Shinsou had been hoping for weeks that they wouldn’t use robots. Usually it is some form of robot, he knows, it had been for the last five years, but there had been times when it hadn’t. And there had been a little talk of reworking the exam this year to better match the threats most pro heroes faced. He reminds himself of this every single day, hoping so hard that please just not robots, please just not robots.
He waves his mother goodbye on the day of and ends up thinking about it all through his train ride to the UA testing center, fidgeting because of nerves and wondering if anyone he sees as he gets closer is also here to take the entrance exam. He spots of a few people who from their age and alternate confidence or nervousness are definitely also going to take the exam, and some doubt creeps in. He shakes it off. No time for that now.
He pauses outside the hall where they’ll be explaining how the exam works to take a few deep breaths and shake out the jitters. Standing there, he’s suddenly struck by the certain feeling that it’ll be alright. Every bit of hope and anticipation from the past year, from before that, packs itself into this one moment, and he just knows that it’ll be alright. It’s going to be okay. He feels the confidence rushing into him and holds it there.
It’s going to work out somehow. He’s going to get into UA and fulfill his dreams, he tells himself. His heart on fire, he steps inside.
A minute later, Present Mic starts explaining the types of robots they’ll be facing, and Shinsou knows instantly that there’s nothing he can do.
By the time they walk out of the hall and to the examination centers, Shinsou’s totally numb. Everyone around him is jittery and trying to ease their nerves by staring into space, meditating, chatting, voicing their fears to try to lay them to rest, or making a show of bravado and confidence. And Shinsou is...nothing. The test was already over for him before it started.
It’s only been a few minutes, so he’s still stunned, still hasn’t completely come to terms with it yet. He still hasn’t realized that...his best shot is gone. There are other ways of course, and he’ll be thinking about those later, but- he’ll have to think about those at all because it just ended. His best, easiest shot into the UA hero department just went up in smoke in a second flat.
He looks at the other kids around them, still nervous, still excited, still having a chance, and feels a pang.
He’s only a few steps inside the testing center (why is he still here? He knows he can’t do a thing) when the dam breaks. Thankfully, everyone else rushed off ahead to fight the robots so fast that no one noticed one quiet kid ducking inside a building.
The door actually opens into a space inside, he guesses for realism, but completely bare. Shinsou’s glad for that when he kicks the wall.
It all bubbles up at once, it finally hits him what’s happened, and maybe he cries, maybe he screams, maybe he curses, maybe all of the above. All that hope, and it came down to nothing in the end. Goddammit. Goddammit.
He knows he could beat half the kids in this testing center in a fight, but now he’s the one with no shot. He wants to scream and kick the wall again over the unfairness of it all, of how he’s lost, of how he’s going to go back home empty-handed and have to tell everyone who asks that he knows he didn’t make it in. None of the kids at school ever knew he wanted to be a hero until the last year of middle school when he listed UA as his top-choice school. But when he goes back now after this, they’re going to giggle and side-eye him and tease that of course they wouldn’t let him in with that villain Quirk, joke that he should just go become a villain now, when Shinsou knows he’s powerful and he should have had a shot and and it makes him want to scream.
He thinks back to the moment he really decided he wanted to be a hero, when he was a little kid and started sobbing because everyone refused to pair up with him in class for the fifth time. That was the time he knew he was hurting, and he decided he never wanted a single other person to have to feel the way he was feeling, ever again. No matter the source. No matter what he had to do. That’s when he decided he wanted to be a hero, and now, with it all happening all over again, he wants to scream.
He slumps against a wall and cries a little more, and dimly, in the back of his head, he hopes that UA doesn’t put cameras inside these buildings.
But this hasn’t been an especially good day for him in terms of hoping, so who knows.
From start to finish, his breakdown takes five minutes. Or more accurately, his breakdown from the start until when he shoves himself off the floor and stumbles out the door takes five minutes. On one hand, there’s the logical voice in his head telling him that this is the UA entrance exam, happening right in front of him, and he better not waste this chance to watch and learn what he can, whatever that happens to be. On the other hand, there’s a spiteful, petty voice that wants to see these people, not to learn, but to see; see the people that UA has judged more worthy than he is.
Shinsou pushes himself out onto the street and starts running down it (near the entrance where he’s at has long since been deserted). He knows UA must have cameras somewhere to keep track of who’s beaten what robots and wonders what it must look like, some random kid running into a building within a few seconds and not even trying to go after a robot, and only emerging until after the halfway mark.
He’s numb, angry, and utterly devastated all at once. He nearly collapses again, nearly sits down to punch a wall and grieve again, but- no. He runs harder, desperate to do something, anything, even if he’s not sure what he can do.
He passes by robots that are burned, smashed, frozen, melted, shattered, trapped by vines, and all manner of just plain damaged. At one point, an entire corridor of felled robots are covered in vines and nothing else, and he knows that whoever is causing them must have cemented their place long ago. He sees other robots, too, that look like they just fell apart, and he remembers back at the very start a purple-haired girl plugging something from her ears into the robots to make them shatter. He doesn’t even know these people, but a sick feeling crawls into his throat again.
Could I have beaten you? If this was fair, if we fought face to face, could I have made you talk? At least some of you, all of you, couldn’t I have? If I just got a chance, couldn’t I...couldn’t I have...
He sidesteps two robots that look like something partially dissolved them, another person to wonder about, and he hates this strangled feeling, like he has everything in the world to prove and no way to prove it.
It takes him two minutes to reach anyone else fighting. He checks his watch: 7 minutes into the exam. The girl fighting the robot glances at him suspiciously for a few seconds like she expects him to fight with her over it, before going back to trying to take the robot down. Right, it’s far enough along in the test that easy supply of robots is probably getting scarce. He edges around her and keeps running, hearing louder crashes and bangs in the distance.
He doesn’t even know what he’s looking for. He’s just randomly stumbling around the testing center, ignoring all the threats he’s supposed to be fighting. He wonders again what it even looks like he’s doing on the recording.
Shinsou passes by a few people in rapid succession, and tries to commit faces and Quirks to memory. There’s a blond kid who keeps switching what he does every few seconds, and another girl who just makes her fists huge and crushes the robots bare-handed. He tries to come up with some kind of useful, insightful analysis on these kids or UA in general that would make this worth it, but watching them, his mind goes blank.
He’s just standing there watching them fight with his hands in his pockets while they’re all still struggling to grab a few more points. The disconnect is painful and jarring.
He sees the purple-haired girl again, seemingly pausing for a moment to catch her breath before moving on and running around the corner. He turns to run in the opposite direction as her, trying to search again for something he can use before he gets overwhelmed again.
There’s only one person fighting at the next intersection he comes to, an almost garishly bright pink girl. She’s flinging some kind of liquid out of her hands that- ah, she must be the same person behind the half-dissolved robots he saw earlier.
There’s two robots on either side of her, but she seems confident. She throws what’s probably acid at the robot directly in front of her, and it melts deep enough through the metal to make hardware start peeking out. The robot grinds to a halt and she whirls around to face the other one, throwing acid at its legs this time so that they dissolve out from underneath it and it crashes it to the ground.
Shinsou’s standing a couple of meters away from all of it, but the girl is completely turned around. The second robot is still moving slightly so she’s pouring more acid on it to stop it entirely, and doesn’t notice when the first robot behind her ever so slightly starts to tip.
He takes off like a shot before he even realizes what he’s doing, barrelling into her and pushing her out of the way as she squeaks “Hey-!” in surprise. Then the robot crashes to the ground and she gawks at it as they both nearly fall before regaining their footing.
“Oh wow, thanks. I didn’t even see that!” The girl says, grinning and looking at him with eyes with solid black sclera.
Shinsou feels like today has been such a wild, abrupt ride of emotions that he doesn’t even know how to respond. Finally he just rubs the back of his neck and says, “Um. It’s nothing.”
“No, but like-”
“And that’s it, time’s up!” Present Mic’s voice came suddenly and they both jumped, as sirens started blaring.
“Oh! Wow, that was over fast.” The girl smiles, then turns to him suddenly. “Wait, I didn’t make you waste your last minute saving me, did I?”
Shinsou shakes his head quickly. His emotions have gone through so many rapid cycles over the past hour that now he’s just kind of burned out and exhausted. “Ah, no. I think at the point I’d already gotten as many points as I could have...hoped to have gotten.” He regrets his word choice at the last second, bitterness coiling in his stomach as he remembers what just an hour before the amount of points he’d really been hoping to get.
If the girl notices anything, she doesn’t say it. “Well, still, thanks. It would have been pretty disappointing if I’d managed to get enough points to pass but then injured myself at the last second!” She laughs, high and bubbly, before tilting her head contemplatively. “Man that was a tough exam, though. I’d like to say that I think I did well, but that’s hard to judge since I have no idea how anyone else did…” They start walking back to the entrance exam per Present Mic’s instructions.
“Oh!” She says suddenly, holding out her hand to him. “And I forgot to introduce myself, but I’m Ashido Mina! Nice to meet you!” She says cheerfully, beaming.
Shinsou walked out the door this morning with big plans and anticipation for how he was going to use his Quirk; she’s already talking to him, so for the smallest second he considers using it just to have an excuse to use it once today before casting that aside.
He’s effectively failed this exam today. Zero points. Everyone in his entire school and neighborhood knows he’s the kid with the brainwashing Quirk who still wants to be a hero, and he’s going to have to go back and endure the whispers and stares when he finally has to tell someone he knows he didn’t make it and it spreads like wildfire. And since everyone knows what his Quirk is, they’re all always a little on guard whenever they have to talk to him. They think they’re being subtle, but he notices every time.
This girl, Ashido...has no idea what his Quirk is. She’s talking to him like there’s absolutely no danger, absolutely nothing wrong. And part of him aches for that, wants to hold onto it for just a little longer until he has to go back.
He gives her the biggest smile he can muster. “Shinsou Hitoshi. Nice to meet you.”
His mother doesn’t even need to ask, just takes one look at him and goes to give him a hug. She probably knew it the moment he walked in; if it had gone well, he would have ran.
For far from the first time that day, he cries. But he’s so tired by this point that there’s no big bawling session, only a few tears leak out, just enough to make his vision go blurry.
He just can’t stop thinking about that moment when he thought it was going to be alright. He actually thought things were going to work out and be alright, for just a few minutes. And then when it didn’t, when he realized, it felt like falling. Like when your knees give out from underneath you and it feels like your entire body hits the ground at once.
He just- he just can’t stop thinking about the moment when he actually thought it was going to be okay. More tears leak out, and his mother rubs his back soothingly.
“Robots?” she says, just to confirm (even though there’s barely any other scenario that could have caused him to react this way), and to give him an opportunity to talk about it if he wants.
After a moment, Shinsou says, “Yeah,” in a scratchy voice. “Robots.”
His mother holds him tighter, not offering any solutions because she knows he’s not ready for that yet, just comfort. Shinsou wants to be able to bounce back immediately, to steel himself and start brainstorming other ways in at once, but he’s just so tired.
He’s fifteen years old and he doesn’t want to give up. He just wants it to stop being so hard.
They stand there for a while after that, the quiet of the room only occasionally broken by Shinsou’s sniffles. They keep standing there, his mother rubbing soothing circles into his back, until long after their legs get tired.
Shinsou spends the rest of the day in a gray funk, sitting on the couch wrapped in blankets watching old movies. The next day, though, he’s feeling marginally better so he walks outside to take out the trash. Predictably, there’s someone standing there waiting for him at the end of their driveway.
“So?” The kid demands, crossing his arms. “Did you make it?”
Shinsou looks at him dryly, not in the mood to muster any sort of real facial expression. He knows the kid, of course- they were in the same class all through middle school. Not one of the worst, but not one of the best, either; he’s never even made a half-hearted attempt at standing up for Shinsou when other people were teasing him, and Shinsou remembers that he’d always kick up a big fuss and point-blank refuse to work with him whenever they got paired up for a project (well, that was worse than others. Most people would at least work with him once the teacher put up resistance, even if they refused to speak to him the entire time. Stupid. His Quirk works off responses, someone saying something back to him. Talking to him first literally does and means nothing).
He’s feeling absurdly petty today, so he responds with a question. “I don’t know, what do you think?”
The kid, Tokage, flares angrily and glares, knowing he can’t say anything to respond to that without Shinsou being able to activate his Quirk. Shinsou smirks for a moment while hefting the trash bag into the bin before his smile fades. It’s not like he’s actually won anything. He didn’t make it.
When he looks up, Tokage is still standing there, looking like there’s five different things he’s trying to communicate without speaking. Shinsou’s mood has already been effectively tanked so he just raises his eyebrow before starting to walk away. Abruptly, Tokage shoves in front of him again.
Tokage clenches his teeth hard before gritting out, “I’m serious. Did you?” his entire body tense. Shinsou stops, actually surprised that he of all people would run the risk. And usually Shinsou would be secretly elated at something like that, hoping that it meant his classmates were trusting him just a little bit more. But he’s not having the best string of days and instead he’s just irritated at how tense Tokage is, like this was some kind of supremely difficult decision. His angers flares higher. God, he’s just a person. Can’t these people ever talk to him normally, just for once?
“Why are you asking?” Shinsou snaps back and Tokage jumps, as if he still expects Shinsou to brainwash him any moment. “Which one is it that you want me to say? Yes, so you can all say you don’t believe me, and make pointed comments about how UA’s lowered their standards this year? Or no, so you can sneer that you knew it and tell me to go become a villain again?” Tokage’s face morphs into anger, but Shinsou doesn’t care. If there’s one thing he knows, it’s that whatever anger or pent-up rage Tokage could possibly have, it will never match his own.
Shinsou stomps away, slamming the door behind him.
It’s been a few days now, and Shinsou knows he’s being unproductive. He mostly just sits on the couch watching things, and nothing else. He knows he should be deciding right now what he’s going to do, if he’s going to give it up entirely, or keep going and start really researching his other options. When he first sent in his applications to UA, before either of the exams, he’d applied to both the hero course and general ed, as a backup. But that had been more of a cloudy just-in-case idea than anything else; he hadn’t wanted to focus on building a plan B too much, because it always invited in doubt on his ability to succeed in plan A, and he’d wanted to keep going with as much confidence as possible.
Well, Shinsou considers, a fat lot of good that did. After a second he shakes his head, brushing the thought away. Most of the really intense emotion has burned off already, less out-of-the-blue anger or devastation. He’s accepting it, he realizes. He’s not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.
Right now is a bit of an in-between period, not quite in the thick of it, but not quite out of it either. He’s just doing nothing, taking time to sort of stew. He thinks in a few days is when he’ll finally be able to start thinking about what he’s going to do.
Out of nowhere, he thinks about the pink girl he met at the entrance exam- Ashido. He wonders if she’s doing alright. UA always publicly announces who’s been accepted to the hero course two weeks after the last exam, after they’ve had time to grade written exams, assign teachers, and mail letters. He knows he has no chance, but he wonders if he’ll see her name on the list.
Maybe it’s a part of “accepting”, maybe it’s a part of being able to have a conversation with someone for once, but Shinsou hopes that if nothing else good comes out of that exam, that at least she makes it.
A week later, when Shinsou is thinking about the entrance exam again, is when he realizes that what he really hates is feeling helpless. He walked into that exam knowing there was nothing he could do, and it felt like, after everything over the years, the world was right all over again. It would never let him become a hero.
He snorts. It’s kind of stupidly ironic that he’s the one with the brainwashing Quirk, yet he’s here talking about how much he hates lack of control.
His mind wanders back to, as always, what he should do (something he’s newly willing to deal with), and acceptance. There’s a stab of some feeling, close to anger, for a moment. He can slowly accept the outcome of the exam itself, but the thought of accepting anything else makes him want to scream.
That’s when Shinsou’s realizes the second thing he hates: settling. He settled for shitty classmates, and for shitty extended family members, and for not saying anything every time someone told him he could be a villain, but here, with people telling him he can’t become a hero all over again, the thought of stepping back again and just taking it makes him want to snap.
For a moment he feels like how he did when he was still hoping the exam would turn out in his favor. Angry. Ready to fight for his spot. Determined. Not exactly hopeful, but the opposite of hopeless.
He remembers seeing the robots, the feeling of falling, and it dies instantly.
It’s not active doubt, he trained himself out of that ages ago, but. It’s that memory that’s giving him pause, holding him back. He can’t forget how crushed he felt in that moment. And...he’s afraid of feeling it again, of deciding to keep going and getting determined all over again and getting crushed a second time. And he’s afraid that he really doesn’t have a chance, that they’re all right and he’s going to be disappointed again.
He doesn’t want to feel how he felt at the entrance exam ever again. He doesn’t want to feel so completely helpless, ever again.
Shinsou tries to reconcile his thoughts and make a decision again, everything he’s felt about being a hero in the last few days and last few years swirling together.
At the last moment something twists painfully and he shoves himself up to walk away. Later. He’ll figure that out later. Just- not right now.
On the exact day two weeks after the practical exam, Shinsou wakes up jittery. He hasn’t gotten the rejection letter yet, but he knows it’s coming. Getting letters out to all the people who didn’t make it in, especially people who got zero points like him (thinking about his result doesn’t make him as viscerally upset anymore, it just leaves a dull ache), probably just isn’t their priority, he thinks. He’s heard that they make it a point to tell everyone who’s been accepted that they have been before the official announcement, so they don’t have to find out indirectly. He’ll probably at least get his by the end of today, though.
He’s not actually sure at what time UA releases the results, just that they’ve always done it on this day. He’s strangely uncomfortable and wonders why; maybe it’s just because of Ashido? Like a flash, he sees how things could have been, waiting for the result to confirm if he was on the list or not for himself, still with something to gain. He pushes that away. It’s too late in the game to keep thinking of what-ifs.
Maybe, he finally realizes, he’s nervous because not seeing himself on the official list of names that they announce makes it final.
He inhales and exhales slowly, getting a glass of water. Over the next few hours he obsessively checks and rechecks the page on UA’s website where they release the results of the exam (the results of everyone who made it, anyway). By noon, they still haven’t been dropped and Shinsou forces himself to calm down and leave it alone for a while.
It feels like right before the entrance exam all over again, with Shinsou feeling strangely detached from a situation he had hoped to be a part of. He stands and starts to walk around when suddenly he sees a mail truck outside, stopping by their mailbox.
He stares at it for a couple seconds out the window. It’s probably not it, he thinks. It’s probably a coincidence, which he tells himself all the way down the driveway to the mailbox, and as he unlocks the door.
With little fanfare, the letter’s sitting right there, UA’s seal on the center.
He stares at it for a second before he sighs and grabs it, walking back inside. He’ll read it while he waits. He already knows what it’s going to say, anyway.
As Shinsou sits back down, he checks the page again. Still no.
He rips the letter open, and there’s nothing but a simple folded paper with a paragraph or so of text. It’s formatted simply as well.
"Dear Shinsou Hitoshi,
It is with regret that we must inform you that your application to be part of this year’s hero course class at UA has been rejected."
Shinsou let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. There it was. Two messy weeks and this was the end of it. Rejected. He’s already accepted it mostly though, and he’s more tired than anything else now so he just sighs and keeps reading.
There’s a couple lines that are just polite courtesy, saying that what he achieved (ha) was not without merit, that they had had a very talented pool of candidates this year, that they were sure he could be very successful at other schools...all the generic stuff they must put in every rejection letter. He skims past it, wondering if that’s all the rest of the letter is.
Then, near the very end, there’s another sentence, one he doesn’t really understand.
"You finished the exam with a score of 25."
For a moment, there’s absolutely no shock or emotion. He’s just confused. What? But he rereads it a couple times and it’s definitely there.
"If you think that your score is inconsistent with your memories of the test, there was a separate category of testing that it was possible to be awarded points under, that the students were not informed of at the time. You may have been awarded points for any act of helping, saving, or rescuing a fellow exam-taker, which is likely the source of the discrepancy."
It takes a few seconds for the dots to connect. Then he’s just gaping at the paper. Rescue points? For pushing Ashido out of the way of the robot? Obviously not enough to get in, but...
Points. He actually got points for that.
He’s starting to feel a little bit of something before out of the corner of his eye he sees something flash and jerks his head up. The formerly blank screen for the results page on the UA website is now full of text. He pushes aside the exam revelation to look to see if Ashido made it with even greater urgency.
He scrolls down...more courtesy text…more courtesy text...more explaining how UA entrance works, as if anyone reading this doesn’t already know...he rushes faster and faster to find it,and for the briefest second he wonders why he’s so worked up, why he thinks he still has anything to gain or lose-
Then he finds it. And the name is right there. And in that moment he realizes why- he didn’t make it but he just wants her to. Maybe he doesn’t know her that well, but she’s nice and bright and a good person overall, one who definitely has the Quirk and demeanor to be a hero, and he just wants one happy ending out of this.
Ashido Mina, in twelfth place. Made the cut by a mile.
His entire body relaxes. She must be over the moon right now.
He scans the other names. No one he knows, really. If they included pictures he might recognize a couple, but they only have the names. Still...he looks back at Ashido’s name again, and at the paper. 25 rescue points awarded.
“Well, still, thanks. It would have been pretty disappointing if I’d managed to get enough points to pass but then injured myself at the last second!”
He helped her. He pushed them both out of the way. And- who cared what Tokage said, what anyone said. He helped someone, it wasn’t pointless, and UA thought that was good enough to reward.
He did something. He didn’t think he could, but he did something.
Shinsou starts crying again, like so many times over the past couple of weeks, but this time it doesn’t feel endless, likes it’s gushing out of him but will never stop. This time it feels like something’s actually leaving him, making him lighter for it.
He mills around for a few days after that, feeling better. He sees the media eating up whatever slim reports they’ve gotten about the Quirks of the new students, already trying to predict months in advance who will be the front-runners in the Sports Festival, and Shinsou wishes he could congratulate Ashido somehow. But they never exchanged contact information, and any special effort to go out of his way to talk to her when she was accepted and he wasn’t would feel awkward.
But maybe, he thinks while collecting the mail again, someday he won’t have to do that. He knows there are other options for getting in. Maybe one day he can talk to her on the same level, both of them training to be heroes.
He flips over his acceptance letter to the general studies department and takes a big breath. And he starts thinking of a plan.