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Swords, Stars ands Shields

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I don’t remember exactly who said it, but the main components of being a hero involve courage, compassion, bravery, and the strength to change. You know, the normal things that set the protagonists apart from the extras.
The thing they don’t tell you when you try to become a hero is that all these skills are transferable; both villains and vigilantes require the exact same skills. So what’s really the thing that differentiates them? What is that astral difference that makes a moon the sun?
It’s hard to focus on life after the apocalypse. Well, my apocalypse. I think that we’re all in our own countdowns until the personal apocalypse; not your death, but the things they say are worse than death. The things that tear your heart apart.
Picture it like a tv. Everything’s switching between stations so rapidly that I can barely even hear the words on my own tv.
“Nico... we’re sorry to say-”
“I didn’t want to tell you this so early but-”
“Your father’s not doing well, Nico. I think we should-”
I try to shut the voices out because they’re not real. They’re not real, they’re not real, and I don’t have to listen to them. It wouldn’t make a difference if I lived in this house of ghosts or anywhere else; they’d still come back for me to destroy me. If I ignore them now, they’ll come back later. Still, it’s better than the alternative.
Those words interrupt my mind’s torture again. “Red Riot is on the scene!” The television exclaims proudly, showing that hardening boy from before. I think he’s probably around the same age as me. Maybe a year younger. Great, universe; way to show me how everyone else can do it all better than me, even without flashy quirks. Everyone kept telling me those lies about how I tried my hardest and it was just luck. Maybe I shouldn’t reprimand them though. They only lied because I did.
Right now, the only stable thing in my mind is him. This new hero, with a proper heroes license and a good school life. Someone solid and tough. And I don’t even know his name.
“Nico,” her voice drifts from above, settling down on the ground like dust, collecting slowly and carefully. "I think maybe you've watched this enough."
"Hey!" I protest, watching as my mom walks over to the tv, shutting it off with a click. "But I was-"
"Watching the same thing for the 54th time," she finishes, sighing. "You know, failing that test wasn't your biggest mistake. Or maybe it won't be. Or mayb-"
"No," I correct her, trying to ignore my bruised ego before it rises up again. Does she really think that's what she should be mentioned right now? "It was my biggest mistake to not get into the hero course."
"Honey," she crosses her far more tanned arms against her snug sweater, brushing dark hair from her face. "I really think you should stop saying that. Were you the one who rejected you?"
Before I can correct her, I have to swallow my pride, shuffle my feet a bit away, and think for a moment. Which lie did I tell her? "I didn't defeat any of the robots. And that's really all there is."
I don't think she's caught onto any of my lies yet; it's not like it's so unbelievable anyway. The truth is probably far more bizarre than anything else.
"Well," she rubs her hands together. "You're still doing fine in general studies. Maybe we should focus on that?"
"A course I didn't want to get into?" I snort, already feeling bad for being such a shitty person to her. Seriously; what the fuck is wrong with me? "It's funny that every other school accepted me, isn't it?"
"Maybe it's for the better," she consoles me for a moment before feeling the sharp edges of my shoulders. "I mean, it would have been a risky job. You can still help people. I know that you're in a great medical track and..."
And that's where her voice just becomes background noise to the swarm of voices in my head, all repeating thousands of words a minute. I even recognize her voice in some of them. Am I crazy, or is it just a distraction? Because I doubt they'd let someone operate on someone or help with social and mental issues if they too have social and mental issues.
"Could I maybe go for a walk?" I ask, grabbing my shoes. "Or a run. Whichever one comes first."
She waves her hand at me. "Fine. Just... be safe, Nico. I don't want you falling behind."
"It isn't UA's hero course," I pull my black hair back into a half-assed ponytail before giving up and letting it rest against my neck; I still can't pull off that look anymore. I might as well not try it anyway. "The classes are easy."

"I don't think anyone else would agree with you," she calls as I close the door. "But if it's fine with you..."
"It is!" I assure her, finally falling into my steps. Eventually, it turns into a run as I push my legs, watching the house fade into the background. To anyone else, it'd be a normal one. Maybe a bit more American than anything else, but that's probably because we are. Just a few Americans in a place they shouldn't be. What if that's why dad died?
I have to stop myself from using my quirk, no matter how hard it is. I trained so hard o get it to work, and now it's like I have to consistently turn it off. I watch as the spiky shell creeps up my arm, a reminder of the weapons hiding under my skin.
I was lucky to even get a quirk in the first place, especially one so powerful. They called it "Scales". I have scales lining my skin. Not as protection, but more as a blade. It's pretty useful in a lot of different ways, even if it's pretty simple. Coming from a quirkless family, I can definitely say that in a superpowered society where some play god, it's useful to have power. I can use the scales by pushing them up from their flat surface, making them into knives on my arm. They can also be used in many different ways, from shooting them off to using them for balance and aerodynamics.
It should have been a perfect quirk. In so many ways, it matched me I wanted to be. The me I'd obtained right before it all went under. I can't even really say that everything was destroyed with one decision either; it was just a series of interconnected events that demolished any chance of saving my life. Why do they let young kids make such big decisions?
I don't even time to realize that the world's growing dark by the moment. I haven't been running that long, have I? Was I accidentally using my quirk to push myself forward? Before I can stop myself, my eyes are scanning the crowd, trying to detect anyone's gaze on mine; one more slip-up, and it'll be the heroes on me.
"Don't move."
It's funny how my body understands the command before even I can. A click comes up near my ear, soft and silent. "Nice jacket," the masculine voice whispers in my ear, somewhere between a croon and a grumble.
"It was my father's," I tell him, only just realizing the sentimentality of the statement. Or the finality. A little laugh comes back in response, but I don't turn around to try to see anything.
"So I'm sure you wouldn't want any blood. That's right... Nico Balgera? That's your name?"
"You're after something more," I tell them, even though it's already pretty obvious. They wouldn't know my name that well if it wasn't something orchestrated. It doesn't even faze me that they know my mother's name, a name that separates me even further from the rest of my world.
"Weird name, kid. You don't belong here either."
"Just tell me what to do," I sigh, trying to get this over with. Mom would kill me if Dad's jacket got blood on it. For me, the thought of any stain is even worse than the possibility of death. At least at this point.
The gun gets pushed further toward my neck as a thickly muscled hand surrounds my hips. "Make it look like we're friends. I'll lead you to the spot."
I bite my lip. "I don't think friends hold each other like this. Are you sure that you actually have any?"
"We have enough information on you," he whispers, bordering on dangerously sensual. "If you use your scales, we're killing one person for each scar I receive."
"So those are the friends you're talking about," I say, trying to find anyone else suspicious. "Lead the way, mister."
He shoves me forward, almost causing the scales to shoot up from my skin. I breathe in, trying to calm myself down. This is the difference between heroes, villains, and ordinary people. It's the choice to do nothing but cooperate that sets normal people apart from the rest. It's the easy choice that makes us villains, and the hard one for the heroes. Maybe Mom was right; I only make sense to be in the general course. I should be glad that they even let me in there.
My feet are shoved down toward an alleyway, surrounded by orange brick and the kind of glowing lights that illuminate the seediest shops. "Turn this way."
"You guys have a great store," I whistle, watching as two other figures push themselves in, bodies still concealed with thick grey sweatshirts. "Wonderful establishment. I'll make sure to rate it 5 stars when I get home. Oh yeah, by the way; when am I getting home?"
"He's talking too much," the voice from behind me ushers. "I thought they said he was destroyed after failing to get into UA."
One of the hoodies shrugs, speaking in a clear, feminine voice. "They must have thought wrong. Or maybe it's a fake bravado."
Shit. She's seeing right through me. Underneath the sweatshirt, I can see a bit of her lower chin, as well as full lips pulled into a tight smile. Must be some sort of empath, right? Maybe all that quirk training and preparation wasn't useless.
The body behind me waltzes forward, almost in a strut. Unlike the other two bodies, he's taken off his coat, revealing a surprisingly younger man with wildly tamed blue hair, sticking into the air. His dark black suit and dress pants move closer to my chair as he inspects me with a predatorial gaze.
"Nico," he whispers, craning his neck around to face me as he moves behind the counter, collecting his things. After motioning to the right, the other body moves, shutting and locking the door. I can barely see it in the reflection of the window, but I can tell that they've even turned over the closed sign. Charming. "There's so much more, you know. More than your simple... general studies class."
"You seem to know a lot more about me than I do," I cough. "Hey, maybe you could get rid of my gender envy and questionable sexuality? Because that'd be nice."
"I'd advise you to return to your normal state of self pity," he reminds me, resting a hand on his sharp, angular chin. "Else I'll get annoyed. Still, I appreciate the energy."
"Why do you want me? What's the whole point of this?"
"Mirabella," he focuses on the younger woman. "Jog his memory."
She nods, ripping off her hoodie and gloves. The woman revealed has dark, almost black skin. Curly green hair is piled on top of her hand, almost a matching shade to the tight pantsuit she has on under the sweatshirt. "Don't worry," she smiles wickedly. "This will hurt."
She places her hands on my temples, pushing back my bangs. Have you ever remembered something cringy that you did forever ago, and the repercussions made you want to kill yourself? Okay... so maybe I'm being a bit melodramatic. Still, imagine that, but ten times worse. I don't even time to scream before the memory takes over my mind.
No. Not now. I urge my mind away from the thought, but it's already running in my mind like a movie.
The day of the UA tryouts. In my case, it'd been the same trials as this year; I guess the principal has enough budget for giant robots two years in a row. Still, it's not like it didn't bring back terrible memories.
I couldn't remember the faces or quirks of the other hopeful students even if you asked me. I'm sure the public would agree with that too.
The only special thing about my group was that every last one of us failed. And the worst part? It was all my fault.
Dad's case was getting severe. I wouldn't blame all my emotions on his health, but it definitely affected me.
The horn blared, setting the race to defeat as many of the robots as possible. At least, that was the goal of everyone else.
In one instant, I'd gone from a hero to vigilante. More blood had been spilled from my knife-like body in just that decision than ever before.
While other kids had been making the most of their freshman year back home, I was preparing for something they all thought was impossible. I'd been training my quirk and reflexes to the point of exhaustion. And because of that, I'd been on a different level. I still don't remember much from that day, but one of the weaker kids must have done something to anger me. After that, it was like genocide was the only thing on my mind. When the time limit was finally up, I was the only hopeful student still standing. Of course, by that point, I was already hopeless.
Our entire group failed. I heard that they wanted the kids I had taken out to try again the next day, but the injuries they sustained had damaged their bodies beyond any hope. In other words, while in pursuit of my own goal, I'd dashed someone else's. And you know what? There's nothing worse than just dashing someone's hopes; because once you've dashed their hopes, they can't come back. I broke their bodies, and I scattered the remains.
At that moment, I was a villain.
"Call me Sid," the real world comes back in a rush as Mirabella backs off, looking conflicted. I look up, watching as the man runs his mouth, polishing gems and rings. "Sidney's pawn shop," he explains. "It's the day job, at least."
"What was the point of that? Did I need to see how I ruined their lives again?"

"You never ruined anyone's life," Sidney pulls up close to me, stabbing a long finger covered in heavily decorated rings in my face. "Because of you, those kids got into the General Studies course. And you got in. You're a second-year now; you should be focusing on more realistic dreams than the hero course.
"Nico, I believe in reciprocity. Did you take any other languages?"
"Enough of them," I say, bringing up slightly less painful memories of taking Japanese, English, Latin, and a dozen other languages. Just in case I needed to save someone who didn't understand me. What a waste of time.
"Then I think you might understand what I'm after. You see, it's a pain to be born weak into this world. Whether it's a matter of being quirkless, or if it's due to an illness."
"Are you sick?" I ask, cursing myself for feeling bad for him.
"My daughter," he pulls up his phone, showing me a picture of a child lying in a hospital bed, unmoving. Immediately, I get a pang of sympathy; it's almost exactly like Dad. "Diagnosed with a rare disease involving a quirk malfunction last year. It's funny that the things that motivate us the most can destroy us.
"You see, I seem to be missing the… proper materials to deal with her disease. That's where my shop comes in; doesn't it feel poetic to destroy someone else to bring yourself up?"
"What kind of business are you running here?" I glance around, finally trying to look for an exit. Maybe he'll be distracted enough that he won't notice? "You make deals with people?"
"As I said before, I believe in reciprocity. I'd rather see a world of smiles, even if it means hiding those that don't submit."
"That's sick!" I spit back at him, watching as he walks toward the exit, blocking it with his body. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Many would do anything to save the ones they love. I suppose I fall into that category. Would you believe me if I told you that people often seem to walk straight into my traps? Whether it's blackmail or a faked suicide note, they always seem to require my skills.
"Empath," he taps his head. "You were close with Mirabella. Sadly, she only has a minor memory quirk. Nothing to do with altering; only bringing up memories."
Mirabella pulls a thin gun from her coat, pointing it straight at my head. "I'd prefer guns to quirks any day. Much more reliable."
"Now now... we don't want our newest client to be scared away so easily! My quirk is simple in terms of explanations; I can manipulate subliminal desires and latent opinions. Essentially, the world of the subconscious is mine, as long as I can keep a hold on one person."
"Great," I throw my hands up. "And you know what? That's great for you. But that doesn't explain why I'm still here."
"It'd be... beneficial for me if I could find someone to stay in the hero course. Preferably that popular group... Class 1-a."
"I'm too old for that," I point out. "I'm a second year."
"They'd accept a transfer for you," he tells me, shuffling through more vintage items and tarnished metal. "Trust me on that. With my powers, you could get in fairly easily."
"You said that you're only supposed to control opinions that haven't been made yet," I remind him. "And it's not like they'd accept me based on just that."
"That's right," he laughs. "If only there was some way to get you in... We'll meet again, Nico."
The third body snaps his fingers, causing my vision to go blurry. When the clouds dissipate, I'm barely surprised to find that they're all gone.
I trudge out of the room, kicking up rocks and pieces of gravel that haven't been put down yet. There goes another opportunity. If they're always meant to be taken, then why do I keep passing up chances like they're so common?
The inner city welcomes me as it does with anyone else; I'm shunned by the crowds, pushed away from everyone else. Here, everyone is either alone, or in a group so tightly knit that it's impossible to enter. I don't even make an attempt to focus on any one person until I hear the scream.
No one else even looks up, as if their phone screens are more important. I stalk through the crowds quickly, cursing myself as the sky grows even darker under the bright city lights. It's going to take even longer to get home if I try to find what's causing the screams, but I can't just leave them alone.
"You!" a woman's voice cries out. I stare up, finding the target of the screams embedded too far into the crowd. "Get off of me!"
I push my way through the crowd that's circled around her, already feeling my hero complex push past any impulsive thoughts. I don't care if it's through surgery, therapy, or anything else; If I can find someone to save, I want to make sure they're feeling better.
From what I can see, it's just another normal case of natural selection; someone of an undistinguishable gender with an ordinary powerup quirk attacking a quirkless person dressed nicely to steal money. With the city so close to my house, it's not like I haven't seen this a thousand times.
Only this time, there are no heroes, and it's more than one villain. Random chatter breaks out from the crowd, piercing my ears.
"Did anyone call a hero?"
"Do you think that Fat's gonna come around?"
"I wonder if there'll be a fight this time. Last time, it got pretty boring."
I breathe in slowly, watching as the two villains back away slowly, looking confident. "If anyone attacks me," the larger one promises. "My buddy will kill her. Understand that?"

What is it with villains and threats involving their friends today? That limits my options almost too much, but there's no point in stopping now. I still have my own two arms and legs and more than one brain cell; there's nothing else to lose.
"You might have a backup if you get hurt!" I shout, jumping in from the circle, already preparing the same move I just watched myself use on those kids back at the tryouts. "But not if he gets hurt!"
I pull out my front leg, preparing for a quick handstand, followed by a quick torque to pull my knife-like arms against the smaller one's tough skin. He shouts in surprise, a deep roar.
Just as I suspected, the leader runs off with the bag, shouting with glee. Fine by me; lives matter more than money.
"Why did you do that?" the woman screams, already pulling out her phone. "Now they have my money!"
"But they don't have your life," I point out, hacking and slashing at the smaller beast with surprising ease. I guess I haven't lost my touch from the lack of training.
Two fists fly at my face with shocking speed, catching my left arm. "I still have most of my limbs," I correct myself. "I can keep going."
I don't even notice the phones on me until they flash, blocking my eyesight for a moment.
"Well," I dangle my right leg. "Half of them gone. But I still have everything else."
I bound away from the monster, holding my right arm out, shooting off the scales. Blood streams from each crack in my armor, but I ignore the pain, trying not to black out. "I can do this," I murmur, moving in close for the kill. "It's just like then."
My legs give out just as the overpowered man falls, leaving me defenseless from the new shadow eclipsing my view.
"What is it, Fat?"
The familiar voice is almost enough to give me a reason to rise, but I can't force myself up even if I wanted to.
"Thank you, nice lady!" a voice calls out, with a similar timbre to the boy's; gruff, yet kind. "Everyone, please back up a little! We have a job to do! You can rest assured that everything's safe now too!"
"Hell yeah!" another voice returns, accompanied by the sound of clashing metal. "What's the chance we get to beat down that many villains, huh?"
"I'm on the ground," I state simply, trying to clear out my vision. A hand gets wrapped around my arm, pulling me onto my feet. After wobbling for a moment, I look back at the face, silently screaming.
"Hey," Red Riot pushes back my hair a little, only to freeze up. "Fat, he's alive!"
"Huh? No I just- oh!" two large hands take hold of my wrists, pulling up to my waist. Thanks to my depressing mind, it takes me a moment to realize that someone's hugging me, not trying to kill me.
"Gah!" the adult's voice returns. "He's sharp!"
I get placed back down on the ground, right in front of the hardening hero. I glance back at his wild red hair, sticking straight up from his tanned skin. "Woah," he says in awe, checking out my arm. "You're a transformation user too?"
"Um," I hold up my hand, watching as the scales rotate across my wrists before lying flat and level against my skin. "I guess?"
Another boy stands in the back, concealed by his cloak. I reach my hand out to him, trying to say anything, but we both just lean back, causing the gruffer voice to laugh.
"The name's Fat. Fat Gum, to be precise!" the hero pushes ahead, grabbing my hand too tightly, shaking it way too forcefully. "Woah," he says from behind his black mask. "Your grip is tight. Not as tight as Real Steel's or Red Riot's, but you're getting there!"
"Thanks..." I say, pushing away from him, only to fall into a metal body, dressed similarly to Red Riot, only in all grey hues. "Um, sorry."
"He's funny!" Red Riot informs me. "Can we keep him?"
"Well," the hooded kid says, scanning me up and down. His floppy black hair is almost like looking in a mirror, especially with his demeanor. "We have to. I guess I'm the only one that remembers what we came here for. What a bother...
"Fat Gum," he looks up to the massive man. "He used his quirk in a public area. He was the one we got a message about, right?"
Shit. Guess there was something to lose. I've been on a losing streak, after all.
"Oh, fine," Fat Gum huffs, pulling out a comically large pad and pencil. "Name?"
"Nico Balgera," I tell them. "And yes, I'm American. No, I'm not high. Yes, I'm bi."
The red boy blushes a little, pushing closer. "Nico... don't I know you from somewhere?"
"Um..." I cough. "We go to the same school?"
"What?" Real Steel gets in my face, looking both threatened and threatening. "Bullshit! No one from our school would pull that crap!"
"I haven't seen him," the cloaked one states plainly, pulling his hood down. "We need to get somewhere, Fat. Maybe we could leave the interrogation to someone else?"
"Great idea, Suneater!" Mr. Gum smiles, ruffling the hero's hair, giving off similar vibes to Dad. "Why don't you-"
"Oh no..." Suneater says, facing away from me. "One on one talking? With a stranger? Um... no."
"Well," Real Steel says, still giving me the cold... er, metal shoulder. "I'm itching to get back into the fight."
"Red Riot?" Fat Gum asks. "Sorry to leave you... are you okay with this?"
"Oh yeah!" he smiles, pumping his fists. "Anyway, it's not like I'm gonna miss anything; I'll bet you'll just be surveying the streets, Real Steel."
"Damn," the rough boy smacks Red Riot, grinning like an idiot. "Well, at least I can pretend that I'm getting some action."
The red-haired boy blushes again, only to wipe it away. "Right... so you're this vigilante, I hear? Wanna explain that?"
"Um," I look around, watching the crowds gathering near us. "Am I getting arrested? Maybe we should go somewhere a bit more private too; I'm getting the feeling that some people would rather deal out their own justice."
"Whatever," he shrugs, still smiling. Fat raindrops land on his nose, splashing up into his eyes. "We better find cover. Maybe... I'll get changed into my normal clothes; that way, we'd look more like two high school students studying together instead of a hero interogating a villain. Oh... not that you're a villain or anything!"
"Got it," I say, trying to find cover from the storm. "So... um, go do that! Plus Ultra..."
"You're weird," Red Riot observes, moving towards a blank alleyway. "I like it. Why'd you go and ruin yourself?"
I freeze up, still facing away from him changing. It's not like he was wearing much before, but I still feel like I have to face away from him; it's just respectful. "I didn't mean to hurt anyone."
"Well, personally, I think it was cool of you. I hope we don't have to take you in for anything."
"Got it," I tell him, getting a little peek of his toned, masculine body. With the gears off, I can catch more of his soft, tough shoulders.
"Alright!" he shouts, bounding with energy around me. Instead of his jagged hero outfit, he's now outfitted in a bulky orange hoodie and black jeans. It's almost like a reverted image of my purple hoodie and black jeans, tapered tightly to my body by the rain. "Are you-"
My stomach growls above his voice, loud and penetrating. My face turns redder than his hair, getting a laugh out of him.
"There's a ramen shop across the street. I know you said that you're American, but I don't think you'll find anything really familiar here."
"Oh," I shrug it off. "My dad was raised here. He sorta introduced me to some stuff. Sorry if it wasn't clear from um... me."
"Not at all!" he laughs, pulling me across the street, whooping in the rain. "I know it's kinda silly of me, but I love the rain. It's not the clouds or everything being wet, because I hate that part. But just the feeling of running through. It feels... it feels interesting, you know?"
"Infinite?" I guess. "Is that what you meant?"
"Yeah!" he gasps, breathing in the city air. "Like I can't be stopped. Isn't it one of the best feelings?"
"It's why I wanted to be a hero," I answer back, sliding into the entrance of the restaurant. Red Riot pulls up a seat, dropping into the faded yellow plastic. I sit opposite him, despite his protests. "It's the only time I get to feel whole anymore."
"So that's why you attacked that guy back there?" he jabs a finger back toward the sidewalk. "Interesting. Do you mind if I get us both the same order? I'm kinda short on money... at least in this version of me."
"Um," before I can ask any questions, I'm nodding. Instead of overthinking during the time he's gone, I can barely think. Everything goes numb, almost like I'm a planet revolving around nothing.
Hey... I actually like that. Sometimes, I feel like I should have been born with a space quirk to match an aesthetic. Still, I can't help the feeling that I got a quirk that's more powerful than I deserve.
"Hey," he slides a bowl across to me, grinning widely. "They ended up recognizing me, even when I'm this me. Guess I gotta try harder to hide."
I can barely document what his real name is in my mind; I've probably walked by this kid a thousand times, but I still can't recall any real moment where we've talked. "Do you... do you have different identities?"
"Oh," he hangs his hand on his neck, but not in any way to mimic me. "No. I just mean that sometimes, I have to pretend I'm not me. At least, I have to pretend that I'm not Red Riot. People would recognize me easily."
"Well," I smile for the first time since meeting him, staring at the black and white tiled floor, both vintage and homey. "Maybe if you got a better mask, people wouldn't recognize you so much."
"Nah," he notes cynically. "It's gotta be the hair. Maybe I should..."
He pushes his hair down into bangs, accentuating his soft cheekbones. I pull my own hoodie up, trying to block the heat that's quickly rising. "Um... interesting development."
"Speaking of that... maybe we should talk a little about why you don't have a hero's license, yet you decided to attack a villain. That was so manly of you, but people could have gotten hurt!"
"You're dodging the question, spiky."
I ignore the jibe at my quirk. "Well, when they don't let you into the hero course, it's not like you have many chances to get a license."
"It was harder to get than you'd think," Red Riot wrings out his wrists, pushing back against the chair. "Are you sure you're not still shaken up? You've barely touched your food."
"I'm not hungry."
"I heard your stomach growl. C'mon... it tastes good! Anyway, we gotta get you some protein! You're looking thin over there."
"Well," I point to his muscles hiding underneath the soft orange fabric. "Compared to you, it's a bit hard to be strong."
"Anyone can be strong. It's jus how we use it that matters."
We sit in silence for a moment, letting that sink in. Red Riot starts the conversation back up, still trying to pry into me. "I mean, your muscles aren't that bad either! But you could be stronger if you got into the hero course. But how did someone like you fail the entrance exams? You seem really smart!"
"It wasn't that. I failed the practical."
"I just saw you beat down a beast that would have taken me almost the same time."
"Well, you're a defensive type, right? So why does that matter?"
"You shouldn't discredit yourself. You're really powerful, you know!"
I am? It takes me a moment before I realize that I've said that out loud. Red Riot smiles back at me warmly, nothing like that guy from the pawnshop.
"Hell yeah. You're manlier than so many other guys. So how'd you fail the entrance exam?"
"I..." I swallow for a moment. He'd be the first one I told the truth. "I attacked the other students."
"Oh," he falls quiet, stirring his ramen around a little. "I couldn't imagine someone like you..."
"Maybe you could finish what you were saying? What do you mean?"
He laughs a bit, but the sound is nearing cynical, away from his trademark joy. "You don't really seem like that dynamic anti-hero type. More like the type to protect someone at any cost. Someone more like... yeah, someone like that."
I don't even bother digging into what he said, coughing instead. "I didn't want them to get more points than me. And, well... I guess they didn't!"
He doesn't join in on my laughter. "That's cruel though. What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't. It's exactly why it had happened. I originally lived in America, but I pleaded my parents to come here when I got into UA. That was probably my worst mistake."
"What happened? I'm sure I could help you settle into your classes a bit better."
"No," I answer back. "It's not that. I had a lot of friends back home. I-I'm sure I can make more friends, even if people are already scared of me. With fear, comes respect. Right?"
"There are other ways to get respect. As a man, it'd be hard to know that people only liked me because they thought I would hurt them."
I hang my head low, finally taking in the gravity of his words and my actions. I really did something horrible, didn't I? I could have hurt someone back there. "All I thought was that if I didn't do anything, it didn't matter if I lived or not; I'd be living in hell I'd make myself."
"What are you saying? That you'd self-harm?"

"It doesn't matter if it's self-harm or not; just trying to get into UA destroyed my body. These scales aren't like your hardening; they don't protect people. I'm a human switch knife, a double-edged sword. Anything I do destroys me."
He sits with that, ruminating for a moment before reaching out to grab my arm. "You don't mind if I take a look for a second, do you?"
"No," I swallow uncomfortably, even though his soft hands against my skin are probably the best thing I've felt all day. He brushes against one chink in my armor, flipping it back and forth. When I wince in pain, he stops, apologizing. "You've got such an interesting quirk. You know that, right?"
"Oh," I brush back a little. "My parents didn't give it to me. Genetically, I mean. I guess for them, it took a while to get used to."
"No heroes in America?"
"Too many. Nothing like here, where you have so many pro heroes that people look up to. Back home, it's about the money. It's not about the world they could create for us all, but the life they could make for themselves. They're no better with the villains."
"What are the villains like back there?"
"All Might wasn't ever a symbol. I think he was more of a taunt, what with his American design. The villains back home are all just criminals. Many are either quirkless or useless. The stronger the light, the stronger the shadows, as they say. And back there, there was barely a difference between the light and dark. I think we were all one grey shape."
"But what do you think? You're not in that grey, right?"
"Well... it's complicated. There was a point where I thought I had everything it took to be a hero. But at this point?"
"What?" he props his head against his hand, leaning in close to me. I can smell a bit of chocolate on his breath, rich and dreamy. "At this point, you're scared to be a hero?"
I nod slowly. "Because being a hero and being a villain is all about one decision. And if you choose to do nothing, you're the worst of everyone. It's inaction that lets the world crumble. And what happens when I can't do anything?"
He stares at me, looking conflicted. Just when I think he's about to tell me what he's thinking about, his phone buzzes, alerting him of a text. "It's Mr. Gum," he tells me, not trying to betray any secrets. "I'm going to have to take you with me."
"No," I tell him, pulling my arm back quickly. "No... if you think that you can just lull me into some sense of safety like this and then throw me in jail-"
"Relax!" he holds his hands up in defense. Of course, for Red Riot, it's probably a stronger defense than the wall I'm leaning against. "we're taking you back to UA."
"It's a Friday," I tell him, checking my phone. "School's already out. What's the point?"
"Well," he smiles, holding my shoulders tightly. "I guess they're accepting transfers to 1-A?"
No way. This has to be something he's just telling me to cooperate. "But why would they?"
"It took Fat a good amount of time to deal with that villain. Almost the same time as you."
"My quirk is just better suited for dealing with those big strong types. You know, because there's no need to overpower them or anything."
"It doesn't change the fact that you still took him out like that!" the hero snaps his fingers, looking impressed. Somehow, I can tell that he's not lying. Too bad that doesn't clear it all up; I'm sure anyone that texted him could have died. This won't change my guard.
"I'm a year ahead of you," I point out. "I'd be going down a grade if I joined your class."
"Well," he shrugs. "I might have read the text wrong. Or maybe Mr. Gum told me it wrong. Either way, it's great news, right?"
"Yeah," I rub my arm. "Shocking, but still exciting."
Another buzz interrupts my anxiety attack. "They'll be waiting for us. Do you want to walk, or do you want to wait in the rain?"
"I'll wait," I mumble, watching as the rain falls right in front of us in fat drops, exploding on impact as they reach the ground. "Do you... do you think it's okay that I attacked the guy?"
"Well," he hums for a moment before deciding sporadically. "Yeah. It's not my place to think anything about it, but I think you made the right choice. The hardest, most complicated choice, but definitely the best.
"When the League of Villains took my...." he stops for a moment, trying to think of what to say. "Friend, I think I felt how you do right now. Everything was just numb, and it wasn't going to change until I did something about it."
"The Hosu City incident? But I saw that it was all Pro Heroes."
"Well," he laughs a bit, a little bright spot against the darkness shrouding us. "A group of us wanted to do something about it. We're training to save people, aren't we? It's just... why do we have to stop because it's dangerous? Why do we ever stop because we might die?"
"We miss out on so much," I agree, pushing my hands into my pockets. "Because we're scared of what's going to happen. I used to overthink like that."
"But it's not about what happens after; it's about the present, and how you can change everything in a single moment."
I open my mouth to respond, but I hear the pro heroes rushing after us, looking drenched by the rain.
"Red Riot!" Fat Gum smiles, looking invigorated by the sight of us. "You're not hurt!"
"Um," I point out. "Why would he be?"
None of them say anything, a stark difference from their loud selves. Finally, Suneater coughs, staring me straight in the face. "We thought you would attack him."
"Ah," I say, feeling my smile fade. "Right."
"Still don't know how I feel about this guy joining the hero course," Real Steel admits, rubbing his back. "He's impulsive, and he needs to think a bit more."
"Then he'll fit right in!" Red Riot argues back. "C'mon, Fat! What do you think?"
"Well," Fat Gum inspects me up and down. "He has a powerful quirk and a good body. He could probably stand to gain a few pounds..."
"He has a voice," I remind them. "And he can also make his own decisions. Didn't you say that I was being transferred or something?"
"There's a chance of it," Suneater reminds me, looking finally in his element now that he has some control over the situation. "It's not guaranteed. We need to take you to UA first. You might want to text your parents; it's going to be a while."
"Parent." I correct bitterly. None of them seem to notice the remark, but I fire off a quick text. "Done. Now, let's get this over with."
"Seriously?" Fat Gum ruffles my hair, almost too much like a doting father. "That's what you say right before you get into the hero course?"
"Yay!" I feign hyperactive joy. "My favorite place! School!"
"Just get in the car," Fat sighs, pulling me into his car. Surprisingly, it's a lot more muted than his own yellow jacket and bright blonde hair. Instead, his car is almost like a perfect vehicle of subterfuge, all with tinted windows. Red Riot and Real Steel sit beside me, almost like that saying; between a rock and a hard place. Only this time, the rock is much, much friendlier than the hard place. Red Riot smiles at me, all pointed, jagged teeth. Still, his eyes are warm and soft, where Real Steel's stares at me with so much energy that I feel like I'm going to melt under his gaze.
"Alright, kids," Fat Gum says, motioning toward the radio. "Anyone want me to play anything in specific?"
In a single moment, all three students grow louder than before, shouting out random genres and songs. The pro hero grows exasperated in a single second, rubbing his temple with his free hand.
"Wow," he smiles despite the clear migraine that's growing. Even Suneater was able to reach his ear, sitting right beside his mentor. "Okay... Nico, you have anything you want to hear?"
"You know," I point out. "I'm mostly sure that usually, the almost criminal doesn't get to choose the songs."
"Well," he waves his hand. "You don't have a lot of time before I start playing anything at random."
Angry classical music starts bursting through the car, enveloping me in anxiety. Seriously, which part of violins are supposed to be calming? "How about... indie?" I'm mostly sure I heard Red Riot say something like that, and if I can get him on my good side, it'll be helpful."
"Well," Fat Gum shrugs. "Not what I'm used to hearing in this car, but it's a welcome change from last time."

"You usually let us pick the song depending on how many villains we caught," Real Steel says, crossing his arms. Still, I can see his foot tapping a bit to the soft beat of the unnamed song.
"Well, it'd still go to Nico. I don't really have a taste in music. And I'm glad to hear whatever you guys want to hear!"
"You really got a good hero," I whisper to Red Riot. He smiles a bit, shifting a bit closer to me. I gasp at the movement, feeling his warm body beneath the sweatshirt.
"Mr. Gum is nice. A lot different than the other heroes we've worked with before. He really cares for his students, I think," the red-haired boy barks, letting loose the same earthy, wafting scent.
"Hell yeah I am!" the pro hero says, taking a sharp left turn. "You guys got lucky with me. Hey, Nico!"
"Um... yeah?"
"You're a transformation type, and I've got a lot of them now. When it was just Suneater and me, we were big on quirks relying on eating. But now that I've taken on these two rascals, the theme's changed a bit. Whaddya say you join me?"
"That requires a hero license," I inform him. "And plus, I don't really fit in with you guys anyway, do I? I'm not outgoing or anything."
"There's more to saving people than hero work," Fat tells me, reminiscent of the same argument I told myself. "And anyway, I took Suneater here and made him outgoing, didn't I?"
"Please stop talking," Suneater pulls his cloak down farther. "Still, I wouldn't mind someone a little quieter here."
"You good at writing or interrogating, kid?"
I think back to what mom said earlier, about all the things that general studies wants me to be. "I've learned some basic psychology. And I can write down stuff. Like a secretary, right?"
"Yeah, exactly!" he laughs, pulling up to the school. "Hopefully, they don't try to arrest you for the stunt you pulled back there."
I nod, trying not to hide how nervous I am. Still, with the sight of UA, I'm almost calmed. Even for the general studies program, it's still a sight to behold. It doesn't change the fact that I'm still in one of the best high schools in the world, Still, it feels like the majority of the general studies course is composed of wannabe heroes like me; people whose lives were ruined by just one decision. The cherry blossoms are barely blooming yet, but the barren trees lining the gates give me nostalgia for a place I was bored out of my mind in only a few hours ago. I guess I should probably explain that UA has amazing courses. Honestly, I think the General Studies course sometimes has a more promising future than the hero course; you're almost guaranteed a career with some of the classes. But they're always too easy. When your dad's dead and your friends are an entire ocean away, it's hard to find anything else to do. So I study and work hard. But never above 100 percent. It's funny how they always say that our school's motto is Plus Ultra; what about the kids who don't get the spotlight nearly every day? Do we go above and beyond? Or does it simply not matter?
"Alright!" Mr. Gum stretches out as he clambers from the car, walking up the steps to the main entrance. "Everyone else, wait out here. I'll be taking Mr. Balgera up to the authorities. Thanks for your help!"
The three students don't react in any way. Instead, Fat Gum just pushes me up the stairs, sighing at his outfit. "I should have dressed a bit better for this, I think."
"Is this... important?"
"Well, kid... you might go to jail, or you might get your dream. Either way, your life's about to change. I doubt they'd just let you go after a repeated offense. Keep walking."
I follow his orders until we eventually reach a simple red door. Fat Gum breathes in, trying to calm himself down. Or maybe he's trying to calm me down.
"Once we're in there, I won't be able to help you, kid. I really think you have a good heart, but that nightmarish display you showed back then might change their opinion of you. I'd tell you to keep quiet and just listen to what they're saying, but I doubt you'll listen to me, will you?"
I shake my head, already cursing myself for it. "Sorry, sir. Thanks for all your help though."
He nods, smiling one final time before putting on a serious expression. Finally, we're face to face with at least a dozen plainly outfitted police officers, all dressed in black. In the middle, two familiar figures sit. With Principal Nezu, I'm barely surprised. Even though he looks like some animal, he's got to be a thousand times smarter than one. Right beside him though, a smile freezes me up.
Sidney has his feet kicked up against the desk, grinning like a madman. Nezu doesn't even seem to notice the disrespect. Or maybe he just doesn't want to dignify it with a response. Is this what he meant when he told me that he could get me everything I wanted? Is this how I might get in?
I have to push the sick feeling rising in my stomach down; right now, they're going to ask me questions. If I answer just one of them wrong, my life might end. "So," the principal shuffles his papers around. "I've seen that you have an impressive record, Mr. Balgera. You even tried out for UA after being accepted to many high schools in America. You could have continued your education there; after all, you were already in your freshman year. Yet for some reason, you decided to abandon all that for UA. Why is that?"
I answer almost automatically. Probably a combination of my nerves and Sidney. I'll bet he already has every decision laid out exactly how he wants. Still, that doesn't mean I'm in the clear.
"If you were given the option to help someone or to save yourself, which one would you choose."
"Excuse me," one of the men motions to Nezu. "I hardly think that's relevant."
"No," he keeps his sick, unwavering smile. "I think the most common answer would be to save yourself. But that isn't what you thought about two hours ago, was it?"
"It's what I thought when at your tryouts," I bow slightly, still unsure of what to do according to the customs. "I'm terribly sorry about it.
"I saw all those people nearly being killed... and all because of me. After that, I didn't want to see anyone else being put through so much pain."
"But it's only natural for that to be the case," the principal picks up a thin cigar, inspecting it carefully. "People get hurt, Mr. Balgera. It's all there is to it."
"I'd like to limit the pain then," I shout back, trying to control my temper. Still, it's difficult to keep my adrenaline down, even after sitting with Red Riot for so long. "As long as I can minimize the pain people feel, it'll help. I know that I can't fight death, but I'll do whatever I can to prolong it."
"Hm..." Nezu sighs, looking at Sidney absentmindedly. My heart begins to thump wildly, almost like a storm. I know the principal is extremely intelligent, but the opinions he hasn't even realized he's made might not be under that category.
"I think it'd be safe to say that you don't deserve any jail time," he nods, ignoring the shocked and angry gasps surrounding him. "At least for this offense. You didn't get off that easy for the tryouts, what with the house arrest forever ago. Yet under the circumstances, it wasn't as if there was much choice for you to leave your house anyway."
"O-of course," I tell him, trying to ignore the world around us, focusing on only our conversation. If he thinks I'm not ready just for a second, it could be all over. "But you beleive I did the right thing in this situation?"
"Well, it wasn't exactly legal. Still, in the time we live in today, it would have disastrous consequences were you to not step up. I admire your bravery, but you must understand that there will be consequences down the line.
"I'm still not sure if you truly believe in the hero course as your right path, but never mind all that. If it's what you want, I'll make arrangements right away."
"You'd really let me in that easily?"
"We need more heroes like you," the principal stares into my eyes adamantly, looking steely and determined. "People willing to do the wrong thing. Heroes who are ready to face chaos."
"So what you're saying is," I wait for him to finish, scared that if I interrupt him, he might throw away his entire promise. "I'd be a sort of counter symbol."
"We don't want anyone playing the anti-hero, but there will be a time where we need a symbol like you. We've been resting all our hope on one hero, with other pros sprinkled in. I'd say that it'd be quite useful to change that up and have many different pillars. Wouldn't you agree?"
"Um," I stare up at Fat Gum for a moment. "I think we need more types of heroes. There are so many kinds, but I feel like I've never seen so many of them."
"There are many different kinds of heroes. Yet, for the past era, it's been one man in front of it all. I'd like to change up that type of status quo, even if I'm unable to see it. The world doesn't need more heroes; we need to focus a tad bit more on the ones we already have."
"Does this mean I get in?" I finally drop my act, letting out all my anxiety. The principal lets out a rare, kind smile.
"Well, you'd have to be moved down from the first years; you'd be missing out on nearly everything if you were kept in the second years. And we've been looking at changing up the hero course anyway."
"I need some letter- oh, thanks," before I can even finish my gripes, Nezu hands me a signed permission slip. "If you get this signed, you'll enter next week."
"That early?" I look down at the paper. Can I even get mom to sign this in time?
"There's no use in wasting time. I'll expect in on my desk by Monday morning."
"But..." I trail off, watching as Sidney lurks in the corner. I didn't trust him before, and I still can't shake the feeling that it feels a little too planned. "Won't I be switching classes on Monday morning? You'd really have everything prepared in time?"

"We have many dorms open. The class size wouldn't be affected very much. I don't see much of a point in waiting anyway. And in any case, you'll only be joining the dorms the week after that. Come Monday, you will be taking general classes with your other class 1-A students. Does this make sense?"
"So I won't really be taking any hero classes until the week after?" I shrug. "That's fine with me. But why 1-A?"
"Those students seem to have a tendency to find trouble when they aren't looking for it. I'm sure that you'd go looking for trouble yourself, correct?"
I brush my arm with my hand, leaning back on the balls of my feet. "What does it matter?"
"If you're going to find trouble," the principal ushers the police out of the room. "Then it might as well find you. If I'm being frank here, I'd say that out of all my students, I'd care the least about you."
"Nezu!" Fat shouts from above me, filled with more rage than I've heard before. "What are you saying?"
"I shouldn't have spoken," he takes a long sip from his tea, waiting for a response. When neither of us gives him one, he places the cup down slowly, looking me in the eyes. "Some of the public is already aware of your misdemeanors. In truth, the media may paint this as a villain entering the school."
"What?" I cross my arms, trying to coax my spikes down.
"I'm simply stating a fact. Please pardon the blunt tone in which I spoke. All I am trying to say is that when the media attacks you, don't expect a warm response."
"I can take them," I push back my scales, sighing. He raises an eyebrow hesitantly.
"We'll see about that," he plucks a hair from my sweatshirt, placing it delicately in the trash. "You have great things to look forward to in the future."
I swallow nervously, staring back at Fat Gum. Is this the right decision?
It's all up to fate.

Chapter Text

The world is flat, and this is a fact I was told at 9:54.
Their world is different than mine. Or planet? Is it planet or world? It doesn't change one simple fact; I can't talk to them.
“No,” Kaminari's voice rises above the others. “It's fucking flat!”
A dark, pink hand comes from the side, whacking the tangled, blonde mop resting on the teen's head. “Boy, I'm this close to smacking you again.”
Before Mina can turn around, I drop my head, pretending to be interested in the book lying in front of me. So far, I've managed to avoid every last person in this class. I'm gonna be the best hero, right?
I can't even talk to anyone. I literally know that he's in this class, but it's still painful.
She shakes the shirt pink hair framing her dark face, slapping her friend. A smirk rises on her face as she notices all of the eyes on her. She's an entertainer at heart. Someone that should be a hero.
Only one of them even tries to read the Bronte sister's work; his red hair is held up with a plethora of Mina's hair clips. I gasp when I notice it. That's Red Riot, right?
"Wake up, shitty hair."
His eyes dart up at Bakugou's snarl as the bell echoes out from the hall. I gather my things, a sigh escaping my mouth as I check my phone for the thousandth time. Swiping down as I see that despicable swirl. I already know they haven't responded.
The friends of my old school are all dead. Okay, so maybe they aren't dead, but that's beside the point; I don't get to see them anymore, and it feels like…
What does it feel like? I've never known what it's like to not have any real friends. I guess I'm new territory. Sure, I've been in school for this long, but this is the first week where I've ever been in a class where people don't know I'm essentially a murderer, just with a few of the steps removed.
Introverts can't survive on their own. I think it's a well-known fact that we require some random extrovert that... gets us. And until we find our guardian angel, I guess we're all drifters.
I gather my things quickly, eyes darting as I scan the halls. I've already learned all the class 1-A kid's names, but I doubt that they've even noticed me. There's literally an invisible girl sitting in the corner, surrounded by people. Where's my excuse?
I feel a heavy body smash into me, thick with muscle and thread through with hate. Bakugou's eyes meet mine, and that's when I know I've met the devil.
Every school has the blonde bitch, the rich girl with an army of skanks. Or maybe it was just back in America. Anyway, what do you do when that girl is 5 foot 9, destroyed countless villains, won the sports festival (which, by the way, you weren't even let into), number three in your class, and also maybe ridiculously hot? Oh, and don't forget the part where he's menacingly staring down at you, even though he shoved you.
A: Cave in and Cry
B: Ask Him Out (What. The. Fuck?)
C: Realize That You Just Dropped All Your Papers.
"Fuck," I mumble, dropping to the ground to pick up the notebooks splayed out. All of a sudden, it's like I'm Mina; I think eyes are all on me, or maybe my papers. Drawings and notes, along with much darker things are all on display.
The rest of his gang all stray into the hallway, but Bakugou drifts near the doorway, a scowl on his face as he picks up one of the notebooks.
"No," I protest, but my voice couldn't possibly sound any weaker. "Don't-"
"Is this for real?" Bakugou's voice shifts from anger to an unexpected emotion; ecstasy. "No, you've gotta be fucking kidding me..."
His voice drifts off as he realizes what else is on the page. When the cover turns around and I see the title, I know my world is ending.
It's my suicide journal.
It's not like the display that was shown on tv, but Red Riot catches the book easily. Kirishima perfectly catches the notebook in his tan, weathered hands as Bakugou throws it behind his head. "Report this."
Kirishima nods, the easy-going smile on his face drifting away as he dutifully rushes out of the main building. I can already feel the heat rising in my cheeks, but I attempt to push it down.
"Let me by!" I shout, suddenly conscious of the crowd that's gathered. My scales push up against my sleeves, ripping the cotton on my tan and pink sweater. It's not a big deal for me, but I can already feel everyone backing off. At least the other books are on the ground. Did they have to grab that one though? "Please!"
The blond boy snorts, raising his arms to stop me. "I'm not letting you off that easy. You think I didn't see what was in your journals?"
"Bakugou!" Mina calls, grabbing Kaminari to help shove their friend off me. "Listen, I don't know what was in that book, but you can't just-"
"I'm not letting anyone else die."
I take advantage of the momentary distraction he causes, slipping underneath his tough arms. I can practically hear the anger inside of him, but I don't care; I have to get my notebook back.
If these students didn't know me from the incident before, they're probably gonna remember now; I rush by, slamming into thousands of bodies before I end up outside. Sunlight hits me the moment I stretch out on the campus ground. I catch the red-haired kid out of the corner of my eye and start bolting in that direction, trampling at least a dozen tulips. They're my least favorite flower anyway.
"Stop!" I shout at him, nearly stumbling on both my words and the ground. He turns around, falling like a mountain.
"Gah!" his body just keeps falling, a drawback of his near gargantuan stature (at least, he's massive compared to me). Suddenly, it's like my body is completely taken over; despite the clear weight difference, he ends up in my trembling arms. Our eyes lock, from my muddy green to his warm brown. His eyes are like chocolate milk, matching the scent from his hoodie last Friday.
"Sorry," I mumble, dropping him slowly to the ground. He smiles a little as the reeds of grass envelop him, surrounding his world.
"I guess I'll keep having to save you, Nico," his eyes catch mine, drifting down. When I reach out to grab the notebook, the smile fades. A cloud drifts above us, eclipsing the world.
"I still need to tell someone," Kirishima's eyes furrow. "This isn't a joke."
"Exactly," I huff. "It's not a joke. So what was that whole thing you did back there?"
"I'm just trying to help," he protests.
"Help? No... no. That's not what people like you fucking do."
I can tell that I've hit something. His smile cracks, dropping into a thin line. "What do you know? Didn't you just tell me that you wanted to save people?"
"Take it," he shoves the notebook back into my hand. "You can't tell me that you want to save everyone, just not yourself. You're worth so much more than that. Just please promise me that you won't open it up again."
"I deserve it though."
He stomps off, all essences of the joy he showed earlier gone. There's something in the way his fists shake that I know it immediately;
Kirishima's not even angry. And that's the scary part.
The only thing reflecting in his warm eyes is fear.

Chapter Text

Leaves litter the ground like confetti even though it's been months since they fell. A few yards lie bare, green, and untouched by fall's bounty. Spring is evident in the flowers that poke up from underneath piles of plastic. The flowers grow through the bones, but they still sit raw.
I find myself returning to the swiping, watching as piles of spam flood into my inbox. Okay, but who reads those texts from people like "Sexy Bunny". Bitch, I don't even KNOW you, and you think I'd want to pay money to have sex? I trash the messages, sighing as another message pops up in my mind.
They're not going to respond.
The group chat has been "dead" for months now. Yeah, right. I'm sure they just have their group chat, sans me.
I'm at my ugly-ass house in only a moment. The perfect little picket fence and gaudy blue paint hide what could only be described as a never-ending funeral service. Getting into the dorms was probably one of the best things about the hero course; just knowing that I have to go home has put me in a bitter mood. Not to mention that I'm probably now on a danger list not only for other people but for myself as well.
Mom isn't home, which makes sense. I'm sure other kids would love a situation like this; instead, I'm stuck inside the walls that killed my father.
Other factors caused his death. Everyone always reminds me of that when I claim to hate the house, but it doesn't matter to me; who cares about the doctor that didn't save him? Or the old owners that conveniently "forgot" to clean out the asbestos?
Anyway, I'm living in a house of bones. And no amount of poetic value will ever make that okay.
Everyone always thought my guilt stemmed from my father's death instead of the UA tryouts.
My bedroom is the only form of sanctuary I have from the nightmares; string lights wrap themselves like pulsing snakes around each corner, bordering posters. I narrow my eyes at a few, inspecting them. I haven't even listened to Panic! in forever. It's almost like a time capsule.
Almost like his Red Riot outfit.
No. We're not going down that road again. I don't care how close I was to him today. I don't even give a fuck that he tried to save me. Because I need to finish this. I'll either become a hero, or I'll die trying. And honestly? I'm fine with that
If the house is one of the bones, the notebook is my funeral. My entire body is its funeral.
I open up the first page, scowling; entire pages are scribbled out by a red pen. Some have holes in them, and others are just ripped out. Only one page lays nearly untouched by the red pen's wrath, listing a 10 digit number.
My phone is whipped out immediately as I punch in the phone number, still not believing the spontaneous action; others find destroying property spontaneous. Just sending one first text to a boy leaves my heart rushing.
I decide on a very romantic "What the fuck". Sans punctuation, of course; he doesn't deserve it yet.
Three dots bubble up almost immediately, sending my heart into a flurry. No one's responded to a text I sent in forever.

"It's only been three hours. I thought you were going to last a bit longer."
I huff, smashing the keyboard to type his contact into my phone. Only now do I realize that I haven't even told him anything about myself.
"It's my body, and it's my life."
"I want to talk in person."
Wow. I'm such a nice guy. The obvious prize here.
A heart pops up next to my text. "If you don't tell me where you live," Kirishima promises. "I'll keep sending hearts."
"Wow," I roll my eyes. "That's soo not shady."
"I could call the police and have them detain you before you kill yourself or someone else."
I sigh; I could have sworn he wasn't this perceptive before. Maybe he's hiding a brain behind those muscles? Or maybe the Red Riot outfit takes away brain cells. I type in my address hastily, before we get a mess on our hands; I doubt mom would want to come home from work to police just so I can scream my way through an excuse.
"You don't live in the dorms?"
"Next week."
"Can't wait to see you. I'll take my bike," he promises, sending another little heart and smiley face. I pretend to gag, but I can't help it. A part of me's intrigued by his determination.
His knock jolts me from scrolling through old texts. I get up, greeting him with a wonderful "No."
Kirishima's smile doesn't fade this time. "I want to get to know you," He gestures toward the basketball in his hand.
"Through sports? Guess you chose wrong."
He runs a hand through his manic, red hair. "Then we're going through the hard way, huh? Anyway, you beat up that guy last week; you clearly have some physical talent."
"There's a difference between physical talent and competitiveness."
"Yeah," he shrugs. "I never got to learn your hero name."
"That's random."
"I need it for your contact," he reasons. I smirk, barely trying to hide it. "I like putting more than just someone's name."
"Suave," I shake my head. "But I don't really have one yet."
"I saw your dream journal, Nico. Or is it Acripine?"
"Stop," I ignore his teases. "It's a work in progress."  
"Hmm..." Kirishima puts a hand to his chin. "Sounds... manly. Cool."
"Manly?" a laugh escapes my tight lips. "Are you kidding me?"
"Let me explain," he nods. "Manly... doesn't necessarily mean masculine to me. It means... honor-bound. Tough. Able to deal with life."
"Well," I swing on the pole holding up our tiny terrace. "Then you've got the wrong guy."
"Don't say that," Kirishima protests. "You're plenty manly! You just need a push in the right direction!"
I huff, blowing hair out of my face. "Look, Kirishima-"
"Call me Eijiro," he winks. "Ee-jee-row. Um... just in case you don't know how to pronounce Japanese words yet."
I stop for a second, staring down at the ground. I barely even notice when I'm speaking a different language at this point. Blame my studious childhood. "Ee...hero?"
He laughs a bit, pulling out his phone. "Um... maybe just call me Kiri. Think of it just as a little... push in the right direction."
"You don't think enough," I taunt.
"You've had to think of the rest of your sentence at least three times now. You jump on anything as quickly as you can."
"So?' Kiri shrugs, his muscled arms rising up and down. I strain to pull my eyes away from the little bit of deeply tanned skin lying at his midriff revealed by his stretch. I'm being saved by an angel, and he doesn't even fucking understand that. "It means I'm proactive."
"No!" I explode. "You just want to help me to help yourself!"
"Why do you keep saying that?" the grimace from before returns. "Please... just trust me. I can't help you if you don't trust me."
"Then don't help me!" I scoff. "It'd be so much easier. I could die in some, and everyone could forget about me. My old friends seem to be okay with it."
"I read some of your old journals," Kiri plops to the ground, beckoning for me to join him. "And... can I tell you about my scar?"
I look up to where he's pointing; sure enough, a thin line sits right about his eye, faded, but still red. "Not this one," he laughs. "I got this one from my quirk. It manifested when I was rubbing my eye and then... boom! I was cut."
"So all your other cuts have faded?"
"No," he whispers. "They're just so much less than the ones I've gotten from being a hero. You have to remember that no matter what, someone else hurting you will always hurt more than you hurting yourself.
"I wasn't ever suicidal," he shudders as the word leaves his mouth. "But there were times I didn't know what to do. And... it was before I started trying to really become a hero."
"Let me guess," I roll my eyes. "You're the type that does a push-up every time they're depressed?"
"Don't make fun of it!" he pushes me, trying to be playful. Instead, I end up with a face full of tulips. Fucking. Tulips. "It clearly works, right?"
"Uhh," my brain gets short-circuited as flexes in front of me. Ew, gay panic. "Sure? Is that all you were trying to tell me? Because if you're gonna mention a fuck cure, I can just tell you that-"
“What is it with people and thinking that they exist?”
I'm caught off guard. He's agreeing with me for once. “Tell me.”
I bite the inside of my cheek, rubbing my hands against my black jeans. “Tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
Before I can stop myself, I'm an inch from his face, staring at a nick on his chin. I can tell he passes it off as a scratch, but I can see the lines underneath. He's hurt.
“Oh,” Kiri deflates. How is it that I can already call him that so easily? “Well... I guess I was like you. Weird, right?”
“Don't be like that! C'mon, you want me to tell the story or not?”
I roll my eyes. “You're clearly rich. You're popular. You're hot. Yo-”
“You think I'm hot?”
The conversation falls flat, smashing onto the flowers beneath us. I can tell he's trying to pick up the conversation, but my face turns as red as his hair, matching his shirt too.
“I felt like the gravity of the world was on me,” he sighs, continuing. “And... I needed a way to let it out physically. So I-”
Tears plummet for his eyes. My hand holds his back, distant and icy. It's like an entire world is between us. We're from different worlds. It's a fact, and it's something I fucking need to accept.
“Thanks,” my hand falls down his back, slow and methodically through his sniffs. “It came out like that. People hurt me, and I couldn't do anything to them. Back then, determination wasn't a thing. I think I was dull, colorless. And then came the red.”
“The red?”
“Red is passion,” he laughs, noticing the blush rising in my cheeks. “Its anger, and it's pure emotion. Like fire, right? Anyway, it's all my eyes saw when I... when I did it.”
“So you're saying I should self-harm?”
“No!” Kiri roars, standing up suddenly. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“How about the fact that I almost killed a ton of other peopple?”
He shakes his head. Something inside of me breaks, but I don't know what to say. “Stop this. I told you that things can get better and yet-”
“Can!” I shout in his face. “Doesn't mean that they will. Or should?”
“Shit,” I mumble. “It's... nothing.”
He doesn't pry into it. “Why did you write those things? All your... plans.”
“I think we're opposites; you started out introverted, right? And you didn't like to talk to people.”
“Yeah,” he nods, flexing his arms casually. “And?”
“Well, I've never really been extroverted. I mean, when I was young... but that doesn't count.”
“Why don't they count?”
“Well,” I shrug. “I guess I wasn't aware of what the world could do to someone back then. And now we have...” I spread my arms, staring up towards the blue sky. “This.”
“What's so wrong about it?” Kiri asks, smiling.
“The trees are dead,” I point out. “There's trash lining the street. Our 'Symbol Of Justice' lost his power”
He just leaves, walking out toward the sidewalk. “Wait,” I call out, suddenly panicking. Do I want to get better? “Don't leave!”
“I'm not leaving,” his hair falls a little from its spiky mountains. “I'm just picking up the things you don't like.”
Before I know it, I'm holding an armful of garbage. “If you see something bad in the world, I'll make it better. Take those inside, alright?”
I huff but end up listening as I haul over to the trash can. My pocket vibrates, indicating a text. Kiri wouldn't text me when we're only at yelling distance, right?
Turns out, it's mom. “I'm not coming home tonight. Late meeting.” she writes, all blank. Right as I think she's going to make some amends and show that she cares, the next message breaks me.
“You can heat up something to eat.”
Whatever. But my eyes betray me; tears run down my cheeks; to watch as your world slowly falls apart by mundane things is like drowning in lukewarm water.
I have to crouch to stay out of view from Kiri. He doesn't get to see me cry. He doesn't get to see anything.
We're from different worlds. And that's all there is. It doesn't even matter if we have similar quirks; I'm the double-edged sword, and he's the shield. I'm always the most dangerous option.
“What happened?”
I don’t even respond. Instead, I just flip my phone, showing Kiri my mom's response.
“What about your dad?” he wonders aloud. And, at that moment, I’m proud to say I very expertly began sobbing into his shoulders.
“Woah,” he laughs a little but then realizes it’s not a joke. “Are you...”
“Let’s go back to picking up trash,” I mumble. “Please.”
“Whenever you need to talk,” Eijiro promises, all the swagger and confidence gone from his voice. “Please. Please come to me. I don’t want to see you go.”
“You don’t even really know me.”
“But I want to,” he promises.
“Bullshit. I’ve heard those lines before.”
“Well, then you’ve gotta realize they’re right. Anyway, I’d help even if I didn’t know you. I can see right through you; you’re the healer in your friend group. You enjoy helping the world.”
“Where’s your proof?” I cross my arms, feeling nervous. It’s just like dad used to say. It’s the same thing I was told thousands of times, back at my real home.
“You don’t have any bite in you,” he laughs. “Well, your words do. And your quirk is pretty sharp... You look like you could kill someone, but you’re a cinnamon roll.”
“Take it back!” I shout, pushing back at his chest to run outside. He doesn’t even budge.
“Bitch,” I warn. “Don’t call me adorable.”
“But you are!” He complains. Is this a game to him?
“I’m not even going to fight with you. Let’s just go clean up other people’s shit.”
He nods, complying. When I’m on my fifth trip back from the trash, he pipes up again.
“Your dad died,” Kirishima points out.
“How very astute of you, Sherlock.”
“Why do you always twist and play with my words?”
“Same reason you keep teasing me,” I wager. “Because it’s fun.”
“Well,” Kiri shrugs. “I do like seeing your face go red.”
“No fair!” I shout back, suddenly flustered. “Anyway, you win in melanin; it’s harder to see when you go red.”
“Go outside then,” he shrugs. “I mean, besides the biological differences, you could hide it too.”
“This isn’t exactly helping,” I shrug “What is it with you and your constant search for improvement?”
“When I hated myself,” Kiri drops to a whisper. “I wanted to look better. I wanted to be smarter, and I wanted to save people. It’s been my dream since I was a kid. And yet... I guess I don’t know. It’s so hard to express the world inside your head, you know?”
The world. Galaxies and galaxies. So he does think like that. “The sky's the limit, I guess.”
“And I guess I wanted to touch the stars,” Kiri smiles. He looks up suddenly, watching the looming sunset. “I guess it’s getting late. But I wanted to talk a little more about your dad.”
“He died from cancer,” I admit. “He got an asbestos infection when we were cleaning the house. And you know the shittiest part? We haven’t even gone into that room again. We got it cleaned, but it’s a room of bones. All he wanted to do was clean up a fucking room, and now he’s dead. He’s dead and you know what? He was just like you; he wanted to world, and he wanted more. And maybe the old owners could have told us about the infection. Maybe we could have checked. Or maybe I could have gone up first? Maybe if I had gone up, he wouldn’t be dead, and I’d be in his place. Maybe it’d be better! Maybe I wouldn’t be in this haunted fucking house without friends, and the world would stop spinning? Is it wrong to want the world to stop spinning, all because you can’t handle the constant motion? Because I want it; I want it all to fucking stop!”

I let out a gasp, watching his reaction rise. It’s like his eyebrows are the curtains, and the sun setting in the background is the weight. I’m nearly breathless by the end, and I can tell that I’ve been screaming. My throat is raw, and I feel dead. Everything is a matter of fact.
“You have shadows under your eyes,” he reaches for my hair, pushing it behind my neck. Like the touch-starved baby I am, I freeze up at the motion. He catches it and stops.
“No,” I shift closer. “I’m just awkward. Not uncomfortable.”
“How many hours of sleep do you get?”
"Yeah," I shrug. "I just can't sleep. Who'd be able to sleep in a haunted house?"
He thinks for a second. before I can make a joke about how I can almost hear the cogs turning, he claps his hands together.
"When is your mom coming home?" he asks, whipping out his phone.
"Could you maybe text them?" he twists his fingers together, face growing red. "I could... make sure you get some sleep?"
"She isn't coming home," I kick myself for answering. Absolutely fucking ridiculous. I know he's a hero, but I think I've shown that that doesn't make you automatically great. And still, there's that guy from the shop before. What if this is everything he wants to happen?
"Good," Kiri pulls out his phone, sending a rapid-fire text. "Then I'll sleep with you."
I just stare at him, finally exploding into laughter.
"Okay," he grows even redder, almost as bright as his dyed hair. "No... I didn't mean it like that. I just..."
"No," I manage through laughter. When was the last time I laughed like this? "I get what you're saying. It's just like..."
"I want to help you get past this," Kiri promises, holding my hands up to his. "And I want to do it my way. Which means I'm going to be right by you all night, just in case you need anything."
"You know," I remind him. "I haven't had to sleep with anyone because of nightmares since I was like... six or something."
"But why stop there?" Kiri holds his arm around me, walking me inside. He sits me in a chair opposite him.
"You know I never actually let you in, right?"
"Why are you always so nervous?"
"Someone could be trying to kill me," I reason with him. "Maybe their plan is already working."
"Hey," he smiles, boasting. "If they want to kill you... I bet we could protect people. With your quirk, and these babies..."
He flexes his arm, causing my face to shoot up with red again. "God," I mumble. "You're such a fucking idiot."
"I like to think that we're all idiots. Some of us just don't call attention to that part of us. Anyway, why do we stop going to our parents' room when we have nightmares?"
"Because we're not babies anymore? Because we're supposed to be equipped to deal with this shit?"
"All good answers," Kiri nods. "But what if someone can't deal with everything. Then what?"
"Then we want to kill ourselves," I finish. "And then it ends."
"What is your obsession with becoming a statistic?" Kirishima shouts back at me, accidentally hardening his skin for a second, ripping the couch's fabric. "I get that your life isn't perfect. In fact, it's pretty much fucking shitty. And you still feel guilty about hurting all those people. But why kill yourself?"
"Because the world lost its color," I stumble across my words as he stares into my eyes. After shifting uncomfortably under the steely gaze, I continue. "My friends haven't answered my texts since the funeral. It's like I'm stuck here."
"Well," he shrugs. "There are worse places to be stuck. I'll tell you what; I'm gonna show you why you need to leave, whether you like it or not. The world needs people like you. I need you."
"You don't need me," I shove his arm off me. "You just think you do."
"I've never met someone like the old me," Kiri sighs. "And I don't want to see anyone like you ever again."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it. I just want you to be better. I hate seeing people broken."
"I do too," my voice quiets down to a whisper. "Do you think there's a day where I don't look at myself and hate what I see? I've been helping people for so long, but it feels like when I need their help... they just don't come."
"Well!" Kiri pulls me up into a hug, literally leaving me feet off the ground. "Then I guess it's good I'm here to change that."
"Yeah," I smile into his warm neck. Who cares about showing weakness or whatever? I am being picked up by a boy nearly three inches taller than me, he is warm, and for the first time in a few months, I don't want to die.
So let's just fuck the notion that I have to be cold and spiky. He's not only melted my exterior but he's melted my insides too.

Chapter Text

"Are you comfortable?" Kiri asks, looming over my bed.
"Yeah," I mumble. "Still, I'm worried; what if I can't sleep? And what are you gonna do while I try to sleep?"
"Oh," a sly smile grows on his face. "I can answer both of those questions in one thing."
A massive weight plops down on the side of my bed. I crane my neck, straining to see as he tries to fit in my twin bed.
"Oh," I say, sounding stupid. "You actually meant..."
"Yeah!" he pumps his fist, baring his sharp teeth. "I'm gonna sleep with you. Of course, I thought your bed would be a little bit bigger..."
"No," I sigh. "It's okay. I should have assumed; I don't think we have any other beds. Just... are you fine with this?"
"Nico," he purs my name into my ear. "You're gonna be fine. And I don't mind this either."
"Okay..." I nod slowly. He shifts his position a little, taking up most of the bed. One of his arms drifts down to the floor while the other one gets lazily thrown over to me. I can smell his crisp, burnt pine scent, mixed with a little bit of that pungent chocolatey orange smell. Somehow, it works for him; perfectly comfortable, but just a little bit surprising.
"I never had anyone do this for me," Kiri's voice bubbles up, soft and (dare I say it?) cute. "I would have loved someone's comfort. You're lucky, you know."
"You don't have to remind me," I breathe into his warm chest, less than an inch away. I can already feel his warmth causing me to drift off. My stress is still warring with the serotonin inside my head. "This is..."
"More than you ever imagined?" Kiri laughs. "You know, I never had anyone to tell me I liked boys either."
Fuck. "What do you mean?"
He turns his head, a smile playing on his lips. How can one boy capture so many different emotions inside of him? How can someone be as complicated as me? "Don't play dumb. I caught you staring at me."
My face grows cherry red, worse than it was before. "No... oh my god, I am so sorr-"
"Don't be!" he laughs, running his tongue over sharp canines. "No... I thought it was sweet."
"It was creepy," I complain, rubbing my arm awkwardly. "And anyway, I still don't kno-"
In a single moment, his arm is completely over me as his face hangs above mine. His hair dangles down, free from the hairspray it was trapped in earlier. "Is this enough?" he pants. "Or can I do more to convince you?"
"Gah," I swallow nervously. "No... I believe you."
"Really?" Kiri teases, running his tongue against jagged teeth. "Because I don't think so. Let's try this..."
His mouth moves closer to mine, touching it slowly. I feel my body go numb, complying with the slow kiss. Everything is enveloped inside his lips and mouth, all of which taste like pop rocks and oranges, all blended up into a fizzy, sparkling world.
"How was that?" Kiri pants, beads of sweat rising at his forehead. "Convinced?"
"You're..." I struggle to find the correct word. "Insane."
"Not as much as you..." Kiri whispers. "You know... you get all sexy when you don't hate yourself so much... but... I think I'm okay with a little bit of pain..."
There is a boy in my bed, and his teeth are at my neck. All of a sudden, it's like something straight out of twilight fanfic; his teeth are at my neck, and I can barely breathe.
"I don't know if I'm that ready for all of... this yet," I protest. "Maybe take it a little slower."
"You're right," Kiri backs off immediately. "Shit... I shouldn't have-"
"It wasn't bad," I amend quickly as he returns to his original position. "I just wasn't expecting it. You look so soft..."
"There's more to me than just the outside," Kiri promises, tossing his red hair. "Well... just know that I'm capable of both sides."
"Noted," I give him one last smile before I slam my head back against my pillow. "You know... maybe I'll be able to get a little more sleep this wa..."

Chapter Text

"Wake up, zombie boy."
I rub my eyes, watching as the flashing light of the sunrise flicks back and forth like a pendulum. Kiri stares down at me, only half-dressed in faded black jeans.
"Where did you get those?" I ask, still feeling groggy and tired. It's not that I hate mornings; it's just that I haven't slept like that in so long. it's just like he said; I slept like the dead.
"You weren't waking up easily," he smiles, ruffling up my hair. "I took the bus back to UA. You should be thanking me; it's not so far away, but it's not that close."
"Wearing what?" I laugh. "Pajama pants?"
"I had a shirt on too!” he defends. "Anyway, I'm glad to see that you're feeling better."
"It's just been so long since I've felt safe," I guess, only just now realizing the gravity of the words. Ever since Dad died, I haven't felt like this house isn't trying to kill me, and as a result, I haven't slept. I can barely stay inside the house, but now it's become safe again, all thanks to this... guy.
Do I dare to call him a manic pixie dream boy; No. He's full of energy and life, but there's so much more to him. He's just…
"Hey," Eijiro's strong arms find their way around my waist as tears begin to form. He rests his chin slowly on my head, whispering. "Don't cry. Because if you cry, then it means... I failed."
"You didn't fail," I assure him. "I'm better now. Not perfect, but the cracks are at least a little gone now."
"I'm glad," Kiri smiles. "Now, I had something great planned for you on this fine Saturday morning; you're gonna meet my friends, and we're gonna help you. If heroes can't even help each other, than what's the point of them?"
"Bakugou didn't really seem like the type to help me," I protest, but Kiri shakes his head.
"He's a great guy," the red-haired teen pumps his fist, smiling a toothy grin. "He just has..."
"Anger issues?"
"Yeah," Kiri points to me. "Then there's Mina and Kaminari..."
"Are they dating?" I ask. He stares incredulously, shaking his head.
"I mean, I can't say for sure. As far as I know, no one's dating anyone else in our group. At least..."
"Before," I recall. "You said that no one helped you realize you liked guys. But... that isn't true, is it?"
"I did have help," Kiri admits. "You're right there. When I felt down, I sort of had Bakugou... but I don't think it was really meant to-"
"You're on and off dating," I assume. "And this is an off-period, right?"
"Sure," he sort of deflates, staring dejectedly out my tiny window. "I mean, we're still friends. But how do you fall in love with someone who will never feel the same way about you?"
"He never loved you?"
"He liked me," he shakes his red hair out, hanging it down across a simple white bandana. "But it wasn't really love. I think it was always for the status, for the world he wanted. It's not that I was property; there were always feelings. I just felt like I was the one giving him the feelings, and he just reflected them back. There has to be more to a relationship than just giving them back the same sort of love."
"Yeah. If we wanted to date mirrors, we would. A relationship needs harmony, but it needs some conflict. It needs a perfect mix of the two." I pull out a few outfits, trying to decide which one is best for his friends. In the end, I choose the sleeveless, ripped flannel I assume will make me look like a badass, matched with black jeans and a plain white t. When I finally check out the look in the mirror, I'm almost shocked.
"Well," Kiri puts his hand on my shoulder. "I guess you just can't pull off a badass look. You do look epically cute though. Just not tough. Maybe try..."
He reaches into his school backpack, digging around before he pulls out a small black cord. A thin skull lies at the end, etched through with leather red paint. "This was a gift from Bakugou. It was the only thing he ever gave me without me giving him something first. He had a weird way of showing that he cared; he'd pay you back for a dinner, but wouldn't take you out somewhere."
"I can't take this," I reject him. "This is literally a gift from your ex, and you want me to have it? Isn't that like..."
"Probably," he sighs, pulling it back. "Well, if you ever want it, you can have it. It doesn't really hold any emotions anymore."
"I guess," I mumble, killing the conversation. We stand there in silence for a moment, staring at the necklace.
"It really would go with your outfit."
"I mean, I don't really care, and-"
"Kiri!" I scream. "Stop! It doesn't matter, and I can't wear it!"
"Sorry," he mumbles, staring down at the strings of his hoodie. "I just... it'd show him that I've moved on. He's found a girl; why can't I just get... gah!"
"Do you love me?"
I push his hair back, staring into his eyes as I climb into Kiri's lap. "Do you love me?"
"Of course, but tha-"
"Then why does it matter if he's moved on? You don't have anything to prove, right?"
"Yeah," he smiles, brightening up a little. Something still hangs over his head, but he tries to hide it. "Yeah! I mean, why does it matter if Bakugou is happy?"
"Don't you want him to be happy?"
He wipes the tears out of his eyes with the back of his arm. "Of course. It's all I really want. I mean... besides making you happy of course!"
"Right," I smile, rolling my eyes.
"I'm serious! Okay... so maybe you rank a little higher than him right now. But I want to be there for both of you. And everyone!"
"Okay, hero complex," I tease, falling into the motions. "We better get some food before I meet your friends."
"Yeah," Kiri smiles, holding my arm up. "You know, you could probably use it anyway."
"Not with that..." I grimace.
"I'm just saying. You should be healthy. And now that your mind's all set and ready to go... maybe we can work a little bit more on your body? I mean, you have amazing form... but your core could use a bit of work... you've been overexcersizing in some areas, and then ignoring others."
Before I can open my mouth, he interrupts me, trying to make amends. "I mean, not that you're bad right now or anything, but I'm just say-"
"I get it," I put my hand to his mouth. "And it's not like you could say anything worse than what I've already told myself."
"Hey," he pushes me back a little, opening the fridge. "Don't say stuff like that. I want you to be okay."
"Well, then you've got a lot of work on your hands."
"Oh, really?" Kirishima pushes me back against the wall, holding his hand above my head, resting it slowly as he leans in. "Because I'm sharp; I think I'm starting to get the hang of fixing yo-"
The sound of a girl's whoop interrupts his slow lean, followed by the tinny sound of something in between indie and rap blaring out from an iPhone's speaker.
"Kirishima!" Mina's scream follows us into the kitchen. "Damn, let us in!"
"Looks like they're already here."
"Yeah," Kiri replies, trying to shake himself back from the sudden loud noise. "Guess I wasn't that sharp."
"Sharp..." I play with the word on my tongue. "I don't see it that much for you. You're just too soft."
"You really think I'm soft?" Kiri fakes surprise. "But look at these guns!"
"Yes," Mina's voice drifts in. "We've seen them. Probably like 9 times this week."
"Well," he pouts. "I just wanted to show Nico them."
"And I'm sure you've shown him them too," Mina scoffs. She puts out her hand, leaving one at her hip to hold up the pink leather purse she has on. "I'm Mina Ashido," she greets me. "The Alien Queen!"
"You mean Pinky!" a voice behind her reminds. The blonde boy from before comes in, the one who proclaimed the world to be flat. "Kaminari; Denki, Kaminari."
"Ugh," Mina slaps him. "Shut up. You know that loser routine of yours isn't gonna work, even if you try it on a boy."

"My flirting techniques!" Kaminari shrieks, posing dramatically. "Have been wounded."
"Your flirting techniques are nonexistent," Mina reminds him. "Don't mind him, Nico; Denki's a fucking idiot."
"Hey," he boasts. "I scored an 85 on the IQ test! That's like an 90 percent, right?"
"Actually," I correct. "It's low average. Which is sorta bad."
"Whatever," he shrugs it off. How can someone care so little about the world? To not read into things... for the biggest theory in your mind to be "Is the world flat?". What is that like? "Hey, Nico... what are you into?"
I blush, growing bright red. "Some drawing, writing. Maybe a little bit of music... philosophy?"
"I do dance, some art..." Mina explains. "Maybe you could join me sometime? I've been running low on people, and these idiots don't know their plum from their orchid."
"They're both purple!" Kiri protests. "I can't even tell the difference!"
"Well," Kaminari snatches the breakfast pastry from Eijiro's hand. "What's the point of knowing all those fancy names anyway?"
Mina points to Kirishima first. "His blush is closer to a pale raspberry. Nico is almost sangria, I think."
Huh; I guess I do blush deeply. Mina grabs my hand, pulling me out of the house. "We're gonna get breakfast somewhere else. By the're outfit's pretty cute."
I blush again, looking back toward Kiri as he hangs in the doorway, pushing me toward the group. "We don't bite," Kaminari teases, climbing onto his bike.
"Well," I stare up toward Eijiro. "Some of you do."
Mina and Denki sit in silence for a moment, looking back and forth between the two of us, only to burst out into uproarious laughter. Kiri pulls me up onto the back of his bike, watching as the sun slowly climbs up. "What the fuck?" Mina looks back toward Kiri. "You actually did that?"
"He needed some guidance and help!"
"Yeah! But what the fuck does that have to do with your teeth?" Kaminari pushes in front of Mina, leaving Kirishima and me in the back of the pack.
The red-haired boy crosses his arms, suddenly defensive. "Nico liked it, right?"
"I mean," I shrug. "It made me fall asleep."
"You guys are just too cute," Mina shifts to the right, basking in the sun. "Anyone know if King Explosion Murder is joining us today?"
"King Explo-"
"Bakugou," Kirishima explains before I can finish. "And I thought it was Lord Explosion Murder."
"Well," Kaminari checks his phone. "He finally responded to my texts. Apparently, he's bringing Kyoka."
"Ooh," Mina smiled. "Tea."
"Is that his new girlfriend?" I look up to Kiri, pushing my face toward his.
"Yeah," he says through a smile. I can tell something is looming beneath though. "You'd like her. She plays bass."
"Cool," I mouth, looking back as Mina takes us out onto the road, nearly hitting at least five cars, the mailman, a cat, and the trash can.
"Slow the fuck down!" Denki screams. "What the hell!"
"I think it's fun," I lie down on Kiri's chest, staring out as Mina nearly adds a group of children to the potential body count. "She's great at this."
"And no," she points to Kaminari. "Don't say shit, Denki."
Kiri opens his mouth, causing Mina to cross her eyes, looking pissed.
"Stop it!" she slaps him, pushing me back into the seat. "Shit, sorry Nico! You don’t deserve my wrath yet!”
“Is she always like this?”
“Nah,” Denki twists to face me. “She’s usually worse. A lot more rapping.”
Kiri shoves Mina before she can start. “Hey!” She screams back. “I’m driving!”
“And we’re not deaf yet,” he shrugs. “I’d prefer Nico to keep his lyrical virginity.”
“You calling my lyrics shit?”
“Oh,” Denki laughs, actually slapping his knee. “Yes. They are.”
“Whatever,” Mona stares me through the rearview window. “Sorry all guys are such jackasses.”
“I’m a guy too,” I point out. She just turns back, narrowly making the turn.
“You’re a bottom; you’re at least part girl.”
“Um,” Kiri points out. “He’s plenty manly! And what did I tell you about calling people the girl in relationships?”
“Ugh,” Ashido stretches back. “Sorry. But I’m still claiming Nico for the girls’ side.”
“Fair,” Kiri pulls me close. “But I’m claiming him forever.”
“You guys are really close already, huh?” Denki whispers. “Because you saved your double edged sword, right?”
“What?” I snap out of the dreamy sequence. “What do you mean?”
Denki pulls himself back up to the front, leaving me with Kiri. “You told them?”
“They basically already knew,” Kiri defends. “And I didn’t tell them it all. I just wanted to make sure they wouldn’t say anything stupid.”
“That’s right,” Kaminari boasts. “I’m very prone to making stupid claims. We understand, buddy.”
I nod, but there’s something hollow in the motion. How can they say something like that when they don’t even know the whole situation? It’s like cheating, I think; you can’t just tell someone you care and get fucking brownie points.

"Alright, queens," Mina announces. "We're here. And it looks Like Jiro and Katsuki already arrived."
"Cat..." I struggle with the name on my tongue. Kiri just positions my head, smiling.
"Katz," he begins. "Key. Katsuki. Yeah... took me a little while too."
"Do you think he'll hate me?" I ask, pushing the diner's door open. I have to admit; Mina's got taste. The smell of nearly burnt tater tots and hot sauce wafts in from the red leather seats. It's like we've walked into the mid-1950s. Only a few teenagers occupy the other seats, and a smattering of chefs take up the kitchen. It's comforting, even in this weird time.
"Nah," Kiri assures. "I mean, you're both pretty similar, I think. You're just softer and in your head a little more."
"And by softer you mean..."
"Bakugou looks like he could kill someone," Kirishima points to the back of the spiky blonde's head. "And he absolutely could."
I swallow. "Noted." Mina greets the two first, smiling as she slides into the massive booth seat. I notice that everyone's split up into pairs, from Kyoka and Katsuki to Kiri and I. Mina and Denki sit in the middle, fidgeting with straws.
I'm sitting opposite Jiro, sort of watching her from the other side of the crescent-shaped seat. "Hey," she waves, looking a little awkward.
"Mina told me you play bass," I smile, watching as a light envelops in her eye.
"Of course," she smiles proudly. "I mean, I'm well versed in all sorts of instruments; I've got perfect pitch."
"Woah," I smile back politely, trying to break down the barrier between us. Bakugou just stares angrily, looking almost possessive of her. Or maybe he's just being protective? "My music teacher told me that once. But... I don't think I have it."
Kyoka whips out her phone, playing with her headphones before ripping them out. It's only just now that I notice her jet black hair, cut choppily so that it lays askew across her forehead. Tiny paperclip earrings accompany her soft, pale ears. She catches me staring, holding her hand up to her ear.
"I got her those," Bakugou proclaims proudly. "Guess some people wear the gifts I get them."
And just like that, all conversation dies down. Kaminari, Mina, and Kirishima all look toward each other; I guess they're the group's obvious extroverts. I can tell they must be using their secret extrovert powers, trying to find out how we can get back on track.
Jiro taps her phone, causing a dissonant chord to strike out from the tinny speaker.
"F Minor-Major chord," I spew out immediately. "7th."
"I like him," Jiro shrugs. "So don't you fucking say anything, Katsuki."
"I wasn't gonna!" Bakugou crosses his arms, biting his lip. "So don't say anything."
"You have anger issues, dude," Kaminari waves a waitress over. "And that's your ex's new boyfriend."
"I said shut the hell up!" the blonde boy explodes. A group of first years a few booths over shiver from the outburst, only to break out into laughter. Katsuki just fumes quietly as the waitress runs over.
"What can I get ya'll?" she adjusts her big, curly hair, working through a pad of paper.
"Big tray of tater tots," Mina exclaims. "For the table."
"We'll get it up soon."
"Shit," Kaminari mumbles. "Forgot my wallet."
"Oh," I pull out a few bills. "I could pay for it all. Um... is there an atm?"
"No," Kirishima blushes. "You don't have to do that."
"Think of it as a thank you," I shrug. "Without you guys, I'd probably be dead right now."
"Wait," Jiro yanks out her headphones again. "What?"
"Nothing," I shrink into the seat. "I just..."
"The damn fool was gonna kill himself," Bakugou explains. "But I caught his notebook."
"So," Kyoka pokes his nose. "You're saying you helped someone? You can be a hero?"
"He's not always the devil," Mina laughs. "I think, deep down, Bakugou can be nice."
"Just shut the hell up!" Bakugou roars. "Where is our order?"
"It's only been like half a minute," Kiri says, looking at his phone's time.
Katsuki smirks. "Longer than you could last when we-"
"Woah!" Denki puts his hand on Kiri's chest before he can stand up. I can't tell if it's anger or tears in Eijiro's eyes, but Bakugou looks proud of himself. Kyoka just shares my confusion.
Mina claps her hands together, pronouncing each word. "Not. At. The. Fucking. Table!"
"Whatever," Bakugou blows hair out his eyes. "It's still true. And Nico ought to know, right?"
"I don't really care if um..." I stare back at Kiri, trying to comfort him before his anger rises again. "If you can't last long or something."
"Yeah," Denki teases. "Because you'd rather him bit-"
"Okay," Jiro slaps him. "Let's fucking stop, okay? We're not gonna talk about what we did last night, and no one's gonna talk about sex for the next hour, okay? We're literally 16; just because society thinks teens are sex obsessed doesn't mean we have to be."
Katsuki just keeps his smug smirk. I guess he wanted to date someone who could exert as much power as he could. In truth, when I look at Jiro, I don't see someone able to control a room. Yet, there's something deep in her eyes, filled with control.
"Oh my god," Mina cranes her ear up to the speakers. "Guys, they're playing something actually good."
I stare back at where they're all looking; an ancient-looking jukebox lays in the corner, cherry red and somehow beautiful. A modern screen lies over it, evident of a free Spotify account. "Little Talks," Kyoka identifies the horns almost immediately. "By Monsters and Men. Released... 2011? When we were all kids."
The six of us all pour out of the seat, cramming around the machine. "We all get one song," Mina compromises. "Everyone pays for their own song."
"But I ran out of money!" Kaminari whines. Mina just pulls out another quarter.
"Then you get Dancing Queen," she says. "I'm sure you'd pick something worse anyway."
"I'm fine with that," Kaminari smiles. "Just gay enough, but also straight. Perfect."
"I think that describes him well," Kiri looks down at me. "What do you think I should pick?"
"Something that feels... red. Maybe orange," I respond, trying to think of what I'm going to choose. Mina plugs in Doja Cat's Freak before I can get ahead. "I'll go last."
"Saving the best?" Jiro wonders aloud as Bakugou punches in some classic Green Day. "I still can't decide."
"That's it," Kiri pushes the keyboard, looking for a specific song.
"She Looks So Perfect," I read. "5sos?"
"Yeah," Kiri beams. "Because you are."
"I mean," I point out. "I'm also not a girl."
"Don't take it personally," Kyoka adds, typing in "All I Wanted". Oh, how I yearn to once more hear Hayley Williams in her old band. "It's just a joke, I think."
"Sure," I say. "Well, I guess I'm last. Maybe... Conan Gray?"
"Whatever you want, Babe."
I punch the artist's name in, tapping on "Heather".
"Remind me a little bit of you," I explain to Kiri. "Because..."
"Oh," Jiro nods. "Yeah...maybe not the best choice. Still a great song though."
"Why?" Kiri hugs me from behind, leaning closely in. The first-year girls watch us, smiling. Are we so heartwarming?
"Uh," I say, suddenly realizing exactly what the lyrics are saying. How could I choose a song clearly about a guy liking another guy who likes a girl? It's gonna make him think of Bakugou and Kyoka. "Nevermind. You'll see."
Kiri shrugs, swooping me back into the seat. "You know," Mina pokes Eijirou with her straw. "You don't need to act like Nico's a Disney princess."
"I don't mind," I say, staring up into his warm brown eyes. Bakugou turns red, facing Jiro. "He can save me
"Y'all are crazy," the waitress returns to our table. "I haven't seen anyone use the damn jukebox in forever. It's nice to hear something that's not corporate pop."
"We're the world's tomorrow," I mutter, trying to remember the rest of the verse.
"Oh no," Denki shakes his head. "We are not going through some deep philosophical shit this early."

"Says the person who claimed the earth was flat yesterday morning," Mina says in between bites of homefries. "You're just a walking contradiction."
I freeze up, only releasing the pressure when Kiri rubs my shoulders. "It's okay," he whispers. "You're fine."
"You two are just so cute," Jiro smiles, twisting her earbuds around her finger, bopping her head to American Idiot. "It's great."
"Yeah!" Kirishima pumps his fist. "I mean, we just have chemistry."
"Now that we all have dates," Mina says, eyeing Denki. "I mean, almost all of us... it's like the group is back together again."
"Oh," Katsuki throws his hands up into the air. "Like we weren't alright before?"
"That's not what she said," I mumble, defending Mina. Is this the first time I've stood up to Bakugou? His eyes have a murderous glint at their edges, but I try to swallow, ignoring the hate. "She just means that here's more harmony now, I think."
"Damn nerd," Katsuki flips me off, pushing against the table. Kirishima's song comes on next, interrupting his anger for a moment. Did Kirishima play that for him too? I can't see Bakugou taking that well, but what if it was an inside joke? Does Kiri not care if he causes discord so much? Or is he looking to poke fun at Katuski? "I was fine before you were here."
"I thought you said he would be fine with me," I nudge Kirishima. Mina and Kaminari just freeze up; clearly, they're pretty inept when situations take a turn for the worse. I guess someone can always try to direct attention away from violence, but when it comes to it, they're useless.
"Well," Kiri blocks Bakugou from me. "I guess I was wrong."
"He's a fucking loser," Katsuki complains. "Like you, shitty hair."
Kiri puts his hands up to his hair. And while I never thought it was all that impressive, I can tell he's hurt; I know he puts a lot of time into making sure it looks wild, nearly standing straight up. "Take it back."
"I don't have to," Katsuki spreads his arms. "Kyoka, let's go."
"I haven't heard my song yet," she says, still adamant and stuck in her place. "I'm not leaving just because you want me to."
"I'm pissed off!"
She sighs, positioning her body around him. Kyoka holds his chin in her palm, staring into his beastly eyes. "You're always pissed off. And you know I usually love that... but it's not fucking funny right now."
"Whatever," Katuski shrugs her off a little. I notice that he's doing it gently, carefully placing her back down, as if she's frail. Almost like how Kiri holds me. "He doesn't belong; he needs a therapist, not a boyfriend."
"He's helping me," I refute. "Just like how you helped him."
"What?" Katsuki laughs. "No. We're not going through that. Kyoka, your song's playing; let's go!"
"You're not angry enough," Jiro eggs him on. "You're just showing it a little bit more than usual."
I can see the conflict in his eyes; he's used to having things go his way, for him to have the final say. But he's not willing to hurt her. Maybe Mina was right; somewhere deep, he has some good qualities.
Maybe he could show those qualities when he talks to me?
"I'm glad you seem so over us," Kiri shrugs. "But we still have a ton of home fries to eat. Maybe calm down a little?"
"Fuck off," Bakugou pushes him away. "F*ggot."
"What?" Mina screams. "Oh no... we are not going there!"
"Katsuki!" Jiro screams. "No, you did not just say that."
Bakugou turns red, darting eyes. he stares down, smile gone. "Shit. I didn't me-"
"What the hell is with you?" Kiri pleads with him. "You can't just... you can't say that."
"Wait," Kaminari points out. "But didn't Bakugou date Eijirou? Isn't that gay or-"
"Denki," Jiro holds Kaminari's hand, oozing with sarcasm and fake sincerity. "It's with a full heart that I'd like to ask you to please shut the fuck up."
He falls back down to his seat, looking dejected.
"Sorry," Bakugou hangs his head. "I didn't mean to... fuck!"
Tears start rolling down his cheeks as he turns away from us, covering his face with his black hoodie. "Enjoy your food, I guess."
"Katsuki," Kiri holds out his hands, clearly not looking for retribution. "You don't have to go..."
"Jiro," Katsuki commands. "You can stay if you want. I need to be alone."
"I'll text you when we're done," Kyoka promises. "Take as long as you need."
He nods, exiting the diner. Everyone just looks at each other, suddenly quiet.
"He's lost his impulse control," Kirishima confirms. "I shouldn't have-"
"No," I interrupt him, surprising everyone. I'm probably the most surprised. "You shouldn't have done anything. Why were you trying to annoy him?"
"I wasn't trying to-" he shakes his head, watching as red hair spills down. "I just wanted to get rid of all those things we had. And I wanted to heal with you."
"I'm sorry for lashing out," I cradle myself into his arms. "Shit... I just don't know why I did that."
"You're sorry for having emotions?"
Before he can continue, Heather's string line shuts him up. "Is this..."
"Yeah," I whisper. "Now shut up."
Everyone stays silent, listening closely to the lyrics. You know when you hear a song, and then you hear it a few more times, and the meaning completely changes? It's all I can hear. I catch Kiri taking glimpses at Kyoka during the song, nearly tearing up.
"Thanks," he sighs as the second chorus opens up. I nestle into his embrace. "You know... maybe we'll be alright."
And, at that moment, maybe we will.

Chapter Text

"Do you need any help settling in?"
I freeze up, suddenly feeling a wickedly cold aura around my back. When I turn around, a new student's facing me, concealing most of his face with the door's frame. When he catches my eyes, he bows apologetically, stepping into the room. Too bad the full version of him doesn't help my nerves.
"You're..." I stop for a moment, trying to remember the hero's name. "Shoto? Um... Todoroki, right?"
He attempts a warm smile, only to give up on it. His mouth settles in a line that's not quite a grimace, but not exactly friendly either. "That's right, Balgera."
"Oh," I correct him. "You can just call me Nico. I'm American, so I'm still not really used to being called by your last name."
"But," Todoroki points out. "It's not part of the custom to speak like that. It'd be rude."
This guy is like a robot. When they said he was icy, they really meant it. I walk back to my door, leaving my undecorated dorm unattended. "No one really noticed me at first," Shoto says, brushing his arm. "Besides the class competitions, I wasn't exactly remarkable. I was powerful, the son of the number 2 hero. But I had nothing else."
"Sorry," I tell him, closing the door to leave us in the hallway. I'm still only dressed casually from after the diner's breakfast; I didn't think UA was that far away, but I guess I was wrong; by the time we got back to the school, I was already tired, ready to change into something more casual. By now, my outfits composed of jean shorts and a simple orange sleeveless t-shirt. Todoroki's dressed in his own version of casual; a white button shirt and tan slacks. I guess for him, he always has to dress to impress. Already, I'm getting bad PTSD from my time in America. "Your room's down the hall, right?"
Finally, I get a little light. "Yes," he nods. "Um, you're probably not going to want any design tips from me; I can see that your style is a bit more..."
"American?" I guess. "Yeah... I've only been here for a little while."
"Here as in..." Todoroki thinks for a second, finally relinquishing that frosty air. "The hero course, the school, or the country?"
"Oh," I look back at my phone. "I've been going to UA for about two years now. I always wanted to get into the hero course, but... I didn't do well enough. So I was placed in general studies until a while ago."
"There's more to it than that," Shoto guesses. "They wouldn't have rejected you and then placed you here on a whim, especially this far into the school year."
We sit with that for a second as he ruminates through the thoughts in his head.
"Don't even say anything about him being a secret love child!" a strikingly familiar voice calls after us. I look up, trying to hide my shock at the new figure. I knew that I was going to meet new people when I went here, including celebrities. But the ordinary, curly hair that smashes right into me only accentuates that claim.
"OhmygodI'msosorrypleaseforgiveme!" Before I can even react, that Deku kid is back on his feet, already bowing to me. "Shoto, when you texted me about that new kid, I didn't know how fast you wanted me to come up here!"
"You could have walked," Todoroki points out. "You didn't have to run."
"In the text," the green-haired kid grabs his phone. "You said 'sos'! I thought he was choking!"
Todoroki looks back at his phone. "Huh," he sighs. "It does say that."
"I'm Izuku Midoriya," his friend turns back to me, bowing low. "Gah, sorry that I ruined your first day at UA."
"Oh," I shrug it off. "Um, this isn't my first day at the dorms. At all."
He looks puzzled for a moment, trying to figure out what to say. "Wait... so -"
"I'm usually in the general studies courses," I tell him, trying to get back into my room. I know that I've been getting better at talking with people, but now I'm already used to using Kiri as a shield. With just a sword, there isn't much you can do. "But they transferred me here just last week."
"Your quirk isn't invisibilty, is it?" Midoriya asks, only to shake his head. "Wait, what is your quirk?"
"Oh," I hold out my arm, showing him the scales running up and down my arm. They're still healing from that fight with the gang member, but I've been getting better at training them to come back faster. "It's called Scales. It's still a pretty uncommon quirk, but it derives from basic parental quirks like Eijiro's hardening. I can rotate the spikes lining my body how I feel. When they face away from me, I use them more as defense, but it's harder to take advantage of their natural aerodynamic superiority in that state. When rotated up, they're easier to throw off. And then when they're toward me, it allows me to move quicker. Does that make sense?"
"That's your department," Todoroki looks to Midoriya. "Not mine."
"Oh," I ask. "You don't think about quirks a lot?"
"It's..." he searches for the right words. "It's a tough subject."
"Wow," Midoriya puts away his phone, closing out the notes app. "That's... you're incredible, Nico!"
I blink, trying to just go over what happened;
1: Someone just called me incredible.
2: They also spent at least a minute listening to me rant.
3: They bothered to learn my name.
"And I'm guessing you won't tell me about your quirk either?" I look back at his phone. "I'm not as obsessed as you are about good matchups and stuff like that; I'd rather fight off of how I feel in the moment. Still, I like learning about other ones."
"Oh," he mumbles, putting his hand on his neck sheepishly. "It's a bit complicated... you don't mind if I don't tell you, right? Maybe we could train together this afternoon?"
"Oh," I jab my finger back toward my dorm room. "Um, I already promised Kiri that I would work out with him. Sorry... maybe next time?"

"Oh!" his eyes light up from above his freckly face. "I could join you guys! Um... if it's okay with Eijiro."
He fires off a text quickly, wincing as his thumb touches the screen's surface. "Still sore from last time," he mutters. "Still, I'm ready to go if you guys want help!"
Do I really want someone else with us while I'm with Kiri? Something tells me that Midoriya wouldn't be toxic if he went; he's not the type to tell you that you're doing bad either. Still, I can't help but feel a little bit defensive.
"If you're not busy," I ask him. "Could you maybe help me with my dorm room? I still need to decorate it a little bit more."
"A little bit?" he cranes his neck around my door frame, peeking into the dark interior. "Nico, you haven't decorated at all!"
"Oh," I reason. "Well, I didn't want to bother you or anything."
"Not at all!" he moves to Todoroki's door, as well as the last door on the floor. His (possible?) boyfriend walks out, looking alert and attentive. At the other end of the hall, a boy with an almost opposite demeanor walks out of his room, looking tired. Somehow, he already looks bored of the situation, even though he has a toothy grin plastered on his face.
He slicks back his black hair, holding out his hand.
"You're that kid Denki was with yesterday, right? Nico? The one that wanted to kill hi-"
"Let's not go there," I say, already watching Midoriya's eyes. Damn. He's already figured it out. I can see it in those eyes of his. "Um, you know Kaminari?"
"Well," he crosses his arms. "We're all in the same class. It'd be pretty hard not to know him."
I bite my lip awkwardly, watching as Todoroki and Midoriya back off a little as if scared that I'm about to go off on this guy. "Yeah, sure."
"Dude!" he pulls his arm around my neck, laughing that same obnoxious laugh from before. "Don't take it so seriously!"
"You're right," I try to loosen myself, knowing that I probably look rigid and stubborn to someone like him. Still, it's just so hard to deal with people without Eijiro.
I can do this on my own. If I was able to deal with that big guy and help people out, then I can talk to some random guy.
"Hanta Sero," he tells me when I open my mouth. "But you might have known that already, right?"
"Um," I say, trying to keep the confidence inside of my voice. "Oh. Yeah."
"Liar," he snorts. "But I understand. The school can be scary if you let it. At least you got Ei looking after you."
"Yeah," I nod, finally falling into place. Is it just my mind tricking me, or does Midoriya actually look proud? I wouldn't be surprised if this is how his first interaction went. Probably involved him apologizing more. Maybe some shouting from the other party. "I didn't see you much last week. Were you doing hero training."
"Let's just call it that," he holds his neck stiffly, giving me a sheepish smile. "That way, it sounds like I was productive.
"I hope you get better, Nico. That way, I won't have to be careful around you. I'll see ya?"
"Uh," I look back toward Midoriya, where he smiles encouragingly. "Hopefully."
He waves back at me, returning to his room. I sigh as he leaves, suddenly feeling so much better. For the first time in so long, I actually feel energized from a social interaction instead of run down.
Is it possible? Am I getting better on my own?
"Nico!" I fall out of the world inside my mind to find Izuku staring at me with his doe eyes, smiling as warmly as he possibly can. Instead, the effect is filled with much more nervous energy than probably expected. Still, I admire the effort. "Oh, are you back with us?"
"Yeah," I rub my head a little. I don't think it was anyone's quirk, but it actually felt like I was losing myself there. Almost like back at the-
I will not think about that in front of them. I don't need everyone knowing about me, so what's the point of telling everyone that I'm just a few steps away from being a murderer? What they don't know won't hurt anyone.
"I wanted to ask you if you wanted to go and train a little now," he waves a hand in front of my face. I can tell that the gesture isn't supposed to be rude, but I can't help feel like he's looking down on me. It's one thing when one person looks at me like I'm fragile and need saving. When everyone does it though, it feels horrible. It feels like I'm a burden that they need to watch. Someone who's not only in danger but is a danger themselves. What do you do when that takes over your self?
"Oh," I look back toward my room. "But what about the decorations? I'm still barely finished."
"We'll help you with it later! I promise that!"
My heart nearly melts at the distant, yet familiar voice. Kiri's red hair bobs up and down from the staircase, revealing his tall, muscled form. "Hey," he smiles back at me. "I wanted to see your room, but you're barely finished!"
"Yeah," I let him hug me closely as he comes near, a stark difference between the social barriers with Sero from before. "I got a little distracted."
"Sorry!" Midoriya and Shoto both say at the same time with different levels of enthusiasm. "I told Nico we could all help him later and work on it together... is that fine with you, Nico?"
"Oh," I say, suddenly coming back from my daydreams. "Yeah, I'll be fine with that."
"You sure?" Eijiro asks, placing his arm around me as we walk down the stairs. "It might get a little late."
"I can always sleep with you," I say, only just now realizing the gravity of the words. I know that they're all old enough to drive back home, but it's still probably a little bit weird to talk so casually about things like that with them. I'm not that much older than them, but it might make all the difference here. "Oh, I mean in your room."

"You don't have to spare your words with us," Todoroki says, sliding his hand across the red border of the stairwell, looking back toward Izuku longingly. I guess I'm not the only one that seems to require their extrovert boyfriend to do nearly anything social. "It's fine if you're..."
Midoriya blushes, holding his friend's hand. "It's just a little bit weird, I guess," he laughs a little, sounding a bit uncomfortable. "I mean, you've only been together for a little bit, but you're already so close."
Shit. Shit, shit, fuck fuck! How am I already ruining someone else's relationship? Knowing those two, they're probably already questioning everything in their relationship dynamic. Do I really have the right to that to them? "Well," I say, trying to offer up some sort of retribution. "I watched the sports festival. I mean... I was there anyway. And you two were really going at it during that competition. I can tell there's a lot going on with you two. It's really cute."
"Thanks..." Todoroki says, a little bit of the frosty edges melting off as relinquishes a soft smile. "You too."
"Shoto here needed me," Midoriya laughs, all bright and sunny. "With his quirk and all. I'm just so proud of him every time I see him use that left side. He's grown so much."
Todoroki blushes a little, grabbing for Izuku's hand. The two of them fumble a little before their hands fall back to their side, slack and awkward. Still, it's a start.
"Hey," Kiri whispers in my ear. Of course, his whispers are always still a little too loud. "You're doing really well. I didn't know if you were going to recover from that one, but you did it really well."
"What would you have said?" I ask him as we walk down toward the common area. I know that we four are probably going to go down to the UA's gym area, but it's still annoying to know that there's a world out there, but we're confined here. I guess that if we were to go out somewhere, it'd be risky; Kirishima and Midoriya got their hero licenses forever ago, and Todoroki just obtained his. I'd be the odd one out, and they'd be forced to protect me. And knowing me, I'd probably end up trying to fight back as well. It's risky to go anywhere. I deflate a little at the thought, but Kiri just picks me back up.
"Are you okay?" he asks. "Er, sorry for asking that again! I'm just a little worried. You can handle this, right?"
"The gym, or the social interactions?"
"Well," he bites his lip a little, revealing a single pointed tooth. "I have no doubt that you can handle the running and everything else. Your core could probably use some work but-"
"Kiri?" I ask. "C'mon. You can tell me."
He sighs, unfolding his arms a little. "You worry me a little, Nico. I know that you don't want me to be scared for your sake, but I always am. You're just... I don't want you to be a danger to yourself. If anything happened to you, I honestly don't know what I'd do."
He hangs his head low, covering his face with those long red locks of his. "You're helping me," I answer him. "I already... I don't know all the details about you and Bakugo, but you got together when you saved him from the league of villains, right?"
He nods, brightening up a little bit. "He didn't want to be saved, I think. Still, it felt amazing that out of everyone, he wanted me to save him the most. It felt like I was really helping someone.
"When you stop moving... when you have the option to save someone and end up failing, that's the worst feeling. My quirk slows down my movement, but whenever I feel unbreakable, it's like I'm urged forward. When I saw that you were in need of a different type of saving, I knew we had to stick together."
"That's what I thought," I tell him, walking through the door of the gym. Besides us four, it's entirely empty. I guess everyone else must be studying or doing something else. Weird. Even in the general studies course, we were told that we would be wrung through the wire, that every night would be filled with training and studying. Guess it was just another empty lie. I've noticed that the heroes seem to love using those. "Did you plan this?"
"Plan what?" he asks, sweating a little, even though the room's filled with cool air. I'm guessing it must be coming from Todoroki's left side; he's training both sides equally through bench presses, watching as Midoriya cheers him on, using one of those grip tools. He winces a little, but I don't see any of that energy running off him that he's always seen with when he's put on the news. Okay, so maybe I had a little bit of an obsession with watching class 1-A's endeavors; still, it's hard not to admire them, even up close. Just being here in this room is like a dream.
I shake my head, already knowing that I'm not going to get anything else out of Kiri. "So... what should I try first?"
"Oh," he laughs a little. "I kinda wanted to see something. I know that you're fast with those scales of yours... and you can rotate them to make yourself even faster, right?"
"Yeah," I look down at my arms, where the abrased scales sit, content and unmoving. "I haven't been using them all that much for the last years. When I was put in the general studies course, it was hard to keep up and keep on this dream."
"Well," he moves closer, unearthing a treadmill from the pile of equipment. "I still think you're stronger than you think. So why not try it?"
"How far should I push myself?" I ask, clenching and unclenching my hands as my scales get pushed down.
"I'll be here to catch you just in case you hurt yourself," Kiri splays his fingers. "And if you accidentally go into that... let's not worry about that!"
"Um," I point out, setting the speed on the machine. After a few short breaths, I hop on the quickly accelerating ramp, almost losing my balance. "I'm fine," I tell Eijiro before he can reach his hands out. "But what do you mean?"
He's a little hard to hear over the roar over the treadmill as it climbs up in numbers. By now, it's already in the double digits. Still, that's nothing for me, especially with my quirk already in its correct rotation. All I need to do is keep breathing and maintain a constant equilibrium, and I'll be fine. "I have a theory. I've been thinking a little bit about it, and you're a little like Tamaki."
"What do you mean?" I ask, already wondering how much he's been thinking. Does he really care about me so much that he had the time to think of things like that? We've only known each other for a week or so, and it already feels like he knows me too well.
"When we did the raid on that yakuza stronghold," he shivers a little, but it's obviously not because of Todoroki. "Tamaki and I were separated. He chose to take on three of these strong guys... and I was scared for my life that he was going to be killed. I couldn't... I couldn't even focus on the battle in front of me with this monstrous guy. It's terrifying when you don't know what's going to happen to someone you've been with for so long. But Tamaki surprised us all."
I don't even have the time to ask him any questions now that the speed is nearly reaching 18 miles per hour. I know that there are people who can easily go faster than me, especially when you include quirks. But for now, I'm fine. There were times when anything that wasn't the best wouldn't suit me. But now that I have him by my side, holding out his hands, I know that I'm safe. I motion for Kiri to continue, Surprisingly, he reads the message well, moving closer to me as the numbers climb.
"Suneater almost goes into a different mental state when he's in a battle he cares about," Kiri explains. "Usually, he'll just use his octopus parts to grab the perpetrators and throw them away, but when he knows that it's going to take more than that, his mind speeds up. Instead of shutting down like mine does, he goes into a different state of mind where he can focus on everything that happens."

"What do you-gah!"
"Woah!" he reaches out for my waist, but I push him away. The motion ends up being too violent, and crimson flashes across my eyes.
"I'm fine," he assures me, trying to laugh it off. "That was kinda what I was talking about."
"You're not fine though!" I scream back. By now, Midoriya and Todoroki are absolutely staring at me, but they don't matter right now. The speed grows, almost vaulting me off the machine. Still, I plant my feet firmly, trying to focus on stabilization. All I need is to be just a little bit unstable, and then everything falls apart. But if I keep acting like that, I'm going to be a burden. "I lashed out at you, and I'm sorry!"
He smiles back at the words. "You act like you could kill everyone, but you're really soft, Nico. I trust you."
"But why?" I ask him, trying to push my scales back down to improve my sense of balance. At this point, it's less about speed and more about balance. I just need to make sure that the temporary tailwind I was able to create lasts long enough. Still, I'm sure Kiri can catch me. It's just a matter of if I want him to or not. It's like showing weakness. "All I've done is hurt and burden you."
"There's a difference between burdening someone and letting them spending time with you. I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to."
I raise an eyebrow, only to almost slip on the sleek surface. Kiri reaches out to stabilize me, and it takes too much energy to stop me from lashing out at him. My quirk's drawbacks may involve cutting up my own skin, but the real monster's in my mind. "I believe you," I tell him, trying to focus on the path ahead of me. Admittedly, it's hard to run in here, where everything is blank and digital. But my mind shapes its own world inside my mind, and then I'm all set. "Fuck it, I believe you, Eijiro. You want to help me. But you know what?"
My hand instinctively reaches toward the buttons on the treadmill to turn the speed up even higher. Soon enough, I'm bolting at 25 mph, struggling to stay in this sprint. I loosen up the scales, trying to scatter out the aerodynamic energy to my legs. Even the back of my thighs ends up getting the same treatment, ripping apart any remnants of my shorts into shreds.
"Be careful!" Midoriya shouts, looking back toward my speed in awe and fear. "Please!"
The highest speed on this specific treadmill is 40 mph; only slightly higher than the maximum speed of most accelerated speed quirks. Mine isn't necessarily meant for running faster; usually, it only helps me run farther. But still, I manage to climb up to 25 mph.
And then I black out.

Chapter Text

When you see the stars covering your eyes, it's like you have the world in your hand. I think the best worst decisions come from those times, where you can't see anything except the goal in front of you, and that's it.
It's like driving down a foggy road, only sometimes, the fog clears. And when you take advantage of those rare moments, it's the moment that makes you matter.
"I think he's awake... Nico, Kirishima was sorry, but he couldn't make it."
"What?" I bolt up a little too fast, causing my core to explode in a firework burst of pain. "Wait, what happened?"
"You passed out," Midoriya's face clears up as I blink a few times. I sigh at the familiar face. I'm glad to see him, but I can't help but feel like I've failed.
"I failed," my voice doesn't betray my thoughts in any way. "I could have done so much more. I didn't need to waste everyone's time like that."
"Where's this coming from?" he asks, shaking out his green hair. "Are you okay?"
"Mentally?" I ask, staring down at my arms. Dried blood still seeps through the cracks of my scales, pouring out at what's probably an alarming rate. "Not at all. I don't know how I could be."
He nods a little bit, pulling up the sleeves of his gym uniform. "I was destroyed a few months ago when my body did the same thing."
"What do you mean? What same thing?"
"Sometimes," he clenches his fist, looking surprisingly adamant. I know I've heard so much about this kid from the news, but it's a completely different picture seeing him up close. "Our body can't take as much as our spirit. And sometimes, it's the other way around. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you were so caught up in beating your record that you didn't even notice your body was about to give out."

"Oh," Midoriya blushes a little bit. "Uh... you talk in your sleep a little bit."
My mind flashes back to when Kiri told me the same thing, his face too bright and cheery. While the two of them clearly have a lot of differences, I can see the same drive coming from an empty place in Izuku and Eijiro. They've both got a fire fueling them, taking them out slowly.
"You come here often?" I guess, watching as Midoriya pulls out a few bandages from a dispenser across the white room. Besides us, the room's entirely empty; I guess there aren't many people here on the weekends. Makes sense, considering that we're probably not supposed to be training that much. My face goes pale as I realize that I'm giving people so much extra work for nothing; they don't expect people to go out like this and make such a mess, but that's exactly what I did.
"Oh," he hangs his hand on his neck, looking up toward the white linoleum ceiling. It's at that moment when I realize just how cute this boy is, with his rosy cheeks, covered with a smattering of freckles. "I'm put here a lot. You know how your quirk makes you bleed a lot if you use it too much?"
One stare down at my arms confirms it. "Yeah. Probably too much."
That gets a smile out of him. He's no Kirishima, but there's just too much positive energy radiating out of him, even though his worried expression betrays those emotions. "My body gets destroyed by my quirk nearly every time I use it."
He shows me the scars covering his arm again, and I wince in sympathy. "Looks painful. Is there anyway to make it hurt less?"
"It's not even about the pain anymore," he's by my side in a single moment as I try to sit up, looking out the window to find that the sun's still setting, grasping onto the horizon like it could fall at any moment. "It's about the failure. Knowing that I could have done more."
Something inside me breaks. "Knowing that-"
"I'm growing stronger by the day," he sighs. "But is it for anything? What am I even doing here?"
I stare at him blankly, digesting everything he's said. Actually, it's not even really digesting; I know everything he's saying. It's like I know all it before he can even say it. "I don't want this world," my mouth moves before I can even control it.
"What do you mean?"
"Try to look past it all. We're training from day one for a dream that we know will kill us. We sacrifice it all for one person sometimes. We know that one choice creates us, so we're always wary.
"Sometimes, it's amazing. But how does one choice make a person? How do we all end up fucking it all up in just one moment?"
"What did you do?" he asks, trying to move closer. I can see little drops of tears in the corners of his eyes, but I can only ignore them. "Nico... I don't want to believe that you hurt anyone. And I heard what Sero said before."
"There's a reason I'm older than you all, why I'm even still here and not back in America," I shudder, but not because of the cold. Everything is coming together, but what if I don't want it to? "I hurt people. I hurt them badly... you said my quirk rips apart my skin, right?"
He nods, already looking afraid. Unlike the others, he comes closer. Just like Kiri. What is with the boys here? "But it has the potential to hurt other people too."
"I didn't want them getting any points," I breathe heavily, trying to force the words out. "I couldn't stand losing anything else.
"I've been losing in everything. I think that's my main point; I try and I can fucking try harder and try again, but it won't make anything better. I will never be better than everyone else. I will not change the world. I mean, fuck it! I can't even change one person's life! How am I expected to change the whole world!"
"You're not expected to!" Midoriya shouts back at me. This time, his tears fall before mine do. "You don't have to save the whole world! Nico, have you been dealing with this the whole time?"
"I'd carry the weight of the world if I could," I tell him. "Anything to make it better for everyone else. I'd sacrifice myself for everyone else. Just to make it easier."
"You have to live for other people," he tells me. "There's a difference between heroes and martyrs; do you want to live for people in bravery, or do you want to die to extend their chances?"
I stay silent for a moment, watching as he balls his fists, curling and uncurling them. "I went through some of the same things at some point, but never as bad as you. I... I don't even know you that well, but have you been holding this weight the entire time?"
"I can't let it go. It won't go away. I just want to be better, because if I don't get better, how can I make it all better for everyone else?"
I cradle my head in my hands, trying to fight back all my other emotions. Izuku places his hand on my back, delicate and soft. "Try to breathe, You don't need this type of stress after an injury like that. Trust me; I know how unhealthy it is.
"Saying that you'll die for everyone doesn't make you a hero. Heroes are people that save lives; you need to do more than just extend someone's life. If you want to be a hero, you have to learn that; it doesn't matter if you completely broke your body. If you don't have a drive you're looking to complete, you'll run yourself dry, and then what? You can't make people worry like that, Nico!"
I stare at him blankly, blinking only once. "Oh," he stops his reprimands. "I got a little intense there, didn't I? Um... sorry."
He smiles at me, and I try to mimic the movement. When he notices it, he laughs a little. "I don't even want to imagine what you were like before Kirishima took you in. Probably too much like me."
"Hey," I point out. "Only I'm allowed to hate myself."
When his smile fades, I sigh again. "Sorry. That probably wasn't fair of me."
"I think what you were saying earlier," he looks back at me. "About villains and heroes. I think I understand what you're saying. I've been face to face with more heroes than you'd think. And some of them have real ideals while others are a little bit... well, villains are villains."
"I get what you're saying," I assure him. "I think it's easy to just say that someone's all evil or all good, but it's not always so easy... er- sorry for putting you through all this when you're only just getting up!"
"No," I say, looking down at his back pocket as it flashes again. "Um, are you okay?"
"Me?" his voice cracks a little bit. "Oh, I'm fine! I mean... um."
"Is it Shoto?" I tease, trying to push the pressure onto him. "I saw you two when you were walking down the hallway."
"Oh!" his face turns red. "Let's um... let's not talk about that!"
"Why?" I smile, trying to take his phone out of his pocket. Despite his killer instincts and my terribly broken bones, I end up grabbing his phone. "He's texted you like... ten times. And you were ignoring him?"
"It's difficult," he huffs. "Shoto can get a little cold. But I see more of him than he does. I think he doesn't even notice how strong he is."
"Physically, mentally, or emotionally?"

"Well, he has some trouble showing his emotions. But I think he's improving by leaps and bounds! And physically, he's a beast! He's also pretty high up in our class. It's just his emotions that need work."
"He's just Elsa," I convey back to Izuku. "He keeps himself composed, but what happens when he loses it?"
"It's..." he stops for a second, looking conflicted. "It gets scary. I don't like seeing him get hurt, but he needs to practice more caution. Do you get what I'm saying?"
"Absolutely," I nod. "You're afraid that he might hurt himself, so you want to protect every part of him. Kind of like how Kiri acts around me."
"I want to tell him how I feel," Midoriya repeats. "Um... I know that you're not that much better than me at displaying your emotions, but do you think you could help me?"
"Are you kidding?" I reach out to his hand as he outstretches it. "You listened to me rant for way too long, and you're scared that I'd say no?"
"Oh," he rubs the back of his neck. "Um, we had a surprise for you when you recovered, but... Kirishima was supposed to meet us-"
"Hey Nico!"
Serotonin runs through my veins even faster than I would have expected when I hear his words. "He's here," I say, listening to the loud stomps echoing down the hall. One nurse yells at him to stop, but he just keeps plowing through, shouting my name.
"I'm in here!" I call after him. Normally, I'd probably be pissed if someone was shouting like him in a hospital. But I think he knows how much I need to hear his voice right now.
"Oh!" he skids across the waxed floor, trying to stop his feet as he brushes by our room. "You're in here!"
"Yep," I get onto the ground, struggling to stand correctly. I'm mostly sure my leg isn't supposed to bend so much that way...
"You should get a wheelchair," Kiri explains. "Your legs aren't permanently broken; in fact, they're almost healed, I think. I was here for a little bit earlier, and Recovery Girl said you'll be fine soon as long as you don't try something like that again."
"I don't want a wheelchair," I tell Kiri, holding onto his arms for support as we walk out. I barely even notice Midoriya running off without us, already waving behind his back.
"I figured," he shrugs, trying to keep me upright. "So I asked for some crutches. You'll be fine with using these for a while, right?"
My left-hand stays wrapped around his side, but I try to keep myself up and secure with the other crutch. "I think this works. But how did you know I didn't want a wheelchair?"
"When I was put in the hospital a few months ago," he tells me. "It sucked knowing that everyone else was still able to go everywhere, but I was stuck in one place. And I knew that you'd be even worse than that. This is better, right?"
"Absolutely," I say, still feeling a little miffed that I have to rely on him so much. Don't get me wrong; for the last day and a half, I've felt so secure. And when he interviewed me last week, I didn't even worry about getting arrested; he was just so soft and strong. But I can't rely on him forever. "So, Midoriya told me about some surprise you guys made me. It's only been what, 5 hours? How did you get so much done?"
"Oh," he laughs a little, leading me out of the automatic door. "Um, we got the rest of the group. Sero included. Then Momo Yao came over, and there's this kid from the general studies course who came over to help us. We were gonna get Tetsu, but he was busy with Kendo."
"Momo Yao? Tetsu?"
"Oh," he slides his hands together. "She's this super smart girl! I don't know her extremely well, but she has this quirk that lets her create things! She helped me save Bakugo from villains, and she's really resourceful. She's a little like you, what with all those nerves. She lives right across from you, on the girl's side! And Tetsu's that other hero you met; Real Steel. He's from class 1-B."
After ignoring the second name, I finish my thought; I really don't think Real Steel trusted me back then, and I wouldn't be surprised if he still doesn't. "Really?" I ask. "Oh, did everyone on my floor work on this?"
"Not everyone. There's Asu- I mean Tsuyu, and then there's Satou; he keeps to himself, and Mina was trying to get Tsuyu. She has this frog quirk; it's so powerful, but she's not the best in the winter."
"Oh," I think for a second. "I've barely even thought about that. A lot of quirks are bad in the winter, right?"
"Well," Eijiro counts on his fingers. "Invisibility's gotta suck in the cold. Half and Half can't make any ice or he'll freeze. Yaoyorozu creates things with her... uh, with her body."
I can't even tell which of us blush more at the thought of it, but Kiri continues anyway, turning even redder. "My hero costume leaves me almost naked, just like you..."
"Oh no..." I say, trying to bury my face again. "When my shorts ripped..."
"Hey!" he smacks my back, just not too hard. "I thought it was cute! And plus, it got me a good view o-"
I shiver again at the thought. "It's not much to look at, trust me."
"Well," he pulls out his phone. "Damn... Didn't get a good picture. But I did notice something; You left your hero costume ideas out on your bed."
"You looked through my dorm room?" I ask, not sounding all that surprised. "Um-"
"I saved a picture of it," he tells me. "And I wanted to go over some things you put down on here. I've changed my costume a lot to cover myself up more, but I think you need to do the opposite."
"Uh," I point out. "That's a little weird, don't you think?"
"Nico," he tells me, his voice entering that deep, quiet rumble. "I've seen so much of you. We literally slept together! But no; it's not about that, silly! I think you need to show off a little more of your body to help your scales.
"You focus a lot on your arms, but you ran way faster than I ever could! And your hero costume... doesn't have shorts."

"I don't like wearing them," I say, staring down at the new shorts I have on. I don't even want to know when these got on me. "Sorry."
"Well," he says, looking at my hero costume's design. "You have your arms exposed with a tank top. Are you sure you want orange and purple for your color scheme?"
I raise an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
"Oh," he sighs. "Good, because we alrea- nevermind!"
He laughs at my surprised face, returning to his previous thoughts. "I do like how you're protecting your wrists and hands with these bracelets... do you have scales on your fingers too?"
I hold my hand up hesitantly, wincing as the scales get pushed up. When a jet of blood explodes from my middle finger, Kiri immediately takes out a bandage, wrapping it quickly.
"I went through the same thing with my hardening, only it didn't make me bleed so much."
"Yeah," I say, hissing at the pain. "So, what do you think of the rest of the costume?"
"I don't know about the lack of a helmet," he admits. "Unless... you have the scales on your face, right?"
"Yeah," I say, not even attempting to raise them. "But they're way too hard to push up. I've only ever used them as a last resort once... one of the students was fighting back pretty fiercely."
"Well," he clasps his fists together. "Then it might be a little hard to do that, huh? You could use a mask... maybe like the one I have?"
"Too close to kink," I tell him. "I think it's almost too much. But if you think it could work, I'll try it."
"Nice!" he pumps his fists again. "Okay, but now we need to talk about these pants, First of all, they're neon purple and black; that seems a little bright, right?"
"I guess," I nod. "But I have them cuffed, so I'll have my ankles exposed."
"That might be needed in the winter," he analyzes. "But you've gotta ramp it up in the summer; you'll need the shortest shorts you can get."
"Uh," I swallow uncomfortably, watching as other students run past us on the track, breathing heavily and working hard. It reminds me too much of earlier, so I focus on the nearly barren trees in front of us. "That's a bit much, isn't it?"
"Well," he shrugs a little bit, pulling me closer. "Plus Ultra, right? Go all out, and don't be afraid to be who you are. I think you've got a good thing going if you start using your legs more; that way, you won't be limited to just your arms!"
"I like that," I say, staring down at my legs. I guess they're not as useless as I thought. At least, useless in a battle. "Um, you're really good at these things, you know."
"I am?" He asks, before smiling. "I guess I am! Yeah!"
Kirishima walks me through the door patiently, over to the stairwell.
"Damn," he sighs. "Aizawa Sensei thought it was smart not to put elevators in our dorms... and your room's on the top floor!"
"We could go to your room? I mean, mine isn't even that finished."
"Nope!" he says. "We gotta go to your room. And anyway, my room's a floor under yours. Right next to yours, and then below."
"I don't think I can walk up all these steps," I admit. "Sorry."
"Don't be!" he smiles back at me. With his strong arms, he throws the crutches to the side of the stairwell. Before I can even shout that I can't stand, my center of gravity is thrown out from under me.
"Woah!" he laughs. "You're a little heavier than I thought!"
I don't even time to blush before he fixes his words. "Must be all that hidden muscle. At least, in your legs. I've never seen someone run that fast... well, except for all those people with speed and power-up quirks. But you know what I mean, right?"
"I know what you're saying," I tell him. "But isn't this a little bit embarassing?"
"Do you not like it?" he asks, sounding nervous.
"I do," I relinquish. "It feels amazing. It feels safe."
"If you love it," Kiri looks down at me with those amber-red eyes, hefting me up higher. "Why does it matter if other people don't like it? No one's really bad about... our relationships. Well... at least the people we care about, right?"
"Just don't strain yourself," I tell him, finally letting my nerves rest in his solid, strong arms. "I don't want you getting hurt over me."
My view is eclipsed by his sharklike teeth, all pulled up into his toothy grin. "Are you kidding me?" he laughs. "We should travel like this more! I can get a good exercise in, and you're relaxed now, right?"
"Absolutely," I sigh, falling into the cradle of his arms. "Um... you wouldn't mind sleeping together tonight too, right?"
"Anything for you, Nico," Kiri flips his floppy red hair from his forehead. "You know, you don't have to be scared to admit that you need comfort. I'll be there for you if you need it."
"Got it," I swallow, trying to ignore the pain still lying in my legs. "Are we almost there?"
"Just a few more steps..." Ejiro stops for a second, struggling to check his phone. When I crane my neck to stare at the blocked screen, he positions it a little farther away from me. "Oh! Um... it's nothing. Just the surprise we planned for you."
I cross my arms, trying to feign annoyance. "I like surprises, but isn't this a little much?"
"Well," he laughs it off, hauling me up the stairs. "Just please don't blame me if we got anything wrong!"
"What do you mean?"
My question gets answered before we even reach my dorm room. A cluster of students surround my door, all holding smiles on their faces and hope in their eyes. It seems to be mostly familiar faces, from Katsuki to Kyoka. Ashido and Kaminari stand to the side, laughing in unison, jittering to themselves. The sleek-haired guy from my floor joins them, hanging his odd-looking elbows around their shoulders. Beside them stands Midoriya and Shoto. I try to look for any recognition in their eyes, but they stand at odds instead, looking uncomfortable. I'm not even allowed to ponder what that means for a second before the new girl walks up to me, her hair held up in a tall, black ponytail.
"This is Yaoyorozu!" Kiri exclaims proudly. "She's our vice president!"
"I'm terribly sorry we couldn't give you a proper introduction until today," she pleads with me, holding a thin slip of paper in her hand. When I try to snatch a glance at it, she rips it away, looking slightly ashamed. "I know that it's not much, but we thought that we should finish your room..."
"Wait," I look back to Eijiro as he places me down on my feet. After recovering from the wobbling, he places his hand on his neck, looking surprisingly sheepish. "You really did all this?"
"You never got to finish your room," he explains. "And while I was looking forward to shopping with you, it was going to be a pain to end up painting all of them, especially with your legs like that."
"Right," I answer, looking down at my nearly broken legs. "Well, I'd still like to paint with you, Kiri. But it was really nice of you to do all that heavy lifting."
Now, it's his turn to blush. "Momo Yao created all the furniture from scratch! You should be thanking her!"
She pulls her grey turtleneck up a little bit more. "It was a simple matter. Some of them came out a bit disfigured due to your... requirements. You have an odd taste, Nico. Still, it's very interesting."
"Your room might even beat Sero Surprise!" Denki laughs. "All thanks to my layout skills!"
"You mean my painting!" Mina boasts. Bakugo just snorts, looking back at his girlfriend.
"Jiro got everything done," he says, jabbing a finger back toward her. She stares back at me, looking slightly flustered despite her usual lax demeanor. "She picked up your design taste fast."
"Well," Kiri pushes past me, holding open the door. "You should look at it!"
I nod, hanging onto his shoulder as we walk into the slim doorway, squeezing past the frame to enter a room that's blessedly colder than the hallway outside. UA seems to like abundant heat, especially in winter. Luckily, it seems like just being on the same floor as Todoroki cools it all down.
What I see when I enter my room is nothing like the vision I had; there are all the components, but even more. First, I don't even know what I was thinking when I decided on the wallpaper; I have no idea how they found something like it so fast, but it's like looking at a modern art deco design; triangles and trapezoids bordered in lightly burnt orange and a grey purple tone. The floor has a similar carpet covering it, created in some odd geometric shape that I weirdly love, all points and angles. I can tell where Mina went; my simple black dresser is now covered in orange and pink graffiti, blending in perfectly. A lamp shaped just like the wallpaper sits on top of it, giving off a comfortable, warm glow. My wooden bed frame was thrown out entirely, replaced by an industrial-looking orange pipe frame. Over a dozen purple blankets sit on top of the mattress, nestled comfortably like a small nest. A keyboard sits next to it, still shiny and new, along with a thin trash can already filled with paper and scraps of paint and wood.

"You guys," I tell them, already awestruck. Kiri grins, looking proud. "You didn't have to do all of this."
"Don't tell us any of that shit!" Bakugo shouts. "You got hurt, and we needed to help you. So take the fucking room!"
"He's saying," Jiro translates, moving to the keyboard to play a simple arpeggio, humming along with the melody. "That we wanted to help out with something because you wouldn't be feeling up to all this."
"Yeah," I say, falling onto the bed. Thankfully, they thought to make the mattress thick. Clearly, Yaoyozoru must have thought of that over Mina and Denki. "I can't thank you enough though."
"Well," Hanta guesses. "Then... don't? I'm sure you'll be fine with having the second-best dorm room on the floor, right?"
I close my door on them before an argument can start and I'm sucked into it. A knock comes at my door, and I don't even need to slip the door open that much to know who it is.
"Hey," Kiri waves to me, sitting on a feathery purple basket chair as I open the door farther, letting him in. "Are you feeling drained?"
"I guess," I rub my wrists, sighing as I fall onto the scattered pillows lining the top of my bed. "What do you think it's from? The people, the surprise, or the excersize?"
"All of them?" Kiri holds me closer, letting out one of those blissful laughs. "You're fine though, right?"
"Just a little bit tired," I say, trying to close out the intruding thoughts. "Too many things are coming back at once, and I don't know how to stop them."
"Well," he holds me in his arms, kneeling down next to the bed. "I know how to stop them, I think. Hey! I even got them to get a bigger bed this time!"
"Oh," my voice wavers as I try for a smile. "Um... you don't think they think of us like that, do you?"
"I think Aizawa Sensei would have us in detention for a month if he caught us um..." Eijiro's face grows bright red as we imagine the world we still have together. "But we're just sleeping together! I mean, he can't get mad for that, right?"
"I haven't really met him yet," I tell Kiri. "I've only been in you guys' normal classes. That's probably why you haven't noticed me that much; I can't take the hero classes yet. We're hoping for Monday."
"I'll tutor you," Kiri says. "And maybe in exchange, you could help me with some math and english?"
"Oh," I tell him, feeling bad to disappoint him so early in his en. "I'm really, really bad at math."
"You've been getting good grades!" he protests. "Plus, you were at least a year ahead of us; doesn't that mean you've already learned all this stuff."
"Kiri," I answer, pushing up against his warm chest. "If you think I can do it, I'll do it. But your grade might not go up that much."
"Well," he protests. "Do you really think the only thing I want to do is study?"
My blush returns in between a yawn. "I was guessing that there was something a little more."
"I mean... it'll help us either way, right?"
"Oh I didn't know-"
"I like it. A lot."
He smiles as I yawn again, moving closer to sit beside me on the bed. "It's been a long day for you, huh?"
"I got more sleep than I have in a while," I say. "And this morning was... great."
"Sorry if Bakugo was being a dick," he apologizes. "I didn't really get to tell you before, but that's sorta his thing. Don't let him put you down though!"
"You're all so special," I breathe, barely even noticing the words leaving my lips as the world fades to black. "Can I even catch up?"
I don't even need any sort of sense to tell that he's trying to help me up again.

Chapter Text

And Deku breaks his thumb




The theory of guardian angels has been debated for years. I mean, that's kinda the whole point of those sorts of ideas, right? If we were to know exactly how it all worked, there wouldn't be much of a point for it all; it'd be too easy, and maybe all those mysteries we've lived through. Because if there's one thing in the world that keeps it all together, it's mysteries and secrets. Lies make the world go around, obviously.
Well, imagine if all those guardian angels were real. I mean, let's just think about it for a second. Actually, fuck it; I think it's obvious who I'm talking about at this point.
"Hey," Eijiro yawns, stretching out as I lean into his arm, watching the yellow light from dawn's sunrise creep in, splashing onto the rug. "You sleep well?"
"I think you can answer that, right?" he blushes a little at that, but I let him leave the bed first. "Did you ever go back to your own room?"
"Once," he admits, reaching for a red sweatshirt and simple jean jacket. He ties his hair up into his bandana, trying to hold that spiky look up. When it inevitably falls over, he just sighs, trying out the look again in my mirror. "I brought along some clothes and a toothbrush. Should have brought my hairspray too."
I fumble around with my own closet, trying to ignore the fact that he's fully dressed, and I have no idea how to change in front of him. "I know this is going to be a stupid thing to say," I tell him. "But um... could you turn around?"
"What do you mean?" Kiri pulls out his toothbrush, already ravaged by his sharp teeth. I still have no idea how he even flosses. "Oh... right."
"Yeah," I tell him, trying to take off my PJs one leg at a time, slowly and carefully. "Um... you don't think it's weird that I'd let us sleep together but I won't let you see me naked yet, do you?"
"Hey," he says in between frothy blasts of mint. "It's your call. I won't judge you for anything like that. Do I want to see that little bit of you I haven't seen? Yeah! But will I wait for your call? Of course! I get it if you're not ready for everything, even if you are older."
"Well," I shrug it off, pulling on a simple blue checkered flannel and black jeans, trying to direct the attention away from me. "I don't want to be selfish. If you ever want anything more, you can always tell me."
He spits the toothpaste out of his mouth, into my trash can. "Probably should have brushed them in the bathroom," he admits, staring at the gunk now lying at the bottom of my trash can. "I'll clean it up! Just give me a second, and you can keep getting changed!"
Despite the fact that I'm almost already at least half dressed, Kiri still holds his hand up to his eyes as he grabs the trash can, knocking into the side of my wall.
"I'm fine!" he assures me, rushing out into the hallway.
My smile slowly fades as he leaves and I remember what I have to do; it wouldn't be fair for him to come back and see me completely unprepared for the day. I start the hero course in its entirety tomorrow, and there honestly isn't any way for me to be entirely prepared for that mess.
"Oh!" Eijiro runs back in, plastered with a smile and confidence as his hair gets caught on the door frame. "Um... I know that you were doing all that training yesterday, but I thought that this morning, we could study some actual hero things together?"
"That sounds good," I say, clasping my hands together. "Just please don't let me keep you behind."
"Hey!" he tells me. "I got all those extra lessons and a work-study program! I think I know a thing or two about being a hero!"
"Got it," I tell him. "Am I gonna help you with math this afternoon?"
"I don't want to overwork you," Kiri pulls open the door, slipping me my shoes. "You're still hurt, right?"
"Oh," I say, twisting my legs back and forth, trying them out. "I'm better now. I think my legs are healed now. But yeah... it'd be a lot for me to deal with."
"Yeah," he laughs a little bit, walking back down to the stairs. "Math isn't my strong suit either, so it's kinda hard for me. Still, I think you're really good at stuff like that!"
"Well," I point out. "If you want good grades, you have to do the work. I saw you sleeping with the book last Friday."
His smile wavers a little. "You saw that? I thought I was hiding it well..."
"Not even a little bit," I guess. "I mean, at least for me. I think I notice a lot more than other people."
"Fat's been working me hard recently," Kiri explains as we take each step one at a time. Before my legs can give out again, he stabilizes me, trying to keep me on solid ground. "He's been sending me out nearly every day... there was that little break we had with our work studies, but I think the heroes are just anxious to get back out there now that the League's been getting into the news again. It's scary, knowing that we've still got to deal with them after they-"
"Don't worry about it," my hand falls to his side, wrapping around his hips. "I mean, it's obviously a big thing. But we've got a lot of people working around it. You'll be fine."
"I only hope so," he says, not entirely returning to his normally cheerful self. "If I can't even help stop them, how am I even a man?"
"There's..." my voice stops for a second as I work around the words carefully. "There's more to being a man or a hero than doing it all; it's trying it all and making the most of every single thing. Because if you don't amount to anything, what's the use of it all?"
He stares at me, ruffling his red hair around. "Damn," he slips his tongue around his sharp teeth. "You're so cute when you're confident. You know that... right, Nico?"
"Oh," I splutter, trying to force the red from my face. "Um... that makes sense. Sorry if I got a little philosophical too."
"You don't need to apologize!" I smile back at him, happy to see that he's recovered from the existential pit he dug himself in. "I understand these things a little more than you'd think. Just because I look like some meathead doesn't mean I need to act the part."
"Oh-" I assure him. "I um... I never meant all those things I told you when we first met."
"I know," he says, blowing a lock of hair from his face. "I'm used to people making bad first impressions of me. Even when I was younger and weaker; people just thought I couldn't be a hero. I've escaped that hole, but it doesn't mean I'm still not stuck in one. I think people always forget that a positive dread is still dread."
"I get it," my voice comes out small as we walk through the common area, watching the other early risers shuffle through morning routines. "I'm guessing that we're not going to go over the same breakfast disaster from yesterday, right?"
"I wanted to tell you yesterday," Kiri splays his fingers out, fidgeting a little as he leans against a wall, looking almost absent from the rest of the room. "Bakugo apologized. He felt really bad about it... I think he was just driven by anger."
"Isn't he always driven by anger?"
"There's a difference," the red-haired boy defends. "Bakugo has a few different settings, I think. You've got that angry pomeranian, the 'Fuck off, Deku', his happy side, and then there's the true rage. I think that's when he's his most quiet. Every word he says just feels so controlled, you know? It's like when he acts angry normally, it's just a show. I think he's secretly scared of people not being afraid of him."
"So he's all about control?" I guess, imitating his bizarre finger movements before connecting our hands. "Like, everything has to be all about him?"
"I guess," his mouth turns back into its happy line as the same man walks behind us. "Hey, Bakugo!"
"Shut up," Bakugo scratches the scruff of blonde hair after downing an entire cup of coffee.
"Speak of the devil," I hiss, looking back toward the untouched pile of sugar next to his hands.
"That's his good side," Kiri assures me, sighing.
"Hey!" Bakugo waves his mug wildly. "I heard that, shitty hair!"
"Your hair's not that shitty," I grab a piece of bread for him and me, plugging it into the toaster. "Um, you're okay with it almost burnt, right?"
"As long as it's edible," he tells me. "I'll be fine. Bakugo used to always put it at that setting too. At least you ask me if I want it like that."
"Hey!" Bakugo screams from the other side of the room, where he sits cross-legged on a couch. "I heard that!"
"Still have no idea how you put up with him," I answer back. "You can decide on what we drink then."
"Oh," he winks back at me. "Is this some sort of couple's breakfast? Do you have these things in America?"
"Not really?" I guess. "I mean, I wouldn't really know. I've never had a boyfriend before."
"What about girls?"
"That doesn't count," I say, crack an egg through the sharp edges on my wrist. "Hey, look!"
"I saw!" he exclaims proudly, pouring out a cup of orange juice. "I wish I knew that I could have done this sort of thing before."
"What do you mean?" my egg is probably burnt by now, but I ignore it. "Do you mean this?"
"I like this," he motions toward the counter that I've already made into a mess with random crumbs and spices. "You're interesting, and you have a fun way of doing things. You're really good at cooking!"
"Oh," I brush the compliment off on the outside, but on the inside, I've already filed it with all the other ones he's peppered his words with. "It's more that I just know what works with what. I don't actually really know how to cook."
He arches an eyebrow. "Is that why your egg's on fire?"
"Shit!" I scream, rushing to turn off the stove. Before I can get there, Todoroki's there, holding his cold hand above the oven's surface.
"You should probably watch this type of stuff more," he tells me. It's not entirely emotional, but he's very strict with his words. "You need to be more careful."
"Got it," my hands fall into those awful finger guns, and I try to push it off. "Sorry for bothering you."
The cold boy tries for a smile. "It's no trouble at all. Izuku and I were just coming down here."
His green-haired friend nearly falls down the stairs as he rushes, dropping all of his books. "Sorry!" he shouts, scrambling to pick them all up before anyone else can help him. "You don't need any more distractions, do you?"
"It's okay!" Kiri yells back at him from across the room. Bakugo just smirks, laughing at his enemy's demise.
"Useless nerd!" he cackles, disrupting a chess game between Yaoyorozu and a muscular, bespectacled guy. He stands up, looking annoyed.
"Excuse me!" his deep voice rings throughout the room, causing me to jolt in surprise. Kiri holds onto my shoulders, keeping my feet on the ground. "It is merely 7:10, yet you have been shouting throughout the morning! I'd like to formally ask you to please keep it down!"
"You're the loudest one here!" Bakugo screams back, picking up a couch cushion to scream into.
"He really needs his impulse control," I say, sliding the toast and now burnt eggs onto our plate. "I mean... not that you should have to put up with him and date him if you don't want to."
"I'm fine either way," Kiri unfolds his arms, reaching for one of the pieces. "It's a bit burnt... still good though."
I can't help but feel bad as he inhales the rest of the breakfast. Not only can I not tell if he's just doing it for me or not, but I should have thought about that before. "Sorry," I mumble. "I should have remembered that you'd probably eat more than me."
"Don't worry about it!" he reminds me, pulling out other ingredients. "I was gonna make a protein shake too. I think you could start using them too... but that's just me. You fine if I make one?"
"Um..." I look down at my own piece of toast. "Sure. Just... do they taste bad?"
He laughs at that. "It's a protein shake. Trust me; you'll like it, at least compared to veggie drinks."
I watch as he shakes up the ingredients, moving the drink back and forth with his muscular arms of his. Before I can stop myself from staring, he's already caught me.
"Like what you see?" he teases, flexing even further. Like the proud MAN I am, I just sit there gaping. "This is why you need these, Nico. You've got toned arms and legs, but that's about it. If you want something like I have, you gotta work on your core too! All parts of your body need to be attended to regularly! It’s like self love!”
“Oh,” my voice wavers a little bit as he pushes the protein shake closer to me, looking into my eyes with an enthusiasm smile. “M-my core?”
“Yeah,” he gulps down a huge portion of his drink, wiping off the purple-brown liquid from his lips. “I mean, it’ll help you with hero stuff too, if you think about it. You’ve got all you technically need. But what about everything else? That’s why I’m gonna make you one of those study guide things... only this time, it’s for exercise!”
“Sorry,” I apologize, looking over the slip of paper he’s passed me. “I’m not that great at keeping to a schedule...”
“Well,” he shrugs. “You seem really good at it in class. At least, you got all your work done. But this could really help you, Nico!”
“Do I start today?” I ask, looking over the calendar. Red hot heat passes through my face as I read the answer. “Oh. Right.”
“You should stick to the drink for today,” Kiri reasons. “Just try to be healthy and everything and rest up. And then get ready for my jam packed schedule!”
“But won’t it be hard for you too?” I ask, holding the drink to my lips. After a hearty gasp, I push it back, surprised at how easily it slides down my throat. It’s not iced coffee, but I have to give him due credit; he knows how to make these things a lot more bearable than I thought they’d be. “Like, with all this supervision?”
“I was thinking we could study together too!” Kiri looks proud of himself, and I can’t help but smile. He’s really thought all of this out; he even predicted every one of my problems. “That’s why I chose endurance stuff too; that way, you’ll be able to focus on my terrible math skills instead of the excruciating pain!”
“Excrucia- sounds like fun,” I tell him, not even all that sarcastic. “Just know that I won’t let you risk your future on me.”
“What’s a hero if he can’t even be a man?” Eijiro takes our empty glasses and moves to the sink. Before he can be burdened with all the dishes that everyone else has already left behind, I join him, dunking the plates into the water. “I want to help you just as much as you want to help me.”
“Of course,” I tell him, flicking a bit of soap into his face.
“Hey!” He splashes me back, making sure not to get any of the liquid in my eyes.
“Just make sure you don’t accidentally harden and destroy the plates,” my eyes focus on the glasses in my hand as I caress them, looking over a thin insignia on their back, displaying the manufacturer’s company.
Well, that’s new; I didn’t even know how to respond to the massive SIDNEY covering the antique logo. Suddenly, my mind’s brought back to that dark place a week ago, sitting in that dark room.
“You like it” Momo comes up from behind me, adjusting her hair. “They cost a fortune, but it was worth it. Even that creepy man selling them seemed to think so!”
I have to feel bad for Kiri; it’s impossible for him to even understand what’s got me frozen. “Was it... a weird store?”
“Mm,” she nods. “Kinda like a pawn shop place... still, the man really wanted me to have it. I think that’s why he must have lowered the prices.”
There’s no use in blaming her; she’s not always a hero, and it wouldn’t be fair for her to never take a break. Yaoyorozu bought this in her free time, and I shouldn’t do anything rude immediately.
Instead, my hands slip, dropping the glass onto the floor.
“I’ll clean it up,” I tell them quickly, already working out a story in my head of what I'm supposed to say; nerves? But would they really believe in all that?
I'm not even given time to think about that; instead, Kiri grabs my arms, watching as his phone rings violently. "Crap!" he shouts, dragging us into the common room, reaching for his backpack lying next to a couch. "We're supposed to start studying!"
The thought reaches back into my mind; he's really following this schedule that much for me? I almost blush from it, but he doesn't stop in his rushing.
"So," he swings his hands back and forth, reading through a few flashcards. "The work-study group made these a little while ago because we were so far behind, so it should get you caught up!"
"How advanced are they?" I shudder at the thought; I know that by now, they're all already in their work-study groups. Kirishima isn't technically that far ahead anymore, but just the fact that a real hero is sitting in front of me is almost too much. "Because I never really got any actual training."
"You'll need some logic," Kiri shrugs, picking up one to examine it. "Okay... so there's this hypothetical; someone's drowning. It's an attempted suicide."
I stare at him blankly, waiting for him to realize what he's said. "Page 17," my mouth moves automatically. "That was page 17... in my journal."
He falls silent as well, trying to fix the situation. "Fuck," he whispers. "Oh my god... I am so sorry."
"You don't have to b-"
But he doesn't listen. And when Kiri starts to freak out and fall into that stress, he falls hard. "No," he shakes his head. "I shouldn't have expected all these things of you so early. I am so fucking sorry, Nico."
"You have to restrain their arms," I say, sounding monotonous and robotic. "While you should always try to save the victim, you have to remember that in this case, they're also the villain. Hold them by their arms to take them out. That has the best chance to keep them alive and force them to refrain from any further self harm."
He blinks, looking out toward my clenched fists and the single teardrop that follows it. "That was my biggest fear when I made that plan. That's why I scribbled it out of there before you could even see it; I've seen these things from the other side, so... maybe that could help me?"
"I shouldn't have overreacted," Eijiro apologizes. "You're tougher than I thought! I mean, you just keep surprising me, Nico."
"Well," I motion for him to pull out the next card. "Can you really call me strong if I can't even answer a simple question?"
"These aren't simple!" Kiri protests, holding his hand against my thigh to uncurl my clenched fists. "I'm proud of you, Nico. I think you're right too; you might have... different ideas of what makes someone a hero, but you know what makes someone do all these things."
"Can we go to the next question?" I ask, trying not to crush his enthusiasm as he reaches for a hug. "Fine," I sigh, melting into his arms.
"Another hypothetical situation," Kiri raises an eyebrow. "You're getting a lot of hard ones, I guess. Anyway, you've got one guy on your right, and he's running off with stolen money. He's hurt his buddy on the left, and now he's going to make his getaway. Totally not manly!"
"So it's one of those sort of things..." I work through it in my mind. "I can either go after that guy, or I can help his friend that he's hurt. It's a fatal wound, right?"
"He's hurt bad," he nods, slowly flexing his muscles involuntarily. I shake my head, dashing the distraction away. "And you can't really choose both of them... right?"
"It's easy," I say. "My quirk sucks at saving people. And if I'm worked up from that dick's move, then my scales could hurt the man he hurt further. So I'd go after the one of the right as quickly as possible. If there's time left, I'll check up on the other one. But he's not my priority."
"Well..." he holds his hand on his neck meekly, reading over the card again.
"Did I do it wrong?" my face falls a little bit. "I should have saved the other guy, right?"
"Nico," Kiri laughs. "There aren't any right answers here. There are only correct methods. I mean... you clearly have a mind for strategy. And it's not like there's an easy answer to that problem either; the only thing that would have really worked better is if you could have had a bit more control. Of course, it could be different in the field!”
“You really have that much hope in me?” I can’t even stop myself from saying those words, and I regret it once I see him furrow his brow. “What I mean is that... I’m no one all that special. And then-”
“Well,” he breaks back out into his smile as he grabs another card. “I think you’re perfect for the job. You’re a lot more special than you think, Nico. I think you just gotta let it flow outta you! Be more like a sponge and less like a wall. Be the man you are!”
“So,” I wager. “You’re saying that I’m already a hero. I just have to...”
“You have to show it on the outside,” he agrees. “I think for me, it was like that glass wall; I could see everything one the outside, but I was stuck inside myself. Being in your head sometimes isn’t just a personality; sometimes, it takes on a disorder.”
“You know what that’s like?”
“I think you should work on dealing with surprises a little bit more,” Kiri tells me, feigning a stern attitude I’m sure he’d never really be able to pull off. “I mean, there’s that stig... stigm-”
“Stigma?” I try to keep my anxiety and stress down, but even with Kiri, it still feels like it’s exploding within me. It’s writhing below my flesh, waiting to stab out. “I get that. That sometimes, people don’t want you to fit outside of your box.”
“I don’t know if I told you it before,” he pushes the cards away slowly, looking back into my eyes. “But I had tried to be a hero thousands of times. I was just so stuck in my head that whenever I made those slow improvements and tried to wiggle my way out of that box I put myself in, failure shoved my straight back in. You know how you had to deal with keeping yourself in? I couldn’t even get myself out.”
“And now,” I gesture toward us. “We’re the opposites. Except that you don’t really... you don’t have the problems I used to have... right?”
Something cracks inside of him, and I can’t even help from reaching out and holding his hands and back. “Sometimes,” he shuffles a bit closer to me. “We learn things a little better when they feel real. I’ve still got that guy I fought back then in my head.”
“I...” my voice wavers. “I never got to see that.”
“I don’t even know if you’d want to,” he shivers, recalling the bad memories. “There was a man there who only wanted to fight. He had to kill and... fuck! I mean, he almost got away with it all. What would happen if I let him do all of that?”
“I don’t know,” I don’t mince any words. “But it wouldn’t have been good.”
“Yeah,” he snorts, all of a sudden aloof and abrupt. “Um, we should probably finish the rest of the cards, right?”
There’s not even enough time for me to contemplate what he’s saying before I get asked another question, tearing me from his face.
He’s hiding something, right? But is he hiding it to save me, or is he hiding it to protect himself?


Kirishima’s uncharacteristic drone finally gets interrupted by a dim tone shining from his phone. “He’s here,” Kiri announces, racing to the common room’s door. I stray to the back, watching as a familiar face meets my red haired boyfriend.
“Tetsu!” Kiri grabs his free hand, almost making the box balancing fall to the ground.
“Sorry I took a while,” the other student flashes his own toothy grin, filled with razor points similar to Eijiro’s. “Nico, I know you’re not his biggest fan, but Tetsu wanted to help out a bit with your studying.”
“Oh,” I wave awkwardly toward the iron-eyed boy, only to realize the irony of the look. “You’re Real Steel, right?”
“That’s right!” He claps me on the back, still a little too rough. “How’re your legs doing?”
“Well,” my voice is dripping with acid, but I can’t stop it. “Besides the fact that they’re basically making me useless, they’re great.”
“That’s good!” He laughs, clearly unable to understand the simple concept of sarcasm. “Don’t break it, Kirishima!”
“Heh,” he laughs a little sheepishly, looking down at the white box in his hand. “I’ll try harder this time.”
With one last wave, Tetsu leaves us. Kiri turns to me, sighing.
“I thought you were at least going to give him a chance. That was kinda rude.”
“I said I was sorry,” I interject, moving back to our cards as if I haven’t already studied each one.
“No, you didn’t!”
I blink, staring at the fragile looking piece of technology lying in Kiri’s hand. “I didn’t?”
He reaches for my hand, and I actually let him take it. This time, he forces my eyes on his, filled with hope. “It’s getting worse, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“The whole... personality thingie,” he struggles with some incomprehensible word before deciding on the easiest definition. “I thought I could help, but you’re a lot more complicated than I thought, aren’t you?”
“That’s me!” I proclaim, full of fake sunniness. “Way too complicated and totally not worth it.”
He parts my bangs, kissing my forehead. “You’re worth it.”
I crane my neck around his hands as he hugs me. “What’s the thing Tetsu gave you?”
“Well,” he wipes a bit of sweat from his forehead down. “First of all, he didn’t need to give me so many controllers.”
“I thought you should finish your training!” Kiri proudly displays a large pile of video game controllers, accompanied by a heavy black box. “The support departments makes these all the time, and they’re really helpful for strategy stuff. Er... not that I’m the best at that anyway.”
“So it’s basically like a game for quirk training?” I gingerly pick up one of the controllers, resting the familiar weight in my hand. “It’s been a long time since I’ve played with one of these.”
“What?” He shifts back to me. “You’re saying you don’t play?”
“I used to,” I begrudgingly reply. “But I was a bit more focused on getting into UA. And look how that turned out.”
“You’ve just gotta go a little bit more with the flow,” he admits. “I mean, not that I play video games that much; Tetsu loves those fighting games, and that’s about all I can do. Ooh, and there was Animal Crossing!”
“So you’re casual?” I guess, staring at his muscles. “You know, I think I’m okay with you working out more.”
“Ha! That’s true!” Kiri’s hand gets pulled around my neck. “We’re not supposed to really use these controllers for training. But we do have other ones.”
He passes me a pair of thick black glasses and a single clear sphere. “Um,” I point out. “This is pretty sci fi-esque. You sure you know how to work this?”
“I’ll be fine,” he says, struggling to attach a wire to the bottom of the ball. “Got it! Okay, so basically, we didn’t want the whole training thing to be off of how you use controllers. Because in a battle against villains, what is that gonna do?”
“Exactly,” I nod. “So this is just going to go off of our own... brainwaves?”
“I think that’s how it works. You’re new to the hero course though, so it might not work that well. Still, the support course works fast! Do you remember when you were first doing your interview and they asked a ton of questions about your quirk and training?”
“I think?” I balance the ball in one hand, peeling off my glasses to stare into his soft red-brown eyes. “So I’m a character in this game?”
“Sort of,” Kiri beams as the tv shows us a central screen, displaying different options on what to do. “See! That’s me!”
Sure enough, a digitized version of Kirishima is smiling back at me. “It’s a little outdated,” I say, looking at the lack of sleeves on his outfit.
“They’re missing my Red Gauntlet too,” Eijiro selects the character. “But I make do when I have to use the machine. Usually, I prefer to just train in real life. Aizawa sensei says I should try this more to work on my strategy though.”
“So they’ll be missing a lot of me,” I swipe through the roster of my classmates before selecting on my own name. “Why am I just an orange silhouette?”
“Huh,” Kiri scratches his gelled hair. “Well, they had your file scratched. I guess when they retrieved it, it was a bit damaged.”
“Just like me,” I catch myself before the final word can get out, but Kiri hears it. He pulls me into another hug, commencing the game. “Sorry.”
“But when you have cracks, you gets to see everything inside yourself! You can find yourself like that!”
“Is that what you did?”
“I don’t like getting all metaphorical, but hardening is almost funny. I mean, not that it was really funny... it’s more that I think I kept cracking. But now I’m unbreakable!”
As if on cue, his avatar smashes forward, illuminated with a faint red aura.
“I don’t remember you glowing like that,” I say, trying to find a way not to run into the game’s border. It’d be a lot easier if I actually liked played fighting games before.
“They needed some way to show it,” he shrugs a little sheepishly. “I have a limit on how much I can use it here too; I won’t feel the pain, but the characters here have significantly lower endurance and stamina than us. That way, you can’t rely on your invulnerability of not really being there. Cool, right?”
“So it’s just like we’re there,” I deduce, watching as technicolor purple spikes come out of my character. “But we’re not really.”
“Yeah! This way, you get to see how to use your quirk, but it won’t hurt you in real life!”
I take advantage of his last straying word to have the in game Nico rush forward in a vertical slash just as the red glow fades out.
“Hey!” He shouts back, trying to hide his smile. “That wasn’t manly!”
Eijiro promptly responds by having his digital copy smash me in the face, knocking me across the field.
‘Brutal Hit!’ The screen flashes red as my character’s health glass drastically.
“They could have been nicer about that,” I note drily as Kiri’s smile grows wider. After complaining, I feign right, landing a sharp hit against his character’s back. His health falls quickly as I get more and more hits in, dropping the red glow around his unbreakable body.
“Damn!” Kiri tries to land a hit, but it only manages to make me trip. Of course, my characters decides that that hurts just as much as getting stabbed by one of my scales. “You’re getting good at this! Is this how you fought the guy back on the street!”
“More like this,” I correct him, jumping back up to shoot off ranged scales. Just like I thought, Kirishima can’t exactly counter something like that. “Neither of you are that great with range.”
“No,” he smirks widely, showing off those sharp teeth. “But I can do this!”
A final ending screen follows his final hit on my character as he rushes through the scales in his unbreakable form.
“Yeah!” He whips off the glasses, still grinning in triumph. “That was actually great!”
“So,” I look back at my screen, pulling out my notes app to dictate my failure. “You’re not the same as that guy I fought on the street. While my ranged attacks were putting you at a disadvantage, you can still rush through them if you’re given a chance.”
“Woah,” he leans over to stare at my words. “You’re good at this type of stuff.”
“I can’t stand not being the best. If someone’s going to be better than me, than I want to know why.”
“Got it,” he places his visor onto the table. “You wanna do another round against something else? It sounds like you’ve got a strategy against brawler types, but what about the Nomu?”
“Nomu?” I rack my brain for information. “Are those the monsters the league of villains sent out?”
“Super-powered monsters,” Kiri shudders a bit. “And I’ve been hearing rumors that they’re actually people. They look the way they do because of all the quirks they’ve taken on.”
“That’s horrific,” my voice ends up being choked out. Still, I can’t help but admit that it’s almost ingenious. People have been born with an amalgamation of quirks before; what’s to stop science from trying to replicate it again?
“They’re running out of them,” Kiri assures me, holding my hand inside his dark, weathered palm. “We won’t be seeing so many of them now, I think. So you don’t need to worry about them that much!”
“Are they difficult for you to fight?” My avatar is still faintly glitching as I cue up the game, but it doesn’t really matter. Surprisingly, the support system already has the figure of the monsters loaded up.
“Nah,” he boasts. “I mean, yeah. They are pretty tough, but I’ll bet that together, we’re all tougher!”
“So they’re meant to be teamed up against?” I guess, watching as the two figures come onto the screen. “Overpowered?”
“They don’t really think about strategy,” Kirishima leans with me as the Nomu takes the first hit, completely missing where my head was. “So you can use that!”
“Got it,” scales shoot from the back of my wrists, distracting the creature. Of course, the pride doesn’t last long enough; even a direct cut to the back of the monster does little damage.
“Damn!” I shout back at it, trying to duck under its powerful blows. So far, I’ve only made a nick in its armor, and it’s rapidly healing.
“They’re pretty tough,” I relinquish, trying to push past the annoyance. Is this what they’re really like? Whenever they were shown on tv, the pro heroes always seemed to take advantage of their weaknesses and exploit them. Here, it’s hard to even try that. There are no outside sources and no help. I’m basically just in a battle that’s completely suited for the opposition. “Any ideas?”
“I was already gonna say something about striking the back,” he ducks with me as I roll under the monster, trying to find some sort of weak spot. Instead, it brings down a monstrous hand, nearly crushing me.
“But that didn’t work!”
“You don’t need to get that angry!” He reminds me, placing two hands on my shoulders. “Just stay calm and keep trying to whittle away at him. Eventually, somethings bound to happen!”
“Not exactly reassuring,” I remind him through gritted teeth, starting to get irritated. “Have you fought these guys before?”
“Not alone,” Kiri whoops as I land a solid hit on its head, blinding the Nomu for a moment. “And not that often. They’re really tough, so it’s okay if you don’t beat it! You just gotta remember that it’s not manly to back down!”
“Not manly to back down?”
“If you give up instead of losing, isn’t that the worst thing you can do? It’s like you’re just telling the world that you’re not strong enough.”
“But if I lose,” I point out feverishly. “Then I’m still not good enough!”
“Sometimes,” Kiri calms me down, pulling closer to me. “It’s not even about what the body can do. It’s about spirit. I know you can do this, Nico!”
That familiar cry is almost enough to let me win. Instead of landing the final strike on the Nomu that would have crippled it, it lashes out at me, dropping my health down from 75 percent to 0.
“Fuck!” My throat sounds almost hoarse from the tears I’m forcing back. “What the hell is that thing?”
“It’s an amalgamation thingie,” Kirishima settles down to the couch, pulling me onto his lap. “And hey, you did really good! I mean, you can’t really expect to beat one of them on your own, right?”
I stare at him blankly, eyes waiting for an explanation. He quickly catches on, clearing his throat.
“When the attack on USJ happened, Tomura Shigiraki wasn’t the strongest man there. In fact, it wasn’t even a man! The Nomu almost beat All Might down, but he kept getting back up and destroyed the monster!”
“It almost beat...” I’m at a loss for words for a moment. The thing I nearly beat almost killed the number one hero? That doesn’t even sound right.
“Oh,” he catches my nervous face. “Of course, it wasn’t actually just the Nomu.”
“Some other teleporting dude was helping beat up All Might, which is totally unfair!”
“Weren’t you the one who said we should work together if we fight a Nomu?”
He turns beet red, fumbling to find an explanation. “Well, that’s because we share a bond! I don’t want to see you get hurt!”
“But the Nomu don’t have feelings like that, right?”
“I don’t think so?” He guesses, leaning my head on his shoulder. “But I guess what I’m trying to say is that you don’t need to get discouraged! I think you’re cool, and you’re hella strong! So maybe we can just try again sometime!”
“Right now?” My cursor falls over the ‘retry’ button precariously. He snatches the controller from my hands, holding it just out of reach.
“Hey!” Instead of actually acting like a normal person, I’m jumping up to his level, trying to grab it back. He just laughs, making me go red.
“You’re so fun to tease,” he giggles, still holding the controller away from me.
“Bitch,” I warn. “I will climb all over you.”
He stops for a second, taking in what I said.
“Wait, that’s not wha-”
Kirishima’s laughter interrupts me, a light, airy sound. “We don’t need to go there!” He smiles back at me, leaning down to hand me the remote again.
“So I’m guessing you’re against me playing again?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” he shrugs. “It’s just that you did get a good amount of practice in, and I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
“I’m already standing; I think that hurts enough.”
“Oh, right!” He helps me down to the couch again, holding my sides tight. “Sorry about that.”
“I get what you’re saying,” I offer. “I mean, I really do. I don’t want to overdo it, but I can’t stand being behind everyone else.”
“We all grow at different rates,” he reminds me. “There was a time when I was scared that everyone was gonna get ahead of me. But then, boom! I started getting stronger again! Now I’m so tough!”
“So what you’re saying,” my mouth finally stops feeling so dry as I pull closer to him. “Is that I don’t have to rush?”
“Exactly!” He shakes me, drawing into a hug. “And hey... we can take it slow if you want...”
His mouth is on my neck, careful and clean. I don’t have the energy or motivation to stop him as I hear a door down the hall open, so I just wait for him to notice, feeling the sharp pressure points against my neck.
“Oh,” Ashido’s voice jolts Kiri up. “Um... are we interrupting something?”
I have to bite back a laugh as Kirishima stares back at her, almost looking scared. “Woah,” she puts her hands out cautiously. “I’m not getting into that stuff.”
Kiri turns as bright red as his hair as Mina plops down next to us. “Don’t worry,” she holds a hand to her lips secretively. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“O-oh...” the red headed boy finally eases up, unclenching his fists. I can’t even tell if Mina or Kirishima see it, but his hand unhardens, as if sensing that there’s no actual threat. “Hi, Ashido!”
“Mm,” she notes carefully as Kaminari sits beside her, looking at our screen.
“Were you training?” He asks, picking up a controller, smashing onto the couch. “Cool! I love this type of stuff.”
“It’s not a video game, dumbass,” Bakugo comes up from behind him, snorting indignantly. The guy from my hall follows him, looking lax and content.
“Soy Sauce face,” the angry blonde hisses. “Don’t walk in front of me!”
“Oh,” Sero puts on a terrible British accent for a moment before discarding it. “Pardon me, my liege. Wold you like your red carpet as well?”
“Just get the fuck out of my way,” Bakugo smacks him. I can’t tell if he was trying to be hard or not, but a mini explosion bursts off of him, catching Sero in the eye.
Before he can boast about it, Jiro’s hand comes down on the side of his face. He doesn’t move to slap her back, instead just sulking into the couch.
“I thought I told you to stop that,” she crosses her arms, sounding bored. Kyoka sits between Katsuki and I, as if trying to mediate between our energy. I bite back any remarks I would have made, instead looking to Denki.
“We were just finishing up,” I tell him, switching off Tetsu’s machine. “In case you wanted to watch anything.”
“Hey!” He protests, pushing the wires out with more care than I would have expected. I guess he’s better with wires and other electronics. “We’ve got everyone here. Why not play something?”
“You know I’m bad at video games!” Bakugo screams with way too much conviction. “Are ya trying to make me look stupid?”
“Not everyone has to play,” Sero reminds him, still keeping his calm attitude as he lounges on the side of the couch. “If you don’t think you can win...”
“Gimme that controller!” Bakugo snatches one from the table angrily as Jiro just huffs, leaning into his chest.
“Go get ‘em,” she tells him softly, pushing closer into his lap. I finally notice that I’ve been pushed into the same position as her, only on Kiri’s lap. When I look back at him, he just beams.
“We can play together, right?”
“I’m not the best at them anymore,” I say, trying not to sound like I’m moving through self deprecating humor. “But I’ll win for you.”
“Ha!” Kaminari and Sero grab the last controllers, leaning on the arms of the couch. Mina just crosses her arms, elbowing Denki.
“Boys,” she nods to Jiro. Kyoka shrugs, nestled into Bakugo’s embrace. Surprisingly, he’s been quiet since she forced him to comply. “If we’re playing just dance, I better get to play.”
“We’ll switch it up,” I offer. “And Denki can just play again, I guess.”
“Woah,” Sero says, pulling out a large catalog of games. “Didn’t expect you to be a mediator.”
His words don’t make me blush nearly as much as Kiri’s, but the manly hero’s grip on my side is enough to make me go red. “I’m fine with fights; I just think think that people are stupid to get stuck in them all the time.”
“Amen,” Kaminari finishes, joining Mina as she feigns a prayer. “What?”
Kiri just shakes his head, smiling brightly. “You guys are just too much sometimes.”
“Let’s play something competitive,” Bakugo slams his fist down. Once again, I can’t tell if he’s overly angry or just normal. Kaminari shrugs, motioning to Sero to find something before Bakugo can actually get angry.
“Mariokart sounds fun,” Sero guesses, placing the game into the small gaming portal next to the Tv.
“It’s one of the only games Aizawa sensei lets us have,” Kiri explains to me, leaning into my neck.
“Why’s that?”
“I bet him and Present Mic play it all the time,” Mina laughs, pulling out her phone. “Sensei pretends to be all strict and stuff, but I’m almost sure he’s secretly a gamer.”
“I can’t imagine it,” I shake my head, trying to recall his image back when All Might had his fight. “He seemed so put together.”
When the rest of the group has to fight back a laugh, I throw my hands up, leaning into Kirishima. “Why are they laughing?”
“Aizawa’s much more of a mess than he shows,” Jiro tells me. “Like, a lot.”
“The man’s a damn mess!” Bakugo shouts louder than necessary. “Oi! Why’s this game taking so long to load anyway?”
“It’s been 10 seconds,” I point out, unable to stop myself before I retort back at him. Kiri’s grip grows tighter as I fight to not cause another scene.
“Bakugo’s just being a brat because he didn’t get to beat his last record!”
“Where were you guys before this?” I ask, finally calming down. “Training?”
“You could say that,” Sero yawns, almost making the mistake of loafing into Bakugo’s shoulder. “If throwing tape up into the sky can even count as anything like that.”
“It’s your own fault if you’re not training your quirk right!” Mina crosses her arms. “I’ve been struggling to get my acid man down, and you’re over there just throwing tape out!”
“Hey!” He shoots off a stream of tape from his elbows, confirming my suspicions of his quirk. “I’m better in a group!”
“Well I’ve been getting my support items down,” Kaminari boasts. “Soon enough, I’ll be able to beat you, Bakugo!”
“What was that, sparky?”
Mina covers Kaminari’s mouth before Denki can somehow manage to make himself look even more like an idiot. I pivot to get Kiri’s red hair in my face. “You didn’t have to give up training time for me.”
“I didn’t!” He flexes his arms. “First of all, I got to fight you with the training equipment! And I couldn’t sleep last night anyway! Why would I waste time like that?”
“So that was the noise I heard from your room, shitty hair?” Bakugo snarls. “You woke me up with one of your crashes.”
“I’m right below you,” Kaminari points out. “It didn’t sound like your room was doing too hot. You know, if you wanted to do some redecorating, you could have told us.”
“I didn’t mean to break anything,” Kiri laughs, holding his hand to the back of his head. “Uh... is it bad that I didn’t even notice that they broke until afterward?”
“I’ll get some new furniture for you,” I offer. “It’s the least I can do after you got me such a nice dorm.”
“Which I noticed,” Sero moves his cursor on the screen to select the game now that it’s finally loaded up. “You two both exited last night.”
Bakugo’s eyebrow raises hesitantly as Mina cackles. “Damn! Better make sure Aizawa sensei doesn’t find out!”
“He’s not gonna do anything,” Kiri brushes it off with a simple gesture. “He’s gotta deal with Tokoyami’s dark shadow and Uraraka. Remember that time she floated out of the dorms?”
Everyone sits for a moment, contemplating it.
“If they’re fine with it,” Jiro shrugs. “Then I’m fine with it. Do whatever you guys want.”
“Then it’s decided!” Kiri shouts, clearly trying to change the subject from our personal matters. “Uh... who are you gonna play, Nico?”
“No cursed Miis,” I note drily. “I find that depressing.”
“Aizawa deleted all of them!” Mina explains, pouting. “He said they were unprofessional.”
Sero furtively moves over to black Shy guy, grinning widely. “Not the best at this game, but it’s to have fun, right, Bakugo?”
“Shut the hell up,” he growls, selecting Bowser.
“Isn’t Bowser bad at a ton of stuff?” Kiri asks. “I mean, when I used him, he was kinda heavy.”
I notice that unlike everyone else, Bakugo doesn’t interrupt Kiri. Instead of reading into it, I move over to the princesses, debating each one.
“He’s a dragon, and he’s gonna beat your ass, Bakugo tells us formally, as if he’s teaching us quantum physics. “And that’s it.”
“Hey!” Kaminari shouts as Mina grabs the controller out of his hand to pick Wendy. “She’s not even that good!”
“I respect her looks,” Mina acknowledges the makeup hastily applied to the daughter. “A girl’s gotta have style.”
I finally click on Rosalina. Kiri just shakes me up a little, grinning ear to ear. “Cute,” he notes. “Not my first choice at all, but she’s cool.”
“I liked her stats,” I say, watching as the car choices come up. Bakugo immediately selects the heaviest car and metal wheels, along with the peach glider. I can’t even decide if he’s being ironic or not. I select the flame rider and slick wheels, along with the same kite. Kaminari and Sero pick up the joke, picking it as well.
“Imitating me, huh?” Bakugo snorts with a smile. “Gotta copy the best.”
With our stages all cued up, everything goes almost smoothly. Soon enough, my training mentality is almost entirely taken over by a flurry of screams and laughter, only occasionally interrupted by Bakugo’s shouts of anger, usually followed by Sero and Kaminari’s antagonizing comments. After that, Jiro smacks her boyfriend with a retort, and the whole thing repeats.
For just a little while, it’s like the stress is put on hold. I have the boy I love at my back, friends surrounding me, and finally, a future where I know wherever the hell I’m going.
Finally, it’s all constant.

Chapter Text

If life is a constant rotation of stars revolving around a thin sphere of a world, that makes us all the black matter, right? Every single time I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone, my mind gets thrown to stars, almost like an automatic response. It’d at least have some dramatic irony if I had a quirk that had any relation to space at all.
“Maybe it means something,” Kiri suggests, leaning closer to me in the back of the cab. It’s only been one week of school, and we’re already going out to work studies. I guess I was looking forward to testing myself in the classroom, but this works. “I mean, this isn’t the first time it’s taken over, right?”
I place a hand to my temple, shuddering softly. “No. I think something’s wrong. Remember last night?”
He nods, seeming a little unsure of what to say. After the afternoon of games and training, Ei offered to let me sleep in his dorm on account of how destroyed it was. He rambled off some excuse about the destruction unsettling him, but I can tell that he just wanted to talk to me. Too bad I ruined that.
“You went crazy,” he says, biting his lip. “I mean, not crazy-”
“No,” I correct him. “I went crazy. Sorry if I broke anything.”
“It was already all broken,” he laughs, immediately forgiving me. I can’t even tell if I deserve it or not. “But you’re saying those space thoughts took over again?”
“I don’t know what they mean,” I count up a few bills in my hand, preparing to shove the cash up to our driver. You’d think heroes wouldn’t have to rely on public transportation. “But let’s not think about that. I mean, I know I was the one who brought it up and that’s really annoying but-”
“Nico,” Kiri holds a finger up to my lips. “Uh... sorry for interrupting you! But if you want to change subject, just tell me! I don’- Kay, I did bite you. But let’s just keep going. Wait... where’s your hero costume?”
I glance down at my own attire for a moment. I didn’t know exactly how formal to dress for the first days of the work study, but I’m guessing that I overdid it. Where Kirishima just has his orange hoodie on, I decided on dress pants and a shirt to match. I cringe at the color, one that specifically picked out to match Fat Gum’s color scheme.
“You look cute,” he assures me. “But... what about the hero stuff? I can’t expect you to beat the bad guys in something like that! That’s not even manly of me!”
“Kiri,” I remind him, trying not to stay stern with him. “Didn’t I tell you? I don’t have a hero license. And I’ve already played the anti-hero and the vigilante. I can’t really risk anything more.”
“Oh,” he sighs, losing all of his energy. “Right. Damn... I forgot about that.”
“It’s okay,” I tell him, pushing a little closer. “As long as I can help out in any way, I’m fine. I mean, just being able to work in the offices helps; I could change something. I could matter.”
“Hell yeah!” He shakes me up a little, looking excited again. “And I’m relying on you, Nico! I’ll bet you’re gonna be great at all this stuff! It’s a bit more similar to Sir Nighteye’s agency to do recon work, but Fat’s really short on guys that wanna work on the computers. Everyone else likes being in the fray.”
“As long as I get noticed,” I shrug. “It’s all fine.”
“I thought you were shy though; aren’t you scared to get attention like that?”
“It’s not how it works,” I explain. “I mean, at least for me. Sure, I’m not the most extroverted person. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be known and be popular. In fact, I bet I have more drive related to popularity than a lot of the other hero course students.”
“I could have sworn all you wanted was to help people!” Kiri shouts, eyes wide with shock. “Man, I guess you had me fooled!”
“I’ll help people,” I remind him. “But over everything else, I’d rather be important. I’d rather matter to someone, but mostly to everyone. If that makes sense?”
When he nods, I continue. “When I grew up with a lot more friends, I think it was sort of just this thing at the back of my mind. But now I’ve seen what it’s like to be alone, to not have anything to live for. And I never want to feel like that. I don’t even want anyone to feel like that!”
“Woah...” he stays silent for a moment. “That’s manly, huh?”
“I guess,” I rub my shoulder, only stopping when he reaches for my hand. “I just don’t want anyone else to feel like that. If they need some new light, I’ll be one.”
“If only you were around with that Stain guy,” Ei shoves me playfully. “Or the sports festival. Damn, you’d be aiming for the top, huh?”
“There’s no rest for the wicked,” I wink at him. “And yeah; Stain’s whole thing kinda hurt. He couldn’t have come at a worse time either; I was just starting to question everything, and my dad’s case was the worse it had ever been.”
“You don’t talk about that much.”
“No,” he caresses my hand, surprisingly soft and airy. “Your dad. Or your other parents.”
“They’re not the best topic,” I shiver a bit, even though the car’s already warm with the incoming spring heat. “I’d rather ignore it.”
“But they’ve done so much for you,” he protests. “Shit... sorry. I get it if you don’t feel like talking about it, but you can’t just push it all away over again.”
“I can,” the car jolts to a stop right in front of Fat Gum’s office. “It’s always possible.”
“You know what I mean!”
Why do I have to make everyone exasperated? What the hell is so wrong with me that I can’t even open my mouth without ruining everything? “Sorry.”
He catches the soft undertone of my words and shifts even closer. “When you’re ready to talk about it again, just know that I wanna be there. ‘Kay?”
“I really want to get better,” I promise. “And... I feel like I have. Just let me show you that I can be better.”
“That’s the spirit!” He holds the door open for me, always stuck in his chivalrous spirit. I smile in return, greeted with a dirty, cluttered receptionist table that’s unsurprisingly already unattended.
“Fat?” Kiri calls, watching me with a certain transfixed air as I stare at his furnishings in wonder.
“You’ve gotta stop doing that too,” he teases.
“What?” My tongue turns the words defensive and abrasive, but Kiri just lets it slide over him. I’m guessing that by now, he’s already used to it and knows I don’t mean anything rude with it.
“Looking so damn cute. It’s almost like you have those anime sparkles in your eyes when you look like that?”
“Look like what?” I turn back to him, hands on my hips.
“When you take everything in and have that little world inside your head.”
“Are you telling me you want to go there?”
“Yes!” He says way too fast with too much enthusiasm. I’m pushed back a little by the force of his words, trying to hide the wry smile forming.
“It’s a one way ticket,” I begrudgingly flick over a little Fat Gum bobble head sitting on a table the same yellow shade as my shirt. “And it’s basically the terror dome, by the way.”
“As long as it gets me closer to you,” his hands slip around my waist, cool and suave. “Then I’m fine.”
Before he can purr something else in my ear, Fat Gum’s heavy steps come down the stairs lying the corner. He squeezes out of the small corridor in an almost cartoonish way, stretching off the sleep he was no doubt just woken up from.
“We’re grabby today,” he notes drily, picking up a cup of coffee. As soon as the midnight black, opaque liquid touches his lips, he’s fully awake. “Hey!” His energy returns way too fast. “When did you guys get here?”
“We just got in,” I answer before Ei can struggle through a story about the cab. I’m not sure how Fat Gum’s office works exactly, but from what I’ve seen, they need some more straight answers and efficiency. “I’m sure you already saw my email?”
The pro hero’s put off a bit by my serious tone as he pulls out his phone, nodding. “You don’t got a hero license. But Kiri told me that you were invaluable, and I saw you in action. I trust you, kid.”
“So where am I gonna work?” I cross my arms, trying to appear a little bit more lax. I guess they don’t work like normal agencies. “Your receptionist seems to be out.”
He ignored the biting comment. “Amijiki could use a break from the computers. You know how to work them, right?”
“Uh...” is he serious? “Obviously?”
“Great!” He claps his hands together. “So I’ll be taking Real Steel and Suneater today. Red Riot, you said you were gonna go on your own to deal with this case, right?”
I can’t help but feel my brows raise. They’re really letting Kirishima go off on his own? I mean, I’ve seen him action; he’s strong, and he knows how to fight. But something feels a little off.
“Yes sir!” Kiri pulls himself into a strict salute before laughing it off, turning to me. “Nico, you’re gonna help me, right?”
“Oh!” Fat’s posture changes as he shouts, almost like a living exclamation mark. “I should probably explain your job, right, Mr Balghera?”
“Probably,” I guess, trying to stop the urge to say something witty and sharp. They want my mind and body to be sharp, not my tongue. As long as I can remember that, I’ll be fine.
“So,” he clasps his hands together, leaning against the desk. “All you’ve gotta do first is get the information from the cops. Our agency is focused on collecting drugs and busting shady stuff. That was a big help during the whole Shie Hassaikai thing.”
“Our agency?”
“I wouldn’t be here without all you kids and the other guys and gals and non-binary pals I got working here,” he admits, giving me a fatherly smile. “Even you, Nico. I dunno what we were gonna do if you hadn’t taken down that super-powered guy a few weeks ago.”
“Oh,” it actually almost warms my heart. “Thanks. I was afraid that I was going to cause problems.”
“Hmm,” he picks up the bobble head of him lying on the desk, inspecting it carefully. “But why would you think that?”
“I didn’t have a hero license,” my eyes almost go wide with disbelief. Does it really not bother him what I’m capable of? What I could have done? “What if I had hurt someone?”
“But did you?”
“No but-”
“There’s a big difference between hypotheticals and what’s really there, Nico,” Fat Gum moves to the door, crossing his arms. “If you want to even survive a day in my agency, you better remember that. Kirishima, you remember that, right?”
“Oh, yeah...” Kiri laughs, blushing a bit. “He doesn’t want to hear anything bad about yourself. Suneater and I got in trouble a lot for looking down on ourselves.”
Fat nods. “Every agency has their public specialty, like when Sir Nighteye was still with us, he worked hard on long cases. Endeavor works on shorter cases with stronger villains. It all depends on where you’re placed.
“But us pros have a lot more experience than you kids. And I’m not saying that to put you down; I’ve seen things that I wouldn’t wish on you, but I know you’re going to see them someday. That’s why I think agencies have their other specialty, based around other qualities.”
“I don’t understand,” I move off from my lofty vantage point perched on top of the stairs. “Aren’t we here to be heroes or something?”
“There’s more to it than that,” Fat Gum’s eyes go steely. “In my agency, I like to take on people with similar body changing quirks, sure. But I also want to help the people who work for me. You’ve got confidence issues, right?”
“Yeah, but-”
“But nothing!” His voice matches the vindication in his eyes, but there’s nothing truly unkind about the way he looks a me. “It’s my goal to make everyone under me just a little bit more confident in themselves! I don’t care where you came from or what you’re going through; I’ll put you first to make you better.
“And it’s not just me; Nighteye focuses on laughs and smiles, Endeavor’s got fiery spirit, and the Lurker’s are all about teamwork. You see? Even heroes can save each other!”
“So you’re saying that you want to teach us more than what you were told to?”
“Uh...” Fat jabs a thumb back to me, looking at Kiri expectantly. “Is he always like this?”
“Nico’s pretty smart!” Ei boasts, beaming with pride. “Some of the stuff he says goes over my head too, but I just nod and smile back so it looks like I’m listening!”
He looks back at me a little awkwardly. “Uh, sorry. But it’s really easy to stop you when I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
“Oh really?”
His hands find their way around my waste as he looks down at me, tongue over his sharp teeth. “I think I know a way...”
“Not in the office!” Fat Gum stomps over to us, giving us some room. “Damn, what are they teaching you kids these days?”
He sighs, looking back to me. “You sure you’re gonna be okay with staying back here while we’re out there?”
I shrug nonchalantly. “Not like I really have a choice in the matter.”
“Wish you could be out there with us, kid,” he ruffles my hair. “Still, I trust ya. Good luck!”
The pro opens up his phone, sending off a quick text. “Suneater and Real Steel are gonna join me on the way. Make sure you know what you’re doing, Red Riot!”
Kiri gives him a serious salute instead of his normal easygoing smile, and that’s when I realize that it’s finally real. Everyone here has a purpose, and lives can be affected.
Something inside me feels sick.
“You’re going to do fine,” Ei hugs me, moving back towards the agency’s inner rooms. “I’ve gotta change into my outfit, so that should give you some time to look at all the files, right?”
“Yeah,” I nod, trying to appear calmer than I actually am. “Just make sure you don’t get hurt out there.”
“I’m a hero,” he pounds his fists together. “It wouldn’t be manly of me to get myself hurt while you’re watching me. But I trust you! You’ve only got to watch me, and I’m sure you can do that!”
“Oh,” was that what the job was originally. “I’m only watching you?”
“Fat wouldn’t have given me this opportunity if I didn’t have a personal guardian,” Kiri explains. “Er... not that I’m not using you for this! I just wanted to find a way to get some real experience and let you join in anyway you could.”
“This is probably a bad time to ask, but what exactly am I supposed to be be doing? You never actually explained it...”
“I guess I was a bit too excited, huh? Basically, you’ve got to watch me. There’re cameras on my costume, and you’ll be able to see what I can see. If you see someone behind me, alert me. Track where the crimes are, and then tell me how to get to them. Give me jobs to do. You know, just guide me and make sure I’m still safe! It’s up the stairs and to the left. Room filled with computers.”
“Oh,” that’s easier than I thought, I guess. At least I get to spend the whole day with him too. “Well, you better get changed soon. We don’t want to waste the day.”
“Got it!” He laughs, moving down the badly painted hallway to his changing quarters. I separate from him, waking up the same stairs that Fat Gum came down from. When I get to the room, I have to stop myself from wincing.
“Didn’t expect Fat to be so tacky,” I scoff to no one in particular, surveying the room filled with massive monitors, leaving the room a dark blue color. Guess he isn’t one for central lighting either. If I had any time or need, I’d redecorate this place in an hour. He could at least change the yellow paint in the hallways.
I breathe in slowly, trying to calm myself down. There isn’t any point in focusing on the decor, and I have an actual job to do. Kiri isn’t out there yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get a head start on him.
The list of potential crimes they’ve been investigating aren’t all that glamorous. After one once over, I’ve already deduced that most of the jobs Fat Gum gave Kiri and I are only in the first phase of investigation. More of them involve beating people down than actual problem solving, but it won’t stop me. As long as we can plow through all the useless ones, we can get to the more eye opening ones near the bottom.
“Rise in crime near Esuha City pawn shops,” I read aloud. “Activity include burglary, repeated fights and certain interactions between criminals that the Fat Gum agency was watching.”
“Sidney,” I hiss, wishing that I didn’t remember his name. There isn’t any real proof that it’s him, but it’s not like I’m taking a chance. He’s been holding something over my head, and it doesn’t even matter that I’m not sure what it is; if he thinks he can just hide this while I’m in charge of the agency’s patrol, then he has another thing coming to him.
When I’m sure that no one else is coming into the room, I shift the investigation higher up on Fat’s documents, hoping that this might let us deal with it today.
So what if I’m doing it all wrong, if I’m breaking some of the rules? If you’re given a chance and then you lose it, that’s what hurts the most. I’d rather break all the laws than get nothing done, anyway.
“You all set, Nico?”
My mic clicks on, clear and crisp as I open up Kiri’s video. Sure enough, Fat Gum’s office is staring right at me, shown through all different angles. “Good timing; I finished up just now.”
“Guess we’re already in sync then!” I can almost hear the smile in the voice, melting all my steeliness from before. After brushing it off, I push myself back into work mode. If I fuck it up on the first day, there’s no way Fat’s letting me back into his office.
“There’s been an incident two roads down from you, to the left,” I can only hope Kirishima was right when he said we’re still in sync, otherwise this is going to be a mess. “Large influx of dealers. No known quirks, other than a scent enhancing one.”
“Damn,” he rushes out onto the street. “Guess there’s no element of surprise for me then, huh?”
“Not necessarily,” I wonder if he can hear the grin in my voice too? “There’s a lot more technology here than I thought. I didn’t think Fat Gum was the type of hero to prepare so well, but I guess he has his surprises. I won’t be able to work on anything he hasn’t already touched before, but luckily for us, this is a usual haunt; all I need to do is shut down some of the power running to the apartment building, and then we’re all set.”
“Wait,” he protests, still dashing down the street. I have to give it to heroes like him; where some of the other students can use their quirks to get around, he has to run everywhere. It’s actually really admirable, even if it’s a little annoying. At least my scales help push me forward a little bit. “But there are people in there!”
“We’re not gonna hurt them,” I promise him. “I’m just going to turn off the lights. I won’t even cut the power.”
“What if someone’s working on something and they need the light?”
“Stop overthinking,” I order him, feeling a little pang of familiarity; this is exactly how he must feel with me, right? “They’re going to be fine, just as long as you keep the damage to a minimum.”
“Trust me,” he grunts, swinging open the door to the building. Exactly on cue, I cut the lights to the building, ignoring some of the annoyed sighs and screams from inside. “I’ve been taught it all before. Just try to keep me in check, ‘kay?”
I nod, only to forget that he can’t see me. “It’s a good thing Fat chose this one for today. The rain should give you good cover, and it’s already pretty dark. Still, it might be a bit hard for you to see.”
“Yeah,” he admits, nearly hitting a wall. “Got any tips?”
“There’s a way I can turn on infrared lights. Just walk forward, and I’ll guide you.”
He laughs, almost a bit too loud. “You’re gonna help me stumble in the dark? Damn, this has got to be my lucky day!”
After jotting all the routes down in a matter of seconds, Kiri follows my voice exactly, turning straight toward one inconspicuous door.
“Break it down,” I order. “I’m pretty sure this is the right room.”
“Pretty sure?”
“Is 90% good for you?”
“I’ll just hope that you’re right,” his voice shakes a little, sounding uneasy. “But before I go in there… you gotta promise me something.”
“Um… I get a bit scary when I’m going all out and no one can really see me.”
“I can’t see your face, Ei.”
“That’s what I’m worried about!”
“If you’re worried about me seeing you get all feral,” I smile back at him, still hoping he can imagine it. “Trust me when I say that I’d love to see it.”
“O-oh…” his energy returns as he smashes down the door. “Good then!”
The first man to come near him doesn’t even get to finish his shout of protest before Kiri digs his fist into his ribs, smashing him back down to the ground. I have to hide my gasp, hoping that I won’t be a burden.
It’s not that I’ve never seen blood before. Actually, it’s because I’ve seen this scene play out before.
Neither one of us even gave our opponents a chance. Only I was hurting students.
The next two follow their leader, thrown to the ground like nothing. “One more behind you,” I report, quick to catch the hooded person sneaking up behind Kiri.
“Got it!” He twists, bringing his arm down onto their head. As if on cue, they crumple to the ground, leaving only an empty room.
“Finish this up,” I order. “I’ll try to work out a route to your next job.”
When he nods studiously and gets straight back into his zone, I bite my lip. “And Ei?”
“Great job out there.”
“It was nothing!” He boasts. “And I had my little pebble watching me the whole time! Where could I go wrong?”
“Oh,” his face is concealed, but I can see the smile on his face. “I thought you’d like a new nickname. I’ll just keep cycling through them all day!”
“Sounds great,” I try to keep my voice even until I turn off the mic. Since when did I deserve this? How am I privileged for him?
I’ll just have to work even harder to match him.
“You’ll need to get on the subway for the next case,” I inform him, still even and controlled. “And then you can tell me more about this nickname business.”
“Doesn’t sound very professional, Nico!” His laugh bites a bit, but only enough to surprise me. “But sounds like a plan!”
As he rushes out of the building, I relay more information to him, trying not to let the red rising in my face effect my voice. It’s a bit too obvious that Kiri’s eating up though, what with his giggles and comments.
“We make a pretty good team!” He declares, shifting into a seat on the desired track. I shut off all cameras, trying not to let myself see the other riders. I know my morals are pretty loose by now with all my lies, but I can’t edge that far into doing wrong things, even if I’m doing them right. “I just wish you could be out here with me, spikey!”
I purse my lips. “Let’s not go with that one. Makes me sound like I’m prickly.”
“Don’t go there.”
His bell chime of a laugh echoes through the subway, and I can almost see the glares that the other passengers are giving him. At least no one’s come up for an autograph; he’s not a big time hero yet all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone wanted to jump on that before everyone else. “You’re just mad that you’re the sword to my shield, huh Nico?”
“More like a double edged sword and a wall,” my voice drips with irony, but he doesn’t let it phase him.
“Hey!” He protests. “I thought you were the one that was supposed to be all obsessed with metaphors! Now you’re on my case?”
He’s not trying to hurt you. I have to remind myself that before I answer. How is it that I’m still so unused to having people talk like this to me again? Or talk at all? “The better metaphor would have been comparing me to a dragon,” I tell him, folding up the paperwork absentmindedly. “Y’know, because the scales and all.”
“Oh…” he breathes out slowly. “And I’m the prince that saves the dragon from… the dragon?”
“Pretty much,” I sum up. “Except that you look more dragon-ish.”
“What?” He smiles, voice filled with humor. “Because my horns or something?”
“If that’s what the hair sticking up from your forehead is supposed to be,” I return the grin, only filled with more poison. Hopefully he sees my poison as the sugary sweet kind and not just bitter. “Then yeah. And those sharp teeth.”
“Oh,” his voice grows low, seductive and charming. “I didn’t know you were still thinking about that. Damn though; it feels good to know that.”
“Kinda hard not to notice it when I can still feel it,” I answer back, rubbing the small marks on my neck. “You don’t have rabies, right?”
I can almost see his rolled eyes. “No, Nico; I don’t have rabies.”
“Well,” I stop rubbing the wound, grinning back at him. “Let’s just see how that plays out. What other nicknames do you have?”
“Well,” his voice drifts off for a second, just enough for me to catch it.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I thought I saw someone watching me, but I think they’re just a fan.”
“Don’t let your head get too big,” I remind him. “I used to remind myself that; whenever you think someone random is caring that much about you, you can usually trust that they’re not.”
“But what i-”
“Nothing gets solved by just wondering; put it to action, and then you can keep talking about it. Are they still watching you?”
“Then you’re fine. What other nicknames did you have?”
“You’re really dead set on this thing, huh?” His laughter rings out, sure to provide him with more stares.
“Just want to know what my boyfriend thinks of me.”
We both falter at the word, but Kiri’s quicker to pick up the conversation than I am. “I went off the dragon tangent a little bit more, but after you said that it might be me who’s the dragon-”
“Just say the names,” I interject a touch too testily. “Uh, sorry.”
“It’s fine!” He assures me. “I’m just glad you’re so excited about all this!”
“I’ve just never been with anyone like you before,” I remind him. “Someone that would treat me like this.”
“Am I treating you well?”
“Of course!”
“Well, Salamander,” I can hear the audible wince from him. “Sorry. That one’s kinda bad!”
“No,” I think it over. “It’s cute. Maybe a bit too fiery sounding-”
“Ha!” He interrupts with his own peal of shameless giggles. “You’re trying to tell me that you’re not fiery?”
“Oh Eijiro!” it takes me a moment to realize the high pitched sounds he’s emitting are supposed to sound like me. “I want to be the best! I’m gonna save everyone! I’ll be a celebrity!”
“I don’t sound like that,” my voice bites a bit, but at least the tone of his voice tells me that he’s not trying to be rude, even if it came off a little annoying. “But fine; I guess I get a bit worked up when things don’t go my way.”
“It’s not that,” his voice returns to its normal, soft state. If I only ever heard his voice, I’d never assume he’d be the one with the hardening quirk, the one who was so quick to sleep with me, even if it was only just for comfort. “It’s not even that at all!”
We sit in silence for a moment, only hearing the vacant sounds of the subway. “Did you switch cars?”
“I want to talk to you alone,” he defends himself. “And I didn’t think you wanted our conversations so open like that.”
“I don’t mind being with you in public.”
“It’s actually kinda gratifying, really,” I can hear him let out a sharp breath, almost as if he’s been holding it in this whole time. “I like being with you, Kiri.”
“You’re fiery because you’re fierce,” his voice is uplifting, almost with a musical quality to it. “I mean, just watching you is like watching a storm. I think you trick everyone into thinking you just sit around and cry a lot, but that’s so far from the truth! Every time I’ve seen you cry, it’s because you can’t fight back the feelings anymore, because you’re hurt beyond belief.
“But that’s the coolest thing about you! You weren’t born with the best conviction, but you stand so strong. You’re so passionate and sweet that it’s just…”
“I’m so fierce that I leave you at a loss for words?”
“Exactly!” The humor in his voice is a force to be reckoned with, I swear. It could power the world. At least. It’s empowering me. “And I don’t want you to change that. If you become depressed again and lose your drive then I’ll… come over there and bite you!”
“You’ll bite me?” My voice crack breaks out into a wheeze until I finally restrain myself. “Oh god, I hope this isn’t recorded.”
“Fat won’t care,” Kirishima guesses. “Probably.”
I bury my face in my hands. “I am so getting fired.”
“You’re doing a great job!” He shouts back at me. “I mean, you’re leading me on the right path!”
Shit. I almost forgot we had a real job. “Oh yeah. Your exit should be coming about-”
When the train jolts to a stop, Kiri smiles. “Now?”
“No…” I shift through the documents, hissing when I realize what’s going on. “Cameras on, now!”
He complies quickly, waiting for my instructions. “What’s going on?”
I didn’t think we were going to skip to some Sidney shit that fast. I still don’t have that much proof that it’s him, but seeing how the report specifically says that some new underground villain is trying to rise up in the rankings by taking over subways and trains remotely, I’m almost sure it’s him.
Either way, we have a job to do.
“Break into the next cars,” I order Kiri. “And wait for me to finish instructions!”
“Sorry,” he says, trying to keep himself still.
“No,” my voice calms a bit. “Sorry for yelling. Okay, so there’s an indiscernible amount of villains in the next car over. All of them are small time villains or petty thieves. Keep in mind that they aren’t doing this for themselves either.”
“What do you mean?”
I sigh; guess it’s finally time to tell him. “I’ve been keeping a secret from you. The only reason why I’m attending UA is because of a villain.”
“Well,” he shrugs. “Yeah. You beat that guy down good! I saw it!”
“Okay,” I breathe in, then out. “We don’t have time to waste. I’ll talk, and you fight them. They should he considerably less intelligent right now, or at least acting more on impulse.”
“Got it!” He races out into his first car, catching sight of at least ten criminals hoarding through the passenger’s things.
“It’s like they’re not working together at all!” He tells me, smashing one down. The other villains don’t even look to protect their comrade, instead taking the moment to run into the next car. “Get back here!”
“You’ll have to single them out,” I tell him. “I’ve just breached the security system of the train, and I’m starting it back up.”
“What?” He shouts. “Why? There’re still people on the train!”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take,” I remind him. “And I know you’ll keep them safe.”
“This isn’t manly, Nico!” He growls, beating a woman in a bright pink jumpsuit down. On any other day, she might have been a formidable villain. Too bad Sidney got to her first. “Putting people in danger like this? What are you thinking?”
“We’ll be missing your original stop,” I tell Kiri. “I’ve already sent the police after your job; this one’s much more important.”
“For who?” His yelling hurts me both physically and emotionally, but I have to remain calm. “For Esuha city, or for all of Japan? Or just for you?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” I suppose, trying to find my words. “When those villains attacked the day you interviewed me, they didn’t attack according to their free will.”
That gets his attention. “You’re saying they were mind controlled?”
“Not exactly,” I bite my lip. “Do you know what latent opinions are?”
Always one to add humor to a conversation, Kiri’s voice fills itself again. “Do I look like someone that knows what they are?”
“Latent opinions are essentially the opinions we make on a short notice,” I try for the short explanation. “Ones we haven’t already decided.”
“And someone’s controlling the choices villains are making? But why?”
“That’s what I’m about to find out,” I tell him, ramping up the speed on the train. Ei’s almost already finished with the villains, and I can’t say that I’m all that surprised. I’m sure Sidney must have a large group of villains surrounding himself, but once again, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. “He’s the reason why I got into UA.”
“He set up that villain attack?”
“Among other things,” the burning memory of the plate Yaoyorozu picked up still flashes through my mind. “His name is Sidney. At least, it’s his villain name.”
“Where have I heard that before?”
“Sidney’s pawn shop,” I breathe out. “Down a couple blocks. It’s where you’re headed. Yaoyorozu bought some stuff from there too.”
“So it’s expensive?” Kiri winces. “He’s making money off of forcing people to buy his things and villain attacks? That’s so not manly!”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s orchestrating every villain attack in the Kansai region,” there’s only one criminal left to go, and Kiri deals with the quickly. After scanning the entire train through its security cameras, I confirm the news to the red haired boy. “We’re fine now; no more villain attacks.”
“But what about all these people who are going to get off at the wrong stop?”
“I’ll send an announcement to the conductor right now,” I say, glad to be into total control. “After that, just go around the train. People are going to be in shock, and you’re the perfect hero to comfort them.”
“I thought you said I looked like a dragon.”
“A very cute, huggable dragon. You put those sleeves on so you don’t hurt anyone, right?”
“They’re a bit ripped,” he admits shyly. “But yeah; I was scared I was gonna hurt someone!”
“Then this is perfect for you. Just go do your comfort thingie for everyone, and I’ll work out ways to beat Sydney’s ass and get him into jail.”
When he doesn’t move, I cough, hoping the sound registers. “What’s wrong?”
“I wanted to comfort you,” he twists his arms around, just in view of the cameras on his chest. “I don’t like what you’re thinking,”
“I’ll be fine,” I huff. “I’m not the main person you should be trying to save.”
“But that doesn’t mean you’re not still hurting!” He shouts back. “I mean, seriously… when were you gonna tell me this?”
“I wasn’t planning on it. There wasn’t any need to tell you and get you all worked out.”
“But I-”
“Would have gone straight to the shop and gotten yourself hurt,” I predict. “Right?”
“I wasn’t gonna include the getting hurt part,” he grumbles. “But you deserve my protection, and this guy deserves to be taken down.”
“Look,” my forehead creases, already a sign of incoming stress. “Maybe this is for the best; now you know, and maybe we can take this down, right?”
“I could have told Fat,” his voice turns hoarse, almost as if he’s recalling all of his PTSD at once. “This is a serious problem, Nico!”
“I’m sorry!” Tears form at the corner of my eyes. “I just didn’t want you to worry!”
“I’m worrying even more now!” From the tone of his voice, I can tell that his eyes are mirroring mine. “I love you so much, damn it! Why didn’t you feel comfortable in telling me?”
“I already told you,” the final crack in my voice is probably enough to break him by now. “And I’m so sorry.”
“I’m so sorry,” he repeats. “I shouldn’t have gotten worked up. It’s your trauma, and you get to deal with it how you want to. But just know that I’m here if you want to tell me anything more.”
“There’s nothing else.”
After pausing for a moment, I decide on my final answer. “Basically nothing. Nothing that matters right now, at least.”
The train comes to a stop, echoing through the halls. “It’s to your left,” I tell Kiri, scanning the documents. The fact that Fat Gum never put all these situations together almost scares me; I had assumed the pro heroes were always the peak of heroic perfection, but I guess even they make mistakes. If we can solve this one case, it might stop the load of crime that’s been coming in.
I could do something helpful for the world.
“I see it,” Ei pulls out a thin slip of laminated paper, almost like a driver’s license. “I know it might not be the most legal thing I’ve done-”
“That’s a concerning sentence starter.”
He continues on, ignoring me. “Hero licenses work as warrants, right?”
I shrug noncommittally. “It’s nothing worse than the stuff I’ve done. Anyway, the store’s open.”
“Oh!” He exclaims, suddenly cheery. When he pushes open the glass door, I have to bite back my gasp.
His bright blue hair is the first thing I notice, accompanying that handsome, yet devilish grin. “What can I do for you, hero?”
Kirishima’s voice is as chipper as ever as he pretends to examine the antiques cluttered around the room. “I was just passing through on the subway when a group of villains attacked.”
“My,” Sydney feigns innocence, looking disgustingly charming. “I haven’t heard of anything like that around here. Are you sure you’re at the right place?”
“I never said which track it was,” Kiri observes. I have to hold back my own gasp once more as Sydney does the same, turning his back on the hero.
“I’m sure this is all just a misunderstanding,” he presumes, pulling out a pot of tea. “Would you like some?”
“I don’t usually drink it,” Kiri tries to stay cordial, making sure to stay away from any pressure points in the conversation. If it was me, I’d already be attacking him by now, damn the consequences. “But all the villains seemed to be under the same quirk, Empath. The quirk that’s registered under your name.”
“I’m sure many others have a similar quirk to mine,” he waves the suspicions away. “What were these villains after. Did they retrieve anything?”
Talk about shady; my mind pricks up when he says it, reminding me of his motive. His daughter’s been sick for about a year because of her quirk, and he doesn’t need money, but materials. What the hell is wrong with him in asking that. I whisper the same to Kiri, trying to prod him in the right direction.
“I can hear it exactly,” Sidney whispers. “Your hidden conversation. Is that you, Nico?”
“Fuck off,” I summon up as much acid in my voice, but he doesn’t even seem moved.
“How’re you enjoying your hero course? Looks like you’ve already made some friends.”
“What is it you’re after?”
He blinks suddenly. “I didn’t think we’d touch on that so early.”
“Answer me!”
Kiri just sits blankly, still on guard.
The word drops to the ground, hollow and empty. “Excuse me?” Ei asks, sounding almost frightened. “What the hell?”
“My daughter’s quirk,” he begins. “Orbital; a quirk designed by yours truly, meant to bring the gravity of the world to a whole new level.”
“I’m surprised you’re so comfortable in telling us this,” I wonder aloud, voice filled with irony. He shrugs, smiling wickedly.
“I’m relying on you to bring them to me; the blood of your peers, the right materials.”
“Sorry,” I mumble. “I’m really not feeling up to sacrificing the rest of the kids in class.”
“We’ll see about it,” Sidney grins even wider. “My daughter would perish without your help.”
“She’s in that state because of you!” Kiri shouts in his face. “I don’t care what you think; Nico doesn’t owe you anything, and he’s not going to kill someone for you or your daughter!”
“An eye for an eye,” Sidney gets up, spinning through the room. “Reciprocity. There’s so much I could do for your career if you’d only help me.”
“People are going to get hurt,” Kirishima stands up, hardening his arms. “Aren’t they?”
“That’s what people do!” Sidney screams back. “You’re not safe, Nico; I’ll come after you, with all the power I have! You’ve only seen a taste of empath, only a small portion of what I can do. I’d expect you to take my threats more seriously next time.”
With that, he pushes Kiri from the store, slipping over the closed sign. I sigh, but Eijiro stops me.
“Damn!” He exclaims. “He’s not that smart of a villain, is he?”
“That’s what you took away from this?”
“Salamander, Vanilla, Spikey…” he runs through multiple nicknames, even ones I’ve already rejected. “My sword. I’m gonna be your shield, and there’s no way in hell I’m gonna let that guy hurt you!”
“But what if he blackmails me?”
Kiri continues on confidently, as if that’s not even a problem. “Then we’ll deal with it together. So long as you don’t cave into his demands, we’re gonna be fine; just no sacrificing yourself either, okay?”
“Okay!” I try to pump myself up for a second, only to deflate. “But what about the orbital thing?”
“You were wondering about the whole space thing I was talking about earlier,” I remind my boyfriend. “You know, how my thoughts were plagued. What if Sidney was using his Empath quirk to place those thoughts in my mind?”
“Nico,” he tries to laugh. “I want to hold your hand right now, but I can’t. So let’s just try this.”
His hands eclipse my vision on the face camera, only to appear again. “My chin armor was getting banged up again anyway. But I’ll protect you everywhere and anywhere! And if he’s placing you under his spell, I’ll just keep breaking you out of it the only way I know how!”
Tears return in a matter of seconds as the sunset forms behind his face. “Kiri…”
“Nico,” he whispers. “I love you. And I want you to know that it’s going to be fine. Even if your head is in the stars, I know that that’s where it’s meant to be.
“You’re always stuck in the sky, but I want to join you. Let me share your burden too, and we’ll survive it together!”

Chapter Text

Getting stared down by the man who either wants me dead or wants me to kill someone is nothing. All you need to survive that is some hope that he’ll get bored and stop looking at you.
Fat Gum’s a very different case.
“Let me get this straight,” he sighs, creasing his hand over his forehead. Suneater stands behind, looking almost concerned for us for a second. Or maybe he’s just worried about what the pro hero’s mood is going to be like after this. “First of all, you destroyed the order I specifically made to keep myself on track, and now I have to sort through all of my papers again. Am I getting all that right?”
“Yes,” I mumble, too ashamed to even look up. It’s as if the air has taken on his weight, crushing me under the purported hero. It’s like this, I think; if we’re supposed to be heroes, why do we have such a commanding presence, one that breaks people down?
Since when was this world about destroying others? When did we let it get like this?
“And you broke through the defenses on the subway Red Riot was riding in order to push your own agenda.”
“Sir, I just want to say tha-”
“Oh,” he snorts. “Those formalities might’ve worked at a different agency, but not here. You’re not going to use excuses to get out of trouble; I’ll make sure you understand what you’ve done. That’s how I run my agency.”
I swallow uncomfortably, nodding. When I try to reach my hand out for Kirishima, I’m harshly reminded of the fact that Fat forced him away, just in case he tried to pull something to protect me. Instead, I only have Real Steel to hold onto, and that’s not exactly comforting. Despite the fact Kiri’s the one who ends up being sharper with his quirk, Tetsu looks furious with me at almost every moment. It’s actually a bit weird that the two of them say they’re so similar, because I’ve never seen Tetsu stressed about anything. I guess it’s just another way Ei tries to make himself seem more confident than he actually is.
“And finally,” Fat Gum sums up. “Instead of notifying me about the problem, the two of you went straight to this Sidney fellow and then didn’t even do anything to stop him!”
“We have no proof!” I shout back, probably far angrier than he yelled at me. “We can’t just arrest someone like that!”
“It’s funny that you’re talking about it being too risky,” he notices. “Seeing how I remember someone telling Red Riot that we have to take risks.”
My face falls along with my argument, crushed by the weight in the air that he’s giving off. Did I really fuck everything up?
“Still,” there’s a little bit of hope in his voice, and I try to cling onto that, hoping that I won’t get fired on my first day here. “I am impressed by your conviction and determination. You held back at just the right moment, giving us just enough information.”
“What do you mean?”
“Suneater here used to work my computers too,” Fat jabs a thumb back at Tamaki, where he hides himself even farther into his hood. Seeing someone somehow far more introverted than me always throws me off; I always just assume that I’m the worst as social interactions, but I guess I’m wrong. “He found the clips and audio files that you recorded.”
“Oh!” I say, trying to brighten up. “So we got some useful information?”
“Among other information,” Fat Gum’s face reaches something close to a sneer, reminding of what else was on that computer.
“I’d like to remind you that despite my usually laid back behavior,” Fat sighs. “This is still a professional setting. Just be glad that I found all your conversations with Red Riot and cropped them out before I turned it into the police.
“Why’d you do that?”
“Because I’d rather not get any of us embarrassed,” he admits. “I do have to admit that it was nice of you to comfort my hero like that. He was a bit nervous to go it alone, but you really helped him.”
“No,” I shake my head. “Why’d you give it to the police?”
“Because I wanted to get this case finished?” He inquires, looking puzzles. “Nico, I know there was some personal stuff in this case for you, but that’s just how it works when you’re a pro.”
“But that’s just not fair! This is a personal thing!”
“Don’t you think I know that that?” His voice gets raised a bit, but he calms himself down. I’m almost wondering if I’m really the only hero that’s ever seen him this angry. “Damn it! I didn’t want to give them all of that, but there’s more at stake here.”
“They think I’m a threat now, don’t they?”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine with how things worked out,” Fat Gum gives me a small smile, but then he corrects himself, putting on a professional facade. “We’re having a hero monitor you, just in case anything goes wrong.”
“Fine,” I sigh. “Who is it? Because I don’t think I want someone watching me while I sleep.”
“Hey!” Kiri’s voice echoes through the hall. “Sorry it took so long to get changed, I got distracted by some of the papers on your desk, Fat!”
My heart almost stops. Did he really get this to work out? “He’s going to be monitoring me?”
“Say hello to your new guardian!” Kiri’s arms wrap around my waist, the tips of sweat soaked hair catching on my neck. When I can’t help but let out an involuntary gasp, he spins me around, smiling widely.
“I don’t want you getting hurt,” he pushes a thin strand of hair from my face, cocking his head sweetly. “So I’ll follow you around and make sure you don’t do anything stupid.”
“I’m sure I’ll still find a way to fuck somethin-Hey!”
Eijiro’s hand runs across my face as tears form. “Stop it! Okay!”
“What do-”
“Do you know how hard it is to hear you talk about yourself like that?” He sniffs, pulling me even closer. “Nico, you’re amazing. You don’t have to put yourself lower! What does it even do? Lower the bar?”
“It’s my fault,” I admit, but he shakes his head.
“I’ve watched you grow so much, Nico. But I really want to see that last step, the one where you become the person you want to be.”
“I want to be like you,” the words slip out easily.
“No,” he smiles. “I’m flattered, but you can’t say that. There’s someone inside of you you want to be, but it’s not me. In fact, it’s you.”
He points toward my chest, grinning. “I want to help you get better. And if I have to fight you to get that win, then I’ll do it.”
“You’re really determined,” I smirk. “Fine. Then fight me.”
He blinks. “Huh?”
“You said that you’re gonna protect me,” I tell him, my wry smile growing wider. “Then show me you can.”
“Nico,” he puts his arm to the back of his head sheepishly. “You already know I’m stronger. Please don’t make me hurt you.”
Something in the back of my mind forces me forward, bladed arm right at his neck. “Then I guess we’re at a stalemate.”
“I don’t want to fight you,” he keeps his composure, hardening just his neck. Kiri shoves his hands into his orange sweatshirt, hair falling in his face. “And you don’t want to fight me.”
I breathe in and out heavily, losing consciousness. “It’s taking over,” I tell him.
“No,” everything but him is eclipsed by the sudden shooting pain in my arms. I must be keeping the scales at their worst angle for too long. Blood creeps out from the gaps in my armor, trickling down the expanse of my arm. “My mind. I’m sorr-”
Kirishima can barely even catch me before I fall to the ground, eyes drifting off to the side.
And then the worlds catch flame.

Chapter Text

You could have told me a few weeks ago that one of the least complicated things in my life was rock climbing while rocks get thrown down periodically. Of course, I’d probably laugh; I mean, it’s ridiculous, right?
I think you know where this is going.
“Faster, Balgera!” Aizawa sensei clicks his pen out of a mixture of nerves and annoyance, scribbling down notes. “You haven’t gotten hit yet, but what about the little girl at the top of the wall?”
I crane my neck up, gazing at the crude cardboard cutout sitting atop the wall. I mean, I guess if you wanted to be creative, you could call it a little girl. To me, it looks more like an angry badger than anything else, but it’s the thought that counts.
“I’m working on it,” I grunt,” swooping to the left as a rock cascades right next to my head.
“30 seconds!” Aizawa shouts up at me, sounding dry and bored. I mean, is this all just like a joke to him? Or something even less important? “I want to see your success as much as you.”
“Doesn’t sound like it!” I yell back, clambering up at the wall. Earlier, I wasn’t trying to rely on my quirk so much as to conserve energy, but it’s not like I have time for that here.
A scream explodes out of my mouth as my scales turn up, digging surprisingly well into the wall. In a matter of seconds, I’m at the top, holding the little girl triumphantly in my arms.
“Hah!” I sneer down at Eraser, failing to keep my ego in. I can’t tell if Kiri’s happy that I’m confident or that I won, but he beams up at me, rubbing a bruise on his arm. His approach to the wall was a bit more headstrong, involving very little effort to dodge the rocks due to his hardening. Still, allowing most of the other students to go first helped me loads more than I thought it would; I’ve already seen that I can be stronger and more capable than at least a quarter of the class, a much higher portion that I thought.
Maybe Ei’s right; I might have a chance here.
“B minus,” Aizawa calls, deadpan and dead inside. “Next up, Mineta.”
“Huh?” I slide down the wall, ignoring the shooting pain in my arm. “What the hell did I do wrong? I thought you said that as long as we achieved a safe rescue, we’d get a perfect score!”
“Clearly,” he adjusts his scarves, pushing a small boy away from Mina as she screams out in protests. I can tell something’s wrong with the guy from the way he looks at her, but I’ll have to ask her later when I’m not being tortured by a pro hero. I guess they really like hating me, huh? “You and Bakugo have the same problem; both of you received a B minus due to your exceptional climb up the wall.”
“Then what the hell’s wrong with it?” Bakugo’s dynamic shouts blast onto the scene as he shoves Izuku out of the way. It’s more than a little cruel how he seems to specifically focus on pushing him out of the way, but no one else even says anything. What the hell has this class been through?
“The doll has blood all over it from Mr. Balgera’s attempt, and you threw her down to the ground, Bakugo.”
“But I even made sure to retract my scales before I got to her!” I protest. He raises an eyebrow, looking pissed.
“Would you want a hero needlessly covered in blood protecting you?” He examines my hero outfit. “Balgera, you suffer from looking like a villain. I’ve been put through that same wire, but I identified my weaknesses and aptly changed them.”
“So I’m not supposed to be doing rescue missions,” I sum up. “Great. But this was very clearly a rescue mission.”
“Argue with me again,” his eyes flare up, sending a cold rush through my spine. “And your grade suffers more. I got a B minus on this same assignment when I went here, and don’t expect anything more.”
“Then why the hell am I lumped in with this loser?” Bakugo jabs him thumb back at me, looking vindictive and cruel. Aizawa just sighs, pointing out the burn marks still covering the doll.
“Todoroki hasn’t gone yet,” Aizawa observes. “And you’re the only one here capable of producing fire. I’m not sure what the point of throwing the doll down was, but I seem to remember you screaming something.”
“Was it, DIE?” I ask, almost a cruel imitation of Katsuki. Sensei doesn’t seem to care, but Bakugo just turns even angrier. Before he can lash out at me, Aizawa dismisses us with a halfhearted wave.
“Mineta,” he slaps the purple haired guy with his binding cords almost automatically as he returns to Yaoyorozu and Mina. “If I see you doing that again, it’s an automatic failure.”
“Doing what?” The guy asks, his voice draped in an obnoxious lisp.
“Is he always like that?” I lean into Kiri, finally free from the stress of today’s class. I’ve noticed that Sensei usually only has the patience to deal with one true challenge per day. Even when I was only allowed to observe last week, he just seemed to get bored quickly.
“Aizawa?” Kirishima accepts the comfort and brushes his hand against my hair, fingering the neck length monstrosity. The fact that both of us have almost the same length when our bangs are down is almost like a joke; Kiri tried to put my hair up like his for the last two days, telling me that it’d help me move quicker, but I think he’s just trying to find an excuse for me to show up to class just like him. Still, it’s sweet of him to want to help me improve. “Yeah. It’s kinda his thing to be a bit rude, but don’t let it put you off! I watched him take down the league of villains once, and he never even let it faze him!”
“So he’s really like a pro, huh?” I stare at the guy climbing up at the wall with almost too much hate, and Kiri picks up on it. “You never met Mineta before, right?”
“Ugh,” I clasp my hand inside his, trying to block out the short term memories of him and Momo together. I can’t even imagine how she deals with that. “I’ve only ever seen him hit on Yaoyorozu and some of the other girls. He’s such a dick.”
“Not how I’d put it,” Kiri admits. “But you’re right; the guy’s unmanly, and kinda a perv.”
He puts his hand on his neck shyly. “Well, it could always be worse.”
“But it shouldn’t have to be like that!” I try to keep my voice down, but a few people catch me. Some nods fly my way, and it’s only then that my heart truly sinks; there are so many people that agree with me, but there’s nothing we can do. All anyone can do is just continue to stop him and hope that it’s going to work.
“I already know what you’re going to say,” I plead with Kiri. “But there has to be a better way to do this… to kill two birds with one stone.”
His eyes widen when he realizes exactly what I’m saying. “But if you’re actually killing one of those birds… what the hell? Nico!”
My face turns red, but not like how he usually makes me blush. Instead, all I feel is remorse and guilt. “I’m sorry. I just can’t stop thinking about last Monday.”
“It’s…” he shakes his head, sighing. “It’s fine that it’s still consuming you. Well actually, it’s not at all fine; it’s just sorta unavoidable. But Nico!”
“I know,” my head falls to the ground. “I shouldn’t be thinking like that, even if they’re a terrible person.”
“We don’t have to cave into Sidney’s threats,” Kiri explains. “You’re strong, and I know you can get through this!”
“But what if something goes wrong?” My voice sounds anxious and needy, but I can’t change it. “We might need to give him… blood.”
“I’m not letting you sacrifice yourself or your future,” Eijiro promises. “We’ll find a way through this, I promise.”
His smile is infectious, and I can’t help but smile back at him. “I’m so sorry that you haven’t gone to Fat Gum’s office because of me.”
“It’s not just your safety he’s scared about,” Kiri’s red hair flops down a bit, almost negated by his sunny demeanor. “Sidney threatened me too, remember! And anyway, I’m still doing hero work! Being your man is a full time job, but it’s sure as hell worth it!”
“It’s a full time job because I’m difficult to deal with,” my hands rest to the right, then the left. “Or because I’m just that interesting that I require your full attention.”
“Uh…” he smiles nervously. “Both? I mean, I’m with you all hours of the day.”
“I just hope you won’t get tired of me and my constantly annoying attitude!” I lean into his lap at the end, staring up at his eyes with a humorous glint. He just laughs, pulling me onto his lap.
“Someone’s clingy today,” Mina observes, jolting me out of his lap in surprise.
“They’re clingy every day,” Kaminari sits beside us, grinning at Ashido. “Just like how Mineta hits on you every day.”
“Don’t even remind me,” she puts her hands up to her temple in impatience. I swear, I’m not even gonna be mad if a villain gets to him.”
“Mina!” Izuku’s voice rings out in horror. “W-what!”
She cackles, trying to calm him down as she leans into the muscular, yet petite girl holding his arm. “Oh Deku! I’m just kidding!”
“I wouldn’t mind it either,” the brunette pipes up, sounding soft and sweet, betraying the determination in her eyes. “Oh, but we’d have to save him anyway!”
“Who’s that?” I peer up at Kiri from his lap. “I’ve never talked with her.”
“That’s Uraraka,” he smiles back at her, waving. “She’s my training buddy, along with Tetsu.”
“Huh,” there’s something about the way she’s holding Izuku that piques my interest. “Are they dating?”
“Just got together,” he laughs. “We all sorta thought it was gonna happen eventually! They’re cute together, right?”
“Yeah,” I guess, even though I have to admit they do look nice together. Still, something irks me. “What about Shoto?”
“Huh?” Eijiro looks toward the icy boy standing alone at the edge of the training ground, aloof and icy. “Whaddya mean?”
I cover my mouth, finally realizing what’s off; Izuku must have told me a secret when he mentioned his minor crush on Shoto. Did he never tell Uraraka how he felt?
“Nothing,” I spew, trying to drop the subject. “So there are a lot of relationships in Class 1-a, huh?”
“Oh yeah,” he grins. “You’re not counting Denki’s failed attempts either, right?”
“Definitely not,” I assume. “But… I’d love to hear these disastrous sexcepades.”
“Please don’t call them that,” Kaminari cringes. “I’m not that pervy!”
“If Mineta wasn’t in our class,” Mina turns up her nose at the purple haired creep as Momo slaps him away again, trying to have a conversation with Lida. “You’d be the top candidate.”
“Damn,” he smiles despite the barb. “Still, there’s gotta be someone to do it!”
“So who else is like…” I try to place my word carefully so Denki and Mina don’t start laughing at me again. “They’re like us. Uh…”
“Intimate?” Kiri finished my thought quickly, grinning triumphantly as I nod. “It’s kinda like what I said before; we’re just special.”
“More like you’re the only two idiots here dumb enough to try anything with Aizawa in our dorms.”
I twist my head around, beaming at the welcome sight. “Jiro! Where’s Bakugo?”
“He’s gonna study some more,” she jabs a finger back towards the school, her deep, sultry voice hushing down to a whisper. “Unlike you, he’s more than just a little pissed Sensei called him out.”
“Oh,” I correct her. “I’m pissed. I just don’t feel like putting myself on thin ice any more than I already am. You can only break the law so many times before people start looking at you weird.”
“And here,” she lays down beside me, twisting her ear buds between her hand. “That’s just one offense that puts them over the edge. Or if you’re unlucky enough, people just assume you’ve done something wrong.”
“But that hasn’t happened,” my voice drifts off as I realize the gravity of what she’s saying. People don’t immediately assume I’m a villain on first glance, but it’s not like certain people think I can bounce back from a bad person record. “Right?”
“Bakugo had the worst of it,” Ei recalls, shivering a bit. “I mean, you’ve gotta design your hero costume well. Some people thought I was scary at first, especially with my unbreakable form.”
“But that just shows you’d do anything to save someone,” I assure him. “Even if it gives people the wrong impression.”
“Everyone thought my original hero name, Alien Queen, was sorta freaky,” Mina sticks her tongue out in disgust at the memory. “Totally a big mistake. I don’t think I realized back then that once you pick a hero name, it sticks like glue.”
“And now you’re Pinky!” Kaminari laughs. “Definitely doesn’t sound evil, but it’s a bit…”
“Hey!” She slaps him, crossing her arms. “You’re just lucky we changed the subject from your exes to something more important!”
“Oh no,” Jiro sighs, pointing at Kaminari with her earbuds. “Now you gotta tell them about us.”
He looks up at me nervously as Mina and Kirishima grin, already remembering Denki’s story. “So uh… Kyoka and I dated before Bakugo and Kirishima had their falling out.”
“No way,” I sit up for a second, looking between them. “Really?”
“We weren’t serious,” Jiro waves her hand away, untangling the earbuds lying in her hand without even looking down. “He’s too much of a loser. Or an idiot.”
“But I was your idiot!” Denki boasts. “And that’s what made it special.”
“You mean especially annoying.”
“But why’d you guys break up?” I immediately regret asking the question as both of them stop laughing for a moment, but Kyoka’s soft smile brings me back to reality.
“She bored me!” Denki whines. “Always like ‘Denki, don’t do this!’ ‘Denki, you’re a fucking idiot!’ ‘Denki, stop climbing inside the McDonald’s play place, you’re gonna get stuck!’”
That gets a laugh out of her. “That’s not how I sounded.”
Kiri flicks back to the blonde. “You got stuck in a McDonald’s play place?”
He pauses for a moment before deciding on what to say. “Okay… so I know it sounds really stupid… but it was scary, guys!”
“And that’s when I decided that I no longer want to be Morosexual,” Jiro sniffs. “Bakugo’s a hell of a lot smarter than this dweeb, and he didn’t pretend to know how to play the an instrument.”
“You taught me quickly!”
“That doesn’t mean that you knew how to play it!” Mina cackles, pulling out her phone to find a video of Kaminari and his guitar.
“He owned like, a ton of them,” she explains to me, swiping through photos. “And he didn’t even know how to play them.”
“I just wanted to impress the girls,” Denki fumes, trying to hide the smile lying on his face.
“Maybe you should have told me that after you tried making out with me instead of before,” Jiro points him a finger gun.
“Damn,” Kiri smiles sheepishly. “You’re all so talented at dancing and music. Wish I knew how to do something like that.”
“Don’t worry,” I give him a petutlant kiss on the cheek, grinning wickedly. “I’ll be a Morosexual forever, just for you.”
“I don’t know if I should be ecstatic about that,” he thinks aloud. “Or slightly annoyed that you think I’m stupid.”
“You’re not that stupid,” I lean in closer, fingers tracing his lips softly. Beads of sweat form on his forehead, dripping down slowly as I lean in even closer, almost as if I’m playing at being the dom. I have to admit; it is sorta interesting to try something different. “But I think I’d go with the first option.”
I can already hear the gasps from everyone else, along with Mina’s whoops. Of course, the tug on my shoulder is enough to stop me.
“Get offa him,” Bakugo curses under his breath, ripping me away from Kiri. “Aizawa Sensei’s gonna see you fucking him if you don’t stop now.”
“We weren’t-” I cut my own voice off, trying not to get angry. From the steely look in his eyes, I think he’s trying to be nice, at least by telling us before we get caught. Maybe he still feels bad about last week?
Eijiro looks up to his ex, smiling nicely. “It’s okay, Katsuki; we were just about to stop anyway, right Nico?”
“Yeah,” I avert my gaze from from Bakugo’s stifling the want still caught in my throat down. Kiri doesn’t deserve any punishment Aizawa Sensei would give him because of me. “But I’ll try to save some for you later, Kiri.”
“Bleh,” A small drop of sweat falls from Bakugo’s clenched fist, bursting out into an explosion. “You’re both just so fucking weird.”
“It’s what makes the best of us,” I crane my neck back before turning my eyes toward the rock climbing wall. As long as I don’t get a good look at Kirishima’s face, I’ll be fine. At least, I won’t have the urge to try that again. “So, any more stories about Kaminari’s relationships?”
“Well,” The blonde puts a finger to his lips, almost as if he’s trying to be seductive. Maybe the effect would work a little better if he wasn’t constantly trying (and failing) to make it work. “There’s this one guy-”
He shuts his mouth immediately before Mina squeals with delight, shaking him back and forth. “There’s a guy?”
“Knew I shouldn’t have said anything,” he sighs, suddenly uncharacteristic for himself. “You’re just gonna make fun of me, huh?”
“Denki,” Jiro points out. “First of all, we’d make fun of you anyway.”
“And second of all,” Kirishima ruffles his hair. “I’m literally dating a dude right now. But what about that whole thing with Hagakure? Thought you were looking for her?”
“Ha!” He tries to spot the invisible girl, only to remember the main detail about her a second too late. “She’s not into guys like me. Or maybe it’s just me.”
“She’s not your type anyway, dumbass!” Bakugo shouts, eyebrows crossed straight down into his temple. I wonder if this is actually the supportive side to him? “Don’t go pining after girls if you’re not seriously into them!”
“I was trying to show off to the general studies girls at the gym the other day. I figured they might be interested in a guy a hell of a lot more heroic than they’re used to!” Kaminari explains. “But none of them were interested! Can you even believe that?”
Mina and I exchange hesitant glance before Jiro butts in, blunt as ever. “Yeah, sorta.”
He pretends to pout before breaking into his usual eclectic, positive demeanor. “But then that guy from the sports festival came in, the one that fought Midoriya!”
“Oh!” I pull out my phone, remembering the clip. I might’ve been one of the strongest students in my course, but they still didn’t let me participate in the sports festival due to ‘concerns regarding anger issues and an untrained quirk’. In hindsight, it’s probably better they denied me from entering; I got to watch the first years from the stands, analyzing their moves. And that’s where I saw him, the one with the same problem as me. “He’s the other guy they want to transfer to the hero course, right?”
“I forgot you guys share that,” Denki nods. “But yeah; Hitoshi Shinso.”
Kirishima snaps his fingers, recalling something. “Weren’t we paired with him for the fight with class 1-b?”
“It’s where we first met,” Kaminari nods in approval. “And he asked me out, just like that. Said I brought him back into reality, even if just for a moment.”
“You’re not the most grounded guy,”Jiro points out. “He must’ve been really depressed if you got him outta a funk.”
“Even though it’s true!” Kaminari shouts, his voice completely filled with melodrama. “It still hurts!”
“So what did ya say?” Bakugo shouts back at him. “I swear, if you said something useless-”
“I didn’t say anything,” Kaminari admits. When Bakugo raises an explosive fist, he puts his hands up, quick to defend himself. “Look, it’s not that I’m not open to new experiences! It’s just that it’s a bit… out of my comfort zone.”
“There’s no harm in trying new things,” Mina winks at him. “Especially if you’re open to them.”
Bakugo whips out his phone angrily, smashing in buttons. “What’s up?” Kiri taps his shoulder, unafraid of Bakugo’s temper.
“I’m texting the extra right now,” Bakugo almost bites off Kirishima’s hand as he shifts back. “If you’re too much of a loser to say yes, then I’ll do it for you.”
“Are you asking him out?” I ask, making sure to step away from Bakugo before he can shout at me.
“No!” Bakugo sneers. “Apparently, Sparky’s too much of a fucking idiot to do anything, so we’re hosting a party this Friday. Shinso’s coming, and you better believe we’re setting you up.”
Kaminari raises an eyebrow. “That’s not really necessary, is it?”
“Of course it’s necessary!” Bakugo explodes. “You’re always pouting and chasing after girls, and it ruins my fucking image! So go find someone to be with, or stop hanging out with me!”
“I knew you’d help me!” Kaminari’s hands fly around Bakugo’s neck before the other blonde boy flashes him a furious look. Katsuki can change at the drop of a hat, I guess. “So Friday, huh?”
“It’s what I just said, Moron!”
“Doesn’t sound like my type of thing,” Jiro admits, yet again untangling the earbuds still attached to her phone. Aizawa Sensei usually gets thrown off his lesson plan entirely if he even sees a phone, but Jiro’s a surprising exception. I’m almost in awe of her raw no fucks given energy. Is that a thing?
I guess when I’m looking at her, it sorta is.
Kiri snaps me out of it, pointing toward the rock climbing wall. “You were talking about Shoto earlier, right?”
I swallow, watching as the half and half man approaches the training routine. “Is he going to do okay? He’s seemed a bit off the last few days.”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Kirishima assures me. “You haven’t seen him over the past year; he’s adamant about his ambition, just like a total man!”
“If you say so…” I add, already concocting a plan in my mind. “Who has ever shown interest in?”
“Huh?” Ei focuses on me, flipping up his sweaty bangs from his bandana. “He’s sorta icy, you know? I don’t think I’ve ever seen him with anyone. At least, not romantically.”
“I want to invite him to the party,” I confess. “Sleepover, whatever.”
Kiri brushes my cheek, smiling goofily. “It’s gonna be at the dorm. He’s welcome to join if he wants to.”
“You sure you’re fine with it?”
“I respect the man,” Kiri pumps his fist to his chest, staring as Todoroki clambers up the wall at a speed that’s somehow faster than mine or Bakugo’s. Only this time, the student actually makes a successful rescue.
“He’s hiding something,” Kirishima guesses. “But he told you, right?”
I’m actually caught off guard by his sudden introspection. “How’d you figure that out?”
“You’re my boyfriend, Nico!” He ruffles my hair, pushing me back. “It’s my job to notice you. And I can’t tell what’s going on, but I know when something’s bothering you.”
“I’ll tell you on Friday,” I promise Kiri. He just cocks his head, lips pursed. “What’s wrong?”
“You don’t have to tell me,” his dark arms link with mine, strong and firm. “I know you’re not the biggest on keeping secrets, but I’m fine with them, just as long as there’s a good reason.”
“That’s actually funny,” I point out. “Because I’m the one keeping the secrets. I guess we’re just a bit messed up like that, right?”
He blinks. “Uh, repeat that? Could you explain it again?”
I try not to get worked up about our communication issues, and luckily he doesn’t seem to notice. “I don’t want to bring up the star thoughts again, but it’s like orbiting planets. You see, one planet is me lying, right?”
He puts his hand up in a fist, bringing mine up parallel to it. “This is a good visual, right?”
Now I’m even more surprised that he’s getting it. For so long, I thought I was alone, even when I was surrounded by people or even my boyfriend. But now, it’s like the fog’s being lifted, even if just for a short while. “Yeah! And so me not liking to tell secrets is another planet spinning around the center one. And then there’s your lack of lying and love for lying.”
He laughs a little nervously. “I don’t think I have enough hands for that, but I’ll just imagine it.”
I spin the fists around his knee in a circle, watching as they intersect and separate. “Eventually, they have to connect and all be parallel with each other. As they spin, they’re just getting more and more connected, and then they split apart right after”.
“Oh!” He snaps, finally fully getting it. “So it’s basically like we have moments when all our preferences and actions click and everything connects? That’s so cool, Nico!”
“And right now,” I pull his lips close to mine again, hoping to pull a little taste of the almost kiss from before. “I’m hoping it’s an eclipse.”
A firm hand collapses on my shoulder, soft yet with an ironlike grip. “Do I need to separate you boys?”
When I spin, I’m met with Sensei’s razor sharp eyes, outlined with their dark circles and red lines. I have to force my gaze onto his, trying not to appear rude. “We were actually just getting ready to leave,” Kirishima jumps in. “If that’s alright with you, sir.”
“Mm,” Aizawa gestures to the empty bench around us. “Everyone else already left.”
When the message doesn’t set in, he sighs, pulling back his binding cords. “I don’t to see want you two being distracted by each other ever again. Get back into your heads, or take it out of my sight.”
My head clicks up, noticing the apparent lack of people around us. How long was I just alone? When did everyone else leave? A heat rises to my face, but Kiri tries to brush it away. When the embarrassment doesn’t leave, he just picks up my hand, trying to squeeze out the hurt.
Why am I always the one breaking over tiny things? I crack so many people to their breaking point, but all it takes is one touch and I’m shattering.
Why do I have to be such a double edged sword?
“We’ll just have to push each other away a little when he comes near,” Kirishima whispers to me when Aizawa turns his back on us and walks back to the school. I guess class is already done for today. We all live on his schedule, and his schedule is manic.
“Maybe say that a bit quieter,” I snap, trying to soften the blow with a quick peck on his cheek. Of course, I keep forgetting that Kiri dated Bakugo; he’s used to even stricter rules and sharper tongues. “Your whispering’s a bit too loud.”
“Oh,” he laughs a little awkwardly, hugging me. “When he comes near us, let’s just be bros, you know?”
“Yeah!” His arm crosses with mine in an odd handshake, showing off his rippling biceps. “Manliest thing ever, right?”
“I thought I told you,” I shake off a bit from him, smoothing out my shirt even though it’s beyond repair; I guess my scales must’ve broken through the front as well. “I’m not that good at all that manly stuff.”
“Well,” he leans into me, grabbing my hands into something that almost looks suspiciously like a waltz. “Let me lead! My manliness will just rub off on you, and then we’re good!”
I smirk, swishing him around the rubble surrounding us. He might be the one leading in manliness, but he shouldn’t have tried to pull a waltz on me. In a single moment, we’re being spun around, twisting and turning to the beat inside our head. Surprisingly, Kiri even seems to understand the 6 count as it repeats in my head, revolving around my lead.
“You really know what you’re doing!” He shouts, looking adorably excited as we spin near the rock wall, flushed and full of life. “Not that I’m surprised though!”
“You make me feel complete,” I whisper to him, dipping as he gently pushes me down. Not the right move for the count, but I’ll allow it on the account that I’m now lying precariously in his arms. “My meteor.”
“I’m your meteor?”
“You’re a shooting star,” I correct myself, laughing at his puzzled reaction. “A falling rock a million years away from here, accompanied only by space and sharp objects.”
“And that’s you,” he meets my lips, pulling us into a complicated move he clearly doesn’t know how to pull off. When we fall to the ground, I erupt into a fit of laughter, falling to his right.
“If I ever leave this position,” I promise to him. “I’ll regret it.”
“Because I won’t be able to see you lying right here.”
His face grows red, accompanying that flustered dribble of words I love receiving. “I don’t want anything that’s going wrong in my life to worry you. Think of it as an accomplishment.
“I’m surviving, Kiri!” The words sound a bit odd in the context, especially with our situation. I get up, pumping my legs back to our dorm across the track. “But I love it! Fuck I love being alive with you, and I never want to stop!”
He’s almost out of breath by the time he reaches me. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for in sheer speed. “I’ll keep being your rock until you’re ready, pebble,” he grins widely. “Then I’ll be your man. And when you grow out of that, I’ll be whatever you want! Your shark? Done!”
“How about you just be my boyfriend?” I suggest, pulling him into a full hearted kiss as we drift across the world. His soft lips meet mine, firm yet still so supple. “Then I’ll always know where we are.”
He grins, showing me that wide array of razor sharp teeth.
“I like that plan.”

Chapter Text

Yet again another fanfic chapter but it’s 50% Straighter and 50% Gayer and 50% More Depressing and 50% Happy


“I’m not going to tell you again!” Katsuki’s shoulder clips mine as we pass through the hallway, crashing into each other. I dip down quickly after a swift glare, collecting all my things. “Ya don’t need all the decorations!”
I blow a bit of hair from my forehead, trying to keep up the imitation Kirishima took hours on. I’m assuming he looks better with his hair up than I do, but it’s not like I can check. Kirishima set up a new system for me; every time I feel self conscious about my image, mirrors are taken away. He says the less I look at myself when I feel bad, the better. But when I’m feeling good about myself, then I have to have one me at all time, whether it’s just a reflection in the water or my phone.
I have to admit it though; I’ve never been with someone who cares so deeply for me.
Talking to Bakugo is like playing operation, only the plastic’s melting because it’s on fire, you’re on fire, and there are at least twenty time bombs surrounding the game. I try to tread carefully, knowing that the entire night might be balancing on his temper. “Back home,” I begin, noticing intuitively that he’s begun helping me with the clutter. “My friends and I tried to make any small celebration something more.”
He snorts, brushing his mouth with the back of his hand. At least I’ve finally snared a smile from him. “What did you even tell the kid we’re celebrating?”
His words actually catch me off guard for a moment. I might technically be an entire class ahead of the majority of class 1-a, but Bakugo’s only about a month younger than me. I guess he didn’t get much maturity with age. “I told him congratulations for getting into the hero course. Of course, it might have resonated a bit better if he actually knew who I was.”
“I woulda been bitter,” he tells me off, grabbing the basket from my hand. When I try to shout in protest, his hand flies around my neck. “You’ve been in the hero course for only a few weeks, but that’s a hell of a lot longer than Eyebag’s ever been with us.”
“I don’t see what’s wrong with it,” the basket gets shoved back into my hand as Katsuki walks away, throwing his hands up in anger. “I’m just trying to be supportive for Shinso. If he didn’t like what I had to say, he can tell me.”
“That’s fucking rich,” I force the explosive blonde to the right, trying to coax him into helping me hang the string lights I’ve gathered. He can say whatever he wants about me, just so long as I get what I need done. “Seeing how you’re the one who never says what he wants to.”
“I speak my mind,” I defend myself, taping up a corner of Bakugo’s room with the lights. “It’s just that you’re not around to hear it.”
Kirishima’s spiky red hair pokes in from the neighboring room, followed by Mina’s head. “What can you already be yelling about?”
Judging from the casual annoyance in her voice, I’m assuming she’s taking to Bakugo. He seethes silently before answering, acid still stuck in his voice. “Nico thinks he’s confident in himself, and that’s WRONG!”
I blink, trying to take in his tone. Never mind decent maturity, Bakugo can barely even muster up the self control to not sound like a kindergartener. I know he’s smart from his test scores, but for the life of me, I can’t tell where he’s getting that intelligence from.
“Nico’s plenty confident!” Kirishima hangs his muscled around my neck, almost toppling my entire body as I balance on Bakugo’s stepladder. “He just got knocked down a bit before!”
“Could you help me?” I ask Kiri, trying to trade spots with him. “I’m not really tall enough to reach the corner, and you have at least an inch on me.”
“Of course!” Ei and I desperately squirm around in the confined corner Bakugo’s created in his room, trying to switch spots. When Mina lets out a little laugh, Bakugo predictably explodes with anger.
“Just get the damn thing done!” He fumes, smashing down the lights in his hand. As soon as he lets go, the entire system collapses, leaving us only with a pile of lights and decorations and nowhere to hang them.
“I’ll go talk to him,” Kirishima starts, moving farther away from me. I place my hand on his chest, stopping him.
“Don’t you think you’ve given him enough chances?” I ask. “I mean, I know everyone deserves a second chance, but this has been going on for so long. I just can’t take it anymore.”
Mina cocks her head, twisting around the coffee in her hand. “You can’t take what?”
My throat closes, struggling to find the right words. “He just hates me. I can feel it.”
“He hates everyone though!” Mina beckons me out of the corner to reach and hold the lights herself. “Trust me, he doesn’t hate you anymore than he hates us.”
“God,” my breath flies out for a second as Kiri placed a strong hand on my shoulder. “But why are we even going there? I mean, why should anyone spend so much time with someone that hates them?”
Kirishima and Mina exchange uneasy glances before he shrugs. “I guess we’re just attracted to him like that. I mean, not like how I was attra- damn it.”
“Hey,” I return the favor, placing my own hand on his shoulder. “You don’t have to hide the fact that you two dated. Do you really think I’m that fragile that I can’t take it?”
He wipes his mouth, hanging low. “Sorry.”
Something’s wrong. Whenever he can, he tries to tell me everything that’s wrong. The fact that he’s at a loss for words scares me, honestly. “Are you okay?”
He swallows, nodding. “It’s just making me think, I guess.”
Instead of spouting out some one liner, Mina just approaches him slowly. “It’s not gonna be like back then, Eijiro. Just trust me.”
“Back then?”
Mina sputters for a moment, as if only just now remembering that I’m still here. “I think he’s just a little afraid that this party is gonna be like the one sleepover he came to at my house.”
“I didn’t think I was invited!” Kiri protests. “What was I supposed to think when the prettiest and most popular girl invited me to a sleepover?”
“Uh,” she places a hand on her hip, smiling as Kirishima brightens up a bit. “First of all, you should have gone. Secondly, you think I’m the prettiest?”
He turns bright red, teasing a laugh from me. Mina hangs around him, staring him in the eye. “Remember when I was able to make you flustered all the time?”
“Okay,” I separate her from Ei, moving back to him protectively. “You’re making him uncomfortable.”
She blinks. “What? Nico, we were just having fun.”
“Nico,” Ei whispers in my ear. “It’s fine. I’ll be alright.”
“I just…” a sigh escapes from me. “Sorry. I didn’t know if he was gonna be fine or not with that. Or if I could stand to watch.”
“Nico,” Kirishima purrs, bordering on a seductive growl as he picks me up into his arms, meeting my eyes perfectly. “I’m not into girls!”
Something inside of Mina’s eyes turns dark. “Yeah. He’s gay.”
“And plus,” I’m greeted with a short but sharp peck to my neck as he raises me even higher. “I’d choose you over her any day.”
“Hey!” Mina shouts. “I heard that!”
Kiri shrugs sheepishly as he puts me down, the seductive, dominant part of him melting away. “It’s true though. Call me when you’re as cute as Nico.”
“Or when you’re as emotionally traumatized,” I add. “He really goes for that.”
“Can we maybe not talk about this?” Mina huffs. “Kaminari’s about to come in anyway, and the last thing I want him to talk about is his love life.”
“This is all for his love life,” I guess. “He’s lucky.”
“Yeah,” now Mina’s taken on Kirishima’s awkwardness from before. “I’ll be in the bathroom, guys.”
Her presence is replaced with Sero and Todoroki’s as they saunter in. I have to do a double take at the latter boy’s outfit.
“You didn’t need to dress up so much,” I tell him, gesturing toward the crisp white button up and dress pants he has on. Kiri has his red muscle shirt on, and I’m wearing his favorite orange hoodie. Now it just looks like we’re underdressed.
“I told ya man!” Sero lets a small laugh before lounging on a small basket chair. “You gotta listen to me more, huh?”
“Oh,” Todoroki looks down at his outfit with a small amount of conviction. I swear, I’ve almost never seen him with as much emotion as he had during the sports festival. Instead, he seems apathetic to the point where nothing even seems to bother him anymore.
“My apologies.”
Of course, I might be one of the only people who know how much of a farce that really is.
“Does anyone know where Kaminari or Shinso are?” I ask, hanging my neck out the dorm. Almost instantly, I’m greeted with Denki being thrown straight at me.
“Um,” all my limbs are tangled up with Kaminari’s, what with his face now pressed right up against mine. “A little help here?”
“I got you!” Kiri bounds over to my side like a puppy, plucking up Kaminari with way too much ease.
“Yay…” Denki groans in pain as he gets thrown onto Bakugo’s bed. I guess I didn’t think about it before, but the rooms gonna be cramped by the time everyone else comes in.
“Why’d he overcharge?” Sero asks in between fits of laughter. I swear, he’s never going to let either of us live this down. “And I thought I was the idiot!”
“You are a fucking idiot!” Bakugo screams, throwing a purple haired guy in my direction. When my eyes finally adjust from the shock, two eyebags greet me.
“Hi,” Shinso’s voice sounds even dryer than I imagined, almost like all the life’s been sucked out. “Wow, I hate this already. Can I leave?”
“NO!” Bakugo slams the door closed. “Now no one’s leaving or entering until I say so!”
The entire room falls quiet as the knocking of the door causes a single bead of sweat to fall down the side Bakugo’s scalp.
“You locked me out!” Mina cries.
Bakugo throws her back onto me, scowling. “Anyone else?”
Everyone shakes their head, clearly already regretting ever coming here.
“Good,” Bakugo smirks, rubbing his hands together. Mini explosions fly off them like fireworks. “First order of business; what the hell is half and half doing here?”
“Who made him in charge?” I ask Kiri, leaning in close to him. His scent wafts in from the holes in his shirt, musky, yet surprisingly sweet.
“It sorta just defaults to that,” he shrugs, adjusting his arm around me. “Don’t worry! I’ll make sure you have fun.”
“You’re already here,” I promise him. “So it’s perfect.”
“Aw,” there’s something so genuine in the way he says it, like he’s actually taking all of me in. Usually when I hear someone say something like that, they don’t mean anything by it, or it’s a joke. But one look at Kirishima’s eyes tell me that with him, there’s so much more.
Huh. I guess I really can see stars in his eyes.
“I was invited here by Nico,” Shoto delivers plainly, pointing toward me. “He said that it’d be fun if I came.”
Just when I think he’s finally finished, he twists around to face me, speaking in a deadpan so flat that it’s actually kind of cruel. “I hope you’re not lying.”
“Shut the hell up!” Bakugo’s hand flies near Todoroki’s face, accompanying a sneer. “I said that you have to stay here, so you better be sure that it’s gonna be fucking fun! I’ll kill you with fun!”
His vicious cackle doesn’t exactly reassure me that I’m making the right choice.
“Music?” Sero pipes up, chewing absentmindedly on the edge of a Capri sun straw. “We could just queue up some songs for everyone.”
“I’ve got premium,” Mina raises her hand, placing her phone next to the speakers.
“What if Sensei comes around?” Todoroki asks. “He’s not going to be happy if he hears your music.”
“What the hell kind of parties is that damn nerd Deku throwing?” Bakugo roars in Shoto’s face, spit flying. Half and half boy wipes the water off monotonously, staring at Bakugo with an icy hatred that almost seems to freeze the room.
I only realize how true that is when I look down at my ankle.
“Woah!” Kiri gets up quickly, trying to break it all off. Within moments, his hard skin smashes right through the ice, leaving the bottom of my rolled up jeans slightly wet.
“I’ve already got a playlist up,” Jiro notifies us, breaking the long silence. “It contains all your most listened to songs. Oh, by the way, Nico; your abundance of boybands is actually kinda embarrassing.”
A red heat rises up to my face. “Kiri likes some of them though! I wanted to see what was so good.”
“Mm,” Jiro relinquished a small smile. “Gay.”
“Gay,” Mina nods in agreement.
“Very gay!” Sero laughs, still lounging in the corner of Bakugo’s beanbag chair. Judging from the looks he’s receiving from the latter student, I’m guessing his reign over that corner is short lived.
“Gay!” Kiri grabs my shoulder, kissing me hard on the neck, only to lead right up to my cheek, then lips. “Oh yeah; hella gay!”
“Gay?” I ask. “Is this what we do at sleepovers?”
“Uh,” Kaminari finds himself next in the circle. “Gay!”
His optimistic farce might be enough to fool everyone else, but it’s not nearly enough to get past me. I’ve put up those same walls enough times to know when someone’s faking.
Kaminari looks to Shinso expectantly, raising his eyebrow.
“I fucking hate this game,” Shinso brings his knees even closer to his chest, pulling down the long sleeves on his thin hoodie.
“Gay,” Todoroki finishes. “You’re right Bakugo; this is different from Deku’s parties.”
How can the smartest people be so naive?
“Listen here,” Bakugo growls. “I’m not dealing with your manipulative shit anymore so-”
“You lose,” Todoroki reminds him blandly.
“What the hell was that?”
“You and Shinso didn’t say gay,” Shoto points out. “So you lose.”
“Hell yeah, Todobroki!” Sero wraps his hand around Todoroki’s neck, laughing wildly. “You’re getting pretty good at the whole taking to people thing, man!”
“Are my eyes deceiving me,” I whisper to Kirishima, watching as his eyes light up. “Or is Todoroki blushing?”
“Shh…” Ei hushes me with a sweet caress and a quick peck. “We don’t want to start another game of gay.”
“Is that a usual game for you guys?”
Kiri blinks rapidly, catching in the soft, filtered light from Bakugo’s string lights. “Not really. I think you’re just really changing stuff for us, Nico.”
My face matches Todoroki’s, only a much deeper red. “Whoops. Guess it’s my destiny to fuck with every friend group.”
All of a sudden, music begins blasting through the speakers. “I finally got it to work!” Mina exclaims, already forming a small dance to the thudding beat from a song Sero’s supplied us with. Of course, her half assed groove is way more than I can ever attempt.
“Let’s dance too!” Kiri bops his head a bit to the song. His hands clench mine, pulling me into the center of the room with Mina. She bumps her hips toward me, almost pushing my wobbly knees to the ground.
“Do you even know Spanish?” I ask Mina, watching her flawlessly lip sync the song. Sero pushes by her, watching the chaos go down.
“Nope!” She spins, moving down to the ground. I guess she’s recovered from whatever hurt her before. “Just let it take you over, Nico!”
“I’m not the best dancer either,” Kiri assures me. “So if you’re doing bad, it just cancels out, right?”
I shake my head, hair flying out into each direction. “Not really! At all!”
“I’m having fun,” he whispers to me. “And you’re looking good…”
My blush returns. “No fair! You know exactly what to say to make me blush!”
“Oh!” Jiro gets up from Bakugo’s lap. “Is that our next game? Making people blush?”
“What about it, Shinso?” Kaminari tugs on the purple boy’s arms. “Sounds fun, right?”
“Whatever you say,” Shinso grabs Kaminari’s sides, bringing him in uncomfortably close. His tongue rides up the side of Denki’s cheek, sending a shiver down the blonde’s spine. “Pikachu.”
I swear, Denki might take my throne for blushing. His entire face goes red, whether from embarrassment or pleasure, I can’t tell.
“So let’s dance!” Kaminari grabs his partner’s hand, swinging him into the center of the room. When Shinso realizes he’s lost control of the situation, the manic light in his eye dies down, following Kaminari’s movements.
“1 point for us,” I whisper to Kiri, trying to contain a giggle he’ll force out of me later. “And so many more chances to go.”
The song melts into something a little more downtempo, slow and hypnotic beats swirling around a thick baseline.
“That’s mine,” Shinso offers. “Sorry if it’s a little slow.”
“Suburban?” Jiro and I guess at the same time, glancing back at each other. The beat drops, forcing a gasp out of Kaminari.
“It’s perfect,” he whispers seductively into Shinso’s ear, trying to gain back control. Within moments, I can’t tell if he’s trying to dance or pull off Shinso’s shirt, but clearly it’s not working as well as before on the insomniac.
“I’m not doing that,” he spits in Denki’s face. “Try again later, loser.”
“Oh,” Kaminari wiggles his eyebrows, never one to be deterred that easily in an effort for love. “I’ll try again all right.”
“Damn,” Bakugo grunts. “Could you two shut the hell up? Not all of us wanna hear that shit!”
“Maybe that’s enough dancing,” Todoroki offers, placing himself in the middle of the room. “Sorry, Ashido.”
“No!” She assures him, turning the music down just enough. Something in her face tells me that she’s not used to people calling her by her last name. Shoto must be so formal that he refuses to ditch the act. Maybe the suit should have told me that. “Uh, it’s fine.”
“There’s loads of other stuff to do,” Sero hangs his arm around Todoroki, making sure he doesn’t feel bad. “I guess this guy just doesn’t want to wait around all night!”
“Yeah!” Kiri cheers. “Anyone up for seven minutes?”
“Hell no!” Bakugo barks back at him. “We’re saving that for later!”
“Boys,” Kyoka rolls her eyes. “Right, Nico?”
“Uh,” I point out. “Might want to remember who you’re talking to.”
“I’m not used to sleepovers,” Shoto admits. “Or parties.”
“I usually sleep at them,” Shinso offers.
“Wow!” Sero exclaims with too much authenticity. “You guys really don’t know how to have fun, huh?”
“I have some pocky?” Mina suggests. “But everyone just ate, and that’s not really an activity.”
Everyone mills around, stumbling over different ideas. Something in Bakugo’s face turns sour, like he’s already growing pissed. If he gets bored and kicks us all out, that’s the end of the night-and Denki and Shinso’s chances.
“We could play locations?” my voice is only a splatter of rain in the sea of doubt, but Kiri raises me up his in his arms, grinning back at me. When my throat closes from the pressure of everyone looking at me, Ei just whispers up at me, gripping my thighs tight.
“Just says what’s on your mind,” he smiles back, showing off his sharp teeth. “Trust me.”
“Okay,” I clear my throat. “So there’s this game I read in a book once. Everyone writes down a place and an object on different colored cards and fold it up. Then we pick them out, and you have to make a story out of them.
Silence, until Bakugo shouts. “Are you fucking stupid, extra?”
“Shut the hell up,” Jiro quiets him. “I’ve played that before; it gets fun.”
“Oh,” I brighten up a bit at Jiro’s voice. “That’s good.”
“Uh?” Sero cocks his head to the right. “What if we pick our own place?”
“Then put it back,” Mina guesses. “Right?”
“Yeah,” I confirm, suddenly getting a rush of comfort and confidence. “And no fictional places, no people, try not to do anything in this room.”
“Damn,” Shinso sighs. “Guess someone can’t bring along depression.”
I can’t even tell if he’s serious or not.
“And please don’t do UA,” I continue. “We see the place enough, and it’s not really like we’re going anywhere.”
“Ooh,” Mina grabs a few scraps of paper for everyone. “This sounds fun, Nico. Guess you do have a lot going on in that mind.”
“Yeah,” I blush as Kirishima lets me down, hanging onto my sides. He laughs at my face, giving me a toothy kiss on the neck. “Well, it was based on something else.”
“Take the credit when it’s given,” Shoto places a hand on my shoulder. “One of the main rules of Heroism.”
Unlike me, he doesn’t get all flustered when asked unusual questions. “Even when it’s not entirely yours, always take credit. The public wants to look up to us, not excuses.”
“Wow,” Shinso put his hand to his heart melodramatically. “I think something in my heart just broke a little. Wait- I think it’s just the nonstop dread I have for living.”
When no one laughs for a moment, Denki brings it on himself to burst out into an obnoxious fit of laughter. Shinso pulls a bit away from him, giving him a cruel side eye.
“Hell yeah I am!” Kaminari boasts. “I’m a weirdo, but I’m a weirdo that you’re gonna have to deal with all night!”
“Well,” Shinso shrugs. “At least I got my weirdo vaccine. Balghera, are we supposed to write people or places?”
“If you view people as objects,” I guess, a bit shaken by him using my last name. Not even Shoto uses it. Maybe I’m put off by him even knowing my name. “Then I guess.”
“Oh!” Sero catches my shoulder. “Are we allowed to put money?”
“No fucking way!” Bakugo screeches from opposite the room. He throws the folded up pieces of paper at the back of my head, growling. One page has some of the fanciest manuscript I’ve seen, but the other one’s a scrawl worse than mine. “That’s just cheating!”
“There’s no cheating,” I remind him. “But yeah, Sero; you could buy anything with money.”
The tape hero gives me a wink. “Shoulda known you and Bakugo were gonna seen right through me.”
“You better not be cheating!” Katsuki snaps his mechanical pencil, showering Jiro with shards of plastic. She just rolls her eyes, giving him a kiss to shut her boyfriend up. “Because I’m gonna win this one!”
“There isn’t even any winning,” Kirishima turns to Bakugo to try to calm him down, but he’s probably one of the worst people for that. I know he’s still used to being Bakugo’s favorite, but that’s old news. I guess only Kyoka can calm the storm now. “Relax, Bakugo! You’re gonna do great, I believe in you!”
I tune the explosive blonde out as I write my words on the page, using my extroverted boyfriend as a shield as more people ask me questions. There’s just too much people expect of me and not enough me to go around.
Or maybe it’s just me deciding the rules of what’s acceptable work or not.
I shake myself out of the funk I’m throwing myself in, focusing on the words and locations. All I need to do is write one word, on thing that’ll make people realize I’m here.
“Nico!” Kiri exclaims, grabbing my paper when I hand it to him. “Oh, you’re all done?”
“I blanked out a bit,” I admit, sounding a little too vulnerable. Still, Kiri seems to like that type of stuff. In a second, I’m thrown into his arms, looking up at his eyes.
“Cute,” I whisper. “But I’ll be fine.”
“You sure?”
I nod, hugging his neck one last time before I look back at the rest of the group. Of course, I always choose the worst times to realize that everyone’s watching me.
“Sounds like you’re having fun,” Mina teases. “Now hurry up! I wanna see what I get.”
Shinso grabs the first cards from my grasp, unfolding them. “A feather boa,” he reads aloud. “Written in a pink gel pen.”
“Ooh!” Mina shouts. “That’s mine.”
“We can say stuff like that,” Ei looks over to me for approval. “Right?”
“Of course,” I shrug. “But maybe afterwards.”
“That one was pretty obvious,” Sero snorts. “Who else would write like that?”
“Hey!” Mina puts her hands to her hips. “It probably looks better than your handwriting!”
“That’s true,” Sero guesses, smiling mildly. “But you don’t have to be so rude about it.”
“This one’s sorta ugly,” Shinso reads. “A bomb testing site? Who’d even write that?”
“I HEARD THAT IT’S A POPULAR VACATION SPOT!” Bakugo screams from the other side of the room.
Oh, so that’s the one he scribbled on.
“Well,” Shinso sighs. “I guess I’m going there, huh?”
“Hell yeah!” Kaminari shakes his shoulders encouragingly. “Now make something up!”
“Whatever,” Shinso grins wickedly, blowing a piece of hair from his forehead. “So I just gotta make a story, right?”
“Yes,” I determine. “Just say anything.”
“Well,” he shrugs. “I’m just a normal person-”
“With a feather boa on!” Mina adds, throwing in her item.
“Nope,” he shakes his head, finally understanding the game. “Actually, not yet. I’m a normal person, but I have a secret.”
“You’re gay?” Sero shouts, only to realize Denki’s sitting right next to him. “Oh shit…”
“Yeah,” bile rises in the purple haired hero’s voice. Something rushes through the air, and every takes a step back. “I’d sooo love to make you tape your own mouth right now.”
“I’ll do it myself,” Sero tells him, still under his control. Sure enough, he wrap a sticky piece of clear cellophane across his mouth, grinning like an idiot.
“I am though,” Shinso says after an uncomfortable amount of silence. Even for an introvert like me, it’s a lot. I hug back onto Kiri’s neck, feeling his thick breath.
“Don’t worry,” he whispers back a little too loud and enthusiastically. “It’s all gonna turn out okay. It has to.”
I don’t share his confidence, but it’s the only thing I have to ride on. I didn’t feel it so passionately before, but now it’s like I need Kaminari to finally get his happiness, even if it’s short lived, even if he finds out that he doesn’t like boys too.
“So I guess all gays wear feather boas, right Soy Sauce?”
“That’s not what I-”
But there’s nothing that can stop Shinso when he gets like this, I guess. The villainous grin only grows as he continues the story.
“So,” he twists his fingers. “I’m flaunting all my homoerotic energy, right? But I have to show everyone how gay I really am, and what better way than arson?”
“Uh,” Ei points out. “I’m gay, and I never did that.”
“Well,” he shakes his hand in our direction. “I guess you’re too soft for that, loser. But yeah, I had to get all that pent up sexual energy out.”
“I can think of better ways…” Kaminari leans in a bit too close, activating Shsino’s natural hatred for people.
“Get off of me, whore!” Shinso’s biting glare shuts Denki up, but the laugh punctuating it doesn’t exactly give him solid ground on what he thinks of the blonde boy. “Everyone has a different method, and I chose arson while in a feather boa. And oh yeah, the arson set off the entire bomb testing facility. Obviously.”
“Very…” Mina struggles for a moment to decide on what to say. “Inspirational?”
“You didn’t include the other bombs!” Bakugo roars. “0 out of ten!”
“There’s no winning,” Shoto reminds him. “If you don’t want to play with the rest of us, then you can just leave.”
“Actually,” Jiro points out. “He can’t. He practically locked us in here. Fucking idiot.”
“What was that?”
“Okay!” Denki’s voice echoes out. “Uh… maybe we should just go to the next couple of people?”
“I’m going next!” Bakugo screams in my face. “So I can win faster!”
“You can’t win…” I sigh, already exasperated with his shouting. Still, the faster he goes, the faster I don’t have to incessantly hear it.
“How did you put up with him?” I lean back into my red haired boyfriend, feeling the hard tips of his spiky hair at the edge of my neck. It takes all the self reservation I can muster to not straight up moan in front of everyone else, but I manage. I’ll bring that up with him later anyway.
“I guess I was just sorta immune to it,” he shrugs, laughing. “Still am.”
“Really?” something seems almost a little too happy in the way he says it, like Bakugo’s done way worse to him. “But back at the diner, he was such a massive dick to you!”
“I guess it’s just bouncing off,” he hushes me, watching as Bakugo makes his way through Milan with a pet rat. Of course, he’s already planning on taking over the city. Seems fitting. “Don’t worry, Nico! Your man knows that a jab like the one he gave me at the diner is just a superficial wound! Soon enough, I’ll forget all about it.”
I lean into his arms, smothering myself with his scent. “I wish I had your confidence.”
“I’d lend it to you if I could,” he tells me, slipping his tongue around my neck. “But maybe this can give you some…”
“Uh,” Sero smacks the side of my head. “You two realize you’re slutting it up in the middle of Bakugo’s dorm room, right?”
“Confidence,” Kiri whispers in my ear, a touch devilish. “You’ve got it!”
“Well,” I snap back at the tape hero. “I’d love to stop. Love to, babe. But see, I guess this is just my own way of arson. Shinso understands, right?”
“Oh,” Shinso looks up, still fidgeting a bit with his fingers. Even though his entire body seems to be completely unmoving, his fingers are always rapidly playing an invisible piano, jittering through the empty space. “Yeah. You get ‘em, weirdo.”
“Woah,” Sero backs off a bit. “Okay, so I admit that I know next to nothing about gays, but this joke better not keep continuing.”
“They’re just playing,” a single pink bubble of gum pops out of Jiro’s mouth, almost a parody of the girls she always claims to hate. I guess even the snarky rebel girl can pretend at being a plastic for her boyfriend. “Now sit your ass down, and let Bakugo finish.”
Bakugo screams over Mina and Kaminari’s whoops as they hug Jiro, screaming back at Sero. Of course, I’d probably be halfway through a murder spree if the same thing happened to me. But I guess Sero’s a lot more laidback than I am. Envy rises in my skin, but one warming touch from Kiri onto my back calms me down.
“Just have fun,” he reminds me with a smile. “I know you’re not used to us being like this, but it’s normal!”
“I just-” the words don’t even come out, furthering my helpless look. “I can’t do any of this.”
I look around, noticing that no one’s even bothering to look over at us. Still, Ei scoots back, still holding me tightly in his lap. Jiro picks out her own cards, rolling her eyes cynically. She’s already found her place, so why is it so hard for me?
“I know that you ran away from all you friends and problems back in America,” he scolds me a bit, trying to sharpen up a bit of the words. “You can’t hide that.”
“I wasn’t exactly running away from my problems,” I begrudgingly reply. “Anyway, it was more like I was running into them.”
“Well,” his hand rushes through my hair, keeping it up off my forehead. “Whatever it was, I think the thing you’re missing is some connection.”
He nods enthusiastically. “I know we’re in the middle of something right now, but I think it’d help you if you called home. Do you still have their numbers?”
“I’m still in a group chat,” I can’t show him my phone in the middle of Mina describing an adventure through the Amazon with only a spiked ball to protect her, but I can tell that he gets it. “But no one’s sent anything in it.”
He gasps a bit, red hair flying around into bangs. “Did your leaving break them all apart?”
That gets a snort out of me. “Absolutely not. I know that they have another group chat without me.”
“You don’t know that for sure…” he assures me, trying a sheepish smile.
“Actually,” a deep pang of guilt hits me somewhere in the ribs. “I do know that. Because that’s exactly what I did.”
We sit in silence for a moment, thinking about that. “You’d really-”
“Yes,” I sigh. “I told you I was bitch back home.”
“You were not!” He laughs, pushing me. I almost wish I could just pause him in this moment, halfway between a laugh, sharp teeth poking out from his toothy smile, eyes almost closed through exhilaration. “I think you were just a bit… bossy?”
“Sure,” I wave him off. “I mean, probably. But I don’t even know if they’re still in that group chat.”
“Well,” he tells me, reaching for my phone. “Sign in; there’s no way to tell until you try!”
I sigh, grabbing the phone from his hand. The moment I finish, he returns the favor, snatching it straight out.
“Hey!” I protest, reaching for it. Too bad Kiri has at least two inches on me. Apparently, that’s all he needs to keep it out of my grasp. By now, everyone’s looking at us.
“It’s your turn-oh,” Todoroki says quietly, watching as the two of us accidentally trample over the papers.
“Sit down!” Bakugo screams. “You fucking idiots!”
“Kiri,” I plead with him. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Hey,” his soft voice rises over me, sweet and warm. “Just trust me, Nico. What’s the worst they can do to you now?”
His lips slide over my cheek, meeting my own lips. I can feel his smile on my face, the subtle way his mouth curves, all the places his teeth come through.
A white flash comes from the side, blinding me.
“You don’t even have to do any talking,” he tells me as we break apart. “Because the picture will do it all.”
He clicks send, dropping my heart. “Kiri!” I cross my arms, not even accepting the phone. “They don’t even know that I-”
“It’s going to be fine!” He assures me, giving me another kiss. Despite my festering anger, I accept it, pushing back hard against his hips. The thrust ends up pushing him against Bakugo’s bed, but I barely mind.
“You’re not gonna be if you don’t get the hell off of there!” Bakugo shouts, dragging us apart.
“Wait till other games,” Mina chides us, barely grinning anymore. “Then you two can go crazy.”
“Sorry,” suddenly, it’s like the weight of all my self conscious energy bears down on me. “I’m just a bit…”
“You could borrow my feather boa,” Shinso recommends. “I hear blowing buildings is actually quite therapeutic.”
I still can’t even tell if he’s making fun of me, or if it’s just a helpful reminder.
“Okay,” I breathe in, then out. “Let’s continue the game. How bad can this get?”
I pick up my two cards, sighing when I see the two titles.
America, and group chat. Of course.

Chapter Text

Steps to (A) ruin a friendship, (B) make your boyfriend hate you and (C) feel so fucking guilty.
1: Leave him in the other room at a sleepover.
2: Fuck it; going to a sleepover with him was a terrible idea anyway.
3: Ignore his best friend’s (and the girl who actually defends you) pleas and complaints.
4: Instead, suggest a game of 7 minutes of heaven.
5: Sit opposite her, saying nothing.
“You’re ruining the game,” Mina spits back at me. This time, it’s like the acid is in her voice, spewing out venom. I just rock back, hitting the edge of Kiri’s wall. I guess since his dorm room being right next to Bakugo’s, we’re allowed out. The explosive blonde didn’t seem all that happy about it, as if he’s finally letting people into his room. Still, I think I’d rather take that room over this one, one where it’s just Mina and I.
“You’re supposed to say something!” She shouts at me, pouting. “That’s kinda the whole point.”
When I make a point of not responding, her mouth crosses into a thin line. “You’re such a fucking bitch, Nico.”
“Excuse me?” I can let her sit and complain that I’m not playing her game for as long as she wants, but she can’t pull shit like that. “Okay, Ashido, what the hell is wrong?”
“Nothing,” she crossed her arms. “Except that you’re not playing.”
“I have a boyfriend.”
“And I know,” she crawls her fingers up my chest, eyes still dull and filled with annoyance. Am I seriously pissing her off that much by not playing? “He’d play with me. Just for a little bit.”
I sigh, watching as her mouth mirrors mine. Her hands fall to her side, repressed and depressed. “Kiri and I are different.”
“I know that,” she snaps. “I’ve known him longer than you.”
“Well,” I motion for her to sit down beside me on Kiri’s bed, but she ignores me, going to the punching bag. “I know that everyone’s-”
“No!” She screams, tears rolling. Something inside of her cracks as she rotates back to the bag, punching it rapidly. “I knew him back in junior high, back when he was still lonely and depressed.”
“You knew he was like that,” I get up in her face figuring that if she’s going to pull this show, then I better take it first. “And you didn’t even do anything?”
Now she’s really wiping away tears. I’ve hit something soft and weak, but I’m not apologizing yet. Not until she gets all of it out. “I saw him every day,” a little bit of her voice cracks, but she stands tall and strong, barely relinquishing anything. “He was just so lonely.”
“He told me that he hurt himself,” my voice is a low hush, quiet and simple. Based on the manner of our game, only Jiro’s back in Bakugo’s room, right next to ours. If I try hard enough, I can just slightly hear the subtle bass line of the song she’s playing while everyone else is separated. “Did you ever see that?”
Her eyes fall to her lap, where her clenched fists sit. “Do you remember when I was talking about the sleepover I hosted?”
“The one that Kiri seemed uncomfortable about? Yeah… why?”
“It was a trap,” Mina shakes her head away from mine, more ashamed than embarrassed. “My friends and I said it was co-ed and everything… but we lied.”
“Tell me everything.”
When she doesn’t speak, I raise her head to mine, steely and determined. She might act a bit tough on the outside, but Mina’s probably even more fragile than I am. All it takes is some confrontation, and then she’s destroyed.
“Kirishima was always alone,” she explains. “Even when he was with everyone else. It wasn’t my idea at first, but when you’re the leader of the group, they always get around to you.”
“What the hell did you do to him?”
It wasn’t meant to sound so devilish, but from the look on her face, I can tell that I’m getting too angry. It’s almost like I’m taking on Bakugo’s side, taking anything and everything when I feel like it. “Mina, you didn’t do anything wrong! He’s fine now, so what could-”
“I kissed him,” Mina blurts out, pushing me aside. The pink skinned girl gets up, blowing off steam. We’re not allowed to leave the room, but that doesn’t mean she can’t act completely absent around me. We sit in silence for a moment once more, only hearing the pendulum ticking of the punching bag swinging. When the noise gets to loud, Mina twists around, smashing it to the ground.
“Great hit,” I try a smile, but she’s barely even paying attention. Now she’s more tired than angry, it seems. “But what about that kiss? You know he’s-”
“I do!” She stamps her foot. I’m almost sure she’d rather be dancing right now, but her good friend instincts are winning out for now. At least she’s hitting the bag instead of me. “And that’s why it’s bothering me so much!”
“You didn’t have to come,” I place my hand on her shoulder, but she doesn’t seem at all comforted by it. “If it made you so uncomfortable, why’d you come here?”
She fumbles to the ground, holding her knees close to her sequined top. “I saw that Eijiro was coming here, and I had to show him that I’ve grown since then. I mean… Fuck! What do you do with something… someone like that?”
“We have to grow,” I pick up a thin pink bracelet she’s thrown to the ground, inspecting it. “It’s a friendship bracelet.”
“My friends dared me to kiss him,” she admits. “To find out if he was gay or not.”
“I’m hearing a ‘but’ in this.”
She sighs, still sounding exhausting, but I beam back at her. I might be annoying, but she has to deal with me for at least the next 5 minutes.
“I already knew,” she admits. “I was the hero in our school, and he was being bullied by some losers who probably don’t even know the difference between homosexuality and homeless.”
“And that’s when he told you,” I deduce. “But why didn’t you tell your friends? And why did you still love him so much?”
“You can’t control those things,” Mina slips back on her friendship bracelet, examining the beads circling her wrist with so much hate as they orbit her hand. “And fuck! I mean, why can’t you?”
“Our minds aren’t always our friends,” I remind her. “And we can’t control everything we do.”
She snorts softly. “Like you know anything about that, Nico. You were depressed, but your prince saved you.”
“I almost killed someone. I’m hardly the innocent princess in the relationship.”
She sits up sharply, back stretching strictly. “You what?”
“Didn’t I tell you guys?” I stare back at her incredulously. “It’s why I’m so behind in the hero course.”
“It makes sense,” she gasps. “Now I feel bad though!”
“All problems are equal,” I shrug. “I mean, in comparison, they’re really not.”
She frowns, and then I realize that I can’t just keep it at that.
“I’ve just had these demons longer. I mean, I’ve never dealt with sexism or racism, but I see homophobia every day, and my brain’s not the nicest to me.”
“I just had no idea,” she holds her hands to her mouth. “Is that why you wanted to…”
She doesn’t have to spare her words with me. I’m not gonna fall apart just by hearing those words. “It’s why I wanted to kill myself, yeah. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt of ruining so many people’s lives. But tell me more about your crush on Kiri.”
“You promise you won’t get mad at me and hurt me like you hurt those kids?”
“I’m gonna ignore that comment,” I decide. “And not give you a strike for insensitive comments.”
That gets her going. She’s already halfway through a bow. “I’m so sorry!”
“Just tell me about what happened with Kiri,” there’s nothing I can say to make her feel any better, so I just try leaning a little closer, pulling on the the edges of my hoodie strings.
“I still sorta love him,” she admits. “Is that bad? I mean, he didn’t like that kiss at the party, and when everyone laughed, he ran away. After that, we never talked again. I think he was scared of me.”
“But you were so nice, right?”
“He’d wave back to me,” she fluffs the back of her hair. “But he’d never really look back in my direction until that transformation of his.
“You don’t even know how happy I was for him!” She cries into my shoulder, almost at a smile. “Nico, he grew up, and he grew past it all!”
“And now he’s doing the same thing you helped him do,” I hold her palm. “And I still need to thank you for that.”
“It wasn’t me,” she insists. “He did it all by himself.”
I smirk back at her. “And I bet he’s going to say the same about me, right?”
She bites her lip before relinquishing a smile. “You’re probably right.”
“Kiri has some issues still,” I admit. “But I like that he’s growing past them. It makes me proud, I guess.”
“You two are just too cute,” Mina swoons a bit. “I used to think that it was such a shitty thing for him to do.”
“What?” I’m taken aback a bit, but Mina doesn’t even look concerned for a moment. “You don’t like us dating?”
“Oh…” her mouth is a perfect o as she breathes out, realizing what I’m asking. “No, I didn’t mean that. It was when he started dating Bakugo.
“At first, it was just a friendship, I think. But I saw how Kiri looked at him, and I was scared.”
“Scared how?” The necklace from weeks ago burns back into my mind, a sore memory of when Kiri tried to rub salt in Bakugo’s wound. That was back before I even really knew anything, before I even know that Bakugo could be so abusive.
“You know Bakugo,” Mina shrugged helplessly. “Loud. Explosive. Angry.”
“I would have used ‘one of the shittiest people I’ve met’,” I offer. “But yeah. Your words work too.”
She rolls her eyes, keeping in a laugh. “But you have to remember all the other things. He’s throwing this party just for Kaminari. He looks up to All Might. And he hasn’t done anything wrong to Jiro.”
“Still,” I don’t want to show her a crack in my armor, but it’s bound to come up soon. “He’s done terrible things too.”
She nods, playing with a band on her arm. “When Kiri’s saved Bakugo, that’s when they got together. And then he got better.”
“And then,” her hands fall down to her lap. “Bakugo beat up Midoriya. Again.”
“Oh…” that sounds a lot more like the Bakugo I know. “Does anyone know why?”
Something flashes in the corner of her eye, but I don’t even have enough time to pursue it before she continues. “They both got in trouble for it, but other than that…”
“So he’s just making pointless fights,” I sum up. “And Kiri didn’t like that, right?”
“Got it in one,” she cringes. “But he wasn’t leaving Bakugo. It took my words over and over again before he finally realized how horrible Bakugo was treating him!
“I mean, I thought Bakugo was literally going to fucking kill him! I know they… Aizawa almost kicked them both out of the school.”
My questioning face gets answered almost immediately by my own mind. “So Bakugo was into some terrible shit, huh?”
“Kiri wasn’t,” Mina crosses her arms, pushing her head back against Kiri’s camo green bed cover. “But he didn’t want to say anything.”
“He loved Bakugo that much?” Something almost seems right about the statement, but it actually hurts to say it. “Does he still?”
“God…” Mina gasps. “I hope not. I mean, he seems really in love with you. You’re actually a lot like Bakugo, you know.”
“Oh god,” I bury my face into my arms, making sure to deactivate my quirk before I poke holes in my eyes. “Please don’t say that.”
“It’s a compliment!” She pushes me back playfully, but her gymnast arms almost knock me to the ground. “Okay, you share some good qualities. Is that fine?”
“Maybe,” I shrug. “But we’re so different!”
“It’s the chemistry,” she guesses. “You two treat Kiri the same when you’re healthy. And when you’re not…”
“Please don’t tell me you’re still stuck on the accidental murders…”
“I’m not!” She protests. “You didn’t have to tell me it, you know.”
I look straight into her eyes, taking in the black expanse. How can such a cheery person have literal pits of darkness for eyes? “I trust you. And so far, you’re doing it great.”
“You’re both great for Kiri,” she finally decides on her words. “It’s just that Bakugo was coming from an angry place.
“Promise me you won’t let your anger take over you. I don’t… I trust you too, Nico. Just promise me I won’t have to worry about him again.”
“I promise,” I tell her. “And by the way… I think you’re worthy of love too.”
“Oh,” she shakes me away. “Not really though. I’m too annoying.”
“You’re putting everyone first all the time,” I plead. “And it’s so sad to watch. Don’t you want to live in the world you’re creating for everyone else?
“You’re an entertainer,” I tell her. “But you can watch the show too.”
That one sentence brings the stars into the dripping black pools of her eyes. “No one’s…”
“It’s okay…” I assure her, flipping back and forth between her eyes and the quiver causing an earthquake on her lips. “It’s gonna be fine, Mina.”
“No one’s ever told me that I matter like that,” the last piece of the puzzle slides in, finally shifting her focus to me. “You really are something, huh Nico?”
I shrug, trying to push the monumental moment. “I said anything anyone would; I just happened to say it all faster.”
She rubs her eyes, sniffing with a smile matching her eyes. “You’re such an idiot. You two guys deserve each other.”
“Thanks,” my voice comes out small as a small buzzer goes off in the neighboring room. “Looks like our time’s up.”
“Aw!” She smacks her head, sliding to her feet quickly. She might be trying to watch the show from now on, but it’s not like you can take away all those years on her feet. “Shit! We didn’t make out or anything!”
I stop for a moment, watching the smooth curve of her lips. “Do you want to?”
“No,” she shakes her head, shuddering at the thought. I can’t help but feel a little perturbed at the gesture, but I totally get it; I’m dating her old crush. It’d just get in the way of everyone’s feelings. “Oh… unless you want to?”
“I’m into guys right now,” I apologize, only to curse myself for it. She’s not going to feel bad if I don’t care about her like that, so why does it even matter? “Let’s just surprise Jiro.”
“Damn,” Mina sighs. “Feel bad for her, being all alone.”
“Better than Kiri,” I offer. “He’s with Bakugo up in my room.”
“Ouch,” she winces. “Are you fine with that?”
“I don’t have a choice,” I guess, opening the door to the hallway. Nearly every other dorm room is still closed, barren and abandoned. If we were the last survivors of the world, the only people left, would it feel like this?
Mina shakes me out of it, creeping up on Jiro. “Gah!” The ravenette glares back at Mina playfully. “Fuck off, losers.”
Somehow, the way she says it doesn’t dig at my heart like Bakugo. If he’s a dirty, dull knife, Kyoka’s a straight shot toward the heart. And even if she’s saying it with more conviction, it ends faster.
The better pain ends faster. I learned that one the hard way far too many times.
Sero and Todoroki tumble in next, holding a box of pocky.
“Oh,” Jiro waves her hand. “Thanks for bringing those back.”
“You bought these?” I stare at her obliviously, given only a biting look accompanied by an ironic grin.
“Bakugo didn’t want them,” she shrugs. “So I gave them to Sero.”
“Roki and I had fun!” It’s only now that I realize their hands are interlocked, flush and controlled. A bit of frost runs up Todoroki’s hand, but he brushes it off, still putting on the grin.
I pull him aside, watching as his face falls. “I had fun, Nico. Thanks.”
It’s his overly earnest tone that destroys me. I can tell there’s nothing hidden underneath it, but that’s what scares me. He speaks to me like I’m one of his closest friends, so much more engaged with me than anyone else.
I’ve been here for less than a month. How has he even survived this long?
Even worse, what would have happened if I didn’t invite him here tonight.”
“You’re sure you’re fine with…” I jab my finger toward Sero. “Him?”
“It’s not an engagement,” he states it so blankly that I can actually believe he doesn’t think I understand that. “And it’s not the 1800s; I don’t have to be with the person I want to love forever.”
“So you’re good?” I check for any signs of weed on him, breathing in the crisp scent of his breath. He’s not drunk, and Sero didn’t influence it any other way. “I’m glad then, Nico.”
His smile grows a little bigger, a rare sight. “Thank you for inviting me. I could return the favor one day.”
“Oh,” I shrug it off. “I’m fine. Sorta gonna get behind studying
“I insist,” he pressures me softly. “Kirishima-San and you would be welcome any time at my home if you were to ask.”
“Uh,” it takes me a moment to fully swallow that offer. It’s actually scary that he’s trusting me so much after a few weeks, just because I actually listened to him. “Todoroki… promise me you’ll try your best-”
“I try my hardest at every moment,” he quirks his eyebrow. “I am surprised you would find that not to be the case. Still, I wish the same for you.”
“No…” I have to bite back a laugh, but the attempt isn’t enough. I swear, he sometimes has the same iq as those ice sculptures he makes. “Try your best not to be so icy, especially to Sero.”
Before he can make some remark on it, I finish quickly. “And I don’t mean your quirk.”
“I understand,” he bows. “Shinso and Kaminari and back.”
I look up, scanning for any sort of familiarity between the two of them. I managed to get Todoroki love tonight, so I just have to hope my original target stayed on course.
Luckily, thankfully, Shinso and Kaminari are practically still wrapped around each other. Denki looks a lot more involved than his partner, but Shinso’s still giving us a manic grin, a flame that his dead eyes can’t even put out.
“Woohoo,” he mumbles softly, dripping with sarcasm. “We did it.”
“Hell yeah!” Kaminari shakes Shinso, whooping gleefully. “First boyfriend, right here!”
“I’m proud of you,” Jiro kicks up her legs. “You got up off your stupid straight boy ass, and you made out with the coolest guy here.”
“Plus,” Mina adds on. “He’s not flirting with you anymore.”
“God,” Jiro laughs. “Don’t even remind me of that!”
They all explode in a laugh, forming a a pattern. As I watch from the sidelines, I start to notice their broken record rhythm, exploding all over again.
“I’ll check on Kirishima,” I say to no one in particular, starting to feel overwhelmed. I mean, hell! Even Todoroki can talk to everyone.
I’m the odd one out. Once again, I’m faced with that decision, and all it does is ruin me again. I’m the tower, the card that can only tear you down.
All I do is break and fall.
I rush back up to my room, hoping to bring Kiri back back to the party before anyone notices that I’m gone. And yeah, I guess Bakugo can come back too.
I take each step two at a time, rushing up quickly. As I reach the door, I feel my legs almost give out, bringing me to the knees. I only have enough self control to not smash open the door as I fall, instead banging my hand against the door.
“Open it, loser!” Bakugo’s voice comes out, muffled and blank. I can hear Kiri’s sigh of approval, moving to the door. When he finds me on the ground, he sighs, already moving to pick me up.
But I’m more surprised than him.
“You…” I can only point at Bakugo in outrage. “You fucked?”
“What?” Kiri screams back at me. “No!”
I can’t even process his outrage before stamping my foot, feeling a rush of blood accompany the movement. The only thing they never realize with my quirk is that I have those scales all over my body, even if they’re hidden. My foot’s all ripped up, but I don’t even take a second to stop it.
“It’s a game!” Bakugo smirks. “And looks like I won.”
“No,” I almost shred straight into him, but a weight pushes on my back. “You’re a fucking dick.”
“Nico!” Kiri’s voice comes in my ear, hot and rapid. His arms are fully hardened, strapping me down. “Listen to me, okay?”
“I don’t want this,” I put my hands on my temple, casing it to drip crimson profusely. “Don’t you fucking hear me?”
“No!” I whip around, almost slicing Kiri straight through his chest. “Okay, it’s one thing when you’re making out. But don’t even bother explaining to me why-”
“Don’t fucking say anything,” Bakugo growls. Something in his eyes catches on me, making me realize he’s talking to Kiri.
“What did he do?”
“I’m not living by your rules,” Ei smashes past me, picking Bakugo up by his shirt. “I don’t care what you do; cut me from the group. Ruin my studying. Don’t let me be your sidekick or partner or whatever the fuck’s running through your head!
“He wanted us to break up,” he explains to me. “So he’s pretending. We barely even kissed. We only fought.”
Bakugo laughs, but the humors all replaced with darkness and grit. Whatever Mina was saying earlier, I can barely believe it. At least for now, Bakugo has no redeeming qualities.
“Listen, nerd,” Bakugo flicks my forehead. “I’m not letting Kirishima drag himself down. He’s going to be a great hero, and I’m not letting you take his dreams down.”
“Shut up!,” I point out. “I’ve been tutoring him. I’m helping. Maybe you’re the one hurting him!”
That gets him riled up. “Maybe you’re the one who needs to shut the hell up!
“Maybe I should make the decision who I want to be with!” Kiri screams, throwing me to the bed. “Nico, I choose you, but what the hell?”
“I was just trying to-”
“These are my problems,” he refuses me any more words. “I appreciate the help and worry, but I can worry enough, and I’m strong.”
“I said the same things to you,” my voice is quiet as Bakugo storms out. “And you didn’t listen.”
“My love for you is stronger than then,” his voice is steely, hard and tough. “Nico… why did you think that I was betraying you so easily?”
My voice cracks. “Because if he forced me… I’d do it too.”
He wipes his tears away, deciding on a bridge between furious and sad; disappointed. “I won’t let him do that to you.”
“Can you…” my words drift off. “I wanna sleep with you.”
When his eyebrows knit, I search for my reason. “I’m scared. And I need you.”
“I wasn’t gonna say no,” he hugs me, still crying softly. “Fuck! Why is crying so hard?”
“Love is…” I shake my head. “You’re manly, fuck it! Crying is like… you’re doing great, Kiri.”
“You really think so?”
He tries a smile for me, but it ends up as a wince. “I’ll help get some bandaids,” I offer, eyeing the identical cuts on our bodies. He gets up with a start, realizing at the same time.
“I need more than just a bandaid,” his seductive smile melts me a little bit, but I try one in return.
“Maybe the stars are in your favor this time.”

Chapter Text

My gaze catches on him more blankly than I’d imagine, already directed down at the floor with dejection.
“I-” it takes me a moment to get the words out, but the way his head pops up from the other side of the bed, I can tell he’s already paying attention. Maybe he’s even taking constant mental notes like I do.
“Huh?” Kirishima’s eyes fall on mine, filled with a smile that’s only starting to approach his face. All of his joy comes from the inside, slowly leaking out until a ray of sunshine sends out its constant beam. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know how to do…” I gesture toward the entanglement of our legs as he brings himself closer to me, pausing right before a kiss. “Any of what comes next.”
Because of course, I have to say the most virgin-y thing ever.
His eyebrows arch even higher, only to dip into the sugary cadence of his smile. “Didn’t think you were already going there, Nico. I have protection in my wallet.. if that’s what you want.”
I try to get my words out quickly for an apology, but he stops me. “I’m fine. You’re fine with it too, right?”
“Yeah,” the words get caught in my throat as he stretches out, reaching the side of my throat. “What are you doing?”
His smile stops, face flush with red. “I thought I was gonna try to make you feel safe first. Unless…”
“Depends on your definition of comfy,” I eye the sharp teeth sticking out from his lips. “Y’know, I don’t think boyfriends usually make their partners feel safe by biting them.”
“I’m not a vampire, Nico,” he giggles, the sound light and airy. How can someone with such a hard body turn around and show me how soft he can be, only to switch into a new face?
“I know,” I roll my eyes, trying to play off how nervous I feel. “Just…”
“I’m a man,” he defends himself. “And you’re one too. I’d never try to hurt you if you’re not okay with it.”
I note how his voice deepens, growing serious. “Alright then,” I nod to him. “I might be older, but you’re way more experienced then me.”
“You can top if you want,” he offers with a grin. “You’re plenty strong, and it’d be really fun!”
“I’ll let you go first,” I offer, holding his chin in my hand, twisting it slowly.
He nods wordlessly, letting the smile in his eyes say every word for him, except one.
“Pebble,” his deepening voice echoes in my ear as he lays my head against his broad chest, grinning like a predator. “We are gonna have so much fun.”
My sweatshirt rises involuntarily as I stretch, exposing a little strip of ivory skin. When I look up, Kiri does the same, showing off a peek of ebony.
“What part of the word salivating is hot?” I ask, trying not to focus on the way he’s gently ripping his sweatshirt from my back. “I mean, it’s kinda gross, right? And it’s-”
He shuts me up with a single caress of the small of my back, sending a shudder up my skin. When I glare back at him, he giggles playfully, removing the shirt all the way.
“You’re cute when you talk like that,” he smiles, brushing his thumb against my belly button. Another electric shock runs through me, collecting at the very edge of my mind. “But I like it better when you get to hear me too.”
“Sorry for rambling,” I confess, breaking him out of his rhythm as he tugs on the edges of my jeans playfully. He just grins sunnily, pulling at his own shirt.
“It’s fine,” his roaming hands find my thighs, gripping them hard. “Gives me more time to get uh…”
“A good look at what you’re dealing with?” My lips crash into his slowly as I finish the words, finally finding his marching beat, his wavelength. “Spoiler; I’m not a god. And I’m not nearly as hot as you.”
“Maybe you’re just thinking in a different way,” he grins, peeling off the button clasped against my jeans. “It’s all perspective, isn’t it?”
I snort, leaning back to allow him to slip off the pants slowly. When he hesitates, I explain myself, holding back something halfway between a giggle and a moan. “Leave it to me to make sex something philosophical.”
“I’ll play however you want,” he teases, hands rubbing against the sides of my thighs. They move closer and closer, only to meet at my crotch where they hover indignantly. “You want comfort? I’ll go slowly. You want sexy? Treasure… I can do anything you want.”
“Switch to whatever makes sense,” I tell him, leaning back up to meet his eyes. Instead, my hands fall onto his, pushing their quivering mass right onto my unexposed dick.
“Looks like you don’t need my quirk,” he quips, basking in my involuntary groan. “Guess I’m winning.”
“Leave it to you to make this a game,” I sigh, finally recovering as he pulls his hands back. For a moment, I can tell he’s just staring at it, grinning like an idiot.
“It’s cute,” his voice gets low again, thudding against my heart as he moves his hand back onto my thigh, pulling my jeans off to the point of no return. “Big-bigger than I thought.”
“Didn’t know we were still in junior high,” I scoff, but the sound comes out a bit more like the previous one. He just smiles wider at the sound, reaching back for me.
“Hey now,” he leans in close, still gripping me, hard. “No need to get all defensive… you’re not Bakugo; you don’t need to be angry all the time.”
“I’ve been trying so hard to be happy,” I admit, feeling awful for breaking him from his vibe. “And it’s just this crushing feeling; why the hell is it so hard?”
“You don’t have to be anything but yourself,” Kiri takes a break from undoing his jeans. “And damn… I love you for who you are.”
The slight smile creeping up the edge of his face brings me right back into the moment. “Stripping for me, huh?”
“Can’t really call it that when you’re already nearly naked,” he teases, throwing the cool fabric of his muscle shirt onto me. I sit there for a moment, just lying in his cool woodsy scent, grinning like an idiot.
When I take a peek out from the arm holes, his godly form shines like a beacon back to me. My arms immediately fall to his waist, pulling at the last clasp on his pants.
“Hey there,” he settles me down, eying the growing bulge at my crotch. “We don’t have to go so fast.”
I blush, remembering my place. I might be older by a bit, but he has the seniority here; I’m only at the base of the mountain, but he’s already at the top.
He already is the top, I chide myself. It’s different than girls. I might be the one to like girls and boys more than him, but it doesn’t mean I can’t switch up from time to time.
Kiri slides his pants, growling playfully. “You’re sure you’re ready for this?” He asks, poking at the slightly ripped edge of my underwear with a grin. “This is the last chance before I take over.”
“I trust you,” I swallow. “If we get in trouble for this, then it’s all my fault for recommending it.”
“Hell yeah!” He pumps his fist, ripping off his underwear in one go. It should probably be mentioned that with Kiri, the word ‘rip’ is quite literal.
“Oh…” all the air gets ripped out of my lung as I stare at it. It. A boys…
A fucking penis. Get over it.
“I thought you were ready?” He asks me, tilting his head like a confused puppy. When I look down at his gaze, I understand what he means.
“I…” how do I even explain how I’ve just left him entirely bare, but I’m still too scared to take that final step? “It’s always so much easier when I imagine… this.”
“I get it,” he grins, moving behind my back. When he remembers his lack of clothing, he pushes back a bit, giving me some space. “You sure you’re fine though?”
I stare back at him, shuddering as his dick touches the small of my back, a side effect of being almost two inches shorter than him. “You’re serious about that, huh?”
“It’s not manly,” he nods. “If there isn’t consent, it’s not manly. Other guys might not understand that, but-”
“But I’m not like other guys,” I snort, gaining the confidence from my small jibe to pull the clothing off all the way.
And wow.
Wow, fuck… I mean, I’m alone. With a boy. Next to my bed. Naked.
It’s even more than I ever thought.
“Now then,” his lips reach my neck, breathing in my soft scent. “Where should I try first?”
“Try?” My voice comes a little more trembly than I was hoping, kicking a laugh out of Kiri.
“Relax,” his voice shifts down, growing deep again. “I’m just gonna…”
A sharp pain stabs into the side of my back, slowly subsiding into pleasure. “Gah…” when I finally give up on resisting, my voice falls into a low moan, drifting loftily into my boyfriend’s ears.
“Sounds like someone’s enjoying themselves,” he teases, having finally finished his long bite. “You’re stronger than you look, treasure…”
“Just don’t get carried away,” I twist around, surprising him as I drop down to his waist, a sly smile on my lips. “At least… don’t leave me behind.”
He blushes, laughing a bit. “Oh… guess we’re going faster than I thought, huh?”
I don’t even answer, pushing him back onto my bed. For a second, I just stare at him in that position, probably looking like a psycho who’s having possibly too much fun.
“Join me?” He recommends, even though he’s taking up almost the entire bed. When he makes a move to leave space for me, I just collapse onto him, garnering a quick gasp disguising a moan.
“Oh…” he stares up at my face overlapping his, placing his hands around my ass. “Didn’t expect you to- grrh…”
The growl from his mouth surprises me for a moment, but I just slide into it, stroking the side of his face. “Sorry,” I grin planting a short kiss on his forehead. “Just wanted to try it the other way for a bit.”
“Well,” he grunts again, sliding his dick down against my side involuntarily, erupting a airy gasp from my mouth. “We can try whatever you’re looking for, kitty.”
“That’s new,” I notice, purring into his shoulder as his dick falls into place right above my hips, still pressed gently against my skin. “I like it, shark boy.”
He twists me around, moving himself to the top of my body, breathing hot and heavily into my neck. “You’re so different than everyone else.”
“Bet you tell that to all the-gah!,” I taunt, interrupted by a downward shove. I’m still not well versed in terms of anatomy, but I’m assuming he’s really starting now.
“Heh,” his laugh breaks out between another heave and a quick, guttural grunt. “More than you’re used to, huh?”
There’s no gap for an answer before he pushes again, deeper and even more sensual than the last.
“Good…” he pants in my direction, accidentally running out a thin line of spit down my neck. I shiver from the sudden chill, pushing back against him as he lets up, kneeling over me. “Endurance.”
“I learned from the best,” I tease, pulling my body up to give him a full hug. As soon as we embrace, I notice the thick stream of…
I laugh out loud, still unable to say it, even in my head.
He cocks his head, raising a single eyebrow. “Uh… what is it?”
I can’t help but laugh as I look down at us, down at his fully raised, completely hard dick touching mine, almost in a sick imitation of our hug. “You’re a boy! And I just…”
He scratches his neck awkwardly, smiling sheepishly as I fall back into my position on the bed. “And I’m fucking… I’m cumming, there’s a boy in my bed, and…”
I raise myself up against him once more, taking a small chance to place a sliver of a bite on his neck. “And I love it. Love him. You.”
“Well,” he pushes my finger away from his chest, grinning maniacally with wild abandon. “I’m a man in your bed.”
“Shit,” I look back at my covers, groaning half from the sight and half from the dying pain coming from the stream of cum still dripping out. “Didn’t think that through.”
“It’s fine,” he pivots my gaze back toward him, flexing his muscles. “Focus on me, Nico. What happens later doesn’t matter.
“In this moment,” Kiri pushes his face close to mine, nibbling on the back of my neck softly. “I don’t want you to think of anything else but me.”
My back straightens as his warm breath hits my back, accompanied by his hands. “I want to feel every part of you,” his hand cusps my dick, gripping it hard. “Your body might be telling you it’s finished, but I know you’re itching for more…”
“Please,” it’s all I can manage to say as his grip hardens, cutting off all my other senses. We fall back to the bed in one smooth motion, rocking back and forth as our hands meet each other, venturing all around bodies still unexplored. My mouth crashes against his, warm and inviting as I fall to my back.
“Just tap me twice if it’s too much for you,” he warns me, moving back a little bit as I stare back at him from my spot below him.
“Why can’t I just say anything?”
He grins, but the smile’s eclipsed by the dark shadow of his dick hovering over my face. “I want every part of you,” his voice drifts off as he shoves it into my mouth, slowly moaning. “And I know you feel the same, little kitty cat.”
I can’t even nod, but I hope he understands as I suck slowly on his dick. I thought it’d taste a lot more sour, especially with the plastic surrounding it. Instead, I notice only hints of cherry surrounding it.
“This shark isn’t finished hunting yet,” he warns me, finding my dick again to grip it hard. “And that little trickle of blood on your neck is only gonna get me going more…”
I touch the side of my neck, still unable to speak. How long are boyfriends supposed to be keeping it in? My hand meets a warm rush of blood from one of the open wound lying at my neck. He thrusts one last time, moaning softly as the motion fades into the shifting darkness above me.
“Damn…” he gasps, putting a hand to his neck to wipe off the sweat flying from his upswept bangs. “You okay, Nico?”
I open my mouth to answer, but the only noise that comes out is a low moan as I fall into his chest, gripping his back hard.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he laughs, giving me a slow kiss. When we separate from the embrace, spittle hangs from our lips, threaded through with connected sweat.
“Uh,” my lisp smothers my words as I break off from him. “Sorry.”
“No,” he assures me, laughing. “It was cute. Gross anywhere else or anyone else… but you’re something different, Kitty Cat.”
“Where’d you even get that name?” I reach for my clothes lying on the ground, only to notice that Kiri’s not doing the same. “Sorry… I’m finished, at least with that.”
“Oh,” he nods. “Yeah, I am too. Don’t feel pressured to go on for someone else though!” He throws my shirt in my face, giggling as it connects, draped against my exposed forehead.
“Doesn’t answer my first question,” I pull on my underwear, throwing the protection away into the trash. We’re gonna have to find some way for no one else to find that, but my mind’s still only right here, right in this moment.
“You remind me of a cat,” he explains, grinning like an idiot. “You’re sorta aloof and act angry all the time, but you got really cute when I got to know you.”
I snort, pulling on my oversized shirt. “You’re saying I wasn’t super hot and attractive when you first met me?”
“I like you when you’re like this,” he hugs me as I push to the door. “Confident. Loving yourself.”
“Whatever you say,” I answer back, unsure what to say. “Look, we’ve only got like… an hour to take showers. So maybe we should hurry up a bit.”
His eyes widen a bit as he follows me into the hall, far too loud for this late at night. Still, I appreciate the fact that he’s a least trying to whisper. “I don’t even know if I want to wash the night off though.”
“You’d smell,” I remind him, drifting into the woodsy scent still rubbing onto me. “Doesn’t matter how hot I find it; other people will still be pissed about it.”
“I wish you didn’t care so much about what other people think,” he reminds me, hugging my side as we make our way down the stairs. I’m sure the echoes he’s releasing into the hallways are probably waking up the other students, but it’s not like I can do anything about that now. “You’re really great right now.”
“Right now?” I look down at myself with distaste. “Right now, I am currently wearing just underwear and a UA sweatshirt, my hair’s a mess, and I’m tired as fuck.
“But,” I admit. “I do feel great. Just because you’re here.”
“And I’m glad that I get to change you like that,” he teases, punching me into a hug that’s probably far more masculine than I deserve. “What if we just lived on an island? Like… away from everyone else? Then you wouldn’t care about what everyone else thought, right?”
I can’t help but release a small laugh as we turn the corner into the communal showers. “I’m sure you’re right; on this nonexistent, hypothetical island, I wouldn’t care so much about what they thought.”
He shoves me playfully into a shower stall. “Just hurry up and take a shower already, sexy.”
My face turns bright red as the words come out of my mouth. “Promise me you want watch me?”
He nods eagerly, moving to his own shower stall. “I get that; yeah, I just saw every single part of you and uh… penetrated you in even more places…”
“But I’d still like privacy,” I finish, happy that he gets it. “Thanks for everything, Kiri.”
“I’d love to do it again,” he amends, quick to fix his mistake. “Oh… um, only if you want to!”
I peek out from behind the shower curtain, watching as he does the same. “And you know what? I’d love to too. Maybe just…”
“I could never get used to your beauty,” he assures me. “If that’s what you’re asking.”
I roll my eyes, feeling the cool rush of water against my back. “It’d be unconventional if we did that literally every day, Kiri.”
He laughs in between a quick sneeze, hitting the wall of the shower. The sound grows infectious as I fall into his fit, peeking out again. “You’re such an idiot, sometimes.”
“I’m your idiot though,” he reminds me, cursing as he gets up off the slippery floor. “Uh… you don’t think Aizawa Sensei would notice the massive hole in the wall… would you?”
“I’m sure it’s not that big,” I assure him, spinning the knob on the shower to shut it off. “I know it’s kinda contradicting myself… but you wouldn’t mind if I came into your stall, would you?”
“Uh…” the sigh gets punctuated with a short laugh. “If you’re okay with it, so am I. Still washing my hair though…”
“That’s just an added bonus,” I remind him, swinging into the stall. Despite everything we’ve been through, I still can’t help but gasp at his body as he moves closer to me, still sopping wet. “So… where’s this massive, gaping hole?”
He points to a tiny nick in the wall, so small that I actually have to hold back the laughter before he feels bad. “I thought I worried too much,” I shrug. “It’s nothing; you’re gonna be fine, Kiri.”
He breathes out slowly, knotting the small hairs at the base of his stomach as he pulls a hand through it, reaching for the back of my neck. “Thanks. Sorry for-”
“I’m taking a shower with my high school boyfriend,” I remind him. “You don’t need to apologize for anything.”
He laughs a little at that, finally shutting off the water. Right as we exit the stall and grab our towels, he shakes his hair wildly, whipping water straight at my back.
“Kiri!” I pretend to be horrified. “God, do you actually dry yourself off like that every time?”
“Just for you, babe!” His arms surround my ribs, pulling me right up against his chest. Even though it’s covered by the fabric of his towel, his dick still sticks out, shifting against my back. A moan falls out of my mouth uncontrollably as a shiver runs up my back.
“I’ll wait,” he apologizes, giving me some more space to breathe. “Forgot about that.”
“I’m fine,” I answer the hidden question. “Just… remember in the future that I’m definitely gonna be a lot more sensitive to stuff like that.”
“Sucks that my costume exposes most of my body then,” he shrugs. “Guess you’ll just have to learn to enjoy it uh… a little more privately. Just don’t act like your hero costume’s super pure either though!”
I ignore the tease, reaching for my discarded clothing again. “We’re in new territory now, I guess.”
“Nope!” His breath runs down my back as we move to the edge of the room. “I love you just as much… no! Even more! And what’s that gonna change?
“I don’t want to believe in happy endings,” he admits to me. When he catches my unwary gaze, he laughs it off. “It’s weird, right?”
“I always pegged you as a sucker for a fairytale ending,” I admit. “What changed that?”
“I never liked them,” he clarifies, red hair glowing in the soft light from the hovering moon outside. “Because why have an great ending when you can have everything else?
“I don’t think about ends. I know you make fun of me because I’m bad at plans, but doesn’t it ever hurt you if you know how it’s gonna end?”
“You like in the moment things,” I realize. “And that’s why you wanted to do all this so bad.”
He winces. “I didn’t pressure you to have sex, did I?”
“I liked it,” I cross my arms. “And I wouldn’t do it with anyone else.”
Eijiro just smiles, fixating on my face. “Why do you keep staring at me?”
“I think you’re cute!” He acknowledges. “Is that so wrong?”
I blush, holding his strong, firm hand in mine. “If we’re not gonna have a fairy tale ending, then I want the best middle I can get. Because… you know what? I’m not dying for you. Sorry if you were planning on a tragic death with blood and guts in your name. Because I’m living for you. It’s so much fucking harder, and sometimes… I hate it. But I’ll live for you, just so long as you do the same. What do you say to that, Prince Charming?”
Kirishima beams back at me, obviously proud.
“Let’s live then.”

Chapter Text

“Is it that one?”
“No, he’s-”
“Okay… but what about him?”
“I’m not into Shoji, Nico.”
“Fine. How about him?”
“Nico!” Mina howls in my ear, pushing me away. “I do not have a thing for Mineta!”
“I’m just joking,” I laugh away from her, slipping and hand into my pocket slowly. When she catches me checking again, the acidic girl slaps my hand, scowling.
“You’ve checked it enough,” she chides, folding her legs in the opposite direction. “You’re not gonna explode if he doesn’t text you literally every second.”
“Still,” I begrudgingly reply. “Kiri’s never been away from me for so long. It’s been like… almost a week now!”
“It’s been 2 days,” Mina rolls her eyes, shoving me aside. “You won’t die.”
I fume, pretending to pout. “He could though.”
She sits in silence at that for a moment before breaking into a sort of awkward laugh that tells me I’ve fucked up socially again. “That’s… um-”
“Grim,” I interrupt her, sighing. “Yep. But it’s still on my mind.”
“When was the last time Kiri texted you?” She twists a curl around her finger, showing off an immaculate set of painted nails.
“This morning,” I confide, only just realizing how ridiculous I must sound. “Sorry for bothering you with all this.”
“I’m all alone today,” Mina shrugs, rolling a pencil around her desk. “Plus, you’re the only one besides Kiri who knows that I’m still… let’s go with available.”
“Smart,” I commend her, already whipping my work back at her. “Do you need help with math too?”
“Oh god,” the pleading look in her eyes shuts me up as she snatches the paper out of my hand. “Yes. Polynomials are so confusing.”
“You know,” I roll my eyes as the classroom door opens, grabbing the paper back. “You’d probably learn more if you actually taught yourself how to do the problem instead of cheating. How would Lida react?”
“First of all,” she ducks from Aizawa’s gaze as he looks over the meager remainder of students still crowding his classroom. “He’s not here right now. And second of all, it’s not cheating!”
I raise an eyebrow, relinquishing the paper. “Oh?”
“Yeah,” she gives me a wicked smile, scribbling my answers back down on her paper. “It’s copying.”
“Hey!” Aizawa looks up from his desk at my shout of protest, silencing me with a look. “That’s still cheating.”
“What if I’m trying to rescue someone one day,” Mina hands me back the paper. “And I need to relay a message by coping it? I’m just preparing for the future.”
My hand falls to my side, trying to remain inconspicuous despite the lack of attention I had initially. “You’re ridiculous.”
Mina sticks her tongue out at me. “Kirishima let me copy his answers.”
“Yeah?” Her eyes brighten at the words, only to fall. “Well, his answers were usually wrong, right?”
“Are you calling your boyfriend a dumbass?”
“What can I say?” I boast, leaning back in my chair. Once again, Aizawa gives me a jabbing glare, pushing me back to the floor. “Guess I’m just morosexual.”
“You’re the idiot,” she laughs. Her phone lights up, erupting into a frenzy of a white aura.
“I won’t tell you two again,” Eraser Head stands over our desks. “Class is still in session.”
“Already finished,” I produce my work trying on a smug smile. “I helped Ashido complete hers too.”
Hagakure turns back to us, pulling on what I can only assume is a gleeful smile. “Woah! You’re already done? I could use those math skills too!”
Before the rest of the class can erupt into chaos, Aizawa just stumbles away, giving me one final look. “You’re already on thin ice, Blagger.”
“It’s Balg-”
“I’ll talk about it when the rest of your classmates return.
“Choose your answers wisely,” he reminds me. “You’ve only just made it into the school, even if it wasn’t traditional. I can take you out just as easy.”
I nod, feeling the beads of sweat fall down my back. I’m all devoid of any quips or one liners, and I can already feel myself falling into the dark place I was in before, left without a love, without my friends. Does he already know everything about the villain who got me into the school?
“Freaky,” Mina acknowledges the scene before taking her work back. “You alright?”
I shift the conversation forcibly, wincing through my words as they get caught in my throat. “What about you and Aoyama?”
“Hilarious,” her deadpan breaks through the glossy pink lipstick still rubbing off against her tongue. “But fuck you.”
“That turned a bit worse than I thought,” I admit without missing a beat. “What’s so bad about him?”
“He’s nice,” she guesses, but there’s a bit of conviction caught in her throat now. “Funny too.”
She pushes me away with a smile, pretending to re apply her lipstick. “But nothing. I guess he was just gonna be a friend.”
“You’re paired up a lot,” I notice. “Clearly, the teachers sees something in you two.”
“Says the person who isn’t paired up at all,” Mina flicks a nail at me. “What’s your deal anyway? Are you seriously still caught up over that whole-”
When she catches my hollowed out eyes, Mina coughs, changing the subject by pulling out her phone. “Oh!”
“Yeah,” she presses her screen against my face, so close that I can’t even see it. “Sorry. But the rest of the class is coming back!”
“Kiri didn’t text me,” I pout, looking down at my bag. “But he-”
“He’s been trying to call you for the last hour, apparently,” Mina deadpans. “Check your missed calls.”
I take her order quickly, sighing at the sight. “Shit. Does he think I’m ignoring him? My phone’s so old that it’s probably not even picking up the calls.”
“He’s in the building now,” she shrugs. “And class is leaving in 10…”
“Mina?” I ask, suddenly distressed as she stares at the nonexistent watch on her wrist. “What are you-”
“Now,” she mumbles, just as the bell goes off, signaling the end of class. Aizawa grumbles at us from the front of the room, waving his hands nonchalantly. “I’ve memorized the exact time class ends.”
“Woah,” I pick up her bag for her, getting a beam in return. “You’ve really got that down, huh?”
“And you’ve got this whole chivalry thing down too,” she notices, taking her bag back. “Ei’s rubbing off of you, isn’t he?”
“I’ve never been comfortable with my…” I gesture down to my body as we get up to leave, collecting our things. “This.
“I think I wanted to be ambiguous for so long. Or… I was trying to fight being a guy. For some reason, the whole thing just kind of revolted me, you know?”
She fights back a snort. “But you’re dating guys now. You still hate their bodies?”
I give her one last uncanny look. “I feel comfortable in my body now. I’m still undersized-”
“You’re smaller than me!” She hugs my arm, forcing me to look at her tough core. For whatever reason, Mina always seems to love showing off just how strong she is, that her gender can’t stop her. It’s inspiring, to say the least.
“Well,” I reason. “You’re also built differently and fight with your legs and core more. I’m more about arms. I’ve still got nothing on Kiri, but it’s a massive improvement from before.”
“You’re doing great,” she assures me, almost reminiscent of my boyfriend. “Just need some more added protein to my diet.”
Damn. Now she’s really sounding like him. “That’s exactly what he’s been telling me.”
“Well, it’s true!”
“Might need some more testosterone too,” I note, giving her a wry smile. “Kidding! I’d never do something like that.”
“Don’t even joke about that,” she warns me, finally reaching the door. “You’re a hero.”
“I’m a student,” I remind her. “Not legally a hero yet.”
“You’re impossible,” Aizawa shouts after us. “And stay in here. I need to have a talk with you, Balghera.”
When Mina drifts back to join me, Aizawa glares at her, gripping the papers on his desk ruthlessly. “Move along, Ashido. I’m sure you have some studying to do.”
She just gives me one last smile before falling into line with the rest of the class, smiling and laughing like I’m not still here under his deathly gaze.
“I’ll be frank,” Aizawa sighs. “I’ve had enough of you.”
“That’s a usual response to my general existence,” I tell him. “Is that all?”
I get up to leave, only to be stopped before I even make it up. “I’ve already spoken with partner on this matter, but I wanted to gather your thoughts on a specific matter.”
After clearing my throat, I answer, trying on a desperate grin. “Of course, sir.”
“Don’t try that with me,” his voice nears a growl, almost filled with something more than disappointment for once. “Your charm might’ve worked with him, but there’s still much more you need to work on.”
“Sorry,” I mumble, gripping the legs of my pants. Has he already figured it out? “I’ll tell you anything you need to know.”
“You and your classmate Kirishima were told to get off each other during last week’s training. I distinctly remember you telling me that it wouldn’t happen again.”
I nod, unsure whether to feel glad that he’s miles away from the real truth or horrified that he even cares about any of this. “I remember, sir.”
“The two of you were fraternizing in the showers this past Friday. A zone where there shouldn’t be any sort of romantic interests in any way. What could possibly be your reasoning for this?”
I open my mouth to answer, but he interrupts me, strict and harsh. “Your ‘boyfriend’ told me he forced himself on you. Due to these unusual circumstances with the course study work, I’ve given him half a week’s detention.
“Is there anything more to this story, Balgera?”
Did he really take a bullet for me? Everyone knows Ei would never force himself onto anyone; it’s his whole manly mantra. I swallow carefully before deciding on which truth to tell him.
“He lied,” the words fall out of my mouth like quicksilver. “I asked him to kiss me. It was mutual, but I was the one who made him do it.”
His eyes widen with something that’s not quite surprise, in between distaste and terror. “You wouldn’t have to take a detention if you kept with what I was told.”
I shake my head. “It’s not the truth. Anyway, I’m sure Eijiro would much rather take my place in detention; it’s time I took the pain for him.”
A small smile creeps up on his face. “A full week,” he admonishes. When he catches my face, he clears up the motives. “You’re a hero, Balgera. So stop telling yourself you’re not.
“Perhaps you can use the added free time to ponder why you still think you’re not a hero.”
I force back the stutter, standing up impulsively as the door creeks open.
I run straight to his arms, grinning into Kiri’s face. “You didn’t die, loser.”
“Looks like someone’s in a good mood,” he notes, sounding weary but excited. “What happened to you?”
“Got detention,” I list on my fingers. “But I guess I sorta just realized that my body is mine, and fuck anyone who thinks it’s not good enough, because I’m finally fine with it.”
His eyebrows climb up his forehead. “Woah… where did that come from? Not that I don’t like it though!”
My hands creep up his neck as I pull him into a kiss. “I think you know exactly what made me like my body so much, Sharky.”
Aizawa sensei coughs once, shooting daggers at us through his eyes. “Do I need to remind you?”
We turn to face him, holding each other even closer. “Sir,” Kiri begins. “I-”
He just shakes his head at us, shooing us out of the room. “Just don’t let it get you distracted. Don’t make the same mistake I did.”
“Bye, sir!” Kirishima barks, wheeling me out of the room. When I wrench his gaze back to my eyes, he sighs. “There’s something that happened to him with one of his peers a long time ago. It’s better if we don’t reopen the wound.”
“I’m still worried about him,” I shiver as we reach the doors, walking out onto the track. “What if it’s a recurring problem?”
He drops his bag, holding my hands carefully, as if I’m about to break. “I know you think everyone deserves at least some help… or the opposite, that they deserve the absolute worst.”
“Sure,” I shrug. “But what do you mean?”
“I think this is in that grey area,” Kirishima rips off his hoodie, handing it to me. Above our heads, little sequences of rain drops bang out a tuneless rhythm, racking my brain. “And right now, it’s his problem. And… as much as I hate that we can’t do anything, it’s sometimes for the best.
“When I helped you, I knew you needed it. And when you help people, it’s the same, right? You don’t help someone out when they can do it themselves all the time.”
“Because then they become codependent,” I nod. “Is this leading to you telling me I’m codependent? Because that’s just my introversion, and I think I really got over that in these past few days but I…”
He puts a finger to my chin, stopping my incessant rambling. “I think you’re doing fine,” he tells me. “And I love that you’re doing fine. Hell, do you know how much I missed you while I was gone? It just helped me push even harder though! I’ll be even stronger next time too!”
“I want to get stronger too,” I grip his hand hard, flexing as I taste the sweetly acidic rain. “And I’ll never stop.”
Kirishima’s taken aback by my embrace, but he takes it in stride, gripping my hand roughly. “This new you isn’t a joke either, right?”
I shake my head. “You’ve finally fixed me, Kiri. And now I want to make it up to you.”
I pull out a thin strip of paper, scrawling everything that’s needed, passing it to him. Hopefully, thankfully, he understands it. When he shoves the paper into his pocket quietly, I know I’ve succeeded.
“You sure make plans quickly,” he laughs. “You wrote this in that much time?”
“I wanted to be a writer for the longest time,” I tease him, biting at his nose. “And you’re the story I want.”
“I’ll wait for it,” he promises me, looking at the paper. “When you’re finished with your detention, right?”
“Break me free,” I urge him. “And I’ll give you one of the best views I discovered while you were gone.”
“Two days?” He holds his neck sheepishly. “Damn, you love changing, huh?”
“I’m finally comfortable,” I jog back toward the dorms, urging him to fall into my tempo mid step. “And now you’re going to see everything I wanted to do all this time.”
“I look forward to it!” He laughs, holding my hand as we run, splashing up little streams of puddles into the air around us.

Chapter Text

Everything would have been great if Bakugo didn’t come in.
“What the hell,” he says, watching as I smash one last hit onto the speed bag.
It falls to the ground with a thump, punctuating my grin.
“That wasn’t a question, Bakugo.”
“Shut the hell up,” he swipes his hand down, resting against the bulkier punching bag. “I heard you got that loser in trouble.”
I blink once. “You’re mad about that?”
He snorts, holding up my bag for me. “Just didn’t expect it, I guess.”
“He told me he was fine,” I argue. Does he have to turn everything into a fight?
“You’re still second guessing yourself,” Bakugo notices, circling me. “Stop it, shitty hair.”
“I told you not to call me that.”
I raise my voice, striking the punching bag he’s leaning against. “I said shut up!”
“That was my line, actually. Guess you’re still the same dumbass, rocks-for-brains,”
He’s such a horrible person! What did I ever see in him?
What did I even do to him?
“Alright,” I hang my arm across his shoulder, hiding the red in my face. “You said everything you wanted to say, right?”
“I’m trying to tell you that your relationship with Nico isn’t healthy,” Bakugo turns as he reaches the doorframe, letting a thin sliver of pale skin sneak out from his skull hoodie. “You’re both pushing so hard to make it work, and it’s painful to watch.”
“Why do you get an opinion?” I ask, stomping toward him. “What makes this okay?”
A little prick of fear flashes in his eyes. “You were just getting ready for your date, and I wanted to tell you to cut it out.”
“I’m not breaking up with him,” I tell him, poking his chest adamantly. I can make my own decisions! “And I’m not going back to you, Bakugo!”
His face flushes, turning a sickly green. “I wasn’t saying that.”
“Yeah?” I try to push the anger rising in my throat out, but it comes out softer than I expected. “Well, that’s what it sounded like.”
“Fine,” his voice comes out strangled as he pushes me aside, letting out a solid hit on the punching bag. “But at least listen to me, okay? It’s like you’re not even fucking hearing what I’m saying.”
I don’t let him take another hit out on my bag. He doesn’t even deserve that release. “I’m listening.”
After I stare him down, he finally trusts me. “Nico’s great to you, and you’re amazing to him.”
“We’re both amazing to each other.”
“Shut the hell up!” He bangs his fist, growling. “Let me finish.”
“Okay,” I mumble, slumping onto the bed. “Then tell me more. I promise I won’t try to interrupt.”
He rolls his eyes but continues anyway. “You love each other, and hell! I actually used to like seeing you two together!”
“Then why all this?” I spread my arms out, shivering a little. “Why were you so mad about everything?”
“When we picked up his journal,” Bakugo recalls. “No one told you you had to go and comfort him. You didn’t need to take that extra step.”
“But I had to!” I call out, standing up abruptly. “I interrogated him the week before, and he was so hurt! I had to help!”
“You idiot. That’s not what I’m trying to say.”
“Then tell me,” I plead. “I’ll understand.”
He pauses before snarling. “It’ll just sound stupid.”
“There’s nothing you can say that’ll sound stupid.”
When we both notice the tone in my voice, I correct myself. “Uh… just because we’re not dating doesn’t mean… um…”
“I get it,” he cuts me off. “You’re still the same amazing guy from before. And I’m still the bastard.”
“Hey!” I try to comfort him, but he just pushes me away again. What is it with all these boys and pushing me away? “Don’t say stuff like that! You’re the manliest, Bakugo!”
“Shut the fuck up,” his voice is violent, but the tears at the corners of his eyes betray everything. “Do you want me to tell your not!”
“Tell me!”
“I wanted to do the same thing,” Bakugo rushes to finish the sentence, suddenly full of energy. “I was going to do that for him too.”
“But nothing!” His fist connects with the punching bag again. Is he imaging the fabric as me?
I hope not!
“Did it ever occur to you that I wanted to be the hero for once?” Bakugo lets out a primal scream, knocking the speed bag to the ground after a flurry of rifle-like hits.
“It wasn’t like that for me,” I try to say. “Nico was this guy that I liked, and he was hurt.”
“Oh,” he snorts. “Great. So it wasn’t even about protecting him.”
“That’s not what I’m saying! It just wasn’t all hero work for me. It was personal. No one should have to deal with something like that.”
“Same here,” he bellows. He doesn’t have to yell everything! Why doesn’t Bakugo ever calm down? Was he like this with me? “Kiri, didn’t you think there might be someone else who felt the same way he did?”
“Bakugo… I-”
“Don’t give me any fake sympathy,” the blonde snaps. “Because I don’t fucking need it. You wanna feel bad for me? Join goddamn Deku then. But none of my friends would ever worry about me like that.”
“But that’s what friends do!”
“No,” his face is inches away from mine, hot breath lining the etches of my cheekbones. “It’s what you do, Kirishima. And it’s not what I deserve.”
“You deserve the world,” I remind him quickly. “You deserve so many good things.”
“I didn’t mean that in a self depreciating way, god damn it!”
“Then what are you talking about?”
“I mean that you view me as less. You’re underestimating me.”
“Bakugo,” I let out a little, easygoing smile. “I’d never underestimate you. You’re insanely strong!”
“But you still see me as emotionally weak,” his voice is almost as harsh as his words as he moves to the bed, not sitting. “And I don’t want that. I don’t need it earlier.
“When we dated, it was because I liked how you comforted me, but you didn’t do it because you thought I was weak. You did it to lift me up.”
“And I didn’t want that to change,” I defend. “I still feel like I see you like that.”
“See,” he spits. “But that’s the whole thing. You can’t even see when you’re holding someone back. When you smother someone with love, they can’t go anywhere. And that’s exactly what you’re doing to Nico.”
“What?” I ask, feeling threatened. “And you could do better, right? Because you can always do everything better. Because that’s all you are!”
“That’s what I wanted,” he explains, completely immune to the acid in my voice. “I wanted to make everything better for him. Didn’t you ever fucking understand that?”
I stop, brushing back my red hair. “What are you saying?”
“I liked him, dumbass,” he blows his bangs in sync with me, ignoring the similarities. "I liked him, and then you took him."
"I didn't take him. You told me to call the headmaster, and I went to go do it. You're the reason we're even here, you know."
"Could you shut the fuck up?" Bakugo asked, gnashing his teeth. "I really don't care if that's what happened. Because you took it a step further."
"Oh," I keep my voice even, but there's that little anger at the back of my head, just like the one Nico talked about. "Don't you go there, Bakugo. You weren't helping him, and I did. So that's all there is. If you wanted him, then you should have done something."
"You were already all over him," he accuses. "There wasn't anything I could do at that point."
"You know what?" I pick up my bag, making sure that I don't look him in the eye. He doesn't even deserve that! "Maybe you're right. But it doesn't make the way you treated him and I at the restaurant any better."
"I said I was sorry," his voice cracks at the end, splitting my heart in two. 
"And I forgive you," the words spill out quicker than I expected. "But it doesn't change the fact that it happened.
"Bakugo," I lean in for a hug, but he pushes me away, almost like a cat. "I'm sorry you didn't get to tell me you liked him, and I'm sorry that I'm dating him now. But think about everything else you have!"
He arches his eyebrow. "What the hell are you saying?"
"I've sacrificed so much for you," the words come out slowly, but I squeeze them out anyway. It doesn't even matter if it's painful. 
I just need my buddy back.
"Yeah?" He crosses his arms. "So what?"
"I missed out on so much. I barely even thought about myself the entire time we were together. But with Nico... It's like I finally get to be me. And it's weird, because how can you be nostalgic for something you didn't know?
"I'm happier now, Bakugo. And I want you to be too."
"Damn it," he shakes his head, rearing back for a howl. "Of course I'm happier!"
I can't help but smile at him. "If you say so. Just don't try to come between two people so they feel worse than you again."
His neck twitches. "How did you know-"
"Uh..." I put my hand to my neck awkwardly. Didn't think I'd get this far! "Lucky guess?"
"Well," he snorts. "I was. And I'm sorry for being such a dick."
"Don't worry!" I slap his back, laughing. "It wouldn't have worked anyway!"
His glare creeps up my neck. "What the hell was that?"
"Um..." I struggle to find the words. "You're pretty persuasive! Just not enough to make Nico and I hate eachother."
"Right," he shrugs, not sounding entirely convinced. "Whatever."
I stand there, watching as he takes it in. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, shitty hair," Bakugo grunts, moving to hug me again. "Do it."
"Do what?"
"Have fun on your date," he tells me, releasing me from his grip. 
Is he for real? "You mean it?"
"I might as well," Katsuki throws himself to the door, looking eager to leave. "No one bets on losing dogs."
I smile, showing him my teeth. "Right!
"See you later, Bakugo!" 
"Don't fuck it up."
That's probably all the affection I'm getting out of him, but it's fine!
I bound out of the room, jumping down the stairs two at a time before letting out a whoop. It doesn't matter if anyone's staring at me. They just get to see more of it all!
It's almost raining outside, that little splash of water before the storm. Yet in the distance, the sun's showing clear skies, dripping down into the horizon.
It's a beautiful day to fall in love!
My feet carry me past the flickering cherry blossoms. I reach out, catching a stray petal and it flutters into my hand, soft and still.
"Nico!" I shout, exploding into a smile as I catch his thin silhouette against the light of UA's main building.
He looks up, flipping up his newly dyed purple hair. 
Lavender locks. It's almost too cute.
"Kiri!" His voice squeezes at my heart as he runs at me, much faster than I could ever go.
His body catapults into me, almost throwing me to the ground. But, an object in motion...
"Sorry," he smiles, staring down at me as I lose my balance and crash against the ground.
Stays in motion.
"I missed you," I hum, tapping his nose as he heaves me up.
"It was only a three hour detention," he defends, crossing his arms swiftly. "But the weeks are up! I'm you're slave now, Sharky."
Heat rises in my face, flushing out my already darkened skin. "I-um..."
He laughs a little, pushing me playfully. "Didn't think you'd be that distraught over it. Something wrong?"
"Distraught," I push away my nerves. "You're learning more words, huh?"
"Actually," he rolls his eyes. "It's for tomorrow's test."
"Figured you'd forget," he smiles softly. "So I wrote a study guide."
"You're a lifesaver," I snatch the paper from him.
"No," Nico kisses me softly, soft and sweet. "I'm a good boyfriend. Like you."
"You're better than a good boyfriend," I remind him. "And you put up with me."
"More like the other way around," he takes hold of my hand, wiping off the nervous look on his face. "So... are you ready for what's probably the most well orchestrated date you've ever been on?"
"I've been waiting for weeks now," I grin widely, skipping across the path. "What made you think I wasn't gonna enjoy it?"
"Sorry that we couldn't hang out more," he apologizes, burying his face into my sweatshirt. "Wait, is this the sweatshirt you wore on our first date?"
"If by first date," I reason. "You mean interrogation."
"Yeah... sorry I made you do that."
"Made you meet me? Best decision of your-I mean my life. And you're always gonna be my little delinquet, Nico. Just got out of detention, and I'm betting you already want to do something not so legal."
"Not a hero," Nico swings his arm around, picking up a pink petal. "But you don't have to act like I'm a badass either. I'm not."
"You're plenty badass!" I tease, pulling at his hair. It's cut shorter already, barely even touching the nape of his neck. "You cut and dyed your hair sporadically! That's gotta count for something!"
He cringes away a little. "You've been using a lot of exclamation points, Ei."
"Just to balance you out, baby," I murmur, smiling as he lights up like a Christmas tree. "Hey, what's that face for?"
"So first I'm too bold," his voice breaks at the end, hovering a little over a breakdown. "But then I'm not bold enough?"
Oh, Nico.
"You're just right," I insist, gripping his hands tight. "So don't mess with it too much, Nico."
"I guess you're right," he brushes a hand through his hair, but I can tell he's still conflicted. Everything is apparent in his voice. He might be a great liar to everyone else, but he's not getting through this man.
Full disclosure? Nico creates problems when he doesn't need to. It's like he's this gardener, except it's with magic instead of water... If that makes sense.
"Kiri," he shoves me softly. "You're not paying attention."
"Crap," I swing his arm in affirmation. "You got me. Sorry!"
Guess he's better at thinking than I am, even if it keeps falling into overthinking.
But that's the whole problem! What can I do to keep him in the present?
A punch comes at my back, most likely from Nico.
"Since you're not paying attention," he crosses his arms, pulling on yellow sun and moon-shaped sunglasses. "Guess it's gonna be a surprise."
"Cool!" I press my fists into their trademark position. "Uh... That's my plan?"
"Sure," that gets a smile out of Nico. "But don't complain if you don't like it."
"What's not to like?" I ask. "I'm sure you chose some place great! Plus, I get to pick next, remember?
"I don't want this night to end quickly," I whisper into his neck, breathing in his vanilla scent. "So let's have fun with it!"
"Right," he recovers from his initial fluster, pulling out a phone. "It's a bit far, so we're gonna get a driver. That okay?"
To be honest, I'd rather run there. His stamina's great, and I know I can keep up. And while I might be the one who talks to people more, he's the one better at showing off to other people.
If only everything was so perfect, right?
He climbs into a stranger's car, piling near the side door. "C'mon," he beckons, grabbing my arm.
"Of course!" I jump in beside my boyfriend, ignoring the hateful stares coming from the front.
"I'll get you there quickly," his eyes don't even fall on us for a moment. "I don't turn on the radio either."
"That's fine!" I push Nico into the corner before he starts shouting. His temper's getting better, but there's still a long way to go.
"Here," I pop my earbuds into his ear. "We can share!"
"I'll waste all your skips," he threatens, even though he's repeated the same line at least a thousand times.
His leg falls onto mine as the driver speeds off, all piled up. I respond by letting my body weight fall, plopping into his shoulder.
"You're a little too heavy for that," he shifts to my right, copying the movement on my shoulder. "You're fine if I rest on your shoulder."
"Of course," I murmur, smiling. "You're comfy anyway. I love your sweater."
His head keels down, eyeing the purple sweater, loose over a semiformal white button-up. "I'll dress up for you anyday, Kiri."
"You don't need to dress up," I remind him, adjusting his crooked collar. "You already act so formal. Why not let it go a little?"
Nick snorts. "You think I act formal?"
"Okay, well now you're just doing the opposite on purpose!"
"I dress up to feel confident. Not just for you."
"Don't think you're all that important to me, Ei; I'm a selfish bastard."
"You're the most self sacrificing person I know. You're gonna have to try a little harder than that to convince me."
"Oh really?"
"Yeah," I caress his cheek in my hand. "Because I know you'll do all the work of leaning in for me if I-"
"Excuse me," the driver clears his throat. I stare into his eyes, trying to make sure he knows who I am. Nico does the same, but I have to hold back a laugh.
He doesn't even realize how adorable he looks when he tries to be menacing!
"I don't need any public display of affection in my car," his voice is entirely flat as he continues driving. I hate how he says it the full way through; Public Displays of Affection. As if that's a crime.
"Guess you'll have to prove it to me afterward."
I turn to face Nico. His face isn't showing any signs of anger, but there's a remarkable tremble in his voice.
I drop to a whisper. "Do you think he's like..."
"Homophobic? Um..."
"Because he seemed a bit off."
"Thought I was supposed to be the over thinking one."
"Do you think he hates us?"
"Him? No. Why does it matter?"
I pause. Does it matter? "You're right."
"Already knew that, Kiri."
I smile back at him. "You're just trying find excuses to use nicknames as much as possible."
"I like the way they feel on my tongue."
"That's your stop," the driver slams on the brake, throwing us up. "Have a nice night, boys."
I look back at his genuine smile, brightening up. "Thanks, sir!"
Nico rushes out faster than me, eyeing the city. "Told you he wasn't that bad."
"You got me there," I relinquish, trying to guess his destination. "So, where to? I'm sure you're waiting to pile food on, but you could definitely still use some snacks, Nico."
"Stop it," his face gets run through with streaks of red. "It's not that bad."
"I've seen all of you," I confirm. "And I can tell that you need to eat some more."
"Didn't need to word it like that," he mumbles, clapping his hands together. "But you're right anyway! How does a little bit of ramen sound?"
My eyes cross. "You hate ramen."
"I hate how oily it is," he brings his hands out, resting against me as we walk down the street. There's no rain at all around us, but the clouds hover like stragglers, watching us eagerly.
I'd like to see how we look too.
"And," Nico presses his hands out in a 'Tada!' pose. "Here it is!"
"Hey!" I bark, grinning as he leads me into the yellow-tinted, retro shop. "It's where we met."
"Well," Nico shrugs. "Close enough. Do you wanna sit where we sat last time?"
"I'd rather be closer to the window," I offer, placing my hands across my neck. Bad habit! "We don't have to hide anymore."
"Were you ashamed of me before?" He asks, ordering for us. I'm sure he already knows what we're both getting, and I trust him. I'm still used to spicy after Bakugo.
Wait- is that part of my type?
"I can't really say for sure," my hands fall to my sides. I need to stop fidgeting! "But you were sorta cute, if not scary."
"Nah," he denies it, much more casual and happier than he was the last time we sat across from each other. "I was vicious. No cuteness. Did you know you loved me instantly?"
My mind wanders to Bakugo against my will. He said he liked Nico before me but is it true? "You were a little brat," I giggle, pushing away the anxiety. "But I there was something. We're soulmates, Nico."
"Bullshit," he twists a chopstick around his fingers. "Those don't exist."
"Try thinking about it! Wouldn't it be cool if soulmates did exist?"
"I'd love it. But honestly? Think of bisexuals. If I can have just one person I need to date, then why do I even bother being bi?"
"Would you rather I be a girl?"
"No," he cuddles around my hoodie, flicking his hair onto my chest. "You're a good man, Ei."
"Okay," I compensate. "Then I'll change the rule for you. Soulmates exist, but you have more than one."
"Doesn't that defeat the purpose?"
"Listen here," I put on a fit of fake anger, but he sees right through it instantly. "You're just gonna have to accept it and be happy. We can all have a cluster of people made for us."
"And the others are just practice?" I ask. "Well, then I hope you're one of mine. Because I don't want to let you go."
Adorable! I can actually feel my heart racing against my chest!
It's everything love should be.
"Order 777!" A woman's husky voice rings out from the counter.
"That's us!" I jump up eagerly, throwing my body to the counter. "Thanks, ma'am!"
I just love it when someone smiles back at me. Nico greets me with a similar smile, handing me a pair of chopsticks as well. "I got the one with hot sauce and veggies this time. Looks good."
I shrug, biting into a piece of mixed-in steak. "Better than before, at least. We get to enjoy ourselves this time!"
"You seem happy about that," he notices, stabbing absentmindedly at his food.
"Don't think I don't see you," I warn. "Aren't you hungry?"
"Of course," he mumbles in between bites. "But my appetite always seems so much smaller. It's hard for me to eat a ton by myself."
"Well then," I feel a salacious (Thanks, Nico) smile creep up my lips. "I might be able to help with that."
My hands reach up to my chopsticks, grabbing a few pieces of steak and noodles. "Open wide!"
"What?" His mouth falls open, and the sticks rush in. "Hey!" 
"Sorry," I say, barely meaning it. "But you need your protein!"
"I'm not a jock like you," he whines, melting my heart. "And you can't just treat me like a lost puppy!"
"Really?" I raise my eyebrow, glancing beneath the table. "Because you're enjoying it a lot more than you say."
I have to laugh at his reaction. Did he not even notice? "Just... Shut up, Kiri."
I let out another little giggle, pushing the meat to his lips. "C'mon! You need the extra protein again!"
"What if I'm a spontaneous vegetarian?" He feigns illness. "You could be killing me."
"I'm making you a protein shake for breakfast tomorrow," I threaten, feeding him another portion of the ramen. 
"Do you still have some of those wipey things?" He asks, motioning toward my bag. "I don't wanna be all oily after this."
"You and your obsession with looking good," I scoff, secretly loving the way he looks at with so much dependence. "I'm always prepared though, aren't I?"
"Hardly," he accepts another bite from me, placing his thin lips onto the sticks for a moment too long. Is he trying to be seductive, or is it just habit?
"Give me another bite," he whispers. When I lean into his neck, he stares back at me, confused.
"Not like that," he chides. "Another bite of the ramen."
"Oh," I mouth, laughing at my mistake. "Sorry. You're really getting into this, huh?"
"Just give me more," he says in between bites. "You're surprisingly good at this sort of thing."
"I just want my boyfriend to be healthy!" I pump my fists together, scraping the last of the bowl out. "You're all done!"
"Ugh," he rubs his stomach absentmindedly, checking his phone. 
"No one's gonna text you," I remind him, pushing the phone down. "And you're taking away all the fun, man!"
"Ugh," he groans. "Hurts."
"That's barely anything!" I poke his belly softly, smiling when his eyes perk up. "If that made you full, then you're in for a great night!"
"Please tell me you'll feed me more," he whines. "I need it."
"Hell yeah!" 
"Rub, please. I'm gonna get fat because of you, dumbass."
"It's not even really showing!" I bark, complying anyway. Sure enough, I can only feel a tiny little bump in his stomach. It's not like he really had abs anyway.
"So warm," he mumbles. A little bit of drool falls from his mouth as I continue to rub his belly. 
"It's not even lasting fat," I tease. "Is this the first time you've done something like this?"
He whips up from his chair, startling me. "Of course!"
"Well," I eye his sides, where a little bit of the extra chub still sticks. "You gotta live more, then! We both worked hard to get into UA, and we deserve mental health days!"
"If you say so," he gets up, staring down at his midsection. Of course, it barely even jiggles. There's no way it's even close to enough excess wait for that. But it's still adorable.
"Huh," he realizes, letting out a soft burp into my shoulder as he leans into me. "You were right; it really isn't that much."
"We could try for more," I offer. "Uh- only if you want!"
He stares at me as if I'm silly. Which is pretty true. "I'm supposed to be sharp. Not soft."
"I could help you if you wanted to recover," I offer. Now that the image is in my mind, it's hard to let go. "And we wouldn't get too far, I don't think."
"Whatever," he grumbles. I can tell from the little shine in his eyes that Nico feels a lot less apathetic about the whole thing than he's letting on. 
"Aw," I punch his arm playfully. "You're just being a big tsundere!"
His eyes widen. "I am?"
Damn. Keep forgetting he's not from here. "Oh, not really though. You're a hopeless romantic."
"Speaking of that," he intersects, holding the door open to me. Just like a true gentleman! "Where are we going for the next chapter of our, Kiri?"
"I've got just the place in mind," I promise him, looking up the place in just a moment. "Lets run there, since you're still obviously obsessed with that little tummy."
"Hey!" He protests. "You're more into it than I am!"
"Oh," I roll my eyes, smiling down at him as he catches up to me in a moment. "Obviously."
Nice just pushed harder, clearly still affected from before. "Hey," I jog by him, breathing in and out slowly. "You don't have to sprint!"
His eyes narrow. "I'm not?"
"You've been getting faster then!" I tease. "Great job!"
"We're training to be different types of heroes," he reminds me. "So of course I'm faster, right?"
"Sure," I snort. "But don't go thinking you're tougher than me!"
"Oh," he wags an eyebrow, smiling broadly. "But I've already seen your stamina, Ei."
"Okay," I nod. "Okay. But does that really matter when you're saving people?"
"It convinced me to join your side," he mumbles.
"No!" I laugh, hitting him softly. "Oh my god, you did not just say that!"
"It's true."
"Well," I giggle. "It's not happening again. You were the exception, Nico."
"Glad to be the only one," he smiles back at me, ducking under a store's sign.
"Woah," his eyes widen as I grip the back of his collar, hugging him close to me. Luckily, his instincts kick in, forcing his legs to keep running. "Let's not hit signs this late in the afternoon."
Nico's eyes waver at the horizon, where a pale blue sheen still glows from the edge of the city's buildings. "Are you just going to keep throwing me around?"
"It's pretty easy to!"
After a quick session of hateful glowering, my boyfriend just shrugs it off. "Are we almost there yet?"
"You sound like a little kid!"
"Okay," he stresses. "Daddy."
My face becomes an inferno. "I wouldn't try that."
"Why not?" His teeth move up to my neck as I slow down, but I'm not feeling up to it right now. "Don't you wanna be my daddy, sharky?"
"Don't," I warn him. "Fucking stop."
In a single moment, Nico's entire face falls. "Sorry."
"I'm just still not comfortable with that," I amend, hand reaching for the back of my neck. "You know?"
"Is that what Katsuki called you?"
I blink, surprised that he's even able to call Bakugo by his first name. Guess the cultural differences still win out. "Not really? We didn't have that type of relationship."
"He made it sound pretty sexual."
I back off a little, mumbling over the drone of the cars. "It was. But you know... It's not like we had that type of relationship anyway."
"I'm much more comfortable when I'm with a guy like you," I hug him, smiling as his arms reach around mine too. "Plus, you're mad cute."
"Stop it," he blushes, turning away from me. "This still doesn't tell me why you got so mad at me."
"Damn," I grunt. "You're still on that?"
"You were the one who was angry!"
I laugh it off, jumping back into our run. I just hope the stores don't close early today, especially since we've probably added so much time onto Nico's plan. "We don't have to stay mad at everything forever, right? What would that solve?"
He stares at me, confused. "But you shouldn't just let people walk all over you."
"That's right!" I exclaim. "You absolutely shouldn't! But if we don't let some things go, all we get is angry. And honestly? I'd rather we just skip to the making up part."
"Or," I add, seeing that he's not entirely convinced. "The making out part."
My lips touch his cheek softly, filling us both with an electric rush. "The reason why I flipped out was because I haven't exactly had the best relationship with my dad."
"You didn't freak out," he correct. "That's overdoing it. And shit... You told me about that before, right?"
"Yeah," I shrug, not allowing the bad memories to overtake me. "But I never expected you to remember it."
He takes my hands in this. "Tell me how I can change that."
I have to bite back another laugh. It's always so adorable how romantic and adamant he can be. "It's not you, it's-"
"Don't," Nico warns. "I never even want to hear you finish that sentence."
"Woah! Chill out, bro!"
"Don't bro me," he whines. 
"Chill out, babe!"
"Better. Do you want to talk about your dad?"
"What is there to say?" I shrug. "Shitty guy who raised a great man. I wouldn't be who I am today without him, but that doesn't justify the way he treated my sisters and I."
"Did he hit you?"
I look at him with shock. "No!"
"Sorry! I just kinda guessed that because you seemed so pissed."
"I shouldn't have lashed out," I apologize. "It's just that like... Woulda been cool if he even acknowledged me enough to hit me."
"It's cool. He never even hurt my mom either. He was a true man, and I want to be an even better one."
"That's beautiful," he whispers. "But I think you've already done it."
"Respect," I hum, remembering how my dad would say the same thing. "But there's so much more I want to do!
"Let's get our dreams together, Nico!"
I grab hold of his hand, giggling as catches up to me, matching my stride perfectly.
"Shit!" I laugh. "The shop was back there!"
"Ei," Nico punches me in the arms. "Not funny, dumbass."
I hold the door open for him, smiling as an elderly couple nods their head in thanks. 
"Tea?" Nico props his head in my arms as I cross them on a thin metal table, reading the menu. "I didn't think you were the type."
"I'm always up for tea!" I shout, ignoring the dirty looks from some of the less belligerent customers (ha! Told Bakugo I could use it!). "Can't believe you thought I wouldn't like it."
"You seem too tough for it," he amends. "Anything in particular?"
"Nobody's too tough for tea!" I slam my fist down, causing some school-aged girl to sneer down at me from her laptop. "Uh, sorry."
"No," Nico smiles warmly, dropping a ton of sugar packets onto the table. "It's cool. I like my men passionate."
"I mean, doesn't that make everybody interesting?" I let out a laugh, looking back at the menu. "Damn, you're really rubbing off on me!"
"What does that mean?"
"It means that I didn't usually have these types of conversations," I explain. "You know, philosophical ones!"
"I hate philosophy," my boyfriend gags, twisting a little purple hair around his finger. His other finger's now preoccupied with the sugar, creating a little fortress. "It's just stupid."
"Well," I hope he's not growing tired of my laugh yet! "You're really good at it!"
"If you say so. But what tea are we getting?"
"Ooh," I bounce back into reality. "Forgot about that!"
"Yeah," he lets out a little snort that sounds a lot cuter than he's trying for. "Couldn't even tell."
"I want you to try boba!" I exclaim, showing him the side of the chalkboard, wincing at the prices. Hero work might pay well, but I'm still just an intern! "It's super cool and-"
“I know what it is,” he tells me before I start ranting for the next hour. I bet if no one told me to stop, I’d probably just keep talking forever. “But, you’re right; I’ve never had it.”
“Well,” I hang my arm across his arm, grinning at the red-haired girl behind the counter. Guess that means we’re twins! “There’s no better day to start! What are you thinking?”
“I’ll match you,” he says meekly. “I don’t really know what I’m doing here.”
The woman doesn’t even tell us to hurry up. She just hands my boyfriend a menu with a soft smile, watching as I lean over his shoulder. 
“I like rose tea,” he decides. “And I’ll just do whatever fruit you want.”
“Milk tea,” I drop a couple extra dollars on the counter just for her gratitude toward us. “And strawberry bubbles.”
“Oh!” He exclaims. “Uh, is that because the nickname I called you once?”
“Strawberry Shark?” I ask. “Not really! But it’s a cute name anyway.”
“Then what’s with the strawberry?” He asks. “I would have pegged you as someone who loved their orange.”
I fake a gag. “You really haven’t head boba tea before, have you? Why would you even choose orange and milk tea?”
“I’m still new to this whole culture,” he wraps his arms around his body, soft sweater still caressed against his small chest. “Remember?”
“Right,” I nod quickly. I like to think that Nico’s love is like a game. You have to just keep working at it and gain points from your affection, and then you get all the rewards! It’s really tough at the beginning, but even a solid effort breaks through to that romantic heart of his. “Sorry for bashing you so hard.”
“It’s fine,” he narrows his eyes with a smile. “You’d be lost with American culture too."
"Hey!" I protest, watching as our drink gets prepared. They're getting even faster at making them, at least! "I could be a cowboy!"
"That's not even close," he sighs, burying his face in his arms.
"What's wrong?"
"Just a little tired."
"Well," I smile back at him, lifting his chin up from the counter. "I could ask for some caffiene to be added into this too."
"Please," his voice comes out in a monotone, but I can tell he's beyond grateful that I remembered to add it in. The woman just nods, taking my extra tip in stride. "If I keep working this hard all day, I'm just gonna get burned out, huh?"
If dating Nico's like a game, being him has got to be a fire. He's always burning pretty brightly nowadays, but it can only keep going for so long. No wonder I keep finding empty coffee cups at the edge of his dorm's floor.
"It's no vanilla latte or pumpkin spice," I thank our server as she lays down the tea. "But you'll like it, even if it's cold!"
"You realize I usually get iced coffee anyway," he mumbles, taking out a straw. 
"Really?" I guess you do learn something new every day! "I always see you get hot stuff."
"Bean juice works best when boiling my insides," Nico nods. "But when I have it for fun, I usually have chilled. Lots of honey."
"Honey? Okay, I don't know how they make it over there, but you've gotta be kidding me!"
"Nope!" his exuberance comes back, all at once. I guess serotonin does it for him too. "Just me. I'm weird."
"You're interesting," I amend. "And I like that."
"How do you..." Nico's voice wavers as he plunges the paper straw into the top of the plastic seal, exclaiming as a little bit of the red liquid splashes up. "Oh!"
"At least we know you're getting stronger!" I laugh, mimicking the motion. He curses at the stain now on his sweater, but I think he gets that it's all in good fun.
"Here," I reach for a few napkins, making sure not to blotch the front of the shirt. I've been with him long enough to know he hates that! "All better!"
"Thanks," he smiles wryly, taking a sip of the tea. "Wait, shit- I take it back. This is actually really fucking good!"
"You haven't even had the bubbles yet!" I notice in between sips of my own tea. I savor the sweet, cool rush running down my throat. There are only so many days when I can let myself really feel like this, and I'm glad I get to share it with him. "Nico, do you seriously never have tea?"
"I mean," he shrugs nonchalantly. "I've had tea before. They just make it really sweet here!"
"It's called sugar," I laugh, passing him a packet. "Here. You said you like sweet stuff, right?"
"I'm fine with sour too," he makes a face. "What is it?"
"Honey," I nod. "Because now I know you like it in your drinks!"
He snatches it quickly, pouring the sticky substance into the tea. "You probably think this is gross."
I pull the straw from his hand, tasting a bit of it. "A bit too sweet for me, but it's actually pretty good!"
"Huh," he places his lips on my straw tentatively, sucking up a bubble with unnecessary force. "You're is actyally really good. I didn't think you were this bitter though."
"Guess it's just the opposites of our insides!" I joke. Nico punches me playfully, pushing the door open for me. 
"Complimentary," he fixes my words. "And now that I'm finally tasting heaven, I think we should stay away from food for a little while on our trip. Plus, I already know where we're going. After that, it's your turn, and then we end."
"Aw," I sigh, checking my watch. "But it's only been an hour!"
He snorts. "An hour, and we're only halfway through with the quicker half. How long are your dates usually?"
"Less than this one," I guess. "But I want to be with you even longer!"
"I'll tell you what," he strikes a deal with me as he sorts through the change in his wallet. "I'll let you stay in my dorm tonight. Nothing... sexy. Just sleep. Mr Aizawa hasn't let us had nights like that in a long time."
"And you still haven't learned your lesson!" I tease. "I mean, isn't that why you got detention?"
"We're not doing anything bad!" He defends, hands wrapped tightly around his chest. "Just let me-"
"Dude," I laugh. "I'm fine with it! Sounds like fun anyways."
"I have the tracking thingy on," Nico states.
"The gps?"
He takes a step back, blinking. "Yeah. Just forgot what it was called. We'll be taking the train for this one, because there's no way I'm walking the distance."
"But you love running!" I protest.
"Not for 40 miles," he leans back into me, breathing in the cold air.
"You're going far," I notice. "Anywhere in particular?" 
"Of course," his teeth chatter as a fool breeze moves through. "What's the deal with the cold?"
"I don't know," something pricks up in my instincts, but I can't even tell what to do or where to go. It's like a mental block breaking against my skull. 
"Nico," something's coming down the alley like a freight train. "Jump."
"What?" He asks, entirely bewildered. It's all fight or flight, and he can't even process which one to use. "Kiri, my drin-"
"Move!" My voice rockets from the bellowing echoes at the end of the street. "Now!"
He follows orders quickly, diving with me out of the way. A stream of ice shoots out from the alley, hitting the exact place where we stood.
"I'll help," Nico offers, flexing and clenching his fists. "Just tell me where to go."
"Not now!" I growl, throwing the drink to the side. It fucking sucks that I couldn't finish it with my boyfriend, but this is all I can do to help the other people on the streets.
"You don't have a hero license," I shout back at him, hacking through the ice with just my bare arms. "And you can't risk that!"
"I'm not just standing here though!"
Damn Nico. Never knows when to take a break. "Get everyone out of the scene then!"
He nods solemnly, pushing the bystanders back. I'm afraid that he's going to use his quirk on them, but I don't have time to overthink. It's taking everything I have just to keep this wall of ice from moving.
"I know you're here somewhere!" I cry out. Can't they fight like a man and face me head-on? "So show yourself!"
I'm not expecting anyone to come out and fight fairly, so I smash the wall down, looking both ways before tearing through the freezing mess.
A hooded girl stares back at me, small crystals falling from his wrist. "Found you," 
The criminal just moves back to her vantage point, and I have to bite back a comment about being unmanly. I might be the hero here, but I’ve seen how skeptics can twist the story. I’d rather keep my name out of those lights!
“Just let go,” she whines, her voice soft and wispy. My hand falls, still hardened to a thick point. 
“Are you being held captive?” I flip the hood off the girl, gasping at her icy blue eyes. Still, it’s her pale, broken hand that’s drawing my gaze more. “What’s wrong?”
“She told me to kill you,” the girl flicks her ghostlike blonde hair back into its ponytail. “And I won’t fail again.”
My vision goes black, taken over by a freezing pain. Even though I can tell it’s not going to kill me, it still fucking hurts! “What was that for?”
“I can heal it,” she pushes her hand back against my chest, lips pressed against my neck. My mind goes blank, taken over only by her soft voice. “If you want… we could be together forever, Kiri.”
She says my name like a storm. Like a curse.
“You’re trying to hurt the people I love!” My arms connect around her waist, quickly whipping her to the ground. Vicious red blood mars her lips as they let out a gasp of air, eyes filled with fear.
She’s still breathing, but that might be the worst of it.
“That’s quite enough,” a distinct snap of gloved fingers comes from further down the alley, echoed by claps. “Beautiful work, Stella.”
“There’s more of you?” My voice cracks, but it’s not like anyone’s around to hear it. If I show one sign of weakness, it’s just begging for the villains to go right ahead and beat me to death.
The blue-haired man from before comes back, accompanied by a woman with similar hair. I spit back on the floor. “You’re the pawn shop guy.”
“Sidney,” he corrects, tapping his cane on the ground. I could pass the two off as normal people dressed like weirdos under any case, but it’s the pure malevolence in his eyes that scares the shit out of me.
The woman stares at the girl, and it’s only now that I realize just how similar they’re all dressed. Blue hair and blue eyes, black coats and dresses, something almost designer. Little buttons of stars sit at the collar, edging on making the duo look monstrously rich.
“I don’t suppose we’ve met,” she purses her black lips. “Mirabella.”
Nico rests his arm on my shoulder, nails sharpened to points. I wince at the little stains of red dripping down onto my sweatshirt. It's not even the fact that he’s ruining my sweatshirt. It's already past that point!
“I thought you didn’t have your hero license?” Sidney adjusts his low-brimmed hat, the smile on his face placid.
“I also didn’t have a fuck to give,” Nico stared back at me. On one hand, I’m beyond happy that he’s talking with so much gumption. On the other hand…what the fuck is he doing?
Oh yeah. Everything’s coming up Eijiro.
“Nico,” I warn. “You really shouldn’t be here.”
“Is that your daughter?” He asks, ignoring me. The girl’s eyes hover on mine, but I purposely look away from them. I don’t even know what to feel.
So I’m just going to act.
I throw myself at the man, hands hardened and heavy. Sure enough, the punch lands on his jaw, catapulting him back.
“You’re quite brutish,” he notices with a sickly laugh. It’s followed by a cough, blood dripping from his throat.
“Disgusting,” Mirabella presses her hand to her chest. “You were supposed to go quietly.”
“That’s not how a man fights!” I bellow back at her. “You don’t just attack when we have our back turned!”
“I guess I’m no man,” she shrugs helplessly. When I raise my fist as a threat, the woman just sighs, dignified as ever.
What is it with villains and constantly patronizing me? Where are the chivalrous justice seekers?
I guess there’s only justice when there’s judgment.
Woah. That’s going too deep.
Mirabella smashes her heel into the girl's leg, causing her to erupt into a scream.
“Stop it!” I shout, pushing at her chest. “You’re too insane!”
“And you’re too loud,” she complains. “And I wouldn’t try that again.”
“Oh yeah?” I push back for a punch, ignoring Nico’s voice at the back of my head. If he chose to push my thoughts away, why can’t I? I’m not even going to focus on that non-man in the corner.
All I need is to taste her blood.
“This is what they do!” Nico reminds me. “These aren’t your thoughts!”
“Shut up!” I drop Nico onto the ground as soft as I can manage, but it’s still hard. His razor-sharp nails end up only an inch away from Stella’s eyes. “Just let me live for once, okay Nico?”
“No,” I scream, even though the words are like exploding stars against my skull. “Just stop holding me back, Nico! Leave me the fuck alone!”
There’s a world of hurt in his eyes, but Nico holds on anyway. “You didn’t let me leave before. And I’m not letting you make the same mistake.”
“Do it,” Sidney coughs. “Just let the boy hit his target. It’s all a loose cannon can do.”
“What did you just call me?” My fist meets his gut, causing the guy to double over. He just keeps laughing, just like before.
When do you get to that point in villainy when you don’t even think pain hurts anymore? 
“A loose cannon,” Mirabella smiles smugly, still twisting her heel into the daughter's leg. Pinpricks of blood squeeze out of the bruise, seeping down onto the ground.
We’re painting the whole town red.
“You fire powerfully, but you’re only going to ever hit the ones you love,” she continues. 
“No,” I strike her again, ripping open the flesh on her cheek. The laughter ends on her part, replaced with a horrified silence as she palms the gap, rage filling into her eyes. 
“You called me a boy,” I give the other side the same treatment, matching the swing. “Like I haven’t improved. Like it’s how I was back then.”
“You’re right,” she spits. “Because you are.”
So… there are times when you’re done with a mad tough rep, and then your eyes and mind play tricks on you, right? Like when the black dots form, and you can’t see anything clearly. But then there are the out-of-body experiences when you’re finally getting all that pain out, and your body doesn’t even let you catch up.
That’s what my entire world is now.
“It’s a simple quirk,” I can only hear and see vague glimpses of the conversations around me, like a broken Tv. Nico’s stabbing at the seer, but Sidney’s cane just blocks the blows.
Who are we even up against?
“Touch me twice, and your past is mine,” she explains. “And I’m sure a boy like you has some secrets to keep. There’s a reason you didn’t fall for Stella, even with Sidney’s persuasion. How could a man like you ever love someone like Nico? Like him?”
Her words become murky water, only pushing. I’m pushing and pushing, but that’s not getting me anywhere. 
Because I’m back where it started.
Almost as if it’s like a play, I’m on the edge of the stage, staring in.
Staring at a me with dark hair.
Hideous, disgusting, a fucking mess who didn’t deserve to live.
Because isn’t that what I thought of myself back then?
“My answer is still no,”
My father’s deep voice cuts like a knife, dropping my heart from my chest. When’s the last time I even heard those words, spoken so often that it was like a broken record?
“Dad,” I cringe at my own voice. The thing they don’t tell you about change and inner love is that you’re never going to be able to change who you were. The future’s all up to you, but the past is like a rock. 
Like me.
“I love him.”
“No you don’t!” He slams his fist down, face still concealed by the shadows of my old man’s office. Did he ever let any more light into the room? Even the plant in the corner droops down sadly, nodding its head in agreement to the constant denial.
“But dad-”
“Those are tears, Eijiro. What have I told you?”
“That I shouldn’t cry,” I- his voice breaks. How many tears did I hold in because of this man? How many thoughts were suppressed, how many loves were thrown away?
“You do not seriously believe you could ever love another man,” his shiny, balding head lowers as he sits down at his table, opening the work. Like I don’t matter.
“All I wanted was go to the dance with him!”
He slams his hand down, glaring at us. “You are not a damn homosexual, Eijiro!”
Like it’s a fact. Like it’s something I can even fight.
“There’s never been a Kirishima with any thoughts like that,” my father doesn’t look back up at either of us anymore. I only move around the stage, watching as little me closes his eyes, blinking back eyes.
His hand moves to his neck, just like my own tic. Only this time, I can see how defensive it looks. Almost abrasive. 
“Well,” his voice starts out quiet. “There’s going to be.”
It’s not a question. I shouldn’t be falling for this. But the younger Eijiro moves anyway, throwing the papers off the desk. “What if I don’t want to live like everyone else?”
I’m brought back into the scene under that hateful glower my father gives me. My legs carry me around the room, but no one’s noticing me.
“You will do as I say,” he breathes in and out, slow and careful. “And it’s all you’ll get.”
“I’m going to be a hero.”
“No you’re not!” 
The slap isn’t even on my cheek, but I can feel it all the same.
Are the memories of his hate the fire I feel?
“Hey,” I surprise even myself as I speak. The other two stare at me in shock, but nothing even reflects in their eyes. 
Not even fear.
“Shut the fuck up!”
I twist around, watching the silhouette they’re looking at.
He doesn’t even face me after staring at middle school me.
Would I do the same to him?
“He’s going to be the greatest fucking hero!” Nico gets in my father’s face, and the two barely even react. “SO DON’T SAY ANY OF THAT SHIT!”
I can’t even stop him before he takes the head from my father’s neck.
I’m already soaked in so much more blood than I ever would have expected from tonight, and I’m glad that nothing else is coming back. Only shards of cracked porcelain fall onto my hand, breaking the skin.
Why can even diamonds be soft?
Nico raps his knuckles against younger me, who’s turned into a statute. “I knew it. You’re all gems.”
I stare at him blankly as he rambles on. “But not the cutesy ones. The geodes. The ones stuck in those lackluster rocks. You know the type, right?”
“Where am I?”
It’s barely even a question. I already know what’s going on, but I just need to hear his voice again. 
I need to feel real again.
“Her quirk sends you back in time,” Nico explains. “Fortunately for us, the veil’s pretty weak when she’s unconscious.”
“What happened?”
“Sidney tried stabbing you. I stopped him. I think…”
“Nico…” I look down at his makeshift claws in horror. I knew there was something wrong with his eyes.
“I’ve created an end,” it’s only horror speaking. “There’s a little girl out there now, with no dad. There’s no way he survived that.”
“You don’t know that!”
“Kiri!” He hits me, almost raking the claws against my cheek. “I just killed someone! I’m not even a hero like any of you, okay? I’m a fucking villain, just like Sidney. And nothing can change that.”
“Don’t listen to any of that bullshit,” I order him, sending him into a tight grip. “Okay? Because the next time you open your mouth to say some shit like that, I’ll fucking knock you to the moon, okay?”
He stares at me. “You’re talking differently.”
“Rough memory,” I amend. “But I’m sure you saw it too.”
I can’t tell who’s mad at who, or if anyone’s really angry. Nico just looks devastated.
And this time, I don’t know how I’m going to fix him.
“I want to leave this place,” he tells me, tears rolling down his cheeks silently. There aren’t even any fighting sobs. Because when you really need to cry, it just happens.
There are wars we don’t have to win.
“I promise I’ll make it up to you,” I tell him. “We still have a whole date night!”
It hurts and aches to be happy at this moment, but it’s bringing Nico up.
“And I don’t want us to pretend this never happened, because it did. But Nico… the moment we start regretting our actions is the moment we start fucking up, and I don’t want that for you. You’re not a villain, and you know that!”
“I don’t know what I even need to believe though,” he reminds me. “Because even up until now, you’re the only person who’s ever told me I can be a hero.”
“And you know?” His voice is distant again, rambling through words left unsaid, and I already know there’s nothing for me to do. When he gets into one of these episodes, I have to watch.
It’s all I can ever do. Just like then.
“I really wanted to be a hero, Kiri. I actually did. And I still do. But if I’m going to get constant reminders of how I’m going to fuck up, how is any of this worth it? What the hell can I even do?”
I try for a smile, but it’s all broken up, just like the porcelain statue of my father sitting in the darkness. “All it takes is one person to start a fire. And I think you’re creating a new future all on your own.”
“Maybe it’s not a future I want.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that I’m tired of fighting an uphill battle to get anything done. To do anything. And it’s not even like back then, because I’m so much stronger. But watching you go through this… I don’t want to see anyone else be like this.”
“Be like what?”
“Helpless,” he spits at me. “Utterly helpless.”
“It’s the worst part of heroics,” I tell him. “I’m not even a seasoned hero, but do you know how many people I’ve had to leave behind?”
I laugh a little, but he doesn’t pick it up. So much for a contagious laugh! “At least twenty. Twenty one, if we’re including that little girl.”
“Stella,” he reminds me. “And that’s who I’m scared about. I think… I’m sure that’s his daughter.”
“His daughter?”
“He’s planning on making her a god, or something,” Nico brushed his finger against the table, admiring the spotless exterior. “She had some disease because he abused her with quirk implants.”
“Not only is that illegal,” I point out. “But it’s impossible!”
“Don’t fucking tell me that now!” Nico screams. “Because it’s not like we can even do anything about it now. 
“He’s dead. He’s dead and that’s all there is.”
“Then you can relax.”
Nico shakes his head, but no words come out.
“Nico, you have me to protect you. And you’re safe now. The guy didn’t have any friends. Only people he influenced. No one’s coming after you.”
“Except for me,” his words feel like acid on my skin, but I hug him anyway, pushing the tears back.
Just like my father would have wanted.
“You are the best thing to ever happen to me,” I assure him. “You’re a hero in that way. You told me you were wondering why you’re even a hero? It’s because you get moments like this. Yeah, things suck right now. Like, a lot. But you aren’t a monster for killing him.”
“I know,” he chokes back a sob, fighting it all back. “I know that he was a horrible person.”
“Then don’t feel bad,” my face cracks a smile, and I’m trying my hardest to mirror the emotion back into my own mind. “You’re giving yourself your own answers. So don’t feel lost.”
“It’s all coming to me slowly,” he explains. “And I really just hope I can recover.”
“You’re making these problems yourself!” I don’t know when this turned into me comforting him instead of the other way around, but it’s easy to fall back into place. It’s an endless cycle of hurt and healing, but that’s what love is made of, right? “Just breathe in.”
He does as I say, breathing out on instinct. “Sorry for not waiting.”
“Well,” I laugh. “I wasn’t gonna tell you to breathe out.”
It’s hard not to react to his strangled squawk. He shoots me a look, but I can see it in his eyes.
We’re going to get better.
“You did it all on your own. So nothing’s wrong with you physically! And your brain knew to catch up with your body! So that’s working too!”
“And this is important because…”
“You aren’t broken,” I tell him. “And yeah, I know those were easy things to do. But you did them so well!”
“Complimenting me on breathing?” Nico smirks. “Kiri, you’ve gotta work on this game a little bit more.”
“But it’s making you feel better, right?”
“So much,” he hugs me back. “And you know? I’d rather not stay in here either. I feel like it’s making me worse.”
“Can I have a few more minutes?” I ask. “I usually don’t let myself overthink, but I want to have some time to just…”
“I’ll take you back when you need it,” he smiles warmly, nails finally melting out of their claw-like form. How can I ever make him safe if he doesn’t let himself?
How can I even feel safe?
Nico moves up the side of the theatre, pushing back plush red chairs. Eventually, he sighs, leaving out the door to the right. 
“At least she didn’t die,” he notices. “Who knows what would’ve happened to us?”
“Yeah,” I mumble, not entirely convinced that I should stay much longer anymore. 
He’s already left.
“So,” I can’t help but talk to the blank statue of me. Already, I can see how he’s crumbling. His shoulder’s falling to dust, and I pick up the pieces of him.
“You’re gonna be fine, dude,” I mumble, slapping the dust back onto the chipped shoulder. How long has it been since I’ve even said that word? 
Nico tells me it hurts when I call him dude. Am I sacrificing everything for him? Is he doing the same?
The thoughts aren’t welcome, but it’s not like I’ve ever been good at pushing those things away. All I can do is push forward, and then hope that I get these things right. It’s the easiest way for a man like me, at least.
Even though it hurts like hell, I push myself to stare at my mirror image. Only this time, it’s not my mirror. I’m not one of those dudes who hate looking at their own reflection. I’m not a self-absorbed guy either. But I have to look away from that horrified expression on little Eijiro’s face.
“It’s awful,” I say. “What he did to you. To us. And maybe it messed us up. But I want to be better than that.
“I want to be a man, someone chivalrous. And yeah, I’ve said that a ton of times. I know. I’m like a broken record!”
No one laughs. There’s only the echo of my own halfhearted attempt at one. “But it’s because that’s all I want. I want so much, but it’s all tethered to that. Because who else could I be if not a man? Why do I even live?”
His hair is covering his eyes, a polar opposite of my own red mane. “I wish I knew how to break out of the walls I made before. You’re not loving for yourself. Only other people. And I don’t want that! You have to trust me and love for the things you live for! Don’t live for the ones you love. Love with the ones you live for. Because dude, you’ve got a ton of things coming for you. And maybe you just need that extra push. Or maybe it’s all going under.
“This is stupid. I really can’t talk to myself like this, right?”
Little me doesn’t say anything. How old was I when it all went down? 13?
It’s too young, whatever it is.
“Some day, you’re gonna meet a great guy. And he’s gonna help you through this darkness you’re in right now. And you know? You’re gonna guide him get through his blinding lights. Because you’re a hero, Eijiro.”
The words echo against the walls, settling into my skull. “Yeah!” 
“I’m gonna be a hero!”
I take the rock me’s hand, clasping my arm on his back. “And I don’t want you to give up.”
There aren't any words that I need to say to this man.
Damn! Wish I could yell out my feelings like that more. It's like... You're never gonna get anything out if you harbor all your negative thoughts inside you like a cage. Nah. That's making it all worse. It's when you push back against it and really learn how to live that makes it better.
I like that. Push back, but don't let it push you too.
I'm out of the mind's theater in an instant, sitting with my hand and knees scraping the ground.
"I was worried you weren't gonna come out," Nico whispers, tossing his purple hair away from his face.
I reach out to touch his hair, ignoring the confused look on his face. "Soft."
He scrunches up his nose. "You're such a weirdo."
"But I'm your weirdo!" I laugh, bringing him in for a hug. "And plus, we match."
"Stupid," he plays with my hair too, knotting it around his knuckles. "But at least you're fucking adorable and literally everything I'd want ever."
He leans in for a kiss, and I obey, pressing my chest to his slowly as his face grows red.
"Really?" He pants. "You want that much tongue?"
"Oh," now I'm turning away, hand on my shoulder. "Uh... Didn't do it on purpose."
"Nico!" I catch his shoulder. "I mean it. It was a mistake. Just spur of the moment stuff."
"Kiri," he laughs at me, moving back out into the street. The bottom of his shoes are covered in a thick sheet of icy sludge, only slightly run through with a dirty crimson.
Damn. Wish I could say the same thing about my shoes.
"I'm not mad at you," he shrugs, walking in line with me. The station's just up ahead, but I can already feel a few drops collecting on our shoulders. "I'm just surprised."
"You're surprised I wanted to go that far with a kiss?" The absurdity of it's actually kinda hilarious. "I mean, Nico! We've already-"
"Don't you ever have any shame?" he asks, shooting daggers at the other people getting on the train. "I mean, that's not something you just talk about in public!"
"Well," I bark, crossing my arms like him. "It's not like we're doing anything wrong! It's all just fun too!"
He shakes his head, beaming up at me. "Ei, are you ever gonna grow up?"
"I'm already a man!" I argue. "So... yeah!"
"I think I'd rather just be like a lost boy," Nico admits. "But older. Do you think the lost boys fucked?"
"Uh," I move onto the train with him, selecting our virtual tickets. My boyfriend does the same, settling into a wide seat at the back of the train. Our view's mostly eclipsed by the tunnel, but I'm sure he chose this seat specifically to see the city. "Isn't this part of the whole 'Don't talk about it' thing?"
"Yeah," he shrugs, drawing a smiley face across the fog on the window. "But you got to use one, so I get to to."
"You'd be a shitty ruler, Nico."
He just grins back at me. "Like you'd be better?"
"I'd help everyone out!"
"But leaders like that don't get anything done," he supposes. "But enough about politics. It's already fucking with us as it is. And I don't really want to know what's going to happen with that."
"But you're fine with talking about Peter Pan and whether-"
"Whether they had homosexual intercourse, yes," he finishes, rushing through the words. The train picks up speed, throwing him forward a little bit.
"I could be the Peter Pan to your Wendy," I offer. "It's fitting, at least."
"I just think that it sucks that we didn't get to grow up together," he leans by my sweatshirt, drawing more faces on the window. "And that's why I brought up the whole Lost Boy thing."
"Because you think you're a lost boy."
It isn't a question, and I get the silent treatment for it.
“I’ve been lost for so long,” Nico’s mouth is a thin line against his pale face. “And that’s basically it.”
“Didn’t you say that you used to be happy? What happened to the friends back home?”
“It doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel lost,” he splutters, throwing himself against the window. Even I have to admit the sight’s worth seeing; orange sky, grey clouds, and purple lights of the buildings. It’s actually haunting how I’ve walked these streets so much, but I’ve never even notice what happens when there isn’t any danger.
“Let me guess,” he shoves his hands onto my neck, pulling himself up. “You thought that I meant I was super popular and stuff, right?”
“I mean,” I place my hand across my neck again, pushing his hands away. “I wouldn’t have worded it like that.”
“But either way,” his eyes are defiant, pleading. “You still sorta felt like that, right?”
“And I don’t want you to think that,” he huffs. “I mean, I did. At first, I wanted you to think I was cool, or used to be."
"Cool's such an annoying word," I rant. "Kinda... What's the word? Subju..."
"Subjective," he finishes. "And yeah, it is. But it's normal, and that sucks."
"Fuck normal," I nod. Nico looks at me weirdly, but it's not like I can't say it. "Sorry."
"Why do you always think you have to hold your tongue with me?"
"Uh, you don't say words how you want to. Actually, it's more like you're not saying words."
"I mean," I hold a lock of his hair, twisting it slowly in a spiral. Up and down, up and down. "Dude, you got mad at me for saying bro!"
"Sorry," he burries his face into my sweatshirt, erupting my face in heat. "Uh, you can say it if you want."
"Cool," I grin back at him. "But I didn't do it cuz you asked me to either."
"Didn't I?"
"Nope!" I bark. "I just sorta got that you weren't comfy with more masculine terms."
"And you gave that up for me?"
"Nico, without me, you'd probably be holed up in your room without social contact, man."
Nico glares at me, nodding. "True.”
He’s itching to say more, but I cut him off. “And so that’s the cool thing! We both give a little, but we’re getting so much more.”
“And you’re okay with giving so much up for me?”
I let out a little laugh, hoping it doesn’t sound like a cackle. “You’re doing the same thing for me, dude!”
He furrows his brow, only letting out another peal of laughter. “Okay, sorry. But we can slip up sometimes.”
“It’s just that,” he flips his hair behind his ears, staring at me with his dreamy eyes. “My bad habits are a lot more… dangerous than yours.”
“You’ve never self harmed,” my voice falls. “And it kills me that I can’t get rid of any of that.”
“I mean,” I brush away at my mouth, eyes locked on Nico’s. “Its not like I can do anything about that now, huh?”
“Are you crazy?” His gaze explodes across the room frantically. “I mean, there are tons of ways to get rid of it!”
He doesn’t mean to startle me, but I push back a little as he goes into one of his moods, getting a little too eccentric for me. It takes all of me just to keep up with him sometimes. 
“Basically,” he clears his throat, pulling up an article for me to read. As if I can read it in a minute like him. “It’s called psychoanalysis. I studied it before I wanted to do hero work, and it’s cool. Your mind is made up of encoded memories, right?”
“I only got half of that,” I point out. “So… uh…”
“Your brain stores memories,” he moves on in an instant. Sometimes, it frustrates me how he has to dumb down his words just for me. Just like how he’s probably frustrated that I’m not as tough with him as other guys.
“Oh,” I snap, trying not to let him see how annoyed I am. “Got it.”
I don’t think he saw it. Nico taps the article, highlighting a few words. “Some memories make up our core pain and hatred. We’re created out of all these emotions that stack up on top of each other, and when they combine… that’s us. Got it?”
“Words,” I nod. “A lot of them.”
He smiles. “I’ll slow down a bit. Sorry! I’m just really passionate about this!”
“Now you’re abusing the exclamation points!”
He giggles, melting my heart instantly. “Our memories make up how we act. They’re basically new instincts, and they’re like code, but for our brain! And they help us breathe, eat, and work out. It’s actually a really critical moment in exercise if you know how your cognition works.”
“So you’re saying we’re like machines?” My eyes widen. “Cool!”
“Well,” he shrugs. “It’s more like machines are like us. But your past memories decide how you act now, right?”
“Uh…” I do the mental math in my head. “Um, right!”
“And so,” he takes my arm, outlining the thick muscles. “You were bullied for being small. Being weak.”
His words are like falling daggers, but I nod. Wasn’t expecting homeboy to go there!
“And because of that,” he hugs my arm. “You wanted to improve. And so you worked even harder. And when other people feel bad about their bodies, you always jump in first.”
“I do?” The memories are foggy, but it’s weird. I always thought everyone helped out with stuff like that!
“Yeah!” He kisses the arm. “And thanks to that traumatization, you’re a better person.”
“So psychoanalysis helps make us better people? Huh!”
“Well,” Nico grins. “It also tells you to fuck your mom or something. Those old straight white guys were awful.”
“Stupid old straight white guys,” I agree, smiling.
“Stupid old straight white guys basically made the basics of psychoanalysis. Now we’re just trying to clean up the mess they made. I like this part of psychoanalysis a lot better than there’s. I mean, it goes deep into childhood. But those middle years are our core development periods.”
“I’ll just nod and pretend I get all that,” I mutter. “But what’s it got to do with self harm?”
“It’s what makes you special as a hero,” he swoons. “Because you know how to deal with trauma. You’ve faced it all before!”
“So I’m their shield?”
“It’s in your nature, Ei. It’s nothing to feel bad about. It’s why we’re together. It’s why I love you.”
“Huh,” I lean into his head, both of us piled into the backseat. “So I guess it wasn’t all bad, huh?”
“Mistakes are just ways to keep climbing up our mountains,” Nico whispers into my sweatshirt. “And someday, we’re gonna reach the top.”
I shake my head. “You say the weirdest stuff, dude.”
“Just for you,” his hands pull up onto my face, stroking their sides.
“Um,” I place my hand on my neck. “Maybe not here, Nico.”
He bolts up, almost hitting my chin. Dude’s fast! “Our stop’s right here!”
Sure enough, the train slams to a stop right in front of a decrepit station.
“I’ve never been in this part of town,” I admit. 
“It’s not in town,” he yawns. “Sorry. I’m a little tired.”
The sun’s already at the edge of the world. It’s even worse that summer’s coming. We’ve been on our date for so long now too.
Is it bad that I don’t want it to end?
“So,” I clap my hands together. “Where are we going? Somewhere fun?”
His eyes tell a different story. “I didn’t want to go here after the villain attack, but I already bought the tickets and promised my mom. And after the talk on the train? I’m just a mess, Kiri. And I’m really sorry that I-”
“You don’t have to explain it all to me,” I hold his shoulders tight. “I get it. I mean… I don’t know where we’re going! But I understand what you mean.”
“It’s fine! Just tell me where we’re going.”
“My dad’s grave,” Nico states simply.
“Oh…” do most dates go like this? I’m going all off of Bakugo… and he’s not the best comparison. “Have you even seen your mom since everything started?”
“Barely,” he admits. “And I’m not ready to start it yet.”
“No!” He screams, his voice hoarse. He must realize how loud he’s being when he whispers everything else. “I’m not really ready to face her yet. She doesn’t know…”
He gestures at me, and I instantly get it. “She doesn’t know you’re gay.”
“Bi,” he corrects, cocking his head. “Maybe. I’m just not ready to really be gay yet.”
“That’s totally fine,” I assure him. “But that means when everyone was saying you were the girl, and that you were gay as a joke…”
“It fucking hurt,” he stutters. “Like a knife.”
“And what do your parents think?”
If he realizes my mistake, he doesn’t say anything. Instead, Nico just continues down the road, checking the gps on his phone. “Honestly, my mom might’ve moved back to America. She hated Japan.”
“I mean,” I breathe in, trying to word it the best I can. “You guys don’t exactly…”
“We’re not Japanese,” he rushes, ignoring my wince. It’s insensitive, but it’s all he can muster. “And you guys are. I mean, I’m so, so happy that you guys don’t say anything. If the role was reversed, I’d absolutely do the same thing.”
“It’s kinda sucks that it's something we have to even worry about,” I mutter, kicking a can down the road before dumping it into the trash. “What if it wasn’t real?”
“What do you mean?”
“Now I’m the one talking in riddles!” I laugh. The sound feels bitter, and I stop it quickly. 
“Racism has to be one of the worst things,” Nico tells me. “Or cancer.”
“Maybe…” I count it on my fingers. “Racism, because that ruins everything. No one should be treated like that. Then death.”
“Is death really all that bad though?” Nico spins, lifting his sweater, hanging on the entrance to the cemetery, reading the inscription on the head of one stone. “It’s natural. And it’s where we’re all going.”
I cough. “That’s grim.”
“Only if you let it be. So don’t say death’s one of the worst things. It’s how we die that makes it a nightmare.”
“Okay,” I nod, knowing that there’s no way I can beat him here. His hands like the walkway’s gate, sliding meticulously down the line. I don’t even think he knows how adorable he looks as he pores over the words. It’s a beautiful cemetery, sure. I’m not around here, but I’ve seen ones just like it all the time. And to me, all they feel is desolate.
What kind of person does it take to see beauty in darkness?
“So it’s hate as the top bad thing,” I fix my statement, jogging back up to him. “Because everyone just needs to chill out.”
“Right,” he agrees. “And then it’s mutilation.”
“Self mutilation, or…”
My voice drifts off, choking up. 
“Self mutilation is horrible in itself,” he says plainly. I can’t tell if he’s trying to even his tone out or not, but it’s like he’s a surgeon, making sure not to hit my weak spots. “But like all pain, it makes beautiful survivors.”
“Respect,” I hum. “Beautiful.”
“The it’s ignorance,” Nico adds. “Because stupid people fuck everything up.”
“I thought you said I was stupid!”
“You just use your body more,” Nico hugs me, still trailing the fence. “Don’t listen to people when they call you stupid. They don’t understand how your mind works.”
“Thanks,” the words are simple, but they’re life saving. It sucks that Nico can’t even see how much he heals me. “Animal cruelty sucks too, right?”
He shrugs. “That’s part of hate and mutilation.”
“Damn!” I snap. “This is a fun game. I mean, obviously not fun but still sorta interesting!”
“I’m weird,” he shudders. “Sorry.”
“Dude! It’s fine!”
He relaxes a little. “Fourth worst thing? It’s a broken heart. Maybe even love.”
I scoff. “Love is beautiful.”
“But it gives us hideous scars. And almost nothing’s worse than a unrequited love.”
“I’ve only ever felt it a few times,” I share, squinting at a grand, yet faded gravestone for an ex hero. It’s really not great how we let the famous people get more attention, even if they were amazing people. There are so many people I’d love to see with graves like that.
“In Greek mythology,” Nico steps onto a new side of the path, walking in between the rows and rows of newer graves, almost all of them entirely identical. “There was an entire part of the underworld made for people who wasted their lives on love, and then never got it.”
“Well,” I breathe into his hair, ignoring the way he pulls away a little bit. Guess he’ll never be used to that, huh? “Thanks for saving me from that.”
“I should be thanking you,” he smiles back, taking my hand in his. I wince as he slaps it. I’m probably way sweatier than him. “But for some people, it’s got nothing on the next worst thing.”
“We’re just abandoning the order?” I smirk. “So much for the list, Nico.”
“Shut up,” he blushes. “You know I’m bad at organizing my thoughts.”
“Just makes you more interesting!” I assure him.
“The last worst thing,” his voice is filled with dread and oblivion as he stops in front of a grave, tears in his eyes. “Is memory. Because we’ll never be able to get it all back.”
There’s a grave in front of us. The name is Balghera.
And like that, everything stops.
“He’s dead,” Nico smiles softly. “But I’m still here.”
He doesn’t even swat me away, letting me hang onto his shoulders.
“Nothing will ever bring my father back,” Nico sniffs, still keeping the smile on his face. It doesn’t quite reach his eyes, but there’s something peaceful in them. Like he’s being healed. “And you know the worst thing? I barely even got to know him when he was alive.”
“But you have all this time to learn, right?”
He stares back at me with wide eyes before burrowing his face into my sweatshirt, sobbing hard and deep.
“As long as you want,” I tell him. “I won’t judge.”
I can’t tell if he understands what I’m saying, but he keeps crying into my sweatshirt, a soft trickle of tears instead of the hard, forceful kind. He doesn’t even have to fight them back anymore.
“You know,” I wonder aloud to the darkness, hearing only the quiet sounds of his tears. “I think it’s cool of you though. You remembered him and how he lived, even if you weren’t all that close.
“And I’m guessing he never knew about you liking boys either. And he never even got to see how you failed getting into UA, and then got in. But… I mean what’s that all got to do with you and the memory of him?”
Nico stops, looking up at me with his reddened eyes. “I just feel like I should’ve been closer to him.”
“But what are you gonna do about that now?”
“Repent?” He asks the sky, staring at the satellites mixed with the stars. 
The stars he was so obsessed with. The ones that took over his mind, that greeted him every day he worked a little too hard, blurring his vision and making it all go away.
I know just where to go to cheer him up now.
“Nah,” I swipe away at the sky, pretending to throw the puffy clouds lazily meandering through the sky. “You’ve gotta live. Because it sucks that he died. But if you’re not living, it’s like your both dead.”
“Kiri,” he rolls his eyes. “That’s literally exactly what it means.”
“There’s the Nico I know!” I laugh, grabbing at his sides to pick him up. He fights back a little, but I’m used to him being feisty. “And that’s the man he wants to see too! He’s up in heaven, and-”
“I’m an atheist,” he points out.
“Well,” I breathe out slowly. “I’m not that religious either. All I’m trying to say is that even if our body shuts down, there’s another place after this. And yeah, I don’t know where it is. But it’s gonna be great.”
“How do you know that?”
“We’re heroes,” I ruffle his hair, relishing in the extra inch or two (or three) I have on him. “There’s nothing for us to worry about.”
“I’m not exactly a hero,” he sighs. “Let’s just hope they take in account that they shouldn’t split us up.”
“Woah,” I smile, showing him my teeth. “Don’t go saying we’re gonna last until death, Nico. You’re only 17.”
“I’ll be an adult soon,” he smiles. “Real soon, actually. And we’re gonna be together forever. You know you’re thinking it too.”
I grin. “You got me.”
“I’m feeling better now,” he strokes the grave stone, noticing how it sticks out like a sore thumb with its western style. “My dad didn’t like Japan either. I’ll make sure they move his stone.”
“What about the body?”
“I made them burn it,” Nico takes my hands agains, dancing with me under the bright moonlight like it’s a spotlight. “Cremation, I mean. He always wanted to be in that big mausoleum in California. Maybe I’ll go there too.”
“You’re staying with me,” I make him promise. “And I’m gonna have ashes too, maybe make them into a tree.”
“A tree?” He laughs. “What are you talking about?”
“You don’t know about it?” I ask, running to the edge of the graveyard. It’s in the distance, but I think what I’m seeing is right. “Some people like putting their ashes into tree pots.”
“Well,” I smile again. “I’m gonna help a tree grow. Give the air back to the people.”
“I’m fine with getting thrown out here,” Nico gestures to the general graveyard. “Somewhere final, but happy.”
I shake my head. “I still don’t get how you see graveyards as happy places!”
“I’m just an optimist,” he smiles, jumping over the stone wall with me. “This isn’t your last place on our date, right?”
“Nope,” I jump gleefully. “I’m hijacking yours.”
“Guess you’re trying the whole criminal thing out too,” he punches me softly in the arm.
“I’m more badass than you anyway,” I remind him. “So don’t go getting any ideas!”
“Whatever,” he huffs. “Is this place you’re hijacking my date with outside or inside? Because it feels beautiful out.”
“Outside,” I promise. “And that summer air does feel nice, huh?”
 He narrows his eyes at me. “It’s spring.”
I ignore the comment. Instead, I walk around the corner, laughing.
“I knew I saw a playground!”
Nico scratches his arm, nudging the swings. “Why’d they put this next to a graveyard?”
I direct his head towards the horizon, where Esuha city sits. It’s only a taste of the lights, but they’re there all the same, separated by a large body of water.
“It’s all flat here,” I notice. “No hills. Nothing! Not like back at UA and the city at all! So you get these types of views!”
He looks over it from the swing set. “It’s beautiful. Nostalgic.”
“Just get ready for my trip later,” I tease. “So don’t get too absorbed here! There are more interesting places out there!”
“What are you doing?”
My arms are clenched on the monkey bars, even though they’re kinda digging into my palms.
“I wanna climb on them.”
“You’re such an idiot,” he smiles, watching as I make my way to the top, swinging my legs around so that I’m upside down.
“Look!” I laugh. “My hairs sticking up on its own!”
“And now what?” He crosses his arms. “You’re gonna suffocate if you stay up there, you know.”
“I wanted to try out that kiss,” I explain. “The spiderman one!”
“Oh,” he fakes a swoon. “Because I’m American? How sweet.”
“You know you love it,” I poke his cheeks, wobbling as I lose my balance. “Uh, maybe we should start kissing faster before I fall.”
“Not fair,” Nico shakes his head, placing a finger tentatively on my lips. 
He jumps to the bars, swinging his body around quickly. Soon enough, he’s upside down too, perched nearly across the bars.
“Uh,” I feel a little twitch down my pants, but there’s not enough time to stop it before Nico notices.
“Oh,” he smiles wickedly. “Someone likes this.”
“Apparently,” I turn it around on him, staring at his crotch for what’s probably too long. “So do you.”
He doesn’t even get flustered. “Kiss me like you mean it, Sharky.”
There aren’t even words to describe the kiss, but I’ll try anyway.
He presses his mouth close to mine, arms daringly wrapped around my waist, venturing and exploring the curves of my muscles. My tongue follows, pressed against the roof of his mouth as he smiles, closing his eyes. I panic, closing my eyes before he accuses me of keeping them open, of watching him feel me.
“Gah!” I break apart accidentally, tumbling onto the ground as his hands reach down my pants. There’s only so much I can take before I lose focus, and Nico’s not exactly helping that with his lips on mine.
“I win,” he flips back onto the ground. “You need to work on your balance and flexibility, Kirishima.”
“Maybe we can fit into our training everyday?” I ask, pursing my lips at him.
His hand slaps my face softly as he pushes me away. “You’re insane.”
“And you’re crazy. Same thing.”
"I'm also tired," Nico points out. "You should carry me back to the train."
"I told you not to run the extra mile!" I point at his quivering legs. "You gotta treat your muscles with respect, dude!"
"I'll work as hard as I can to be the greatest,” he murmurs, dropping down to the ground with me onto his feet. He doesn’t have thick skin, so he can at least afford to add some grace. “After I sleep. Carry me, big boy.”
My stomach knots at the words, lip quivering. “Uh… right!”
My hands curl around his legs as I hoist him up, letting him stare up at the sky. His head sits in my arms, positioned so that he’s looking right at me.
“Um…” I blush, unable to do much else. “Hey.”
“Hi,” he says, looking completely embarrassed. “This isn’t even a challenge for you, huh?”
“Nope,” I grin. “You’re pretty light.”
“Damn,” he curses, jostling around as I step over the gate. “Maybe I should try that bulking session out then.”
“I think you’d look cute with it,” I encourage him. “But then I’ll have to work even harder to carry you!”
“You’re enjoying yourself, huh?”
I trod across the cemetery earth, feeling the soft, peeling grass against the edge of my ankles. “It’s pretty fun!”
“You’ll be fine if I gained some weight,” he tells me, hooking his hands around my neck. My face goes even further red, spreading onto him. “You’re the toughest guy I’ve ever met, Eijiro Kirishima.”
“Oh,” I laugh. “I’m getting the full name?”
He doesn’t respond, drifting off to sleep in my arms as I step onto the path again, dragging my feet through the mud.
His eyes stay closed as I walk through the street, and I try to focus on his breathing as I walk, memorizing the little rhythms of his constant breaths, feeling his pulse rush through me. I even try to slow mine down to his, which is pretty hard because he’s sleeping.
“We’re gonna be alright, Nico,” I hum into his ear. The sky’s gone dark, only lit up with some street lamps dappled across the edge of the road, all jutted out at odd angles.
My shoes touch the edge of the road, strict and slack against my feet. I know I’m gonna have to much time to think, and it’s mad shitty how my brain just tries to push it away. Like it’s a taboo thought!
Instead, I suck in my lips, breathing in the cool spring air. I want to see summer with Nico. I want the trees to grow up with us, spreading their oxygen into our systems like love. And that’s what I want.
My vision goes a bit hazy as I step up to the station, checking my watch. There’s a train at 11:30, just in 6 minutes. Perfect.
I get a few odd looks as I step up onto the station’s dock, but I ignore them, pretending like it’s just Nico and I. Still, it’s hard to act like I don’t see the people slowly coming toward us, in both anger and adoration.
“Hey,” someone taps my shoulder, and I spin around, wiping a smile across my face. Finally! An escape from my thoughts! 
“Oh!” A group of university age girls surround me, surprisingly only up to my nose in height. “Uh… hi girls!”
“You’re Red Riot, right?”
She’s pretty, just not as pretty as Nico. Not as pretty as any of the other boys, at least to me. Still, her purple hair almost sends me, what with it’s similarities to Nico’s. I even catch her looking toward his own hair.
“Is that some kid you just saved?” She cocks her head at him, adjusting the hoops lodged in her ears. “I didn’t know you did hero work in the spring.”
“You guys keep schedules of stuff like that?” I move to scratch the back of my head, but Nico’s in the way. I don’t want to stir him, especially because he’s such a light sleeper, so I just lean awkwardly against the pole.
“We’re big fans of the UA students,” another girl taps her phone, showing off stickers of Todoroki. “You guys have big futures.”
There’s no threat or contempt behind her smile, so I feel comfortable. “Thanks! It’s always great to hear people trust us!”
“But you’re saving people off duty?” The purple haired girl swoons. “That’s so cool. You’re so cute.”
“Yeah…” my face goes red, but my brain’s shutting off. “It’s manly, not cool. Didn’t get to get that out yet.”
“Oh,” she nods. “It’s gonna be your catchphrase or something?”
A bit of sweat drips off my forehead, dropping onto my nose. If I tell them anything personal, there’s a big chance it’ll end up on the internet. Still, it’s better than living a lie!
“I’m gay,” the words come out choked. I still can’t believe there are so many people that don’t know, and it hurts every time someone makes the assumption. “And I’m off hero work right now. This is my boyfriend.”
“Oh,” it doesn’t sound like a friendly oh, but not one I need to really worry about. “So you’re just carrying him around?”
“Pretty much,” I’m darting my eyes around every time they look away, trying to find a nice way to leave the conversation. Sure enough, the train comes just in time, muting the girls’ words.
“I thought I heard something about that,” she nods, sighing. 
“You wouldn’t have snatched him anyway,” her friend teases. “So don’t get too mad.”
“Hey,” I glare at her. “Don’t say that. It’s rude.”
They’re all at least two years older than me, but they listen, quickly shutting up. “Please don’t make it too public,” I plead. “It’s not that I’m ashamed. I just don’t want people to like or hate me because of some random reason.”
“Got it,” she nods. “Sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”
I open my mouth to tell her it’s no problem, but I don’t even have the patience for that. Instead, I nod, jumping onto the train.
Nico stirs a little, and I whisper into his ear, placing him across the same seat as before. “You’re gonna be fine, treasure. I’ll be here.”
I know the meaning of the words aren’t what’s helping him, but he seizes up at the last word, relaxing a second later.
There’s no escaping the rest of my thoughts. I can stare at him for as long as I like. I can thread my hands through his hair and smell his sweet vanilla scent, but my mind’s gonna wander. I can’t really do anything about that.
If he never showed up, where would I be? Still with Bakugo, pretending it’s going fine? With some other guy? I wince at the thought of being with Denki. He’s a nice guy, but I’m not sure where I sit with him. And sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like he takes me seriously. It’s like we’re all jokes to him, up until it actually matters. Then he shuts up, and no one’s allowed to talk to him.
It’s annoying.
Mina’s nice! I just wish she never loved me. And that’s a bad thing to think, I know. It’s not manly at all. But it doesn’t change the fact that I know she would like me more if I was straight, or even Bi. If I could change myself just a little bit to be more likable.
I’ve never really know Jiro very well, even if I wanted to. She’s just distant, even if she’s really cool! I know she probably resents me a little bit for making Bakugo angry, but I hope she understands that I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. I just wanted to be myself. And that meant protecting the people I love however I need to.
Even if it means hurting somebody I used to love.
Why do all the hardest things feel so good when you’re doing them? Even if it sucks to get there or makes you feel like hell after. It’s just fucking awful.
But it’s not cool of me to think like that. So I don’t. I think about the way Nico’s cheekbones sit across the sides of his face. They make him look like a fairy prince, rising up on the planes of his face so that he’s all sharp angles surrounded by plush, soft curves. I have to stop myself from stroking his cheeks, slapping my hand back. He’d definitely tease me forever if he knew.
I’m actually proud of the way his muscles are forming, even if it’s hard work that’s doing it. Nothing on my manly physique, but they’re defiantly getting there. And it’s pretty fucking adorable to work out with him anyway. I’m bulky and big, and he’s lean and lithe. Yet somehow, it actually works with our workouts. I guess we just help each other be the best we can be. Weaknesses aren’t my favorite thing, but they’re necessary. And if we can just limit the amount of them we have, won’t that make it better?
The train slams to a stop, almost throwing my boyfriend out of his seat. I catch his body, watching with a self satisfied smile as he peeks up at me.
“Hey,” he says casually, standing up to move to the exit.
“Such a dangerous flirt,” he teases. Luckily for me, my teasing does much more to him. He’s not bad at it, just bad at taking anything good or bad. Nico’s not bad at having opinions, just taking them.
I take his hand in mine, watching as the other people move past us, all busy and eager to get home. I let them walk in front of us, standing at the edge of the train. 
“Hey,” Nico calls back to me as he gets off the train. “Kiri!”
“Just a minute!” I hold a hand out to settle against the jostling of the train car as it starts up. Right as it starts picking up speed, I jump out, throwing myself into Nico’s arms.
“You idiot!” He screams. “That’s dangerous!”
“You caught me!”
He pushes his sweat soaked bangs from his face. “And I can drop you too, Kiri. Don’t scare me like that.”
I break down into a fit of laughter, but he’s not laughing. Instead, he drops me.
“Don’t do that again,” he complains, holding out a hand for me to grab. 
“You know you would’ve done the same thing,” I tell him. “You would’ve jumped too, dude.”
“Maybe,” he shrugs, smiling. “But I’m lighter.”
“You’re strong enough to catch me too, apparently! That’s some hidden strength right there!”
“I’m dying to know where we’re going,” he tells me, swinging our hands back and forth. There’s a bit of sweat on the edge of his, tickling my wrists. It’s everything and nothing at the same time.
“And I can’t wait to show you,” I lean against him, pushing my other hand into my pocket. It’s getting a little chilly again, but it’s nothing compared to the heat from his body.
“You’re so warm,” Nico nestles up against me. “Please don’t leave me.”
“Oh, Nico…” my voice comes out a bit choked with tears. “What makes you think I’m ever doing that?
“Let’s run. I just want to run with you.”
“There’s gonna be rain,” he tells me.
“That wasn’t a no,” I point out. When he doesn’t protest, I make a move to shoot out of the station, almost slipping across the slippery pavement.
“Don’t you dare fall!” Nico scolds, scowling at me as he runs too, almost knocking into oncoming later workers.
“Maybe you should listen to that too!” I smile back at him, spinning in the dizzy light from the street lamps. “It’s just up this hill!”
“We’re at the edge of the city,” he looks back at the map next to the train, then up to the hill. “What’s there to do up here?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of hiking?” I ask, catching up to his pace.
“Kiri!” He gasps. “Wait, you actually found a spot!”
He never told me to my face, but I know hiking’s the biggest thing he misses about living back in the states. Which, of course, is ridiculous! We have tons of amazing hiking spots! But nope! Nico wanted to date in the city. That really limited my options.
Fortunately, we can make our own trail. 
“It’s not the best place,” I apologize. “But it’s cool! I walked it a few days ago, after the… incident. Definitely calmed me down.”
“You barely talk about it,” he tells me, moving up the steep road. The pavement’s already become choppy, cracked so much in some places that it’s like we’re already at the mountain. The lights from the road bleed onto the small puddles dashed here and there, streaks of glimmering orange. Luckily for us, the lights are quickly disappearing as we climb up the road. When my boots touch the first mound of rocks, I breathe a sigh of relief, turning on my phone’s flashlight. Sable shadows dance across the hills, dodging behind trees only just starting to complete their bloom.
“I don’t like to,” my words stay clipped. “It wasn’t fun, Nico. It gave me fame, sure. But that’s not what I want. At all.
“Can you tell me anything?” Nico begs. “I told you all about what it was like when I thought I killed all those people.”
“Not the best date topic,” I dodge the question.
“But we’re more than that,” Nico pleads. “Please.”
“It was like a nightmare,” I breathe out. “When Shigaraki appeared… it’s like it was the end. I’m still here, but that doesn’t mean anything.”
“Was he worse than anyone else you’ve fought? Worse than Rappa?”
“Much,” I wince. “With Rappa, I respected the man. Shigaraki was like a demon. And I saw too much destruction.”
“But now you know,” he whispers, hugging my sides as we trudge up the mountain in the bleak darkness. It didn’t feel so bleak before the words came out, but now it’s hard to think about anything else, even with his arms around me. “There’s so much to protect. So much that sometimes, it feels impossible. But we’re going to protect all those people.”
“We?” I ask. 
“I want to help you,” Nico admits. “And I’m not taking no as an answer.”
“Well,” I try for a laugh. As long as I can pretend to be happy, it’ll make me feel better. At least until I can cheer up for real. “I wasn’t gonna say no anyway!”
“Then it’s settled,” he decides. “We’re not letting anyone else see what you saw. If it fucked you up that much that you can barely even talk about it to me, then we’re not letting anyone else see horrors.”
“We can’t just protect everyone,” I smile, shaking my head. “Be realistic, Nico.”
“I am!” He stamps his feet. “Because you’re just that strong!”
“I’m not a god!” Now I’m laughing for real, forcing Nico to join me.
“I’ll make you one,” he kisses my neck. “Need a virgin sacrifice?”
“Then I won’t be going to you,” I stare at him, watching as he swings around the trunks of the trees, almost running face first into one of them.
“Okay,” he breathes in the clean air. “So first, you’re a dick to me. Then you save me? Make up your mind!”
“You’re crazy, Nico,” I tease, calling up his own words from before. Finally, we reach the real trail, arriving at a rest stop where two lights sit, entirely not perpendicular to each other. One sits as a skewed angle, as if it’s trying to lean over the city.
“Woah,” he rushes to the edge with me, leaning out over the edge. I take his right, staring out at the city. “It actually better at night, I guess.”
Our little metal landing dock creeks a bit, as if it’s about to mutiny and throw us down the mountain, but Nico catches my hand, as if that’ll stop it. The city I’ve spent so long protecting and living in sits in front of us, almost like a little kid’s play mat. Towering buildings scrape at the sky, snatching up the stars until they’re glowing like the sky behind us. The stars float lazily above us, twinkling dots mixed in with pulsing red ones. Satellites and stars, all connected and controlled.
“Look!” I point out a familiar building to Nico. “Its UA!”
“You took the easy building to find,” he fakes an angry frown. “It’s huge, and it’s a big H. I’m the one who still barely knows the city!”
“Well,” I guide his hand, standing behind him. A little jolt runs up his body, but he relaxes as soon as I whisper into his ear. “I guess I’ll just have to introduce you to everyone everywhere. I think everyone deserves to have someone like you in their life.”
“A tour of me?” He asks, placing a hand on his chest as he spins to meet me. “You’re too nice, Eijiro Kirishima.”
“Just trying my hardest, Nico Balghera.”
“And you know that’s what I find sexy,” he runs his tongue across his lips, pulling at the back of my hair. “Let’s give the stars a show, Sharky.”
“Anything for you, Treasure.”
It’s a kiss unlike anything else we’ve done before. Every single kiss with this boy- this man just feels better and more important than the last one. And I have no idea how we’re gonna top this night, how we’re gonna make everything better than perfection, but I’m ready for it. Because you know what?
There’s no such thing as perfect, but there’s more than just the gem underneath the rocks. And I’ll show them what that’s like, to be a crystal in a geode.
Because when I’m under the spotlight of the stars with my sword, I know I can slay any beast. 
I’ll get that happy ending.