, oh! I see! I'll go undercover and prod at them until they notice the card! We can set it up during the first event, and I can sneak around after, depending on who Kuroiro-kun manages to tag! Shoji!" Hagakure tugs at one of his arms. "You can keep a lookout and relay information between us! Right, Chihoshi-chan?"

"Mm," Chihoshi hums. "Yes."

"Understood," Shoji nods. "Anything else?"

"Mmm... good sports?"

"Good sports?"

"Ah- important... need to advance to the last round," Chihoshi frowns, worrying her lip with a finger again. "But Riyo will not."

"What?" Kuroiro blinks with wide eyes. "I may not know much about your Quirk- some sort of psychic-type emitter, right? But out of all of the Underground Candidates, you'd have the best chance."

"It is not The Way," Chihoshi shakes her head.

"Think about it," Shoji interupts quietly. "Our class was already targeted by villains. If they're still out there, they might be looking for her, since she saved Shirakumo-sensei from being their hostage. It's not a good idea... at the same time, it forms the crux of the Underground Hero Program. For us, fame and renown isn't so much of a good thing. Well, except for maybe you, Hagakure. You can choose when you want to be seen."

There's a pregnant pause.

"Well, same difference for me when it's dark," Kuroiro admits. "Except it's... not..."

Another pause.

"Anyway... I get what you're saying, Shoji. I think our best bet would be trying to set Hagakure up for advancement into the final round."

"What!?" Hagakure yelps quietly, waving her arms emphatically.

There's no way! Absolutely no way!

"But- guys! There's no way I'd make it out that far! Maybe to the second round at best-"

"You're invisible, it's perfect," Shoji nods wisely. "They won't see you coming. Not quite a dark horse-"

Kuroiro coughs.

"But, still a contender."

Are they serious right now!? Have they forgotten that being invisible is the only thing I've got going for me in a setting like this!? If I have to go head-to-head with other students, my only advantages lie in a crowd! One-on-one fights are the worst case scenario, even if my opponent  can't  see me!

"Do you forget what happened when we had our first combat training exercise, Shoji?" Hagakure punches his shoulder weakly with both fists. "Todoroki-kun took Ojiro and I out in seconds!"

Chihoshi, Shoji, and Kuroiro all share a look.

"Don't mess with Todoroki," They suggest bluntly.

"Easy for you to say!" She hisses.

"Have other teams, too," Chihoshi pats Hagakure's arm reassuringly with a small hand. "Jirou and Kaminari. And... mmm..." She frowns before taking a deep breath. "Shinsou Hitoshi. Class 1C."

"A Gen Ed student?"

Wow, Hagakure thinks, they must be really special for Aizawa-sensei and Chihoshi-chan to take notice.

"So the other team has Kaminari, Jirou, Monoma, and the Gen Ed guy," Kuroiro lists them on a few dark fingers.

Chihoshi considers this for a moment before responding. "Mm. Kuroiro, Hagakure, and Shoji should focus on recruitment. Very important to have Support Course members. Secret support items. Very important."

"Right... you said there was one in particular," the darker boy sighs, glancing at the cards in his hands before tucking them away. He hands the broken one to Chihoshi when she holds out her palm flat. "Anyway, who is it?"

"Kuroiro decide."

"Wh- what? You want me to choose the last member?"

"Mmm... yes. Kuroiro will know when he sees."

"Great, okay, sure," he shakes his head. "No pressure."

A hand pats his shoulder awkwardly. "She means that she has faith in you," Shoji explains awkwardly. "We're backing you up, too."

"Just one card is sufficient," Chihoshi hums. "In the event of failure, destroy all. But Pretty Shoji is right. Kuroiro is good," she smiles.

Hagakure, on the other hand, does not feel good. Is everyone really banking on her reaching the last round of the Sports Festival!?

"Everyone do good. Ranks don't matter, try your best. Be good heroes! Riyo is happy to have more friends!"

Despite her nerves, Hagakure melts a little bit at that proclamation. Chihoshi's hand is still resting on her forearm. She twists to take the smaller girls hands in hers and squeezes them excitedly.

"I- I'll do my best to get to the third round," Hagakure blurts out quickly. "I'll really try!"

Small hands squeeze back. "Don't worry. Have fun," Chihoshi hums. "Mmm... hurry back quickly. Riyo has to go now. Find the others. Do the... the..." the girl frowns again, tilting her head from side to side as if trying to dislodge an errant thought. "UnderpantsBriefs? Brief..."

Aw, she's so cute!

"Yeah," Shoji says with a quiet chuckle, patting the girl on her purple knit hat. "You do that, team leader."

Her eyes go wide and molten at that.

"Team... leader," she echoes breathily in their heads.

"I've known you for a total of about an hour and a half," Kuroiro shrugs, crossing his arms and looking away coolly. "But this stuff's pretty fun. Sure."

There's the sound of a bright ringing bells- it reminds Hagakure of summer festivals and the different bells and wind chimes that would sound in the wake of a summer breeze. Nostalgic, cheerful...

And totally Chihoshi-chan!

"Sports," the girl nods, cheeks flushed as she lets go of Hagakure's hands and straightens her hat carefully. "It is The Way."

"See you later," Shoji waves.

Kuroiro looks confused. "Eh? Why are you waving? We all have to go down the same hallway?"

Chihoshi dissolves.

"Shit," he whispers.

"She's done that before, you know."

"Yeah but- well- I mean, it's not every day that you see something like that."

Hagakure smiles widely at the conversation between the two boys. Kuroiro had been right- none of them really knew Chihoshi that well- she tended to stick to a few upperclassmen during lunch- or to Tsu and Midoriya in class. Even so, she seems like a really sweet girl. And didn't Aizawa say that she could see the future or something? It makes sense she'd be the leader. But still, isn't she some kind of cool?

Saving their student teacher, helping to build up the Underground Hero Program, being a good leader-

Chihoshi-chan is just  really  cool!

"Don't you literally melt into shadows or something?"

"That's different."

"Hmm."

"It's completely different."

A giggle bubbles from Hagakure's lips. "We should arrive spaced out," she tells Shoji quickly. "I'm gonna run back! See you in a bit!"

"Sure, see you," he nods before turning back to the other boy. "How is disappearing into a shadow different than what Chihoshi does?"

"Well, I don't disappear into thin air. I need something black to blend in with."

I think the coolest thing about Chihoshi-chan is this, Hagakure giggles again. She's bringing together new people, and it's like Kuroiro-kun said- we don't know each other well yet, but it's still really fun!

 

Chapter Text

Shinsou is confused.

He remembered going out into the courtyard in order to catch a quick nap, but then he remembers an absolutely stacked bento box and the foreboding feeling that it would all end up turning into roaches and maggots.

And then EraserHead.

The thing is, Shinsou would love to brush it off as a nightmare, but that doesn't actually tell him anything about how he ended up in the infirmary. Recovery Girl fusses over him like any good school nurse- checking his temperature and feeding him a few gummies that are thankfully shaped like bears rather than worms. Even so, his burning question as to how he ended up here feels akin to a loaded gun pointed at his own forehead. If what happened wasn't a dream... then he's well and truly fucked, isn't he? The heroes would go make a house visit, his foster parents would smile and laugh things off and tell them how Shinsou was one of the many "troubled youth" that they'd fostered before. Then he'd get scolded by the heroes for being a bad kid and once the doors were shut behind them, his foster parents would begin their discipline.

Oh, Shinsou really hopes it was all a nightmare. Maybe not one put on by his foster father, but just a regular nightmare. If he had to be disciplined by his fosters again...

Well, he's not sure what would happen.

Just stick it out until you can get a job... stick it out until you're old enough to move out. Get into the Hero Course, and you can luck out with an internship abroad or something. And then... when you're a hero, maybe you can  fix  this shitty system.

"Are you feeling a little better, dear?" Recovery Girl asks kindly, her wrinkled face crinkling in a concerned smile. It nearly makes Shinsou jump- he's not really used to smiles being directed his way.

"Ah- y-yes," he stutters a response, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. "I'm... I'm fine. Can I ask how I got here?"

"You were asleep in the courtyard," a deeper voice that definitely doesn't belong to Recovery Girl answers briskly. "So I got Present Mic to bring you in." The partition curtain is drawn back to reveal EraserHead looking down at one of his hands, frowning as he slowly opens and closes his fist. "How much longer until I'm cleared for patrols?" He asks Recovery Girl with a small scowl.

"My estimate is about a week," Recovery Girl sighs, picking up a new roll of bandages and beginning to wind them up his arms with practiced ease. "It hasn't changed since last time you asked, or the time before that, or before that. Your impatience will be your downfall if you don't let yourself heal properly!"

It's a little surreal to see his idol getting scolded for his injuries right in front of him. If anything, it's a reminder that even heroes are just made of flesh and bone. Usually. Shinsou eyes the slight tremor in EraserHead's hands before averting his gaze.

So... he found me asleep in the courtyard and got Present Mic to bring me inside... to the infirmary?

Recovery Girl pats his knee, startling Shinsou from his thoughts. "You're good to go to class when you feel up to it. The lunch period is just now wrapping up. I've got to run an errand or two now, so shut the door behind you when you leave."

"Right. Thank you," Shinsou bows his head quickly, kicking his feet off of the cot and reaching for his shoes.

"Wait."

EraserHead's voice gives him pause. Swallowing dryly, he looks around at EraserHead. The man appraises him carefully with bloodshot eyes, and Shinsou can't help but feel like those eyes can see right through him.

"Your Quirk. What is it?"

Shinsou freezes.

Oh no.

"Kid?"

Should I lie? Would he be able to tell? Ugh, he's a  pro hero,  he's  EraserHead,  of course he'd be able to tell!

"It's... it's called Brainwash," Shinsou admits uncomfortably. He's sweating a little- hopefully he won't stain through his blazer.

"Hmm," is all EraserHead says. It's clear that an explanation is supposed to follow, by the patient look on the hero's face.

"It, uh... if someone responds to me, I can make them do what I tell them."

The man's eyes widen.

"And... You wanna be a hero?"

Oh fuck.

Here it comes. If one nightmare wasn't enough, now Shinsou's about to be decked in the face with reality. But with whatever meager sleep he might've gotten, his mind's a bit clearer than before.

Even if he says it- even if EraserHead tells him that with a villainous Quirk like his, that he can't be a hero- that won't stop Shinsou. It won't. There's too much that he has to do still, there are so many people who are getting lost in the cracks, stuck in between a rock and a hard place, or hard places and harder places. Will it be a setback? Maybe. EraserHead has been his role model ever since Shinsou can remember, ever since he caught a whisper of a man who can stop you in your tracks with a simple stare.

So, fists clenched and shoulders squared, Shinsou answers. "Yes. More than anything."

He's met with an impassive stare, so he stares back fearlessly. There's no point in backtracking or explaining away his Quirk or presenting arguments or counter-arguments to defend himself. It shouldn't matter- no one's approval should really matter so much-

No matter what-

"The entrance exam was illogical."

Uh... what?

"What?"

EraserHead snorts, rolling one of his wrists slowly. "Mental Quirks are at a severe disadvantage when facing automated opponents, like the robots from the entrance exam. It's heavily biased towards those with physical Quirks, but that's nothing new. The reality of it is that people like us tend to get the short end of the stick with assessments like that."

People like us.

People like... us...

Shinsou stares with wide eyes.

People like  us .

Something warm blooms in his chest. It's impossibly small, but it feels precious. Shinsou's nose stings with oncoming tears, but he simply wipes his nose as nonchalantly as he can on his sleeve.

"Anyway," EraserHead sighs. "Your Quirk puts you at another disadvantage if you become a popular hero. And if it works how I think it works. If your abilities are common knowledge, you lose your edge."

"People will talk back if I piss them off enough," Shinsou finds himself saying before he can stop himself.

That prompts an amused huff from EraserHead's mouth. "Yeah, that's true. Either way, if you hone your abilities, I'm sure you can make it as a hero. But the longer you wait, the more the Hero Course is advancing with their training. The gap is the smallest it's gonna be during the Sports Festival." EraserHead gives him a serious look. "You get what I'm saying, Shinsou?"

He does. He really does. "Yeah," he nods.

"Mm. That aside... you ever think about becoming an underground hero?"

"Seems like the best route to take," Shinsou murmurs. "For... for people like us."

There's another silence as EraserHead watches him carefully before a small smirk crosses his face. "Yeah," his idol agrees, that smirk twitching a little as the man stands up from the infirmary cot. "Okay. Let's try something now. Use your Quirk on me."

Wait.

Wait,  what!?

"Uh-"

"I'd prefer to get a baseline of your abilities before I commit to training you."

WHAT!?

Shinsou's speechless. Which, after getting a request to demonstrate his Quirk from his idol, is kind of an issue.

"Well, come on then," EraserHead frowns. "Make me do something."

This is my chance.

"Are- are you sure about this?" He stutters uncertainly.

"I wouldn't be asking you to-"

Gotcha.

EraserHead stares back at him blankly. The familiar sensation of another mind under his control is a little unnerving, but Shinsou steels his nerves.

Great.

Now what?

"Give me your scarf and put your goggles on," he decides aloud, holding out a trembling hand.

Surreal. It's so surreal to see EraserHead plucking at folds of his scarf before lifting the whole tangled mass over his head and hooking it in Shinsou's outstretched hand. For being a scarf, it's certainly a little heavier than expected- certainly sturdy, which makes sense. Especially since Eraser uses it to detain all sorts of criminals and villains with all types of Quirks. Shinsou glances at the hero's face. His dark eyes are uncharacteristically blank and the typical tension in his shoulders is completely absent. The yellow goggles hanging around his neck are slowly pulled over his eyes.

Doesn't he realize what I could make him do?

Sighing, Shinsou rubs his face and releases EraserHead from his control. He's sure that if Eraser's eyes had been visible, he'd be disoriented and blinking rapidly. It's part of why Shinsou gave the directions for wearing the goggles; he didn't want to see the disgust in his idol's eyes.

Bandaged hands slowly remove the eyewear and Shinsou bites the inside of his lip, looking away as he hands back the scarf. Gauze brushes his palm and he holds his breath. If the hammer was to fall, it would fall right now.

"Interesting," the man hums thoughtfully.

Here it comes.

He braces himself, shoulders rigid.

"The underground hero candidates are still being finalized. Most of them met up last week during a trail phase."

Shinsou blinks. "What?"

"Well," Eraser sighs, looking a little less than pleased when Shinsou looks up. "It worked out that way because the underground candidates that would be most suited for the program were largely Hero Course students."

Underground hero candidates? Secret program?

The questions must've shown plainly on Shinsou's face, because EraserHead nods to himself as if making a decision. "Right. I'll explain it- a secret program is being piloted this year for underground heroes. It's been approved by Nezu and under my direction; we're in the recruitment phase right now. Putting it plainly, Shinsou, you're being recruited right now. So what's it gonna be?"

Are his ears working properly? Is this what it feels like to be brainwashed? Shinsou can't even form a proper thought.

Well, no, he can. After all, EraserHead is recruiting him.

Me!

"Yes!" Shinsou exclaims, jumping to his feet quickly. His hands are shaking something awful, so he balls his fingers up into fists and bows quickly. "Yes! Please, I want to be a hero! An underground hero!"

"Jeez, kid, could you shout about it any louder? Won't be a secret for long."

"Sorry! I'll- I'm-" he runs his hands through his unruly purple hair, still not quite believing this turn of events. Could he really be this lucky? Does he really deserve such a fortunate happening? This isn't a nightmare, right? This isn't the newest sick joke in his foster father's repertoire of mental torture, is it?

Just to be sure, Shinsou turns to Recovery Girl's desk and jams the stapler down on his hand.

EraserHead leaps to his feet in an instant, but there's not much to be done. The staple has already been plucked out. Shinsou stares at the twin crimson droplets on his palm in wonder. The pain is nothing- it doesn't even register as he presses at the two tiny wounds with the thumb of his opposite hand. Blood slowly wells out of the pinpricks, two beads plumping up before running together and wetting the underside of his thumbnail.

"What was that reaction?" EraserHead asks incredulously.

Shinsou shakes his head, clenching his fist and looking up. "Just... making sure I wasn't asleep," he murmurs dazedly. "EraserHead just recruited me..."

A beat passes before EraserHead sighs again. "Just call me Aizawa-sensei while we're in school. Anyway, you'll meet the other candidates during the Sports Festival."

"Okay," Shinsou nods.

"You still should make an impact during the festival- you may have a shoe-in with the Underground Program, but your aim should still be to transfer to the Hero Course. There's training that simply can't be made up on your own time if you're not a Hero Course student."

"Yes, sir."

Holy shit, this is really happening!

"That aside- the festival will also serve as a sort of entrance evaluation for you with regards to the Underground Program, if you need extra incentive. What I mean to say is that there will be unique tasks or objectives that are specific only to Underground Candidates. These will be completed during the festival. So, congratulations, you made things that much more stressful for yourself," Eraser- Aizawa tells him with a mildly-concerning grin.

If Shinsou starts shivering a little, neither of them comment on it. The Sports Festival is important- Shinsou knows that- but now there's so much more riding on his performance! "What are the tasks?" He dares to ask.

"You'll find out on the day of the festival. Riyo is the main point of contact."

Riyo? The girl that I made cry? Eraser- no,  Aizawa-sensei's  kid?

"Why-"

"Telepathy."

"R-right..." Shinsou hesitates. "Can I ask who else...?"

Aizawa simply gives him another hair-raising grin. "You're an Underground Candidate now, you can figure it out."

Shinsou's heart does a funny leap.

Yeah... I'm... an Underground Hero Candidate!

"Anyway," Aizawa rolls his neck, grin fading as he frowns briefly in discomfort. "You should probably get to class now. Riyo probably already knows that you've been officially recruited now, so don't worry about anything until the Sports Festival. Oh yeah, and it goes without saying that all of this is top secret- I don't play favorites, so if you talk about the Underground Program to anyone outside of the program, you're expelled."

A statement like that might've made anyone else scared... but it's not like I'm an amateur at keeping secrets.

"I understand," Shinsou nods obediently, subconsciously thumbing at the staple wound again. It's pulsing in synchronization with his heart- a bit fast, a bit flighty. But nonetheless, it reminds him that he's making it- slowly but surely- to the path of a hero. So when Shinsou leaves Recovery Girl's office and waves at the heroine as she passes him in the hallway, he doesn't make mention of the tiny wound. In fact, he presses it just a little harder.

Just to remind himself that this time, what he's experiencing is real.

 

Chapter Text

On the day of the festival, Shinsou was a little startled when Riyo's voice had suddenly spoken in his head- he was in the middle of changing his pants and nearly jumped back out of them.

"Hallway in C Wing. Important. Come for briefs."

Briefs? As in...?

"Hnnn... not briefs? Briefing? No extra underpants."

Right. Despite Riyo's confusion over vocabulary, that's not cryptic at all. Still, there's an undeniable swooping feeling in his stomach when he slips out of the locker rooms and walks down the hallway. It's pretty close to where Class 1C was going to enter the stadium. Even as a hero on patrol passes by him, Shinsou isn't worried about being stopped or questioned- simply put, he knows he looks too tired to be up to anything nefarious. And normally- not that he'd do anything nefarious in general- he would be. Tired, that is. Thankfully his foster parents had only lectured him to do the "morally right thing" and not use his Quirk during the Sports Festival. Hell, they'd even told him that they'd put in a request to have him excused and excluded in favor of alternative written assignments- a request that was thankfully denied by the school.

So, lectured for hours, writing the responses that they'd wanted to see on the little whiteboard in front of him, he'd been left with three hours to sleep before taking the earliest train to school. Honestly, Shinsou half-expected his foster parents to just call him in sick. However, it would be pretty suspicious for him to call in sick after having a request for exemption from the Sports Festival denied. He was counting his lucky stars to fall asleep that night. Three hours of sleep- or perhaps a little less- was a measly amount of rest before the biggest day of his life. Half a dozen cans of caffeine from a nearby convenience store have him wide awake, thankfully. He'd just have to maintain that caffeine high in order to survive for the day.

Especially since he was being tested for multiple Hero Courses.

Especially since EraserHead had promised to train him.

Especially since he was about to go against every wish of his foster parents.

It's a matter of  picking my poison, he supposes.

Doing well today would make whatever hell he'd return to worth it. If Shinsou could secure a spot in the Hero Course today, it would be worth it. Nightmares, sleepless nights- he'd pay it all to achieve the dreams that he'd been denied since the day he was born.

If he failed? Well... even if he manages to get through whatever his fosters will put him through, he'd likely be withdrawn from UA for good.

No... everything to gain, everything to lose.

Shinsou clenches his fist, his blunt nails digging into the tiny wound in his palm from the stapler yesterday. The dull ache is a small reminder.

"-new member? That's great, Chi-chan!" A rather excited voice bounces around Shinsou's eardrums, pausing his progress down the hall and pulling him from his thoughts. He can see a guy with bright yellow hair rocking on the balls of his feet. Next to him, a girl with darker hair and a small smirk, as well as a shorter figure donning a purple hat.

"If you don't scare him off, first," the dark-haired girl snickers.

"Oh come on, Jirou," the guy complains.

"You seriously asked if we needed to bring extra pairs of underwear!"

"Well, I think it was a valid question! Is this or is this not a bring-your-own-undies kind of mission!?"

These two must be some of the other Underground Candidates... but what the  fuck  are they arguing about?

"Hitoshi is here," Riyo's voice murmurs in his head.

The other two fall quiet for a moment. Well, there's no point in leaving them in suspense. Stuffing his hands deep in his pockets, Shinsou rounds the corner and beats down his nerves. It wouldn't do to appear anything less than confident in front of the other Underground Candidates. Whoever is in this program is also a rival, no questions asked.

When Shinsou's finally within a reasonable distance of the group, the blond guy walks up to him with an easy smile and a couple of sparks. "Hey man! The name's Kaminari Denki! From Class 1A! Back there is Jirou, and I'm sure you've met Chi-chan already!"

"Yeah," Shinsou replies carefully. "Shinsou Hitoshi. Gen Ed, Class 1C."

"Awesome!"

It wasn't awesome, but it's not like he's going to point it out.

"Anyway," Jirou pipes up from behind Kaminari, eyes sliding over Shinsou briefly before turning to Riyo. "What are our tasks for the Sports Festival? Aizawa-sensei mentioned that these would run concurrent with the festival events... are they certain objectives we have to fulfill during the events?"

"Mmm... right now, main focus will be getting to the next stage," Riyo hums. "Second event, Shoji and Kuroiro and Hagakure are recruiting the last member soon. Important."

"So we don't have any tasks yet," Kaminari deflates a little. Shinsou kind of feels that same sense of dejection. He was ready, damn it!

"No," Riyo shakes her head, frowning. "Different important task. Scouting blind spots."

Blind spots?

"Are we setting up independent surveillance?" Jirou asks curiously.

"These," Riyo present her hands, holding six separate disks. "Two each. During first event, set these up outside the stadium. Don't be seen. Need blind spots."

"Uh, Chi-chan?" Kaminari asks, examining one of the disks in his hand. It's gray, sleek, and flat. One side appears to have some sort of adhesive when a thin plastic sheet is pulled from the back. "What's with these super ominous-looking pieces of unknown technology?"

"Important for Phase Two. Regroup after first event- all Underground Candidates will meet. Then... second event.... Lunchtime." Small hands slowly reach into a pocket and she pulls out a ginger candy. Meticulously unwrapping the piece of amber, Riyo looks up and nods determinedly at Jirou, Kaminari, and Shinsou.

"Not cryptic at all!"

Honestly, Shinsou kind of agrees. "Are we gonna get to know what these things are?" He asks dryly. "I'd rather not go in blindly."

"Important for Phase Two," she repeats unhelpfully.

Right. Great.

Jirou shakes her head with a small smile. "They're probably a method of surveillance. We don't have access to any of the cameras or audio for the festival, right? Establishing eyes and ears makes sense. Anyway, we'll do our best."

Maybe it's the nerves or the fact that Shinsou replaced his sleep with energy drinks, but he's not feeling all that positive around his peers. The way he sees it- they can afford to do poorly in the Sports Festival. They probably would still have a spot in the Hero Course if they did. If Shinsou did poorly? He'd be consigned to a life full of hopeless longing. Honestly, he's not blind- he knows he's bitter. It's shown on his face, more often than not. He knows that he probably looks bitter right now, not that he can help it. Right now, he stands on a precipice- what he wants so dearly is resting just beyond his reach- and if he can stretch himself a little longer, reach a little farther, his fingertips are just barely brushing the surface of a lifelong dream. A dream that's sat at right at the feet of those in the Hero Course, and they don't even know it.

Maybe they do, a small voice reminds him quietly- a voice that's not Riyo, but probably his own conscience. How inconvenient. Some of them might understand- some of them might know how hard you've struggled. But a bigger part of Shinsou squashes it flat. He'd learned long ago not to hope for empathy.

Riyo pauses, golden eyes drifting over Shinsou before she speaks in their heads again. "Also important- need one or more Underground Candidates in the last event."

Jirou turns back to Riyo. "So we need people in the last round of the Sports Festival...? The last rounds are usually tournament-style events- but that shouldn't be a problem with your Quirk, Riyo."

"Riyo can't."

Shinsou frowns, fingers curling into fists. "Can't or won't?" He asks carefully. The wound from the stapler aches in protest.

She blinks at him. "Not The Way. Riyo can't. Has to be someone else." Golden eyes glow faintly and she smiles. "Could it be Hitoshi?"

"Look, I don't know much about your Quirk, Chi-chan," Kaminari interrupts quickly, "but don't you have the best chance? I mean with all the training exercises we've done, you're like the top student in class! You could win this thing without even batting an eye!"

A small shiver runs down Shinsou's spine, but he's more focused on the girl in front of him. How could she tell him and her classmates to do their best in the festival when she won't even try? She has the best Quirk, and according to Kaminari- she's really powerful. He knows Riyo's powerful. He's felt it. He knows. So why won't she-

"It is not The Way for Riyo to win," she hums simply. "Riyo will try. But it is not in The Way."

"What's that supposed to mean!?" Shinsou's demands harshly. "Giving up before you even-"

"Hey, back off," Jirou steps forward, brow furrowed. "She said she'd try. Besides, that USJ attack really took a lot out of her."

There's a bitter taste in Shinsou's mouth.

Right... she's- she's still recovering.

It's hard to remember that even the most incredible Quirks have their limits. And with someone like Riyo? After hearing how she can practically do anything, or knows everything or- or has a super powerful Quirk- it's hard to remember that those embellishments are simply embellishments if they're never proven false. Well, this may very well be the point where it's proven that Riyo's not infallible. Not all-knowing. Besides-

I'll make it to the third round.

Me.

That's gonna be  me .

"Publicizing our abilities could end up biting us in the end," Jirou murmurs- more to herself than anyone else. She's twirling an earphone jack around her finger again. Shinsou supposes that it's probably an unconscious habit. "If we truly go underground..."

"I don't mind being flashy," Kaminari laughs, pointing double finger guns at Jirou and Shinsou. Small sparks crawl down his fingers. Shinsou rolls his eyes, having half a mind to voice a retort but he doesn't get the chance.

Jirou simply rolls her eyes. "That's obvious."

"But on the other hand, I think we oughta support our main man, Shinsou!" An arm is tossed heavily over Shinsou's shoulders and he freezes despite the static shock. Kaminari doesn't seem to notice. "Gen Ed, right?" Kaminari grins. "Aizawa-sensei said that people can be moved around to different classes, right? You want it, don't you?"

"I don't need your help," Shinsou says quickly.

"Help?" Kaminari blinks. "Man, you're already in the Underground Course!

Shinso ducks out from under his arm. "We may have common goals where the Underground Course is concerned, but don't misunderstand. You're still someone I have to beat. I'm not-"

"Gonna hold back?" Jirou interrupts, raising an eyebrow. "Good, you better not."

Well, I was gonna say that I wasn't looking to make  friends , but now that you mention it-

"Compared to you," Shinsou grits his teeth, "I have more to lose."

She frowns. "Why compare? Just do you, and everything else will follow."

"Exactly!" Kaminari nods sagely, folding his arms. "I don't even think you need help to get into the Hero Course!"

What?

Needless to say, Shinsou's a little shocked. He looks at the blond boy with an ache in his chest that only seems to grow with each passing word.

Kaminari's completely oblivious, simply grinning and nodding with even more enthusiasm. Blind hair flutters pats his face. "It's the look in your eyes, man! You really want it! It's the same as us! You really wanna be a hero! That's why you're so serious about everything, right!? Strong and silent type, popular with the ladies, would never know it-" the electric blond waves his free hand and laughs. "You try super hard, get the best grades! I'm kind of an expert on people, so I can tell! Either that, or you're cranky because you study too much. Yknow, those bags under your eyes-" Kaminari whistles lowly. "But that's fine! I'm sure some chicks dig the whole I-haven't-slept-in-a-week kind of look."

Maybe that hits a little too close to home- after all, sleep is a luxury that Shinsou can't really afford, so Kaminari's guess that he hadn't had proper sleep in a week was kind of accurate. And grades? It's all he's got going for himself for now. After all, he can't give anyone any more reason to bar him from the Hero Course, let alone lousy grades. He stays up late anyway, so he can get a lot of work done and revise, revise, revise. It's not a big deal. He'd be tired either way. The same ache would be in his neck, the same dryness in his eyes, the same kind of latent paranoia that you can't quite shake... honestly, Shinsou can't really remember a time when he wasn't at least a little bit exhausted. All the same, it's a little much for this guy to try and be all chummy so quickly. He's gotta be trying to suck up or something.

He probably wants to get on my good side because he heard about my Quirk...

"So man, what's your Quirk?" Kaminari asks excitedly.

Shinsou flinches a little.

Or this guy's a moron. I mean, he  did  ask about the fucking underwear.

"It's, uh..."

"Mine's Electrification! You could say... I'm one shocking guy!"

Definitely a moron.

"Earphone jack," Jirou volunteers, waving a hand. "I've got great hearing and stuff."

Shinsou's not sure what the "and stuff" entails... but it is useful to know what they can do to a certain degree. Especially since they're competing. But if they think he'll extend the same courtesy...

He thinks back to what Aizawa had said.

"If your abilities are common knowledge, you lose your edge."

His biggest advantage is the element of surprise. Shinsou knows that- he's known that. The rest of the Hero Course students have weeks of training on him, so he needs every single advantage he can scrape up. Every last detail, every snippet of information, any slip of the tongue, he'll use it. Whatever he can, he'll find it and use it against anyone and everyone because there's no such thing as fighting dirty if you're an underground hero.

"Maybe you'll see," he says after a moment, shrugging evasively. He looks down at Riyo, who seems quite spaced out. "We done here?"

"One chance... Riyo thinks... we have one chance... must get it right,  have  to get it right..."

"Chi-chan?" Kaminari nudges her gently.

"Oh," she whispers in their heads, rubbing her fists into her eyes. "Yes. Done. Hurry back. Important. Sports will start soon. Must find... Monoma Neito..."

That guy? Wait, wasn't he the guy who made an ass of himself in front of those three third years that hand around Riyo?

"Ugh, I don't like him very much," Jirou mumbles.

"I'm... I'm not sure if I'd rather him or Bakugo..."

Bakugo is also an ass.

Either way, Shinsou turns on his heel and starts walking away. The disks in his pockets bounce against his leg with each step, and he sighs through his nose. Shoulders squared, back straight, he rejoins Class 1C as they assemble in their respective prep room and stands by the wall, deep in thought about his own personal mission.

One, take the Sports Festival by storm.

Two, accomplish the Underground Course tasks with the others.

Three, survive whatever aftermath wrought by his foster parents.

He presses his thumb to the staple wound in his palm and sighs.

Either way, for better or for worse... today, everything changes.

 

Chapter Text

That Bakugo character is certainly a piece of work.

"I will win," what kind of public declaration is that!? To make such a bold statement at the beginning of the whole Sports Festival, Monoma has to admit that Bakugo has got guts. But never mind him. Never mind anything. Monoma's playing the long game- he always has been. He's done his research, he's examined the formats of the other Sports Festivals from prior years.

Midnight's speaking, but Monoma pays it less mind than the giant spinning wheel projected in front of him and the other first years at UA. It's for show, of course. The events of the day have already been long planned out- and the first event is always a culling. It has to be, in order to whittle down the numbers for a third-round tournament-style event. So, Monoma had hypothesized as such in the prep room to his class- as long as they are in the upper middle of the pack, they should be fine. They don't have to outshine Class 1A yet- that would be a waste of time and energy in the opening challenge. Better to leave it to the second event and ensure Class 1B representation in the third and final event.

"An obstacle race!" Comes the announcement of the first event.

A race... hmm...

This already puts a lot of those who are less athletically-inclined at a disadvantage. Mainly most of those in Gen Ed and the rest. Monoma has to bite his lip to keep from smirking. After all, the UA Sports Festival has always largely been about the Hero Course students.

This will be quite easy indeed.

The race is a lap around the stadium, avoiding obstacles and falling behind. Monoma can do that. He's good at keeping up- after all, he can have any Quirk he wants. But the one he wants most...?

His cold eyes focus on a purple hat atop a fuzzy head. Chihoshi Riyo seems to be deep in thought, one of her hands loosely holding onto a classmate's sleeve. Her name is something like Asui, if he thinks on it a little. But Asui or whoever doesn't really matter right now. What Monoma wants is to prove that Chihoshi Riyo really shouldn't be in such a dangerous place as UA. And even though they're both in this secret Underground Course together, that doesn't mean that he's shifted his beliefs a single centimeter. At any rate... if he manages to copy her Quirk...

There's no doubt it's powerful. He just might be able to establish that she can't be a hero if he shows everyone how dangerous it is- not just for others, but for herself. Monoma doesn't know much about the kind of backlash that Riyo went through, but he knows he's physically stronger than the girl. He'd be able to handle it better than she did.

Probably.

A warm hand falls on his shoulder, and Monoma glances to the side.

"Monoma-kun," Kendo calls his name in a quiet undertone. "Don't go meddling in things that you shouldn't meddle in."

When Monoma turns around, he sees a serious look on his classmate's face. It's clear that she thinks he really ought to leave it alone and ignore Chihoshi entirely. To just forget about it because it has to be outside of his control. But she also doesn't know about the Underground Course, or the rest of the Underground Candidates, or how Chihoshi was designated their go-between despite almost dying at the USJ. Kendo doesn't know most of what's happened, Monoma can't tell her, and that's that.

"Whatever you say," he smiles easily, waving a hand.

There's a snap of a whip that draws Monoma's attention back to whatever Midnight was saying about the obstacle course.

"The track is four kilometers around the outside of the stadium!" She announces with another flourish of her tasseled whip. "I don't want to restrain anyone, at least in this game," Midnight smiles with half-lidded eyes. Her tongue flicks out to lick her lips. "As long as you don't leave the course, you're free to do whatever your heart desires!"

The crowd roars in approval.

"So it's gonna be a free-for-all," Kendo murmurs.

Perfect. Monoma will have plenty of opportunity to try to get close to Chihoshi. A little difficult, of course, since she can read his mind and intentions from the beginning.

"Now then! Take your places, contestants!"

Everyone shuffles to the designating starting gate that leads to the outside of the stadium, and Monoma smirks.

It's a bottle neck! No way everyone will be able to get through. Not to mention... once everyone is crammed in there, fighting to get in front... I'll inadvertently be able to copy a lot of different Quirks... that's just fine. I just have to orient myself next to-

His hand brushes by a lock of brown hair.

At the signal, Monoma activates his Quirk and kicks off from the ground. The gravity girl's Quirk is certainly useful. He lets the crowd carry him along, not at all concerned about winning this event.

Chihoshi...

. . .

He's off like a shot when the starting tone sounds, and Katsuki's livid. How dare that Half-n-Half bastard fucking ignore him!? For Deku of all people!? Declaration of war, his ass! And this shitty trick with freezing people in place?

"Fucking annoying!" He growls out, launching himself over the idiot extras who were dumb enough to be immobilized. "Outta my way!"

He breaks his fall with a blast and a roll, not even pausing as he breaks out into a run. It doesn't make sense to sprint- there's four kilometers to go and Katsuki's not dumb enough to burn himself out before even getting close to the finish line. All the same, his eyes are on Todoroki's back, and he's furious.

I'm gonna win.

It's gonna be  me.

I'm the best.

Katsuki's palms blaze with controlled explosions as he blasts over the frozen Zero-Pointers. If that Half-n-Half bastard was serious about winning, he'd need to do way better. He just made it easy for Katsuki to launch himself over these supposed obstacles.

As Katsuki crests the giant robots, his momentum has him twisting slightly in the air, and he glimpses those behind him. Typically he wouldn't give a shit about anyone behind him, because they're not worth his time. If they mattered, he'd be blasting them to shit until they didn't. Like he'll do to that Half-n-Half. Like he'll do to that Deku.

Like he'd have to do to that Chihoshi.

And no sooner had he thought about her than Katsuki sees those familiar golden eyes down below, watching his progress over the robots.

There's a bitter taste in Katsuki's mouth as she stares up at him. It's clear that she's got a Quirk that is simply way too powerful for her own good. After all, the backlash from using such power... well, Katsuki remembers how the ground ran slick with blood, how when he was running through the USJ his boots would hit the pavement with wet slaps and tiny droplets of crimson sprayed up over the tops. He remembers slipping and sliding a little bit when releasing explosions- he'd been running to back up Aizawa as he was running after that idiot Deku. He remembers jumping ahead to blast more villains out of the way while their student-teacher-to-be was holding a very dead-looking classmate.

He remembers feeling sick, and a shocked thought of she didn't win.

Katsuki looses a series of explosions from his hands, rocketing forward, tearing himself away from those eyes. For the span between his heartbeats, he doesn't want to be where they can see him. Especially since in that brief moment, it felt like Chihoshi could see every part of him that he'd ever tried to hide.

It's strange how she's not already ahead of him, and he hates that. She must still be recovering from her injuries- Aizawa's still in recovery, after all, and Chihoshi had it way worse than Aizawa.

She's not a fucking problem anymore, Katsuki tells himself bitterly. But then again, she doesn't fucking count.

He'd win the festival. And when Chihoshi's recovered, he'll challenge her and beat her too.

. . .

Midoriya isn't so sure what compels him to take Riyo's hand and tug her along after securing a piece of robot shrapnel to his back.

Well, okay, he'd like to think that, but he honestly knows it's because it looks like she's still a bit frail to be competing in the Sports Festival and he really doesn't want her getting trampled or hurt. And yeah, that might be part of the festival, but she's recovering still, isn't she? So what's the harm of making sure she's safe during the race? He'd do it- Midoriya will find a way to keep Riyo safe from injury and win the Sports Festival.

There's a familiar chiming of bells in his head as he and Riyo run hand-in-hand.

"Our Izuku, so good," she croons sweetly.

His cheeks burst into flames.

"Ch-ch-ch- Chi-chan!" He squeaks in embarrassment.

There's no response- Riyo simply hums what sounds like a video game battle theme in his head as they slow to a stop before the next obstacle. Large pillars populate a gaping chasm, ropes spidering across and establishing rather treacherous means to get across. For a moment, Midoriya's rather envious of people who have Flight Quirks. Uraraka's Zero Gravity would make clearing this obstacle a cinch. And is Shoji gliding across using the webbing between his tentacles? That's ingenious! What about-

"If Iida had a long enough runway and could reach an optimum endpoint velocity with his Engine Quirk, would he be able to vault over the entire chasm? No, the speeds he would need to reach to gather that degree of momentum would be crazy. Maybe I should ask him what his top speed is later. But the landing could be rough... does he get road rash if he trips while running? Is that why he wears armor...?"

"Izuku."

Right, there's a race going on!

"Uh- Chi-chan, are you okay with-"

"Izuku," the girl calls his name again. He looks up and she smiles serenely. "Don't worry. Go win. Like Toshi-Might said, our Izuku will say, 'I am here!'"

Oh.

Oh, right.

He was so caught up in protecting Riyo that he started to lose sight of his goal. But-

"Go," she says.

That's all he needs to turn and throw himself on one of the ropes spanning the chasm.

. . .

A maniacal laugh makes Kurioro regret thinking that hitching a ride in this girl's shadow was a good idea.  It was a mistake. Originally, he'd thought staying by someone who was obviously in the Support Course was a good idea- y'know, getting a closer look at the recruit he'd be responsible for. Hagakure had spotted the girl with the weirdo goggles first. And thanks to Shoji's massive shadow and surprising speed, Kurioro got close enough to jump rides.

Things were going well, the Support Course girl is pretty athletic, smart enough to avoid obstacles- hell, she even took the time to dismantle a robot and pocket the parts... But this!?

Kuroiro manages to dive out, just as the crazy Support Course girl leaps into the air, into the chasm. Dirt finds its way into his mouth as he rolls by the edge- thankfully he doesn't fall. But the girl?

"What the fu-"

Grappling hooks shoot out from the mechanical pack on her back and bury themselves deep in the side of the nearest stone pillar. The pink-haired girl with goggles lets out another cackle as she hits some control or another and effectively slingshots herself further into the obstacle.

Well Riyo, Kuroiro thinks grimly, you said I'd know the last recruit when I saw 'em... and man do I regret seeing her.

Either way, he managed to complete his task and slip the cards he'd been holding into her uniform pockets.

There's a tap on his shoulder and Kuroiro turns to see a headless uniform. "We're good," he sighs, rubbing his dark forehead.

"Awesome!"

Kuroiro simply shrugs before diving into the darkness of the chasm.

.   .   .

Shinsou feels like he's doing fairly well. He'd chosen to stick to the middle of the pack, carried most of the way like some sort of emperor by a few brainwashed students who never knew what hit them. He releases the brainwashing when he's already halfway across the chasm.

It takes a while, ignoring the burn in his arms as he makes his way down the ropes. He's not so stupid or overconfident to try to cross them like tightropes- some students had either just quit at the beginning, other quit at the appearance of the robots, and the few non-Hero Course students that pressed forward just sat by the edge of the chasm. They were completely fed up with the favoritism for Hero Course students. So's he, but he also wants more.

He'd already placed his two disks outside of the stadium, near the walls- it had been quite easy with his Quirk, he'd barely lifted a finger.

Make it to the next round.

His arms shake.

Make it to the next round.

Sweat stings his eyes. For a moment, Shinsou is sure that he'll fall when he reaches the other side- his arms don't feel like arms anymore, and it feels like he has to throw his torso onto the chasm edge and flop for his life to lie safely on solid ground.

I never want to use my fucking arms again!

Thankfully, he doesn't need arms to run.

.   .   .

Jirou spots Riyo just as they reach the beginning of the mine field. Some students have already detonated some of the mines, others are stepping quickly and carefully. Thankfully, she can hear the odd click of the mines and hurry away from the detonations, but that doesn't mean she doesn't get mild burns.

"Hey, Riyo," she calls to the other girl. The purple hat on her head bobs as gold eyes look over to where Jirou's tiptoeing around a mine.

"Jirou Kyoka," comes the response.

"I'm pretty sure we've run the whole stadium," Jirou smirks, trying her best to communicate her task is complete. "What about the others?"

"Oh. Hitoshi and Kaminari finished tasks too. And Kuroiro and Hagakure and Shoji."

"Rockin'," Jirou bobs her head, her smile growing larger. "You gonna take on the mine field? Or you could skip it?"

Riyo looks around at her feet. "Boom," she observes quietly. "Lunchtime is far away. Riyo will do the mines."

"See ya at the finish, then, team leader," Jirou waves.

There's a faint jingle in the back of her head as she picks up the pace and steps around the mines in a careful dance. The competitive urge in her gut spikes as she thinks about reaching the end of the course.

. . .

There's a huge explosion towards the beginning of the mine field. Kaminari cranes his neck and watches Midoriya fucking sail across the sky.

Holy shit!

. . .

He lost to Midoriya.

Damn.

He's far smarter and tenacious that Shouto realized. But as he dodges a raging Bakugo who seems to be screaming about something or the other, Shouto frowns a little.

Where's Chihoshi Riyo?

He'd honestly expected her to be here by now. Maybe she's still injured. Or perhaps she's taking it easy- it is only the first round of the festival.

. . .

Monoma's close. He's really close. The announcements for the first few who completely the obstacle race had already started.

Riyo's nearing the end of the minefield, taking her time in the area most populated with the dummy explosives. Placing his feet carefully and spinning with no small amount of grace, Monoma manages to place himself just behind Riyo.

She turns, golden eyes wide.

"Chihoshi," Monoma sighs grimly.

"Monoma Neito," she whispers in his head, her expression starting to tremble.

"I don't want to hurt you." The confession comes as he narrowly dodges another buried mine.

"But-"

"Can't you see!? This stuff- being a hero is too dangerous for someone like you!" His voice sounds a little raw. He reaches out a hand. "I have to do this! I have to prove it! So you won't get hurt anymore, just let me save you!"

Riyo's eyes shine with tears- they look like molten gold.

"Don't be scared, I won't hurt you, I don't want to hurt you-"

"And I don't want to hurt you," she whispers.

Monoma's hand brushes her arm. He activates his Quirk.

Another explosion shakes the minefield.