XII. Loose Ends
She didn't know how long they kept her in the ambulance—thoughts awhirl to the ratcheting tune of the hums, clicks, and churns of the EKG display and medibot— only that time, not medicine, proved to be the best healer of them all. The tears stopped, her heart rate lowered, and with a pat on the head and a brisk refastening of her costume via the precise claws and detergents of M12, she was cleaned, clothed, and led out onto the loading step where she had sat ever since.
Overhead, the afternoon sun mercifully relented, shrouded by wisps of passing cloud. Across the tarmac, the entrance to the Unforseen Simulation Joint bustled with life. Passing heroes, medics, and students with varying degrees of injuries scuttled across the stairs like ants of every color, the ebbs and flows of conversation blurred together by the cicada trills swelling up from the surrounding vegetation.
"You're safe," she remembered Nami saying repeatedly like a loose-geared music box, tone bleached with the dryness of one without anything else to say, or perhaps anything else worth saying. What did one say during such grim times anyway? What could one say?
If there was a right answer, Tsuyu didn't know. Tricky beasts, coping mechanisms were. Doing their best in the only way they know how, as her father would say of a certain someone. People were stubborn like that, and it was only best not to hold it against them.
Done with words, her thoughts shifted to sensations: the gauze pressed firmly against her cheek and brow, the warmth of Nami's hand through the nitrile surface of her glove.
"You're safe," she kept saying, the medic's small fingers curling around hers, abnormally large as they were. The plastic of the quirk card dug into her palm as her grip tightened.
She splayed her free hand out in front her, staring for a moment before letting it fall limp across her knees as she swallowed around the buckle of tongue in her throat. Mutant, the card so emotionlessly proclaimed: all the more alien, all the more alone.
Her touch was warm and genuine, and that's all that should matter, she forced. It was warm and genuine. Warm and genuine…
She leaned forward, exhaling deeper than intended. Eyes closed and her heartrate slowed further. Who was she kidding? Being alone had its perks too: more time to collect her thoughts after a long, long day.
The dry crunch of bones shattering against the tiling. Metallic shrieks. Black figures dancing across the periphery with twisted grins and unseen eyes. Blue sparks, angry reds. Hurricane blows and steaming forearms. Cold grey fingers closing around her face and—
"Finally managed to straighten your head out, eh?" a familiar voice chimed as the loading step creaked with newfound weight. "Not that I blame you or anything; don't think I would've fared any better had I tanked the tail end of Mic-sense's sonic boom."
She straightened with a bolt, suddenly aware of the tremor in her hands as the images left her.
"You," she said, eyeing the newcomer with a tired gaze.
"Uh, yeah," the grape kid replied. "We were treated in the same ambulance, remember? I was treated immediately after they let you out."
He shimmied his weight from hand to hand for comfort, ultimately forgoing them all together in favor of pressing his back against the rear doors. His head bent forward, no doubt to keep his orbs away from the gleaming steel. His lower legs dangled from the step like purple pendulums. His eyes were low, fixed on the sun-baked pavement.
"The class," Tsuyu said, resuming her forward lean, "was everyone okay?" She twiddled her fingers together in a vain attempt to unravel the knot in her gut. "I hope no one was—"
"All accounted for," Mineta said. "Turns out the teachers got the worst of it. Outside of a handful of minor injuries, all of the us bar Midoriya are set."
"Midoriya?" she popped up from her slouch.
"He's fine too!" Mineta flinched, waving his hands frantically. "It's just well, uh"— he pointed ahead with a stubby finger— "that."
Tsuyu faced forward just in time to watch the stretcher rise from its pneumatic scaffold onto the back of a nearby ambulance. The boy's eyes were closed, his hair only half-covering an irregular line of bandages wrapped around his forehead. Arms and legs were extended parallel to his body, each sealed to varying degrees with surgeon green plaster. His lips curtained back with brief and intermittent twitches, out of sync with the shallow rise and fall of his chest.
"He'll live," her companion reassured, eyeing the finger on her lip. "Just needs a kiss from the nurse to quicken the healing. No lasting damage, either. Shouji managed to eavesdrop that much. Good, right? That crazy stunt he pulled up on the yacht was worth it after all."
Tsuyu shrugged, "good karma, I guess."
The ambulance doors creaked shut and medics made their way round to the cabin. The low hum of the hydrogen reactor simmered the air and the vehicle whirred to life, pulling out from behind the caravan of police cruisers parked in front of it, past the sweeping turns of the facility's horseshoe driveway, and toward the freeway beyond in a show of flashing strobes.
"Probably," Mineta said, swinging his legs back nervously as the ambulance disappeared behind the trees, "it's, uh, also good you're okay. I owe you and Midoriya one."
Tsuyu looked away. "You don't owe me anything."
Mineta didn't say anything, and Tsuyu took advantage of the still to turn her attention elsewhere. A dry spring wind fluttered across the grounds, rustling the pines above and the grass below. Sero, Satou, and Shouji stood around in a group up by the facility entrance, their mouths animated by unheard conversation. Further back, Jirou— expression bored and mildly irate per the usual— had taken a seat atop the entrance steps. Her sleeves were rolled, with Nami and her partner set about fastening squares of folded gauze over breaks in the exposed skin. Tsuyu sighed.
"I don't get what he sees in her," Mineta said, shaking his head. "Like don't get me wrong. Jirou's not ugly by any stretch. Great legs, not fat, with decent bone structure to boot. Resting bitch-face is a bit eh, but not deal-breaking. That said," he patted his chest.
Tsuyu slapped a hand to her face.
"Falls flat if you catch my drift," the boy continued obliviously. "I mean, no amount of leg can make up for that kind of deficit, right? Taste can be fickle like that someti—AGH!" Her elbow caved into his stomach. "Warn me, will you?"
"Better me than her," Tsuyu pointed towards stairs, where a flash of movement had Nami falling backward into the grey arms of her equally startled partner. Jirou was on her feet, features stiff and unapologetically reddening. Her eyes were fixed on the little one with a sharp, almost-dagger-like focus, with ear jacks cocked and quivering above her head to complete the transformation. Mineta flinched.
"No way she heard that," he said.
Tsuyu shook her head. "She hears many things."
"But you don't think—"
"Who are you kidding?"
"Shit. Maybe if I—"
"Hey! You didn't even—"
"Please," she rubbed her eyes. "This has been a rough day for all of us."
The two paused to watch as two officers escorted a blank-eyed Kaminari down the entrance steps, past Jirou, and toward their perch. A string of drool hung from the corner of the boy's mouth as he pumped his thumbs forward like an illiterate, derp level well over 9000. Mineta raised a hopeful hand, only to lower it in a defeated manner as the recipient passed unknowingly by.
"Hur-duh-durrrr," the derplord slurred, twisting one of the officer's expressions. Mineta bit his lip and stared intently at the ground.
"We're sure he wasn't bricked, right?" Tsuyu heard one of the escorts say. "I know bricked, and this kid? Well, he's as bricked as I've ever seen 'em."
"Were you even listening to the medics?" his companion shook his head, ruffling the thin scruff of spikes extending from his hairline down his neck before disappearing beneath the blue of his collar. "Temporary. Even said on the—"
"Quirk card. I know, I know," the other said. "Just saying, though. If I saw my kid like that I'd flip."
"You don't have kids, dumbass."
The conversation faded out of earshot, leaving the two in silence. Mineta's legs dangled over the loading step, too short to reach the ground, swinging back and forth like impatient children.
"So..." he began after a minute or so, "seems you saved me," he tapped his pointer fingers together, eyes on the pavement, "again."
"We worked together," she said, refusing to face him.
"No way," he shook his head. "You and Midoriya, mostly. No, you and Midoriya period. I did jack."
"You did fine. Clustered all those villains together by the whirlpool remember?"
"Also jack. The whirlpool would've given us enough time to clear the shallows regardless of my balls. Besides, I was talking about before then. The yacht—"
"And back by the stairs when we fought off those thugs?"
"Well yeah. Maybe there, but—"
"And how your clustering of the villains into that sticky mass gave us time to check the central plaza? Imagine what would have happened if we never retrieved Aizawa-sensei."
"That was mostly you and Midoriya!"
"Perhaps, but that doesn't change the fact that he's alive in part thanks to you, no?"
"Agh! Will you just shut it for a—"
"You don't strike me as the type to turn down complements, Mineta."
"I'm not!" the boy's arms folded across his chest. "Least of all from sexy girls."
He flinched as her hands tightened around her lap.
"Don't push it," she said.
He shrugged. "Honest answer."
"Don't push it."
"Uh, what was it you were just saying about being unable to take complements? Seems like it's you who can't —ACK!" He raised his arms over his head at the sight of her hand raised threateningly over her head. "Okay, okay! Rough day, I get it! Complements! I don't turn them down, but you weren't shooting that sort of thing at me, anyway!"
Her hand lowered a centimeter. "Pretty sure I was..."
The little one shook his head. "Uh, pretty sure you weren't. Patronizing me is more like it. Huge difference."
"I'm not patronizing you."
"Bullsh—d'oh!" her tongue slapped him upside the head.
"I'm not patronizing you," she repeated. "You're really confusing, you know. You've got all the insight and cleverness to be cool, but all you ever show is your creepy side."
"You sound like my mom," the little one rolled his eyes. "There's only one side to me. Only one side to any of us, really."
"Oh please. You know what I mean, it's bad and you know it," she said. "I know you don't like it either."
"You'd be wrong. I love it. The thrill—"
"Be honest with yourself."
"Jeez! I know my place. I know I'm not, uh, a stud or anything and I'm fine with what. I make do with what I have, and if that makes me a horrible person then what do I care?"
"Wrong," she said. "You think you're a horrible person. You're many things—a pervert, a coward, and a crybaby—but not horrible. Not totally, at least."
"Crybaby, perv, coward…" hee loosed a chuckle, swinging legs increasing in tempo. "That sounds pretty horrible..."
"It is," she said, "but you've also done some pretty good things. Cool things, even. You're the reason I'm here, for example."
"Thought we already went over this," he said, kicking his legs as he jerked his gaze back into the pavement. "I did jack. Back at the flood zone—"
"Forget about the flood zone," she said. "I'm talking about before then. Following the entrance exam, remember how you went to Mic-sensei?"
"Uh, say what? The hell'd you—"
"I saw the video."
"Fuck," he slapped a hand to his face. "They recorded that?"
She shrugged. "All Might included it on my acceptance hologram. Present Mic hit you twice."
"Thrice," he corrected, grimacing. "First encounter I get with a pro and pow" — he swung a fist through the air— "the dude clocks me."
"Can't say you didn't deserve it."
"I was only trying to help! I forget names. Racks? Well, I'm a dude, right? As if I'd forget a pair like your—D'OH!"
She whipped her tongue across the side of his head a bit harder this time.
"Seems I can't even get through a simple thank-you with you without regretting it."
"You and me both," the grape kid rubbed at the red welt pulsing anew atop his forehead. "Seems like every time we talk, I get whacked."
"Also totally avoidable," she said. "Anyway, I got in because of you. Try to keep that in mind?"
"You aren't exactly doing a great job of incentivizing me."
"Incentivize?" She jerked him around by the shoulders and jammed her head less than a finger's length from his face. To heck with proximity or muted expressions. To heck with her monotone. This was a bad day, she'd just about had it, and by god would that idiot listen.
"You're alive right now because of me, how's that for incentive?" she said, eyes unblinking and fixed on his. "I wouldn't have been here if you hadn't talked to Mic, regardless of the stupid way you went about doing it. Get it now? That one good deed saved your life. Aizawa-sensei's, too. You aren't terrible, Mineta. Stop acting like you are," she shoved him away and looked elsewhere. "You'll get yourself killed otherwise."
Swinging legs drooped and hung still.
One by one, ambulance and police cruiser alike pulled out of the driveway and looped back toward the city until the way was devoid of vehicles bar a smattering of forensics units parked up front along with the ambulance whose loading step they both rested on.
The pink-tinged sun was setting, its slow decline bleeding needles of shadow out from the tree line and across the facility clearing. Framed by the ruined threshold, Nami and her partner faced a gaggle of detectives alongside a weary-eyed Nedzu while tapping away at dual holograph tablets. The principle remained motionless throughout the presentation, arms clasped behind his back, a polite smile curved across his muzzle. His stoic reverie seemed absolute, interrupted only by the occasional nod or shake of the head as Nami toggled the hologram display from image to image.
Tsuyu's tongue knotted as the bloodied clip of a face-down Aizawa flicked in and out of view. Too much too soon. Her gaze cast downward and toward the staircase.
Jirou now sat alone. The bandage plastered just above her right eyebrow flexed as she looked down, hugging her knees, the edge to her gaze noticeably softened. Momo plopped down beside her, pulling a blanket from her waist and placing it on her friend's shoulders. Ochako and some of the other boys smiled at the motion. At the periphery, a black shrouded Tokoyami sat alone with his usual brooding look, a trembling Kouda in tow. A low hum filled the air and another bus, identical to the coach which ferried the class to the facility but a few short hours ago, pulled into the loop.
Mineta's legs once again began to swing, eyes set across the way, jumping from girl to girl. His mouth opened as if to say something, but closed mercifully following a sideways glance in her direction. He tapped his fingers together and exhaled.
"We should probably join the others," he finally said. "That's probably our ride home."
Unlike the its predecessor, the ride home was far less lively. The cabin was still, fuzzed over with the engine's purr. Two professionals sat up front in lieu of Aizawa, last-minute chaperons per Nedzu's request— the gunslinger Snipe from earlier and the inky-jowled Ectoplasm. The former leaned forward, hands hanging from his knees, spinning the bullet cylinder absentmindedly while the latter leaned back, collar popped and book in hand.
They had barely cleared the forest when the back row began to vibrate with Satou's snores, their owner finally free to sleep off the effects of his quirk. Conversation was all but dead for the remainder of the class, except for Tooru and Aoyoma, who simply would not shut up.
"Ojiro was amazing!" the invisible girl cheeped. "Todoroki too! You should have seen how many villains they managed to take on, by themselves no less!"
"It wasn't all that big of a deal, really," Ojiro squirmed in his seat, the tail waggling over his shoulder looking like it'd be more at home on a bashful puppy than the almost-grown teen. "Just doing my best like everyone else, I swear."
Unseen lips squeaked with admiration. "Humble too!"
"Uh, Tooru?" Tsuyu whispered into the stretch of air she hoped her friend's ear occupied.
She tapped her fingers together nervously. "Can you please get off me? It's stifling."
"Oh?" The invisible girl stilled, as if looking over the gloves spread across her friend's lower back. "You don't miss me?"
"I did," Tsuyu said, squirming. "But you've been hugging me since before we got on the bus. It's been fifteen minutes, and your boobs are starting to sweat into my suit."
"…Oh." The gloves fell flat.
"Gero," Tsuyu croaked gratefully, finally able to lean back in her seat. She tapped her two pointer fingers together. "I really did miss you, by the way."
The seat next to her creaked with unseen weight.
"I know, mom."
Ochako popped a poorly stifled giggle before looking down at her jittering feet. Tsuyu didn't blame her. They had just survived a villain attack, after all.
"A secret, mmhmm, an absolutely fabulous secret," Aoyoma hummed repeatedly without an ounce of reverence, spreading his arms in a shower of twinkling flourishes. "Nobody will ever know where moi was during this most ferocious of batailles."
"Please," Momo finally said after what had to have been the dozenth boast, two fingers messaging her temples. "Show some respect for circumstance. And yes, you will have to tell someone eventually or face prosecution. Police protocol mandates debriefing prior to any commission, remuneration, or academic credit related to hero work."
"About time," Jirou looked up from her phone as the princeling deflated into his seat. She eyed her taller seatmate, one ear jack twirling absentmindedly around her fingers, the other plugged firmly into her phone.
With a lurch, the bus merged onto the freeway .The trees faded away from view, giving way to a boundless expanse of twilight scorched asphalt.
"Why a cleaver?"
Momo looked as surprised as everyone else listening in. Jirou never started conversations.
"The cleaver. Duh," the shorter girl shrugged, toggling to another song. "Remember at the mountain zone?"
"Oh," Momo said, pressing her hands between her thighs as she looked around. "I don't… perhaps this can wait? I'm not sure if we want to be bringing back memories this early."
"Pfft, c'mon! Talking's how you get over your problems," Mina said, eyes gleaming. "Besides, it's about time we all got on the same page, complete with steaming side of bonding."
"Class heart-to-heeeeeeeart!" Tooru cheered. "Ojiro and I are in."
"Uh, I am?"
"Me too!" Uraraka pumped her fists.
Kirishima leaned in from one of the back rows, nudging his seatmate as he did. "Camaraderie's good, right?"
"Touch me again and I'll kill you," Bakugou said, not looking away from the window.
From one of back rows, the rock-faced Kouda raised a finger as if to say something, but thought better of it and resumed his place behind Shouji's massive shoulder. Tsuyu tapped her cheek. Come to think of it, she'd never heard that boy talk, a curious realization given how common oral presentations had been over the past week.
Momo placed her hand over her mouth, blushing. "Guys please. It's really nothing."
"Yeah dudes," Jirou said, look souring as more and more pairs of eyes focused on them. "Really…"
"Doesn't sound like nothing," Sero said, arms dangling over the raised step, his shovel-shaped teeth on full display a la the same stupid smile he always wore. "Besides, weren't you the one who started this or—"
The boy recoiled, rubbing his elbow as a certain earphone jack withdrew from his dispenser slit. Jirou folded her arms with a twitch.
"I'm done," she said, jerking back to her phone.
"Whoa there, girl," Mina threw up a waggling finger, grin as shit-eating as ever. "Two things. First!"— she whirled around—"Shut up, Sero. No one likes you."
"Hey!" The tape-slinger shot up from his seat. "I'm totally aweso—agh!" he banged his forehead against the overhead bin.
A small hand patted the bulging edge of his elbow in a patronizing manner. "I think you're awesome, bub."
"Fuck off, grape juice."
"Second!" Mina returned her attention to Jirou, "you don't honestly think you're getting out of this, do you? You, like, totally started it."
Jirou didn't look up from her phone.
"…hate all of you," Tsuyu thought she heard the girl mutter under breath.
"It was a kukri," Momo caved, hugging her chest.
Jirou cocked an eyebrow.
"A kukri," Momo repeated, still blushing. "Not a cleaver. It was the first thing which came to mind after I saw you needed a weapon. Something not too heavy and easy enough to use irrespective of training."
"Wait, wait, wait," Mina interjected, tapping her forehead with a shake of her head. "Kook-whaaat?!"
"A Kukri, Ashido. Kook-ree," Kirishima clarified, outlining a curved shape through the air. "It's like a machete, but curved and manlier."
"Manly?!" Momo sputtered, composure in tatters.
Jirou looked up from her phone. "You think I'm manly?"
"No!" Momo had both hands over her mouth. "That was what Kirishima said!"
"You said it too…"
"Only out of exasperation!"
"So I'm not manly."
"No! Wait, yes! You're not manly! You're a pretty girl like everyone else. Wait, no!" the poor girl disappeared behind her hands.
"We get it the picture," Tsuyu said, patting her back.
Jirou cocked an eyebrow
"You think I'm— wait, no," she shook her head, cheeks reddening. "I still don't get it. I whacked four thugs with that thing and the I never saw a curve."
"The edge was a disaster," Momo said from behind her hands. "Curved structures remain a work in progress."
Jirou sighed, looking back at her phone. "Not exactly a good time to test your design skills, eh?"
"It was the best I could do on impulse," Momo said lowering her hands, still unable to raise her head to face the others. "I didn't want a death on my hands."
The cabin fell silent.
Beyond the tinted windows, the pink sky flushed one last hue before giving way to street lights of the city proper. Jirou stared hard at her phone, eyes not moving even as country pinks and yellows pulsed to Toyko greens, blues, and everything else in between. Until –
"I'm still alive, aren't I?" Jirou finally said, punching Momo's arm lightly. Her gaze was still on her phone, but the edge in voice had all but dissipated. The beginnings of a smile tugged at her lips.
"Wait, wait, wait," Kirishima slapped the top of a seatback, hand on his chin. "So if the edge was straight, wouldn't it just be a machete?"
Jirou looked up with a glare. "Really? That was your takeaway?"
The redhead blinked innocently. "Uh, there was more?"
"Yeah, bub," Sero attempted to whisper into his ear. "A dank heart-to-heart just went down between—"
"Forget it," Jirou cut the boy off before stabbing a finger toward Kirishima. "Your turn. Talk."
Another blink. "Talk?"
"Yeah. You know, the stuff we do with our mouths? Kinda fun. Cathartic even. You should try it sometime."
"Erm, I have no idea where this sarcasm's coming from. Just tell me what—"
"Ugh," Jirou slapped her forehead. "Baby steps with the ba-jeezes. We were in the mountain zone with Kaminari, and you were..?"
"Ahhhh," Kirishima leaned back in his chair, tapping the seatback excitedly. "That. Not much to say on my end, honestly. Warped to the city zone, fought a couple villains. Well, fought's a bit of an exaggeration. More like I hardened and they just knocked themselves out running into me. But this guy—"
"Agh! Dafuq?! Geroff!" Bakugou bristled beneath the friendly arm hooked around his shoulder, wriggling around like a trapped ferret. The redhead grinned.
"— was a straight-up boss. I drop three dudes, turn around, and he's got a smoldering pile behind him. Like, boom!"—His hardened fist crunched against his palm— "The exhibit was cleaned out before I could so much as raise my arms."
"And I'll clean you out if you don't let go, hair-for-brains," Bakugou's voice crisped over his seatmate's bluster.
"That's not exactly something you'd to hear from a hero, though," Tsuyu said, tapping her lip.
"FUCK OFF, FROGGER!"
"Enough!" Iida stood up. "Asui's—"
"—Erm, Tsuyu's correct. Our class just survived a savage, potentially traumatizing villain attack, and as your class president, I will not stand for such irreverence!"
"That right, four eyes?" Bakugou sneered, raising his chin. "See, I figure if I had a stick as big as yours wedged up my ass, I don't think there'd be anything I could do BUT stand."
Iida raised a bamboozled eyebrow before turning toward a quivering brunette who had all but perished in fit of laughter. "You aren't helping, Uraraka."
"Aw c'mon, I-Iida," the girl managed between laughs. "You gotta – pfffttt— you gotta admit that was good."
"It was pretty good…" Jirou deadpanned, gaze still on her phone.
"Pretty good?" Engine freak sputtered. "Pretty good?! Absurd! Where's your decency?"
"Y-Yeah, you're right. G-g-guys c'mon," Ochako sat up. "We ought to be a bit more sensit—haaaaaa…"
The brunette doubled over, spraying her laughs all over the center aisle. Mina and Tooru followed suite (minus the spraying, thankfully). Kouda broke into a feverish sweat at the onslaught of noise.
Iida groaned, turning toward the front of the bus.
"Dun look at me, partner," the gunslinger hero didn't look up from his gun before spectacles could do so much as raise his arms. "We're only here for protection. If it's a referee y'want, y'got something else comin'."
"Come now," ectoplasm set down his book and nudged his seatmate. "What my dear colleague means to say is that U.A prides itself on academic freedom on the part of both students and teachers. The life of a hero is not easy, nor is it necessarily refined. Hence, we generally avoid interfering with student interactions outside of serious abuse or the threat of violence."
"Understood!" The boy collapsed into his chair. "And I thought villains were bad..."
A pothole bounced the cabin.
"They were, though," Kirishima's voice softened as the shaking passed. The redhead hung his head. "Man, you should have seen the ones by the center plaza."
Tsuyu leaned in. "You went off to the plaza?"
He nodded. "After the city zone, we figured it wouldn't speak well of us as men to sit pretty or—"
"YOU figured it wouldn't speak well of us as men to sit pretty," Bakugou shot from the landing, refusing to avert his gaze from out the window. "I just wanted to kill that a warp gate fucker."
Kirishima rubbed the back of his head. "Anyway, the plaza. We get there just in time to find All Might chest deep in mist and bent over backwards by this massive mutant. Bakugou wasn't having any of it and dropped the mist dude by the collar."
"No way," Sero said, slinging his arms over the landing. "Uraraka figured out something similar. Iida probably wouldn't have escaped had she not taken that risk."
"Just a gut feeling," Ochako reddened as all eyes turned to her. "C'mon. S-seriously! Sero and Satou were just as important!"
"Laaame," Mina groaned. "Show some confidence, girl! You deserve it."
"Mmm," Tooru's voice floated above the fray, unseen hands jerking the blushing brunette back and forth. "Treat yo self!"
"Ashido's right," Kirishima said. "Most of us didn't think of that, and even if we did, I can't say we'd have had the stones to go through with it." His gaze wandered over to Mina, lingering a bit before drooping his head. "Anyway, mist man's in the digger and Todoroki—"
"I was wondering where he went off to!" Tooru cheeped.
"—yeah, the man just came out of nowhere and froze the mutant to pieces. All Might took advantage of the mayhem and broke free, and thank god he did. Apparently that brain hulk had more than one quirk. Healed up and blitzed us. Almost dropped Bakugou had All Might not tanked the blow."
Momo looked up from her hands, expression hardening. "More than one quirk?"
The redhead shrugged. "Had to be. Healing. Regeneration. Shock absorption. Speed," he tapped his fist against his palm repeatedly. "That thing could do everything..."
"No," the taller girl's look darkened. "Multiple applications maybe, but definitely not quirks. Humans can't physically handle multiple quirks. Basic biology dictates—"
"It can happen under select circumstances, unfortunately," Ectoplasm cut in, not looking up from his book.
"Select circumstances? What do you—" Momo stood up. "You've seen it before, haven't you?"
The hero closed his book.
"Happened before my time," he said finally. "I hope you share my luck."
The bus rocked over another pothole, and the hero said nothing more. Momo sat back down as the cabin calmed, eyes steeped in thought.
"Sorry," Todoroki said, peering out from one of the back rows. "I thought I had that thing. My hesitation almost cost us."
"No, no," Kirishima held up a hand. "It's me who should be apologizing."
He glanced at his seatmate.
"We should be apologizing. If we hadn't… If only I just" – he slammed his fist against the side of his seat— "Shit! I almost got you all killed rushing in like that. Thirteen ended up playing rear guard and got torn half to hell for it. Shit! I thought I was better than this!"
"Easy," Mina patted his arm. "You did your best. No crime there. Don't see me blaming you, mmm?"
"I wish you would." The redhead said with a bitter laugh, unable to raise his head.
"The heck?!" Mina flicked his forehead. "Say that to my face, idiot! As if the rest of us were any better. At least you did something. You acted! That's, like, the hardest part eh? Ehhh?"
"Ashido, sometimes I swear…"
"Swear some more, then!" The pink girl jerked his chin upward with a turn of the wrist. "Keep swearing till you've become the hero you want to be, the hero I know you can be. Reinvent yourself over and over in a that crazy way only you can do, but don't you DARE put pressure like this on yourself again, kay?"
The redhead shook his head, a small smile budding across his hard features.
Mina stuck both index fingers up against her forehead, leaning in closer, "kaaaay?"
He nodded, mirroring the motion as his smile bloomed to fruition.
"Horn buddies," she explained to the pair fluttering gloves hovering above a not-so-empty seat. "Long story, and no, it's not like that." She rolled her eyes. "Not like that at all."
The gloves fell flat against the seat. "Laaaame."
"Dude, you honestly think us to believe that?" Sero cocked his head in a suggestive manner. "You can't just say It's not like that and expect us to think it's not like that. That's textbook stupidity."
"No one likes you, tapey."
"Sht!" Jirou hushed, eyes on the redhead. "You've gone far enough. Might as well finish."
Kirishima shrugged. "Not much more to say, really. All Might tussled with the brain mutant for a spell before managing to clock it clean out of the facility."
"The tremor, then," Ojiro said, tail flicking expectantly. "I knew something big was happening outside."
"But what about Deku?" Ochako pressed. "He was there too, wasn't he? How did he get hurt? What about Aizawa-sensei?"
The boy cocked an eyebrow, "Deku?"
"Midoriya," Tsuyu clarified, leaning in with renewed interest.
Kirishima's brow crinkled.
"Forgot he took a liking to that name. Whatever works, I guess…" he waved his hand with a chuckle. "Anyway, with the brain mutant gone, the other two villains made a run at All Might. Midoriya flung himself in front of them, breaking both legs in the process."
"Both?" Ochako cringed. "For All Might?"
"He already broke his hand earlier, too," Tsuyu added. "Got me and the little one out of quite the pickle at the flood zone."
She looked at both her legs and tapped her lip. If it weren't for that boy or Aizawa-sensei, that childlike villain with his cold, cold hands would've just...
"Damn," Kirishima said, rubbing the corners of his mouth. "Makes no sense, but still, damn. And I thought I was hard…"
"Idiot," his seatmate muttered.
"What is wrong with you?!" Ochako shot from her seat, gaze locked on Bakugou.
"Get off!" The brunette brushed away Iida's hand and glared as menacingly as she could at the blond (still adorable unfortunately, Tsuyu mused). "Why are you like that to him? Why are you like that to all of us? The heck did we ever do to you?"
"I don't have to answer to you."
"Course you don't! But that just makes you bigger asshole, doesn't it? We're people too, you know, not just another rock beneath your feet."
"You don't know me," the fist wedged against his cheek began to shake.
"What's there to know?" Ochako was on a roll. "And you expect to call yourself a hero? As if! You're nothing but a bully. An angry, angry, insecure bully."
"YOU DON'T KNOW ME!" the blond exploded, pounding the window. "You don't know what happened before, and sure as fuck don't know what's happening now"— the teen shoved Kirishima aside, stormed down toward the brunette. He paced the center aisle, eyes whirling about like a two wounded beasts—"Fuck your call-outs, all of you! Fuck your self-righteous bullshit! You don't know me. You don't know anything!"
"Okaaay, guys," Mina said, placing herself between the two. "Maybe it's time we—"
"DON'T—"the pink girl toppled back into her seat as the boy yanked his arm out of her grasp. His look seemed to dim, hell-red eyes darting from the stunned pink girl to the host of eyes on him— ectoplasm's hard gaze, the hand on Snipe's gun, dark shadow's menacing curve. He exhaled slowly, lowering his fist. "Don't touch me."
And with that, he strode back into his seat without another word.
Tsuyu looked at her seatmates.
Tooru's gloves patted the brunette's shoulders. "E-Easy goes it. Easy goes it…"
"It was like arguing with a grenade," Ochako shook like a leaf in her chair. "Remind me to never do that again, okay?"
"You did great. We all needed that," Tsuyu said, glancing at Mina. "You too."
The pink girl said nothing, glancing once toward the smoldering teen before losing herself to space of seat between her seat. Tsuyu stared long and hard at the boy. He had had resumed his look out the window, fist pressed tight against his cheek, features flicking in out of view by the passing lights of Toyko's labyrinthine tunnel system:
Dark to light and dark to light and back again. Another turn, another mystery.
"From here on out, I... I—you listening?!" the boy ripped his arm back to reveal eyes which glimmered in the setting sun— not with hate or fire, but with tears. "From here on out, I'm gonna be NUMBER ONE!"
She pulled her finger from her lip, mulling the words over as the school came into view. The hiss of tires filled the cabin, and the bus rolled to a stop.
"Right-o," Ectoplasm stood up and faced the class, rubbing his jaw. "Nedzu has asked me to clear up a few things before you guys head out." He unfolded a leaflet from his trenchcoat and cleared his throat.
"Dear students," he recited. "My sincerest condolences on the unfortunate unraveling of this day's activities, as well as my gratitude for the poise all of you carried throughout. It is no laughing matter to survive a villain attack, and a greater feat still to perform as first years. Know this accomplishment will only elevate…"
Tsuyu tapped her fingers together, gaze darting from classmate to classmate. It really was amazing how they'd all made it given the circumstances. Equally amazing was how she'd taken them all for granted, even Mineta. She ran her thumb up and down the edge of her phone, a small warmth building in the stomach. She pushed a wisp of hair out her face and made the decision. Yes, it was about time she called home.
"…Classes will be canceled for the next two days as we reevaluate our security protocols. Expect a written statement by Aizawa and myself forwarded to your parents or legal guardian within the next twelve hours. Complimentary counseling services will be available through the Hero Gold Star network for the next six months, and at discounted rates for any time afterward.
It is not only my hope, but my expectation that this event will serve not as a stumbling block, but as springboard to a brighter future for both your future careers and the institution as a whole. Many thanks for your time.
The hero lowered the leaflet and raised his eyes to the class. Behind him, the bus door hissed and slid open. "This concludes today's activities. You are all free to go," he bowed. "Excellent performance today. Now get some rest."
And like that, the cabin filled with the sound of shuffling footwear as the class wordlessly rose and filed their way out of the vehicle. There wasn't much of anything left to say, after all. Outside, the academy's glass façade twinkled in the pink twilight. Tsuyu's gaze lingered on it for a moment before a push to her back resumed her forward shuffle toward the bus's exit along with everyone else. Plus Ultra…
"Y'all done good," she heard Snipe-sensei say as she passed. "Real good."
"Well," Momo corrected from behind. "Pardon, sensei, but I think you mean well."
"Nah I don't, miss," the cowboy said with a tip of his hat. "I mean exactly what I said. Y'all done good, and that good? Y'all did it well."
With a cold metal clang, the door groaned shut, leaving him in darkness.
Not with regard his own visual acuity of course. Everything from the most sunlit of groves to the deepest of underwater pits heralded the same crushing black for his nonexistent eyes. The mess of chromed tubing— not unlike the veins of pipes which snaked their way across the moldered ceiling like rusted ivy— protruding from his neck respirator hissed, fogging over the interior of his mask with another puff of sterile air. Another rattling gasp, another mouthful of air. Shudders.
Six years. It had been six years since he lost his sight and the eyes which brought it, six years since the country's shining light plunged him into shadowed agony. Six years since he had him – foot planted on the his chest, anted on the foe't laughing as the oaf stuggled to keep his trailing laughing as the oaf scrabbled to keep the what remained in his chest cavity from spilling out with the rest of it. Six years since victory was as good as his, a cycle seven generations in the making finally broken. All he had to do was watch that blasted left arm. Good God, why did he not—
Another breath brought the thought to an end. More shudders.
No, now was not the time for empty brooding. His work remained unfinished. The throes of his scarred heart quickened, what remained of his lungs set aflutter by the news. The good doctor was careful to reserve summons for all but the most pressing of developments, meaning this could only relate to the Toyko undertaking and by extension, Tomura. He exhaled slowly. Recompense was at hand.
Vision or not, the room was dark. Trifling, whatwas a little dark in the context of what lay ahead? The infrared revealed as much as it always had— the thin outlines of abandoned cubicles and outdated machinery illuminated by what little light the pale green monitor suspended from an exposed I beam could provide. Yes, if a bit of darkness meant fruition, he would gladly endure decades more.
His boots grated across the bent panels with slow, deliberate steps, making their way toward the room's center where an oaken bureau waited. His cuff links clicked against the grooves in the old wood, hands folded loosely atop the cold surface as he seated himself. From behind the mask, what remained of his mouth contorted: a crooked fissure set grimly about ruined expanse of scar tissue.
"And?" His voice was like sandpaper.
"Transmission from Kamino," a slouched figure rose wearily from the scruff of machinery, tapping away at a wireless keyboard. "I called as soon we got it. It's Kurogiri."
He nodded, straightening his suit by the lapels. "Patch him through."
The figure typed across the keypad accordingly, flooding the room with static.
"…Shot both of my arms and legs," an oily tone dragged itself from the haze. "Completely defeated. Even Noumu was done in. Our underlings were useless, even the kids were strong. The hell? Why were those kids so strong?"
"Tomura?" His knees clicked as he rose to his feet.
"…And the Symbol of Peace got off unscathed!"
"I wouldn't go so far, Master Shigaraki," another voice offered. "We and Noumu managed to inflict massive damage on him, to say nothing of grievous wounds accrued by the instructors. I wouldn't be surprised if either is left with permanent disability. A loss to be clear, but their victory undoubtedly Pyrrhic. Perhaps it is best if we—"
"He's still alive, Kurogiri."
"Yes, and we now have intel on the decline in his abilities. He has undoubtedly grown wea—"
"He's STILL alive, Kurogiri!" Tomura cut, voice straining over increasingly labored breathing. "They all are, busing off to their stupid academy as we speak, getting pats on the back for their so-called heroism. Sickening! Sickening! It's all so… SO—agggghh..."
Sensei felt the wood groan beneath the force of his stiffening hands as his protégé's words disintegrated into twisted groans. He bowed his head.
So they had failed. He expected that much. Preferred it, even. Still, to hear the boy's pain, even through the garbled hiss of an old stereo, proved most… unsettling. Not that he had any misgivings about a spot of pain here and there. Indeed, life was agony. He'd known that years before he was forced into the blasted mask. Nevertheless, Tomura was his ward, the onus of his shortcomings and his agonies owed at least in part to his teacher. Plus—
Splintering fissures ripped across the wood's grain as his hand clenched.
—he despised losing to that brat.
The figure edged closer, revealing the dim outline of a bald man in a physician's lab coat with a thick, almost walrus-like mustache. He offered the keyboard with a careful hand, readjusting the thick, tinted lenses shielding his eyes with the other.
"You were wrong, Sensei," Tomura's garbled voice echoed across the wall panels. "Totally wrong."
"No I wasn't," he said, raising the board's mic to his mouth. "Just overly optimistic. What happened to Tomura, Kurogiri?"
A sigh echoed across the groans and static.
"Multiple gunshot wounds to all four extremities, but he'll live," the phantom said. "No permanent damage."
"Good," he said, shoulders loosening a bit. "Very good."
"Speaking of which, what of sensei and I's latest handwork?" the doctor inquired. "The noumu has not been retrieved, I presume?"
"Your inferences are correct, regrettably," Kurogiri replied. "Our quarry knocked it clean out of the facility and into the forest beyond. Without precise coordinates, there was no way I could locate it even with repeated warps. Moreover, Master Shigaraki had injuries requiring my immediate attention. I deemed retreat our most viable option, and consequently accept all responsibility for any setbacks attributed to this loss."
"Kurogiri," Sensei spread his arms wide. "Kurogiri, Kurogiri, Kurogiri…" He shook his head, rasping out a dry chuckle. "What I have to forgive? It's not any of us would have done any different."
The doctor ran a hand over the curve of his scalp with an ruffled sigh. "That was our best one."
"And we'll manage as we always have," Sensei said, sending the room into silence with a clap of his hands. "It not like we're out of ideas. We've got plenty! Six years worth, in fact. That Noumu was the only one in our contingent capable of rivaling All Might, but oh well. What cannot be helped cannot be helped. We're only getting started, anyway."
"Yeah, yeah," Tomura's voice once again cut across the static. "Oh, that also reminds me. There was this one kid with speed like All Might's."
The doctor looked up from the wired mess he was unknotting.
"Oh?" Sensei looked up from the mic.
"Yeah, his stats had to be in the same ballpark if I had to guess. Even called his punches smashes. Agghhh, we could have killed him if it weren't for that kid," Tomura voice grew increasingly disjointed. "We could have killed him!"
Sensei tapped his fingers together. "Interesting."
So that brat Yagi had finally made his move then. When, he did not know. Not more than a year, in all likelihood; 1-A was a first year class, no? Still, time was short, and he would have to end it before things snowballed. The cycle had to end if the plan was to succeed. Shame, it would have been better for Tomura to work these things out on his own, but alas, what could not be helped could not be helped.
"That kid…" Tomura moaned into the audio, "that kid!"
"Calm yourself," Sensei said. "Today was not entirely in vain. To the contrary, it offers us the opportunity to work together."
"Yes, my student. Together. We'll gather a new group, hand-picked for efficiency. No rushing this time. The underworld holds many gems for those willing to wait."
"But Master, do you not think—"
"I do not think on such matters, Kurogiri," Sensei interrupted. "I know. Besides, it's time we had a symbol of our own." He raised his hand toward the monitor, closing it into fist. "Take heart, Shigaraki Tomura, for next time, you will show the world the true horror of your existence!"
And with that, he cut the line, leaving the room to silence. A dry hack emanated from his respirator, and he collapsed into his chair with a wheeze. It was better this way. Tomura needn't worry himself with the trifles of his condition. He'd coordinate logistics with Kurogiri later. The doctor hummed, mouth scrunched beneath the bristles of his mustache.
"The torch has been passed," he said. "Not a slice of doubt in my mind."
The pipes clinked beneath the push of Sensei's breath. "So it would seem."
The doctor nodded.
"Told you we should've handed over the others," he said, revving a dusty modem to life. "Specs weren't the same caliber as the prototype, but the extra force alongside Kurogiri's supervision would have been more than sufficient. Two birds, one cut"– the bloodied scalpels in his breast pocket clinked– "no problems. Would've been easier that way."
The gunshot crackle emanating from sensei's knuckles cut him off.
"Right, right," the doctor sighed, holding up his hands and returning his attention to the machinery, "your plan, not mine."
The wires clicked and hummed, several other monitors booting back into commission.
"You really think the kid will pull it off, then?"
Sensei leaned forward in his chair, humming with thought. "He will learn."
"That's an optimistic way of putting it."
"Pragmatic, my dear colleague. Pragmatic," he corrected, tapping the arm rests with five brooding fingers. "Tomura is young and impulsive. Kids his age learn more from their own errors than anything their mentors could ever say."
"I'm not so certain."
"You're telling me you honored all your parents' words at his age?"
The doctor shook his head. "He's not your son."
"You speak as if blood matters to people like us."
"Mmmm," the doctor seemed to weigh these words, arms folded, mouth scrunched beneath his mustache. A slow nod. "What now, then?"
The pipes overhead moaned.
"We wait," Sensei said, resting his chin on his hands. "We wait…"
To be continued…
A/N: Back again, and in less than a month's time no less! Bus rides are fun to write, I guess (as is fleshing out Mineta. All those silly writers content to character bash such a wellspring of redemption hehehe). Hope you all liked it; I tried to balance the lightness with seriousness in a manner which hopefully wasn't too melodramatic (with references to the current chapters to boot!). Oh well, at least all the boring stuff's out of the way. On to romance!
As always, feel free to share your thoughts via review or PM. I've had many great conversations with my readers, and the story's improved so much from insights garnered. Thanks and toodles!
Peace, Love, Plus Ultra,