Eijirou bent over, clutching his stomach and gasping for breath. He had run for miles, wearing a backpack full of rocks, only to be told that his twice-daily training wasn’t over. Could he really keep it up for the ten months he needed to?
“There’s not much of a choice,” Crimson Riot had apologetically replied when Eijirou voiced his concerns. “If you received my Quirk now, without that core strength…” He poked at the soft skin of Eijirou’s upper arm. “Well. It’s not nice to think about, but any skin you hardened would just tear your insides to shreds.”
That wasn’t an option, but neither was quitting. How many times had he admired his room of Crimson Riot posters, vowing to become just as great a hero? Even after discovering he was one of the rare few to be born completely Quirkless, he hadn’t given up on his dream. Giving up was the least manly thing a person could do, no matter what people said. Besides, it was none of their business whether he was applying for U.A. or not.
To be fair, he hadn’t been exactly sure how he was going to get into the hero course. He was hoping that he could demonstrate exactly why a manly spirit went much further towards making a hero than an impressive Quirk, but whenever an actual opportunity to prove himself came up, he just seemed to freeze. He would wait, struggling to figure out what to do, and by the time he could take even a single step, someone else would have already solved the problem.
Was something wrong with him? Was he not cut out to be a hero after all? Not even the most taxing workout routines could banish those doubts. But for all his fears, Crimson Riot, the man he had dreamed of being since he was barely out of infancy, saw something in him that he couldn’t see in himself.
“Not bad.” Crimson Riot tapped at his watch as Eijirou struggled over a line drawn in the dirt. “Could be a lot better, but not bad for starting out. You’ve already been working hard, haven’t you?”
He felt like there wasn’t a single scrap of energy left in him, but he managed a weak nod. “I guess…”
“You guess.” Just as his eyes were about to close, his world lurched to the side before abruptly righting itself. He was being held- cradled, even- in a strong but gentle grip. He might have been embarrassed if he wasn’t so exhausted, but as it was, he could do nothing but lay limp in the hero’s arms. “Well, what I guess is that we’ll have to work on that confidence too.” Seemingly completely unbothered by Eijirou’s weight, he took off in a steady stride.
“Work on confidence?” He blinked, eyes half-open. “How do you do that?”
“It’s like any muscle. You build it up over time.” He lifted Eijirou above his head for a brief few seconds, making a show of how effortless the action was. “I don’t suppose you heard that speech I made after that flood down south? It was a few years back, now that I-“
“Of course I heard it!” Was he kidding? Eijirou had seen every interview Crimson Riot had ever given- at least three times each. “I guess I just… didn’t really get what you meant.” He couldn’t keep himself from curling inwards slightly as he admitted that, but Crimson Riot appeared undeterred.
“What I meant… well, everyone’s going to take something different from what I say. That’s just how people are! But what I wanted to get across to people, was that confidence isn’t useless. You can’t get by on just that and nothing else, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to get started if you feel like you know what you’re doing. You get me?”
He took Eijirou’s slight nod as a sign that it was fine to continue. “Obviously no one can save everyone, and it’s no use to anyone to think that’s a goal. But if you keep working at it, getting your feet unstuck from the ground when there’s trouble, then you’ll be able to save someone, for sure.”
Eijirou had been so busy listening, clinging desperately to Crimson Riot’s chest as if he could absorb his words’ deeper meanings through osmosis, that he didn’t even notice he was almost home until he was carefully put down. With a hasty goodbye and a reminder to be on time for training the next morning, his idol was gone. Only a fading set of footprints remained to prove that he had ever been there.
He stood there for another moment before walking back home.
And so began his ten months of hell.
He got used to the physical training quickly. He had been lifting weights and taking long runs for years, building up a physique that any hero-in-training would envy. Even the new diet wasn’t too difficult to adapt to- it wasn’t much more than what he already ate in a day. But despite all that, an even greater challenge stood in his way.
“That’s another lap! Say it!” Crimson Riot shook the stopwatch in Eijirou’s direction, not even looking at the time. Panting and gasping, he squeezed his eyes shut before managing to force the words out.
“I’m doing a great job!” Was his face red from exertion or embarrassment? It was impossible to tell. He opened his eyes, only to nearly fall flat on his face at the sight of Crimson Riot jogging right next to him.
“Come on, louder! With more feeling!” He made a sharp gesture, managing to not even break his pace.
It was hard to speak at all, but Eijirou suspected it wouldn’t be much easier even if he hadn’t been running. “I’m… I’m doing a really great job! I’ve been getting better every day, even when it doesn’t feel like it!” Those words had been given to him by his mentor, but after weeks of repeating them over and over, they were engraved so deeply into his brain that they almost felt like his own.
“Yeah, and what are you doing all this for? Come on, let me know! Let everyone know!” Running seemed to wake something fierce in Crimson Riot- just a hint of the hot-blooded valor he displayed on the battlefield. Eijirou managed a dry swallow before opening his mouth once more.
“I’m going to be a hero! I’m going to be the greatest hero ever!”
Eijirou blinked. It was the morning of U.A.’s infamous entrance exam. Thousands of students who had passed the written exam (it had been a headache and a half for Eijirou, but he managed to scrape by) would try out, but only a select few dozen would earn places in the country’s top hero course. With all the best staff, equipment, and employment opportunities at their disposal, there was no single group with a greater chance of becoming heroes. The idea of joining that number seemed like an impossible dream, but after all he had been through while chasing it, it was unthinkable to give up before the bitter end.
Of course, even if the exam was only in a short few hours, he had a more pressing matter. Namely, the fact that Crimson Riot had shoved a small red rock into his hand.
“…Eat it?” He turned the rock over. It was the same shade of red as Crimson Riot’s hair, and it was roughly diamond-shaped, but besides that there was nothing special about it. It certainly didn’t look like rock candy.
“Yeah.” Crimson Riot sheepishly scratched the back of his neck, seeming to refuse to look at the rock. Was he… nervous? “I mean, that’s how I got this Quirk in the first place, so stands to reason it’d work that way for you too.” You mean… he’s not even sure? That was unnerving, but there was nothing else he could do. He slipped the rock into his mouth, resisting the urge to crunch down on it.
After a very uncomfortable moment, he managed to swallow the stone. He didn’t feel any more powerful, but before he could say as much, Crimson Riot was already rushing him to the train station. “What’ll you do if you’re late? Go on, go be a hero!”
It wasn’t until the train was halfway to U.A. that he let himself whisper a reply.
U.A. was just as impressive as it looked on television- maybe a little more impressive, especially with the crowds of students streaming through the gigantic doors. With no reason to linger outside, he made his way to the equally massive auditorium as possible, finding his assigned seat.
Just like that, any hopes of him being able to soothe his nerves were shattered. Sitting right next to him, still looking more friendly than confused, was unmistakably Mina Ashido. “Hey, it really is you! I had no idea you were trying out!”
Was he imagining things, or was there a trace of judgment in her eyes? He couldn’t tell anyone about the real reason he had gotten so serious- who had ever heard of inheriting a Quirk? And to be fair, he had no proof that he wasn’t still Quirkless.
Even if he opened up, someone like Ashido wouldn’t understand. From her Quirk to her personality to her strength, she was a born hero. She would still have to work for it like anyone else, but she would never understand what it was like to feel like her goals were completely out of reach.
He forced a smile. “Hey, I didn’t know I would see you here either! Good luck out there!” It seemed to work- she smiled back before turning to face the front of the room. A hero with a massive blond hairdo had taken centre stage, commanding the entire auditorium’s attention with a single, impossibly loud clearing of his throat.
The rules of the exam seemed simple enough, even if he would have liked to know a little more about the so-called “opponents” they were facing. He did his best to listen, but with his creeping nervousness threatening to take over, it was all a blur until he was standing in front of the stadium. The crowd of students milled around him, most passing by so quickly that he didn’t even catch a glimpse of their expressions. It was easy to imagine that every single one of them would be more confident and self-assured than he was.
It’s okay. You’re doing a great job. Though he was using his own, familiar words to calm himself, he couldn’t help but hear them in Crimson Riot’s voice. No matter what happens today, you’re going to be a hero.
Finally ready to face whatever the exam had for him, he looked up, just in time for the arena’s doors to open. Everyone scrambled to be first, but with his carefully trained speed and reflexes, he managed to slip past most of the crowd. He was nearly a full block away from the bulk of the crowd when he stopped, taking a quick moment to catch his breath. Where were the “opponents”?
He got his answer before he even finished asking the question. A whirring metal monstrosity was rolling towards him from an alley, scorpion-like tail waving back and forth. It wasn’t much bigger than Eijirou himself, but with the amount of spikes and general defence on it, he wouldn’t even be able to land a hit on it without hurting himself.
That was what he would have thought if the exam had taken place on any other day. He stared down at his hand, curled into a loose fist. There was only one way to find out if he really had a chance. He would have to be careful, and-
A flash of movement in the corner of his eye interrupted his thoughts. Expecting another robot, he whirled around, only to find another student. Her uniform was unfamiliar, but it was impossible not to recognise the look of grim determination on her face. “That one’s mine!”
Completely instinctively, he leapt in front of her. They didn’t collide, but her original track was disturbed for long enough to give Eijirou another chance to take the opponent. He couldn’t waste it. He was heading straight for the robot’s metal plating, fist outstretched, and no guarantee that a Quirk would save him.
Come on… it has to work! There was still no change in his fist. He was seconds away from impact. Squeezing his eyes shut, he concentrated as hard as he possibly could, until he felt like he was sending all the energy in his body into a single hand. Not even just energy: his heart, his spirit, his dreams. Everything that he had to offer, everything that he was as a person, all focused and concentrated into a single point. If it wasn’t enough, then…
His knuckles were almost grazing the robot’s armour when they started to change.
He still couldn’t bear to look, but he couldn’t ignore the feeling of his skin pulling itself upward into ridges, also seeming to dry up and thicken by several layers as it did so. Once the top of his hand was fully transformed, it spread down his fingers and palm, extending slowly down his wrist. It might have come as a shock, if he hadn’t been preoccupied by the much more noticeable feeling of his hand smashing through the sheet of metal. His fist plunged deep into the robot, sharp edges tearing open random circuitry as it passed through.
Once he landed from his jump, he managed to pull his hand out, staring at it incredulously. Just to make sure he knew what he was seeing, he tapped at the jagged fingers with his other hand. It was true- his entire hand was as hard as a rock. He even saw a few shards of metal embedded in the skin, but he felt no pain.
…I did it. I really did it! It was all he could do to keep from letting out a triumphant yell, right then and there. He had a Quirk! He had always trusted Crimson Riot, but through all that, some small part of him had remained convinced it was an impossible dream. And yet, the sparking, dying robot in front of him was anything but a dream. Judging by the informational sheet he had been provided with, it was worth two points. Two points down… who knew how many to go.
“Eight more minutes, everyone!”
He had to hurry! Leaving his first opponent behind, he ran off in search of more.
“Thirty seconds left, kids!” Present Mic’s voice seemed a lot closer. Was he moving around the arena? Eijirou didn’t have time to think about things like that. He had managed to destroy almost every robot he came across, leaving behind trails of wire and shrapnel wherever he went. There had to have been at least ten, though he had lost count a long time ago.
He kept running. He doubted many robots were left, but surely he could find at least one more before his time ran out. As the number of robots had started to decrease, he also started seeing more students, all after the same thing. Fiercely competitive, but in accordance with the rules, none of them attacked any other student. All they could do was try to block or outrun each other in their search.
The street Eijirou found himself on was absolutely packed with students. Damn it, I’ll never get any points here! The others seemed to have the same idea. They weren’t pushing or shoving. Most weren’t even moving, eyes fixed on a single point above them. What could be so important that-
A shockwave of sound burst through the arena, so unbelievably and powerfully loud that it nearly knocked him off his feet. His ears were still ringing when he found the source- a gargantuan, towering robot that made the skyscrapers around it look like a child’s building blocks. Before he could panic, it started pouring black smoke from every orifice, swaying dangerously back and forth as chunks of metal fell from it in a deadly rain.
It was too close! Students screamed and scattered in all directions, taking any path that would get them away from the threat of being impaled by flaming steel. Eijirou himself was just barely out of range, but he took a few steps away just in case. He was considering running away too, until he saw a disaster about to unfold. Not too far from where he was standing, a rather small boy seemed frozen to the spot, eyes wide with fear. It wasn’t hard to see why: a massive, boxy piece of the robot’s plating was plummeting down towards him. If he couldn’t move, there was no way he would be able to avoid it.
Maybe he was fine. Maybe he had a Quirk that would easily protect him. Maybe a staff member would intervene before the consequences turned lethal. But Eijirou wasn’t thinking about any of that. He couldn’t. All he saw was where he was, and where he needed to be. It was just a few steps… directly into danger.
The first step was the hardest. After that, he was running, knocking the boy out of the metal’s path with a well-placed punch. Noticing how far his arm was outstretched, he moved to withdraw it, but he didn’t get far enough before the hunk of steel crashed down onto it.
It hurt, but the pain was strangely dull. More than anything, he could feel just how heavy the box was. It kept him from moving anywhere, leaving him in an awkward half-lunging position. A slow trickle of blood was slipping down his arm, but he couldn’t tell for the life of him where exactly it was coming from.
“ALL RIGHT, TIME UP! Great work, everyone!” Eijirou slumped down and groaned. He wasn’t exactly unsatisfied with his performance, but he had no idea if it would be enough. How many points would other students get? How many had been earned while he was trapped by robo-debris? He was almost grateful for the pain, since it distracted him from thinking too hard about it.
Before it could get too bad, a tiny old lady made her way over to him, regarding the situation with a calm, serious expression. No way… Recovery Girl! Everyone who knew anything about heroes knew Recovery Girl- whether it was through her heroics career, or her dedication to nursing, she had legendary status in both fields. And she was right there in front of him, tutting gently at his situation.
With just a quick hand signal from the hero, a medical drone rushed over, easily lifting the plating off Eijirou’s arm. He immediately took the chance to look at it. It was still mostly hardened, but deep cracks ran down his hand, blood seeping from between them. Besides that, there didn’t seem to be any major damage, to his relief. Recovery Girl seemed pleased too.
“There, that doesn’t look too bad. You’re lucky you had that Quirk of yours, I thought you might have lost the arm!” Gently chuckling to herself, she made her way over, planting a quick kiss on his cheek before he could say anything about it.
Before his eyes, the cracks started closing up, bruises and scrapes all over his body fading away. Once he was healed, his arm started softening again, skin shifting and contracting until he felt like his old self again. “There, good as new.” Recovery Girl patted him on the shoulder. “Now, take some of these, for your hard work.”
He gratefully accepted the candy, standing up and brushing himself off as soon as he could. The arena was nearly empty, with only the strewn wreckage of robots surrounding him. He couldn’t even tell which ones he had been responsible for.
I just hope it’ll be enough.
It was a torturous few days before he got his answer. Staring at the strange holographic disc in his hands, it took a few minutes for him to even bring himself to switch it on. Crimson Riot had been overjoyed that he had been able to use his Quirk, but he had to know if all his hard work had delivered the ultimate payoff.
“Good day, Mr. Kirishima, and thank you for applying to U.A. High!” A small man clad in a suit greeted him from the holographic screen. He clearly had a Quirk that made him resemble some kind of animal, even if Eijirou had no idea which animal. “It’s wonderful to always see so much interest in our hero course. Now, I’m sure you’re eager to see your results, but if I may, I’d like to just say a few words on-“ The man blinked at something offscreen. “I have to read how many of these? Very well, your results!” He gave a winning smile as he tossed a few notecards away.
A scoreboard appeared on the screen, taking up most of its space. Top Ten Scorers… why do I need to know that? Still, he skimmed over the names, not recognising any of them… except for one. He read it over and over again, until he was absolutely certain his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. Still, it could be… it’s not that rare of a name, right?
The scoreboard vanished, revealing the man to still be smiling. “That’s right, Mr. Kirishima! With your score of thirty-nine villain points and thirty-five rescue points, putting you at second place overall, I’m very pleased to be able to offer you a place in U.A. High’s hero course for this coming year!”
That wasn’t the end of the video, but he couldn’t possibly hope to even stay seated, let alone keep listening. The scream of triumph he had suppressed when he first activated his Quirk forced itself out of him, twice as loud and five times as passionate, almost instantly bringing his entire family running to his room. Surrounded by hugs and cheering, Eijirou felt like he was perfectly justified in shedding a manly tear… or a few. Okay, maybe a lot. After all, it wasn’t every day that he achieved a lifelong dream.
He couldn’t wait to tell Crimson Riot.
The months passed in a blur, and before he knew it, he had reached his first day of high school. The uniform looked like something that might be worn at any other school, but he could still barely believe the sight of himself wearing it. It was an unintended, but nice touch that the tie matched his new shade of hair. He really did look like a completely new man, he thought with pride. Even if his face was technically the same, there seemed to be no trace of the old Eijirou Kirishima- that was, the coward who couldn’t bring himself to save anyone.
With a cheerful goodbye, he set out for U.A., ready for whatever the day would bring.
The train took a while to get to school, but it wasn’t completely unreasonable. He even saw a few other kids in the same uniform as him, though he didn’t recognise anyone he had seen in the exam. The school was still massive and full of students, but it had a completely different feeling to a few months earlier. Rather than a faceless, intimidating institution that was ready to judge him, it was… a school. Still a rather intimidating school, though.
He managed to not get lost on the way to the 1-A classroom. Carefully pushing open the door, his stomach dropped to find that the room was already full, though there was no sign of a teacher yet. The door definitely read 1-A, so it had to be the right room. Swallowing, he made his way in, closing the door behind him.
Most of the students didn’t turn to stare at him, as he feared would happen. Though several of them were silent, some were carrying on conversations, with one in particular loud enough that it was easy to hear from anywhere in the classroom.
It wasn’t hard to find the source. A plain-looking boy with freckles was talking at a mile a minute, though he was frequently interrupted by yells from the boy in front of him, who had spiky blond hair and a pronounced scowl. With how fast-paced and heated their argument was, it was impossible for Eijirou to even figure out what they were so worked up about. Deciding not to get involved, he took his own assigned seat, not too far from the exact centre of the room.
He had barely even so much as gotten his pencils out when darkness fell over his eyes. Shocked, he couldn’t keep his new Quirk from activating, pulling his limbs inward to keep his hardened skin from hurting anyone nearby. He managed to get himself under control quickly, but the arms and legs of his uniform were already torn.
Once he could bring himself to look up, he wanted to hide again. Staring down at him was a rather dismayed-looking Mina Ashido. “Sorry!” she cried out, reaching to pat at Eijirou’s sleeve. There wasn’t exactly any chance of that fixing it, but he still found that he appreciated the gesture. “I was just really happy to see you, and- hey, what did you to do your head?”
“My head?” He blinked, ready to ask more questions until he saw Ashido point at his head. “Oh! Well, since it’s a new school, I thought a new look would be the right thing.” The students who had turned to look seemed to have stopped listening. He leaned in closer. “I’m not going to regret my inaction, ever again! I’m gonna be a hero. Someone who protects people.”
Mina nodded slowly, a smile on her face. “That’s great, Kirishima! But I’m really curious about something. Back then, everyone was really sure that you were Quirkl-“ Though not for lack of trying, she couldn’t finish her sentence while Eijirou’s hand was clamped over her mouth. She pulled at his hand, expecting resistance, but he let her go easily. “Hey, what’s the big idea?”
“I’ll tell you later. Promise.” Even if she had known what to say to that, she wouldn’t have had time before their teacher surfaced- apparently he had been in the room all along.
Though U.A. seemed just like a normal school in those first few moments, to Eijirou it was already something much more. It was the first real step in his journey. He would do everything he could to become a hero. He would protect people, he would stand in the way of villains, and he would show everyone what a manly spirit in action really looked like.
That was what people would expect him to say. But he had one last resolution of his own, that somehow mattered even more to him than any of the others.
He would make Crimson Riot proud.