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Deku Versus Kacchan

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If you knew Aizawa Shouta, you would know that he takes the UA entrance exam very seriously.

How could you tell? No sleeping bag.

There was no time to catch up on lost sleep when the incoming UA class was at stake.

He might sit in the back of the room and let the other teachers have their say, but make no mistake, he had opinions about who should and should not be admitted to UA.

To be fair, the UA entrance exam was illogical and biased in favor of specific kinds of quirk users, thus practically guaranteeing UA graduated heroes who excelled in physical combat. In UA’s defense, capturing villains tends to involve physical confrontation more often than not.

The entrance exam was less effective at identifying potential students who could embody other qualities that heroes should have in a well-functioning society. Intelligence. Empathy. A certain flexibility in worldview.

The school used the so-called “Rescue” metric to recognize applicants who demonstrated that je ne sais quoi, the essence of “heroism.” They tried to teach it at UA, but some kids had it naturally.

Take Midoriya Izuku.

Kid didn’t get a single villain point, but Aizawa’s colleagues decided to reward him for throwing himself on the line to “save” a fellow applicant.

And breaking three limbs in the process.

Is it logical for the most rigorous hero training course in the country to admit a kid like that? What kind of future as a hero did he have if he shattered when he used his quirk? How much good is heart without a functioning body?

Take Bakugou Katsuki.

His exam results were the inverse of Midoriya’s — an impressive number of villain points and no rescue points. This kid had talent, no question, but attitude…He was utterly merciless in manipulating conditions to give himself a victory advantage, other applicants be damned. There was something unsettling about that manic grin.

As an educator Aizawa couldn’t help being interested in the boys’ backgrounds. They both came from Aldera Junior High, a school in a middle-class area that had never before sent a student to UA. Then this year comes along and not one, but two kids may be offered admission — and the kids couldn’t be more different.

How did two boys raised under similar circumstances develop such contradictory natures?

Bakugou’s file included a note that he had been the would-be victim of a sludge villain until All Might intervened. Eyewitness accounts described the boy as powerful and quick-thinking.

The record included a brief aside that Midoriya Izuku was also present during the attack, but he had made a nuisance of himself, getting in the way of the assembled heroes. If All Might had not been in the area, Bakugou and Midoriya could have both been taken. There was no indication that Midoriya had used his quirk to save himself or his classmate.

Perhaps he was afraid of getting in trouble for using his quirk as a minor in public, even though it would have been self-defense. But that didn’t quite feel right to Aizawa. The boy threw himself at the 0-point Bot when the stakes were much lower than a classmate under attack.

It looked like Aizawa’s colleagues were in favor of admitting Midoriya despite the fact the kid showed no aptitude for the skills that were encouraged at UA. Aizawa hoped the kid didn’t end up in his class; his instincts were telling him that there was something off about Midoriya. Aizawa wasn’t sure he had the patience to unravel the mystery when there were students like Bakugou and Kirishima Eijiro, both of whom already seemed like pro hero material. Plus Aizawa would be getting two of the four recommended students, and they would no doubt be worth watching.

No, Aizawa didn’t have a good feeling about Midoriya.

But if it came down to Midoriya or the purple balls kid…

At least there was always the expulsion option.

                                                                                                    

Izuku could not remember a time before Bakugou Katsuki.

The explosive boy was a permanent fixture in Izuku’s childhood, as least as Izuku remembered it. Even after the devastating discovery that he was quirkless, Izuku couldn’t let go of the boy who was and always would be Kacchan to him. No matter how many times Kacchan pushed him away, Izuku couldn’t help following.

Once when he was thirteen and their friendship had died years ago by any measure, Izuku had looked up from recording his latest observations about Kacchan’s quirk and thought, Kacchan is like my sun. It was a horrifying moment of self-realization. He threw himself on his bed, furious for holding on to a relationship that wasn’t doing either of them any good. He vowed to take the secret with him to the grave.

UA shattered the detente they had reached after the sludge villain incident.  It would be an understatement to say that Kacchan was not happy when, against all expectations, Izuku was accepted to UA. The boy who ignored Izuku except to taunt or bully started looking back at Izuku, and it was not a comfortable feeling. Red eyes filled with anger followed Izuku whenever they were together, and Izuku had a vague sense of remorse that maybe it had been unseemly for him to observe Kacchan so closely over the years. He pushed the thought aside; Kacchan loved to be admired, even if by a shitty nerd.

Life at his dream high school and training his quirk with All Might himself provided much-needed distraction from what Izuku called “the Kacchan problem” in his mind.

Izuku was mortified that his classmates in 1-A could sense the hostility between him and Kaccchan. Izuku’s new friends tried to figure out what was going on with them without prying too overtly.

“I don’t really understand why Bakugou keeps calling you Deku if he knows you don’t like it,” Uraraka mused.

Izuku hoped with all his heart that Uraraka had never been bullied a day in her life.

“Sometimes Kacchan doesn’t know when to leave things alone,” he hedged.

“It’s unbecoming for a UA student,” Iida declared.

“He doesn’t mind you calling him Kacchan, though?” Uraraka asked.

Izuku gulped and wracked his brain to remember when he had called Kacchan Kacchan at their new school. Oh god had it happened more than once. Kacchan would kill him.

Both Iida and Uraraka were staring at him. “Eh??”

“You were mumbling something about Bakugou?” Iida prompted.

“Ahhh, we’ve just known each other since we were kids.” To Izuku’s relief, Uraraka and Iida left it at that, and the three spent the rest of their break gossiping about their new classmates. (Iida pretended to disapprove but could not resist sharing his painfully earnest observations.)

 

Iida and Uraraka had the opportunity to see just how bad Izuku’s relationship with Kacchan was in their first battle class. Fate, which had been treating Izuku pretty well lately, abandoned him and left him in a matchup with Uraraka against Kacchan and Iida.

Izuku regretted that his new friends were being drawn into the confrontation that had been building between him and Kacchan since they were four years old.

Uraraka dragged a truth out of him: “He’s amazing. I mean, he’s awful, but his ambition, his confidence, his physical strength, his quirk — he’s better than me in a hundred different ways. That’s why I want to win.”

Izuku knew what he needed to do.

Kacchan was angry.

He wanted to kill Izuku.

“He won’t die if it’s not a direct hit.”

(Maybe not really, but close enough.)

And part of Izuku did die.

For the first time since they were children, he stood up to Kacchan on his own behalf. It hurt to see the boy who embodied heroism in Izuku’s daily life look at him with such vitriol.

“I’m not going to be your worthless ‘deku’ anymore,” Izuku panted, costume shredded from the force of Kacchan’s attacks. “I’m the Deku who will be a hero!” 

Kacchan’s hands crackled, and Izuku braced for the explosion. He hoped Uraraka would be outside the impact zone.

“Deku,” Kacchan ground out. “You’re terrified, and you still want to fight me. THAT’S WHY I HATE YOU.”

 

How had they gotten here?

Izuku had spent most of his life following Kacchan, wanting to be like him. But it only took a few days with his new classmates for Izuku to realize that if he wanted to be a top hero, Kacchan was one of many students who would challenge Izuku and make him stronger. Maybe Kacchan shone a little bit brighter, and maybe fighting Kacchan with One for All felt a little bit like fighting All Might himself, but Izuku would not use One for All. He would not.

Kacchan raged and frothed, but Izuku had watched this boy for over a decade, and he knew: Kacchan feared Izuku’s quirk that seemed to have come out of nowhere, but he also stewed in a sense of betrayal so deep it impaired his judgement.

Kacchan thought Izuku had lied to him all these years, that Izuku had hidden his quirk, when it was his secret wish to stand stand-by-side with Kacchan, both of them having awesome quirks. Both of them becoming top heroes, just like All Might.

“Did you think you were better than me? WERE YOU LAUGHING AT ME ALL THIS TIME?”

No, Izuku wanted to scream as he scrambled for a plan that would allow him and Uraraka to save the weapon before time ran out. I wanted to be as good as you. I STILL DO! BECAUSE YOU’RE AMAZING!!

I’m not afraid of you anymore, Kacchan,” Izuku said as his oldest friend prepared to release his biggest explosion yet. But he was afraid. He was afraid this was the cost of realizing his dream: crushing or being crushed by the person he admired most after All Might.

There had to be another way.

It took a Detroit Smash.

It took breaking his body again.

The last thing Izuku saw before he lost consciousness was the mixture of horror and fear on the face of the boy he cared about the most.

***

Healing sessions with Recovery Girl were medical miracles, but there was also something…unnerving about about the way her quirk worked. Izuku could barely keep himself upright as he tottered to the train station after the grueling battle simulation. Win the battle, lose the war, Izuku thought grimly.

“Deku.”

Izuku slowed but resisted his learned response to run when he heard that particular voice and that particular tone. He steeled his nerves. His days of fearing Kacchan were over. He schooled his face into what he hoped was a neutral expression.

“Don’t look at me like that you little fucker,” Kacchan growled.

“What do you want, Kacchan?” Izuku asked wearily.

“Were you laughing at me all these years? Hah?” He crowded into Izuku’s space using his height advantage to intimidate.

Izuku stepped away and bowed his head.

He was an idiot.

Even after the terrible truths that had been spilled during the battle, part of Izuku still hoped there was a chance he and Kacchan could find a way through their feelings of inferiority and resentment to come out the other side with a relationship stronger than ever. If that were to happen, Izuku had to take the first step.

“I never lied to you, Kacchan.” The other boy turned away from Izuku, so he couldn’t see the effect of his words. “My quirk was given to me. Don’t ask me how. You’re the only one who knows, not even my mother,” he finished in a low voice.

Kacchan was breathing hard. “Do you think I’m stupid?” he hissed.

Izuku risked looking up.

Angry tears stood in the other boy’s red eyes. “You can take your borrowed quirk bullshit and fuck off. I’m gonna be number one, so get out of my way.” He meant it figuratively and literally, as he pushed past Izuku. 

“You can’t hide from me. I’ll find out your secret.”

Speechless, Izuku watched his old friend shamble to the UA gate, posture slumped and defeated.

                                                                                                    

Katsuki could not remember a time before Midoriya Izuku.

Everything bad in Katsuki’s life could be traced back to that shitty, green-haired nerd.

As a kid Katsuki knew he had a great quirk; everyone told him so. In a world where people with the strongest quirks reigned at the top of the hierarchy and people with no quirks at all were the lowest kind of scum, it was obvious where he and Deku fit in the social order. The loser figured prominently in Katsuki’s childhood, always tagging along, a few steps out of sync with everyone else.

Once when he was thirteen, Katsuki found himself staring at Deku from across the classroom and was filled with a sensation of disgust so strong he had to choke back bile. The loser was always scratching away at his notebooks as if he could become a hero through the power of good penmanship and detailed drawings. It bothered Katsuki that both he and Deku wanted to be like All Might: if a loser like Deku aspired to be the next number one hero, maybe that meant that he, Katsuki, should have different, better aspirations. In the darkest, most secret part of his mind, he feared what it meant for him and Deku to be traveling the same path.

Katsuki thought he’d finally escape him and his stupid green hair and teary eyes when he enrolled at UA, but then the fucking nerd went and pulled a powerful quirk out of his back pocket.

The little shitrag couldn’t even use it. Breaks his bones or copies Katsuki’s own moves.

Pathetic fucker.

Has this stupid ass story, Kacchan, Kacchan, Kacchan, this quirk was given to me, Kacchan, Kacchan.

Goddamn liar. Quirks can’t be given or taken. Everyone knows that.

Which means Deku lied to me. Every day for over ten years, the nerd’s been laughing at me. Looking down at me.

 

I’ll figure out your secret, you little fucker.

 

End of semester final exams arrived: Aizawa-sensei was a bitter man with a terrible sense of humor.

“Midoriya, you’re with Bakugou as a team.”

 

Katsuki had a temper, and he knew it. How could he not with a mother like his? Even so, he tried to keep it under control. When the nerd started babbling about how they couldn’t take on All Might, which was the point of the test, Katsuki saw red.

Everyone was looking down at at him.

Especially that shitrag.

Katsuki hit him in the face with a gauntlet.

He hadn’t meant to, exactly. He’d swung around, his right swing that Deku had called out like the stalker he was, and his face was just…there.

Thus ended their first minute working together as a “team,” the wonder duo, according to All Might.

Katsuki would think All Might was being sarcastic, but that wasn’t his way. He was no Aizawa. If All Might called him and Deku a wonder duo, that meant that he really believed it. Katsuki thought maybe all the time All Might was spending with Deku was impairing the hero’s judgement.

(And don’t think he didn’t notice. Katsuki’s other classmates were oblivious, but Katsuki missed nothing where Deku was concerned.)

 

How had they gotten here?

Katsuki needed, he needed to know that he had power. He needed to prove he wasn’t weak, and this exam was the place to do it, since that Todoroki bastard had ruined the Sports Festival.

He didn’t need anyone, especially shitty little nerds who lie about their quirks and then upstage everyone.

I will win. Because that’s what a hero does.

It’s no exaggeration to say that All Might was a force of nature. One part of Katsuki’s mind had cataloged All Might’s victories in as much detail as Deku, though he’d rather die than admit that out loud. Katsuki knew that All Might was well-nigh unbeatable, and it was more than a little intimidating to see the number one hero bearing down on him with villainous intent.

Katsuki had to find a way to beat him. He would not listen to the whining of cowardly nerds who wanted to flee. This would be no half-assed victory.

If I have to get help from that scum, then I’d rather lose.

But he was sixteen-years-old, burdened with Deku, whose control over his quirk was a joke, and whose voice echoed around the inside of Katsuki’s head: Don’t you say that you’d rather lose!

Deku you fucker, I didn’t lose. Not until I met you.

How could they take down this edifice of a man, the world’s symbol of peace?

By breaking, if that’s what it took.

I’ll break myself. Even if there’s nothing left of me, I will win the way I want to. I’ll destroy myself before I accept defeat at your hands.

If Deku could sacrifice his body to win, then so could Katsuki.

Victory on someone else’s terms was no victory at all

***

Katsuki awoke in the infirmary, and the first thing he saw was a certain shitty bastard. He was sitting on the bed next to Katsuki’s. 

“Come to laugh at me? Get the fuck out of here.” He rolled over on his side so he wouldn’t have to see the asshole.

“Kacchan, what was that today?”

Katsuki tried to bolt up, but his body hurt too much and he ended up flopping gracelessly, more cause for humiliation in front of Deku. For once he had the foresight to avoid being overheard, so he whispered viciously. “What do you think, bastard, you were there. All Might beat me.” It made Katsuki sick. He would never, ever watch the recordings. “I TOLD YOU TO GO WHY DIDN’T YOU LISTEN?”

“Today was,” Deku shook his head, bereft of words. Out of the corner of his eye Katsuki noticed Deku wasn’t looking so hot himself. He had obviously been injured, but it served the nerd right.

“It doesn’t matter. We passed.” Katsuki closed his eyes and turned away from Deku. If all went well, he’d be alone next time he opened them.

It was not to be. “What do you mean, ‘it doesn’t matter, we passed?’” Deku said in disbelief. “We almost didn’t pass, and it would have been all your fault.”

This time Katsuki managed to bolt up. Something in his abdominal region protested, but he could not let this Deku get away with that kind of bullshit.

“My fault?” Katsuki hissed. “I was the only one who did anything! You just wanted to run away.”

“Kacchan! You wouldn’t listen to anything I said! You wanted to give up instead of trying to work together. Didn’t you hear what All Might said? THE TEACHERS PUT US TOGETHER ON PURPOSE BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T THINK WE COULD COOPERATE!”

“WELL THEY WERE RIGHT WEREN’T THEY. I’LL DIE BEFORE I WORK WITH A WORTHLESS PIECE OF GARBAGE LIKE YOU AGAIN!”

They were screaming at each by now.

“Stop yelling, Kacchan! This is why we can never have a real conversation!”

They both broke off, breathing hard, eyes blazing. It was like being in the test again, only this time their weapons were words and raw emotion.

Deku visibly tried to control himself. “I know you don’t like to think about it, but we’ve known each other since we were kids, and you’ve never accepted ‘passing.’ You always want to be the best, and I…” Deku trailed off.

Katsuki sneered. “You were the one who said we’d never beat All Might.”

Deku pointed an emphatic finger at him. “And you tried anyway! You said you’d win, and we did.” He took a deep breath before continuing, “That was secretly what I always admired most about you. You never give up. How could you be so stupid and proud that you were willing to fail the exam rather than work together? Did you really think you could beat All Might?”

“You won,” Katsuki spat in disgust. “I didn’t do jack shit.”

“Kacchan,” Deku leaned forward until he was practically in Katsuki’s face. “You said you’d break yourself before you’d accept defeat.” Katsuki wanted to smack the tears that were welling in Deku’s eyes right off his stupid face. “I couldn’t leave it like that.”

Deku twisted his hands in his lap. “That’s why you’re amazing, and I’ve always wanted to be as good as you.”

Katsuki lay back on the bed gingerly. He would have liked to throw himself back dramatically, but his body really did hurt.

“Get the hell out of my sight, Deku, ” he growled.

 

“Uh, hey guys?”

Katsuki had been so intent on Deku that he had not noticed Glasses and Round Face until she spoke.

“Oh, Iida, Uraraka! I didn’t know you were there.”

“Clearly.”

“Uh, well, congratulations on passing your exam,” Deku said, flustered.

As he ushered Iida and Uraraka out of the room, Deku turned back to Katsuki, frustrated that their conversation had been cut short.

This wasn’t over.

                                                                                                   

If rumors could be believed, and since they originated with Iida and Uraraka they probably could, Midoriya and Bakugou scraped through the final exam practical by the skin of their teeth. They were the only students in 1-A who ended up in the infirmary for serious injuries. Midoriya probably had his own bed in there by now.

At the training camp that summer Todoroki, Shoji, and Tokoyami witnessed what felt like the rending of Midoriya’s soul when Bakugou disappeared through Kurogiri’s warp gate. By silent agreement, the three boys never spoke of Midoriya’s breakdown, but his scream echoed through Shoji’s dreams for months afterwards. He would wake in a cold sweat with the memory of his classmate sinking into the darkness, harsh words whispering, Stay away, Deku.

Kirishima and Todoroki ran into each other at the hospital.

“Midoriya will want in,” Todoroki said with conviction.

Since Midoriya had been unconscious for the past two days, Kirishima had his doubts. “I don’t know if he’ll be up for it—”

Todoroki looked down and shook his head slowly. “He will. Nothing in the world would keep him away.“

Almost everyone in 1-A was present at the birth of the plan to liberate Bakugou from the League of Villains. While the initial impetus came from Kirishima and Todoroki, the momentum and heart came from Midoriya, despite his own barely healed body.

(Kirishima never mentioned to anyone the identical agony on Bakugou’s and Midoriya’s faces during that final battle between All Might and All for One. He knew when to keep his bros’ secrets.)

 

Then there was that very curious incident that no one would talk about, but that had resulted in Midoriya’s and Bakugou’s house arrest at the beginning of second semester. Whatever happened, something about them was different afterwards.

 

The teachers noticed, and what seemed like gross misconduct the first semester — teaming up Bakugou and Midoriya for the final exam — became more commonplace. The two boys said little, although one scowled more than the other. When they fought now the psychic wounds were outnumbered by the hard-earned physical ones.

 

So as class 1-A stood and watched Bakugou and Midoriya kick the shit out of each other — all in the name of education, of course — they were more entertained than fearful. The first time All Might had set them to spar together, Uraraka and Iida seemed likely to combust with anxiety. They had been the unwitting participants in that first battle training with Midoriya and Bakugou, as well as observers of their final exam.  Even Kirishima had reservations about sensei’s judgment when it came to those two.

 

By now Uraraka took a more philosophical perspective.

“They’re fated rivals from childhood who must learn to overcome their differences and work together to defeat their greatest enemy,” she once said.

“That’s the plot of like, a million movies,” Ashido complained.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not true. You weren’t there. It was terrifying. They’re going to destroy each other through love or hate, one or the other.”

“What?? Why?”

“That’s why it’s called Fate. There is no why. As for what drives them.” Uraraka frowned in thought. “I guess it’s a secret. I told Bakugou that I wanted him to be friends with Deku again.”

Ashido looked at her with awe. “And you’re still here? When?”

“After the final exam. It was awful to watch. They kept fighting with each other instead of All Might.”

“Can’t really blame them since they were going up against All Might.”

“The All Might part I can see. They could have opted for escape instead of offense, but Bakugou kept attacking even though he’s smart enough to know they had no chance, even with the handicaps.”

“All Might wouldn’t have hurt them.”

“No,” Uraraka agreed, “nothing permanent at least. Deku got through okay, for him, but Bakugou was a mess.”

Ashido considered that. She could count on one hand the number of times she’d seen Bakugou get injured and have fingers left over.

 

Today Bakugou and Midoriya faced off with grins almost matching in their feral ferocity. They circled each other looking for an opening, and when they finally clashed, everyone backed up a few steps. The air disturbance blew back Aizawa’s hair, but he made no move to stop them.

“Still haven’t figured out how to coordinate your punches with Shoot Style, you nerd? I’m gonna murder you.” Bakugou’s unique take on trash talking.

“Kacchan,” Midoriya growled back. “Come at me with everything you’ve got. I won’t hold back.” The class braced in anticipation.

Bakugou released a Stun Grenade and an AP Shot Auto-Cannon in quick succession, and several students cheered when Midoryia closed his eyes and executed a neat back handspring to avoid the blast.

“Die!” Bakugou aimed a blast at the spectators who scrambled to get out of the way.

“Bakugou,” said Aizawa.

Without missing a beat, Midoriya and Bakugou flew at each other, reaching out and grabbing clothing, trying to get a purchase on skin. Their speed was blinding. Aoyama’s mouth gaped, and Hagakure squealed and grabbed Uraraka’s arm. When Bakugou decked Midoriya in his face with his left hand, there was an audible gasp from among the spectators.

“Did you see that?” asked Kirishima with excitement.

Todoroki tilted his head thoughtfully. “He has always been exceptionally skilled at combat. He must be training to use both arms with equal strength.”

Bakugou took advantage of Midoriya’s surprise to launch himself at the other boy, knocking them both to the ground. Bakugou landed on top of Midoriya and pinned him down.

“Do you think they’re going to kill each other?”

“Nah, probably kiss.” Todoroki turned to frown at Kaminari, who raised both hands in the air. “Joke! I was only joking.” Uraraka looked away to hide her laughter.

The two combatants panted heavily, trying to read each other’s intentions.

“I hate you so much.” This hardly fazed Midoriya, who had been hearing variations on the theme for years.

“Sometimes I hate you too.”

If Bakugou weren’t already straddling Deku with every intention of punching him, he would have sent an explosion to his face.

“Okay, boys.” Aizawa droned. “Good job.” There were scattered groans, as some students wanted to watch the spar continue.

“Tch,” said Bakugou, who rolled on to his back, still breathing heavily.

 

“Kaminari, you were talking, You’re up next with Sero.”

“Aww man, it sucks to go after Midoriya and Bakugou,” Kaminari complained, but moved into position nonetheless.

Before the bout could start, Present Mic’s voice boomed out, “Aizawa Shota please report to the faculty office immediately. I repeat, Aizawa Shota, report to the office immediately.”

The students looked at each other in alarm. Aizawa had never been summoned like this before, and after USJ, there was always the possibility that another UA facility was under attack. Aizawa himself looked in the direction of the main building and narrowed his eyes slightly. Nothing seemed amiss, but he turned back to his class.

“All of you, return to the dorms, and do not leave until you hear from me or another teacher.” If his eyes lingered on some students more than others, they could chalk it up to their guilty consciences.

The students were reluctant to leave their teacher. “Go,” he barked.

Iida began herding his classmates. “We must not delay Aizawa-sensei any longer! Come along.”

Deciding Iida had affairs in hand, Aizawa took off at a jog to the main building.

“What do you think’s going on?” Uraraka asked Midoriya.

“I don’t know. I hope all the other teachers and students are okay,” Midoriya fretted.

The class dawdled on its way to Heights Alliance. If anything happened on the school grounds, they wanted to be able to assist the teachers. When they finally reached the dorm, some wandered off to their rooms to change, but the majority lingered in the common area.

 

They didn’t have to wait long before Aizawa showed up.

“Bakugou, Kaminari, Midoriya, and Sero, you’re with me. The rest of you, stay in your rooms until we get back.”

The four named students jumped up while the rest of the class shot each other looks. “Ah, Aizawa-sensei, why do they get to go with you?” Ashido asked, voicing  the question that was on everyone’s mind.

“They were the most recent four to irritate me,” Aizawa replied blandly, but by now the class knew their teacher was prone to lying when it suited him.

“Let’s go. You have fifteen minutes to change into your costumes and meet me at the front gate.”

***

The shuttle from UA drove up as close to the stadium as possible, but Aizawa, Midoriya, Bakugou, Sero, and Kaminari had to walk almost half a kilometer to reach their destination.

It was pandemonium. The lines of cars leading away from the stadium were essentially stalled, so people ran, walked, or otherwise fled away from the stadium that even at a distance Midoriya could see didn’t look right. Police attempted crowd control assisted by some district heroes. It was difficult for the group to move together against the crowd until Sero loosely bound their left wrists together.

As they drew closer to the stadium proper, they came across the first groups of injured civilians. Midoriya, of course, wanted to help everyone, and it was only Sero’s tape binding him to the group that forced him to stay on course. Aizawa made a mental note that he needed to talk to his class about how to prioritize during emergencies.

Kamui Woods and Ms. Joke met them at the entrance to the stadium complex. Ms. Joke was not laughing, though she did she yell, “Eraserhead!” with a ghost of her usual enthusiasm.

Kamui Woods brought the group up to speed with the brevity he was known for. “Thank you for coming, Eraserhead.  The game was underway when two villains arrived.  We don’t know who it is or what they want, but they’ve destroyed large parts of the stadium.  Chaos broke out, and the spectators panicked. I arrived at the same time as the police and helped with evacuation.  As you can see, injured people are still escaping now.”

This close to the destruction, there were medical staff and drones working frantically to triage the wounded. Kaminari blanched when he saw the extent of some of the injuries. Doctors with a variety of quirks moved around patients, many of whom were sitting or lying in the middle of the disarray, causing problems for the people who needed to navigate around them. Many people were clearly in shock. Others cried as they talked into their cellphones.

People frantically looked for their family members, some of whom had been separated.  A trickle of injured civilians were being carried out of the stadium on stretchers. Midoriya gulped and was thankful he had yet to see any signs of death, though it was inevitable with destruction of this magnitude.

What had happened? Kamui Woods said they did not know the identity of the villains. What kind of quirks could do this much damage?

The police were overseeing the evacuation and triage of the wounded people, but no one seemed eager to enter the stadium.

“Also, I’m afraid to report, we believe there are hostages inside,” said Ms. Joke.

Midoriya felt a surge of anger.  A villain ruined an entire stadium’s worth of people’s lives!  These emotional scars and physical injuries would take a long time to heal.  He wanted to race in and fight whomever was responsible.  He glanced at his friends and saw similar looks of outrage on their faces.

“Do you know what kind of quirks we are dealing with?” Eraserhead asked Kamui Woods.

“Not directly.  One of the villains apparently has the ability to instantly cause great destruction to the stadium itself - we’re not sure how.  The other villain we have no idea.  Reports are that she has wild silver hair - there’s no one in the quirk database matching that description.  That’s why we asked you to come.  The safest course of action will be to erase their quirks, whatever they are, and then subdue them.”

“Very well.  Of course, it is highly likely this is a trap.  We must be careful and mindful of all possible outcomes.

“Sero, Kaminari, you come with me.  I will try to erase their quirks, then Sero will bind them with tape.  Kaminari, you provide backup with electrification if we need it.”

Midoriya and Bakugou twitched anxiously, waiting to hear their assignments.

“Bakugou and Midoriya, you stay outside and help the police with calming the injured civilians.”

“WHAT?!?!?!” they both yelled at the same time.

“But Sensei, we can help with whatever is inside!” cried Midoriya.

“I’m not made for helping the police.  I’m made for KILLING VILLAINS!” yelled Bakuguo.

“Yes, I am aware of your offensive talents, both of you,” Aizawa said dryly.  “But a hero also must know how to support and aid.  We will all work as a team, playing different roles at different times.  Sero, Kaminari, come with me.  Ms. Joke, please oversee Midoriya and Bakugou here.” He broke the tape binding the UA group together.

Ms. Joke did not look any more enthusiastic about Aizawa’s plans than Bakugou and Midoriya. “Aizawa,” she said sharply.

“Now’s not the time --”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, getting students involved with something like this?”

Even though he must have been eager to leave, Aizawa’s face was as stoic as ever. “At UA we believe in preparing our students to become heroes. All of these students have their provisional licenses, and Midoriya has already completed one internship. If Ketsubutsu doesn’t have the foresight to give its students practical experience, that’s not my problem.”

“We don’t want our students getting hurt,” Ms. Joke hissed.

“Nor do we, so please take good care of Bakugou and Midoriya.” Aizawa flashed one of his brief toothy grins as Bakugou and Midoriya made noises of protest.

“Sero, Kaminari, let’s go.” Aizawa and the two students made for the entrance to the stadium, moving upstream against the civilians still staggering out.  They disappeared inside.

 

Midoriya did not like feeling useless, but he thought he understood the lesson that Aizawa was trying to teach him. For his part, Bakugou was not at all pleased, and struggled to contain himself and follow his teacher’s order.  Goddammit why hadn’t he brought one of those extras who liked this kind of thing, like Round Face?

“Okay, boys, we have some people to help,” said Ms. Joke, though for once she did not look very happy.  “Kamui Woods and I have been helping medical staff move injured civilians. We’ll need you to help people find their families and figure out if anyone is missing.  Then we will know who might have been taken hostage, or who is left inside and needs to be saved.  Please follow us.”

Midoriya watched how Ms. Joke approached the terrified civilians. She smiled and people smiled back, even though Midoriya didn’t think she was using her quirk very much. Being around the “Smile Hero,” made people feel good. Midoriya made a mental note to update his notes on Ms. Joke when he got home. He hadn’t realized how effective her warm personality and ability to make people laugh would be in rescue situations. Kamui Woods’s style was completely different: he impressed people with his cool demeanor and reassurances that the situation was under control. Two different pro heroes, two different kinds of strengths.

The group split up and began working individually,  approaching anyone who looked to be searching for a missing loved one.  Kamui Woods had given them a set of questions to ask - How many people in your family were at the event? What were their ages? Names? When were they last seen?--  that sort of thing. Midoriya left obviously injured people to Ms. Joke and Kamui Woods.

It soon became apparent that Bakugou had little aptitude for managing the emotions of distraught civilians, yet working with Midoriya seemed to annoy him even more. Kamui Woods sighed to himself. He remembered Bakugou from the sludge villain incident and had been impressed with the boy’s bravery and tenacity. He had to believe Eraserhead had a good reason for keeping the teenager away from the action now.

Midoriya went about his assigned tasks determined to do a good job but kept checking his phone anxiously to see how much time had passed since Aizawa and his friends had gone inside.  The minutes ticked by, but there was still no sign of the heroes returning with any hostages.

Hostages. How many? What if it was a trap, as Aizawa thought?  Wouldn’t they need help?  What if they had injuries and couldn’t get out?  Surely someone should go check on them?

Midoriya checked his phone again - almost ten minutes had passed.  That should have been enough time to subdue any villain and report back if things were going smoothly.  He had to tell one of the pros something was wrong.

Midoriya looked around but didn’t see Ms. Joke, Kamui Woods, or Bakugou.  They all must be helping people out of sight.  Walking around to find them would be too slow, and every moment wasted was another moment when his friends and Aizawa could be in danger.  Midoriya felt like he had to act now.

Helping people was important, but making sure his friends were okay was even more so.  Midoriya looked around one last time, then decided to head for the nearest entrance.  By this time, the trickle of exiting people had dried up, so it was easy to bound up the ramp to the main entrance.  The doors were shut, so he opened them and stepped across the threshold to the main entrance hall.

It was nearly empty inside.  Midoriya saw signs for the different seating sections.  The villains could be hiding in the concourse, but his first priority was to assess the overall situation.  For that, he needed to get onto the field.  The shortest path would be to leap down from the stands through the seating area closest to the field.  He headed for the entrance to the seating section right in front of him.

As he entered into the stands, he got his first look at the entire stadium from the inside.  It was a large modern sports arena with rows of concrete steps leading from the ring of entrances down to the first row, which stopped at a railing overlooking a three-meter drop to the field below.  Bolted into the concrete structure were built-in seats where the spectators had all been sitting.  This was a large stadium - able to hold maybe forty or fifty thousand at full capacity.  Major sporting events and concerts were held here.

Or had been held here.  From the destruction, Midoriya had the sense it would be a long time before this stadium would host another event.  Large sections of the concrete structure were collapsed on themselves, leaving large craters maybe six meters in diameter.  The craters were filled with rubble from the plastic chairs and crushed construction material.  Giant concrete blocks had broken off from the stands and fallen into the bottoms of the craters with tortured strands of twisted rebar poking out.

The destruction wasn’t uniform - some areas were intact, but a quick scan told him that there were a dozen or so of these giant cavities of destruction.  There were no blast or scorch marks, so it didn’t appear to be the result of any kind of explosion.  It almost looked as if the architectural structure had been made to fail in a number of places and the ground had simply collapsed in discrete areas. It was like an earthquake, but limited to small sections of the structure only, as if the ground underneath the stadium had been damaged.

Anyone sitting in one of the zones of devastation would have been seriously injured as the concrete beneath them gave way.  Midoriya understood now why the injuries were so severe, the people so traumatized.  This was a level of mayhem and injury he had a hard time comprehending.  Unleashing this kind of power in a crowded stadium could only be to kill or main. There could be no other motivation.  This was the work of people with no regard for human life, no moral compass.

Gathering himself, Midoriya found an unobstructed path down the steps to the front row.  He stopped at the lower railing overlooking the field.

The field was marred in the center with a giant crater.  Mounds of dirt circled the crater rim.  Even from his high angle, three meters above ground level, he couldn’t see down to the bottom of the crater.  So it must be deep, at least six meters or maybe more.  The crater itself was about ten meters across.  Midoriya wondered if the same destructive force that had ruined the stadium had also made this pit? It seemed likely.

Tucked up against the edge of the field, thirty meters along the wall from where Midoriya stood, lay a human-sized white lump with what looked to be a pair of shoes sticking out one end.  It took Midoriya a moment to realize that those were Aizawa’s shoes, which meant that must be Aizawa wrapped in layers of white tape, like a cocoon.  He didn’t appear to be moving, although he was far away so it was hard to tell.  Midoriya was reminded of how Aizawa would zip himself into his sleeping bag during breaks in class to nap.  But this didn’t appear to be a napping instructor - his face, body, and hands were fully obscured behind the white wrapping.  He was most likely unconscious or otherwise restrained.

Midoriya felt a lump in his throat and a taut thread of fear in his gut.  He was facing a team of villains who could thoroughly destroy a stadium, blast a deep hole in the center of the field, and incapacitate Aizawa!  This was a fearsome foe indeed.

But now was not the time to let fear overwhelm him.  Now was the time to be a hero.

Midoriya activated Full Cowl as he leapt over the railing and soared through the air, landing with a powerful crunch about six meters from Aizawa.  He remained crouched as he surveyed the scene, All Might’s advice in his head: understand the situation before you jump into action!  He looked around, still not seeing any villains.  Who could do this to Eraserhead?  As much as he wanted to attend to his teacher immediately, he had to understand the tactical situation.

Still using Full Cowl, he bounded over to the pit in a single leap, landing a meter away from the rim.  He looked down to see sheer dirt sides, six meters straight down.  The floor of the pit was level, also dirt and rock.  There was no way down but to jump, but only a hero would be able to land unhurt. 

At the bottom of the pit he saw a hunched woman with wild, long silver hair and a long flowing dress.  This must be the first villain!  She looked up at Midoriya and smiled.

He didn’t see the second villain.  Maybe they had slipped out in the panic with the spectators?  Or they could be inside the stadium somewhere, hiding, readying an ambush.  He would have to remain vigilant.

Deku tucked that thought away and focused on a rapid tactical assessment of the scene in front of him. Sero lay on the ground at the villain’s feet. Like Aizawa, he appeared bound, although his face wasn’t fully obscured by tape.  Had he been bound with his own tape?  How could that be?  Did the villain share his quirk?  Next to him lay Kaminari, also wrapped, also not moving.

Behind the silver-haired villain were several groups of people, wrapped in what looked like Sero’s tape.  Midoriya couldn’t see their faces well enough to tell if they were conscious or not. Then he saw a few heads trying to turn from side-to-side, movement impeded by the tape.  At least some of them must be conscious then.  These were the hostages, then.

“Twenty-four, plus two is twenty-six, now twenty-seven… ah, so good to have more company.  It’s company! Where are my manners? I am Numberz, and I am so happy to meet you!  I was getting lonely down here with everybody sleeping!  I want to play!  Now we are twenty-seven - what a lovely number!  So round, so full.  I was hoping a single, beautiful hero would come and join me!  Let’s see, let’s see…” She broke off and stared intently at him.  He straightened up and got ready to leap.

She giggled with pleasure.  “Ah, now!  Wonderful!  So what does this feel like?  Oh yes, very nice.  Very very nice!  What can we do now?  Oh, I see… hmm… yes, I know!  Let me try it like THIS!” The last word came out as a triumphant shriek at the exact moment Midoriya felt Full Cowl disappear, like someone had flicked off a light switch.  At precisely the same instant, the villain’s entire body began to glow as she straightened.  She reared back her head, locked eyes with Midoriya, and leapt from the pit in a single bound, flying towards him.

Midoriya had nothing to protect himself, and his memory flashed back to the time before he had met All Might. One for All was gone.  What had happened?

He heard a loud “Oooofff!” before realizing it was coming from himself. A moment later he was lying on the ground, six meters back from the pit.  His head spun and he looked around, confused.  Everything was stars and bright lights.  Why hadn’t he been able to use One For All?  What happened to Full Cowl?  He lay on his side, gasping for breath, and looked up at the villain standing over him.  She grinned at her own hand as she formed and relaxed her fist.  She looked down at Midoriya and smiled a rather scary smile. It reminded Midoriya a little of --

“Bastard!!!!  You goddamn bastard!  I will kill you! Die! Die!” Midoriya barely had time to look for the yelling fury flying through the air trailed by giant flame before Bakuguo himself landed in a cloud of smoke and ash a couple meters away.  Bakugou rained explosions from his outstretched arms to the villain.  She just had time to frown before turning around as the flames engulfed her back.  At that moment, Midoriya felt the surge of One for All returning.  He pulled up five percent of his quirk to reform Full Cowl.  Relying on the power-up from Full Cowl to support his battered body, Midoriya slowly stood up.

“Kacchan!  We have to help Aizawa-sensei!” Midoriya yelled over the roar of explosions stretching from Bakugou to the villain.  Midoriya pointed to where Eraserhead was still down, back against the stands.  Bakugou looked over at him with a snarl, still hurling flames at the villain’s turned back.  The villain didn’t seem to be attacking or retreating, just standing slightly apart from them both.  She faced away, hunched over, not moving, as she was hit with wave after wave of explosive force.  If it were possible, her hair looked even crazier and wilder, flowing and crackling with static electricity.  It seemed to be absorbing the energy of the attack, creating a defensive shield.

Bakugou looked at her, then back at Midoriya, then over at Aizawa.   “Deku, you bastard!  I don’t need your help!  You help Eraserhead!”  He turned back at the villain and with a wild snarl resumed throwing explosions at Numberz. 

Midoriya was feeling steadier now.  He watched Bakugou’s offensive blitz for a moment more, then decided that Bakugou was right - he wasn’t needed here.  He had to get to Aizawa and find out what was wrong with him.  Eraserhead was a powerful hero. If he could erase Numberz’s quirk, they were sure to win.  “There are people tied up in the pit!” he yelled at Bakuguo.  “Sero is down there, and Kaminari, too!  They look hurt!”  Bakugou looked back at him and nodded.  Midoriya detected a note of dismay in Bakugou’s face at the thought of his friends in danger.

“I’ll see if I can free Aizawa so we can go after them!  We can use his help!” Midoriya yelled.  He launched a powerful jump and landed next to Aizawa’s prone body, which was covered in white tape like a mummy.  He knelt down and gently held where he knew Aizawa’s shoulders to be.  “Sensei, are you all right?”  He leaned in to listen to his chest through the tape.  He heard a ragged intake of air, expanding the lungs, then a slow, unsteady breath out.

He was listening for the next inhalation when Midoriya noticed that the rush of explosions coming from Bakuguo had stopped.  He looked up to see Bakuguo standing three meters away from the villain, a shocked expression on his face.  Then he frowned and pointed his hands at the villain again. 

“Die!” 

Nothing happened, no explosions, no flames. 

Bakugou looked too surprised to be angry.  The villain laughed and turned around to face him.  All around her were scorch marks from the holocaust.  But she stood in the center of the black charred cone, calm.  The flames hadn’t touched her.

“Oh this one is even better!” she cried.  “I love explosions!  You think that’s a good trick? Now you watch THIS!” An explosion shot from her hands, just missing Bakugou’s by a meter to the left.  Numberz looked down at her arms, shrugged and took aim again.

But this time Bakugou didn’t wait for the second blast.  However surprised he might have been at losing his quirk, he wasn’t about to give her a chance to hit him with one of his own explosions.  He ran as fast as he could towards the pit and jumped down, disappearing from view. 

Bakugou would have to fend for himself a little bit longer.  Midoriya had to free Aizawa.  He reached for the tape – yes, it was indeed Sero’s tape.  Same color, texture, and width.  If Numberz was some kind of quirk stealer, then she could have done this.  But she clearly wasn’t a pure quirk stealer, able to sometimes steal quirks and sometimes not. 

Midoriya gently removed the tape from Aizawa’s face.  His teacher opened his eyes half-way and nodded.  He looked to be in bad shape, but his eyes were open at least. Unfortunately, they were unfocused, and the white parts were unnaturally reddened.

“Midoriya, you never listen, but … I’m glad you are here.”  He paused, gathering his breath. “I don’t fully understand her quirk, but she is sometimes able to neutralize and steal quirks and sometimes able to put up a powerful shield with her hair.  She doesn’t do both at the same time, it is mutually exclusive. Determine the secret pattern.”  He coughed then caught his breath again.  “When Sero, Kaminari, and I arrived together, the villain already had captured several hostages. As soon as she saw us, it was like our quirks disappeared. She shocked us all with one of Kaminari’s electric blasts then used Sero’s quirk to bind us with tape.  She tied us all up and moved me over here and the other two down in the pit.  I am suffering from electrical burns, and I believe the others have similar injuries.”

“Are you all right?  Are the burns serious?” Midoriya asked, propping his teacher’s head and shoulders up off the ground.

“I will recover, but the electrocution seems to have damaged my eyes. Midoriya, I am injured, and it will take too long to remove all of this tape.  You and Bakugou will have to try to defeat her until more help can arrive.  Figure out the underlying pattern but keep her on the defensive so she can’t steal your quirk.  Leave me now and go help.  Do your best.”

Midoriya gently set Aizawa down again and looked back towards the pit.  Numberz was circling around the rim, laughing, tossing explosions down into the crater every few steps.  She seemed to be enjoying herself.

“Kacchan!  I’m coming to help!” Midoriya yelled as he ran towards her, preparing for a Detroit Smash as he ran.  He got to the rim on the opposite side from Numberz and looked down.  Bakugou was keeping to the wall of the pit, panting a bit from dodging the attacks being thrown at him.

“No you don’t, bastard! No one saves me!”

As Midoriya watched, he saw Bakugou suddenly look shocked.  His expression morphed into a grin as he stood up straighter and laughed.  “My quirk is BACK!” 

With a wild scream he blasted downwards to generate thrust, shooting himself up and out of the pit, landing beside Midoriya.  On the opposite side Numberz was now frowning.  No longer hurling flames or laughing, she turned to face away from them both.  If her hair could act as a shield, then this was her defensive move.

“Let’s split up and each approach from opposite sides of the pit, trapping her in the middle, ok?” Midoriya said. “We have to work together ..."

“Work together? You’re pissing me off. Who’d work with someone like you? DEKU!”

Midoriya realized he’d have to coax Bakugou into teamwork.  He had to make Kacchan understand that he wasn’t being told what to do.

“No, listen.  It’s a simple plan.  We need to use your explosion, so I’ll push her into your line of fire.  Aizawa told me she can make a shield with her hair.  That means she has to face away to defend herself, but if we trap her from both sides, there’s nothing she can do about it.”

Bakugou looked at him for a moment, then seemed to realize this made sense, and without a word or even a nod started running counter-clockwise around the outside of the pit towards Numberz.  With a sigh Midoriya started running clockwise towards her so they would come at her from both directions at the same time, keeping her pinned against the edge of the drop.

As they rounded their opposite turns, they both slowed to approach.  She was squeezed between them, six meters of nothing on one side, the rest of the stadium pitch on the other.  “AP Auto-Cannon!” yelled Bakugou, his face back to its satisfied wild grin.  “Detroit Smash!” yelled Midoriya, feeling the exhilaration of a perfectly executed plan about to come together.  Numberz turned away from him to block his incoming punch with her hair shield, then in a panic turned back at him to block the blast that was about to come from Bakugou.   “Too many, too many!” she shrieked.

Their strikes arrived at precisely the same instant, and Numberz was caught mid-turn, facing neither of them.  Unable to decide which one to defend against, she had defended against neither, and both blows landed.  She tottered on the edge, almost falling down.  Her eyes flashed over the two boys and the scene below at the floor of the crater.   “Twenty-eight… twenty-eight… no, not good, not odd, not nice…I need help, need help,” Deku heard her mutter.  She caught her balance and made a quick pivot on her heels away from the hole.  She sprinted away towards the stands.

“You go after her, I’ll save Sero and Kaminari!” yelled Midoriya.

“Don’t tell me what to do, bastard!”  Bakugou snarled back. He turned and chased after her, hurling blasts with each step.  Midoriya left them both for the second time this battle and jumped down the steep dirt wall to land at the bottom of the pit.

Now that he knew what to look for, he saw electrical burn marks on both Kaminari and Sero, though Kaminari also appeared to be unconscious. Along with all of the hostages, they were wrapped in Sero’s tape.  It looked like Numberz had blasted them and bound them, just like she had with Aizawa.  Starting with his friends he began to pull off the tape from each person’s face and chest, checked their breathing, and gently set them on the ground.   Everyone was either unconscious or moaning and barely moving, although they were all breathing.  

Midoriya was about half-way through the hostages when Bakugou’s head poked over the rim six meters above and looked down at him. “I lost my quirk again!  Goddammit!”  His head disappeared from view before Midoriya could respond.  Midoriya could hear Bakugou running away, Numberz cackling, and heard the sound of explosions crackling from above.  She must have been able to steal Bakugou’s power again and was chasing him.

Why had that happened now but not before?  What was the secret?  If he could figure it out, they’d have a chance.  There was no way to fight a villain when at any moment she could steal your quirk and turn it against you.  That’s how Numberz had defeated Aizawa, Kaminari, and Sero all at once.  From what Aizawa had said, unlike Monoma in 1-B, it didn’t appear there was a limit to how many quirks she could stockpile.  With that kind of ability, no wonder Midoriya and Bakugou, two of the strongest students in 1-A, were having such a hard time capturing her.

She couldn’t be another All for One holder, could she?

No, Numberz stole quirks when they fought her one-on-one, but lost all of them when they fought her together.  But it wasn’t just how many people she was fighting, it was based on who was nearby.  She was always counting, always keeping track - they had even heard her do it.  When Aizawa, Kaminari, and Sero came after her, she stole their quirks, too.  So it must be a pattern in the numbers.

He looked over at the hostages and counted them quickly.  “One, two, three, let’s see four more over there, five more, then another four, another five … twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four total…”  Kamui Woods said at first there were two villains, so Numberz must have overpowered the hostages with the help of an accomplice after the initial attack on the stadium.  It would make sense that the accomplice was the one who created the crater and all of the destruction around the stadium.  Since Aizawa didn’t mention her, she must have either left or hidden before the three heroes entered.

With the accomplice and twenty-four hostages, the total count would be twenty-five, which is an odd number.  The accomplice left, but the three heros arrived, leaving twenty-seven — odd again!

Was that it?  If the pattern was based on an odd or even number of people, would that explain what he’d seen?  Fighting one-on-one against her, when she first stole his quirk — odd.  Fighting together, when Bakugou had first arrived and he chased her away —  even.  Confronting her at the edge of the crater in their successful joint attack — the two of them plus twenty-four hostage — even again.  The pattern fit!

So as long as he and Bakugou stayed close, they would be a pair, which was even and they could defeat her!  Alone they were weak, but together they would be strong.

He couldn’t let Bakugou face her alone.

Now that he had discerned the pattern, Midoriya powered up Full Cowl to five percent and leapt up and out of the pit.  He saw Numberz pursuing Bakugou around the field.  Bakugou was vulnerable, not that he’d ever let it show on his face.  He was fully on the run, grimacing and weaving as Numberz grinned and shot explosions at him as she gleefully gave chase. 

Bakugou didn’t seem to have any advantages other than his natural athleticism, yet he dodged and swerved in a way that made it very hard for Numberz to target him.  While Bakugou spent long hours training himself to be a ferocious fighter with his quirk, Midoriya could see now that he had also deeply studied how one would fight without his quirk too. 

Midoriya marveled at what this implied about just how thoughtful Bakugou was in developing his martial skills.  He remembered one of All Might’s class lessons at UA.  To learn a great offensive style, first learn how to defend against those very types of attack.  Only then will you understand how your opponent will act, and how to break through any defense.  Bakugou had clearly taken the lesson to heart, and Midoriya could see that he was able to mount a phenomenal defense against someone wielding even his own quirk. As far as he knew, Bakugou trained his offense constantly.  When had he time to practice defense against his own explosion, too?

Midoriya had always thought of himself as the analytical member of class 1-A, with his notebooks and breaking down everyone’s quirks and fighting styles.  But Bakugou clearly was just as observant and just as analytical in his approach to fighting -- another way in which he was amazing.

So what was Kacchan doing now to stay ahead of Numberz?  How was he doing it?  The key to Bakugou’s defensive strategy appeared to be using the blinding brightness of the explosive flames against Numberz - just when she had him lined up and unleashed a burst, in that instant between her aiming and firing, before the flame reached him, he would feint in one direction, then instantly swerve in a different direction at the moment the explosions first went off.  Numberz would have to stop firing in order to see which way he had run, since she couldn’t see through her own blasts.  Sometimes he would continue heading in the direction he had feigned, just to keep her from being able to predict his movements.  At the moment she unleashed her flames, she truly had no idea where Bakugou was or where he was headed.  Her stolen firepower was worth nothing if she could never actually hit him! 

All of this depended on timing, and Midoriya couldn’t believe how intricate and perfect Bakugou’s timing was - truly something to behold.

But this was an inefficient way to capture a villain.  They’d be stronger if he could just get close enough to Bakugou to change the count from odd to even.  He broke off his thinking and jumped into action, running straight to where Bakugou was headed.

Numberz spotted him and laughed as she paused her stream of explosions aimed at Bakugou.  She raised her other arm towards Midoriya, and squinted, lining him up, too.

Now that he understood her quirk, Midoriya knew that she faced a dilemma.  As long as she stayed close to Bakugou, she could continue using his explosion quirk.  But if Midoriya got close enough to her too, then an even number of people would be in her proximity, and she would lose her stolen powers.  On the other hand, if she could isolate just him, then she would steal One for All and use it against him.  So she had to maintain a tricky balance of staying near Bakugou, keeping away from him, and keeping them both away from each other.  Or she could decide to make a break for it and get near him while keeping away from Bakugou, flipping the scenario.

Even at this distance, he could see her glancing around at both of them judging distances, measuring and counting in her head.  He tried to think like Bakugou and imagine what would be her best offensive strategy?  Then how would he counter it?  Possible sequences, strategies, counter strategies, and counter-counter strategies started unfolding in his head making him feel slightly dizzy… but ENOUGH!  None of that mattered. He still had to get close to Bakugou.  And that would be a lot easier if Bakugou were also trying to get close to him.  They needed to work towards a common goal!

She finished lining up a shot and, satisfied with her aim, unleashed a burst straight at him.  Midoriya’s speed with Full Cowl was considerable, and she was (on purpose he now understood) far enough away so that he sidestepped easily.  But the shot forced him to swerve in the opposite direction.  Of course, Midoriya realized, that was her main goal — not to hit him, but to keep them apart, while keeping herself close to Bakugou and away from him.

“Kacchan!  Kacchan! I know the pattern!  It depends how many people are near her!  When only you are near her, she can steal your quirk.  But if both of us are near her, we get our quirks back and she can only defend!  That’s why she’s trying to keep us apart.  We have to stay close and work together!”

“I don’t need you to rescue me!  Stay away from me, you nerd! ” Bakugou yelled as he dodged another burst of flame, shifting direction again. He now ran almost directly in the opposite direction of Midoriya.

Numberz cut off the flame since she had missed Bakugou once more and started running after him, making sure she stayed close enough to continue stealing his quirk.

“ARGH!!! You fucker!” Bakugou shouted at her over his shoulder. 

“My, my, aren’t you an angry boy!  Don’t you want to play?  Why are you running away?” She sent another explosion his way and he swerved sharply to the left, now racing perpendicular to Midoriya.  She aimed another burst in front of of him to keep him from escaping.

“And YOU!” she yelled at Midoriya.  “Stay away, naughty one!  I don’t want you messing up our sexy twosome!”

“Kacchan!” Midoriya tried again.  “We have to work together!  If we can get near each other, you will get your powers back!”

“I want my powers back!  I want to destroy her!  Lady, I’m going to SHOWER YOU WITH FIRE!”

“Yes!  We can both attack her again, but we have to get close!”  They dodged a simultaneous pair of bursts aimed at each of them.

“Okay, FINE!  Then stay where you are, I am coming to you.”

“Oh are you, little angry boy?”  Numberz laughed.  “I think you’re going to do what I want you to do.  And that is to stay over HERE!” She accentuated her rant with a hurled explosion.

Midoriya saw it the instant the words left her mouth -- it was a mistake to talk to Bakugou that way.   She had just challenged Bakugou by telling him what to do.  Midoriya had seen him try to tear apart his restraints at the UA Sports Festival when he thought Todoroki had manipulated him into a hollow win.  Bakugou snarled, turning redder and angrier, like he was about to burst with emotion.  His whole face twitched and steam seemed about the pour out of his ears.  Midoriya knew Bakugou well enough to see that he would find a way to get close to Numberz no matter what she threw in his way.

Midoriya raised Full Cowl to eight percent and felt the thrum of power washing through his body.  He would stay put and let Bakugou work his way over.  With Full Cowl cranked up, there was little Numberz could do to move him. 

Bakugou ran in increasingly erratic patterns, making it impossible for Numberz to target him.  Not that she didn’t try — she rained fire down in shot after shot, charring and blasting the arena pitch.

She stopped her erratic blasting to catch her breath, panting.  She looked over at Midoriya, realized he wasn’t going to be moved easily, and turned back at Bakugou who was watching her with an eager, feral look.  She raised both arms and laid down walls of explosions, one on either side of Bakugou.  She was trying to corral him between the flames.  If she succeeded, he would be trapped between two walls of fire and the edge of the field.  There was nowhere left for him to run!

Then Bakugou did something incredible. With a burst of athleticism that Midoriya didn’t think was possible, he leapt right at the wall of flame and went up and over it by angling his body flat as he neared the apex of the jump.  Like a high jumper at a track and field event, he cleared the two-meter-high flame and landed on the other side.  He had made the jump without hesitation, without fear.  And all of this without any quirk at all, just relying on his natural athletic ability.

“Plus Ultra!”  Midoriya screamed. He could not help himself.  “Yes, Kacchan!  Nothing can stop you!”

Bakugou wasted no time celebrating, though.  Free from the fire corral, he made a beeline for Midoriya at top speed.

“Don’t move, bastard!  I’m coming!”

Numberz realized an instant later that he had escaped, and stopped the stream of blasts so she could better see where he was headed.  Midoriya watched her face turn from satisfaction to dismay as she realized that he was almost out of range for her to steal his quirk.

And then he had done it.  Six meters from Deku now, Bakugou skidded to a stop and yelled with unbridled joy as he realized he had his explosion back.

“My quirk is back!!” He pumped his fists in triumph.  Midoriya jumped towards him to close the rest of the gap, landing in a crouch.  He stood up fully, now side-by-side with Bakugou and felt the surge of adrenaline that comes at the start of a battle.

They looked at each other with matching grins and barely contained excitement, then together turned to face Numberz.

St. Louis SMASH!

Auto-CANNON!

Numberz turned just in time to block the attacks with her hair shield, but even so they blasted her off her feet and back all the way the edge of the stadium. Midoriya’s kick caught her in back of the head as Bakugou’s explosions bombarded her.

They landed where she had been standing, grinning.  Glanced at each other to match timing, they launched another attack.

Delaware SMASH!

Howitzer IMPACT!

She was facing away from them, pinned against the wall at the edge of the field, when their second round of attacks landed.  The force smashed her into the wall itself, cracking the concrete in a spiderweb of expanding devastation, with her in the center.  She was physically pressed into a Numberz-sized indentation in the concrete surface.  A dust cloud kicked up by the impact hung around her, dirtying her face.

“Ok, boys, this isn’t fun anymore!” she gasped, looking over her shoulder.  “Earth Mover!  I could really use your help!” She coughed, turning away from them in a defensive posture.

“Let’s finish this!” Midoriya stepped off to the side so he had an angle on her back left.  Bakugou nodded and stepped in the other direction, facing her back right.  If they landed simultaneous blows, she would have to pick which side to defend and the other would land his attack, fully unshielded.  Midoriya had a flash, for just an instant, of Kacchan and himself thinking the same thought at the same time, acting together — not as two heroes fighting a villain, but as a single person with two bodies, a union of thought, action, and fury.

Numberz looked behind to her left, then to her right, knowing that she was helpless against a perfectly synchronized attack.

He and Bakugou locked eyes for just a moment, feeling the shared anticipation of the coordinated blow.  The broke the gaze and each inhaled, sucking in breath and energy to power this coup de grace.

Detroit SMASH!!!

“DIE!”

And then, like a light switch, all the power went out of both of them.  Like a giant punch to the gut that leaves you sucking wind, their bodies responded to the blow before their minds could register what had happened.  In the immediate mental confusion, Midoriya had time to puzzle Was I hit? Before realizing his quirk was gone. The tension in his muscles and mind, heightened, built up, ready to explode, balanced against the tremendous power of a Detroit Smash about to be unleashed.

And then One for All was gone.

Midoriya’s body struggled against vapor, against nothing.  With nothing to push back against, his physical and emotional tension folded on itself in an instant, like a star collapsing into a black hole.  With a burst of pain, he fell to the ground.

Suppressing a moan, frantic, he looked at Bakugou to see him curled up, his face registering shock and anger and surprise in a violent storm of emotion.

“Oh, that is SO much better!  Thank you Earth Mover! What perfect timing!”

A slender woman with a baseball cap and overalls stood at the first row of seats directly about them all, looking down.

Too late, Midoriya realized his mistake.  Deku and Kacchan — as a team they were invincible, but only if there was only one villain!  And they knew she had an accomplice.  Midoriya had even thought they might be hiding in the stadium.  By crowding them all together near the stands, he allowed the hidden accomplice to approach close enough to shift the count from even to odd.  In his exhilaration at working together, he had forgotten the second villain.  The mistake was obvious in hindsight.  He was a fool.

The accomplice had a harsh face with a grim expression.  She wasn’t smiling as she swept her eyes over the scene in front of her before fixing Numberz with a glare.

“Let us go, Sister.  I have only strength to form the tunnel. The initial attack took much out of me and I need to recover further.”

“Okay, okay!  Fine!” Numberz seemed annoyed.  “Can we at least take the hostages?”

“And how would we do that, sister?  The broccoli-haired boy has already unwrapped many of them and revived Eraserhead.  More heroes will surely be on their way.  The stadium is destroyed, the battle fought.  We will leave safely and return to fight another day.  I will stay close so you can tuck these children into bed and wish them sweet dreams.  Then I will make the escape tunnel and we must go.”

Numberz scowled, but she sighed and turned to face the two young heroes.

Midoriya knew that if he could get on his feet and run away, it would shift the numbers again, and Bakugou would regain his quirk.  He could save his friend!  He only had to get out of range.  The pain was intense, but he had no choice, he had to give Bakugou a chance, even if he had to crawl.

“No, you stay where you are, little boy.  I see what you’re thinking.  You have figured it out, I can tell.  Very, very smart you are!  Now won’t that make this a more interesting battle next time!  My quirk is so powerful yet so fickle, something as simple as a sister appearing at just the right moment, or two heroes showing up instead of one, enough to tip the battle one way or another.  Isn’t it exciting?  Isn’t it dramatic?  I do so love drama!  That is why my sister always stays close!  She has a beautiful, wonderful quirk.  She vaporizes great masses of earth by snapping her fingers!  But it makes her tired and then she must recover.

“But one is a number, whether it can fight or not!  And addition or subtraction is all you need to odd up anything even.  As she rests, she watches and waits and hides and counts.  And when I need her most, she appears!  Oh, Sister, I do love you so!”

“Sister,” Earth Mover said.  “Stop talking.  We must go.”

“Now my fair older sister tells me we are done here.  So what could be more fitting than to send your friend off with that delightful ‘Detroit Smash’ you use so well!  And I do so love all of his pretty explosions.  Won’t they be marvelous on you?”

Midoriya watched her suck in breath and power up with her stolen One for All.  Fully charged, she unleashed a tremendous punch that landed in the middle of Bakugou’s prone form, sending him flying through the air and landing in a cloud of dust on the ground. 

She turned to Midoriya and smiled.

And that was the last thing he saw before a wall of explosion and flame engulfed him.


It was one of those hospitals that had special facilities and rules for pro heroes, because they tended to be in and out on a regular basis. After Recovery Girl treated his injuries, Katsuki found himself in the lounge, sometimes pacing nervously, sometimes sitting and bouncing his legs. Staying still was not an option. Sero and Kaminari were being treated for their electrical burns, and Deku had been admitted for burns and injuries incurred from the explosion attack.

Katsuki’s own explosion attack.

 

What a fucking day.

 

Katsuki had to face some hard truths.

He had been unable to face off against the villain on his own. He had needed Deku.

(Deku had needed him.)

Fighting alongside Deku had been…okay.

 

The last time he and Deku had fought…

Not with teachers watching…at least out of the shadows.

The last time…

The time…

I win.

He had fought Deku, and won, but it was a bitter victory.

(For in his heart, he knew he would never win a fight against Deku again.)

 

It was great to be Bakugou Katsuki.

He possessed the best quirk anyone had ever seen. He was the highest scorer in UA’s entrance exam, the most elite in the country. His path to surpassing All Might to become the best hero had never seemed so clear.

He was also pretty fucking hot.

 

Then it started to slip away.

(Who am I?)

Quirkless Deku developed a powerful, dangerous quirk overnight.

His new classmates could do things like pull objects out of their bodies or spew forth both fire and ice.

Todoroki fucking Shouto fell apart at the Sports Festival, so Katsuki didn’t know for sure whether he could beat the fucker.

He got kidnapped by the League of Villain.

The asshole with the hands honestly thought — believed — that Katsuki would join them.

That he would trade in his lifelong dream to be a hero to become a villain because of a few slick words.

At least he was still pretty fucking hot.

 

What had Deku said?

“I hate you so much.”

“Sometimes I hate you too.”

 

It was great to be Bakugou Katsuki.

Except when you’re weak.

And everyone knows it.

And that weakness brings down the greatest hero in the world.

Did Deku hate him?

(Probably not)

Not as much as Katsuki hated himself.

 

He had power.

But not the right power.

You could say he had the wrong power.

He had the power to destroy.

Deku had the power to save.

During their final exam, All Might had said, “There’s so much wasted potential in you.”

 

That was something Katsuki had never heard before. His entire life he had been told he was surpassing his potential. It was what drove him to excellence: the belief in himself that he could and would achieve greatness. Then greatness embodied looked at him with something like pity and a whiff of disappointment.

Katsuki couldn’t understand why, out of the hundreds of people All Might had saved over the years, it had been he who had brought All Might to his knees — triumphant, barely able to stand, but as a changed man, leaving behind a changed world.

Today he and Deku had fought together, but it was a bitter victory.

(For in his heart, he knew he couldn’t have done it alone.)

I don’t know what the hell to do.

Who is Bakugou Katsuki without victory to ground him?

 

Could he fight alongside Deku again without losing any more of himself?

***

Katsuki was shaken out of his uneasy thoughts by the arrival of two visitors.

“What are you two doing here?”

Uraraka and Kirishima glanced at each other, stupidly, in Katsuki’s opinion.

“Uh, All Might brought us,” said Kirishima. “Since, you know, you and Midoriya are in the hospital, and I’m your best friend, and Uraraka’s Midoriya’s best friend—”

“I’m your friend, too,” said Uraraka, as if Katsuki cared.

“Who said you’re my best friend?”

They ignored him, and sat down even though he obviously wanted to be alone.

“You were incredible, man. You and Midoriya.”

“Whadda you know about it?”

“It’s all over the news,” Urarka said. “Everyone’s wondering why there were students at the stadium in the first place."

The students of 1-A had already been through so much that year, fighting a pair of villains who tore up a stadium and took hostages seemed like a regular part of the curriculum.

“Some people on social media are saying it’s the most impressive debut since All Might. They’re calling you and Midoriya the Twin Stars of UA.” said Kirishima.

Katsuki curled his fingers over the edge of the chair. He wasn’t sure how he felt about being linked with Deku like that. More importantly, though: “But they got away.” How could this be his debut when it was a failure?

Kirishima shook his head. “Remember Aizawa told us that sometimes in the moment we have to make a choice between capture and rescue? It’s okay that Numberz and Earth Mover got away. The pros will find them. You guys saved lives, for real, man.”

“Aizawa gave an interview,” Uraraka said, “and you know how he feels about the media.”

Kirishima pulled up the video on his phone.  

Katsuki saw his teacher, battered and tired-looking, the sclera of his eyes almost as scarlet as Katsuki’s own. He wondered how many times the elusive Eraserhead had been caught onscreen in his hero paraphernalia. He thought Aizawa’s throat looked vulnerable without his signature binding weapon, which Numberz had removed and destroyed using a fire quirk stolen from one of the hostages.

 

“It’s no secret that this has been a tumultuous year for UA and for the student Bakugou Katsuki more than most. You ask me what he and Midoriya Izuku and their classmates were doing at the stadium today? I brought the students with me because they are the next generation of heroes, and they need to understand the world they’re inheriting. We aren’t doing them any favors by trying to hide them from it. These are the people who are going to be protecting all of us someday. You’ll want them to be prepared.”

Katsuki could hear a voice from somewhere offscreen, “But the villains got away. If more pro heroes had been on-site, would they have been apprehended?”

One of Aizawa’s damaged eyes looked like it was twitching. “I’m not here to discuss counterfactuals. The villains escaped, but they will be caught. Two teenagers saved the lives of twenty-four hostages, two of their classmates, and myself, not to mention stopping the villains from causing any more damage to the stadium itself. The two boys, Midoriya and Bakugou, are striving more than anyone to become the best heroes they can, and today they did as much or more than the most seasoned pro. What else would we demand of them?”

With that, Aizawa had clearly had enough, for without acknowledging whomever was recording, he turned around and walked away. “Eraserhead, Eraserhead!” the man called.

Katsuki passed the phone back to Kirishima.

Katsuki hunched over, elbows on his knees, cradling his head in his hands. “We let him down. I let him down.  Again,” he muttered.

“What are you talking about?” asked Kirishima. Katsuki couldn’t see his face, but he could imagine the fierce frown. “Didn’t you hear what Aizawa said?”

Kirishima and Uraraka meant well, but they didn’t know everything Katsuki had done. They didn’t know his role in All Might’s retirement, and his growing sense of pressure to make it right, to become the pillar that All Might had once been — the immovable rock that stands before evil and smiles.

And whether it would be worth leaning on Deku to do it.

“Bakugou.” He could feel a light hand on his shoulder. Uraraka. He couldn’t help stiffening, and he knew she felt it, but she didn’t move her hand. “We tracked you down before going to see Deku because we had a feeling you’d completely miss the point of everything that happened.”

“You can fuck off.” He could hear Kirishima settling next to him on his left side, with Uraraka on his right. They had boxed him in. Great.

“The. Most. Impressive. Debut. Since. All. Might.” Kirshima said, emphasizing each word. “That’s what people are saying, experts even, not just fangirls —”

Uraraka giggled, “You have fangirls!” Bakugou shot her a dirty look.

“And boys,” Kirishima added.

“And boys,” she agreed. Bakugou groaned.  “The Jeanist Boys.  They love you.”

The three of them lapsed into silence. Bakugou didn’t know what the other two were thinking, but his mind felt chaotic, not to mention...Jeanist Boys?

“Bakugou, we understand why you’re disappointed. It doesn’t feel like victory if the villain escapes. But you know what? The news is running profiles on the hostages. One was a French college student doing study abroad here. Numberz was strategic about breaking up friends and family. There was a man whose twin managed to escape, and they were frantic trying to find each other. One was a mother whose six- and seven-year-old children managed to escape alone. She was hysterical until she was reunified with her daughters. That’s only three of the civilians, but there was also Kaminari and Sero and Sensei.

“Maybe UA does us a disservice, making us start with battle and then moving on to rescue. It makes it seem like rescue is of less importance.”

“You’re just saying that because you want to be a rescue hero.”

“Nah, she’s right, bro. It’s like, why did we want to become heroes in the first place?”

“To…” Bakugou trailed off. His answer has always been “to win,” but ever since his fight with Deku at Ground Beta, doubt had crept into his mind about what winning really meant. He wondered if you could be victorious without winning or win without being victorious, because that sounded like what Uraraka was trying to say. Even if he (and Deku) wasn’t victorious over Numberz and Earth Mover, he (and Deku) still won the day. They did their jobs.

They had done the jobs of pro heroes.

It’s what All Might had tried to tell him and Deku, back then.

Victory and saving people are the two complementary sides of heroism.

His was the power of strength; Deku’s was the power of heart.

What could they be together?

“Bakugou,” Uraraka said urgently. He lifted his head to see her and Kirishima staring at him with almost identical earnest expression. What was with them today? “Today you won. You and Deku. As heroes we won’t always be able to say that.”

Katsuki wondered if she and Kirishima were thinking about their internships.

“Take it for what it is. And if I know you,” Katsuki snorted, “and I do, much as you don’t like to admit it, together you guys are gonna do even better next time. You will save the hostages and you will catch the villains, ‘cause that’s what you and Deku do.”

“You’re real heroes,” Kirishima added, and it looked like there were tears in his eyes.

This was getting out of hand.

“Don’t you have other people to see?”

Uraraka was not fooled a bit, but she stood up and gestured for Kirishima to do the same.

“You’re right, we should go see Deku, Kaminari, and Sero. What about you?”

“What about me?

Kirishima gave him a seriously, dude? look. “Are you going to go see Midoriya?”

“I’m gonna go visit Kaminari and Sero later.”

This time it was Kirishima who wasn’t fooled, and his gaze sharpened. “You do that. From what we heard, ‘they’ really put themselves on the line for you.”

Round Face had to butt in. “You do realize that ‘they’ would do anything for you? Even though you’re an ungrateful ass to ‘them’ most of the time?”

“Get the fuck out of here.”

Despite his language, there was something like a warm feeling in Katsuki’s chest as he watched the backs of the two kindest souls in 1-A walk down the hall to continue their visits.

 

He remained in the lounge to brood.

Why did he have to make things so hard?

He supposed it was the price of total victory, even when the enemy was himself.

                                                                                                    

Hospital rooms were becoming depressingly familiar to Izuku. This one was nicer than some, not as nice as others. He was exhausted after his healing session with Recovery Girl and only had enough energy to stare blankly at the ceiling. He was worried about Kaminari and Sero and Kacchan, though he had been told Kacchan’s injuries weren’t serious. This after fighting two vicious and clever villains. Yet another example of Kacchan being amazing.

 

What a day.

 

Izuku had to face some hard truths.

It was only through Kacchan and him working together that they were able to save the hostages.

(True, it was the nature of the villain’s quirk, but the point still stood.)

 

Fighting side-by-side with Kacchan, not against him, was the most thrilling experience of Izuku’s life. He didn’t know what, if anything he could ever do to recapture the power and the rush of standing as an equal next to one of the people he most admired.

 

Kacchan didn’t want to work with him, though.

Worse, he wouldn’t let Izuku help him.

“I don’t need you to rescue me!”

 

Why did Kacchan have to see it that way?

Helping is not the same as rescuing, and neither helping nor rescuing were signs of weakness.

 

Izuku sighed to himself.

He wished Kacchan had learned that at Camino Ward.

(You know he didn’t. That’s why Ground Beta happened.)

 

Ground Beta. It hurt Izuku’s heart.

 

Izuku’s childhood memories were filled with images of him trailing behind Kacchan, listening avidly as the older boy spun dreams about the kind of hero he was going to be. Back then, especially after Izuku learned he was quirkless, it was easy to look up to Kacchan, who was so much more than Izuku could ever be. That made him almost as significant as All Might himself in young Izuku’s eyes.

 

But Izuku couldn’t be the follower forever.

He owed All Might more than that.

He owed himself more than that.

Why did it have to be one in front, one behind?

 

He shifted, trying to find a way to rest more comfortably on the thin pillow and mattress.

 

There was something about the look in Kacchan’s eyes when he was high on battle. He’d had it during class before they’d been called away to the stadium, and it took on a ferocious intensity at the stadium itself. Izuku had never seen anyone so alive as Kacchan in those moments. It gave Izuku courage, which he was learning was different from recklessness.

 

(Who am I?)

Izuku wanted to be the greatest hero, and All Might had practically handed him a road map telling him how to do it. But he couldn’t do it alone.

 

He had the heart.

He had the physical strength from One for All.

He needed the indomitable will from his oldest friend.

Who hated him.

(Probably)

 

Could Izuku do it?

We’ve known each other for the longest time, but we’ve never expressed our feelings and talked things out.

Could he make Kacchan see that they could work together, and it wouldn’t be a loss for either of them, that their sum was greater than their individual parts?

 

Why did Kacchan have to make everything so hard?

 

Despite their essentially non-existent track record in this area, they needed to talk, and there was only one place they could do it.

***

Izuku waited a few days before he made his move. Since the stadium Kacchan had been an odd combination of quiet and touchy, and Izuku wasn’t keen to intrude on whatever was bothering his friend.

Was Izuku right to think of Kacchan as a friend?

(Probably not)

 

Izuku caught Kacchan in the lounge area late in the afternoon. “Kacchan,” Izuku said.

Kacchan’s eyes flickered briefly to Izuku and returned to his phone.

Izuku made his face as blank as possible. “We gotta talk tonight. So uh,” Izuku hesitated before plowing on, “show your face later.”

Kacchan arched a brow, and if Izuku didn’t know better, he would say the other boy looked faintly amused. “Fuck off, Deku.”

Izuku supposed that was as much acknowledgement as he was likely to get. “Eleven o’clock. You know where.”

 

Izuku arrived at Ground Beta at ten forty-five that evening. The building that had witnessed two of his fights with Kacchan looked worse for the wear. He was nervous, as there was a decent chance that Kacchan wouldn’t show up and Izuku would be left standing there all night like a fool.

Maybe I am a fool, he thought.

 

But at precisely eleven o’clock he heard familiar footsteps.

 

“Kacchan.”

“Deku.”

 

The stars circled overhead, and it reminded Izuku uncomfortably of their other night at Ground Beta, even though that was sort of the point. He shoved the thought away. He was different now. They were both different now.

 

“Why’d you call me out here, Deku?” Kacchan didn’t look happy, but he had shown up. “Are we gonna fight?”

 

“No, we’re not going to fight, and it’s important.” It was. For some reason, Izuku felt like this might be one of the most important conversations of their lives, and it wasn’t like they had much experience communicating with words instead of fists. Izuku wished he had rehearsed what he wanted to say.

“If Aizawa catches us, he’ll put us under house arrest again. Maybe even expel us this time.”

“Do you care?

“No.” Kacchan leaned against the railing, arms folded, face in shadow.

 

Izuku closed his eyes briefly and tried to conjure up his feeling of elation when he battled Numberz beside Kacchan. That was what he was fighting for tonight. That was the dream he had to save.

 

“What are we gonna do, Kacchan? Who are we gonna be?” he blurted.

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“All Might said we could be great together. And he was right!” He thought about the newsfeeds he had read with Iida and Todoroki. The clips of Ms. Joke making reporters laugh as she mocked UA for its students who couldn’t follow instructions but who still managed to save the day. “The whole world saw it.”

Izuku couldn’t see the expression on Kacchan’s face.

Finally Kacchan sighed. He sounded tired. “What do you want me to say?

 

Say we belong together!

 

“Do you have any idea how much you’ve meant to me over the years? All I ever wanted was to be a hero with you. I went for most of my life afraid that it would be impossible, and then I got my quirk, and that made you hate me more than ever before.”

Kacchan unfolded himself from where he was slumped against the railing. He faced Izuku, red eyes gleaming in the starlight.

Izuku wondered if Kacchan was going to hit him.

He wondered if there was a secret to unlocking the angry boy’s heart.

Although…Izuku knew more than anyone how much Kacchan used anger to cover up his pain.

“I did hate you,” Kacchan said. He tilted his head back to stare up at the sky, his neck a strong white curve that took Izuku’s breath away. “I don’t hate you anymore.” Kacchan swallowed, and Izuku could see the movement in his throat. “I want to be the greatest hero, and I don’t know what to do with you standing in my way. It’s bad enough having to beat people like Todoroki and Kirishima. You’re,” he trailed off, seemingly at a loss for words, “…Deku.”

I am Deku, Izuku thought, and you’re someone who helped make me this way.

“Back when we were fighting All Might that time, you said you’d destroy yourself rather than accept an unearned victory, and you said you’d rather lose than work with me — yeah, I remembered both. Well, we just fought together, and by all accounts we won, and you’re still here. What does that mean?”

Kacchan stopped regarding the stars to sneer at Izuku. “It doesn’t mean a damn thing. The villains got away.”

Izuku wanted to shake him. “We saved those people.  Numberz was going to hold those people hostage for who knows what purpose! She would have taken our classmates — our teacher! And we stopped her!”

Kacchan did not reply but his eyes were narrowed. “What do you want, Deku?” he grit out.

It took a lot to make Izuku angry, but Kacchan’s deliberate stubbornness was irritating him.

“I want you to get your head out of your ass and admit that together we could be a great team — that we are a great team.”

Kacchan blinked.

“All Might said so.” Izuku was beginning to get worked up. He had too much invested in the outcome of this conversation, and he could feel tears of frustration prick his eyes. “Why can’t you see? I can’t do it alone, and neither can you!

“You’re throwing away both our chances to be top heroes because of pride or fear or I don’t know what. It’s just like the exam again! You’re Bakugou Katsuki, and I can’t bear to hear you say you’d accept mediocrity rather than work with me.”

Izuku saw Kacchan clenching his fists, and he wondered if they were going to fight after all. To Izuku’s surprise, Kacchan closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“I know, goddammit.”

The silence between them was broken only by the ambient night noises of the faux city.

Izuku desperately tried to think what to say and how Kacchan would receive it. He felt like this was it: this was his one chance, and he could not mess it up.

 

For the two of them, it always started and ended in the same place.

“We’ve both spent our whole lives looking up to All Might. He fought villains and he saved people with a smile. He gave One for All to me because I had nothing, and you had everything. You have a strength that I can only dream of, even with One for All, because you were born with it, and it’s who you are.

“More than anyone else alive, All Might knows what it means to be a hero. And remember what he said?  Heroism is not just about saving people or victory over enemies. It’s about justice. That’s why it’s okay that we didn’t catch Numberz and Earth Mover because we did our jobs as heroes.”

Kacchan remained silent, so Izuku continued. “All Might as good as told us that if we worked together, we could be great. It’s because the heart of justice is finding a way to balance what drives us both. Plus,” Izuku hesitated before taking a deep breath. “One for All is…a heavy burden to carry. I said I can’t do it alone, but the truth is I don’t want to do it alone. I want my oldest friend by my side, the way we had planned, back when we were four years old.”

The twitch of Kacchan’s lips may have been the ghost of a smile. “I thought you were gonna be my sidekick.”

“You’re remembering wrong.” Izuku blinked rapidly to clear the tears from his eyes. “We were both going to be All Might. I don’t think we understood how it worked back then.”

That was definitely a tiny smile. “Deku. Only you would take an insult and turn it into the name of a hero.” Then he shook his head and looked away. “It would never work. We have too much... history.”

Izuku couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Kacchan. You always win.” He paused, embarrassed. “You’re like the symbol of victory in my mind. If you fight for this, to make something between us work, we will be successful, I know it.”

Kacchan held out his right hand and let tiny explosions spark. They both stared, mesmerized. It was like when they were kids again, marveling at the earliest manifestations of Kacchan’s quirk. He exhaled heavily and closed his hand into a fist. “Fine, ya little fucker. Let’s see what we can do.”

Izuku felt as if all his muscles suddenly relaxed. He actually sank to the ground. “Thank you, Kacchan,” he whispered.

Kacchan peered down at him with distaste. “Don’t get all sentimental or I’m done.”

“Before we even start?”

“Don’t be so, Deku,” Kacchan said, rolling his eyes. He held out his hand and hauled Izuku to his feet.

Then he shuffled in place a little and stared at the ground. “Thanks for fighting for us,” he said in a low voice.

Izuku’s heart was so full he thought it might burst.  “Of course I fought for us. I’ll always fight for you.”  He felt an enormous smile spreading over his face. “Because you’re my hero.”

“Say that ever again, and I’ll kill you.”

Izuku laughed. “C’mon let’s get back to the dorm before someone notices we’re gone.” They started walking back to Heights Alliance.

Izuku had a thought. “Hey, Kacchan. Should we, in the future, decide on a formal team-up —”

“I never said anything about that!”

“— hypothetically. You’ll need a hero name, since Midnight nixed Lord Explosion Murder. How about — Kacchan?”

“Do you want to die?”

Izuku blinked innocently. He felt like skipping. “You were the inspiration for ‘Deku.’ Let me help you. How about Blasty? Or Nitro? Or Ground Zero?”

“You’re shit at this.”

“Or Na-Palm? Or…”

They walked back to the dorms, arguing into the night.

                                                                                                    

Aizawa withdrew further into the shadows as the two boys passed by his hiding spot on the way to the dorms.

If his capture tape weren’t currently being overhauled by the support company, he would have considered grabbing his two idiots and locking them in their rooms for the rest of the year.

Really, what was wrong with them? They were at the top of the class, and they didn’t realize the campus security that reported their truancy once could do it again?

And yet.

They were his biggest headaches, but despite everything, he also held them to the highest expectations. Collectively the UA faculty had great hopes for those two, specifically working together, and to that end, Aizawa had taken a calculated risk in bringing them to the stadium. Unlike most pro heroes, Bakugou and Midoriya had a shared history, however bitter, and if they could be pushed into simpatico collaboration, their potential would be unparalleled.

The instructor in Aizawa, the humanist — if he could give them their chance, he would. In a class full of prodigies, they were the brightest stars and both, in their own ways, most likely to flame out. It was his job, as their teacher, to make sure that didn’t happen. They made it difficult.

He had done what he could. There was only so far you could push stubborn, prideful students before they shatter. Bakugou Katsuki had already shattered once, and to his shame, neither Aizawa nor any of the other instructors noticed until it was too late. It fell on Midoriya to put him back together again, and he had — stronger, if Aizawa’s instincts were right.

Bakugou and Midoriya, the two students who had caught his eye during admissions. Now that Aizawa knew them and their personalities, their biographies made sense, how they pushed and pulled at each other. They had been inexorably converging on the same point for their entire lives, and Aizawa wondered if they had finally made it there.

He also suspected there might be something else at work in how despite everything, Midoriya could never take his eyes off Bakugou. How Bakugou always stood a little straighter when Midoriya was present.

That was above his pay grade to untangle. Seemed like a good project for All Might in his retirement.