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Over the sounds of distant fighting, Midoriya looks the entire class up and down and says, “Get ready.”

“We’re always fucking ready, shitty Deku,” Bakugou shoots back. In the sudden power outage inside UA, his Quirk glows bright and hot, casting strange shadows on his face.

“Seriously,” Kirishima agrees, long-suffering even in the middle of a surprise villain attack at just past 5PM on a Thursday. “Is there, like, a super secret villain bingo card we’re not aware of? Is ‘attack Class 1-A specifically’ one of the squares?”

“God, probably,” Kaminari laments.

They are ready, in a way that breaks their teacher’s heart. Totally unsurprised. Almost instinctive in how fast they’d responded, like previous attacks have turned ‘battle ready’ into ‘muscle memory’. They’re fourteen and fifteen-years-old and impossible to look at for how much it hurts. Midoriya especially is painful to watch. The way a responsibility he’s way too young for settles across his shoulders like a stone around his neck. The way he doesn’t even flinch at the weight.

He looks at the teacher now, green eyes open and perfectly aware in a way the teacher would prefer they never had to be. Asks, in a stunning display of who he is, of who all of these kids are, “Sensei, will you be okay?”

He doesn’t know. He’s never known. Not when it comes to these kids.

##

FIVE WEEKS EARLIER

The day they get their student teaching assignments, Masahiro’s classmates hold a symbolic rite of mourning in the basement-level University bar.

This bar itself is nothing new. Student teaching assignments are the crown jewel in exhaustive years of study, the bright and hopeful beacon of doing after years of passively reading theory and applying hypotheticals, and migrating, en masse, to the nearest source of alcohol upon receiving them is Education Course tradition. Masahiro has attended the ‘Post Teaching Assignments, Oh Fuck It’s Really Happening’ bar crawl with his seniors before. Has witnessed the jittery warmth of nervous excitement drowned in cups of sake and terrible beer from a junior’s perspective. Has listened, quiet and contemplative, as his seniors traded predictions over plates of snacks (‘do you think it’ll be okay?’ ‘do you think I’ll mess it up?’ ‘do you think the kids will like me?’) and grinning, wide and foolish, around the table, cheeks flushed with nerves and booze and the cresting realization that this was real, what they’d been working for was finally coming to pass and bringing possibilities in its wake.

Masahiro had expected his own face to be a reflection of similar feelings upon reaching his own final year and subsequent student teaching assignment. Instead, he’s wide-eyed and shock-pale, seared down to the bone with terrified trepidation and still clutching the scrap of paper that caused it all. Enter the element of mourning attached to tonight’s gathering, which is a new addition to the teaching-assignment outing, and almost entirely for Masahiro’s sake.

“It’s…yeah, wow,” whispers one of Masahiro’s fellow students, side-eyeing Masahiro the way someone might side-eye something terrible that they don’t want to look directly at. Like a wince. Like Masahiro is already a beloved and fondly cherished memory. “Brutal. They’re going to eat him alive.”

“Prayers upon him,” agrees another one of Masahiro’s classmates.

A massive glass of what smells like straight whiskey gets pushed between Masahiro’s fingers by one of the nursery school teaching students.

“There you are,” she croons. Teaching students on the nursery school track are, every single one of them, a bewildering mix of genuine, all-encompassing kindness and underlying steel strong enough to snap a man like Masahiro in half. It’s very confusing to be around. “There’s a darling. Knock that back.”

She pats Masahiro’s left hand, which is occupied by the crumpled piece of paper that Masahiro can’t quite let go of but also can’t bring himself to read again, crushed between his fingers and probably dampened by his sweaty palm. But that’s okay. It’s fine. He doesn’t need to read it again. The words have already burned themselves into his brain like a brand.

Teaching Assignment: Nori Masahiro. Please report to U.A. High School, Class 1-A. Supervising Teacher: Aizawa Shota.

            “A toast,” declares Rin, the unquestioned leader of their cohort year and the biggest asshole Masahiro has ever met. She belongs to the middle school cohort of teaching students, so this is very on-brand. “To Yuki, but mostly Masahiro. May the memory of his kindly spirit and noble sacrifice ring forever in the halls of our University’s Education corridor long after he returns to us from his teaching assignment as the shattered husk of a human being.”

            At Masahiro’s elbow, his best friend Yuki cackles and tosses back a shot with professional aplomb, the paper that reads Honda Yuki, please report to U.A. High School, Class 3-B, Supervising Teacher: Ectoplasm proudly pinned to her shirt, like this total debacle isn’t absolutely and entirely her fault.

            “Stop withering at me,” she instructs, and nudges at Masahiro’s cup until he takes his own sip.

It is, in fact, straight whiskey. Masahiro sputters as his esophagus screams around the burn of it, vocal cords lighting up like a neon billboard. The kindly nursery teacher who’d handed him his cup is sipping from an identical glass across the table without a single flicker of discomfort. Masahiro is in awe of her—her fuzzy, oversized sweaters with daisies on it and her dimples that radiate genuine sweetness when she smiles and, apparently, her ability to drink whiskey like a haunted and road-roughened cowboy in the old American West.

            “This is going to be a disaster,” Masahiro laments, in the foreboding tones of a seer who has seen the woes to come but knows he won’t be listened to. “A total disaster. Since when does UA accept student teachers! Since when do they accept anyone from the non-Hero higher education courses! I thought they plucked the entirety of their teaching staff from the Hero community!”

            Yuki shrugs. “It’s supposed to be, like, a gesture of goodwill or whatever. UA’s been all over the news lately, right? Getting called out right and left for their admittedly mostly-secret in-house educational practices. Letting in student teachers from an external program is supposed to be, like, an attempt at transparency and inclusion. Or something.”

            “And they picked us! You and me! Out of the thousands of Education Course students in the country! Because everything is terrible and the University faculty obviously want us to die!”

            “Senpai,” whispers one of the juniors, eyes very wide. “Senpai, are you okay? That was, um. A lot of very audible exclamation marks.”

            “Why did you get assigned to a high school at all, Masahiro-Senpai?” asks another junior, her brow furrowed. “UA or otherwise. Aren’t you studying to be an elementary teacher? Don’t they try to match your student teaching assignment to your chosen study track?”

            Grimly, Masahiro studies the smudged glass in his hand. Normally, Masahiro abhors the University basement-bar, with it’s dim lighting and mysterious menu of mostly-inedible snacks and general atmosphere of hopelessness and despair. But tonight, he finds that the University basement-bar understands him on a level he never quite expected. “This is a punishment.”

            “Eh?” says Yuki. “It is? Pretty lame, as far as punishments go, because this is actually awesome and I am so excited.”

            Masahiro makes several flailing gestures of silent outrage in Yuki’s general direction. “It’s not a punishment for you! Our teachers don’t know how to punish you! This is a punishment-by-proxy, because my suffering is the closest they can get to yours!”

            This has been tragically and inevitably true for the entirety of Yuki and Masahiro’s friendship. Yuki is a bright and brilliant force that is also entirely uninterested in caring about things like rules or social requirements. Way more than once, Masahiro has watched her argue an authority figure into sputtering outrage, and then laugh her way through whatever punishment they assign. Their high school principal used to greet Yuki’s (and, by association, Masahiro’s) inevitable presence in his office with the face of the man who’d spent ten entire minutes screaming into an empty bottle of antacids before forcing himself to deal with them.

            “Shouldn’t have been my best friend since infancy, then,” Yuki says, absolutely riddled with an infuriating nonchalance. If the nursery school teachers are sweet-faced spine snappers and the middle school teachers are spite-goblins powered by sarcasm and caffeine, then the high school teachers are oceans of calm acceptance manifesting as lazy, nihilistic humor. Masahiro is honestly outraged on behalf of himself and his entire elementary cohort, who are mostly known for nervous fretting and crying in the bathroom between classes. “Especially shouldn’t have been such a soft and squishy target, Masa-kun—honestly, didn’t I teach you anything?”

            “How to set off an entire high school sprinkler system using a Bunsen burner stolen from a Science classroom.”

            “Ahhhh. Yes. The gentle and treasured memories of youth.”

            Across the table, the nursery school teacher smiles at Masahiro, all crinkled eyes and fuzzy sweater and (somehow!) the implication that failing to obey her orders will bring about untold nightmares and despair. “Take another drink, Nori-san.”

            Masahiro takes another drink.

            “It’s just so unfair,” sobs one of Masahiro’s fellow elementary cohort members. Their paths often cross outside of their respective bathrooms post-crying jag. They’ve taken to exchanging tissues and conciliatory eyedrops. “Masahiro is sensitive! Delicate! A sweet and innocent soul! What did he do to deserve a class that literally cannot stay out of the news for more than two consecutive weeks as his first practical teaching experience?”

            Masahiro pats her kindly on the back. This is common practice between them. “It’s alright, Noriko-san. This is fate, really. The pre-determined path I doomed myself to walk upon realizing that my favorite person is also, actually, the worst.”

            In a stark underscore of Masahiro’s point, his favorite person says, “Do you think Ectoplasm will let me teach his kids how to use their Quirks for pranking? Do you think Ectoplasm will let me use my Quirk for pranking?”

            “Did you see Class 1-A at the sports festival a while back?” a few of Masahiro’s classmates wonder down the table. They’re not even trying to be quiet about it. “Didn’t two of the Class 1-A kids totally decimate the arena?”

            “Didn’t the kid who won have to be tied to a pillar because he kept trying to punch the Symbol of Peace in the face?”

            “Didn’t one of them get into a knock-down, drag-out fight with that face-puncher kid because she could control gravity?”

            “Doesn’t one of them have a sentient bird-shadow that looks like the actual manifestation of my nightmares?”

            Gently, gently, Masahiro lets his head come to rest on the sticky, deeply scarred wooden table of the University basement-bar, the paper in his palm like a leaden weight and the words Class 1-A and Aizawa Shota ringing in his head like a bell.

##

            The thing is, Masahiro knows that he is the unremarkable counterpoint to a truly remarkable friend. Not even the moon to Yuki’s burning sun: nothing so powerful or majestic as that. The clouds drifting in the orbit of her brilliance maybe, floating a careful distance away and barely noticed by comparison. And honestly? It’s never bothered him. It really, truly hasn’t. Yuki is a towering, tremendous flash fire of potential. A jaw-dropping brilliance crammed inside a tiny human container and framed by a riot of green-pink-yellow hair. An unstoppable force of nature that might play at being lazy and unaffected but is absolutely going to revolutionize the educational landscape, and not even need her super impressive plant-controlling Quirk to do it. Masahiro loves her wholly, unapologetically (if not romantically, because he’s perfectly aware that any relationship between the two of them would result in him crying a lot and then possibly murdering her in a fit of black-out rage). She’s going to shape young minds in a way that really matters, and Masahiro can’t be anything less than genuinely, honestly proud.

He’s just…aware, is all. Of himself. He’s tall but terribly skinny. Wears big square glasses that take up half of his narrow-boned face. He looks like he’s still hitting growth spurts, all elbows and knees and hard angles. He’s going to be the kind of teacher whose tie is crooked and who always has ink stains on his fingers and chalkboard dust on his knees. His Quirk is the ability to turn nervous energy into actual energy. Which sounds great in theory, except that it manifested at the same time as his anxiety disorder, a perfect storm of hormones that created an awful feedback loop between ability and chemical imbalance. Masahiro spent the years between ten and fourteen feeling paper-thin and wildly, terrifyingly out of control until he learned how to properly squash both feelings and ability into some he could breathe around, if not use in any kind of functional way.

He’s…informed and appreciative of the Hero profession, but has never showed even a passing interest in pursuing it himself. Not even when he was eight and playing ‘Heroes and Villains’ during recess with his classmates. Yuki was always a Hero when they played (though only because she’d been banned forever from being a Villain after the Incident with the slide), but Masahiro was always a civilian in need of saving. And he was fine with it. Really. Being a Hero seemed terrifying to him, even then, and the idea of teaching baby Heroes (who have a proven track record of always, somehow, being exactly where things are terrible and then participating in said terribleness) even for just a six-week student teaching assignment is…

He doesn’t really have a word for all of his feelings. They’re too Big. Feelings that come with capital letters always feel unsafe, unstructured. A threat to his carefully-suppressed Quirk. Honestly, Masahiro picked Elementary Education as his chosen track because he figured it was his best shot at having students he could love in a safe, sweet, gently distant kind of way.

            “Gosh, you’re so doomed,” Yuki observes, the night before they leave for their assignments, sitting on the floor of Masahiro’s University student apartment and passing a bottle of wine back and forth between them. “Masahiro, you know that you’re a tiny baby woodland creature that loves harder than anyone I’ve ever met, right?”

            She’s right, but Masahiro doesn’t have to admit it. “How dare you.”

            Yuki pats his shoulder and continues braiding the flowers she’d coaxed into blooming between his hair. “Sure, sure. That’s fine, buddy. You just sit here and pretend that any kid you teach isn’t going to own your entire soul within five minutes of setting foot inside your classroom.”

            “Shut up.” Masahiro’s shoulders hunch, climb toward his ears. “I’m just—I’m not qualified for this classroom, Yuki. I know theory. Best educational practices. But that doesn’t…none of that will apply here, and I don’t understand…any of it. What could I possibly try and teach these kids?”

            Yuki sighs and hooks her chin on his shoulder. She sighs a lot when Masahiro says things, and he’s been refusing to examine why for years. Masahiro can smell the daisies woven into his short, shoulder-length braid, the stems tickling against the back of his neck. Yuki’s braid, the longer flag of her own interwoven green and pink and yellow strands, drapes over Masahiro’s shoulder like a promise.

            “You won’t be alone,” she finally says. “I’ll be there, too. Always, yeah?”

            “Yeah,” Masahiro agrees. He’s grateful, so stupidly grateful, that at least Yuki will be there to do something of importance in the wake of Masahiro’s total inability to be anything other than totally unremarkable.

##

            The next morning, there are the sprawling grounds of UA High, extensive, aggressively thorough background checks, and more paperwork than Masahiro, an Education Course student who probably kills entire forests any time he lesson plans, has ever seen in his life. Around hour three, he mostly gives up reading what he’s signing beyond a cursory glance and just starts blankly inking his name wherever there’s a dotted line.

            Masahiro stares at one of the packets in front of him. Makes an effort to blink eyes that have been totally glazed over for at least an hour. “Is this an enrollment page for a life insurance policy that covers ‘any and all attacks motivated by the forces of evil, or even the moderately irritated, up to and including: explosions, dismemberment, disembowelment, encounters with quasi-magical forces, attacks by creatures of unknown origins or species, and any other demonstrably villainous attack not previously here defined’?”

            The tiny, terrifying UA principal (who heavily implied that he ran Masahiro’s background check himself and has been smiling throughout this entire paperwork process like he knows every single thing about Masahiro’s entire life and is zero percent afraid to use it against him should the need arise), smiles even wider and says, “Standard procedure for anyone who works at UA, even temporarily!”

            Masahiro should probably have feelings about that. He should probably have a lot of feelings about that. But it’s been three hours of paperwork on top of the constant surge-and-recede tide of terrified adrenaline. And so, he signs his name, and reaches vacantly for the next stapled packet.

            “I think we might have signed away the rights to our first-born in there somewhere,” he says to Yuki as they’re led across the UA campus. Masahiro can’t even bring himself to be upset about it. Apologies, future spawn—Daddy’s eyes were bleeding and you were so incredibly theoretical at the time.

            “Probably,” Yuki agrees. She is unfairly chipper even after their paperwork gauntlet, craning her neck left and right to take in as much of UA as she can. Her eyes are wide, the multicolored flowers stamped across her otherwise black irises on full display. “It’s fine. It’s whatever. I’m not having any kids of my own anyway, so.”

            “They could come for your first-adopted dog, or something.”

            “They could try.”

            Slightly ahead of them, Principal Nedzu laughs a little and turns his head.

            “Never fear!” he carols merrily. “Nothing you signed away this morning will impact your future children, or pets, in any kind of noticeable way!”

            Masahiro squints at him.

            They have to move into the dorms, for an entire list of security reasons that mostly boil down to ‘hey, so we’ve had a lot of highly publicized attacks from some pretty nasty people’ and Masahiro quietly panics through unpacking his meager bag of belongings. Principal Nedzu oscillates between his room and Yuki’s, making polite conversation, which is probably meant to be a show of welcome but instead feels like more information-gathering for unknown yet weirdly suspicious-feeling purposes.

            “Student teachers are required to write a capstone essay upon completion of their assignments, correct?” the principal inquires. “Any ideas yet on what your topic will be?”

            “Oh.” Masahiro blinks. Fumbles with his glasses. “Um. I was thinking about analyzing the effects of UA’s bell schedule on student productivity? When compared to other kinds of school-day scheduling?”

            “Mmm,” Principal Nedzu says. Masahiro ducks his shoulders a little, face burning. It’s a boring essay topic. Masahiro knows it’s a boring essay topic—even he’s not terribly interested in it. Yuki’s doing something along the lines of ‘every student should be allowed to, like, build volcanoes or create a meme-board to express a book’s central theme—so, yeah, I’m going to talk about why the traditional method of giving one kind of assignment to demonstrate student mastery is total bullshit that stifles creativity’. But Masahiro is far more comfortable with things that can be safely observed and studiously documented, and there’s tons of (admittedly super dry) research about how the shifting of student schedules can impact student productivity. So.

            The principal pats his paws together gently. “Well, let me know if I can help in any way. UA would be proud to help inspire and support texts that could shape the future of the educational landscape!”

            There’s something squint-worthy about that, too, but Masahiro can’t put his finger on exactly what.

He’s grateful for the fact that it’s a school day, so none of the terrifying UA faculty is here to witness his slow internal meltdown, and also that the teacher dorms are more apartment-like, with little kitchens and bathrooms included, and so maybe he can survive this six-week assignment without leaving his room beyond the absolutely necessary.

            But the biggest absolutely necessary can’t be put off past arranging his single suitcase. None of the UA faculty is here to haunt Masahiro’s doorway because he’s expected to go and introduce himself at theirs.

            Principal Nedzu is taking Masahiro to his assigned classroom first. That’s a good thing. One: because then Yuki will still be there to bolster him. And two: because Ectoplasm actually scares the shit out of him and he’d rather not lose whatever meager authority he might command by fainting in front of a gaggle of third-year students. Masahiro knows how schoolyard hierarchies work—his seniors in the field have come back to guest-lecture and have explained, in great detail and with vacant eyes that speak to a vast internal deadness, that ‘Listen, kids are like sharks, okay? Like sharks. The instant they sense any blood in the water, they rip you apart’.

            “Oh my God, oh my God,” Yuki chants as they make their way through UA’s hallowed halls. She’s all but fluttering from foot to foot, breathless with excitement. “Eraserhead! Class 1-A! Can you believe!”

            “Shut up,” Masahiro begs her. His voice is faint. His hands are cold. His soul is halfway out of his body and rising steadily. He’s one agitated emotion away from manifesting nervous energy right there in the hallway, anxiety glowing between his palms like a desperately unwanted reminder of his own failings.

            Luckily, Masahiro spent the formative years of his Quirk-development teaching himself how to crunch up his ability and the disorder that feeds into it. He curls the invisible hand inside his head around them both and shoves them deep. Ignores, with practiced ease, how doing so hurts like a muscle cramp inside his chest, sharp and aching. The end result is that he doesn’t have a nuclear meltdown of nervous energy ten steps away from his first teaching assignment and get himself banished from the educational field forevermore for failing to control himself, so. Worth it.

            “I see you’re already well aware of Class 1-A’s reputation,” Principal Nedzu sings out.

            “Principal Nedzu, sir,” Yuki calls back. “Is it true that Class 1-A almost burned down an entire forest fighting off the League of Villains all by their baby lonesome?”

            Principal Nedzu smiles back so hard his eyes crinkle. “Class 1-A has proved themselves to be a remarkably brilliant group of future Heroes!”

            That is…not at all a denial of Class 1-A’s documented tendency to decimate the local flora.

            “But rest assured,” the principal continues. “This class, and indeed all of our students, truly represent the best of us. Especially now, in such trying times.”

            Masahiro’s screaming cascade of internal panic recedes the tiniest bit. “Really?”

            “Of course. I have nothing less than total faith that Class 1-A will lead the future of the Hero profession and truly embody the best of its virtues.”

            Later, Masahiro will research ‘virtues of the Hero profession’, realize that this list contains adjectives like ‘strong-willed’, ‘fearless’, and ‘energetic’, and weep silent, bitter tears over Principal Nedzu’s ‘technically not incorrect’ betrayal.

            But present-tense, less aware and far too trusting Masahiro allows himself (foolishly, foolishly) to find hope in the principal’s words. He has, maybe, three seconds to feel marginally better about this entire assignment before Principal Nedzu ushers them through the classroom doorway marked ‘1-A’ and into an immediate void of howling, raging chaos.

##

            In the Educational Pedagogy textbooks Masahiro has painstakingly memorized, classrooms are always depicted as islands of calm amidst a chaotic world, as a lofty oasis of wisdom and learning, safely insulated against outside forces that would corrupt this pure and sacred process of gathering knowledge.

            Of course, the textbooks allow, the realities of a classroom may be a bit different. Children are children, and thus there may be inevitable hiccups on the path to the total serenity of the teaching experience. But, the textbooks insist, with well implemented practices and proper routine, this spirit of tranquil learning is always achievable! It’s why Masahiro gravitated toward Education in the first place—the promise of calm and comforting monotony. 

            Masahiro wants to fling said textbooks into the sun for being such total, unrepentant liars. Because this—this is—

There are children everywhere.

            Everywhere.

            In the desks, where they probably should be. On the teacher’s desk, where they decidedly shouldn’t. One girl with long black hair tied back into a bow is even on the wall, clinging there with hands and feet and a totally placid expression like on the wall is at all a normal place to be inside a high school classroom at just past ten in the morning.

            The entire room is a turbine of sound. Kids are shouting. Talking over each other. One kid has an entire cake on his desk and he’s just…eating it, like full ‘fork-to-pastry, no plates needed’. For some reason, pencils and papers and a single coffee cup drift overhead, bobbing gently in the air. There’s music coming from somewhere, a bass-drop beat that turns this rioting chaos into something like a music video? And one boy, who apparently rejects the entire idea of ‘inside voices’ shouts above the rest of the noise. Who he’s shouting at is not immediately apparent, as he seems to be shouting at everyone in general for the sheer offense of sharing his sphere of existence.

            One child is actually, visibly on fire, half of his head lit up like a massive candle wick, for…no real reason? That Masahiro can see?

            Aizawa Shota is, upon first glance, absolutely nowhere to be found.

            Yuki turns to Masahiro, eyes wide and hands clasped together like this disaster zone of a classroom is something to be delighted by, and says, entirely sincere, “You’re so lucky and I’m desperately jealous.”

            Masahiro’s worries that his return glare lacks force, as he doesn’t currently have enough feeling in his face to muster a proper expression of condemnation.

            “Ah,” says Principal Nedzu, still with that cheerful smile. “This is uncharacteristically calm of them. I wonder if they were warned of your arrival, Masahiro-Sensei, and chose to act accordingly?”

            Masahiro would react (visibly, obviously, embarrassingly) to the ‘Masahiro-Sensei’ if he wasn’t hearing the words ‘oh, apparently this is them on a good day’ screaming inside his skull like a fire alarm.  

            “Principal Nedzu!” one child finally notices. He has a mop of green hair atop his head and freckles on his face and wide eyes that remind Masahiro, forcefully, of tiny kittens romping after a pulled string. He is, somehow, the embodiment of pure sunlight and Masahiro wonders faintly, vaguely, desperately, if there are some pockets of calm in this otherwise full-tilt cacophony of madness.

            “Midoriya,” Principal Nedzu says, which…triggers some kind of bell in Masahiro’s head, some tiny chime ‘oh, I should know this’. But that polite little bell is so much less urgent than the wailing fire alarm of ‘THERE ARE, APPARENTLY, LEVELS WORSE THAN THIS’ and so Masahiro doesn’t have to unpack it like he probably should. “Where might we locate your Homeroom teacher?”

            “Aizawa-Sensei is currently behind his desk,” reports a terrifyingly earnest child with an impeccably neat uniform and glasses on his face. “Fellow students! Our esteemed school leader has arrived! We should take our seats and model proper school behavior!”

            “Proper school behavior can eat a dick, Iida!” someone calls back. Masahiro wants to pin it on the perma-scowl kid, but he’s pretty sure the words actually came from the tiny girl with the short brown hair and the actual apple-pink cheeks. Yuki makes a tiny, stifled sound at Masahiro’s side that translates to ‘a kindred spirit!’ and Masahiro despairs.

            Principal Nedzu just smiles, which explains a lot about this class, in general, and says, “Ah, of course. Aizawa-Sensei?”

            For a moment, it’s more of the same, and Masahiro wonders if ‘behind the desk’ is actually a metaphor for something else. But then, a head appears around the wooden legs, bleary-eyed and framed by a mass of sleep-tangled hair.

            The head says, “Urgh.”

            “Hello!” Principal Nedzu carols back.

            “Principal Nedzu?”

            “Just so!”

            “You’re here?”

            “I am!”

            The head makes a face that, somehow, manages to say ‘stop having exclamation marks’ without words. And then, that head swivels like a snake, craning around the leg of the desk and pinning the riot of children with the terrifying glare of the truly dead inside.

            “What did my Nightmare Children do this time?”

            Instead of reacting to this look with fear and desperate apologies, which Masahiro feels would be appropriate, Aizawa’s class just laughs merrily. Except for the perma-scowl kid, who snarls, “Shut the fuck up, Kirishima—I did not make a ‘pit stop to torch something’ on my way to class!” and the on-fire child, who blinks a little like maybe he did stop to torch something before class but good luck pinning it on him in any kind of conclusive way.

            “I love them,” Yuki declares in a fervent whisper.

            The desk-head makes a snorting, disgruntled sound and disappears, only to reappear a moment later as a full-bodied Aizawa Shota unfolds himself to his feet. Standing, he’s tall and rangy and visibly, painfully exhausted—his shoulders hunch inside the yellow sleeping bag draped around his shoulders and the bags underneath his eyes are so black that Masahiro briefly wonders if maybe Eraserhead actually lost a fight with an eye-punching villain the night before.

            “Sit down,” he says—without raising his voice at all, so Masahiro really doubts, given the total insanity of this class—

            But before he can even begin thinking it, the children are settled in their seats, hands folded and totally quiet like perfect little angels who definitely weren’t one thumping song and show-of-Quirk away from a riot two seconds before.

            What.

            “Who’re you?” Aizawa adds around a yawn, flapping a lazy hand in Masahiro’s petrified direction.

            “Uh,” Masahiro says. Intelligently.

            “This is Masahiro-Sensei,” the principal says. “Your student-teacher for the next six weeks!”

            In unison, the children swivel their heads toward Masahiro.

            Masahiro’s Quirk roars inside his chest. Pops inside his ears like static. He barely manages to catch it before he starts to emit the sickly greenish-orange glow of anxiety turned into fuel. Shoving it so deep for a second time in less than fifteen minutes feels like a fist against his ribcage, a breath-stealing punch thrown from inside his body.

            “Was that starting today?” Aizawa asks, in a tone that implies he isn’t exactly clear on which ‘today’ he’s currently existing in. “Huh. Alright. Gremlins—get up and greet your new Sensei properly.”

            Chair legs scrape against the floor as twenty children rise to their feet and bow in Masahiro’s direction.

            “Hello, Masahiro-Sensei,” most of them chorus, smiling wide and excited.

            Aw. Okay. He’s…okay. That’s a lot of Feelings. Capital letter feelings.

            “Don’t pass out,” Yuki whispers urgently in his ear. “Remember the hierarchies, Masahiro. Blood in the water. Assert your confidence, okay?”

            Masahiro spares Yuki a single, betrayed glance because, ha. ‘Confidence’. It’s like she doesn’t even know him.

            “I trust you’ll look after him,” Principal Nedzu continues. “Just like you’re the prospective future of the Hero profession, Masahiro-Sensei is the prospective future of the Education field. Shape each other well!”

            “Shape, Principal Nedzu?” inquires a calm-faced girl with a large, spiky ponytail of black hair.

            Principal Nedzu laughs. “Isn’t that how futures work, Yaoyorozu? They’re shaped by those they come into contact with.”

            “Oh. Um, of course, Sir.”

            Masahiro turns his head away from Yuki just in time to catch Aizawa giving Principal Nedzu a single, silent, suddenly alert, and strangely thorough look.

            But that searching look is gone in a blink, replaced by Aizawa’s apparently default expression of a man resigned to his imminent death by total exhaustion.

            “Now that we’ve gotten Masahiro-Sensei settled,” Principal Nedzu says, “I think it’s time to do the same for our other student teacher. If you’ll come with me, Yuki-Sensei?”

            Masahiro casts Yuki a wild, desperate look. She responds with a massive thumbs-up and then leaves with Principal Nedzu, because she is a traitor with absolutely zero love in her soul.

            Masahiro is left alone. In a classroom of twenty children, who stare at him with the earnest and intensely curious eyes of crazed scientists about to strip a new invention down to its smallest components in order to determine how it works, and a man who looks one solid exhale away from expiring on the spot but also radiates this bewildering certainty that he could kill you with absolutely zero effort.

            Masahiro tries for a smile. Inside his skin, his Quirk hums and hums, a fretful whine like a solidly rapped tuning fork.

##

            His first day is a blur of movement and sound, mostly unidentifiable and powered by adrenaline that feels like neon gasoline. Aizawa is with Class 1-A in the morning for Homeroom, after lunch, and at the end of the day for something called ‘Practical Education’, which is not a subject covered in any of Masahiro’s pedagogy textbooks.

            When he’s not with his Homeroom class, Aizawa travels to the other ‘A’ classes as the designated Maths teacher. But Masahiro is left with 1-A for the entire school day, in order to ‘familiarize himself with their curriculum and also the students themselves’. He leaves Masahiro behind with a yawn and a directive to his students: “Gremlins, try not to emotionally scar him in any permanent way, alright?”

            Mostly, Masahiro panics and tries to stay out of the way of the other teachers (also! Professional! Heroes!) as they arrive to teach their designated subject. He circulates as best he can to help the kids with the schoolwork he recognizes and thanks the higher powers that a side of effect of being a boring nerd who finds comfort in the predictability of studying is that he’s able to memorize the twenty names he’s left with by lunch.

            He does learn a few things—bright spots of miraculously identifiable information in an otherwise teeming mass of sensory input.

  1. These kids are decidedly unafraid of their Quirks, in spite of their Quirks being ludicrously strong, a trait that Masahiro finds enviable, admirable, and outright terrifying in a knotted, tangled ball of complicated feelings. Casual Quirk usage is rampant throughout the day—Yaoyorozu creating a pen for Jiro after hers disappears, Kaminari zapping the classroom projector back to life after the battery dies, Sero causally taping Kirishima’s chair back together after Kirishima answers a question correctly in History class and gets so excited about it that he accidentally activates his own Quirk and breaks the entire back of the chair off.
  2. These kids are, in fact, absolutely fearless in everything that they do—Masahiro has been asked more direct questions about his personal life by noon than he ever has in his entire previous existence upon this earth.
  3. Uraraka, in particular, will look him dead in the face with the sweetest, most innocent smile he’s ever seen and then drop bombs like ‘Does Masahiro-Sensei have a girlfriend? A boyfriend? Both? Both at the same time?”
  4. Asui and Todoroki are also fans of casual devastation, albeit in a different way. Masahiro tries to help Asui with her English work, and is met with a brutally honest, “Masahiro-Sensei, it’s going to be really hard for you to be a teacher if you’re this scared of students.” And, later in the day, Masahiro drifts through Todoroki’s general orbit and is immediately met a with a terrifyingly blank look that somehow still feels like its stripping Masahiro to the bone, and the words, “You’re afraid of your Quirk”. Thrown right out into the open, like Masahiro’s many years of careful repression and hiding behind quiet smiles is no match for the observational powers of one vaguely murderous teenager.
  5. Masahiro tries to help the Angry Child with his work exactly one time, because he’s read numerous texts on negative student behaviors often finding their root cause in frustration and embarrassment at not being able to understand the material. He escapes that experience with what feels like a ruptured ear drum, an inch of metaphorical skin scalded off, the Angry Child’s name (Bakugou), and the shock-startled realization that Bakugou’s work was already done, all of the answers were correct, and apparently, Bakugou is just like that.
  6. Midoriya is, in fact, pure, radiant joy distilled into human form, and possibly Masahiro’s only refuge within this class of otherwise terrifying, overpowered children. He doesn’t ask about Masahiro’s personal life, or casually dissect his innermost fears with the precision of a surgical blade. He gets distinctly teary-eyed during a discussion of a character’s feelings during English class, and Masahiro resonates with that. Masahiro hasn’t seen his Quirk yet, but he wonders if the boy isn’t studying to be the kind of hero that stays out of the fighting itself—maybe his Quirk is healing-based? Or some other useful skill that keeps him on the outskirts of a battle but still a Hero in his own right?

But then, the end of the day (blessedly) arrives, and Masahiro is met with twin betrayals. One, that ‘Practical Education’ is apparently code for ‘we take the children to a training field across campus and they attempt to kill each other with their Quirks, which we’ve decided to classify as ‘training’’. And two, that Midoriya takes one step out onto the field, offers up a sweet smile to his resigned-looking opponent (Ojiro), and then obliterates him into the ground with a sudden and ridiculous surge of honestly appalling brute strength.

“Apparently, I’m supposed to mentor you through this experience, or something,” Aizawa says as they amble back toward the teacher dorms at the end of the day. “So, your thoughts on the first day, or whatever?”

Masahiro turns to look at him without really seeing him. His face is so numb that someone could be drilling an ice pick in between his eyebrows and he wouldn’t even know it. “Are teachers allowed to drink in their dorms?”

Aizawa pats him lazily on the back. “Go see Lunch Rush. He runs a secret distillery out of his rooms.”

Twenty minutes later, Masahiro shows up on Yuki’s doorstep with a bottle of homemade brew that is probably way too strong and also possibly illegal, but he can’t actually bring himself to care. Yuki, when she opens her door, is buzzing, jubilant, her Quirk causing spontaneous flower growth outside of her window, energized and full of first-day stories about the children that Masahiro honestly believes she might attempt to adopt at the end of this student-teacher sojourn.

Masahiro, who has been swallowing so much of his own nervous energy attempting to manifest throughout the day that he feels vaguely sick, acid pooled in his stomach lining, listens quietly. When Yuki asks about his first day, he swallows again (forcing down words like ‘help’, and ‘I’m going to die’, and a bewildering urge to say, ‘Yuki, some of them can see me’ without a clear idea of what that means or why the idea fills him with so much dread) and says, “It was fine.”

##

When Masahiro was eight, a teacher snapped at him during class for daydreaming. In response, Masahiro caught his breath, shock and shame and a tight, coiling fear curling inside his stomach like a slippery knot. And then, there was a burst of greenish-orange light, and the desk beneath his suddenly sweaty palms cracked apart.

It wasn’t that unusual. Quirks often manifested suddenly, and sometimes violently. Masahiro was sent to the school nurse, his parents were called to inform them of his burgeoning abilities, a sterile and mass-produced pamphlet on ‘Coping with your Child’s New Quirk’, brightly colored and covered in rigidly smiling faces, was shoved into Masahiro’s backpack, and when he got back to class, his broken desk had been cleared away and replaced. The world moved on, because Quirks were nothing new or extraordinary anymore, but for Masahiro, everything felt raw and unfamiliar and terrifying.

He’d always been, and still is, scared of things that other people never even blinked at. Ordering food in restaurants. Leaving his apartment. Doing anything, at all, with social media. He’d barely spoken a word before the age of four, not because he couldn’t (he’d been reading even earlier than that), but because the idea of speaking out loud, of people hearing his words and reacting to them filled him a throat-closing kind of terror even then. He clung to his mother’s hand whenever they went anywhere, and especially when they went somewhere new. He liked school but the thought of actually being there sometimes, the unceasing barrage of people and loudly spoken words and bright, artificial lights, left him tearful and overwhelmed, resulted in gentle but exasperated calls to his parents from the principal’s office when he reacted badly in class.

It was embarrassing. Before the age of six, Masahiro had already picked up methods for hiding the things he was most afraid of. Not intentionally. But Masahiro had always been a clever child, and sometimes the most impactful lessons were taught by unspoken things. His ability to read transcended books and allowed him to understand ‘confusion’, ‘frustration’, and ‘I love you, but I’m exhausted’ in the faces of those who were forced to deal with his fears in real time. And so, Masahiro learned accordingly.

And then, his Quirk. Which took all of the fears he’d gotten so good at hiding and made them painfully, horrifically visible. Like a vicious, terrible ouroboros—the snake of his fear eating its own tail in the reaction of his Quirk, a mortifying cycle that seemed endless and impossible to break. Masahiro shattered so many desks. Windows. Once, his bedroom doorway after a fight with his parents that left him weak-kneed and shaking, spine slicked with sweat and heart pounding out of control, even though the fight hadn’t even been that bad and had resulted in hugs.

Yuki would come. Would turn him around with gentle hands until he was facing away from her, from everyone. Would press her forehead against his spine and say, “It’s okay. I can’t see you, okay? No one can see you.”

And Masahiro would shake and shake and fist his hands around the desperately unwanted glow of greenish-orange, energy building between his tightly curled fingers the more he tried to make it go away, and lean desperately into the relief of being invisible. Unseen.

Safe.

##

The thing about this class is that Masahiro does not understand it.

He spends his first week as 1-A’s student teacher in a holding pattern of panicked observation. And in this observation, he picks up on a few things.

Like the fact that these kids are fourteen and fifteen-year-old nightmares who will fight each other at a moment’s notice and sometimes with zero provocation. They bicker. They banter. There are obvious factions within the class—half of the kids gravitate toward Midoriya, who shines like some impossible beacon. The other half gravitate toward Bakugou and his furious, undeniable strength. Their relationship with Aizawa is bizarre and unsettling—he calls them ‘gremlins’ and ‘little shits’ on the regular, and the kids laugh like this is the funniest thing they’ve ever heard and then carry on being chaotic in his presence, like they don’t share Masahiro’s healthy fear of him. They seem only interested enough in schoolwork to complete it in a general sense and Masahiro spends the first few days having strange moments of cognitive dissonance—these are the burgeoning Heroes he’s heard so much about? The so-called ‘prodigy’ class that newspaper outlets and online Hero blogs are already tracking with feverish fascination, grandly speculating that Class 1-A will shift the landscape of the Hero profession?

But, toward the end of his first week, Masahiro moves past his initial white-out panic, and starts to see nuance in the bigger picture.

He’s always been good at reading the subtleties of others—it’s safer to discern emotions from the unspoken things before those emotions can manifest and hurt you. And so, he starts to see the subtleties of Class 1-A once the panic clears from his eyes a little and he is…honestly flabbergasted by the image that takes shape.

These kids are, in fact, absolutely fourteen and fifteen-year-old nightmares. They fight with each other as easy as breathing—especially across the two factions the class has divided itself into. But there’s this strange undercurrent humming underneath it all. On Friday of his first week, Masahiro is walking with them across campus toward Practical Education (the mortal enemy of Masahiro’s delicate feelings). They pass by the main gates on their way to the training field, and a sudden shout startles Masahiro into turning around.

“Look, there! There he is! The boy who was abducted by the League of Villains!”

There are…reporters at the gates. Cameras. The voraciously hungry eyes of people looking for a story, and all of them fixed on Bakugou, who continues walking like nothing is wrong, even as his shoulders climb unconsciously toward his ears.

Masahiro sputters. Muscles down the sudden, bright pop of nervous energy that tries to bubble out of his hands. Aizawa is already at the training field—he went ahead to set up whatever hellscape the children will be navigating today, and he left the kids in Masahiro’s care. But none of Masahiro’s textbooks covered ‘dealing with the media’. Masahiro can’t…what is he supposed to do? Is he supposed to shout? He feels, suddenly and strangely, like shouting until his throat is sore.

But before he can decide on a course of action, Class 1-A closes ranks like steel links in a chain. Interlocked. Immovable. Unbreakable. They cluster around Bakugou in a protective knot—even Midoriya’s faction of class. Shield him from the reporters’ eyes. Laugh good-naturedly at Bakugou’s shouts of ‘get the hell away from me’ and ‘what the fuck, Deku, get your elbows out of my spleen before I break them off’.

It’s…amazing. Incredible, especially in its instinctiveness. Masahiro stares at the absolute, unwavering resolve on their faces, where wide grins had been only moments before and thinks, Oh. Oh, he sees it here. He sees the promise of what they’re going to be, laid out before them like a glittering cape of possibility.

##

Masahiro starts to understand Class 1-A a little bit, but their teacher is still stuck at ‘nope, not at all’. At the end of his first week of student teaching, Aizawa invites him to one of the teacher workrooms in the dorms to get some hands-on grading experience.

“Here,” he says, and drops a stack of essays on Masahiro’s corner of the desk.

Masahiro take with them with something like relief because—yes. Paperwork. Paperwork is safe. Paperwork won’t offer to give him a makeover and then immediately produce the appropriate brushes in a way that turned ‘offer’ into ‘imminent threat’ (Aoyama, three days ago), ask him if he’s okay because the rhythm of his heart is loud and wild and ‘like, way too fast, Masahiro-Sensei, you sound like an inspirational power ballad’ (Jiro, two days ago), or sneak up on him in the hallway and ask, “Aw, Masahiro-Sensei, were you crying in there?” (Hakagure, two hours ago).

Masahiro can do paperwork. Masahiro is desperately and wildly grateful for paperwork.

“Um,” Masahiro does point out, because it’s impressive and worth drawing attention to. “One of these essays is…wow, ten entire pages longer than the other ones?”

Aizawa grunts, already bent over his own stack of essays. “Yeah. That’s Midoriya’s. Good luck.”

The essay topic is ‘Take one Heroic act performed by your favorite Hero and discuss what could have been done differently to improve the situation. Focus specifically on the Hero’s actions, their failings, and what you would do better.’ These are, apparently, second drafts. Initial drafts are stapled to the back, covered in red ink and ruthless comments.

“This seems…” Masahiro ventures, after reading Kirshima’s essay on one of Crimson Riot’s rescues that accidentally resulted in property damage that devastated the economy of that local community. Kirishima is open, honest, and painfully apparent in his hero-worship of Crimson Riot. Reading this second draft is like watching someone sacrifice a loved one in real time. Reading the first draft is even worse—Kirishima’s tone is infinitely more upbeat and forgiving, more arguing for why Crimson Riot shouldn’t be persecuted for his actions than analyzing them for improvement, and Aizawa’s comments in the margins are brutal.

No.

Focus more on his failures.

This is not an acceptable analysis. Do better.

Masahiro would have cried his way through writing the second draft, if he’d gotten comments like Aizawa’s on the first one.

Aizawa glances over, a cup of what smells like convenience store coffee laced with lighter fluid at his elbow. The stack of essays he’s working on have a similar amount of comments in the same tone, from what Masahiro can see, in spite of their being second drafts.

“This seems?” he repeats, red pen poised over Bakugou’s paper. He wrote about All Might. At least seven of the essays did, including Midoriya, and Aizawa’s comments on those essentially require the kids to tear down the beloved Symbol of Peace, who is a source of comfort and inspiration to so many. No mercy. No quarter. No consideration for the fact that these are teenagers, still caught in the starry-eyed rush of training to be Heroes?

Crimson Riot is the coolest, Kirishima declared, not even two days ago, in the middle of class. And I want to be just like him!

Unnecessary, Masahiro wants to say, in response to Aizawa’s question. Over-the-top. A little bit cruel.

But Masahiro is, in all things, a coward. He just shrugs, bites his tongue, and returns to grading. His comments are far less biting, and he feels like, from the way Aizawa is side-eyeing them, that Masahiro has failed in something important and Aizawa will be adding to his marks later on.

##

Week One was of student teaching was obviously about survival. Week Two of Masahiro’s student teaching is apparently about trying (and failing, in an embarrassingly obvious way) to stop these kids from worming their way inside his heart.

Listen, it’s not like Yuki was wrong when she accused him of being tragically soft. And these kids seem to be going out of their way to be completely, uniquely loveable.

“I’m pretty sure you would think that about any class of yours, though?” Yuki points out one night after work. They’re sprawled out on Yuki’s apartment floor, a riot of papers and pens and paper cups of tea spread out around them. They’ve been assigned the opportunity to plan a lesson. They won’t get to deliver it themselves, not yet, but seeing a veteran teacher do so will be wildly helpful in understanding where improvements in their planning are needed.

Masahiro’s so tired from the never-ending workload that seems to accompany teaching in real time. Like, his face feels weirdly…fat from lack of sleep? Swollen. He accidentally mentioned this to Aizawa in a fit of exhaustion-fueled delirium, and Aizawa looked him dead in the face and said, “Yeah, I’ve had a bloated face for years.”

But, anyway. Lesson planning. Masahiro’s planning a nice, safe lesson on mathematical formulas for Aizawa to deliver. He’s pretty sure that Yuki’s planning something that’s going to force the terrifying Ectoplasm to use glitter. She is so wholly, comprehensively unafraid of her teacher-mentor that it’s almost amazing. He actually seems a little afraid of her, can often be spotted in the hallways looking sideways at her and his students (who Yuki won over in record time and might actually be turning into her own personal army) in a dazed, poleaxed kind of way. Like he isn’t sure whether to laugh or hit the ceiling with incandescent fury. Masahiro understands. He empathizes.

“I would not,” Masahiro says, in a tone of voice that even he doesn’t believe.

Yuki levels him a deeply pitying look.

It’s just…it’s just a lot of things, is all.

For example, there’s 1-A’s wholesale acceptance of Masahiro’s presence inside their classroom. No reservations or hesitation (except for Bakugou, who has reservations about the entire existence of humanity outside of himself, and maybe Tokoyami—although Tokoyami’s reticence might just be who he is as a person). They claim him as one of their own so fast that Masahiro’s head spins. He’s walking with them to lunch on the first day of the second week, and they bump into students from Class 1-B. One is a girl with a kind, albeit harried, aura, a boy with the most elaborate eyebrows Masahiro has ever seen, and a boy with…some really intense facial expressions, wow.

Immediately upon spotting Class 1-A, the facial expressions boy adopts an extravagant sneer and crows, “What’s this? Class 1-A needs a babysitter? Are you really so untrustworthy that you can’t walk to lunch on your own?”

The girl makes the face of one grimly resigned to the events currently unfolding, which Masahiro supposes explains the ‘harried’ component of her aura.

“Certainly not!” Iida cries. Masahiro has only known Iida for a week, and already he’s 100% certain that being accused of untrustworthiness is equivalent in his head to being called a ‘fucking asshole’, or something. “Masahiro-Sensei is our esteemed student teacher! A future paragon of the teaching profession, assigned to hone his craft in our classroom!”

The kid with the elaborate eyebrows says, “I…what?” 

“Masahiro-Sensei is our student teacher!” Uraraka repeats, and sidles up to hover at Masahiro’s side. This would be sweet, except that Uraraka is terrifying, and especially when she smiles like that. “And he’s great.”

“Yeah!” Ashido cheers from somewhere in the mass of students. “Totally helped me understand fractions after, like…years of not even understanding them as a thing?”

“He helped me braid my hair in the most beautiful fashion!” Aoyama agrees.

“Oh,” Masahiro says, because really, that’s Yuki’s contribution for teaching Masahiro how to braid in the first place and was mostly born of watching Aoyama’s hair fly into his face during training and Masahiro feeling like he had to contribute to Practical Education in a way more useful than ‘hyperventilating in a corner’. “Well.”

“Todoroki, say something nice,” Hakagure whispers.

“He only looks like he wants to run away from us screaming 30% of the time,” Todoroki replies, deadly serious. “Which is 50% less than any other adult.”

Uraraka’s candy-sweet smile at the 1-B students carries the impression of bared teeth. “What, your class wasn’t lucky enough to get an awesome second teacher all your own?”

The rest of 1-A moves forward as a single unit, plucking at Masahiro’s sleeves and crowding at his sides.

“Oh,” Masahiro says again, shocked stupid, because every touch or tap of an elbow against his ribs feels…like a brand? Like a stamp of belonging? Masahiro’s only been with these kids for a week, and has spent most of that time hovering anxiously and trying not to mess things up. He doesn’t deserve—he hasn’t earned

But these kids are folding him into that steel chain of their astonishing bond like he’s been there all along. Like he’s earned his place after only a week and mostly trying not to panic-cry as he tried to help Kaminari understand things like ‘it’s a…Kaminari, it’s a noun’. He can almost hear the clink of his link in the chain falling into place in the patter of their feet as they press around him and the feel of their shoulders against his arms and ribs.

Masahiro’s Quirk churns inside his skin. He wants to take a sharp breath, to release it on even sharper words—that Masahiro isn’t worth this, that many people won’t be. It’s only been a week—they can’t just…do this, don’t they understand how easy it is to get hurt, when you let others see how much you care?

But these kids are fearless in everything they do, and that apparently includes their capacity to love.

Masahiro is struck silent and breathless and terrified by the gift of it.

##

Masahiro really, truly, cannot stress enough how much he doesn’t understand Aizawa Shota.

Most of the time, the man lives inside his sleeping bag. Or can be found clutching a cup of coffee like it’s his very last hope of survival and observing his class through blank, barely-cognizant eyes. He spends most of his time during Homeroom asleep behind his desk, totally ignoring the way his class often dissolves into total anarchy around him. He yawns every five seconds, often looks like the entire institution of teaching baby Heroes is a blight upon his existence, and seems permanently disgruntled by the general existence of his students.

But sometimes, when Masahiro least expects it, the man sharpens. Becomes this awake, entirely aware, and startlingly insightful person who drops words like finely honed blades. Becomes flinty, and immoveable as stone, and looks every inch the Professional Hero Masahiro has always read him to be, but had started to doubt in some of his more hysterical moments of failing to understand.

And in between these two personas lives this…undeniable softness. This love for his students that is so painfully visible and apparent that Masahiro has to look away from it, sometimes.

In the middle of Week Two of his teaching assignment, Aizawa drags Masahiro over to the 1-A student dorm for something called ‘routine inspection checks—trust me, without at least the threat of constant supervision, that dorm would be on fire, frozen over, and probably floating ten feet off of the ground on the regular’.

            Routine checks consist of showing up the dorm, their presence hailed by loud cries of delight, which feels…weirdly out of place considering they’re supposed to be here as some kind of authoritative force. But Aizawa doesn’t say a word or bark an order to contradict that delight. Instead, he’s compliant, resigned, as the kids swarm him and offer food, tea, to show him what they’ve been working on in eager voices. This is…ritual. A different kind of routine than the one Masahiro was expecting when Aizawa called this outing an ‘inspection’. Aizawa eats the food he’s provided, drinks the tea, stares obligingly at whatever the kids are trying to show him.

            But at the end of the second week, back in the teacher workrooms, they’re grading essays. The same essays. Going through with red pens, yet again, and getting them ready for a third draft, apparently.

            Aizawa’s comments are no less brutal this time around. The papers end up drowning in just as much red ink as they were before.

            “Problem?” Aizawa asks.

            He doesn’t even look up from where he’s cutting entire swaths of Kouda’s essay. Two days before the second drafts were due, Masahiro watched Kouda work on his essay in class, his face creased in obvious distress as he struggled to meet Aizawa’s standards and critique his beloved Hero harshly enough.

            You love them so much, Masahiro can feel, clawing up his throat, skittering dangerously across his tongue, the words carrying the faint ozone taste of his Quirk. I know you do, so why—why--?

            He doesn’t actually say it. Because Masahiro is a coward. Still. Always.

But he’s surprised at how close he comes to forgetting that, when staring at these kids’ papers, bleeding red like the effort they’d put into them.

##

Before starting his teaching assignment, Yuki cornered him in his college apartment, handed him a bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate, and made him go through the news reports detailing Class 1-A’s more dangerous escapades one by one.

He’s grateful for this. He really is. Yuki knows him well enough to know that uncertainty is one of the fastest ways to trigger Masahiro’s greenish-orange wash of light. It’s why he studies so exhaustively. Why he plays it safe, and won’t speak unless he’s sure.

But he doesn’t want—he’s peripherally aware, in the way that everyone is, of the incidents that 1-A has been involved in and that’s terrible enough. He doesn’t want

But Yuki looked at him, firm but nice about it, and said, “Masahiro, you need to know. All of it. You can’t…if it comes up, during class, and you don’t know…”

She didn’t have to finish. He knew exactly what she meant, and what it would mean, were it to happen.

So, he read the reports. All of them. And it was awful, but still in a more safely objective way, because Masahiro hadn’t met the kids yet, could feel his horror more abstractly.

It is so, so much worse to reconcile those reports with the kids who throw paper balls at each other during Homeroom, who fall asleep during Science class, who follow Masahiro down the hall and chatter his ear off, who laugh and tug at his sleeves when he’s trying to help them with work because ‘mah, mah, Masahiro-Sensei, you’ve got that ‘why the hell don’t you know this face’ on again, you’re gonna hurt my feelings’.

Sometime in the middle of the second week, he catches it swelling inside his heart at random intervals—a strange and sudden indignation. Startling in its strength and fury, when he looks at Midoriya’s smiling face or hears Todoroki’s quiet humor or watches Bakugou’s little group of friends flutter around him, all shrieks and laughter while Bakugou shouts his hatred but never actually does anything to stop it.

This indignation seems especially focused on Practical Education, where it often crystallizes into thoughts like unfair and too much, it’s too much and they’re kids, as he watches Yaoyorozu hit the ground for the fourth time, in a jarring crack of limbs and aching bones. As he watches Aizawa observe this with steely, unyielding eyes, and say, “Again.”

It feels like the essays. Like forcing the kids to dissect their beloved Heroes, to rip apart the figures who’ve pushed them to be here in the first place. Masahiro catches his hands curling. Which is—they don’t do that. Masahiro’s hands were made to cradle pens, not the beginnings of fists.

“Again,” Aizawa says, as Yaoyorozu hits the ground for a fifth time. “You can do better than this.”

“Yes, Sensei,” Yaoyorozu gasps around the bruises that must be blooming on her sides by now. And then she adds, bewildering and borderline infuriating, “Thank you, Sensei.”

She climbs to her feet. Across from her, Shouji holds his ground. He doesn’t look like he’s enjoying this, but he does look like he understands it on a level that Masahiro honestly cannot even comprehend. They all do, the entirety of Class 1-A, watching this with calm, accepting, even assessing eyes.

They’re children. They’re children. They’ve already been braver than anyone has any right to expect.

“Masahiro-Sensei,” Midoriya laughs at one point. “Are you okay? You look upset?”

Masahiro looks at him. Sees the reports he’d read like spatters of black paint inside his head. Gets stuck staring at Midoriya’s shoulders for a second. They’re so narrow, inside his Hero costume. Too narrow to carry the burdens that have been put there anyway. Thrust upon a boy who would never complain about those burdens in the first place—Masahiro knows that, even after only knowing him for two weeks.

Unfair. Unfair. Unfair.

“It just…seems a little harsh,” Masahiro manages, around the swelling in his throat.

Midoriya blinks a little, like the thought honestly never occurred to him. “What, Aizawa-Sensei?”

Masahiro can’t speak. If he does, he might end up scream-sobbing at his teacher-mentor, who is also a Professional Hero capable of annihilating Masahiro with a mean look and his pinky finger. He nods instead.

“Ah,” Midoriya laughs a little, scrubs at the back of his own head. “Well. It’s actually really amazing, you know?”

Masahiro shakes his head. He doesn’t. He doesn’t know.

“Masahiro-Sensei, someone has to tell us.” Midoriya’s eyes are set and serious, filled with the echoes of everything he’s seen already and the knowledge of what’s to come. This look, on a teenager’s face, and Masahiro may be sick. “Really tell us. Other people might not, but Aizawa-Sensei…he will. He knows. I…do you see?”

Masahiro sees a class of children so courageous, so willing to stand against whatever might come their way, unflinching.

Yuki finds him that night, curled up in bed, hunched around the invisible, cramping hurt of fear. Fear for these kids. He’s so terribly, terribly afraid, and especially now that he knows them, and it hurts so much worse that way.

Yuki crawls in behind him and curls up against his back, forehead between his shoulder blades.

“It’s not like everything else,” he manages between chattering teeth. “You can’t tell me there’s no logical reason to be afraid of this. Afraid for them.”

“No,” Yuki admits against the knobs of his spine. He thinks he hears an echo of his fear in her voice, probably aimed at her own group of students. He’s not sure if that makes it better or worse.

##

In the third week of his teaching assignment, Masahiro gets startled out of bed by a phone call. It’s Principal Nedzu, with a request to head over to the clinic. One of the kids is injured, needs assistance getting back to the dorms, and Eraserhead is currently out on patrol.

Masahiro’s entire body contracts with a greenish pulse of fear that he only barely manages to muscle down. He gets out of bed on autopilot, barely remembers his (frantic) sprint to the UA clinic.

It’s Kirishima. He was out on patrol. Patrol—because these kids have Provisional Hero Licenses. There was a mugging. Kirishima tried to stop the assailant. Of course he did. But somehow, the mugger managed to find one of Kirishima’s soft spots with his switchblade. Stuck it right between the boy’s ribs. The wound is closed, obviously—Kirishima reported to Recovery Girl before heading back to the dorms. But Recovery Girl’s Quirk can only do so much—the wound is closed but Kirishima is sore, aching, exhausted from both the fight and the strain of accelerated healing.

“Got him, though,” Kirishima says, smiling wide and drunk-looking, eyes glassy as Masahiro helps him up the stairs toward his room.

“Shut the hell up, you idiot,” Bakugou says from Kirishima’s other side. He was waiting at the door when Masahiro got to the 1-A dorms with Kirishima listing into his side. He’d walked around them and shoved his shoulder roughly under the arm Kirishima didn’t have slung around Masahiro’s neck. He has yet to acknowledge this, explain why he was out of bed in the first place, or make eye contact with Masahiro at all.

“But Bro. I got him. I am awesome. Tell me I’m awesome.”

“Fuck off.”

“Masahiro-Sensei!” Kirishima twists around quickly enough that he nearly unbalances all three of them. Bakugou pulls him back into place with a steady stream of blistering, vicious curse words. Kirishima ignores this with practiced, admirable ease. “You’ll tell me I’m awesome. Won’t you?”

Almost entirely without his permission, Masahiro’s mouth opens and spits out, “You were reckless. You were foolish. Why would you—the mugger had a knife, Kirishima. Why would you confront him?”

Kirishima blinks at him. A little more awareness in his eyes as he clocks Masahiro’s sharp tone, but still zero understanding.

“That’s what I was supposed to do,” he says. Slowly. Brow furrowed in confusion. The boy is still favoring his right side because his body is still reacting to the echo of a stab wound and Masahiro is going to scream. “Sensei, that’s my job.”

Bakugou makes a sharply disgusted sound. “Your job is not to get stabbed, you moron. Do better next time. Aizawa-Sensei is going to kick your ass for being so fucking useless.”

“Ugh, I know, I know.”

Masahiro’s ribs expand around his outrage. Deep inside his gut, his Quirk is pooling. Burning. Lighting up past that greenish-orange and straight into a warmer, more dangerous color.

“You should be afraid.” The words are coming too quickly now for Masahiro to control. He hates it. He hates it. “You should have been afraid.”

Kirishima laughs, bright and sunny.

“Of course I was afraid!” he admits. So easily. Masahiro’s been swallowing those exact words his entire life. “Dude’s knife was wicked big.”

“So, why didn’t you stop?”

Kirishima gives that look again. That scrunched-brow, ‘failure to understand’ look. On his other side, Bakugou is giving a similar, if more hostile, version of that same look.

“Sensei, we don’t stop when we’re afraid. We never have. How else are you supposed to know you’re a Hero, if you don’t feel afraid and do it anyway. You know?”

##

Once, Masahiro got into a fight with Yuki. A real fight, not the little arguments they played at. But a real, furious, full-on-yelling fight. A total rarity. Sometimes Yuki laughs about it and says she’s honored that Masahiro felt safe enough with her to actually have that fight.

But Masahiro says ‘once’ because it never happened again. Not after, mid-fight, his desperate hold on his Quirk slipped. Boiled out of his hands mid-shout. Not green this time, but red. It lashed against the nearest wall, gouging deep cuts in the plaster and shattering every window within a ten-foot radius. And Masahiro went briefly, almost blissfully blank in the aftermath, temporarily overwhelmed by the feeling of unleashing his Quirk after years of repressing it, like letting out a breath he’d been holding so longs that his lungs were screaming.

When he came back to himself, he was kneeling on a bed of broken glass and Yuki was hovering over him, her eyes huge and anxious, the multi-colored flowers wholly visible. She was covered in tiny cuts from the wave of exploding glass. So was Masahiro, bunches of tiny, stinging hurts that he couldn’t even feel over the roaring wave of terror that came in the wake of them.

“It’s okay,” Yuki promised, as he started to glow green. As he sobbed at the feel of his Quirk, building again, so outside of his control. “Masahiro, I’m okay. You’re okay.”

But it wasn’t okay. It wasn’t. And in the aftermath, Masahiro locked his Quirk up tighter than he ever had before, spent entire weeks learning the breathe around the pain of shoving it so deep.

“Don’t,” Yuki, his parents, his teachers begged. “It’s not your fault. None of this is your fault. You don’t have to be afraid. But it’s not…Masahiro, you can’t just stop it like this.”

“You don’t have to…it could be something,” Yuki added, tearful and flushed with frustrated sadness. “It could be so much more. You could. You don’t have to be afraid of it. You could use it.”

But Masahiro was afraid. He was. And so, he stopped.

##

            It’s during Week Four of his teaching assignment that everything goes to hell, which Masahiro probably should have been able to predict.

            He hasn’t been able to sleep since helping Kirishima back to the dorms. Every time he tries, he ends up laying awake in bed, so tired that his bones hurt but also unable to banish the feeling of ants squirming beneath his skin, inside his stomach. Everything feels green, somehow, like it’s been faintly, warningly tinted.  He can taste ozone in the back of his throat.

            He gets to deliver his first actual lesson, and totally botches it.

            The kids are obviously, visibly concerned. Because they are fearless in their capacity to love, and fearless in their willingness to show it. Aoyama offers him some kind of skincare product that, apparently, ‘soothes pores to sleep’. Yaoyorozu offers him some kind of fancy tea from her home estate. Uraraka offers to beat up whatever’s bothering him. Tokoyami, painfully awkward about it, offers to let Dark Shadow into Masahiro’s room, to frighten away whatever nightmares might be keeping him awake.

            Midoriya tries to pull him into Practical Education. Possibly this is because the boy is truly kind, and has noticed the way Masahiro lurks on the edges of the training field, constantly adjusting his glasses in appalled discomfort. Possibly this is because the child has an unsettling and deeply bizarre fascination with Quirks, and wants to see Masahiro’s in action. Masahiro’s been so careful, after all, to keep it entirely contained. To dodge the Quirk-specific questions the kids have thrown at him since day one.

            “Nervous energy manifestation?” Midoriya repeats, after Masahiro loses the battle to Midoriya’s wide-eyed, earnest, gently pleading expression, a look that says ‘oh, I’d really love the information I’m asking for, but I totally understand if you don’t want to give it, and especially to me, no really I understand, who would, right?’, and explains in halting words about his Quirk. That look is actually a lethal weapon. Way more dangerous than any of the absurd power moves Midoriya has displayed during practice. “That’s so cool!”

            Masahiro, who has spent a significant portion of his life learning how to jam his Quirk deep inside his body like a serial over-packer desperately attempting to close his suitcase, says, “I…Okay.”

            “No, really!” Midoriya bubbles. “There are so many possible applications for a Quirk like that! I mean, for one—”

            And he’s off. Masahiro honestly, shamefully, tunes him out a little. He’s seen this in action enough times by now (once, in History class, Midoriya talked for twenty entire minutes about one of the Heroes from the early wave of Quirks, a Hero Masahiro had never even heard of but that Midoriya could apparently write entire dissertations on) to know how it goes.

            But he’s brought back to earth, abrupt and unpleasant, when Midoriya says, “You should practice with us! I bet you could come up with some awesome moves, Sensei!”

            Masahiro’s entire being recoils.

            “Oh,” he says. “Oh, no, I don’t think—”

            But there’s Uraraka, arriving just in time to encourage trouble with that sweet, apple-cheeked smile on her face. “Wow! What a great idea, Deku! Masahiro-Sensei, won’t you show us what you can do?”

            Show them what he can do. Masahiro pictures broken windows. Gouges dug inches deep in wall plaster. Tiny cuts scattered across Yuki’s skin. He imagines those some tiny cuts on Midoriya’s already-scarred hands. Uraraka’s apple cheeks. Kouda’s sweet face.

            His stomach contracts into a knot, painful and sharp. His throat closes alarmingly, cutting off his air supply until tiny silver spots start to dance in his peripherals. Masahiro thinks, for a single wild second, that he’s about to throw up right in the middle of the training fields.

            His hands start to glow. Outside of his control. Again, again.

            Half of the kids crowd closer, captivated by Masahiro’s first visible show of Quirk. Not all of them. In his rapidly tunneling vision, Masahiro can see Todoroki hanging back, something unreadable on his face. Midoriya, too, his eyes flickering from Masahiro’s hands, to his face, and back again. Tokoyami, Dark Shadow still out from training but gathered strangely tight against his sides.

            And, behind them all, stands Aizawa. Watching. Waiting. Not doing anything to force these kids away before Masahiro—before he—he could—

            “Don’t.” It takes an inhuman amount of effort to force the words out. Masahiro’s vocal cords have dried like strips of jerky, rattling together as he tries to talk. “Stay back.”

            “What?” Uraraka looks up, a delighted smile still caught on her face as she bends low over Masahiro’s hands. “Masahiro-Sensei?”

            “Don’t. Don’t look, don’t, I don’t want you to see.”

            It’s mortifying. The words are forced up from the deepest places of himself. It doesn’t matter if they look away now, the words are just another kind of visibility that Masahiro desperately wanted to avoid.

            But the kids don’t look away. They move back, but only enough to give Masahiro space. They don’t leave like they should. Like he wants them to (?).

            “Alright,” Aizawa finally says. “That’s enough. Back to training. Now.”

            Mercifully, the kids scatter. Aizawa turns his back on Masahiro (why, why, his hands are still glowing, he knows they are) to watch the kids go through their forms. Masahiro shakes and shakes on the edges of the training field, until it’s all too much, and he’s forced to retreat to his rooms instead.

            Time passes. He’s not…super aware of it. He knows that Yuki knocks, at some point. Then knocks again, and threatens to kick down his door, which she’ll absolutely do. In fact, he assumes it’s her when his door does indeed fly open in a solid thunk of probably splintering wood.

            But it’s Aizawa’s voice that announces, “We have essays to mark.”

            Essays. The same essays they’ve been going over and over, forcing these kids to tear down what they believe in most.

            That strange and swooping indignation swells in him again, out of nowhere. Keeps swelling into rage and the aftershocks of adrenaline.

            Masahiro stands up fast enough to displace the blanket he’d tugged numbly around his shoulders.

            “I could have hurt them.”

            Aizawa’s slouch is lazy, but his eyes are alert. “Maybe.”

            “You didn’t do anything.” And then it’s all spilling out, a torrential flood of words he’s been swallowing for weeks. “You never do anything! They get hurt and you just—you—you push them, and push them, and I don’t understand! I know you care about them! I know you do! I can see that, so why can’t I see what Midoriya does, when he looks at you?”

            The anger flickers out of Masahiro as fast as it came and he’s left hollowed out. Painfully exposed, raw with it, but numb, too. Like his next words are okay because they don’t really matter anyway. “I’m just…I’m so scared. I’m so scared, all the time. And I’m exhausted.”

            There’s a beat of silence, broken only by Aizawa’s sigh. Masahiro’s head is, for once, strangely quiet and empty.

            And then, Aizawa says, “They scare me, too.”

            Masahiro blinks up at him, uncomprehending.

            “They scare me, too,” the man repeats. “I can’t sleep sometimes, because they scare me so much. Because you see it, right? That’s one thing you do see? What makes them different?”

            Masahiro thinks of Midoriya, bright and shining. Of Bakugou’s impossible strength. Of Kirishima, listing sideways and laughing off no wound that a teenager should ever experience, honestly confused by Masahiro saying in a shattered voice that he should have run. By the entirety of Class 1-A closing ranks around those they’ve decided to protect, immediate and unwavering, the ‘defend’ response so instinctive to who they are that it’s almost like muscle memory.

            He nods.

            Aizawa nods back. Leans against Masahiro’s ruined doorway with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ceiling. “I can’t stop them. Sometimes I feel like I should try. But I can’t, and I know that I can’t. Who they are, and what they’re going to be, is bigger than me. Bigger than my fear for them. And that’s just…that’s just teaching. Being scared all the time, but knowing that you have to help them, to the very best of your ability, become what they’re meant to be anyway.”

            It strikes across Masahiro’s brain like a spark. Like quicksilver. Like something he should have realized sooner, for how obvious it is. “You’re…the essays, and the trainings, and letting them patrol. You hate it. You hate it.”

            Aizawa looks at him for the barest minute, and then back to the ceiling. “I can’t stop it,” he repeats. “I give them what I can.”

            The Homeroom classes, where Aizawa steps back and allows them to run and laugh and be kids, if only for a minute.

            “You’re hard on them. Because—because—”

            Someone has to tell us, Midoriya said, back on the training fields in Week Three, already burning with the fire of who he’ll become, someday. Really tell us.

            Aizawa-Sensei is amazing, Midoriya had said. Because the kids already knew who he was, how he felt, and what he was giving up to show them what he obviously would have preferred to keep hidden for years, yet.

            We don’t stop when we’re afraid. We never have.

            “Oh,” Masahiro says. “Oh, I…”

            “Yeah,” Aizawa agrees, even though Masahiro never finishes vocalizing the thought. “Annoying, isn’t it? They get to you. They’re like that.”

            “I can’t be like them. I…I’m not.”

“I know. That’s okay. Who could?” Aizawa sighs again. “But they do get to you. They make you want to be…”

            Masahiro gets it—Aizawa doesn’t finish his thought, either, but Masahiro understands him perfectly. “They do.”

##

            The kids are not actually quiet around him in class after the training fields incident. Zero tip-toeing or hushed whispers or attempts to respect any trepidation Masahiro may be having. In fact, the very next day, Masahiro walks into Homeroom and right into what’s clearly about to become an epic, earth-shattering battle between Uraraka and Ojiro about the superior martial arts film (Masahiro would be surprised, because Ojiro is usually amazingly mild-tempered, compared to the rest of the class…but, well…Uraraka). Uraraka clocks his entrance, steps firmly over Aizawa’s peacefully sleeping body, shoves away the arm Bakugou might have been gearing up to shoot flames in her face without a flicker of concern, and bellows, “MASAHIRO-SENSEI. COME AND TELL THESE MORONS HOW RIGHT I AM.”

            Like Masahiro didn’t shamefully lose control of his Quirk in the middle of Practical Education. Like nothing’s changed at all. Masahiro isn’t sure if he’s relieved, or deeply wary.

 Turns out ‘wary’ was the correct response. Over the next few days, Masahiro gets three visitors. One is Yuki, who bawls him out for being ‘such an idiot with some seriously misplaced faith in the ability of a door lock to keep me out of anywhere at all’.

The second is Todoroki, hovering on his doorstep and clearly uncomfortable about it.

“Todoroki?” Masahiro ventures, after minutes pass and the boy doesn’t say a single word. “Is everything--?”

“‘It’s yours’,” the boy cuts across. “‘It belongs to you’.”

Masahiro blinks. “Ah. Um. What…?”

“Someone had to tell me that, once.” Todoroki’s eyes drop, purposefully, to Masahiro’s hands. Masahiro sticks them behind his back, instinctive. “And I needed to hear it.”

Masahiro gapes at him. Continues to gape long after the kid has turned and walked away without another word.

The third visitor is Hakagure.

“Masahiro-Sensei,” she says, super cheerful, especially for being on Masahiro’s doorstep an entire hour before school even starts. “Hey, will you come to the classroom and help me? I’m presenting something for History class today, and I want to get set up early.”

“Uh.” Masahiro says. Flounders. Knuckles under to his own need to be nice to everyone in a bid to avoid conflict of any kind, at any time. “Okay.”

The school isn’t quiet. Over half of the teachers are already in their classrooms. Students are milling about, too—some coming from early morning Quirk practice and others for before-class tutoring. Hakagure greets everyone they pass with a bright ‘hello’.

Inside the classroom, Hakagure puts Masahiro to work arranging tiny models into a full-blown replica of one of the Hero industries better-known battles. Midoriya is probably going to short-circuit from the sheer, uncontrollable glee of the unrepentantly nerdy. Masahiro, foolishly, allows himself to be lulled by the comfort of having a purpose, of working with his hands on a mindless task, on the gentle hum of the fluorescent lights and the patter of voices as people pass the open doorway.

And so, he’s caught off guard when Hakagure’s cheerful, continued conversation pivots neatly into, “Masahiro-Sensei, do you wish you were invisible?”

Masahiro fumbles the model in his hand. Manages to catch it seconds before it bounces off of his elbow and onto the floor.

“I…what?” he blinks and blinks and blinks.

Hakagure turns in his direction a little. He can hear the smile in her voice. “Because it is super great, a lot of the time—being invisible! I’m awesome at stealth maneuvers. Aizawa-Sensei thinks I’ll get signed to an agency right out of third year.”

Masahiro thinks that all of them are going to be snapped up by Hero agencies, and even before third year if the agencies have anything to say about it. But that doesn’t, at all, negate Hakagure’s actually incredibly valid point that she is going to be some kind of miracle in the field.

Masahiro clears his throat and tries for, “Hakagure…”

But she continues talking like he never interrupted. “So, I totally get why you’d want to be invisible sometimes. I think we all do! But Masahiro-Sensei, none of us can be totally invisible. Not really. You know? There are people who will always, always see you.”

Masahiro’s fingers curl around the figure in his hand.

“And that’s actually good, I think.” Hakagure nudges another model into place, makes a little humming sound of satisfaction. “Because it’d be lonely, wouldn’t it. Being invisible all the time.”

Something huge and hurting lodges in Masahiro’s throat. He tries to swallow around it and mostly fails.

“Hakagure,” he says again.

She turns even further in his direction. “Masahiro-Sensei! Don’t look sad! I have people who see me, too. And I’m glad. Okay?”

Masahiro’s chest is cracking apart. “Okay.”

“Okay. Now, hand me that figurine, would you? Deku will know immediately if anything is off.”

##

In retrospect, after all the reports Yuki forced him to read, Masahiro is amazed that they make it Week Five of his teaching assignment before there’s some kind of attack.

These kids are bright. Shining. Villains cluster around them like moths.

But in any of the semi-hysterical worst-case scenarios Masahiro concocted in his head before this teaching assignment, he never imagined that Aizawa would be three entire buildings away when said inevitable attack occurred.

Looking back later, Masahiro will realize this was most likely deliberate. A fake call to Aizawa about the Principal needing to see him on one of the examination sites. Done with official stationery from the Principal’s desk, so no real reason for suspicion or alarm. On a site that had been reported to have some kind of engineering problem the week before, so totally plausible.

But ten minutes after Aizawa’s departure, the power cuts out. Kaminari, who’d been peacefully sleeping through Masahiro’s attempts to cover Aizawa’s Maths lesson, reacts to the gasps of alarm (and Bakugou’s shouted, ‘what the fuck’) with a snorting exclamation and the thump of his body hitting the floor.

“Whuh?” he manages. “Is it…why is it dark in here?”

“You’re a moron,” Bakugou informs him.

Around the room, Quirks spring to life. Bakugou and Todoroki’s flame. A crackle of electricity cupped in Kaminari’s hand. Yaoyorozu produces two flashlights—one for the room in general, and one to aim directly at Tokoyami.

“Thank you,” the boy says, stiff with sudden tension.

“It’s alright,” Masahiro says, and tries for a smile. “It’s probably a blown fuse. Or maybe somebody ran over a power line—that happened in my school, once.”

The kids smile back, but not with the wideness Masahiro is used to. There’s a strange stillness to them, too. An alertness Masahiro hasn’t seen outside of the training fields.

And then, distantly but not distant enough, there’s the sound of fighting. The crack of knuckles hitting flesh, and the groan of Cementoss’ Quirk disrupting the architectural makeup of the building.

And the kids get to their feet. In the gentle glow of the light they’d made, Masahiro can see that not a single one of them looks surprised. It’s awful. It hurts. Hurts even worse when Bakugou falls into a ready stance, even as flickers of a visible fight for control cross his face. When Uraraka throws up her chin. When Midoriya starts murmuring instructions, absolutely and devastatingly calm in the face of danger in the way no teenage boy should ever have to be.

“Wait,” Masahiro tries. “You—wait…”

You hate it, Masahiro had said to Aizawa.

I hate it, he’d replied. But I can’t stop them.

The sounds of fighting are getting closer, and the kids brace for it like inevitability. They banter and bicker like this is normal—and for them, it is. That indignation flares to life in Masahiro’s chest, that rage, that feeling of not fair, too much, they’re kids.

But you hate it isn’t the only thing he’s learned. Doesn’t even touch on what these kids have taught him.

Someone said that to me once. And I needed to hear it.

None of us can be totally invisible. Not really.

We have to see. Really see.

How else are you supposed to know you’re a Hero, if you don’t feel afraid and do it anyway.

And above everything else, ringing with perfect clarity like a bell inside Masahiro’s head, is Aizawa’s voice saying, They make you want to be…

Midoriya asks, totally serious, “Sensei, will you be okay?”

It’s this voice that powers, probably super unwisely, Masahiro into stepping right in front of Midoriya, the second the door opens. Into cocking back his fist like he has any idea what to do with it. Into reaching for the energy he’s been actively suppressing ever since it first appeared and ripping it loose, without any real understanding of how to wield it.

It’s at least a little bit impressive, he supposes, that he’s able to get in a punch, fueled by greenish energy tinged with red, that cracks squarely across the jaw of some guy that he’ll never remember the actual face of.

 Masahiro gasps as his knuckle fractures, because of course he doesn’t know how to throw a proper punch. But the guy goes flying. Smashes through the nearest wall. There’s a moment of total, ringing silence, broken only by Midoriya whispering, wide-eyed, “Masahiro-Sensei.”

“Go.” There are other figures moving in the dark. And Masahiro can’t stop these kids. Could never stop them. But he can give them time. He can try to the best of his ability, like Aizawa said, to help them become who they’re meant to be. “Find somewhere to regroup. They…you won’t have the element of surprise here, right? They must know your schedule, if they attacked during class like this.”

“Wait, was he actually listening to Aizawa-Sensei’s tactics lectures?” Sero wonders.

“We should all be listening to Aizawa-Sensei’s tactics lectures,” Iida says severely, like they’re not in the middle of a surprise villain attack.

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever, Class Rep.”

“Midoriya.” Masahiro finds his eyes in the dark. “Go.”

Midoriya’s jaw squares with an understanding of his responsibility that Masahiro never would have wished on him, but one that he can’t take away, either.

“Come on, you guys,” Midoriya says. “I think I know what we should do next.”

“Like I’m going to listen to you, shitty Deku,” Bakugou sneers, even as he follows Midoriya into the hall.

They disappear into the dark. And it’s harder—harder than anything Masahiro has ever done—to let them go.

Alone, he’s afraid. The pulse-pounding, breath-whistling, muscle-locking kind of. He’s an idiot. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s probably going to die here, and his parents will be sad but mostly bewildered by this previously unseen spark of courage.

He’s afraid. But. Yuki’s voice is there, too. Whispering inside his head.

It could be so much more. You could use it.

Maybe he couldn’t before. Not for himself. Maybe he has a reason to, now. The kids taught him that, too.

More light spills from Masahiro’s hands, red, red, red and ready in the moving dark.

##

Later, they’ll tell him that he managed five entire minutes of holding off the villain’s cronies. Which probably should be embarrassing, but five minutes is still four minutes and fifty-eight seconds more than Masahiro would have ever expected, so.

He wakes up in the clinic, feeling like he went eight rounds with an angry bear. Midoriya waves at him excitedly from the bed across the room, his right arm in a sling and face bruised down one side. Todoroki hums a quiet welcome from the other bed across the room, his entire torso swaddled in bandages.

Bakugou is not in a bed, but only because he’s attempting to escape out the open doorway, trailing bandages like party streamers and swearing up a storm while Recovery Girl restrains him with an alarming amount of ease.

“Get the hell away from me, you old bat!” Bakugou bellows.

“So rude,” Recovery Girl says, and executes some kind of arm-bar that leaves Bakugou howling.

In the corner stands Aizawa Shota, looking between the five of them like he’s absolutely over everything in the entire universe.

“Good morning!” Yuki greets from directly beside him, the flowers in her eyes wilted and rimmed with red. The smile on her face is half an inch too wide and sharp around the edges. “Nice to see you awake. I’m going to fucking kill you later, okay?”

“You’re hurt,” Masahiro manages. Talking hurts—he thinks he got punched in the throat, at some point? But Yuki has bandages wrapped up her dominant arm, the one she uses most to call her plants.

Yuki drags spitting-mad eyes over Masahiro’s mottled ribcage, the cast on his arm, the stitches in his forehead. “You’re an idiot.”

This is empirically true. Masahiro has nothing to refute it.

“You see now why those life insurance policies were an unfortunate necessity!” carols a new voice from the hallway. Principal Nedzu steps across the clinic threshold, beaming goodwill. “Yuki-Sensei was also quite ferocious in calling her plants to seal off her classroom doorway. Masahiro-Sensei, finally awake. You’re feeling alright?”

“I…guess?”

“Excellent.” Principal Nedzu’s cheerful eyes cut to Aizawa. “Oh, Aizawa-Sensei. The rest of your children are lurking in the hallway.”

Aizawa’s eyes slide shut. “How many things have they broken?”

Principal Nedzu titters a laugh. “I’m sure I couldn’t say!”

Masahiro’s been here just long enough to know that this translates to ‘at least four’.

“Ah,” Midoriya ventures. “Um. Sir. You didn’t…?”

“Of course, Masahiro-Sensei,” Principal Nedzu cuts across, louder than before for some reason. “We also sent word to your emergency contacts—your parents, I believe. Because this is standard and unchanging procedure at UA, no matter the circumstances.”

Midoriya goes milk pale. Strangely, so does Aizawa.

Out in the hallway comes Uraraka’s voice, clear as bell. “Oh, oops. Imagine that. Another hole in the wall. Terrible shame, dear sir keeping me out of this clinic room. An accident, just like the others.”

Aizawa sighs.

Having done his damage to satisfaction, apparently, Principal Nedzu patter up to Masahiro’s bedside. Clambers up until he’s sitting on the edge of his mattress.

“The children say you were quite astonishing, Masahiro-Sensei.”

“He was!” Midoriya blurts. “You were! Masahiro-Sensei, you were so—”

“Mmm,” Todoroki hums in agreement.

“Listen, you old broad--!” Bakugou tries from across the room.

“What’s that, dear?” Recovery Girl asks, all sweetness. A second later, Bakugou hits the mattress with a thump.

“Am I…in trouble?” Masahiro croaks. He knows enough about using Quirks, after weeks of working at a Hero-track school, that there are entire boatloads of rules and regulations on when and where to use them.

“Of course not!” Principal Nedzu says. “I understand your concerns, and applaud you for having them, but there are several laws aimed at giving teachers and other caretakers special dispensation to utilize Quirks in a defensible way against obvious and immediate threats.”

“Oh. Okay. Okay.”

“We really must thank you for your incredible courage, Masahiro-Sensei,” Principal Nedzu continues.

Masahiro blushes. Stutters a little. Feels a bolt of after-the-fact adrenaline (did he really do that, did he really, he’s such an idiot) and resigns himself to the fact that this is probably going to be the new normal for a while, at least.

“No,” comes Tokoyami’s voice from the corridor. “I cannot put Dark Shadow away. Strange, he normally despises daylight. But somehow he insists on being here, at this exact second, during the day and mere centimeters away from your face.”

Aizawa makes a tiny, defeated sound.

“And to think!” Principal Nedzu pats at his hand with one paw. “When I was scouring through the list of candidates for the student teaching slots, your application just jumped into my hands. Fate, wouldn’t you say?”

“I.” Masahiro blinks at the beaming principal. At Aizawa, who’s giving him a narrow look. “Sure?”

“Hmm. Well. Rest assured that there’s always a full-time position waiting for you here at UA, should you want it. And for Yuki-Sensei, too, of course.”

“Booyah,” Yuki says.

Masahiro sputters again. “I—I’m Elementary track.”

Principal Nedzu laughs. “Of course, of course. So difficult to change these things so late in the game. I understand. Of course, I did look up the requirements for your program, and changing tracks at this stage would only require one more semester of classes. Just in case you needed to know, of course!”

Aizawa mutters something like, “you’ve always given the weirdest job interviews, I thought I was being chased by killer robots for days.”

“I have eight arms,” adds Shouji’s voice from the hall. Blunter than the rest of his classmates because he’s never seen much point in subterfuge. “I’m just saying. If I really want to get in that room? Eight arms.”

Principal Nedzu gives Masahiro’s hand one final pat, and hops down to the ground. He strolls toward the door, beaming smiles at Midoriya, Todoroki, and a frothing Bakugou, who has somehow been tied to the bed with what looks like Aizawa’s capture weapon. He stops just before reaching for the handle.

“By the way, Masahiro-Sensei,” he asks over his shoulder. “How’s your capstone essay going?”

Masahiro opens his mouth. Surprises himself entirely by saying, “Actually, I’m thinking of changing my topic, Sir.”

“How delightful! What to?”

Masahiro swallows hard. Glances at Aizawa out of the corner of his eye. “Practices for best supporting student futures. Whatever they might be.”

Aizawa looks at him. Looks at the widely grinning Principal Nedzu. Heaves a giant sigh at the ceiling and says something that sounds like, “Alright, fine.”

“I look forward to reading it,” Principal Nedzu says.

And then, he opens the door, and the entirety of Class 1-A comes tumbling in, falling all over each other and clearly in the middle of fighting off the long-suffering Heroes assigned to watch the door.

“Seriously,” Aizawa sighs again, but it’s mostly drowned out by the immediate clamor of “Deku!” and “Todoroki!” and “Bakugou, bro!”.

And “Masahiro-Sensei!”. Lots and lots of shouts of “Masahiro-Sensei!”.

The kids scatter across the room like jewels, crowding the various bedsides, laughing and loud and brighter than anything should ever be. Fearless in the face of this too, but Masahiro finds himself unafraid of it, this time. Finds himself weirdly…warm by the idea that he might have done even a tiny bit to encourage its development.

He cuts another look at Aizawa. Finds Aizawa already looking back at him. There’s a quiet moment where nothing is spoken out loud, but many things are said.

And then Aizawa murmurs, “Yeah. Good job.”

And Masahiro feels, maybe for the first time, like he understands.

##

Later, Yuki tells him, “You used it.”

Masahiro nods, still tightly unbelieving of this fact. “I did.”

“I’m glad.”

“I can’t…I don’t know. If it will ever happen again.”

“That’s okay.” Yuki kicks gently at his ankle. They’re wedged side-by-side on his tiny twin bed. “Masahiro, that’s okay. How you choose to handle what’s inside your own head is your choice. I’m here to support you, however you need. I’m just glad that, even once, you saw the truth of how amazing you are, all on your own.”

Masahiro kicks her ankle back. “I punched a few people with glowing hands and then got myself thrown into a wall.”

“Like a badass.”

Masahiro snorts.

Yuki laughs and laughs and drops her head, gently, to rest on his shoulder. “Think anyone back at school is going to recognize us? Like, you especially?”

“I don’t know.” Masahiro flexes his bandage-wrapped hands. They’re singed a little, from suddenly trying to channel an energy that he’s been avoiding for years. He doesn’t…he doesn’t know if this is something he can do again. Already, the delayed-reaction fear is pumping through his blood, seizing his lungs at random intervals. But it still feels like…some kind of progress? Something different, anyway, something to calculate and consider in his constant need to analyze everything around him. Maybe this is a variable in solving for ‘okay’ that he hasn’t fully considered yet.

“We’ll go back and see, I think,” he says. “Just how much we’ve changed.”