A/N: Happy Labor Day weekend to my American readers!
If you haven't read it already, check out the canon omake "A Study in Purple" over on Spacebattles, written by Nystical, one of my wonderful beta readers. Also, thanks to DeepFriedMarsBars for the story thumbnail!
"Okay. It's okay. There has to be a reasonable explanation for this. I still have time, I can't be that far away," I muttered to myself, looking back and forth between the print-out in my hands and the building next to me. No matter how I looked at it, the building continued to have a red carpet in front of the doors and a giant sign saying 'Milton Hotel' over the entryway. In other words, it definitely wasn't a Hero Agency. Thinking quickly, I took the address from the official UA paperwork I was holding and typed it into my phone - even if I had somehow taken a wrong turn, my phone's GPS would know the right direction! But unfortunately, Moogle Maps popped up with a search result showing my current location, which meant that UA had gotten the wrong address somehow. That probably meant it wasn't my fault, which was a relief, but it really wasn't the best way to make a good first impression, not after I'd gotten up early and everything!
With a heavy heart, I dialed the contact number on the paperwork for my internship. It only rang twice before Mirko herself picked up. "Usagiyama," her contralto voice said curtly.
"U-uhm, Mirko-san, this is, um, Hero Student D-deku, a-and I've just reached the address on my paperwork, but-" I managed to stammer out, but before I could explain that there had been an error on the directions, she cut me off.
"Great, I've been expecting you. Come on in, I'm in the hotel restaurant, eating breakfast." Before I could come up with a response, she hung up. For a second, I just stood there like a statue with a phone to my ear, before my brain finally rebooted and I came to the belated realization that I wasn't meeting Mirko at her agency. And, you know, that totally made sense! Mirko was famous for a lot of reasons, but one of the big reasons was that she was probably the best-known Traveling Hero in Japan, so … she must be filling in for another hero right now! No longer feeling quite so mentally lost, I walked up to the front door of the hotel. An actual doorman held it open for me as I approached. I couldn't help but step forward hesitantly as I entered, the hotel was way fancier than any place I'd been in before, and I half expected them to yell at me for walking in wearing a school uniform instead of a suit and tie.
Luckily, the hotel restaurant was easy to find from the front entrance. I speed-walked my way across the marble lobby into the elevator and hit the button. The elevator traveled nearly to the roof before opening into a spacious dining room, all polished wood floor, tables with white tablecloths and massive, floor-to-ceiling windows offering an amazing view of downtown Yokohama. Gingerly I walked towards the rabbit-eared woman visible even from halfway across the restaurant. Looking not at all incongruous despite the fact that she was sitting at a table in her hero costume, I could practically feel an intimidating aura emanating from her as she finished off what looked like the remains of a breakfast so large that it had required multiple plates. Maybe that was why, even though she was famous enough to be in the top ten of the Hero Billboard Chart, nobody was sitting anywhere near her. "Um, good morning! I-I'm Deku!" I said abruptly as I came to a stop in front of her table.
Mirko's eyes met mine briefly before flickering up and down my body. "Have a seat," she said, then crammed a forkful of leafy greens into her mouth. After I sat, she finished chewing and swallowed. "So." Another pause, where she tried to figure out what to say. "You kinda suck in hand to hand. I saw the rabbit ears on your costume in the dossier UA sent, you're a fan, right?"
"I- I-" I stammered, I mean it wasn't like I wasn't a fan, Mirko was amazing, she traveled all over Japan and was a huge advocate for Heteromorph rights and had this huge reputation for working independently but also helped out on a lot of important cases but the ears on the costume were actually supposed to resemble All Might's bangs and oh god this was embarrassing but how did I let her know did I accidentally get accepted as an intern under false pretenses oh no what if she sends me home after I tell her she already thinks I'm bad at fighting what should I -
"Never mind," Mirko said with a carefree, easy smile, interrupting my panic. "Anyway, even if you kinda suck right now, you're fast, and our fighting styles are pretty compatible, so I thought I'd take a week or two and show you what it means to be a Traveling Hero. There aren't enough of us, anyway, so even though I don't really do sidekicks or team-ups, consider this me scouting you as... a co-worker, maybe?" She said, then took a long drink from a glass of orange juice. "Yeah. I'll show you what it takes to do the job and fix those shitty kicks, you show me you have what it takes to be a hero on the road, and we'll go from there. Sound good?"
I swallowed hard, my back ramrod straight as I sat on the edge of the chair. "Um. Yes!" I said.
"Great. So, ground rules before we get started," Mirko said lazily, interrupting herself to chew and swallow the remainder of a bagel. "Number one, no getting involved in villain fights. I don't need you stealing my entertainment. Number two, no breaking bones like a dumbass, I have better things to do than babysit you in the hospital. And number three, do what I tell you unless it's super dumb, blah blah blah, look, you're a smart kid and you know how an internship works and I'm already getting bored. What do you say we go find a rooftop and beat each other up for a little bit?"
Our Hero Studies textbooks had a chapter on Urban Maneuvering. At least, I'd read about iit in the table of contents - we hadn't exactly gotten there yet in class. Mirko's plans to evaluate my hand to hand were temporarily postponed in favor of her giving me a crash course in Parkour, which mostly involved her hopping effortlessly from rooftop to rooftop while I did my best to follow her and to not look down. Her morning patrol route took us up the outside of fire escapes, leaping across four-lane streets to land on a rooftop several stories down, bouncing off the tops of streetlights and wall-jumping up narrow alleyways. And it just kept going. I'd channeled 5% of One For All for what I'd thought was a long time before, but I'd never done it while sprinting flat-out for the better part of an hour, and especially not while trying to simultaneously move precisely and match an experienced hero's movements. There were more than a few times where I missed a jump and had to come up with a way to either recover or fall safely at a moment's notice, and a few other times where Mirko would land in a perfect tucked roll and I would go sprawling and have to pick myself back up. But through it all, I was determined to keep up with her, and somehow I barely managed to keep her in sight until she stopped on the nameless rooftop of an abandoned apartment building.
Panting and gasping, as I caught up I doubled over and braced the weight of my upper body with my hands on my knees, desperately trying to slow my racing heartbeat. Sweat spattered from my curly hair, dripping profusely onto the asphalt roof of the building we had come to a stop on. "Not bad," I vaguely heard Mirko say from somewhere over my head. "Seems like you can actually keep up pretty well." Suddenly, I felt a cool sensation on the back of my neck. If I had been able to breathe, I would have yelped, but instead I jerked upright and saw Mirko holding out a bottle of water towards me. "Drink," she said. "And start packing a canteen or a water bottle in your support equipment."
I nodded enthusiastically even as I reached out and took the bottle. "Thank you," I said with feeling, then drank deeply, enjoying the cool water as it passed my throat. After I finished, she took it back from me and drank from it herself, uncaring of the fact that I had just been using it. As she put it back on her belt, her eyes scanned the horizon, as if plotting out the next insane, high-speed parkour trip across the rooftops of the city. She looked restless, as if already eager to start running again. She also, um. Maybe it was just the sudden indirect kiss that set my mind running down a strange line of thought, but I suddenly understood just why Denki-kun was so jealous of me. Luckily, I was too exhausted to work up much inappropriate energy; I did my best to take deep breaths, already dreading the moment when she would turn to me and say it was time to go. Instead, she turned to me and suggested something worse. "Okay, this looks like a decent spot. Let's fight! I want to see where you're at."
"What, right now?" I said in panic. "Um, I mean, uh… okay, just, um, give me a second," I muttered, doing my best to force my leaden limbs into a combat stance.
Mirko looked at me and frowned. "Oi, that reminds me. You're not one of those dumbasses who thinks they aren't supposed to hit girls, right? I saw your fight against the gravity chick, so just so you know ahead of time, if you try that shit with me I'll just beat you until you give it up. So I recommend going full force from the beginning," she said.
She looked like she would do it, too. "No, I, um," I just hadn't hit Uraraka because, um… my face started feeling very red. "She's just a friend!" I shouted, my voice squeaking embarrassingly even as my face burned bright. "I mean, that's why I didn't want to hurt her,!" I said, maybe not entirely honestly.
The sly, knowing smile that spread over Mirko's face only made things worse, especially because now I couldn't help but notice how pretty her face was too. "A friend, huh?" She said teasingly, but thankfully she put her hands up in a fighting posture rather than dwelling on the subject. "That's good. So, let's see what you've got."
After several minutes, the answer to that question was "an impressive array of new bruises." It had been a long time since the last time I had to fight someone who was just plain stronger than I was. At 5% of One For All, only Iida-kun was actually faster than me, and he mostly moved in straight lines; the closest I had come to training with someone who could move as agilely as I could was Yukinoshita-san, and while she could hit probably harder than I could and was way better at martial arts than me I never got the sense that she was too fast to dodge. Mirko-san was. She was stronger than me. Faster. More skilled. I was completely and totally outclassed in every way. And all of it, she had accomplished through hard work and training. I was in awe. This was what it meant, to be a Top Ten Pro Hero, to be one of those standing at the peak.
And unlike me, she was standing there completely on her own. "Um, Mirko-san?" I asked in a pause between beatdowns. "Can I ask, um, what made you decide to always work alone?"
Her pale eyebrows raised, and she took a second to brush her long white hair back over her shoulder. "Well, there's a couple reasons. First of all, I can't stand people stealing my fights," she said with a savage grin that reminded me a little bit of Kacchan. "Second of all, I'm too good at my job. When I come to a town and start breaking heads, it usually only takes a week or two before all the Villains get wise and start hiding and things get boring. A partner would just speed that up."
"Oh," I mumbled. Somehow, that hadn't been the answer I had been expecting. I'd expected her to say that having nobody but herself to rely on made her stronger, or something like that. "Is that, um, why you're a Traveling Hero?"
"Mostly," she said with a shrug. "I mean, I also like the fact that Traveling Hero work is important. Nobody deserves to be abandoned because the hero of their podunk town has the sniffles, or wants to go to Hawaii on a honeymoon, and there's lots of heroes out there who run into Villains whose quirk hard counters theirs and they need someone from out of town to bail them out. But yeah, mostly it's because I get to fight like, ten times as much as if I did things the normal way."
I'd never really thought about how heroes took days off before, but thinking back on it, All Might filled in or backed up other heroes all the time. He wasn't exactly a Traveling Hero, because he had a central agency he worked out of, but he was so fast and the radius he could cover was so large that it was practically the same thing. Looking at it that way, people like Mirko and All Might weren't just great heroes on their own; they were important parts of a huge support network that helped heroes all across Japan do their jobs better. Once again, the sheer magnitude of the shoes that I would one day have to fill awed and humbled me. To get there, I would have to get stronger. Gamely, I rubbed some dirt off of my face and brought my fists back into guard position. "Again," I said, new enthusiasm burning in my chest. "I'm ready."
Mirko's answering smile was amused, but ultimately empty of malice. "Now that's what I like to hear!" She said, bouncing up and down on her toes in an effortless, light motion. I did my best to stay focused on her hands and feet. "Not everybody gets a pro of my caliber to teach them, kid, so do your best to make it worth my while!"
My internship was an utter waste of time, and it was all Class 1-A's fault! I mean, this was blatantly false advertising, right? I thought I accepted an internship offer from Endeavor, yet it'd been three whole days and I'd barely even seen the man, let alone talked to him. I could have excused it as him just being busy, but Onima, one of the "Flaming Sidekickers" (the people who my internship was actually with, apparently) had quietly let me know that 'the boss' was upset because 'he was planning on his son being here' and that his son's absence meant the plans for my internship had changed dramatically.
It was the kindest thing he could have done. I supposed that was two lessons I'd learned from this internship: some heroes don't live up to their reputations, and that just because a Pro Hero is a Sidekick doesn't mean that they won't have their own opinions, or ways of sabotaging you if they think it's the right thing to do. Other than that, while the Flaming Sidekickers had done their best to teach me and train me in Endeavor's stead, everything they were teaching me about how an agency worked and how the hero business operated was from a sidekick's perspective, and I needed to be the head of an agency.
So when the League of Villains attacked Hosu City, and instead of being able to watch a hero respond to an ongoing crisis I was relegated to civilian evacuation multiple blocks away from the action, so far away that practically nobody in the area was even bothering to evacuate, it was no wonder that I was just a little ticked off. "Excuse me! Sir!" I called out towards the lone old man on the street, who was wandering towards the distant fires instead of away. "Sir, you can't go that way!" I shouted. "The evacuation route is down this road! Please proceed to the check-in and wait for instructions from the police and the Hero Commission!"
As the diminutive old man got closer, I saw to my surprise that what I had assumed were shadows around his eyes was actually a black mask, and what I had taken for pajamas and a yellow robe was actually a white and yellow Hero Costume with a yellow cape. "Eh? Who're you?" He said blearily, his voice creaking with age. "What's going on?"
Great. Some dementia patient had escaped a nearby senior living center, either gotten all dressed up in a costume they last wore twenty years ago or confused their cosplay outfit for the real thing, and now they were sallying forth to 'respond to the emergency'. Still, even if they were a senile old man, they had asked who I was. It would be impolite not to answer. Taking an elaborate bow, enjoying the way the motion made my split-tailed suit costume flare dramatically behind me, I gave him my best professional smile. "Pro Hero-In-Training Phantom Thief, currently interning with the Endeavor Agency, at your service, sir." The old man didn't visibly react, so I stood back up and gestured down the road to my left. "There's a Villain attack happening in the area, so we're asking all citizens to make their way out of danger to the south."
"Eh?" The old man said, putting one hand to his ear. "Fontina Cheese? Never heard of ya." My eyebrow twitched in irritation. "Anyway, I'm a hero, see?" He said, gesturing down at his baggy, ill-fitting outfit. "Which way do I go to help out?"
Doing my best to repress a sigh, I gestured once again to my left. "Sir, you can be most helpful by staying safely out of harm's-" Suddenly, a violent gust of wind buffeted my face, and I couldn't help but recoil, as the old man who had been in front of me just a second ago now put one hand on my shoulder from behind. "-way?"
"Here's a tip, kid," the old man's gravelly voice growled in my ear, now suddenly completely cogent and full of energy. "Appearances can be deceiving. If a hero makes it to my age, it's because they were good enough not to die along the way." Before I could respond, he was gone, already far past me and headed to the city center.
I turned and stared. What the hell was that just now? Was he an old pro like he said? Or had that been a brief flash of lucidity amidst the senility? The hair standing up on the back of my neck said it was the first of the two… but was I sure enough to risk letting a helpless old man walk into a warzone? I switched on the radio. "Uh… Burnin? A crazy old man in a hero costume just ran right past me, heading towards the Nomu," I said, watching as the white-and-yellow blur zipped into the distance. "Permission to chase after him? He's fast, but I copied his quirk, so I should be able to catch him."
"Did he give a Hero name?" Burnin' asked.
She sighed heavily. "You can follow him for long enough to make sure he's an active hero, just in case, but as soon as you figure it out I want you back at your post. Keep an eye on side streets and intersections just in case you have to give a Pro directions to help escort the old man out."
"Yes, ma'am!" I said enthusiastically. I felt a stretching sensation in my ribs and a tingle on the soles of my feet as my body adjusted to the new quirk I'd just copied, and as I inhaled my eyebrows rose in surprise as the air I sucked in just kept coming and coming, like I was inflating a balloon inside of me. Taking up a sprinter's position, I followed the new quirk's instincts and squeezed down on that balloon. "Ohshit!" I shouted, as I was catapulted forwards, the stitching on my costume's white wingtip shoes exploding under the sudden influx of air. A disbelieving smile stretched over my face at the sheer speed, even as my gut lurched at the sudden acceleration. Violent and powerful as it was, though, it wasn't the first quirk I'd had to figure out on the fly, and I'd done years of gymnastic training specifically so my body would be agile enough to adapt to even the most unusual movements necessary to master a quirk. I would figure this one out too. Ideally before I hit the ground.
After a few seconds, I figured out... probably not the optimal way to use the old man's quirk, but at least a method that would keep me from eating concrete. By timing puffs of air with my moving legs, I could essentially walk on air, a maneuver that wasn't just speedy - it was stylish. The tails on my coat fluttered in the wind as I soared through the air like the literary phantom thieves I'd named myself after, rapidly closing on the city's main battlefield. The formerly calm cityscape was a ruin of fire and glass. Thick black smoke that stank of burnt plastic and rubber billowed from the carcass of a demolished car, while all up and down the boulevard windows were shattered and storefronts collapsed into rubble. And in the center of it all, two hulking monstrosities battled against several times their number in heroes.
My eyes narrowed with curiosity as I got my first glimpse of a Nomu. I wasn't foolish enough to get close to them, of course; I was confident that I could face any enemy that those arrogant jackasses in 1-A could fight and then some, but I was just a bit less sanguine about the kind of enemy that All Might of all people had needed help from another teacher to take down. One Nomu looked just as the rumor mill had described, a tall, black, muscular bulk with an exposed brain; the other was squat, red-skinned, and potbellied, and was setting nearby buildings on fire with noxious belches. Yet for all their menace, they were a far cry from the terror that had been described by 1-A. "What? Is that it?" I mumbled, frowning at the Villains in question. Arrayed against the two bioweapons were a variety of C-list heroes, Hosu's hometown first responders, and while they were mostly failing to hold the Nomus back it wasn't a completely hopeless fight, either. Sure, the black Nomu was kind of strong - strong enough that the bull-horned Hero trying to subdue it could only barely stand up to its mighty blows, at any rate - but it was slow and clumsy, doing damage more because it was willing to trample over everything in its way than because it seemed massively powerful. The Red Nomu's flames were more obviously dangerous, but I'd seen much larger from Burnin', let alone Endeavor.
If the foes were unimpressive, however, the C- and D-list heroes opposing them were even moreso. A man with insect wings protruding from his forearms flew up to kick at the black Nomu's face, only to be swatted aside. A hero dressed like a ninja cloned himself and began throwing shuriken at the red Nomu's face, but was summarily ignored, the scratches and scrapes he created healing back over almost as quickly as they were made. Further away, I saw a blonde woman holding back, already too demoralized to contribute to the fight. My jaw tightened. Unless I made a name for myself over the next three years, this was the caliber of hero I could expect to be able to attract to my agency, average heroes without better quirks or better prospects, heroes for whom copying their quirk would give me nothing. I only had three years to make the kind of name for myself that would let me create a team with real talent, and those bastards from Class 1-A had stolen one of my limited chances away!
As the crazy old man I had followed to the battlefield made his presence known, I got a glimpse of just how stark the difference in talent could be. With one move, the darker-hued Villain who had been rampaging unobstructed through Hosu's commercial district was suddenly flat on its back. The yellow blur that struck it didn't stop moving, jetting several stories into the air only to plunge like a falling meteor directly onto the black Nomu's stomach hard enough to crack the pavement and create a circular depression several car-lengths in diameter. He hopped back effortlessly, dodging a gout of flame; then yellow-caped veteran repeated his lunge to the sky and plunge to the ground, creating a parallel crater underneath the red Nomu. "Good news," I said, clicking the radio on. "The guy I was following was the real thing after all."
"If the person I'm looking at is the person you mentioned," Burnin' replied over the radio, "then that's an understatement." Coming from down the street, a lambent flicker of flame revealed Endeavor racing at top speed to make it to the battlefield, the Flamin' Sidekickers trailing close behind. The yellow-caped hero I had followed took a few seconds to deliver a second pair of aerial stomps to the prone Nomu, who had begun squirming and healing with regeneration, then flew over to exchange a few words with Endeavor. Only a few seconds later, my supposed mentor turned and, with an almost dismissive wave of his hand, obliterated both Nomu in a massive gout of blue fire. He didn't stop until the creatures were ash and the cracked asphalt around them had melted. This, this was what I should be learning! Rapid response and high-power quirk applications, not how to guide traffic! The scent of smoke filled my lungs as I lifted my eyes and saw a pair of silhouettes flying across the rooftops, headed to another hotspot; I ached to follow them, to chase after opportunities of my own. Instead, mindful of the dwindling time on my borrowed quirk, I keyed my radio.
"This is Phantom Thief," I said bitterly. "Returning to position."
My breath hissed in and out of my uniform's filtered mask. One For All flooded my limbs to the 5% mark, and then a little past, straining at the edge of discomfort as I desperately leapt from rooftop to rooftop, chasing Mirko's flame-silhouetted back as she charged ahead towards the chaos at the center of Hosu City. And it still wasn't enough. For three days, Mirko had trained me in urban maneuvering. For three days, I'd done nothing but chase the Traveling Hero across the rooftops of different cities, trying desperately to keep up with the bunny-eared heroine as she covered other heroes' sick days, showed up uninvited to poach other heroes' villain captures, and dropped in on small towns where the local criminal weren't used to heroes who ranked in the top thousand, let alone the top ten. For three days, I'd collapsed into heaps on hotel beds in strange cities, witnessing the life of - as Mirko put it - 'a Hero not bound to any physical location, a Hero who doesn't need an Agency', and by the end of every one of those three days, the sheer effort required to keep up with her had left me completely exhausted.
Part of me hadn't realized until now just how much Mirko had been holding back for my sake. With an adrenaline-fueled yell, I sprinted forward and leaped towards the rooftop on the other side of the four-lane road. For a second, all I could feel was the wind whistling past my face, and then my stomach lurched as momentum gave way to gravity and I started to fall. My feet clipped the rooftop only a scant few centimeters away from the roof's edge, and I threw myself forward into a safety roll to absorb the impact. Asphalt and tar ground into my back and shoulders as I tumbled in a way that I could already tell would bruise later, but with my heart racing and my breath coming in gasps, it was easy enough to push past it, to delay the pain until later. By the time I rolled back to my feet, Mirko was already at the next rooftop, the purple and white of her leotard standing out like a beacon against the smoke-blackened sky.
Gritting my teeth, I leapt towards the rickety looking fire escape, trusting to my costume's gloves to protect me from the rusty metal as I grabbed the outer railing. Rather than wasting time running up the stairs, I yanked myself up over the bar, curling my legs up into my torso so that I could get my feet in position. Then I jumped upwards, as straight as I could, knowing that jumping too far forwards would see me hitting my head on the fire escape, and that jumping too far back would see me plummeting all the way down to the alleyway far below. Every time I jumped, it was an exercise in precision and control - and every time I stopped for a second to balance, to judge my next move, Mirko was getting further and further away.
Sweat dripped from my curly hair and into my eyes as I reached the top of the building. I blinked it away, only to blink again as a harsh gust of wind filled them with smoke. When I opened them again, Mirko was still there, her gaze switching between glimpses at what looked like a gps map of some sort and the tumultuous street below. "This is as far as you go, kid," she called out as I approached.
"I - understand," I panted. Part of me wanted to stop right there and collapse for a second in order to catch my breath, but I made myself hurry over to her so I wouldn't slow her down. "No - license, right?" I asked.
Mirko turned her head just enough to look over her shoulder at me and smirked. "Even if you had one, I don't like sharing my fights," she said. "There's already too many half-assed, so-called pros getting in the way down there without adding a snot-nosed kid into the mix. But yeah, sure. Go with the license thing if it makes you feel better."
"I, um… okay," I said. Despite the bluntness of her words, I couldn't help but smile in response to them. Somehow, I could picture Kacchan saying the exact same thing.
If she noticed my unusual response to her insult, Mirko gave no sign of it, instead turning to scan the flame-covered streets below. "Now, let's see… who's here and slightly less useless than average?" Suddenly, her ears twitched, and Mirko crouched. "Got him. Follow me," she commanded, and with that she was off, somersaulting off the ten-story building towards the edges of the conflagration. Despite the dizzying height, I followed, trusting to One For All to carry me through the landing. Only at the last minute did I realize that Mirko had aimed for the top of a streetlight to interrupt her fall. She bounced off of it, turning a sharp descent into something more gentle. I didn't.
I landed heavy, shivers of pain going up and down my body as my knees and ankles protested under the sudden deceleration. It took me a few seconds for my legs to straighten enough that I could limp after Mirko, who was already talking to a Hero in a blue uniform with a fin-headed helmet. Holy crap, that was Manual. It totally wasn't the time to be asking for autographs, and it would be hard to explain how inspiring it was that he managed to make it as far as he had as the 'Normal Hero' with just an average quirk now that I had One For All, but after All Might he was one of my personal favorite heroes! "Look Mizushima, you're already keeping one kid from getting themselves killed," Mirko said to him as I got close enough to them to hear their conversation. "You can't handle one more?"
"I'm not saying I can't handle it, I'm saying that you can't just show up and, and dump your intern on me -" Manual stammered, looking totally blindsided.
"Sure I can," Mirko said with an infuriating smirk. "Bye!" With that, she bounded off, leaving me behind with a sputtering and fuming Manual.
Manual looked at me with frustration before pasting a professional smile on his face. "What's your name, kid?" He asked, but before I could answer let out a "whoops!" of surprise. He turned his attention to the nearby fire hydrant and summoned forth a torrent of water, which he then shot up over the roofs of the nearby buildings, soaking them down before the sudden flurry of wind-blown sparks could start any blazes.
"U-u-um, Deku!" I shouted as soon as it looked like he could spare some attention. "My name, I mean! I mean, not my name, my, my hero name! I - I assume that's -"
"Right, right, Deku, got it," Manual said distractedly, a wrinkle forming between his eyebrows as he narrowed them in concentration. Another gout of water launched itself from the hydrant, soaking the building next to the first one he'd temporarily fireproofed. "Did Mirko fill you in on what's going on yet?"
I winced and shook my head. "She, uh, was kind of just in the area when she heard an explosion and smelled smoke, so she just kind of… shouted 'follow me' and started coming this way?" Part of me felt a little guilty that I hadn't been able to keep up with Mirko on her mad dash across the city; maybe if I had, she'd have had time to fill me in. That is, if she even knew in the first place - I didn't exactly see her calling in to the Hero Commission or anything while we were running.
Manual frowned at my response, saying "Okay. Long story short, a team of villains has attacked downtown Hosu, apparently for the purpose of causing wanton destruction. There's no word yet on their motives or objective, so most Pro Heroes are prioritizing the evacuation of civilians and preventing the fire from spreading. Apparently the villains involved are pretty tough customers, so for now heroes are focusing on holding the villains down until the heavy hitters can make it." Heavy hitters like All Might… who might not be coming. This late in the day, after - according to the fan sites that tracked his appearances that I couldn't help but check on my breaks - he'd been spending all day running around the Musutafu area, reinforcing the illusion that his powers were still wholly intact? I doubted he had more than a few minutes left for the day, if that.
Once again, I felt an urgent need to grow stronger. To live up to the dream that All Might entrusted to me. "What do you want me to do, Manual, sir?" I asked respectfully.
He pointed to a cross street, where a ragged line of civilians had formed, swiftly moving away from the encroaching blaze. "Go help Miss Mistery," he said; "help her coordinate the evacuation. I don't have time to give you the same lesson on how to do it that I gave her, so just follow her lead." My gaze tracked his pointing finger to see a brown-haired woman in a billowing white cloak and matching top hat. Surprisingly, I didn't recognize her - was she a new hero? Had Manual picked up a new sidekick while I was too busy at UA to check hero news? For a split second I almost wanted to pull out my phone to look her up, but sanity prevailed and I nodded sharply.
"Yes sir," I said, miraculously without stuttering for once. Apparently that was enough of an answer for Manual, because he almost immediately turned back to the flames that were once more licking against the roofs of the nearby buildings. I turned as well, channeling One For All into my legs to speed myself towards the thronging crowds fleeing the downtown area. I skidded to a stop right next to the white-robed woman Manual had pointed out. "Miss Mistery?" I asked politely, glancing at her out of the side of my eyes while doing my best to scan the scene for any possible threats.
"Huh? Midoriya-san?" The heroine replied. "What are you doing here?"
Startled, I turned to look at her properly. She definitely looked familiar, but the domino mask she wore and the shadows the brim of her top hat cast kept me from immediately placing her face. Then I noticed the cloudlike curly hair framing it to either side. "Ah! Um, was it… Orimoto-san?" I asked diffidently.
"Yup!" the Class 1-B member said. "I didn't know anybody else from UA was going to be in Hosu. Did you intern with one of the out-of-town heroes chasing Stain too?" Orimoto asked.
"Technically? I think?" I said, scratching my head a little. "Mirko-san never actually told me that we were relocating to the Hosu ward because of Stain, but I saw some rumors on a few of the hero fan forums so I guess I kind of assumed that's why we were here?"
"She didn't tell you?" Miss Mistery exclaimed, giggling. "I bet she didn't want to look bad if you guys didn't wind up catching him!" I started stammering to try to defend Mirko, but before I could say anything Miss Mistery started looking around. "So, Mirko, huh? That's pretty cool! Where is she? Do you think she'd give me an autograph?"
I winced. "She, um…"
One hastily stammered explanation later, Orimoto was laughing so hard some of the people evacuating took notice. "She just left you with Manual? That's hilarious!" I felt my cheeks flush with embarrassment, but her laughter didn't feel particularly mean-spirited, just full of genuine amusement. "Okay, so Manual said the most important thing for us is to stay visible and keep people calm. Since we're total amateurs and we're not allowed to use our quirks unsupervised, we're not supposed to do things like shift rubble out of peoples' way or pull people out of windows and so on, but we're allowed to help people normally, without our quirks I mean, and we can give them directions." Saying that, she stepped forward to get the attention of a new pair of civilians that had just wandered into sight. "Please stay calm and keep going!" She shouted, pointing down the street we were on, away from where Manual was fighting the flames. "The evacuation point is two blocks north, on Wampa Avenue!" Her voice was calm, clear, and it carried; even from all the way across the street the civilians waved their acknowledgement and started heading in the right direction.
I was impressed. "You're really good at that!" I said to Orimoto. "I think I would have trouble telling people what to do like that."
Orimoto laughed again. "What? No way," she said, looking pleased. She had a nice smile; I couldn't help but smile in response. "I've just always had a big mouth, that's all. Besides, it's not that hard. Come on, you can do the next one."
As I took a deep breath in preparation to call out to the next batch of evacuees, I saw a flicker of movement above the buildings to the north. I tensed for a split second, but relaxed as soon as I saw it was just a train, passing through Hosu at high speed instead of slowing down to pick up passengers. And then, with a squeal of tortured metal I could hear even from blocks away, it exploded. For a second, I just stared in disbelief, until the screams I suddenly realized I was hearing snapped me out of it. "Come on!" I shouted at Orimoto. "We've got to go help!"
My legs started moving practically on their own, pumping as hard as mere muscle could propel them. Behind me, I heard Orimoto shouting to Manual, telling him where we were going, her voice growing a little fainter as I slowly pulled away from her. But even though I was faster than her, I was still frustratingly slow. The temptation to cheat, just a little; to borrow an ounce or two of strength from One For All, to be there for people in trouble just a little faster, was hard to ignore. There were a lot of reasons not to; it would be illegal, rushing unprepared into a villain engagement would be dangerous, doing so could destroy my hero career - but none of them were the reason that I kept my pace at a normal level. At the end of the day, I had faith - faith that Mirko and Manual had both given me orders to stay out of harm's way for a reason, faith that the other heroes in Hosu would be on the scene as fast or faster than I could get there, faith that they would be able to help innocents better if I wasn't in their way. So I ran, and bit the insides of my lips, and clenched my fists so tightly that I could feel my fingernails through the heavy leather of my gloves, and I prayed that my faith would be rewarded.
When I got my first glimpse of the Villain attacking the city, things suddenly got a lot more complicated - not only because I recognized it as a Nomu, but because it somehow seemed to recognize me, as well. At the very least the winged, six-eyed, flying weapon's attention snapped towards me, distracting it from its attempt to claw its way into an elevated rail car. It immediately abandoned its attack on the railway, which was a good thing, but just as quickly, it started swooping in my direction. I panicked and braced myself, channeling 5% of One For All - the prohibition on quirk use didn't apply when you were directly being attacked by a supervillain because self-defense clauses took over, and why was I thinking about legal trivia while a Nomu was attacking! I threw myself to the side as it dove at me, narrowly avoiding a grab from its clawlike feet. The breeze from its wings blew back my hair as it flapped, gaining height so that it could make another pass. "What are you doing?!" I suddenly heard Miss Mistery shout. "Run!"
Right! If its attention was focused on me, I should get it to chase me back to the Pros for reinforcements! I picked up a chunk of pavement from the street and threw it like a fastball at the Nomu, causing it to juke out of the way. "Come and get me, you, you Villain!" I shouted, and as soon as it started stooping at me again I turned and sprinted in the opposite direction. Mirko-san! I couldn't help but shout to myself. Now would be a really good time to come back!
"How long does it take a woman to change her freaking clothes!?" I shouted as I stepped back and planted a perfect right cross on a bioengineered terror weapon's jaw. I could use a change of clothes myself, at this point; a stray tongue-tentacle (and wasn't that a creepy, perverted thing to put on your war machine) had ripped the shit out of my trench coat on a dodge that almost hadn't made it. Ugh, and replacing those wasn't cheap, either. Seriously, Haruno, you're a cutthroat shark, but you're at least competent; what the hell is taking you so long?
Unsurprisingly, just like the past couple of times I'd gotten good hits in on the Nomu, the creature barely even flinched in response to the blow. The one saving grace of fighting it was that it barely had a consciousness to speak of; just about the only thing rattling around in that exposed brain it so creepily displayed was the next move it wanted to make, making reading its intentions almost insultingly clear. I ducked under a clumsy grab, using an okuri-ashi step to slide backwards as the hand I left trailing over its torso read its intention to try to pin me to the ground under its own body weight. Almost idly, I punched it where its kidney would have been on a baseline human as it passed me by, then punched it another three times in the same spot for good measure because why not, I had time. I wasn't getting any pain feedback through my quirk so I doubted it was going to slow it down any, but honestly, it had been a shitty day. Having a punching bag to work out my frustrations on wasn't the worst thing in the world.
And oh, I was frustrated. Haruno was higher on the Rankings than I was? Fine. Investigative Heroes never got the top spots. Haruno kept making cracks about my age? Whatever, I was used to her being a bitch. Haruno taking the combat style I taught her and getting famous before I could? … I kicked the knee out from under the Nomu as it made another charge at me, caught it by one arm, put my foot on its back, and pulled, twisting as I did. It would have dislocated the shoulder of most normal humans, but the Nomu was so heavily muscled that I was forced to let go and backpedal away to keep it from bashing my head in. Honestly, I could even forgive Haruno that; God knew I had never particularly cared for the whole show business aspect of things. But all of it, while playing a character who was obviously based on me, all the while intimating that I was no longer young or attractive enough to play my fucking self?
I turned to follow the Nomu as it moved past me, and as I did so I caught motion out of the corner of my eye. My heart leapt in relief before I saw who it was, at which point I erupted in anger. "Seriously?" I shouted at Director Konoe, who was huddled by the open door, having re-entered with a portable video camera in hand.
"I have to!" He shouted back. "This is the greatest action scene I've ever had the chance to film!"
I had about eighty-six million ways that I wanted to tell him he was being an idiot, but unfortunately the Nomu chose that moment to start rippling and bulging, inflating in size and muscle mass in preparation for a major attack. I backpedaled furiously, abandoning kendo footwork in favor of boxing for a little extra speed. Luckily, rather than picking up one of the storage containers littering the set and throwing it at me, it just used the additional strength to jump, leaping high into the air, its mouth and throat bulging. Fuck. I dove for cover, rolling my way into a storage container. A split second later, the Nomu's weblike tongue hit the roof of the storage container like an automatic weapon hitting the side of a car in a drive-by shooting, tendrils of disgusting flesh puncturing through the sheet metal. I danced through a forest of falling spears, relying only on my reflexes and the fact that the Nomu couldn't actually see where I was to avoid being instantly skewered by its tongue. Even then, I dodged a few blows by a razor's breadth, picking up even tears in my slacks and my vest for my trouble. "Fuck me," I breathed out as the attack finally stopped.
Then I punched a tongue-tendril flat against the metal walls of the shipping container, because apparently I had to protect a civilian in the area and I didn't need the Villain getting distracted. "Hey, over here you big ugly piece of shit," I called out as I sprinted out from cover. As its tongue retracted and it started loping on all fours after me, I felt a pit in my stomach. Not because of the Nomu, but because Campestris really should have been here by now. I'd forgotten that Hikigaya was just a kid; counted him as an asset I could rely on instead of what he was, which was someone who still needed to be protected. Almost no combat experience, me directly responsible for him, and I'd let him out of my sight! As the Nomu caught up to me with long, loping strides and pounced, I twisted to face it just in time to be pushed over backwards. My back hit the ground, but I brought up both feet into its gut, then heaved, sending it flying into some stage lighting. The power was already off, luckily, so there was no risk of it starting a fire, but the floor was once more littered with shards of broken glass and metal. The Nomu stood and stalked towards me, its bare feet crunching over the razor-sharp glass shards and leaving behind bloody footprints, but without any signs of pain. My eyes narrowed. On the one hand, a lack of a pain response meant that a lot of my usual takedowns would be relatively pointless. On the other hand, its feet weren't regenerating. Meaning it might not have a healing quirk. Meaning that I might actually be capable of permanently damaging it enough to neutralize it.
Whether I could or not, my intern was missing and my pain-in-the-ass ex-intern was probably in trouble too, so I would have to try. I pressed my cybernetic fist to the side of my jaw and pushed up and at an angle, cracking my neck, then did the same with my more 'normal' fist. Shook my hands out, then squeezed them, cracking the knuckles. Bounced up and down a couple times on the balls of my feet to get the blood pumping. "Round three, punk," I declared, as the Nomu continued walking towards me. "Get ready, because you're going down."
As if in response, the Nomu started bulking up again. It would come at me with a massive rush of superhuman strength, the kind of sheer momentum that would be suicide to block - but if I could use its momentum against it. A trip, maybe? An aikido throw, if I could get into position in time? Focus. Get ready. I'll only have one split second. The instant it moves, I'll -
"Luna Faaaaaaaaall!" It was like a bomb had dropped through the hole in the ceiling; except rather than a hundred kilos of C4, the payload was maybe forty kilos of bunny-eared Pro Hero, tanned and muscled, and it landed with a dropkick that shattered bone, flesh, and pavement beneath it. The Nomu that had been giving me so much trouble splattered under the force of her kick, while Mirko herself - because of course it was this bitch who showed up - used the rebound from the impact to do an unnecessarily flashy backflip and landed with her fingers in a V-for-victory pose. "Yo, Cyber." She said with a cheeky grin. "Having some trouble?"
I scoffed. "I had it handled," I lied through my teeth. Maybe it was a little bit petty of me to immediately raise my hackles towards Mirko when she had just saved my ass, but she and I had history. Mirko had a bad habit of stealing other heroes' arrests. And for getting credit for 'heteromorph activism' when she didn't actually do anything other than get into the top ten. Not that I was jealous or anything. "What are you doing here?" I asked, doing my best to stay polite.
Mirko rolled her eyes. "I'm responding to your emergency signal, duh," she said matter-of-factly. "Was this it?" She asked with a contemptuous gesture at the Nomu. "'Cause if you hadn't noticed, things are still kinda busy outside, so if you don't need me anymore I've got other places to be."
"I'm not sure," I said grimly, pushing back my aggravation at her arrogance. "It's not my signal, it's Campestris's." Part of me calmed down on hearing that a signal had been sent; that meant that at least Hikigaya was with another Pro Hero, but if he had found Haruno, then where was she? "I sent my intern to go find her since I left my emergency beacon in the car, and that was a few minutes ago." A lifetime, in combat.
Mirko looked longingly at the hole in the ceiling, but sighed and gestured into the darkness of the warehouse. "All right then, let's go dig the glory hound out of whatever pit she's fallen into now." Glory hound, huh? I suppose it took one to know one.
Despite the fact that I would really much rather sit and catch my breath, I gestured towards the door to the other half of the warehouse. "This way," I said.
As we jogged briskly towards the entrance, Mirko turned to me and raised a white eyebrow. "So. You have an intern this week too, huh? How are they?"
A slew of possible responses came to my lips, but eventually I settled on "anxiety-inducing, but bright. He's a good kid." And hopefully, I hadn't gotten him killed. "What about yours?" I asked, "Didn't think you did internships."
"First time for everything, I guess. He's…" She trailed off, considering the question. "Surprisingly fragile? Even when he isn't breaking his own bones like an idiot," wait, she got the first place kid from the Sports Festival? Of course she did, "just a little sparring and he's all covered in bruises. 'S why I left him behind."
"If you're thinking of doing combat training with novices, you should look into picking up some protective pads," I suggested. "I know a good supplier for stuff that'll stand up to the kind of punishment you put out."
"Sure, that sounds-" Suddenly, as we approached the door to the other side of the studio, Mirko's elongated ears twitched, then swiveled to face it. "Quiet. I hear something," she ordered. I dropped into a combat stance. Mirko froze in position for a second before doing the same, then reached out to the door handle and yanked it open.
On the other side was a panicked, bloodsoaked high-schooler, who I almost mistook for Haruno for a second before noticing the longer hair and the lavender trim on the uniform where it hadn't been sullied. "Cyberpunch-san!" Yukinoshita Yukino's eyes widened slightly as she found me standing next to the Rabbit Hero. "And, um, Mirko-san! Come quick! Nee-san was attacked by the Hero Killer Stain, and she got hurt, and the three of us took him down -"
"Tch." Mirko's tongue clicked in disappointment. I was too shocked to yell at her. Those three did what?
"- but Nee-san and Hikigaya-kun are injured, and they need medical attention," fuck, "and Shoto-kun is hurt too but not as bad so he's staying with them, and-"
"Are they stable?" I interrupted her, placing my hand on the younger Yukinoshita's shoulder to calm her down. "Or do we need to get them to a hospital immediately?"
She took a deep breath. "I, um, Nee-san is still conscious, and Hikigaya is kind of going in and out, but they both lost a lot of blood, so I dunno."
Mirko sighed. "I'm gonna leave this to you, Cyber," she said, looking disgruntled over the fact that Stain had been taken down without her. "There's still fighting going on in the rest of the city. Need me to punch through to EMS for you and call an ambulance before I leave?"
I rolled my eyes at Mirko's restlessness, but nodded. "Go." As she leapt back towards the hole in the roof I turned to Haruno's sister. "Inverna," I said, deliberately putting emphasis on her hero name to draw her attention towards me and try to keep her calm. "Do you remember where the first aid station was? Actually, hold on." I spun around and looked over towards the doorway that the director had been filming from. "Oi! Konoe-san! You still there?"
The portly director poked his head out from behind a potted plant. His curly hair and sweater-vest were covered with white cement dust from all of the concrete-shattering strikes that had landed nearby, but his eyes gleamed with enthusiasm. "That. Was. Incredible!" He began, but I held up a hand to forestall him.
"Help us get to the medical station, and then I need you to evacuate for real this time. There's no guarantee this place is still structurally sound," I said. Turning back to the still slightly shell-shocked looking young woman in front of me, I leaned in and looked her in the eyes. "Inverna. Stay with me, here. It won't do us any good rushing to help your sister without the tools to actually help, and I'm going to need you to help me find her quickly in this maze. Is your leg up for a little more running?" I asked, glancing down at the ugly gouge on her shin covered with glistening red ice.
She looked from me to the portly director, who was already puffing lightly from the effort of having run up to meet us. To my relief, a faint smile twitched at the corner of her mouth. "I won't be the one slowing us down," she said.
Emergency beacons attracted Pro Heroes like shit attracted flies, especially at the tail end of crisis situations. I wasn't about to criticize. I'd arrived late to my fair share of villain attacks in the past, and the burning feeling of powerlessness never got easier to endure no matter how many times it happened. So I wasn't surprised to see that by the time that Inverna and I made it out of the medical station, Manual, Native, and a pair of bedraggled-looking interns had already arrived at the studio and were looking for the beacon. Native saw me and waved awkwardly. I restrained a sigh. Of course I'd run into him today too. Serves me right for leaving Chiba. "Hey, you four, come help us carry these first aid kits," I shouted.
As the four of them ran up, I noticed that the green-haired kid looked kind of familiar. As I pegged him for the winner of UA's first year sports festival (and therefore Mirko's intern) I couldn't help but notice that his hero costume was all ripped to shit, covered in tears and scratches. Holy shit Mirko, you maniac, I thought to myself. What the hell do you consider 'sparring'?
As I ran as quickly as I could back towards Manual, it was becoming increasingly clear that I had made a mistake. I made the decision to run towards the sounds of danger because my emotions wouldn't let me stand there doing nothing; now I was sprinting back the other way because I couldn't do anything. Not to protect the people who had been attacked, and not to protect myself either. I pushed my body to its limits, trying to outpace the bat-winged villain bearing down on me. Five percent of One For All crackled around my legs like lightning. My recently-abused knees and ankles protested the sheer stress I was putting on them. And the Nomu still closed on me with frightening speed.
I'd barely gotten a quarter of the way back to Manual before claws with the strength of iron had latched around my shoulders and started lifting me up towards the sky. The rubble-choked street and smoldering buildings to either side of it dropped away below me, and I did my best to remind myself that I had been just as high up when I was roof-running with Mirko under my own power. It didn't help much. Wind whistling past my ears, I put my hands around the Nomu's ankles to try to shake myself free; but unfortunately no matter how much I pulled, its grip never slackened. I just didn't have the leverage. "Let me go!" I shouted.
"Hang on, Midoriya!" Miss Mistery shouted from below, sprinting all-out to try to keep up with the creature carrying me away. She erupted into what looked like clouds of white steam, billowing out of her white cloak and top hat, and as the billowing clouds stretched up towards me I could just about make out her face. That was, until the Villain carrying me's wings beat and summoned an intense downdraft of wind, too intense for even its impressive wingspan. Part of me wondered if it had a secondary quirk that was helping it, even as the rest of me wanted to groan in dismay. Orimoto's cloudy body reacted to the sudden gale as if it had been punched. She fell to the ground even as the Nomu soared ever higher above the roofs of the nearby buildings.
I could probably still land unharmed at this point, but we were getting higher and the Nomu showed no signs of stopping. I'd promised Mirko that I wouldn't break any of my fingers like I had in the Sports Festival, but I think even she would agree that this was an emergency! As I forced my arms to bend despite the talons clutching my shoulders, and clutched my left wrist with my right hand to aim at the Nomu's head, I braced myself. Not just for the pain of a broken finger, but for the focus I would have to immediately afterwards reclaim in order to land unharmed. If only it would fly above a building! Just as I was about to let loose, however, a flicker of movement in the night sky above me changed my mind.
Surrounded by a glowing totem of a massive eagle, a hero in a brown jumpsuit, wearing a fur cape and a feathered headband, plunged towards us from a nearby skyscraper. "Eagle Totem Dive!" He shouted, a strange echo accompanying his voice like a screeching bird of prey. The hero collided with the Nomu from above, sending all three of us into a tumbling fall, and more importantly taking us over the roof of a nearby building. Seeing an opportunity, I grabbed the legs holding my shoulders and yanked myself up like I was doing a hanging leg raise, jackknifing my feet forward until they were parallel to the ground. If the Nomu had been flying normally it probably could have compensated for the sudden weight change, but with it already off balance my sudden movement pulled it into a nosedive towards the roof below us. Surprised and distracted, its grip loosened, and with a powerful yank that ripped the costume on my shoulders I tore myself free of its talons, hurling myself away to land in a safety roll on the roof below. The rough, corrugated aluminum roof.
When the world stopped spinning and I managed to force breath back into my protesting lungs, I sat up and saw that the hero who saved me - who I recognized as Native, now that I had a chance to look - was harassing the Nomu from above, forcing it down towards the streets below. It was faster than him, and almost certainly stronger, but Native was getting the better of it through pure skill and determination. It wasn't the sort of thing that he could keep up forever, but then again, he didn't have to. As soon as the Nomu got close enough to the ground, a powerful whip of water reached up like a living creature and snatched the Nomu before dashing it against the ground with a mighty blow.
I stood. That last maneuver, which just had to have been Manual, had taken the Nomu out of my range of vision, and I needed to get down from the roof anyways. Wincing slightly as I got to my feet, I tapped into the inexhaustible energy roiling inside of me and ran for the edge of the roof. I jumped down the alley, bouncing from wall to wall to control my fall, then carefully peeked around the alley's edge.
When I did, I saw Native holding the Nomu down against the ground with all his might, shoulders straining as the phantasmal echo of a bear overlapped his form. Manual, meanwhile, was forcing his firehose-like stream of water into the Nomu's mouth and nose to drown it. Even with super strength and multiple quirks, the Nomu still needed air, and soon its thrashing and struggling stilled. Panic rose in my heart. "Manual-san!" I called out, jogging over to the fin-helmeted hero.
"Stay back, Deku!" Manual shouted, his eyes flicking away from the Nomu for a second to glance in my direction. "We can discuss how incredibly reckless what you just did was later," he said disapprovingly.
I winced. Hearing someone I admired say something like that stung, but the fact that Manual's water still covered the Nomu's face made me take a few more steps forward. "Manual-san, you can't kill it!" I shouted. "There might be a person in there!"
His frown, if anything, deepened, but Manual obligingly pulled his stream of water away from the now-limp Nomu. "The notification from the Hero Commission approved all measures up to and including lethal force," he said with forced patience. "And I don't know how long regular unconsciousness will keep something like this down." Even now, his stream of water hovered near the Nomu's face, ready to strike once more if it recovered. "I can respect your desire to not take a life unnecessarily, but according to the information we got from the Hero Commission these things aren't sentient."
My stomach felt sick. How many of these creatures had attacked the city? And how many had already been taken down by people acting, as far as they knew, heroically? "Hikigaya-kun - um, that's, one of my classmates," I said, doing my best to meet Manual's eyes as I spoke to convince him I was serious, "he has a power copying quirk that does analysis too. He touched the Nomu, um, the first one, at the USJ, and… he recognized one of its quirks. It belonged to his middle school friend."
Suddenly I heard a gasp behind me. While I had been focused on Manual, apparently Orimoto-san had caught up to us. "Oh my god, was it Zaimokuza-kun?" She said in horror.
"I, um, I think so?" I said, turning to look at her. Both of her hands were pressed to her mouth. "I only heard the name once, but that sounds right."
"Oh my god," she said again, quieter.
Manual sighed. "Let me see if I can call it in," he said, putting one hand to the side of his helmet. "If you're right, then lethal force definitely shouldn't still be on the table."
As Manual stepped away, Native, still crouched over the prone Nomu to keep it from suddenly waking up, turned and looked up at me with a grin on his face. "You've got guts, kid. Pulling the Nomu away from the train like that wasn't real bright, but you probably saved a few people doing it."
I felt myself flush. "I- um- that is- um- th-thank you for saving me, sir!" I stammered, bowing repeatedly to show my sincerity.
"Don't sweat it," he said easily. "And don't sweat the Hero Association, either. You either, miss," he said, indicating Orimoto-san with a nod. "I saw the whole thing with my eagle vision, and I'll be happy to testify that neither of you used your quirks until you were under attack and in imminent danger."
It definitely wasn't my biggest concern of the night, but I relaxed a little on hearing that anyway. Further discussion was curtailed by Manual walking back towards the group. "The Hero Association confirmed that the Nomu are mindless," he said with a relieved look on his face, "but having a live one on hand is apparently useful to them, so it looks like we did the right thing after all," he said. "The Association is going to redirect someone who can contain the Nomu; once they get here we've been asked to go administer first aid to an injured Pro until EMS can arrive."
I breathed out a sigh of relief. While we waited for the Pro Hero that the Association was sending to arrive, I turned to Orimoto-san. "Are you alright?" I asked her. She still looked pale underneath the black domino mask stitched into the base of her top hat, and it took her a second to respond to my words, as if she had been lost in thought.
"I-" she began, only to shake her head. "I'm just, it's a bit of a shock, you know?" Her face looked troubled. "I had no idea. Is that why -" again, she broke off her sentence, unable to find the words she wanted. "No wonder Hikigaya's changed so much."
The memory of a haunting scream of loss echoed in my ears. Now, it was my turn not to know what to say. After a few attempts that wound up with me just opening and closing my mouth, I finally settled on saying, "we'll get him, you know. The person that did all this."
Orimoto's light brown eyes met mine. "Do you know who it is?" She asked, suddenly intensely focused on me.
Oops. I probably wasn't actually supposed to mention All For One, was I? Luckily, before she could press me for answers, a member of Endeavor's agency, one of the Burnin' Sidekickers, came riding up on a piece of support equipment like an overgrown tricycle. He adjusted his horned facemask and breathed a cloud of alcohol-scented mist over the Nomu, then started restraining the Villain with some heavy-duty manacles. "I'm all set here," the sidekick said after a few minutes. "You guys should be fine to move on."
"Thanks, Onima," Manual said. "How's it looking out there?"
Onima waved his hand back and forth in the air. "No new reports of Villain sightings, and emergency services are getting all the fires under control, but Hosu definitely took some damage today. They're saying there were six of these Nomu things."
Manual grimaced, but nodded. "Thanks for the update. Stay safe." Then, turning to us, he pointed towards a nearby intersection. "We've been asked to provide first aid and protection to a group of heroes in one of the warehouses over that way," he said. "Stay alert, and don't go running off," he said, staring seriously at me and Orimoto.
Despite not having any movement quirks, Manual moved fast; I had no trouble keeping up with him thanks to One For All, of course, and Native surrounded himself with a deer-shaped aura that appeared to improve his speed, but Orimoto was a little out of breath by the time we reached the indicated warehouse. We arrived just in time to see Yukinoshita-san coming out of a first aid station with another out-of-town Pro Hero I recognized, the Futuristic Fist Hero, Cyberpunch, and were immediately pressed into service carrying first aid kits and other emergency supplies.
Naturally, of course, I asked Yukinoshita-san what she was doing here.
Naturally, of course, she told me.
While I had been protected by Pro Heroes from the attack of a Nomu, Hikigaya Hachiman had helped protect a Pro Hero from the attack of Hero Killer Stain, the most notorious serial killer in years. The tiny sense of pride I'd felt at having protected the people on the train from the Nomu evaporated in the harsh light of truth. Once again, Hikigaya Hachiman was ahead of me. If I didn't have faith that one day I would be able to control the full power of One For All, that one day I would be able to live up to All Might's legacy, I might even have gotten jealous. Instead, as we worked our way through the unusual warehouse (apparently, it was being used as a film studio) and 'movie set' gave way to 'warzone', I made a bee-line for Hikigaya Hachiman so that I could treat his wounds myself. Even if I wasn't the one who saved other heroes from Stain, I could still save a classmate and fellow hero some pain and suffering.
And anyway, it was hard to be jealous when his hands looked like raw hamburger.
After I was finished helping Hikigaya, and taking a picture of him so that he could reassure his parents that he was okay, I found myself at a little bit of a loss. I looked around to see if anyone else needed help, of course, but given that there were almost half a dozen uninjured heroes also available to perform triage nearby, everything seemed to be well in hand. Just as I was about to see if anyone else needed something from me, or if Hikigaya wanted me to help him make that call he mentioned earlier, I heard a shout. "Oi! Anybody seen a green midget with fake bunny ears running around?" I winced at the description.
"Look who's talking," Cyberpunch shouted back, lifting her head as she continued to keep Stain held down with her metal arm. Curiously, I looked over to see Mirko, now covered with soot and bearing bloodstains on the toes of her long purple stockings, as she strode into the room. "You're not exactly a giant yourself, you know. Anyway, if you're talking about that Deku kid, he's here," she said, gesturing in my direction.
"Please, the ears add twenty-five centimeters, easy," Mirko said with a grin, but as she met my eyes the cocky mask slipped, just enough to show relief, before she once again smiled and jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "Come on, kid," she said. "Showtime's over, and the city's calmed down. We're getting out of here."
I blinked in surprise, since I had expected to stay at least until emergency services arrived, but I was her intern, so I hurriedly bowed to Manual and Native. "Um, thank you for taking care of me!" I shouted. "I-it was nice to meet you both!"
Native looked up from his seat near the wounded Campestris, who had been transferred to a backboard already in preparation for emergency services, and gave me a smile and a lazy salute. Manual, on the other hand, gave me a much more restrained nod. I guess I didn't exactly make the best first impression on him. Honestly, I couldn't help but feel disappointed - in myself, most of all. "Mirko, do you have a few minutes before you go?" Manual called out. He didn't look particularly happy with her, either. "I'd like to have a word with you."
"Nope!" Mirko chirped unrepentantly. "Things to do, people to see, you know how it is. I'll catch up with you later!" Predictably, Manual's look of disapproval only intensified with that declaration, but she ignored him and turned to me. "You ready?" she asked. I nodded. Now that the emergency was over, I was feeling every mile of our earlier patrol, every scrape and bruise. I was more than ready to go, but more than anything I wished I was headed home, not to another hotel bed. "Then let's bounce."
Awkwardly, I waved my goodbyes to Cyberpunch, to Orimoto, who was standing off to the side by herself, and to my classmates, who had formed a loose circle with each other after being treated. Giving the prone forms of Pro Hero Campestris and Hero Killer Stain one last glance, I followed my mentor out into the cool night air. Unlike our earlier mad dashes across the city, Mirko set off at a brisk stroll, heading towards the downtown area where we'd started our patrol from. For a few seconds, we walked in silence. The air smelled of soot, and was full of the sound of sirens, but somehow the night breeze lifted my spirits anyway. As the wailing sirens got closer, Mirko turned to me. "So, I heard over the radio you weren't hurt, but figured I should ask you just in case, since the ambulances are on their way over. You all good? No need for medical attention?"
"I'm fine," I said hurriedly. Despite how many aches and pains I had, classes at UA had more than prepared me for what real injuries felt like. "I probably picked up a few more bruises," I said, "but Native-san managed to save me before anything too bad could happen to me."
Mirko's mouth twisted into a wry smile for a second, then smoothed away. "That's good," she said softly. We continued walking. One by one, ambulances passed us, sirens blaring. Part of me was incredibly curious to hear what had happened to her after she'd split off from me, to hear about the Nomu she'd fought and the people she'd rescued, but I was tired enough that it felt like too much effort to break the silence, especially with what would be constant interruptions from all of the ambulances and other emergency vehicles. She must have felt the same way, because it wasn't until the last one was receding into the distance that my mentor finally spoke again. "Sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have left you somewhere if it wasn't going to be safe."
"I, um, no, I mean, it's okay!" I frantically stammered. "I mean, you were going somewhere important, right? I overheard Cyberpunch saying you came to help her out, and you probably did other fighting too, and, um-"
"I was," Mirko interrupted me roughly. "But I could've, probably should've, taken you with me. Or taken the few minutes necessary to leave you somewhere actually safe. Or something, fuck if I know." She took a deep breath and let it out as a sigh, staring up at the orange night sky, its clouds still reflecting the slowly dwindling fires. "This is why I never do this team-up crap," she muttered, half to herself. "I'm kind of shit at it,"
It was a sobering moment. Over time, I'd gotten used to seeing All Might's occasional foibles and flaws; gotten to know him as a person instead of just my idol. But hearing Mirko admit her mistake, hearing the regret in her voice, was a poignant reminder that at the end of the day even the best Pro Heroes were only human.
"I messed up too," I found myself offering. "I probably wouldn't have been in danger at all if I hadn't rushed out to try to help people instead of staying close to Manual."
Mirko looked askance at me. "Dumbass," she insulted me, but with a wry smile to take the heat out of it. "I guess we both have something to do better at next time, then." With that, she looked up towards the nearby rooftops. "Got your breath back, yet?" She asked.
Honestly, I was sore all over. Where my muscles weren't aching from sprinting all over town, they were strained and bruised from struggling against the Nomu's claws and being dropped from on high. But even though my body was running out of steam, One For All's power was endless. All Might never gave up, never called it quits when he could help more people; even if I was still making obvious mistakes, even if I still wasn't ready to live up to his legacy, his determination, at least, I could match. "I think I can manage," I said gamely.
"We'll take it slow," Mirko reassured me. "But if I'm gonna be taking this teaching shit a little more seriously, then I should probably actually teach you some things instead of just making you chase me all around town. Come on," she said, her ears twitching with enthusiasm. "Time to learn about post-crisis patrolling." And with that, she leapt onto the roof of a nearby convenience store.
An excited grin stealing across my face despite my fatigue, I followed.
It hurt. Thin lines of fire, running down my neck in parallel. Oil and dead skin, collecting under fingernails I practically never bothered to cut. But it was a welcome distraction from the hatred. "Is that it?" I accused the stupid butler. "I thought these Nomu were supposed to be the ultimate weapons. The city should be up in flames, not just… this," I said contemptuously, waving at the still mostly intact city below us. "They hardly did anything!" The wind blew a billow of smoke in our direction, but it just smelled of soot and ash, instead of roasting flesh. It brought with it the sound of sirens, but not the sound of screams. My fingers itched. I wanted to jump down from the rooftop of the skyscraper we stood on to rip the city down, piece by piece.
"Master did tell you that these were the failures," the stupid butler reminded me. As usual, his face was hidden in that black smoke of his, but his glowing yellow eyes shone brightly as they met mine. "Think of it as having merely spent a few disposable pawns. And you achieved your initial objective, didn't you, young master?"
I glared at Kurogiri through the gaps between Father's fingers. "Yeah, yeah, I cleared the stage," I snarled. "So what? I don't know why Sensei even wanted me to bother with that guy, if he was just going to lose and get captured right away."
"We failed at our first attempt to kill All Might due to our lack of reliable allies," Kurogiri said. He didn't have to remind me. Eraserhead was going to die. I was going to pop those fucking eyeballs he was so proud of with my thumbs before I killed him. "It is a pity that Stain did not live up to Master's expectations, true, but Master planned for that eventuality as well, did he not?"
My hand came up to my neck again in frustration. "It was my plan," I corrected him, resisting the urge to reach out and grab the stupid butler by the collar until he blew away like smoke on the wind. "I was the one who said we should steal all his fame, I was the one who said it. Sensei just taught me how."
Kurogiri paused for too long, then said, "yes, I remember now, Young Master. My apologies." Patronizing cunt. "In that case, allow me to congratulate you on your plan's success. I believe that Master wished to congratulate you as well," he said, gesturing off to the side and creating a portal of swirling mist.
Fine. I supposed I was bored of just standing around, anyway. I walked through the mist. As usual, Kurogiri's Warp Gate was smooth and seamless, depositing us back in the old speakeasy that Sensei was using for our hideout. Immediately, I made a direct path over to the antique radio behind the bar. Sensei was one of the few things in this world I didn't fucking despise, and Kurogiri telling me I would get to talk to him again took some of my disappointment at the Nomu's performance away. As usual, Sensei's voice crackled to life over the radio without me needing to turn it on. "Tomura," his rich voice said. His voice was like a warm coat and the cold winter wind, all at once, simultaneously loving and merciless. "Welcome back. Did you enjoy yourself?"
"Not for long enough," I complained as I sat in one of the bar chairs in front of the radio and rested my chin on my folded arms. Father got in the way like he always did, but it was okay when I was talking to Sensei if Father's grip shifted, if a bit of air made its way under Father's fingers. Even when I couldn't see him, I was always in the palm of Sensei's hand. "The Nomu hardly killed anyone," I said petulantly. "I bet the death toll isn't even going to be in the triple digits."
"Be patient, Tomura," Sensei scolded me gently. "This was only the first step. The Nomu served their purpose, did they not? Stain will now be indelibly associated with the League of Villains. All of his admirers will be yours. All of his allies will be yours. And since he failed in his latest attempt at murder and has been arrested, he won't even be around to contest your decisions."
"He failed?! I gave him his own Nomu and everything!" I complained. "Some Hero Killer." Vicious satisfaction crept across my face. "Although, I suppose it did save me the trouble of killing him once he got in my way," I said, now feeling much more pleased with myself. Sensei always knew just what to say.
"I'm very pleased with your progress, Tomura," Sensei said. That was rare enough that I picked my head up off my folded arms. "The fact that you've begun to realize the need for allies, and that you took the initiative to reach out to Stain despite your dislike for him? Tonight's work was excellently done."
"Why do we even need allies if we have Nomu, anyway?" I complained, resisting the urge to sulk. "Stain was nothing special. If I had sent all of the Nomu after that hero he wanted to kill instead of just causing a distraction for him, I bet I could have done it. He didn't even finish the job," I said derisively. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to kill him myself.
Sensei laughed, the rich, dark sound diminished by the antique radio speaker but still perfectly calm and collected. "Nomu require time and effort to make, Tomura," he said. "All that Stain's assistance cost you was a few words, did it not? And we've seen that against All Might, a single Nomu cannot be expected to do the job. Not when other heroes may back him up at will. To distract those heroes..."
"I'll need cannon fodder," I said, following his thought. "Huh. Okay, so where do I get more?" I said, leaning in eagerly to listen to Sensei's advice. It didn't even occur to me that he wouldn't have an answer. Sensei always had a plan.
As expected, he answered immediately. "Oh, my dear Tomura," he said dotingly. "Now that you've stolen Stain's cause, they will begin coming to you. The media will report on Stain's arrest. They will call him a member of the League of Villains. And while they proclaim their triumph, they will sow the seeds of their own destruction."
I reached up to adjust Father, settling him snugly against my face once more. But even his embrace couldn't stop me from smiling.
"Sir, local media is reporting on the Hosu attack," one of Jeanist's sidekicks reported, the one with the kind of robot looking legs. I think his name was Camosole? To be honest, I was kinda having trouble remembering names - there were just so many of them, and Bakubaku kept calling them all weird stuff like Robot Legs and Big Mouth and getting me all confused. Anyway, as Camosole started explaining the situation to Best Jeanist and the other sidekicks, I found myself kinda… tuning out a little bit? I felt bad, but there was nothing we could do, since it was on the other side of Tokyo, and the meeting had been going on for a really long time, and Bakubaku's hair was still all slicked down!
Looking at him I could tell I wasn't the only one having trouble paying attention. Bakubaku's eyes were kinda glazed over, which was actually a little funny because they were usually so frowny and glare-y all the time. Actually, with his hair slicked down like that and his face so relaxed, he actually looked kind of cute. He would probably get mad if I told him that, though… but he gets mad about everything, so maybe I should say it anyway?
The meeting droned on. "... so far there are very few differences between the local media's coverage and that of national news, but local media has declared that one of the potential target of the attack was a movie set…" As I half-listened while trying to decide if being nice was worth the trouble, Bakubaku suddenly twitched. I saw his eyes dart back and forth, and I hurriedly looked back at Best Jeanist myself, not wanting to be caught staring at him. I couldn't help but sneak another glance a few seconds later though, to see if he had caught me. When I looked, he wasn't looking back at me. Instead, he was slowly, cautiously, working his cell phone out of his pocket. I pressed my lips tightly together to suppress my giggles. Bakubaku was so bad! I was a little jealous; I kind of wanted to do it too, but I just knew I would get caught.
He probably would too, it was kinda super obvious. I don't know why anybody thought looking at their phone down by their waist would hide it, pretty much anybody who saw you would be able to tell you were checking your phone right away. "Excellent report, Camosole," Jeanist said. "Blowst, has there been any criminal or Villain activity in Harajuku on the police blotter?" As Jeanist switched his attention to the guy Bakugo called Big Mouth, I worried that he might see Bakubaku not paying attention, so I stepped a little closer to my friend and nudged him gently in the ribs with my elbow.
He didn't move. He just stood there, looking at his phone, totally obvious and oblivious to it.
I nudged him again, a little harder. When he still didn't move, I risked actually looking at him, ready to whisper at him to get him to put it down, but when I saw his face the words died in my throat. His eyes were blazing mad, so narrow and intense I could practically see fire burning in them. I looked down at the phone to see what was wrong, but he was gripping it in both hands and squeezing, his thumbs covering the screen, and it was starting to make ominous cracking noises. Slowly, Bakugo's lips came back off his teeth, which were gritted into a snarl even as air whistled through them in a long, long breath in, and I started edging away as one by one, the strands of dirty blonde hair that Best Jeanist had painstakingly combed into place for Bakugo began to lift off of his head.
"In short, Jeanist-san, I believe -" the rest of what Blowst was saying got cut off as, no longer caring what was appropriate for a meeting, I stuck my fingers in my ears. Just in time, as Bakugo's lungs finally filled, his hair exploded all at once, and he let out an incredibly loud shout.
"HIKIGAYA YOU SON OF A -"