Alright, I think I owe some apologies.
It was never my intent to spend this long on something ultimately so short, but frankly I had trouble for a while, and even now there's some content from this chapter that I put off until the next one just to get this out. It shouldn't affect the narrative too much.
I try not to spend so long on chapters unless I'm writing something big, but the way I do things these days means there's going to be gaps between updates. I apologize for that, but I've got other things to do, and writing this isn't always on the front of my mind. Hopefully it still works out well.
So since I've procrastinated this long already, here you go.
"Haimawari, our assumption when we brought you on was that you wouldn't keep ending up here," Aizawa said as he stepped through the infirmary door. He spotted Kouichi lying in the first bed on the right and wandered over with a glare in his eyes. "You'll just be a liability if you keep hurting yourself on these stupid stunts and forcing Recovery Girl to take care of you. You need to think about what you're capable of."
Kouichi chuckled sheepishly and winced as he shifted and his aching shoulder flared up. "I know, I'm sorry I scared everybody. I'm not really sure what happened myself," he said. "I just…got to thinking about what my master would have done, and how much I wanted this, and well…" The look in his eyes became distant. "I didn't even realize what I was doing when I started doing it. I didn't have time to stop myself before I was on top of the robot, and I didn't exactly have many choices at that point."
"Mmm. So your body moved without you realizing it? Is that what you're telling me?" Aizawa asked, giving him a look of scrutiny.
Kouichi shrugged. "I don't know how else to explain it. It was like…one of those stories from the Golden Age." He smiled. "You know, the kind that the old legends used to tell? I thought it would be nice to have just one amazing story like that to keep for myself, even if it meant failing the test."
Aizawa sighed—the remnants of an aborted groan. It was always annoying having to deal with people's romantic views of the "old days", when times had changed so much since then. With the relative absence of villains in those days, Heroes usually dedicated themselves strictly to helping civilians in the face of prejudice and persecution; experiences once only dreamed of through comic books and movies.
The world was one thing, but criminals and villains were another matter. The most stalwart and capable Heroes were leaves in the wind when faced with the human element—flaws leading to greed and corruption in even the best people. Heroes and people had adapted to the changing world, and the blind idealism of old didn't hold up anymore.
Even All Might wouldn't stand forever.
Aizawa shook his thoughts away and focused on Haimawari before him. "The principal told you that it made no difference whether you passed or failed, Haimawari. You knew this going in, and you still acted like an idiot," he said, glowering. "It distracts us from our jobs if we need to keep taking care of you. Do you think someone will just come to your aid every time you need them?"
Kouichi flinched back into the mattress. "Well, yeah, I mean, I get that," he sputtered. "But I figured I needed to hurry, with the time limit—"
"The time limit didn't matter. It was only included to test your abilities under pressure," Aizawa cut him off. "You could have spent hours in that test, and the only thing we would have known was that you were undoubtedly trying to waste our time."
"…I don't think that's fair," Kouichi muttered, his fear and disappointment sharpening into a blade. "I did what you told me to do, didn't I? You lied to me and pulled me around, but I still did what you said, even though it almost killed me!" He snapped through gritted teeth. "The least you could do is say you're sorry for what happened to me!"
Aizawa's eyes widened, practically glowing as the simmering fury within them boiled. His hair rose upward and straightened into tight peaks. "Coddling you is not our job, Haimawari. If you don't like our methods, either find a way to live with them or leave."
Kouichi flinched but forced himself not to cede ground. "I don't want to go to prison."
"Then suck it up, like the high schoolers we come here every day to teach."
"Do you lie to them, too?"
"You think the world's going to treat you any better?" Aizawa growled. "This isn't some story where justice always prevails and the heroes live forever. It's reality. Heroes die, people die, and it's all a mess. If you can't deal with that—"
"Don't talk to me about people dying!" Kouichi snapped, forcing himself to sit up. "I lost Knuckle-Duster! He gave me a chance, taught me how to fight, and gave me the strength to get out there and help people! He was my master, and he died! I'm not a starry-eyed—"
"Your master was a criminal who threw himself and you into situations that neither of you had any business being in. He was violent and blinded by his need for personal pleasure," Aizawa said, forbidding Kouichi a chance to retort. "You have my condolences for his loss, but that's not how we do things here. When we tell you to act, we expect you to do it right—don't make a scene, don't pull anyone else into your mess, and don't get yourself killed. If you want to remain here, you will learn to operate like us—the real Heroes."
The look in his eyes became withering, forcing Kouichi back down into his bed.
The quieter part of Kouichi's mind, the angry one that had been taking control more often these days, demanded that he stand up and defend his late master. So what if he hadn't fit the mold of a Hero? He'd been a Hero to Kouichi, and everyone else helped by him, and wasn't that what mattered. What right did Aizawa or anyone else have to disparage his memory?
The part of his mind that knew better—sometimes begrudgingly—reminded him of Ectoplasm, and his probing questions about the old man. He'd looked concerned in a way Kouichi hadn't expected to see when he'd heard Kouichi's description of his former training, been so quick to say that things would be different in U.A. A test of the body and the mind.
Knuckle-Duster had been neither weak nor a fool, but Kouichi couldn't picture him alongside the proper Heroes of society; people who cared about helping others more than about their next fight. His code of conduct held too sharp a contrast next to theirs.
And so Kouichi, who'd been built and broken by that code, had a lot to relearn.
"Hmm, the atmosphere in here feels rather tense," came a sudden voice from the infirmary doorway. Aizawa and Kouichi turned and bowed as Principal Nedzu plodded in and climbed onto the bed next to the one Kouichi rested upon. "Greetings to both of you. Haimawari, was your rest to satisfaction?" He asked.
Kouichi nodded. Nedzu's timing couldn't have been better; he didn't want to know where his talk with Aizawa would have gone if the principal hadn't appeared. "Yeah, I woke up maybe an hour ago," he said. He twisted his left arm, wincing at an ache in his shoulder that was admittedly much more bearable than before. "I'm still a little sore, but I feel a lot better than I thought I would. Aizawa said Recovery Girl was in here with me again?"
The principal nodded. "Yes, that's correct! You lost consciousness after the zero-point robot broke your fall, and Recovery Girl had you brought here for healing." The mouse-like creature pointed to Kouichi's once-injured shoulder. "She fixed your broken shoulder with ease, and tended to the abrasions in your wrists, ankles, and knees as well. She's truly a marvel, isn't she? This academy couldn't function as it does without her on our staff!"
"Principal, Haimawari and I were discussing the test," Aizawa said. He shot Kouichi a stern look. "Along with his conduct toward the end. Anything you'd care to contribute?"
"Well, I'm certain you would have said all that needed to be said regarding Haimawari's actions, Aizawa, so I think we can skip most of that," Nedzu replied. "Did you tell him that he passed the test yet?"
Kouichi sat up. "Wait, I did?" He asked. "But I didn't finish. I was supposed to get back to the gate, wasn't I?"
"I was coming around to that," Aizawa said. He turned back toward Kouichi. "The principal decided that despite your failure to meet the requirements, your performance during the test fulfilled its purpose anyway. We wanted to see what you could do, and you demonstrated a…decent enough understanding of your own ability to justify a passing grade."
Aizawa turned on his heel and strode out of the infirmary. "Don't let it go to your head," he tossed over his shoulder as a farewell.
With Aizawa gone, Kouichi turned to Nedzu and bowed in his bed. "Thank you for your generosity, Mr. Principal," he said. He was relieved—failing wouldn't have changed much, as Nedzu had insisted, but he still felt better about his performance now.
Nedzu turned back to Kouichi and looked him in the eye. His smile never slipped, but something in his gaze told Kouichi to listen and listen good. "Along with Aizawa's criticisms, I'll say this: what you did today was impressive, Haimawari, but foolhardiness would not be your friend in a genuine battle. Even if your body moved of its own accord on this occasion, please take care to think your actions through the rest of the time. All right?"
"Yes, Mr. Principal," Kouichi said. "So what happens now? I don't think I can leave until Recovery Girl gives me the all clear."
"Oh, you definitely can't. She'd be furious if you tried," Nedzu said. He hopped up onto the bed from his seated position and walked toward the end. "Now that the test is over, I feel compelled to tell you that the rest of U.A.'s staff was watching from afar. Needless to say, they have a few different perspectives regarding your performance."
The principal leaped onto the floor and landed cleanly, then walked over to Kouichi's bed and climbed onto it. He stood at the end of it, facing Kouichi with his hands clasped behind his back. "I was going to take you to meet them, but it wouldn't do to move you right now. Would you object to waiting for Recovery Girl and then coming with me to meet them?"
The principal smiled, as if there was nothing unusual at all about that offer. Even as Kouichi's responding stare lengthened to minutes, the principal's smile didn't waver an inch. Clearly, this was a choice that Nedzu meant for Kouichi alone to make.
The idea bothered Kouichi less than he would have thought; it was still intimidating, the idea of meeting a whole gaggle of famous Heroes, but the few of them he'd already met seemed like supportive people, if only in their own way. Besides, he'd be spending the next few years around them, so better he came to know them now over later.
And maybe he was just tired. That would explain some things as well.
"Alright, I'll meet them," Kouichi said, putting a smile onto his face.
Principal Nedzu clapped his paws together. "Excellent! In the meantime, I've been devising some new theories regarding the development of Quirks in vigilantes in response to your performance and overall situation. Give me just a moment to fetch some tea, and then I hope the two of us can have some meaningful discussions about your activities over the past few years," he said, sliding down from Kouichi's bed and making his way to the door. He slid it open a crack and slipped out.
Now that he was alone, Kouichi collapsed into his bed as the full weight of the day struck him at once. What had he done so far? Been tested by world-class Heroes and technically met expectations, gotten into a fight with Eraserhead that he didn't feel like he'd won, and now he'd agreed to meet with those world-class Heroes, all of whom would doubtless possess some very strong opinions regarding his performance and possibly his very presence.
He ran a hand down his face. All that was enough to make him feel like sleeping for a week, and it wasn't even lunch. How on Earth did the pros pull it off? Maybe there was some secret way to pump coffee through your veins instead of blood that only the pros knew. Surely if he spent enough time working here, someone would let him in on it. Otherwise, Kouichi wasn't sure he'd have the capability to keep up.
When Nedzu returned with tea, Kouichi prodded him a bit for the secret. The principal merely smiled and said, "It's a labor of love, Haimawari. A good educator must have a passion to hand their knowledge down, and the resolve to see it through." Upon viewing Kouichi's crestfallen look, the principal chuckled. "You'll be fine, Haimawari. You have plenty of time to learn. Start with what you can do, and take as many steps as you need." Nedzu sipped his tea and added, "The greatest accomplishments in the world were made the same way."
And for the next hour, as Nedzu presented his theories and prompted Kouichi for further information as needed, and as Kouichi absorbed Nedzu's words and considered their meaning, Kouichi almost felt that learning wouldn't be so difficult after all. When Recovery Girl returned and gave Kouichi clearance to leave (but not to strain himself or use his Quirk in any way), he followed his new principal out of the infirmary a little more composed than before.
So as the end of this chapter implies, next chapter Kouichi meets the Heroes of U.A., and then we get a nice montage of scenes from the next six months a la Midoriya's training, and then we're at the start of the school year. They're smaller scenes, so hopefully they'll be easier to write. I've learned not to get my hopes up, though.
I'll see you when I see you. Until then!
Tomorrow's Hero, signing out.