More than anything else, I just want someone to notice me.
“Hey, it’s that little useless guy. Moguta, is that it?”
Tatara flinched, caught halfway between trying to remain unnoticed and trying to turn into the alleyway. He’d heard them coming and had hoped he would be able to avoid them, but instead, he was backed into a corner as the bullies came closer. “M-muroi… Kawano… Hasebe…” he stammered weakly, “F-fancy running into you here…”
He gulped as the taller boy came closer with his arms crossed. Underneath them, the ground distinctly began to rumble as Muroi approached, a sick smirk on his face. Behind him, the larger Kawano sniggered and scratched his badly-dyed blonde hair with hands much larger than average. Standing off to the side, Hasebe grinned lopsidedly and cradled a small ball of water in the palm of his hand.
Quirks. I wish they didn’t exist. Then maybe I would stand a better chance in school.
Quirks - superpowers like something right out of a Western comic book. They’d been around for generations now, with everyone having their own. Tatara didn’t know the specifics, but he heard they’d originated in China. Whatever it was, as far as he was concerned, they only made life worse. Some people got earth-shattering ones, and others got the equivalent of a small magic trick.
“A-actually, Muroi, my name’s Fujita,” he managed to stutter, laughing awkwardly. “I can see how you’d forget-“
“Shut up, Moguta.” Muroi suddenly came right up to him, and Tatara felt his knees buckle as the ground beneath him began to shudder violently. “Hand your wallet over, dork,” Muroi leered.
Kawano came up behind him and tore his backpack off his shoulder. “I don’t have anything…” Tatara said feebly as he tore through his belongings with his huge hands, tossing things about carelessly. “Woah, Moguta’s right,” Hasebe remarked as he looked over his buddy’s shoulder. “He’s really got nothing in that bag.”
Muroi snorted and caught the wallet that Kawano tossed to him. On reflex, Tatara put a hand out to the wall to steady himself as the rumbling started to break the compacted dirt that made up the floor of the alley. “Really? You don’t have a presence in class, you don’t have a Quirk worth shit, and you don’t even have two yen to rub together?”
He put a heavy hand on Tatara’s shoulder, shocking the latter into dropping his arm from the wall. “You really have nothing.”
The words hit Tatara like someone had thrown a brick from a skyscraper and it had landed directly on his stomach.
I’m having a horrible day.
First, he’d forgotten to bring his homework and been made to stand up for two classes. Then he got his lunch stolen. Then right at the end of the day, the school guidance counselor had asked to see him and tried to talk high schools.
Tatara could still see the fat teacher’s face, asking him what he wanted to do because high school applications were coming up in half a year. “Oh, I suppose you won’t want to go to hero schools considering your quirk, yes? Oh, but your grades aren’t all that good either. Don’t you have anything you want to do?”
I don’t, okay?! I don’t know what I want to do!
Is what he had wanted to say, but as usual Tatara had smiled it off and said he’d think about it. He clenched his fist.
At the very least that girl with flowers on her wrists who came in after me looked like she was in the same boat. So even pretty people could get lost too, huh?
And then suddenly the rumbling stopped.
Tatara watched, eyes wide, as steam began to fill the air and Muroi whirled around. The both of them saw Hasebe and Kawano lying unconscious on the floor, and standing above them, a tall man with a mask covering his eyes and a long coat.
The man closed his mouth, and the steam stopped coming out. Then he smiled a horrible smile. “It ain’t nice to bully other kids, but I gotta say, I need the money more than you. So hand both your wallets over, don’t tell any heroes I was here, and maybe I’ll let you off with only first-degree burns, yeah?”
A villain was looking at him. A real, living, steam-breathing villain who had no qualms about burning middle-schoolers. With Quirks came those who would use them for evil, and he was looking at one of those right now. Heroes were the ones combating these villains, but Tatara had no idea where the nearest hero office was or if there was even one nearby. The only hero he had even heard of was All Might, and he was a legend that was nowhere in Tokyo.
Tatara froze; even as he felt his skin get warmer and warmer until it was stiflingly uncomfortable. Muroi didn’t move a muscle too.
The villain chuckled and stepped over the bodies of the unconcious kids. “Are your wallets really worth being bedridden for the rest of your life?” He asked, steam gathering on his mask as he walked through it. “C’mon. Think about it, won’tcha?
Tatara didn’t even see Muroi move. Before he knew it, the bully had dropped the wallet and ran off behind him far into the alley, leaving his friends and Tatara behind.
“That ain’t too brave of him,” the villain remarked, “But I’ll find him later. Right now…” He picked the wallet up and looked inside it. “Damn, it’s as dry as a desert. Hopefully you’ve got something more substantial to show me, hmm?” He looked at Tatara.
He took a step back, eyes wide in fear. Is this how it’s going to end for me? His eyes flashed to the two unconscious boys on the floor, then back to the obscured face of the villain.
I can’t just leave them here. I have to do something, at least until someone comes.
“You can’t keep avoiding me forever, kid.” The villain tossed Tatara’s wallet over his shoulder where it landed with a thump on the pavement. “Second-degree? Is that what you want?”
Water began to roll down his body as the steam coalesced around him, but Tatara didn’t - couldn’t - move.
“Fine. The hard way, then.” He lunged at Tatara, palm reaching out to strike at him.
If only I were just a little further to the right…
He raised his arms to protect his face, wincing, when he felt the scenery go by. And then suddenly Tatara was standing a foot away as a hand, then an arm, and then a whole body whooshed through where his neck had just been.
Their positions were now reversed, with Tatara standing infront of the unstirring bodies of his schoolmates at the entrance of the alley as the villain faced him.
“You sneaky little…” He scowled, then spat on the floor. The spit started to evaporate, and became one with the steam that the villain was spewing out with every new breath. “What is that, teleportation? Super-speed? Whatever it is, you think you’ve got a good Quirk, huh?”
Tatara shook his head wildly, stammering, “No, not at all! It’s really very useless-“
“Shut it!” The villain roared, a gush of steam clouding the air. Tatara’s hair was wet through and through by this point, but he didn’t even notice it. His heart was going a mile a minute and his brain was whirring with adrenaline, trying to find a way to stall for time. Useless Quirk or no, he would have to make this work.
Without warning, the man lunged again. Tatara focused; imagining himself standing in the spot just to his right where his hand was, and then he was there. This time, though, the villain managed to just graze the side of his face - Tatara couldn’t move far enough to completely avoid him.
He winced, holding the side of his face. A small of his cheek hurt like that time he had accidentally spilt tea on his foot but a hundredfold.
The villain saw that, and gloated smugly, “You’re just a kid. Not even a hero! How long do ya think you can keep this up, eh?”
Without warning, a flash of yellow came thundering from the rooftops above. Tatara flinched and barely had time to register the blur as a human before the man crashed down, booting the villain a good few feet away with an astonishing kick.
The newcomer landed on the ground in a perfect three-point pose, then got up. Before anything else, he turned to Tatara and grinned cockily. “I’ll take it from here.” Tatara slowly stopped flinching and stared back, deep in awe. He was tall, clad in yellow and had blonde hair to match, with a helmet featuring an orange visor that covered his eyes, deep orange boots and fingerless gloves but bare forearms. Everything about him screamed hero.
He turned back to the steam villain, still groggily staggering to his feet. “Hey, preying on middle schoolers?” He called, one hand held up to his mouth. “Pick on an adult, you third-rate villain.”
“I ain’t no third-rate…! I’m gonna kill you and the kid, just for that!” The steam villain wiped blood from the corner of his mouth, glaring furiously. His mask had been knocked off, and Tatara could see that he had a long scar across his forehead.
“Not even gonna go, ‘Wow! It’s him!’ Or anything?” The hero snorted and took a step forward, arms crossed. From behind, Tatara watched the two confront each other. This was like something right out of those ancient sumo-wrestling tapes his grandmother liked to watch, only much more dangerous. “You’re insulting me, Kukichi Hakiketsu.”
Tatara saw the villain’s eyes go almost as wide as his. “How do you know who I am?”
“You couldn’t have been less subtle than if you actually set up a flare, idiot.” The hero raised his chin cockily, and through the visor, Tatara could see the man’s eyes practically ablaze with excitement. “Running the description of a villain with a steam Quirk in the area through the database took literally less than a minute.
The hero raised his hands and gestured to the villain with both, beckoning him close. “Now sit the fuck down and come into custody quietly, you tryhard.”
Tatara felt like a celebrity had just walked in front of him. He didn’t know anything about heroes, but this man with his cocky personality and flashy clothes made him feel starstruck.
“Nnngrah!” Without warning, the steam guy leapt forward, his arm arcing towards the hero’s sternum. “Watch out!” Tatara cried, scrambling up, “He’s gonna-“
“Hah!” The hero pointed an accusing finger at the man, his whole right arm outstretched. “Know when you’ve been outclassed!” He roared.
Quicker than anything he had ever seen before, there was a small spark at the tip of his index finger, then suddenly a bolt of pure energy came pouring out in a concentrated, breathtaking strike. The force of it threw Tatara back, but he kept his eyes open.
Looking back at him, the hero grinned through his visor and gave Tatara a thumbs-up with his left hand. “Already on it, kid. A professional like me isn’t gonna be taken down by a third-rate.”
The lightning strike illuminated the whole alley in bright white, then suddenly disappeared as quickly as the hero had made it appear. As the smoke and steam cleared, the only thing left behind was the body of the villain lying limply opposite them against the concrete wall-railing.
“I-is he-?” Tatara began, then clapped his hands over his nose and grimaced.
“Dead? No way in hell. I’ve got a lot more class than that.” The hero snorted, clearly pleased with his work. Then he tilted his head sligtly and scratched his cheek. “I’d also be in a ton of trouble if I killed someone. So there’s that.”
Removing his helmet, the hero shook his head vigorously and gave a large yawn, before noticing Tatara covering his nose. “Oh yeah, I forgot that everyone else doesn’t know. The smell’s ozone! Like, ‘fresh lightning breaking through the sky’, ozone. Don’t worry, it’ll go away after awhile.”
The man underneath the visor barely looked Japanese. He was handsome like a model, walked with way too much purpose, he was way too tall, and his hair even looked naturally blonde. Then again, Kurokawa from the class over had purple hair, so that wasn’t really that important. To Tatara, who was bog-standard in every way, this hero was the polar opposite.
He grinned, then tucked his helmet under his arm. “Nice job, kid. You held this lowlife off while I ran here.”
The hero then turned to the villain and began walking over, carefully stepping over Kawano and Hasebe. “Thanks! I’ll drop him off, so could you do me a favour and wake these two up? I need to get this scum to the nearest police station, so I can’t really hand around.” He gave a lazy salute with an arm, his attention already focused away.
“W-wait up!” Tatara got back up and clambered over to the side of the hero, walking next to him and looking upwards at his face. “W-what’s your name?”
He glanced down at him, then back to the villain. “Crap, you don’t know who I am?” He complained, then held the back of his neck and sighed. “Alright, alright, so maybe I should do more outreach programmes…”
The hero stopped suddenly and looked down at Tatara. Surprised, the middle schooler took a step back.
“I’m the hero who name you ought to know!” He announced, and pointed a confident thumb at his own chest. “The Electrifying Hero, Thunder! Remember my name, because you’re gonna hear it around the world soon!”
Tatara blinked. Thunder grinned.
There was an awkward pause before Tatara said timidly, “I-I meant your real name. T-though Thunder’s a-a cool hero name, too!”
“Ehhh…” Thunder squinted down at him, then rolled his eyes. “You’re the opposite of a Hero fanboy, huh? Barely even know proper hero-etiquette on how you shouldn’t ask a hero their name.”
“W-well…” Tatara shrugged and grinned sheepishly. “Y-yeah. I’ve never really been into heroes, haha…”
Thunder peered at the weird middle schooler, then bent down to the villain and began to fish out handcuffs from his belt. Distractedly, he asked Tatara, “Why not? When I was your age, everyone thought being a hero was tne best job ever. Hell, thanks to All Might, I’d bet that most still do.”
Tatara scratched his chin with a finger and looked down at the ground. “I… Well, I’ve got a useless Quirk,” he admitted. “Everyone says I can’t do anything with it, so I… don’t.” Crap… why am I telling all of this to Thunder? He’s got to be sick and tired of hearing about other people’s problems. Still, the words kept coming out of his mouth.
He clenched his fists tight so that they turned white. “I don’t have a cool Quirk like you, Mr Thunder. All my Quirk does is let me dodge, and not even very well. Haha, I guess being a hero is just too far out of my reach…” Tatara laughed, but it wasn’t very convincing.
The hero listened to all of this while handcuffing the villain. He let the boy talk even after he finished.
“Also, I guess I’ve never really known what I want to do in life, so I’ve never even thought about it. My family also doesn’t really have money, so I don’t think I’d be able to pay Hero school tuition fees, hahaha… I-I don’t even think I could pass entrance exams!” Tatara trailed off.
Eventually, he stood up.
“I’ve had enough!” Without any warning, Thunder turned around and clapped both his hands down on Tatara’s shoulders. Tatara could feel his brain rattling about with the force of the hero’s hands and had to shake his head to clear it.
He blinked, astonished, up at Thunder. “Useless Quirk my ass!” Thunder glared down at him with conviction, wide smile across his face. “What’s your name, kid?”
“I-it’s Fujita T-t-tatara!” It took all of his strength to stop his teeth from chattering.
“Fujita Tatara!” Thunder grinned even wider. “You can call me Sengoku Kaname! Enough with the Thunder business.
“You say that your Quirk is useless? I call bullshit!” Thunder - Sengoku - removed one hand from its place on his shoulder to poke Tatara in the chest. The same hand he took down the villain with…
Sengoku nodded. “I saw you flash - was that it? - back and forth when this third-rate scum tried to pressure cook you. Listen, we just need to unlock the secret of your Quirk, and you’ll be untouchable, kid.”
“W-we?” Tatara managed to say, scarcely believing what he was hearing. Sengoku raised an eyebrow and replied as if it was obvious, “Well, yeah. You and me, kid. Oh, and my agency’ll pitch in too.”
Tatara laughed nervously, holding both his hands up. “Wait a second, w-what are we doing again?” He asked lamely.
It can’t be.
Sengoku snorted and pressed even harder into his chest. Tatara barely felt it however; he was too focused on the words leaving the pro hero’s mouth. “Didn’t you feel your blood boil and rush into your ears?” He asked confidently. “The feeling of adrenaline spreading as you dodged his crappy haymaker?”
He pointed over his shoulder with a thumb. “You didn’t leave those kids behind to boil, and from the looks of your missing bag and all the crap on the floor, they were bullyin’ you. So, why didn’t you run away?”
Tatara didn’t have words to answer him with. “Y-you’ve gotta be kidding me,” he said feebly. “It was just adrenaline! It’s not anything special.”
“Stop stammerin’ and stand up for yourself!” Sengoku bent down considerably to look Tatara in the eyes. “If you won’t say it, I’ll do it for you.” He stared back, daring Tatara to speak.
“Seriously, you must be mistaken,” Tatara blurted out. This isn’t happening.
“Sure as hell I’m not!” Sengoku put a rough hand down on Tatara’s head, then stood up.
“Fujita Tatara!” He beckoned Tatara with a cocky move of his hand. “You’ve got the chops to become a hero! You’ve got the heart, and now you’ve got the vision, and soon you’ll have the body if you come with me! Whaddya say?”
“M-me?” Tatara pointed to himself, his thoughts swirling around in his head. Just a few hours ago he’d barely known what he wanted to do, but now… “Me, a h-h-hero?”
Something like that is beyond my reach, surely?
“Listen up, Tatara. We heroes help people.” Sengoku offered his hand again. “I know you’ve got a good heart inside that unfit, scrawny body. I’ll help you bring out that heart!
“Er… wait, that sounded weird. Uh…”
Tatara wasn’t listening at this point. Sengoku had faded into the background along with the noise of the neighbourhood, the cat meowing down the block, the airplane droning overhead… all of it was so very far away from him.
He looked down at his hands, as if in a trance. Heroes… help people?
An image of a woman’s back. Muroi’s sneering face leering over him. The fat teacher who said he couldn’t do anything without even asking him. Himself, who always ran away and laughed people’s expectations away without real answers.
“I-if I become a hero… can I help save people like you helped me?” Tatara looked up, a new fire in his eyes. “You’ll teach me how to use my Quirk?”
Sengoku nodded. “I’ll do my best to set you on the right track to becoming a pro, kid,” he promised. “You’ve got Thunder’s word.”
Tatara bowed deeply, from his hips. “Thank you for being so kind to me…!”
Then he felt a hand ruffle his messy black hair. “Yeah, yeah… We’ll see what you have to say once I show you my training regiment, huh Tatara?”
And for the first time in a while, Tatara really felt like laughing.
“Shit!” Sengoku bounded back, then glared at the slowly-awakening steam villain. “Who said you could wake up? Go back to bed, moron!” He pointed at the villain with his middle finger, letting lightning gush out into the villain.
For a moment, Tatara swore that he could see the villain’s skeleton against his body as the electricity flickered, but it quickly went out. The smell of ozone filled the air again, and Sengoku held up his smoking finger before blowing the smoke away. “No problem at all, you see? But I, uh, best get him away.”
Sengoku hefted the villain onto his shoulder before glancing up at the setting sun. “Crap, I gotta go. I’m gonna need that favour, so help me call the police, yeah? Direct ‘em to Thunder from Ogasawara Hero Agency!”
He bounded away, but not before looking back at Tatara and nodding cockily. “Tatara Fujita!” He declared, “I will help you become a hero!”
And then he was gone, leaving Tatara alone with the stirring bullies.
The next few hours went by in a flash. The meeting with the police, walking back home, walking back halfway once he realised he’d left his backpack behind in the alley, then going to the convenience store to grab some plasters when it occured to him he couldn’t go home with the small burn on his face.
That night he lay on the futon and stared up at the ceiling. He could hear his father snoring across the house.
Tatara reached a hand up into the sky, grasping at nothing at all.
“I’m gonna be a hero.”