Look, I'm alive. Only ten months late. Fuck my life, and my job, and the writer's block that killed me for most of last year. Genuinely could not bring myself to sit at my computer and do anything. Hated it. I've got thousands of words across the next five chapters of this story that's been struggling to be completed since March. Haven't even bothered with any other story; not a single draft of anything for them. I don't want to give this up, I don't want to stop, I don't want to abandon any of these. But nothing goes right. Nothing I do works. Nothing I promise ever comes true. The only change I've made is giving up on all other aspects of life, because it's the only thing that's left me with the energy to sit down and write. Got half of this done in the past month because of that. Probably the only promising change of my life.

So here's just shy of 16k words of people talking. HBO should hire me. I could revive Westworld like this.

When it was time to return to school, Izuku could only stare at his desk. His gold medal from the Sports Festival was the first thing to greet his eyes, propped proudly in the cheering arms of the one All-Might statue still on his desk, gleaming in the light that peaks through his window. He could see it, as could his mother and his friends, but he didn't know who else would. Ojiro shared one article to him privately — a quite rude one his tailed friend was looking to vent about — and Izuku hadn't read another one since. He got to wake up to the fruit of his labor; he didn't need people's agreement with it to make it real.

Still he got dressed for school at Yuei, absent the tie he couldn't find anymore. His mother awaited him in the living area, breakfast made and waiting for him to dig in.

"You'll be on your work studies at the end of the week, right?" his mother questioned him halfway through his bowl. He nodded through his bites, and swallowed down to speak.

"We'll get to intern at a hero agency for five days," Izuku elaborated. "Practice under them like sidekicks, and with any sidekicks they have too. I'm…"

He had pondered on his hopes for the work studies over the past few days, reminiscing on the crowd at the Sports Festival. Heroes and sidekicks alike watched his performance, judged his fights, and so many called for a reversal on the final ruling of his victory. There were probably several agencies across Japan that would turn him away with a single glance. But he could too recall the likes of Endeavor and his teachers wordlessly and verbally at his defense, unwavering in their actions and their calls. Someone had to be open to his request.

"I read online they have students choose from a set list of agencies open for the program with Yuei and other hero schools," he continued, rounding the table to dump his dishes in the sink. "I know Death Arms and Chainsaw Man work in the northern district; maybe I can study with them and pass you by at work."

His mother giggled, trotting up beside him to wash her own platter. "Maybe I'll get to see you in costume," she suggested. "Haven't seen you practice with your bat so much anymore."

Izuku shrugged. "I get some practice in P.E. to make up for it, so long as I find a stick to use in its place. My aim's gotten better. We haven't had a suit-up class in a while — might not get to do again before the work study."

"I'm sure you'll knock people off their feet," his mother reassured him, turning to embrace him gently — a motion he graciously returned. "Metaphorically, please."

"I'm not going to hit innocent people," he sighed into her hair, reciting the manta he had thrown at Hunter dozens of times. "And I won't hit any criminals that hard. I'm not allowed to Batman people."

His mother hummed. "Maybe that could be your hero name: Batman."

"You know, I think I'm late for school." Izuku practically carried his mother to the door, ignoring her laughter at his feeble attempt to escape. "I held up a good record at Aldera. Don't want to ruin it here."

"Izuku, look at me." He did, turning away from the open door as his mother closed the distance between them once more. "I'm proud of you. We both are. Don't let anyone try to discourage you, okay?"

"Okay." He gave her one more hug before she finally let him out of the apartment. "Love you." He didn't wait for her to say it back, hearing it faintly as he lunged down the stairwell and ran down the sidewalk.

Izuku arrived at the train station in record time, taking notice of the digital clock above the stairs before he entered the closest car of the railway. He double-checked the time on his phone as he held onto an overhead rail, only confirming he had made it a whole train ride early; even the car was half as packed as he was used to. His foot tapped rhythmically as he watched the city zoom past him and his thoughts sped after it; how long had he been subconsciously using his power to run faster, he wondered, and why could he use it for something so mundane as making the train when he couldn't even consciously summon it?

The reflection of a faint glow caught his eye and pulled the quirkless teen away from his musings and to the little boy with golden hair staring at him from down the row of chairs. He smiled and waved, pondering internally if the light of his star-like hair was a passive quirk he couldn't control or an active use the mother beside him wasn't chiding him for. The kid waved back, mouth slightly ajar and eyes glistening of intrigue, before the older woman pushed his waving hand down and glared at Izuku.

The green-haired teen slightly furrowed his brow at the expression, but before he could decide an answer over it, a voice from behind provided one.

"Hey," a raspy, male voice called to Izuku, and the green teen peeked over his shoulder to a business suit with a mantis head looking at him. "Aren't you the kid from the Sports Festival? Midoriya something?"

The boy in question glanced back at the kid with understanding, and provided the adult mutant a small smile. "Yes, I am."

The man's compound eyes glistened as he looked the teen up and down, his palps parting in a soft hum. "You really do look average. But you're not actually quirkless, right? What that blond kid said was just a joke?"

Izuku tightened his lips, forcing his smile to remain as he dragged his eyes away from the man. "Yes," he repeated, "I am."

"Don't spew that crap, kid." A stout man with indigo hair's reflection snuck its way into Izuku's vision, but he didn't bother glancing over his shoulder to the man. "In case you don't know, that was Endeavor's son you fought in the third fight, some kid with steel skin before him, and that Bakugou boy in the final round was probably second-strongest to him. Hell that bladed kid in the first round would have kicked your ass if that was true. No way in hell you beat them without a quirk."

The quirkless teen flexed the hand holding the bar above his head. "It's what the medal says."

"It would make sense if they were holding back," the mantis man chimed in again, gesturing to the adult beside him. "Todoroki never used his old man's fire and that Bakugou was knocking around all the other kids he fought. Prime and powerful material for future heroes. Yuei probably made them go easy on him for publicity."

"Don't buy into that garbage the principal said," the pudgy man argued back. "The number two hero wouldn't allow the school to restrict his kid's performance for a shitty lie like that. It would be an embarrassment to his name. And it'd be the same for Yuei to even enroll a quirkless kid into their heroics program in the first place." Izuku dared to look the man in his reflection's eyes, inhaling deeply as he remained unresponsive to the adult's glare. "Lying like this hurts the reputation of a good school with proper students who deserve to be heroes; it shouldn't endanger those kids' futures by propping up you. And it's disrespectful to your parents, too. Think of how humiliated your mother and father must be returning to work, everyone around them thinking they bought their son's way into Yuei. Your father must be right disappointed with you, not to mention the laughing stock you'll make him and your mother. Either one of those idiots should smack some sense into you—"

Izuku spun on his heel, hearing the train car creak around him like it was his bones locking his glare onto the short man. "Shut your mouth." The pudgy businessman flinched slightly, the gaze he trained back at the green-haired teen wavering in its hold. "Don't speak for my mom like you know her. Mind your fucking business." The older man's eye twitched, his lips curling around frowns, before he grunted under his breath and turned his head away without saying another word. Izuku's eyes glazed over at the mutant beside the fat man, and he watched as the mantis man flinched with his whole body before muttering something of an apology before bowing his head away.

As Izuku turned back to the window, his eye caught the little boy and his mother, the latter now hugging the child to her side as they scooted another seat over while her son gripped her blouse just as tightly, his little eyes wide and without mirth. The hand holding up the teen loosened around the bar, and his fingers brushed over the new dents where his fingers fit perfectly. When the train came to a stop at its next destination, Izuku ran off without so much as a word of his own.

He knew something like that was going to happen, the green-haired teen chided himself as he ran down the road towards Yuei, barely seeing it in the distance. The Sports Festival was about getting his name out into the world to open doors of opportunity for him and his classmates, but even the general public was going to know him too. When people heard he was quirkless, of course he was going to hear words he had always heard coming from all sorts of mouths. For hearing it all before, he should have been accustomed to tuning it out and letting it pass him by as he always did; it was what he taught himself to do. He shouldn't let it rile him up — let it get to his head like their words meant anything.

He stopped himself before he accidentally ran into traffic, rolling his fingers and curling his fists towards his stomach. Could he blame his anger on his newfound power, too? Would it be right of him to say his outbursts of emotion of late were its doing, once again out of his conscious control? No it wouldn't, he decided as the crosswalk gave him the signal. How could he take claim of his power while refuting responsibility for his actions and attitude?

Rain pecked at his nose before he was given the signal to cross, and Izuku scoffed as he ran faster to beat the growing pour of rain. Of course the day he chose not to take the train is the day he chose not to wear his raincoat, on the day it actually mattered. If you do exist, Izuku threatened as he pointed his glare up into the dark clouds, laugh it up while you can. I'll be in charge soon.

By the time he made it to Yuei the downpour had turned harsh, and he was well soaked before he entered the main building. Bless the spare jacket in his locker he did, as he stormed down the corner to his possessions. To his surprise, his locker was accompanied by more than just a second school jacket.

Iida sat on the bench facing his locker, leaving the blue-haired boy with his back to the green-haired teen as he entered the room. The wet squeaks of his red shoes alert the tall boy to his presence a few seconds later, peering over his shoulder. "Midoriya," he greeted him flatly, straightening his back slowly and pivoting at the hip. "We were worried you were going to be late today. There's only a few minutes left until class begins. You're usually here earlier than this: is everything alright?"

Izuku slowly paced down the other end of the bench, and Iida just as gradually twisted his body the other way to follow him. "Yeah, I'm fine," he answered his friend absentmindedly, meeting the other boy's eyes for a moment before turning his attention to his locker. "I just…missed my train and panicked about being late. Decided to run — forgot it was supposed to rain." As he peeled off his drenched vest, the green-haired teen patted the phone in his pocket. "Actually, I've been trying to talk to you since the Sports Festival. I called; texted a bunch. Are you okay?"

When silence was all that answered him, Izuku peeked back to find his friend staring at his own shoes silently. Iida's fingertips pressed into one another lightly, but the rigid form of his shoulders spoke differently. "My apologies on that. I've not been around my phone too often." Before the quirkless teen could speak, the engine boy continued, "You should have called the school ahead of time to expect you might be late. Our teachers have been very understanding people of our situations — you especially have made that clear, the steps they've taken to make sure you feel included amongst our classmates—"

"Tenya, what happened?" Izuku interrupted him, turning on his heel to fully face the boy. Iida snapped his mouth shut, tilting his neck the other way to gaze at his other shoe. "I'm fine, I'm here. Sorry I kept you waiting for me, but I've been waiting for you. We barely heard from you since you left at the finals — everyone else already beat me to seeing you again, I take it. What's going on?"

The taller boy's fingers flexed wildly as he pulled his glasses from his face to wipe a hand over his hair. Something was eating at his ankles, Izuku could tell, but the other boy seemed so determined to bear through it instead of running with it. "Uraraka told me something similar when I got here, funnily enough. She reminds me greatly of when we first met. And we should go; homeroom should begin any second now—"

"We've got time." Izuku rushed to plop down beside his friend, counting the few remaining minutes on the clock at the room's entrance. "Please, talk to me. What's wrong, Tenya?"

The other boy didn't dare look at him, hands fiddling with his glasses while he checked the clock himself as if to assure Izuku wasn't lying to him. So Izuku reached out to him, placing a hand over one of his wrists and drawing his attention to that connection. After a few seconds of pause, Iida finally dared to look him in the eyes; the quirkless teen watched as his friend's composure cracked, and the distant stare in his eyes filled with water.

Taking a breath to collect himself, the tall boy finally shared, "The police will be releasing an official statement this afternoon but my brother is in a coma."

The two boys left the news to sit between them, as Iida looked down to his lap again and Izuku secured his grip on the other boy's wrist. The quirkless teen could picture the man in his head; an older, spitting-image of his speedy friend from the photograph he got signed as a birthday present the year before. "Ingenium."

"Tensei," Iida corrected, "was working during the festival; the agency called him in to help with an investigation of the Hero Killer in Hosu. He responded to a distress call from another hero they had wounded, and the assailant was waiting for him to arrive." His glasses fell into his other hand, leaving the one gripped by Izuku free for the green-haired teen to slide his own hand into. "The doctors can keep him alive, and they're confident he'll regain the strength to wake up again. We don't know when…but he will."

"He will," Izuku reinforced. He recognized the name of the culprit, the Hero Killer: Stain. He had seen a few articles when the year started of heroes incapacitated or wounded by the vicious criminal. A handful of heroes and sidekicks had met their fate claimed to be Stain's doing, and Izuku released a sigh of relief to know Ingenium was not the next to follow. "I'm sorry for what happened, and I'm happy to hear he'll be okay. The heroes will find Stain soon, and bring him to justice—"

"The Hero Killer did not hurt my brother."

Izuku pressed his lips together as he looked up to Iida, the taller boy looking ahead at the wall of steel doors before them. The tears in his eyes had fallen away, and the distant look returned in their absence.

"My brother's wounds are not in the Hero Killer's repertoire," the blue-haired boy explained. "Stain uses blades and sharp weapons from all accounts his victims have given the police, but Tensei was beaten by something blunt — his armor crushed and cracked by force. I believe the Hero Killer has an ally; someone people like my brother can't account for in Stain's place; someone the police have mistaken for Stain; someone who can continue to hunt heroes even if the Hero Killer is found. Other heroes and sidekicks have claimed the same over the past few weeks, of someone else attacking and hunting them, yet no one has provided a description. Police told my mother and father they suspect Stain before anyone else. If no one can prove their existence and Stain refuses to reveal their identity, they'll be free to roam the streets and do to someone else what they did to Tensei before anyone can stop them."

"They'll find them." Izuku moved to stand in front of his friend quickly, resting a hand on Iida's shoulder until he looked into his eyes. "If you could notice it, then the heroes and police will keep it in mind too. There will be other people looking for him." The blue-haired boy rocked in his seat lightly, dipping his eyes away from the emerald orbs before him. "Maybe they haven't admitted it because none of the heroes could confirm them, but they know whoever they are exists too. They will be arrested." Iida mulled silently with his head bowed, and Izuku tilted his own down, brushing his mohawk into his friend's hair; he understood his friend's worry. He remembered when he felt the same.

Iida wiped his eyes with his hands, shooting to his feet suddenly, patting down his clothes, and nearly knocking Izuku in the head with his own. "My apologies for that, Midoriya. These thoughts have been plaguing me the past few days. I am sorry I did not speak with you or anyone sooner; it has been hard to think about other topics. As you are my class president, I do wish to apologize in advance if I become a distraction in class or ignore when you or someone else speaks out to me. I will do my best not to be a disturbance to our class—"

"Stop," the green-haired teen cut him off, gently slapping his hands into the taller boy's face before pulling it down to look at him. "Tenya. You're not a bother. You're not a disturbance. You're not going to be. You're my friend, and I and everyone is your friend, and we are here for you, okay? I understand if any of that does happen, and everyone else will too, and no one is going to mind. We're here for you. I promise you everything will be fine."

The blue-haired boy sighed deeply, placing his own hands over Izuku's gently but not prying the other boy away. Conflict remained in his eyes, but the green-haired teen watched in them as they softened, and the frown beneath them evened out into an almost invisible smile. "Thank you, Midoriya," Iida spoke softly, humming just as loudly as the quirkless teen corrected him to use his name. "I do believe your words have lifted a weight off my chest. I was hoping to explain it to you all later at lunch, but…thank you."

"Any time," Izuku promised assuredly, dropping his hands onto the other boy's shoulder to pat them gently. "I'm here today because I have you and everyone else. We'll give you the same, I promise." The two boys shared another smile before Izuku pushed on Iida's arm gently. "Come on, let's go see everyone else before Mashi comes down and kicks me again."

When Izuku and Iida arrived at class with a few minutes still to spare, the green-haired teen found their homeroom packed with every one of their classmates already present. He waved to Ojiro, Yaoyorozu and Ochako huddled together in the corner as he entered, and gazed over everyone else mingling in their own little groups or seated silently alone in the case of Todoroki and Aoyama. He watched as their eyes shifted away when he locked onto them, or caught how they stared back hesitantly before he moved on to the next.

The green-haired teen shared a look to the taller boy beside him, conveying a wordless request through his eyes. Past the apology Iida tried to convey in return, the blue-haired boy gave a swift nod and accepted Izuku's backpack when he handed it over. The quirkless teen stepped up to the front and center of the room, took one more look across to all his classmates' heads, and bowed as deeply as he could.

"I apologize for lying to you all," he announced loudly, bringing silence to everyone's conversations. "I hope you can forgive me." The room mulled quietly, filled only with soft sounds of confusion and exasperation — the latter was probably Ojiro if he guessed right. But Izuku kept his head bowed, staring at nothing other than his dirty-red shoes patiently.

"Midoriya," he heard Hanta respond first, the other boy's shoes slowly stepping into his vision beside the tuff of his mohawk. "What are you doing?"

"Apologizing," the green-haired teen repeated. "For telling you all I have a quirk when I don't. For not admitting I was quirkless sooner. For not sharing that the teachers are helping me to understand my power. I lied to you for weeks — some of you for months — and I'm sorry I didn't trust any of you sooner to be honest about it. Doesn't matter if you believe me or not, I still didn't tell you the truth as I knew it. I'm sorry I didn't trust any of you sooner with that." He listened to the hesitant sounds the tape-quirked boy made as a response, and dared to peek to the side towards his blue-haired friend who gave him the faintest of encouraging smiles. Maybe the reality of the matter of his power was fudged and complicated, but it was the principle of the situation that mattered most to Izuku; in sharing his truth with his classmates.

"You don't have to apologize for that, dude," Hanta dissuaded him, his tone lower than it was a second ago. "I only know a bit about quirkless people, but I've seen some of the stuff they've said online about you. If you really did think you were quirkless, I get why you weren't ready to share that. But you're not quirkless, man. You have super strength. You weren't lying to us about anything—"

"But I was," Izuku interrupted him, straightening his back to stare the silenced teen in the eyes. "Whether I'm right or I'm wrong about whatever my power is, I had every intention of telling you lies as I knew them. I didn't even know I could do this when I came here" — he pointed across the room to Shoji in the back rows — "and you made me aware of that. The day the press broke into the school. First day I met you all, everything I told you was something I didn't believe about myself, and I asked my friends to lie for me and made it their mess too. That was wrong of me. I should have been honest with them when we met — maybe they would have clued me in sooner and I would have done things differently. But I didn't. I should have been honest with you all on the first day when I actually felt comfortable around all of you. I should have been honest when you voted me as class president, even after the mess Bakugou and I made.

"I should have told you after you saved my life," he admitted, waving a finger at the black-haired boy right in front of him, and said teen inhaled sharply at the mention of the memory. "When I knew without a doubt you were good people. That you were all real heroes I could trust with my life, and should have trusted with my words. All my dumb reasons should have been gone then and there, and I should have been honest with you all in what I knew and what I didn't. You trusted me with this; I should have trusted you with that, and treated you like the good people you are and have been to me. Reality be damned."

Izuku absorbed the reactions of his classmates in the following silence — of the faces expressing consideration, empathy, shame and more. He peered to the back of the room towards his closest friends, locking eyes with the tall, raven-haired girl who smiled softly and mouthed a silent, "Thank you," having caught the part intended for her and Uraraka. He returned the smile with a small one of his own, but dropped it quickly as he focused on the tape-quirked boy standing right in front of him.

With his close proximity, Izuku was given a front-row seat to watch Hanta stagger through stages of emotion, gazing off into space while his mouth wavered and changed. His hands rose to rest on his hips, fingers tapping as though scrolling through a list of responses and reactions. Izuku didn't need to know how many of their classmates he was speaking for, disbelieving of his quirklessness and questioning either the point or the earnesty of his apology; what mattered was that it was said, and what would be.

Finally locking eyes with Izuku, Hanta stated, "I still can't believe you're quirkless. Super strength kinda goes against that." The green-haired teen took that dejection with a nod, pursing his lips in understanding. "But you think you are, and you thought you were. And I know people aren't kind about that. I can tell Bakugou wasn't. So I get it — why you wouldn't share it with people you just met. What better a reason than that?" The black-haired boy looked back at their classmates for a second. "But I don't have a reason not to trust you just because you lied. Our teacher is alive because of you and Todoroki, and he and our upperclassman are still here because you stepped up to fight." The dual-haired boy at his desk looked away when he was mentioned; maybe annoyed, maybe embarrassed, Izuku wondered. "I know you defended Ashido from a villain. I know you saved Uraraka from the Zero Pointer in the exam." Both girls flushed from being mentioned as well, and Izuku shared a smile with the thankful grin the brunette beamed from the memory. "I think you're a good person.; it's why I voted for you as class prez."

Izuku himself blinked from the sudden admittance; he had wondered for some days who all voted for him, while no one ever had answered him straightforwardly.

"So I don't care if your power is a quirk or somehow not," Hanta finally accepted. "Because I know I trust you with my life too. Because you're also a hero." The tape-quirked boy finally smiled friendly to the quirkless teen, extending an arm his way. "Apology accepted, class prez. No bad blood necessary."

Izuku smiled back, swallowing down wet air and accepting the handshake. "Thank you."

"How wonderful." Izuku snapped his head to the doorway, where their homeroom teacher stood just behind Iida. "You've all come to a mutual understanding" — Aizawa gazed up at the clock on the wall — "five minutes after the bell ordered you to your seats. If you could." Izuku took the hint like everyone else did, scurrying between his classmates' desks to fall into his own.

"Now that that's settled," the underground hero breezed by, taking to the podium at the classroom's front and center, "we will get started right away. You've all rested long enough over the weekend" — his eyes glazed over the room, stopping only for a second longer on Izuku before he moved on — "to recover from the effort you put forth at the Sports Festival. As you can all guess, that is not where it ends. Many heroes and sidekicks — and some children in costumes — made up the attendees of the event, while many more worked as security watching from the screens around the premises or from their homes and agencies on television. The festival was not only for you to impress them, but to be hand-selected by them for the work study next week. Agencies sent in personal drafts and letters hoping for you to choose them for the five-day course, and we have collected and piled them by name." Grabbing a remote left on the podium, their teacher turned around and pointed it at the digital screen behind him. "These are them now."

He hit one button on the remote and stepped aside, and the screen flashed on before proudly displaying Todoroki's name and the few hundreds of drafts agencies gave him. Izuku pursed his lips as he sighed — as though it was any more of a surprise than he was expecting. Todoroki's ice was strong, his father's name well-known, and had reached the semifinals of the last event, so of course people were hoping to reel him in for the opportunity. His emerald eyes scrolled down the list as every name following was not his own. Silently, he congratulated Iida, Yaoyorozu and Ojiro for their few dozen recommendations each, even when names like Tokoyami and Shiozaki garnered more — another thing he well understood, given the intrigue that was the bird teen's sentient quirk and the religious girl's seemingly endless-growing vines. Of course agencies picked out quirks that likely benefited off their own, or at least played well that they could hope to offer in advice and training to specific quirks, which meant the agencies who would single him out were—

Izuku blinked as the list ended at the bottom of the screen with Uraraka's single draft, of which just above sat his name with two.

The green-haired teen furrowed his brows as he stared at the small number barely hovering over the podium for him to see. Even from the back of the class, there was no mistaking that it was indeed his name on the screen with just one more recommendation that his brunette friend. Who had sent him a personal draft, he wondered. His mind first turned to All-Might, but shot the idea down quickly; while the hero's agency was still active, he was an acting teacher on campus and most of the staff had to remain and teach the other courses and classes who didn't have to leave for a work study. Even if the number one hero was a heroics teacher and did not teach the other courses, the Might Tower hadn't any sidekicks or understudies since Sir Nighteye left and became more business than heroics. Would the man really offer him that hand?

"Do not be alarmed if your name is not up here." Their homeroom teacher silenced everyone else's hushed voices with his louder volume. "Many agencies have their doors open for you to choose from, and even these can be ignored if there is another agency or town you would rather study under. That choice is your own to make. And before I hand you your lists of choices, you must decide something else first: your hero names."

The room livened instantly from their teachers words, even those whose name didn't appear on screen lighting up and cheering for it. Even Izuku, puffing out his chest with the wonder of his two drafted recommendations, found his excitement for the day rejuvenating. Until his indecisive memory caught up with him and deflated him down into his seat. The rest of his classmates quieted down after him as their teacher's hair shot up and his eyes gleamed red.

"Do note this is not a permanent choice for you going forward," he continued as he dropped onto his desk. "The name you choose now may be only temporary, one you can change even after you graduate, though the process and paperwork is excessive. You've had the chance to think of yours for years; you likely all have one in mind right now. Heroes, their sidekicks, their staff, and the people you meet on the street will refer to you commonly by your hero alias. But what you choose today will be indicative of who you are or what you hope to become in your future to the heroes you will study under and meet during this course, even if the name or the tagline changes in your future—"

"It will become what the world knows you by!"

Their homeroom door slammed open by the shouting woman, who strutted in for attention as their teacher grumbled away and fell into his sleeping bag behind his desk.

"First impressions are everything!" Midnight continued, taking place beside the podium as she beamed a smile to the room. "The heroes and the public will remember you from their first experience, both good and bad, and the name you choose can be a big part in that. Even if you're uncertain with your choice today, don't mince the effort or meaning behind it! A workshop title should still carry with it your intentions and ideals!"

Izuku kept that in mind as whiteboards were handed down their rows and gave him something else to stare at with his thoughts. The joke his mother had made earlier did remind him that choosing his hero name would come in due time, but he really did not assume it would happen before their work study. He had tossed the pages of ideas his younger self had devised when last he brainstormed for an alias, but out of it came nothing he was confident with. The best he had come up with was Zero, just to highlight his quirklessness if he wasn't going to be straightforward with the tagline, but it turned out a lot of heroes historically had used it with differentiating taglines and Izuku didn't want to be forgotten in the slew of other heroes.

His phone buzzed noiselessly in his pocket before anyone had gone up to share, and he held it out beside his leg as he read the message from Hatsume.

hey metal bat, how do you feel about helmets?

Still not a baseball motif, Mei, he responded.

no, i mean armor! some of the third-years swung by to have their gear checked and i got a new baby in the works! i designed her after the spartans, with the little space at the top for your funny looking hair to match

Brushing aside the comment that he could never escape, Izuku shot down that idea too. He had considered a piece of headgear for his costume, something that could finally bring an idea forward that didn't feel like it inspired cosplay, but every choice he made rubbed him the wrong way. Be it how they looked on him or the styles themselves, he couldn't find a single idea he agreed with.

The same could be said for his hero name, as his classmates went up one after the other proudly claiming their own aliases. Word puns and titles tied to their quirks came and went — creative decisions everyone had put together a long time ago. Even his friends went up with confidence; Ojiro simply went with 'Tailman;' Yaoyorozu smartly chose 'Creati;' Uraraka put together a cute name in 'Uravity;' and Kaminari hastily shared his idea as 'Chargebolt.' As the class narrowed down to the last few, Iida stepped up before Izuku, and the green-haired teen smiled kindly at the displayed 'Ingenium' on the whiteboard, with his face as stoic as could be as it soaked in their classmates' responses.

The quirkless kid felt his phone buzz again as Todoroki went up next, and Izuku quickly checked Hatsume's new text:

i need ideas, metal bat! the longer you take, the larger i make my baby hoverboard! if you're gonna keep dressing like a yankee then we gotta spice up your style with some complimentary flair!

He blinked slowly as he stared at the message — he could barely ride a scooter, and he probably should have shared that before Hatsume overconfidently judged his balance — but his thumb hesitated over his next response as he read the start of it back to him. He repeated her words in his head, playing them on loop as they rolled off his internal tongue. It didn't sound like such a bad idea.

"See you Saturday, Metal Bat!"

"Are you ready to become the next star hero, Metal Bat?!"

"Cutting corners isn't going to make great inventions, Metal Bat."

"Because I've done nothing to support you." Hatsume's tools fell from her hands, sinking into the wiring of her open boot. "I haven't made any babies to help protect you. I haven't given you anything to fight with alongside your bat. I haven't upgraded your costume to your needs and specifications so it can handle the danger you get in. I—" She had turned again to look him in the eye, but caught her voice in her throat as she stared at his face too long. "It looks worse than it was in the photo."

The cap of Izuku's marker dribbled on the floor with a single flick, while he hastily wrote on his board. He angled the final work just right in his lap and took a photo of it, sent it paired with a short message to his pink-haired friend, and finally rose from his seat to share it with his classmates.

"Before you go on your work studies; I'll have something made for you then. To take with you."

"I thought the Spartan look would have been a good idea," Mei muttered under her breath as she read Midoriya's text of rejection. "Make a scabbard for the bat like it was a sword and pair it with a foldable shield. And I could have made it a frisbee shield too. Or a collapsing baseball—oh!" She tossed her phone across the workbench, taking the helmet she had drafted in her grasp and judging it's plating. "I could make a condensable set of baseballs he could use for long-range solutions, maybe enough to fit in a backpack if it's in his costume design. She'd be a wonderful compliment." The pink-haired mechanic didn't wait another second before she tore her design apart, plopping the loose plates of metal at her feet until all that remained was scrap. With an empty table now in wait, she threw sheets of paper before herself and got to sketching her next baby.

It had been impossible for Mei to design anything at home since the festival ended, more so than it was prior when she had to design something for the competition. Innovation collided with a brick wall hard enough to flatten its nose, and the pink-haired girl couldn't make her path around it. Instead she spent her days questioned by her mother, inquiring about her green-haired friend who had won the competition; apparently she forgot to tell her Midoriya was quirkless? Mei couldn't remember needing to but did admit to it — it's not like the news wasn't already saying the same thing, but then again she didn't bother reading the news, she just assumed it was. She didn't understand why her mother threw such a fit about it, either, so she tuned her out for most of the weekend while struggling to draft anything on blueprint paper. She had to design him something he would like for his hero costume, and she knew a pretty good amount about him, so where had all the inspiration gone?

Lucky her, cogs came to turn her first day back with everyone else. All it took was a glance at the hero gear some senior student brought in for Power Loader to assess to kick her into gear. Her homeroom teacher had given her limited reign of freedom for designing and crafting, so she decided to pour all that wiggle room into designing the perfect gear for her future poster boy. She had already folded together a draft of a breastplate before scrapping it and working on a good pair of boots — he did like to run a lot, but too many ideas clashed with possible plans for Legolas to get the green light — that then were remodeled into a helmet to pair with his funny-looking hair. And though he shot that idea down upon her first inquiry, Mei Hatsume would not let dejection stop her from designing the perfect gear.

She dropped her tools on the table and set her hands on her hips, smiling brightly at the metal sheet she had mindlessly molded into the shape of a meter-long skateboard. "Where did you come from?" Wasn't she supposed to be designing baseballs for long-range offensive utility? Why had she made this while her mind drifted?

Oh right, the rest of his costume, she remembered with glee. Her green-haired model had sent a rough drawing of his uniform over text some time in the past — she couldn't remember when — that looked like the school uniform she had seen him in at the beach. The pants were so baggy Mei initially thought it was a dress, but she pieced together the look of a yankee he fit too perfectly. Bar his smile; he smiled too nice so she drew a frown on her copy of his notes to refer to. But a skateboard would fit his design pretty well, and would benefit in transport that wouldn't clash with Legolas' designs; and she could make it a hoverboard! Did he know how to skateboard? He probably knew how to ride a skateboard. He could learn. Midoriya was smart.

She sent the green-haired boy another update on her work, before tossing her phone on the board and rummaging through her backpack. Her notes for the boots she based off Rocketeer's costume were buried in there somewhere, and she could rework the propulsion gear and wiring for a proper and original design of her own this time; there was no more need to prove to companies that she could design preexisting gear, now was the time to prove her own creativity!

"Hatsume!" she heard her homeroom teacher shout from across the room. "Stop cackling! Tone it down!"

"Okay!" she called back, dumping the contents of her bag on her desk and sorting through them a second time. Those designs had to be around somewhere.

Her phone pinged with the crack of wood on horsehide, altering her to another text from Midoriya, and Mei scooped it up to find a notification warning her of a shared image. She tapped it open, flashed by the bright white that took up most of the image's surface, and paused with her finger hovering over her screen.

Mind if I take this with me, Future Miss Industries?

The Quirkless Hero: Metal Bat

Mei felt the air balloon her lungs, tuning out the woodwork and conversation of the other support students in her ears. The hero courses were scheduled to go on work studies soon while the remaining courses remained on campus, so of course they had to come up with aliases for the field. That was a hero name style Midoriya wrote that in. That was what she called him.

It's perfect, read the response she sent before even realizing what she typed. The thumbs-up in response was just as fast, and Mei felt warmth push at her cheeks. So he truly did still trust her.

Her senses suddenly came rushing back to her, and with them a spark that lit up her head with innovation. She knew just the tool to make for him! The pink-haired girl threw her phone into her backpack and one-by-one tossed the blueprints she wasn't looking for back into the bag until she found just the right design. She sacrificed the draft of the hoverboard, ripping it apart and reshaping its pieces as to the design's instructions.

Mei knew he wasn't a fan of swords, but the Ronin's weapon could be reworked just right.

Midoriya Izuku,

I have discussed the situation of your 'quirklessness' with Nedzu. There is obviously information he has withheld, but as he explained enough that you and your teachers are under the impression your recent growth of super strength and durability are not an aspect of a quirk. I find the assumption preposterous. There was no human before the dawn of quirks who could achieve what you can; your abilities only exist because of quirks and it is more than apparent that you do have one. Not referring to it as such is nonsensical.

But whatever you call your quirk matters not to me. You are a talented individual with insight and perspective desirable to heroics. Your determination in spite of your troubled upbringing is impressive. Your attitude and aptitude in battle desire improvement, and though my quirk is not one of superhuman strength, I do believe I and my agency are capable of improving your shortcomings and shaping you with the most potential of your peers once you graduate.

The same offer has been handed to Shouto. He has sat with your words since the Sports Festival's end, and he is finally reflecting on his own short-sightedness. I believe a partnered study with you both can enforce his new understandings and improve him to be a hero who will surpass you. I await your response.

Todoroki Enji

Izuku crinkled the corner of the draft letter between his thumb and index finger as he read it over again, his chest swirling with emotions. On one hand, this was a recommendation to train and study under the second-highest ranking hero in all of Japan — the same man who had complimented him in the middle of the Sports Festival. It was recognition from someone higher than any hero he expected to regard him with interest and pride since the festival ended, possibly toppling the words of All-Might that still plagued the back of his head.

On the other hand, it should have been obvious even the number two hero would be doubtful of his claim as a quirkless hero-in-training given the absurdities of his actions since he entered the school. It was great and all that the hero could look past it and still choose to offer him a chance to train at his agency, but the blunt disregard of his perspective still stung. What could he really do to turn that around, though?

With the last paragraph on replay, Izuku looked across the classroom — through the busy bodies of his classmates packing to leave for the day — to the red-and-white-haired boy sitting motionless at his own desk, reading one of a few dozen written letters of recommendation, one that Izuku would reckon a guess was from the teen's father. A part of the green-haired teen sat unwell with how he had walked away from his fight with Todoroki — a boxing match of fists and assumptions — without so much as a hint of understanding between them. And to know his words had been bothering the other boy for several days that his father had taken notice only stirred the feeling of his stomach sicker. He apologized to the class for his lies but Todoroki deserved something more personal in rectifying his mistake.

Tucking the letter to put it out of mind, Izuku turned his attention to the second letter laying on his desk. Both his draft picks had written to him personally, and where Endeavor's letter still surprised him to see, it was his other option that was more…interesting.

To Midoriya Izuku of Yuei,

Your performance in the Sports Festival was surprising. I speak for many heroes when I say no one expected a quirkless kid to beat his competition, much less have a seat in the heroics course. I speak for myself when I say your style of fighting intrigued me. It is messy and unrefined but you used it to overcome the advantage your peers have over you. While your technique can use improvement, your movements were methodical when on the back foot and stubbornly brash yet effective when you went on the offensive. If this is to be your fighting style then it needs to be refined. My doors are open to you to learn just that. My staffing is small and my agency is located outside of the cities, so your privacy will be respected; I understand the public has had a more vocal opinion about your victory than a child may like. I assure you I find you interesting. Best of luck on your future.


Izuku did not recognize the name of the hero, noting only its use of his alias where Endeavor had shared his true name. What did catch his eye was the contrast in attention this other hero had given him, completely unaware of any personal connection or involvement with the mysteries of his powers, and choosing to take his word at face value. The green-haired teen found it inviting, deceitful as his position was to the hero's knowledge.

The offer was enticing, too. He had not expected Hunter's teachings and style to stick with him past the Sports Festival, not once he had a bat in hand and could continue with his defensive-weapon training and reignite his odd power more frequently — he still played with the theory the bat had more to do with it than the inanimate object was leading on — but his days relaxing and hiding at home made him grow antsy to spar with the older teen again. Hell, he could maybe find a way to incorporate it into his use of a bat like it was an extended arm. And a hero was offering an opportunity to learn both? Endeavor's request could provide him with a chance to train beside a classmate and study beneath one of the best, but maybe a teacher who could provide similar training would be better.

"So, Metal Bat," Ojiro greeted him, appearing only to plop down on his desk and lean against the wall, "you got actual letters and not hate-mail the teachers forgot to filter out, right?"

"They are real," Izuku answered, handing off his second letter as proof for his tailed friend. "Though maybe I'm having a hard time believing them. I doubt Yuei would let us go with heroes they can't trust to not take advantage of us. Maybe I'm just antsy or something, I don't know. Maybe I'm self-conscious about my hair now, if I'm going to walk around in public and in costume during the work study. Do you know any industrial-hold hair styling products—" He shut his mouth as a tail folded over his head, and its owner climbed off his desk with wide eyes. "What?"

"You got a draft letter from Silverfang?" the blond boy asked, his voice a tinge higher in volume.

"You know him?"

Ojiro whacked Izuku's shoulder with the back of his hand. "He was like the most successful martial arts hero almost half of a century ago; like around when All-Might started, if not before. He made a whole fighting style with his quirk and taught sidekicks and students how to use it at his dojo. But I thought he closed his agency like a year ago, around when we met. I haven't heard of him being active anymore."

The quirkless teen furrowed his brows, pushing off his desk to stand beside his friend and read the letter again. "Maybe he became an underground hero? I know some older heroes become less publicly active if they're still licensed. I don't think he could send me a recommendation otherwise."

"I didn't even see him on the general list! I guess you can only get a work study under him through a draft pick." The tailed teen slammed the letter into Izuku's chest and poked him through the paper. "You better put in a good word for me. He is the greatest martial arts hero of all time. You don't know how lucky you are."

The green-haired teen drew the letter into his pocket, lifting his backpack with his other hand to hang by his legs. "I have a guess," he argued. "I am thinking of accepting it, but it's either him or my only other option. I don't really know how many of the general list are opening their doors to me."

"Midoriya, we're hand-to-hand combat heroes. What's a better option than this?"

Izuku gazed across the room to the still sitting Todoroki before looking his friend in the eyes again. "Endeavor."

Ojiro's mouth opened and closed at a silent comment. He spun to stare at the son of the number two hero for a few seconds before looking away with a huff. "Yeah, that's actually a really big offer. He was your other draft?" The green-haired teen nodded. "Shit," the tailed boy summarized.

"My thoughts exactly," Izuku sympathized. "He's the number two hero for a reason, and far more publicly active than Silverfang. There's a lot I could learn from him, it's just…"

His voice trailed off as he gazed across the room and stared hesitantly at the dual-hair-colored boy still seated motionless at his own desk. The conversation upon the stairs Endeavor had with him relayed in his head — the older man's hidden pleas to save his son from self destruction beneath the compliments he gave the quirkless teen — contrasted with his son's words from their fight on the field. He ignored it in the battle, clouded by his own frustration over his super power, but he should have noticed what was wrong; how the boy said to be rebellious acted with an anger originating far deeper. Something didn't add up, and maybe it wasn't in his place to dig for the truth.

But he was the class president. More importantly, he was a hero student. And more importantly still, he wanted to be a friend. Hesitation be damned.

"There's something I need to do first," he declared, watching as Todoroki collected his belongings and made to leave. Izuku did the same, passing his tailed friend an apologetic look. "I might be a minute. I'd say don't wait up for me but I really wanna know what drafts you guys got, so I'll see you in a bit?"

Ojiro agreed with a sigh, following up the green-haired teen's gaze to the dual-haired boy exiting the classroom. "I'll be at the lockers. Just don't come back in blood, please. Or at least just in his."

"I'm not fighting him. There's something I need to clear up with him the most, if I want to be someone everyone can trust."

"I think he could benefit from trying the same. Do you have faith in that?"

Izuku chopped his friend on the chest lightly, signaling him to stop. "See you downstairs," he agreed for the meetup, before he slung his backpack over his shoulder and rushed after the other boy.

The son of Endeavor had already made it down the first bend of stairs before Izuku caught up with him. "Todoroki," he called the other boy's name as he came barreling down the stairs after him, and the teen stopped at the next bend of the stairwell to look at him. "Can we talk?"

Todoroki stared at him analytically in silence, squinting his eyes in the end. "What about?" he inquired.

"Our fight." The wrong answer, apparently, as the dual-haired boy gave him the cold shoulder and continued his descent, and Izuku cursed under his breath and chased after him. "What you said during our fight," he clarified as he followed the other boy. "Can we please talk about that?"

"Why?" Todoroki questioned again, though without stopping his trek downwards. "You made it clear already that you don't believe me. What more is there to discuss?" Izuku groaned as he stuttered his step, apologizing in his head to his good, tailed friend before leaping over the railing of the stairwell and stumbling on the lower steps in front of the dual-haired boy, catching himself with the handlebars.

"Because I didn't know what the fuck you were talking about," the green-haired teen admitted, pleading up to the shock-frozen boy now above him. "I wasn't listening to you — actually listening to what you said. I didn't get it, and I didn't try to, and I'm sorry. You had something to say to me, and I wasn't hearing you out. So please, let me try again."

It took a few seconds for the surprise to wipe off the other boy's face, returning to the suspicion-riddled gaze Izuku's way. "Why would I tell you now? Why do you care?"

"Because I know you're not an asshole." Maybe too blunt, if Todoroki's unamused frown was any indicator. "But I treated you like one. And I shouldn't have. I was angry with things that weren't you and it bled into how I acted. That was my fault, and I don't want that to be how things are going forward. I lied to my friends and I'm making sure never to do that again. I treated all of our classmates at arm's length when I should have trusted you all. I threw my frustrations at you when there shouldn't be any bad blood between us. Please" — he bowed his head low, holding on the bars to keep his face from falling into the steps — "give me another chance."

Izuku waited what felt like minutes, holding his head down as the cold air tickled the back of his neck. He couldn't expect all of his classmates to become friends with him, and he wasn't going to ask that of them, but he still wanted to try. Bad blood had been made between them all, and none more so than the dual-haired boy before him now. There was something more to Todoroki's argument from the fight than the surface-level debate on whether or not they were alike, and Izuku had a responsibility as his class president and as a hero to figure out what he was missing to understand the full picture.

Eventually Todoroki's response did come, as he muttered, "Not here," and led Izuku back up the stairs into the closest floor. They passed by other students making their exit, and few second- and third-years Izuku didn't recognize until they ducked into a branching empty hallway. Todoroki took to leaning against the wall, and Izuku moved to stand opposite of him, waiting for the other boy to speak.

"What do you think I wanted to say?" Todoroki asked him after a moment of thought. "In our fight. During the festival."

Izuku considered his own response, biting the bullet one more time on being blunt. "Why you hate your dad," he answered. "Why he wants you to succeed him, and you want nothing to do with him. Why you thought that makes us alike."

The dual-haired boy's reaction was far more subdued than his last few, lowering his head to study his own hands. The difference between father and son's words is what bothered Izuku the most; the dichotomy of their perspectives. And where, in all that, he fit in. Why would Todoroki know anything about his dad or how he felt about him, only to end up so wrong in the comparison?

"I'm not his successor," Todoroki clarified, eyes frowning with his glare, the scar that marred the left side of his face squinting with it. "I'm his prize creation."

Nedzu knew the world was confused; he didn't have to read the papers to repeat what he already heard. Everyone knew of the quirkless boy enrolled in the school's heroics program, the boy who won the Sports Festival, and after pressing and persisting for an early leak of information, the principal had given the press the words they needed to hear: "It's true." They weren't the words those humans wanted, but respectfully, he didn't care.

Such brevity, however, could not fly by his own staff; a reality he understood and planned but a small meeting around. It is what brought the three years of Class-A heroics homeroom teachers to his office, and the emancipated Yagi behind his desk while Nedzu took stock atop it.

"As you men are aware," the principal began, looking over the teachers who sat shoulder-to-shoulder, "I will be away aiding in an investigation for a few days, while your students and many others are away on their work studies. I am entrusting you three in watching over the remaining student body and your coworkers while I am gone. Distribution of responsibilities, daily announcements, and assuring everyone's behavior is in line will be on your shoulders. And yes, this is about Midoriya."

Aizawa huffed through his nose, staring blankly at the principal over his capture scarf. "We've already talked about this with the rest of the first-year staff," he reminded Nedzu. "No one has a problem with Midoriya; we've established this."

"And I entrust you to ensure that remains true while I'm not looking," Nedzu thanked him.

Sensoji, Class 2-A's homeroom teacher, puffed his chest and crossed his arms. "I'm offended you'd think we'd bully a student over this," he grumbled at the short superintendent. "How long were you expecting to keep that from everyone? Was I going to learn it only if he made it into my class next year? My students accused you of withholding information because I didn't know what to tell them about him."

"Then remind them they are not entitled to personal information about other students they don't know. Tell any who have a problem with his enrollment in their junior course that they will have a mark on their record for bullying and discrimination." The Blasting Hero was prepared for that, handing Nedzu a short list plucked from his pocket that was passed along to Yagi to search for through the principal's computer.

The third-year homeroom teacher hummed and took a swig from his silver flask; Nedzu still found it funny how the man hid his healthy drink in such a profane case. "I'll make sure no one gets on the kid's case about it," Kishibe reported flatly. Through his blank expression, his eyes glinted at his superior. "Though I wonder why you didn't put him in General Studies for his first year. If you wanted a kid without a quirk to enroll as a hero, why not let his first year be partnering with the Support Course to make the proper gear he needs?"

"You and I both know that is unnecessary," Nedzu chided his staff, maintaining a smile on his face. "The Support Course already partners with their heroic course classmates, and he has more than proved himself already capable without the requirement for tools and gear. I have no reason to drop a student from a course when he more than excelled in the entrance exam where many of his peers did not."

Instead of challenging, Kishibe shrugged with a grunt. "As long as you know where the kid is safest," he conceded. He offered his flask to the thin blond man staring at him from across the desk, but the disguised hero turned the offer down immediately.

"Of course he would be put in Shouta's class," Sensoji laughed, bumping his old classmate in the shoulder. "Who else would assure us a quirkless kid wasn't trying to pull the wool over our eyes?"

"I inferred Shouta would be a better teacher to Midoriya than Kan," Nedzu quickly clarified, interrupting the dark-haired man's immediate glare to his coworker. "His means of combat and item utility offer a perspective for his student that Vlad does not have the same experience with. If all I needed was the truth of Midoriya's quirklessness, what use would there be in enrolling him in Shouta's class?" Mister Blaster took the answer with a shrug of acceptance, and Nedzu gave him and Kishibe another look. "I expect the rest of my staff to be as understanding as you, and to teach your students the same. Rest assured he is where he needs to be, and where he is best. I expect no one to question that again."

Both men agreed, assuring they would pass along the word and carry out their duties in his absence. They left not too long later, lists of chores and tasks in hand, leaving Aizawa the only one still seated before Nedzu. The underground hero was silent, glaring at the principal over his scarf, but he paid it no mind. He turned to his computer instead, gazing over the faces of his students Yagi had pulled up on his computer. Fine children, he already knew, though maybe a lingering vendetta against their first homeroom teacher for expelling them from last year's Class-1A remained.

It was only a minute of silence longer before Aizawa broke the spell. "Why did you tell the press he was quirkless?"

Nedzu waved away Yagi's quizzical gaze to the dark-haired man and redirected his attention to the screen. He himself turned back to his employee, stuffing his paws in his pockets. "Are you suggesting I should have lied?"

"Yes," he didn't hesitate to answer. "Midoriya isn't really quirkless, and you know that. But because you continue to withhold information from the public and the rest of the school staff, we now have the press targeting Midoriya with decrepit harassment and hate. As much as you might want society to act like adults, they're not. You've painted a target on Midoriya's back — on a child's back — that he neither deserves nor should have."

"Then were I to tell the press Midoriya's words were not true, and have them act as though he is one of their own? Presenting him as a liar to the public is not good for growing an image."

"At least then they'd piss off over it after a week," Aizawa pushed back as he took a step forward. "So a kid fibs in the middle of a high-adrenaline fight, so what? It's news that would be drowned by the same, eye-catching garbage they print every week, and it wouldn't be a problem Midoriya would have to look over his shoulder for on his way to class every damn day. It wouldn't have been a problem for the heroes scouting them for interns, either. So why tell them that he's quirkless?"

"Because Midoriya asked me to," Nedzu answered, soaking in the surprised looks of his employees. "Your way of thinking is not wrong; I came to the same conclusion myself. It's not a lie in an important enough scenario to catch eyes or become drama even the vultures would follow with our name's draw for clicks. Most heroes would overlook such a 'misspeak' if it were to be called so. And as Midoriya comes to harness his strength to its fullest potential, the public would make their own assumptions of a quirk without us. But it would set an image he could never grow out of, believed by so many more to be in possession of a quirk when he so desperately wishes to align with the quirkless identity. Midoriya has come to understand the white lie he wished to save face with his classmates could not hold up forever nor lead to trusting and meaningful relationships, and we're lucky he's come around on the idea so soon; I could not imagine his reputation would survive if he persevered for too long."

Aizawa's nose scrunched with scrutiny. "Then why allow him to lie in the first place?"

"He had to grow. The boy had a shell placed around himself he wasn't willing to let go; forcing it open couldn't guarantee his closest friends would remain faithful, for all those he spread the lie to. And the growing awareness of his true power complicating the matter would only dig his grave deeper, for those who did not know and those he would try to convince later in life. He had to come to the conclusion himself and share the truth of his own free will — an earnest action to dissuade any ill-intent one would assume of his choices. I thought the word to the press should be of his own volition, too, before I officially released a statement. His image should be his to cultivate. I will do my best to dissuade the naysayers of the press and those they appeal to; I know you're smarter than to assume I'll take such harassment of any one of my students lying down."

The black-haired man stared down at him silently, likely mulling over Nedzu's defenses and answers for the 'logic' he so aspired to; an endearing aspect of his character, the principal mused, even if it brought them to butt heads. Aizawa instead turned his glare to the blond haired hero sitting silently in the corner. "I take it you had something to do with this too?"

Yagi knitted his brows as he looked down, and then to Nedzu for his approval to speak. "I've discussed with young Midoriya, to a small degree, of his own views on his strength and what he makes of it," the number-one hero explained. "The rest I've pieced together myself from his actions and his words these past few weeks" — his hands gripped together in his lap — "and from when I first met him. Midoriya is not only accepting of his quirkless identity, he's latched onto it like an infant does their parents. We've found little evidence of a quirk in him beyond what we see with our own eyes, and he's taken that gap of evidence to deduce he's not truly changed any. If he really is genetically quirkless, yet is capable of achieving such wild feats of strength, I think he'd rather attribute the two together than label it under the part of society that belittled him for things out of his control."

It was a choice that excited Nedzu, truly. He made no mistake in acknowledging the shortcoming of his own place in society; he was a lab animal with a quirk who was allotted into the rest of society simply because of that latter detail. Such an open door in his path couldn't have been left unchecked, and he had no regrets abusing that acceptance to take his position of influence and power from the humans that succeeded him. His achievements were attributed to his own name, no one else's, a luxury of status he hadn't imagined for himself so many years ago.

But Midoriya Izuku sat in an opposing ballpark. His attribute of the quirkless gene had many who look at him simply veer their heads and look the other way, robbing him of potential attention that would assist in his climb in society. And his paradoxical feats of strength, durability and endurance were robbed of that connectivity, credited to the perception of quirks cultivated over the decades in contrast to their previous stage of evolution as the human race. The boy was fighting to tether two opposing worlds together, and the more awareness his actions took on, the greater the opposition to maintain the status quos he would receive.

"You were with the boy when he awoke from his injury sustained at the Unforeseen Simulation Joint," Nedzu reminded the underground hero. "You saw him connect the dots and come to realize the situation that had been alluding himself for months, a contradiction of information he had been living under for all his life and that we were prepared to judge him for ourselves. The world had been in control of his future until the moment he decided a new name for himself, and it led him to a new point in life where it tried to tell him it had all been a lie. He has not had the pleasure of paving his own path as we were given, at one point or another in our lives." He watched as Aizawa's eyes finally drew downwards. "You were there when he panicked; when he thought the world had once again robbed him of agency and led him down a path he was already growing his own opposition against. He had his closest friends lie on his behalf and life was turning the lie on them. He had chosen to become a hero who could without a quirk and the world was telling him he had power. He does not wish for such an upheaval of how he understands himself to continue for the rest of his life. Midoriya does not wish to be a passenger along for the ride in his own story; he wishes to be the one who writes it. His identity and his strength will be his, even if by some cosmic power we learn neither to be his own. I do not wish to rob him of that choice."

The fire in the underground hero's eyes had died, replaced with the somber glimmer Nedzu knew the man despised. The principal could see Yagi in a similar state, wordlessly comparing his own life to the boy's in his head; he wouldn't be surprised if he was questioning the choice of his quirk once more.

"We're shoving a kid into a light he shouldn't have to be in," Aizawa mulled softly.

"We are only rolling with the punches, Shota," Nedzu explained, equally light in tone. "I am not asking you to be happy with it, just to help support him on the path forward. We cannot dwell on the past forever — to allow ourselves to be consumed by the 'should have been.' We cannot change the past, but we can be here to assure the future does not rewrite it. Can I trust you with that responsibility?"

"Just because I think you're both being idiots doesn't mean I stopped caring," the underground hero bit back, but with the distant look in his eyes he nodded right after. "He is still my student, that fact remains, and his safety is my responsibility. I'll be held to that. But my concerns remain." He pivoted his gaze to Yagi once more, and solemnly asked, "And what will be done about All For One?"

Nedzu didn't have to look to know the question threw Yagi back, as he raised his own snout and pursed his lips at the sudden subject. "You believe he has something to do with this?"

"I suspect he'll insert himself into this somehow if he hasn't already," Aizawa answered, still keeping his eyes on the number one hero. "You said you suspected him originally behind Midoriya's powers and the confusion he introduced us to, until the kid nearly lost his head twice on our own campus, one of which was from his attacking forces. Maybe he has nothing to do with the boy's power or his quirkless genome, but now he knows what strength he has from the attack on the USJ and that we support the quirkless name with the Sports Festival. A man well outliving his own face with the power to take and give quirks; you don't think he'll show interest in Midoriya as some experiment to hunt for like he has you?"

That exact thought had already crossed their minds, Nedzu answered internally. It was unavoidable now, since the criminal had made his survival known to All-Might only after they had thoroughly assaulted their student body at the USJ; they may have introduced themselves with the intent to kill the number-one hero, but their escape meant they had a basic understanding of certain few students and their powers. Sir Nighteye had argued on the blond hero's side in a private meeting that the Sports Festival would only compound those woes, showcasing the students' fullest knowing that man would likely be watching — if he did have any eyes left to see with. Ultimately they were overruled, and the general benefit for the entire student body outweighed the chance of danger it put them in. And though defeated in argument, Yagi made a pledge that the principal could not change.

"I'll kill him before he gets the chance to," Yagi croaked for Aizawa to hear and Nedzu bowed his head, conceding just as he had before; above any morals came the safety of the children. "The day he shows what remains of his face, I will correct the mistake I made in not being thorough enough. I won't let him lay a hand on any one of these children."

Izuku liked Endeavor, just as he did every hero; even those he had sour meetings with. Maybe it was his infatuation with All-Might at the time, but Izuku never remembered harboring contempt for any hero. It was their job to protect and save, it was their choice to register and bear that weight of responsibility. They couldn't be bad people — they couldn't be criminals or villains — and though they could make mistakes, that's all they were; misunderstandings and mistakes.

He never thought they were capable of being abusers.

It was a silly and unrealistic take, looking at it critically. Heroes were people — they were human — and they were capable of the same faults as regular people; Izuku knew that first hand. But even those heroes Izuku knew for their mistakes needed to work by a strict moral code, right? A unanimous understanding of right and wrong shared between them to qualify as the people's defense against wrong-doer's; even the less popular he barely knew of, knew that.

But Endeavor bought a wife from a struggling family, forced child after child from her until the one he wanted came into the world, and broke his family apart through his abuse of them each; one to their own death, another to resentment and distancing, and the mother to mental hospitalization through scarring their child. That wasn't a hero.

When the silence after Todoroki's story grew too long, the only words able to first leave Izuku's mouth were, "I'm sorry."

The dual-haired boy turned his head away from the apology. "None of it was your fault," he clarified. "It was all my father's choice. My brothers and sister were born for his ego, same as I was. My mother went insane from his control and demands. You don't have to apologize for anything."

"I can apologize for beating the crap out of you," Izuku offered, "and not listening or hearing you out before. I made my own assumptions about you, and blamed you for things that aren't really your fault. I can be sorry for that."

Todoroki looked down at his own hands quietly, and Izuku watched him the same. Details he once thought he knew about the scarred boy had been replaced with something far more believable than egotism. A rebellion against his father for the abuse he suffered for years. A mother he didn't blame for his scar because she was driven insane. A fire he refused to use because it had taken the life of his eldest brother. Any and all frustrations Izuku had with his classmate had diminished from the story alone. He only wished there was more he could offer than words.

"I heard you got an offer from my father's agency," Todoroki brought up, looking at the green-haired teen again. Izuku plucked the paper in question from his pocket, reading between the lines written by the second-highest ranked hero in Japan. "I could tell you respected him to some degree, or maybe still do. I know, despite how he has treated my mother and my siblings, he is second to All-Might for a reason. There are many people alive and safe because of him, and that is something I can't ignore no matter how much I hate him. But he's been more quiet since the Sports Festival. My loss to you and your announcement for being quirkless has…mellowed him, oddly enough." Izuku could see that in the man's writing; the notion he even harbored anger at his son for not using his fire in the fights challenged by his choice words. "My father still offered me the same opportunity, or something alike. Will you be accepting it?"

Izuku examined the letter a moment longer before folding it away in his bag. "No. You're right; he's the number two hero for a reason, and there is still a load of good he has done. But I don't think there's anything I can learn from him. And after this? I don't think I want to. Or can. My mom tells me I should report things like this, but I'm not sure if anyone is going to listen to the quirkless kid right now. You should, especially to Aizawa or the principal if you're still in danger."

Todoroki shook his head. "Father hasn't done any of that in years, since I entered middle school. He doesn't touch Fuyumi, or Natsuo. I don't see him as a threat, just an annoyance. I'll consider it if that changes." He paused for a second, pursing his lips in thought. "Apologies that I still do not believe you to be quirkless. With your feats of strength and your father's power, it's hard to wrap my head around."

Izuku nodded along, brushing a finger over his knuckles. Convincing Todoroki and the rest of his classmates that both were true — his strength and his lack of a quirk gene — was still going to be a challenge. Hopefully his understanding of himself could find a definitive answer, one evidential enough to—hold on.

"Wait, my dad?" Izuku looked at the dual-haired boy quizzically. "What are you talking about?"

Todoroki, without blinking or missing a beat, replied, "Your father. All-Might."

The green-haired boy could feel the words throw him into the wall behind his head. "You think All-Might's my dad?"

Several seconds of silence passed, Todoroki looking as sheepish as someone could with a placid expression. "Is he not?"

"No!" Izuku raised his voice in exclamation. "All-Might's not my dad! Why…Have you been thinking that this whole time?"

"I thought it was obvious," he answered with a shrug, almost ignorant to the green-haired teen's bafflement. "You have the strength and the good looks to come from him. He seems to dote or focus his attention on you more than anyone else; protective like a parent should be. I…Originally I assumed you looked at him as I have my father. Am I mistaken?"

Shelving away the comment about his looks to unravel for another day, Izuku waved his arms dejectedly. "He is not my dad. We're not related. I" — he bit his tongue for a moment of thought, before choosing to bite the bullet and share — "met him a year ago, for the first time. He saved me from a villain attack; well, attacks. Asked him if I could be a hero without a quirk — before I could do all this — and he said no. But he's been backtracking on that since we've been here, supporting me doing this. Making amends or some shit, that's all this is."

He wondered if the dual-haired teen finally believed him, when the said teen gazed away stoically. He wondered more if this was all a strange attempt from Todoroki to reach out to someone like him; to someone who would understand him; for what sounded like the first real friend he ever had. So Izuku contemplated through their shared silence, on what he should do.

So he started with a faint laugh. "Funny thing, actually; my dad had a fire quirk too." That piqued Todoroki's interest, or at least earned the green-haired teen his full attention. "He could only breathe fire, and it wasn't really that strong on its own. He didn't use it a lot. Mom told me he hoped I would get his quirk, or something like it, once I was on the way. Apparently he doted on me more than she does now, but…I don't remember any of it." His own eyes drew down a moment, painting the floor with the flashes of his memories. "After the doctors said I wasn't getting a quirk, it stopped. I knew dad as always away on work, always overseas, talking to him through a phone or computer most of the year. He didn't hurt me, or harm me, or really say anything outside of wanting me not to be a hero; his money is why mom and I've lived off just fine. And I don't hate him for it, though I probably should too. Because I know he and mom were just looking out for my safety.

"But I get it," he continued, "being at odds with what your dad wants with you. I think he does care for you, more than just this desire to succeed through you, somewhere under all that. Doesn't excuse him any, I won't argue that. But when we talked he…in his twisted way asked me to help you. He wants you to grow, wants you to succeed — even if it's to satisfy his own dream, it's not like he could reap all the benefits of you achieving it. The right things for the wrong reasons." A duo of blond-haired individuals flashed in his mind, eliciting a sour grumble from his throat. "Yeah, I can see why you thought I was a lot like you. Maybe it's a good thing I don't have my dad's quirk."

"I think I would have hated you more, too."

Izuku snickered, clapped his hands on his knees, and pushed himself up to his feet. "I'll take that as saying you don't hate me enough now. Which is good because I don't want that to be our relationship; I'm supposed to be the class president, and I can't do that holding knives at each other's throats." He offered a hand to the dual-haired boy. "I'm sorry I vented my frustrations out on you during the festival. You didn't deserve any of that, nor were you ever the target it was meant for. I'd like to start over; as friends, if you're alright with that."

Todoroki studied the hand for a moment. "Even if I still don't believe you're quirkless?"

"So long as we don't fight each other anymore, I don't care if you believe me or not." That was enough for the dual-haired boy, accepting the hand and rising to his own feet. "I've worried enough about that. I'd rather not bicker about the finer details if it won't change anything between us."

The dual-haired boy nodded, accepting his words for now. Which was good for Izuku, given the trek ahead to find the answers. He had a lot of trust to mend, and talking it out with Todoroki was only one step ahead; hopefully he didn't have to hear a similar story from everyone to clear the air, that would be disheartening.

"You received a second recommendation, right?" Todoroki mentioned as the two grabbed their bags and made their way down the school's stairs. "I assume you'll be training with them for the work study."

The green-haired boy nodded, tapping the other note in his pocket. "I think I will, if Mashirao's word is anything to go buy." He could see the tailed-boy in question waiting down the hall by the lockers, and waved at him and the rest of his friends waiting beside him. "I think he's a hero I can learn something from."

Heroes were despicable creatures.

Humanity had devolved and diminished its own growth in many ways, but Garou thought the worst of it all came after quirks. Following the worldwide civil wars and identity reformation of human civilization as it knew itself from the newest genetic evolution, people fetishized the concept of heroes, and went so far as to make them a reality — no, a necessity. Criminals and thieves became villains and masterminds, and no villain was without their hero. Quirks went from being ostracized to being the ostracizer — society made outcasts of one another — and pushed everyone to an age of glorified heroism.

Beyond the general public's treatment of the now quirkless and the identity of 'villainous quirks,' humanity shot itself in the foot by becoming so reliant on the choices of heroes; even lawmakers and the average police force bent to their whim. There was no other reason for cities like Hosu to exist; decayed, decrepit, and near sparse of heroes. As heroism was a profession, the business looked where the truly despicable yet glamorous laid — pickings for their ratings and public perception — but Hosu's dingy streets and dark alleyways only housed low-lives and the struggling. Helping the in-need didn't garner the attention and fame of fighting away evil, so the high heads turned tail and ran, and the younglings followed suit. Heroes concentrated in selected places, and only those cities got to live the lives of comic-book utopias.

But maybe that was to Garou's benefit. With hero activity low and police impassive, places like Hosu made for simple rest stops between his hunts. A few heroes at a time were no trouble at all, but a force of them were still far above his limits. And with several abandoned buildings littering the district, housing only a few of the homeless and low-level criminals, he had the space to ensure he could hide away long enough until his strength returned to him.

"Oh hey!" Climbing the steps of his latest hole-in-the-wall, Garou came across a grimy pair of fellas. They dressed like punks, and twisted their faces in horrendous sneers with their barnyard mutations meant to intimidate the silver-haired young man. "The wolf's returned! Thought you broke a leg jumping off the roof like that the other day. Guess your bones aren't that brittle."

Garou raised an eyebrow at the man talking as he ascended the steps; he was pretty sure the guy was older than him. But he gave him no greeting, and passed him by with a bump of their shoulders.

The pig-nosed man snorted, stumbling as he walked backwards to keep up with the teenager. "In fact, I think you're just the guy we're looking for. Word on the street is that appliance store gets in a fresh shipment of computers in two nights, and we need a look—"

Garou didn't let him finish before socking him in the snout, crashing through a door and however far back through the apartment he flew; Garou didn't turn his head to look. The second punk behind him shrieked like a girl, but the young man carried on down the corridor to the loft he had been stopping by. But he did slow, passing by an open door with stolen mail, when he noticed a green-haired kid on the cover of a newsletter. He swiped the paper from the pile, waving it in the air with an unregarding, "Thanks," before he dipped into his hideout.

Yuei's Quirkless Upset, the headline above described the photo of the green-haired Midoriya Izuku standing atop the victor's platform, gold medal around his neck. Though the shade of his mohawk covered one eye from the sunlight, the other eye looked to be staring directly at the camera, if not at any of the other dozens around it looking for the same shot. The silver-haired teen scoffed before he even read the article beginning beside it and tossed the paper over his shoulder, leaving it to unravel and spread pages everywhere.

Garou had already seen the kid's victory the night after, catching a broadcast replaying the fight in someone else's room. Even though it was a day old, he still cheered on the kid as he fought his quirked classmates, matching their blows with what Garou taught him on the beach. He even cheered on the kid letting his quirklessness be known, nearly waking up the drunk on the couch behind him who stole the television. And he could see it, the faint blue light that trailed behind his punches just like the old bastard's quirk; anyone else watching would just call it a light trick, now that they knew the kid was quirkless.

And the response Midoriya received was expected. As inclusive as the hero world wanted to present itself, the people wanted uniformity, similarity and comfort. They wanted powerful people with powerful quirks to protect them from 'bad people' and not having a quirk couldn't promise them that. Neither people nor heroes gave two shits about shutting down a kid's dreams to maintain the status quo. Midoriya needed to learn that, and Garou would be there to catch him and show him what the world really needed.

One page in particular flickered past his face as it fell, and Garou swiped it out of the air. A picture of the silver speedster with the Iidaten agency poised behind him decorated the center, but the text beside it headlined itself with, Turbo Hero Halted by Coma After Encounter with Hero Killer: Stian.

Garou's eyebrow twitched, his forehead above it flexing in frustration. "Huh?"

The goddamn Hero Killer. Garou knew of him barely, a name heard in passing on the streets and in littered papers the past few weeks; another man like himself targeting heroes in isolated incidents. Stain went a step further, credited with taking the lives of other thirty heroes already. An action Garou may have taken favor with had the response from heroes not been reinforced. The public was vilifying the mystery killer and encouraging the heroes to take him down, while weak heroes clumped together more and more — leaving more cities with less defenses — and the stronger heroes ate up the headlines boasting their failed work at capturing the man. Garou wouldn't be surprised if a few let him keep killing for the publicity it gave them. And now that bastard was stealing his latest credit?

Garou scoffed as he tore the paper apart. He made a mistake comatosing Ingenium like the last few sidekicks, unable to spread his name around and build himself the attention he needed. Doubly so if it was going to be credited to some ass perpetuating the cycle of society's quirked egotism. He needed to respond.

He could put the hunt for heroes on hold a moment longer. Stain needed to be removed from the equation.