The bus ride to Ayase Station was a peaceful one, all things considered. In spite of the week-long wait for the work studies to begin under various pro-heroes, the bus filled with Izuku's classmates was quite quiet. Conversations were hushed or non-existent between the rows and columns from the front to the back, and it eased the green-haired teen seated behind most of them. He had spent the better part of the week making the mistake of reading the news where it concerned itself over him — skimming opinion pieces and drama-stirring publications making either a mockery or overblown concern of his announced quirklessness — that seeded doubt in this learning venture. Left him questioning the letters written to him from Endeavor and Silverfang.

But being in class helped with that. The relationship between him and the rest of his classmates wasn't perfect, what with the doubt of his quirklessness name in the face of his obtuse powers, but it was a calming setting to get him through the week. Even the greater student body around them proved little a bother in his day; side-eye stares in the cafeteria were the most he ever noticed pointed his way, and lucky him they were easy to forget by the time he got home. He even got to focus his time on the heroes his friends chose to study, from the niche names to the one of the highest ranking heroes in Japan singling out their brunette friend in her draft letter. He didn't get to hear the names that every one of his classmates chose, but his closest circle was more than enough to keep the excitement riding until the big day.

Though of course knowing every hero his other classmates had to be the nagging thought that remained.

"Kirishima is studying under Fourth Kind," the green teen muttered under his breath, cross-checking the notes in his journal as he did so. "Kendo and Shiozaki are attending Uwabami's agency. Todoroki chose Kamui Woods. Tokoyami will be with Ryukyu, Jiro with Death Arms, and Tsunotori with Snatch. Hanta" — Izuku tapped the butt of his pen against his lip before he recalled what Kaminari had shared — "will be with Mr. Brave. Asui is with Selkie. Sato is with the Ginyu Force agency. Aoyama…who would be the best hero for him?"

"X-Less," came the sudden response from Ojiro beside him. Izuku would not admit to forgetting the tailed boy was sitting with him the whole time. "He has a laser quirk too, right?"

The green-haired teen nodded. "He shoots from his right eye, so his beams are smaller, more condensed, and he can fire them in rapid succession. I know Aoyama gets sick if he uses his quirk for too long, but I haven't heard of X-Less having any drawbacks to his quirk; the size of it probably isn't as taxing on his body, but it could also be the case of his plasma being weaker than Aoyama's and thus drawing from a smaller pool of energy from his body. I know there's a comic book character with a power like his, but last I remember that power had to do with some pocket-dimension he could access as the source of his power meaning it was nigh infinite and that's not realistic—what?"

Through his ramblings did Izuku turn to face his tailed friend, but also came to notice another blond-haired head staring at him from over the back of their seat. Kaminari drew back a step as the attention turned on him, before he looked back to Izuku.

"I forget sometimes," he responded, "with how strong you are and all, that you're also like one of the biggest nerds in our class."

Izuku sputtered at the accusation, snapping his notebook shut and shoving it against his chest. "I am not a nerd!" he defended himself, keeping his tone hushed so as not to draw any more attention from his classmates around them. Ojiro did his part, pushing the bushy end of his tail into the other blond's face to shove him back into his seat.

"That's not a bad thing!" Kaminari backtracked, tussling with the tail to be heard. "You're really smart! People like smart. And the abs." Izuku folded further into the corner of his seat, pressing head against the window. "It's a good, well-rounded combination. Girls love that. Right?"

To the green teen's dismay, the electric blond turned his last question to the brunette girl seated beside him. Uraraka was not paying attention to them, seated stone-stiff in her place as she read over her draft letter for the two-hundredth time in the past week, and once she did notice the pairs of eyes on her did she make like Izuku and begin to lean away. "What's going on?"

"Nothing at all," the blond martial artist answered her, muffling the other blond with his tail. "He made the mistake of yapping again. Ignore him."

"It's a genuine question!" came the muffled fight beneath the tail's tuff.

Izuku left the conversation to spiral without him, stashing his notebook beneath the folds of his jacket. Teasing hadn't been something he experienced outside of the laughter from Aldera in his first year, and since making friends with Ojiro and Iida hadn't much experienced it in his ever-growing friend group. It was a natural comment, he had to remind himself, one made of good intention; a far cry from ye olden times of three years ago. Hatsume had only ever made like-comments unintentionally, but Kaminari's frequency of them grew by the day. All in good fun, he knew; he just had to remember it was how the electric blond expressed his thoughts in trying to be a good friend. At least Izuku could still call him that.

A flashing reflection in the window caught the green-haired teen's eye, and he turned his head across the aisle in the bus. Across from him and Ojiro sat Iida, hunched in his chair and reading his phone like Uraraka had her letter; and beside him was Yaoyorozu, looking Izuku's way and holding up a small paper sign that read, "My Deepest Condolences."

Of course she heard Kaminari, Izuku sighed again and bowed his head. By his luck, so would everyone else have heard them. It was not the impression he wanted to make on people.

The bus lurched to a stop, and the only saving grace from nearly bashing his head into the seat before him was his mohawk cushioning the impact. It poofed back into shape as he rose.

"We're here," Aizawa announced to the class, stepping out the door as it opened. "Grab your costumes. Don't waste time. And behave yourself in public."

The quirkless teen waited as the rest of his class poured out behind their homeroom teacher, catching his costume case as Ojiro's tail knocked it down for him from the rafters. He followed along with everyone, accepting Kaminari's hushed apology as they gathered at the front of the station.

Aizawa raised his hand to cease any remaining conversation altogether. "Everyone has their tickets? Good. From here on out you will be under the supervision of your respective heroes and their agencies for the next five days. This will be practice not only as heroes in the field, but on your etiquette and behavior in the public eye and work setting of these heroes. Do your best not to disappoint them, Yuei, or yourself with your actions. We are to reconvene here by midday Saturday to return to Yuei. Don't be stupid." With those parting emotional words, their teacher returned to the bus, collapsing in the seat behind the driver and leaving the class without so much as another glance.

"I can never read that guy," Kaminari admitted aloud, becoming the ice-breaker that pushed the rest of the class to move and bid each other farewell. "But I feel I'll be in danger if I sit here too long thinking about it. I am going to hurry before I somehow get in trouble. Good luck guys." He waved goodbye to their group as he jogged off, only spinning in his run to point at Uraraka and added, "Don't forget me when you become famous."

The brunette sputtered and shouted back, "I'm not becoming famous just because I'll be studying under him! That isn't how it works! It's just a school trip!"

"Well, collaboration with high-ranking heroes does tend to boost ratings of those working with them," Izuku piped in, tapping the notebook beneath his jacket. "Ryukyu has jumped in popularity for the year-long work she did with Best Jeanist. Mirko broke into the top ten because of how often she was seen during missions with All-Might just in the vicinity. Even Hawks rose that fast because of his proximity to her," he added in the end, even as the brunette folded in on herself to try and hide her face.

"I'll walk her," Ojiro offered, stepping up to cup her elbow and walk her away. "We have to take the same train anyways so I can get to Kick Back. Put in a good word for me." He directed his last point at Izuku with his tail, and the green teen waved them both off.

"I know, I remember. Good luck guys." He waited until the two disappeared into the morning crowd of civilians looking to get to work themselves before he turned around to his last two friends. He ended up only finding one of them still standing; Yaoyorozu was facing the opposite direction and watching Iida be lost off in the distance in the crowd. "Did he say anything?" Izuku asked her as he stepped up to her side.

"Only that he had to hurry," the tall girl answered sadly. "He barely responded to Ashido walking with him just a moment ago. Nothing to me. He was distracted on the ride over."

The quirkless teen nodded his head in understanding. "I'll reach out to him. Ojiro wants to chat tomorrow, so I'll try calling him later tonight, if I can. I'm hoping Manual can take his mind off it for this, or at least offer some comfort for him during the work study."

"Do you think Manual is the hero for the job?"

Izuku shook his hand lightly. "The Normal Agency opened as a small-name business at first, but the Iidaten family quickly absorbed them into a support studio to help them get their name out. For a while, Manual was seen as a sidekick to Tenya's brother since he was the active Ingenium back then too. He was a longer-acting sidekick than the ones currently employed at the Iidaten agency, so they have a long-established relationship with each other, even since Manual broke off his agency to stand as its own name. If there's anyone feeling what Iida is right now, it would be him. And at least then the hero has been doing his best channeling his emotions of the news and patrolling more frequently in the week to keep public safety and attitude in a comfortable position, so that means Tenya has someone who can ease him into the same for the time being…" He peered up to the girl beside him, and snapped his mouth shut when he noticed the smile forming on her face. "Not you too," he cried.

"I'm sorry," she hurriedly apologized, though the giggle it came through did little to make it convincing. "Kaminari's teasing aside, I do find your knowledge quite helpful. It's putting me more at ease about this. Thank you." Yaoyorozu quickly calmed herself, her smile shrinking to something faint. "I wish there was more we could do for him."

"We'll do what we can," Izuku assured her, rubbing the heat off his cheeks. "He knows we're here for him. It just takes time."

The raven-haired girl nodded, and looked up to the clock pinned above the rail display. "We should hurry before we both end up being late. Good luck with your studies, Midoriya. I hope everything goes well."

"Thank you. And you too." Before the tall girl could turn away, Izuku extended a hand out to her. "See you soon?"

Yaoyorozu smiled back and accepted the handshake. "Soon," she agreed. Izuku shared the smile with her for many seconds longer, until her hand slipped from his and the two turned their separate ways. The green-haired teen barely made his train on time, slipping between the doors as they closed. He waved off the stares he got from the people around him, both of confusion and recognition, but he turned away to stare out the window and watch the city pass him by as they moved along.

Iida was going to be okay, Izuku told himself. Manual was a good hero, and that relationship he had already built up with his older brother would help him get the blue-haired teen processing everything better. He had Izuku to turn to when he needed to, and the rest of their friends as well. Just as Izuku did in them when things went sour, and vice versa.

They had each other, even if they were miles apart.

For lack of a better excuse, Mirio was embarrassed. All-Might had encouraged him going into the Sports Festival to give it his all and show not only his Permeation but the strength given to him through One For All and stake his image as the next big hero to take All-Might's place. The blond teen knew from the first day he accepted the power that this was always their intention — to keep the image of the infallible hero afloat for the peace of the people — and he was fine with that. His hero name, Lemillion, was chosen because of his dream to save the lives of one million people (and Tamakii was a fan of the lemon sound it carried.) If having One For All meant he could save that much and more, then he had no qualms carrying the title of the next Symbol of Peace.

But he went out-of-bounds in his first match of the Sports Festival's final event, and only finished in the top 16 before he could even show his newly bestowed strength. Sir Nighteye had given him a grilling of a lesson the day after, but All-Might forgave him; to him, it was simply a mistake made in the heat of the moment and therefore not Mirio's fault. It was a nice gesture that only made Mirio's stomach churn with guilt over his silence.

He didn't lose because of a mistake, he lost because One For All acted up.

The instant he went under the ground — a move he was permitted so long as he resurfaced within the borders of the ring — what should have been a dark and sensory-depraved drop transformed into a tunnel of soaring lights that convened on the outline of a lone, white-haired man standing before him. All it took was a simple, "Hello Ninth," from the stranger for Mirio to reactivate his quirk and shoot back to the surface, popping out well behind where he started. He waved off the concern of his mistake and the loss he faced in the round with a wave and smile to dismiss their referee, sensei Kishibe, but returned to Hado and Tamaki in the stands with his head in the clouds.

All-Might and Sir had explained plenty of the history behind One For All; its origins, the number of users it had passed through, and following the USJ, a long discussion about the man who put the hole in All-Might's stomach. One key detail he remembered was that All-Might was the eighth wielder of the stockpiling quirk, and therefore it meant Mirio was the ninth. There was no other reason anyone would call him by that number, especially if he were to meet them in a place that seemed to transcend space itself.

He didn't tell either of the older men, though, nor the elderly hero they had him meet known as Gran Torino; apparently he was All-Might's teacher, alongside the seventh wielder of One For All. Truthfully, he wasn't confident what he saw was even real but was just some other kid in the stands interfering in the match for their friend to progress; but he would have reported that to the teachers if he believed that. So he kept his meeting of the white-haired man to himself. Just as he did the pains that shot in his head during the attack on the USJ, and the sense that his arms could reach further than possible in training, and the urge to jump through the air and soar until the sun set.


Mirio snapped his eyes to his blond mentor, his heroic head peeking through the small opening in the door and a large hand sneaking in to wave.

"I've been searching for you for a good minute there," the tall hero explained. "Was worried Gran had knocked you into a deep sleep after today's training. Is everything all right?"

"Yeah, everything's fine!" the blond teenager beamed back with a smile, sinking into the couch of the Nighteye Agency's lounge room. "Man, your old teacher is as fast as a cheetah! Are you sure he's not related to Ingenium?"

The large hero shrugged his shoulders as he entered the room, snapping the door shut behind him. "I was never made aware of his personal life; I only knew Gran in costume for the majority of my life, and he's been single ever since he let me see him in civilian clothing. Try not to ask him about it, though — he'll look for any excuse to bat you around the room for a good hour." The number one hero took to sit in the recliner across from the student, his costume pouring out smoke as his lanky form took shape and sank into the cushions. "At least now he's past punching people across the face."

Mirio couldn't hold back his bark of laughter that made the thin hero jump. "Did he really? Do you think he saved any of it in video?"

All-Might grumbled, trying his best to sink between the cushions and disappear from his successor. "I'm not looking to meet an early grave for dying of embarrassment, thank you very much."

The phasing hero student waved his hand in apology. "Just messing with you, All-Might! Cuz man, that old geezer still packs a wallop behind his kicks. But if One For All can reach that same kind of speed, then I'll gladly take a few more soles to the face just to learn it."

"Gran does have the speed and maneuverability I lack currently," the blond hero admitted, gazing up at the ceiling. "Your Permeation may function completely differently from his quirk, but with One For All at your fingertips and in your kicks, that directional movement will serve you fantastically. We just" — a hand slid up his stomach, patting over his large costume where his wound resided absentmindedly — "need more time."

Mirio watched his mentor and inspiration mull over the memories of his wound and glared at the ceiling in worry, both of them in silence. That was why the boy kept the information to himself. The greatest villain the world had ever seen and All-Might had ever fought survived what should have been a mortal injury and being buried alive, and had returned to terrorize him and the world once more. A monster of a man who had been hunting wielders of One For All for generations with his own ability to take and distribute quirks was amassing another army of followers and worshipers. Once that man learned One For All had been passed down to him, Mirio would become a direct target of his attacks and his desire to reclaim the quirk.

Of course All-Might was worried; his arch-nemesis was alive and kicking, one of the quirkless first-year students was being harassed by the public media for his existence, and the man was suffering from a six-year-old wound that threatened to take his life every next day. He was a hero with too much on his plate, and Mirio didn't want to stack his own atop it. So what if he failed to win the Sports Festival and show off his best? So what if he felt a tinge of pain whenever he used One For All in training?

So what if he saw and heard one of the past holders of their shared quirk speak directly to him? That was just another ally on their side — another man to learn from — once he figured out how to talk to him again. He could bear it, if it meant his hero could live another day in peace.

The dojo was empty of anyone but them, and the light through the glass windows that made up the eastern wall both obscured the city outside while highlighting the hero that stood before Momo. A sight that would have framed the hero more dramatically, were he not wearing a pink flower crown atop his head.

"I must say," the Battle Hero: Gunhead began, tapping a thumb on the chin of his mask, "of all the students I expected to request a study at my agency — and my apologies if it comes across as rude — you were not high on my list."

Momo held her head high regardless. "None taken, sir," she bowed respectfully to the man. "I will be honest too, this was not my first choice for my work study. But that was before the Sports Festival." She rose, taking a deep breath to relax her face again. "Of all the agencies opening their doors for me, I could not think of many more suited than you."

A squeal escaped from the large man's mouth, as one hand went to cover his mask and the other waved in the air. The shift in demeanor nearly caught the teenager off her balance, not helped by the absence of anyone else in the room alerting the girl that maybe she arrived too early to the agency than her contemporaries. "Oh you're too kind! I know my agency barely makes it into the top 200 on the annual chart; you have options aplenty. So I'll ask" — his attitude shifted seriously once more — "what is it you wish to learn from me?"

"How to fight." She didn't hesitate to lay out her answer, composing herself just as quickly as he did. "My quirk is well suited to support, and my knowledge and catalog of tools and their atomic makeup is ever-growing to assist both myself in my shortcomings and those I will work with on the field. But…recent events have shown me where my quirk cannot make up for what I lack." Her performance in the Sports Festival was lacking, and she knew it with how fast she was eliminated in her second match. She had provided little support when villains ambushed them at the USJ, offering only trinkets and tools to her classmates to carry the weight of having to actually defend them from straggling criminals. Even the events of Tokyu Plaza played in her head, as Midoriya hadn't hesitated to stand up and protect a little girl while she had barely moved an inch to support him. "I'm not ashamed to say my fighting skills are rubbish, and without my quirk I fear I would be more of a liability to my friends than I would an ally in combative situations. After assessing all possible avenues and options available to me, you and your agency stood out as my most ideal choice."

"Oh, again with the flattery," he giggled, a light blushing forming on what Momo thought was his mask and was second-guessing as the seconds passed. "You thought right; of course I take my students and sidekicks out on patrols every once in a while, but I predominantly run my dojo downstairs. I'm always keen on teaching self-defense and grappling techniques to use out on the field. But for a name such as your own, I know higher-ranking, combat-based heroes would have their door open to you."

"That isn't what this is about," the raven-haired girl was quirk to shoot down, maybe a bit too loudly with how Gunhead tilted his posture. "Yes, there may be heroes higher in the ranks who can teach me what you can alongside techniques of their own, but you are a hero who fights with more than just his fists." The pro joined her pointed hand in gazing upon the revolver chambers that were his quirk around his forearms. "I'm not looking to only learn from a man who is well versed in hand-to-hand combat, but who can teach me the ways to better utilize what I can create within the same environment."

The hero bowed his head. "I'm honored you've recognized. Your family's business has reached out to me before, though the support company I'm aligned with now provides great equipment of their own. I'm happy to know there are such wonderful people like you in their business if ever mine closes down." Momo bowed back to him, gracious for the compliment of her family's work. "Allow me once more to ask you something; what for?"

The raven-haired girl blinked, and furrowed her brows. "Sir, as I said—"

"I did hear you. You want to improve your skills in combat, offensively and defensively. As do all of your classmates, picking and choosing their agencies and heroes to teach them just that. What differs you from one another is the purpose behind it; what you wish to accomplish with this knowledge and training. It is good knowledge and exercise as a hero, but the knowledge and skill alone is not what makes the hero as people know them. I learned and honed martial arts techniques into my own style, not just for the purpose of disarming and restraining criminals, but to teach and pass down my knowledge and techniques to those around me; to be an example that encouraged the people I studied and worked with to be better too. It's why I opened a dojo in my agency. So" — the masked hero pointed a finger at Yaoyorozu — "why is it you wish to learn from me? What is it you want to do as a hero that pointed you to me? How does this help you help someone else?"

Momo brought a hand to her chin, mulling on Gunhead's question. She chose to be a hero instead of following her parents into the family business because of the family business; with that knowledge of hero gear and supplies paired with her quirk, she could utilize that knowledge on the go and in the field, becoming a more efficiently prepared hero for sudden and random events of danger and catastrophe. It was how she knew she could offer the most help to the world, and so she followed that conviction all the way to here. Was there anything more complex about it than that? Wouldn't Gunhead's martial arts make her more efficient in the field as a hero?

Then her mind wandered, all to the months of recent, and the events she had found herself in that spurred this reasoning on. To the attack at the mall in December, and the civilians cowering in fear or bleeding out from their wounds. To the USJ and the classmates she vowed to guide to safety when she was asked to. To the Sports Festival where she encountered challenges and obstacles one after the other that she had to, yet failed to, respond fast enough for.

To Midoriya, lying in his own blood on the side of the road; and in the arms of their octo-armed classmates, and in a stadium surrounded by civilians and heroes alike cheering on his opponent.

Gunhead waved his hands rapidly, his mask once again flushing in emotion. "I still want to train you regardless," he made sure to inform her. "Even if you aren't sure of an answer, I won't turn you away—"

"I have a friend in Yuei," Momo began muttering, interrupting the overreacting hero. "A classmate. The world has been hard on him, especially as of late. It hasn't been good for him most of the time, I think, and it's not his fault. But he presses on in spite of it all, no matter how many times he's beaten down or ill-equipped for the job, because he wants to be a hero. He keeps trying, even if time and time again it nearly costs him; I'm already starting to count the times he does this on a second hand, worrying if this will be the time he doesn't get back up." She feels something in her hand and peers down to the small, green-haired doll that her palm generated rolling in her grasp. "Every one of our classmates is a good person, all of us hoping to become heroes. I don't want to see any of them lose their chance at that dream. I want them to succeed. That's why I want to learn from you." She bowed deeply to the hero, holding the small toy to her stomach. "Help me help them become heroes."

There was silence in the air for a long time, before a sharp sniffling invaded the girl's ears. She peered back up to the man, finding him dapping one of the goggles of his mask with a handkerchief. "That is so sweet," he complimented in a strained voice. "The desire for your friends' hopes and dreams, I love it."

"Thank you, sir," she sputtered back, once again distracted by the debate on where his mask ended and his face began.

"Might I" — the Battle Hero cleared his throat for a second — "suggest an idea?" When Momo nodded her head, he continued, "Learning how to better fight with your hands and your quirk as one is a good idea, but for your ambitions it may be more beneficial to learn your friends' shortcomings and apply yourself in making up that lost ground. Working as a hero partner or as a team, each of your friends will have something they excel in but aspects in which they do not. Your quirk and your knowledge of it can bridge that gap and cover their bases. Imagine yourself not as the sword fighting by their side, but they as the sword and you the shield. You are just as important to them even if you can't fight stronger villains or clear debris and damage to a local area by assuring both the safety of the people and of your friends. I would like to focus your training on teamwork; the emphasis on self-defense and more forward combat will take up the time between that training, so I can assure you will learn both."

That was a sound idea, Momo agreed. Though she could already do plenty with her quirk, the difference in combating the school's robots and other, living people had shown her a discrepancy in her skills. Her friends and the rest of their class were skilled people, and the faults in their abilities and knowledge was something she knew Midoriya shared with her in overanalyzing and forming strategies around — the ramblings of his thoughts on Aoyama's quirk on the bus ride over proved that without a doubt. "I would be honored for you to teach me how, sir," she accepted once more.

Gunhead stepped in close, patting the girl on the shoulder and shaking her from the strength of each strike. "Of course I will! We'll practice your combat skills for today and tomorrow, and we'll start team practices on Wednesday. You are my only hero student for this semester's work study, but I do have classes in the dojo these evenings so I encourage you to join them as well. For now, I will let you get comfortable in your room upstairs for the week; let you get yourself situated with your surroundings. I'll keep the paperwork to myself, don't you worry about any of that; I am some I still need to work through until lunch, so you can relax until then." He passed her by, and just before he left the room, the raven-haired girl could hear him cheer under his breath, "Young love is always so sweet."

Momo stared confused at the door as it closed behind him, and after a moment of thought looked down at the green-haired doll whose head popped out just above her clasped hands.

It had been quite some time since Ochako felt such a whirlwind of emotions wrecking her heart; some odd blend of anxiety, fear, elation, shock and regret. Up until returning from the Sports Festival, her emotions had kept to occurring one at a time, varying from good to bad but at least choosing a side — even if the side most common of late had been of the negative variety. But in the face of those sour feelings did she persevere. Because she wanted to be a hero.

She remembered how heroes brought smiles and cheers to the faces of her hometown neighbors and her parents when they passed them on the street. She remembered the awe Midoriya left her in when he stalled the Zero Pointer; the hope Iida and All-Might had brought her at the USJ under villain siege; the impression Yaoyorozu left on her for her quick thinking and creativity; the laughter Kaminari and Ojiro's banter and bickering bubbled up in her. She was surrounded by friends setting examples of the person — of the hero — she wanted to be, and she wouldn't let any fear or anxiety stop her from becoming someone as good as them.

A dream easier said than done, when she was under the requested tutelage of Japan's fourth-highest ranked hero.

The Wing Hero: Hawks, a young man who dressed in such a baggy, tan costume that Ochako felt cold just walking down the road beside him, and it was April! Then again, those shivers were probably also drawn over her by the massive frequency of stares and waves and greetings they had received from everyone they passed on patrol. Much of it was of course for the blond man she was studying under, but of course just being in costume and close proximity to him had the brunette greeting more people than she thought even lived in her hometown. Her hands decided to be a problem of a matter, though, glued to each other just in front of her chest by sheer force of grip, knuckles as white as clouds just in the bottom of her own vision.

"You know," Hawks's smooth voice rolled past her ear, while an elbow gently nudged her shoulder, "it helps build you a reputation to wave back. Being nervous is fine but it can bleed onto people just as easily as yawning does."

"Right," Ochako stuttered back, taking an eternity to rip her hands from one another and finally returning a wave to an old couple they passed by. "Sorry, Hawks sir."

"And no need for the formalities. I'm only" — the young adult man splayed his fingers out as he counted wordlessly — "six years your senior. Don't start calling me senior, either. As heroes, or even heroes and sidekicks, we are on equal footing. So just Hawks, okay?"

"Okay," she repeated back to him, still refusing to look him back in the eyes.

She didn't faint when she first read the letter Aizawa handed her on the first day back to class; after seeing only one name had requested for her personally, she just gave its existence thanks as is, and had even read his hero alias on the letter as quite unimpressive for a hero name. It wasn't until sharing it with her friends at the front gate — and listening to them stress and remind her that it was in fact the youngest hero to break Japan's top ten ranking and who had yet to be seen training any sidekicks before — that her life was nearly lost to the upper atmosphere. And he had personally requested for her to take her work study under his wing.

Ochako had freaked out every day the past week leading up to the work study, being caught distracted too many times in class alone that the shock outweighed the embarrassment of hearing her name called again and again. How had she been scouted by Hawks of all people, someone so high in the rankings and popular with the people? She got why Iida and Yaoyorozu and Ojiro got so many recommendations, with how far they made it and how well of a fight they had each put on; even Midoriya earned his two personal letters, one from the second-highest ranked hero and an old martial artists their tailed friend wouldn't stop singing praises about, for winning the Sports Festival by a landslide.

"Social anxiety?" the hero asked her, leaning towards her to speak in a more hushed voice.

"Not really," she stuttered out quietly, gazing across the street to civilians, forcing herself to wave their way. "You're just…a really popular hero…"

The young man hummed in agreement, pulling them to a stop at the next crossroad. "Just not used to direct and up-close attention? I guess Yuei does save its media training class for their second-years, usually. I always thought that was an oversight on their part, since they throw their first years right into the deep end with these work studies." As useful a tidbit of information as that was, Ochako could only file it away in the back of her mind. "Are you going to be awestruck all day with me, Uravity?" Hawks suddenly asked, quipping the edges of his lips up to smile at her. "Honored as I am, the point of a patrol is to be aware of your surroundings. I don't want to make it all about me."

The brunette spat out a few words before she could string together coherently, "Sorry sir. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this." Her print-tipped fingers taped together awkwardly as she looked away from the hero. "I didn't expect someone like you to pick someone like me."

"Someone like you?" The blond man repeated, turning his head away and tapping a finger on his chin. The light of the sun glistened on his visor, obscuring his eyes from the teenage girl as she peered back up at him. "We should remedy that."

Several bright-red feathers brushed against Ochako's costume, wrapping around her boots and mechanical belt. The number-three hero flapped his wings and jumped into the sky, beckoning her to follow.

"You can use your quirk on yourself, right?" he noted. "I'll lead the way."

Following his approval of quirk usage, the brunette pressed her fingers together and gently pushed off the ground, floating into the air as gravity let her body. The feathers holding her took the sign that she was weightless as one to begin moving, pulling her legs and waist through the air to follow after Hawks and leaving Ochako to balance her upper body to not flail in the wind.

"Do you want two to grab on to as we go?" he asked once they were as high up as the building beside them reached, plucking feathers from his wings manually to display between them. "I don't want to tear into your suit to pull you along, especially for material as tight on your body as that; I'm just as likely to cut your skin open, and that wouldn't be professional, would it?"

"Yes please," she sputtered through a growing blush from his comment, mentally lamenting for having ordered such a tight-fit material for her retro-inspired costume. Two big feathers floated towards her hands, and she gripped onto them lightly with her pinky fingers extended out.

"Hold on tight," he warned, spinning in the air as he took charge. "The speed can be a bit sensational."

It was like she was in a sports car the instant they took off, dashing through the sky at such high speeds in an instant that Ochako clamped her eyes shut as wind shot up beneath her visor. She could feel the tilt of the feathers in her hand to signify as they climbed higher into the air, the sounds of traffic and clamoring people drowning under the roar of their speed. It wasn't until their climbing stopped and their speed trickled down to something more akin to cruising did she force her eyes to open again.

Just to breathe in the sights from a mile above Japan.

Ochako gasped at the sight of Tokyo beneath them turned into a maze of streets, dots of color she could barely make out into their original shapes swirling abouts in cars and civilians passing each other by. She could stop heroes dancing over the rooftops of buildings still far beneath her feet she wouldn't have from the ground. And when she looked forward, past the pro hero flying ahead to guide her, she could see well into the next province over. The partial horizon of the sea glistened to her right, specks of ships shining through the glare of sunlight. Even the clouds still above looked so much more full in volume.

"That's the smile," she heard shouted through the turbulence of wind roaring past her ears, and twisted her head to find Hawks flying above her, casting a shadow from the sun that let her see his golden eyes brimming with his grin. "Come on. Let me show you my lunch break."

The young man gently placed his hand atop her shoulders, and in a sudden jerk did he and Ochako dash through the sky once more. The brunette did her best to force her eyes open, her visor barely keeping the wind out of her eye in their mad dash downwards towards the tallest of the Azabudai Hills. Just before they could crash into the supertall building, the hero darted them right back upwards, their ascension coming to a slow stop before the blond man lowered her steadily onto the rooftop.

The teenage girl stumbled forward as she returned gravity to herself, feeling her stomach swirl. "Too fast for you?" the blond hero asked her, gently rubbing circles on her back.

"My quirk," the brunette groaned, breathing slowly as to withhold the rainbow. "If I use it for too long." Though the speed they flew at probably didn't help any, either.

"Sorry to hear that." The young hero helped her forward, bringing her to a slab she could sit on. "Practice and commitment will wear that out soon enough, I can promise you that. Every quirk has its growing pains. Let me distract you from them." Hawks sat down beside her, curling a wing to drape over her shoulder as a gloved finger pointed outwards towards the city. "From right here, you can see Tokyo tower, and just a bit more north" — his swiveling finger quickly took Ochako's attention away from the observation tower — "the Skytree as well. This is one of the few spots I can sit in and see both of them like this. It's all man-made, but I think it's a pretty skyline."

Ochako agreed with him, the glistening windows and dashing colors of cars in the distance brought a whirlwind of serenity that helped to calm her stomach, even if only slightly. She had been as high up as the control room in an operating crane, but her hometown was not as vertically tall or as colorful as the city of Tokyo.

The hero nudged her in the arm with his elbow. "You're wondering why I scouted you," Hawks reminded her, and she felt that sense of peace stuttering down. "It's a fair question. I don't write letters often, so my bad for not laying it all out for you. Could you really not tell?"

The brunette shook her head wordlessly, suddenly finding more interest in the cuffs of her costume and the city skyline framed in front of them. She liked them, their little floaties design playing into her quirk along with being her favorite color, but putting them on earlier she felt conscious of how much more for show they were than for anything practical. Maybe there was something she could replace them with.

"Well," Hawks began as he hopped to his feet once more, "for starters, I do like your quirk." She should have guessed that, Ochako chided herself, but remained quiet as he continued. "Flying quirks like mine aren't all that common; Ryukyu has her wings but Endeavor and Jeanist make do with their quirks to just propel themselves and All-Might stays afloat from the sheer force of his legs alone, but I like to keep my eyes open when the airspace around me finds company. And yours interested me; your Gravity Rush-like quirk and movement in your fight in the final rounds did look pretty cool, even if you were just playing defense. I was excited to see you up close, and I can say I am not disappointed. That is one nifty quirk you have."

"Thanks," was all the girl muttered in response, replaying her first and only fight in the Sports Festival as the reminder of her doubts. "I can't exactly fly with it though."

Hawks made a dismissive sound as he waved at the air. "We can work around that; so does everyone. You just need the right gear to control your movement; a bit of practice here and there and you'll be walking on the sun in no time. You'll be airborne like it's second nature." Ochako hummed in acceptance, still fiddling with the cuffs of her suit. "You chose me because I was the highest-ranking offer you had, right?" That snapped her attention to the man, leaning back like there wasn't air behind him as he smiled to her softly. "No shame in admitting it; it's how I chose mine when I was your age."

Ochako flushed at the accusation, bowing her head respectively to the hero and stuttering out in shame, "Yes, it was. My friends had a lot of good things to say about you, so I thought it would be a good idea too…"

"And you're having doubts?" Hawks guessed, and before she could answer he added, "About me or yourself?" That also startled the girl's attention. "You did say 'someone like you,' and I've been thinking about that. Do you think my letter to you was a mistake?"

"No sir!" Ochako quickly defended against the man's question, waving her arms wildly. "I don't think you made a mistake at all! It's not your fault at all! It's just—"

"It's nobody's fault," Hawks supplemented for her, pacing back to her before sitting by her side again. "You're just wondering why I sent a letter to you and not someone else."

Caught in his accuracy, Ochako resigned with a nod and slumped shoulders.

"Truth be told it is partially because of your quirk; a lot of heroes like to choose students and eventually sidekicks that align with their skill set and knowledge, to pass it on and set an image for their persona or agency. I was interested in your bird-headed classmate, but I at least knew you could take to the air, and that's more my area of expertise than avian biology. But — and I'm not trying to be rude or anything — I singled you out because of how stressed you were."

The brunette blinked at the man, letting his answer sink in before popping back up above the waves and floating around in her head. "Huh?"

"I'm serious. You looked a bit down because you lost your fight, but every time the cameras cut back to your class for reaction shots, there you were in the front row looking like you were hit by a truck. Would have called the school nurse to find you if I had the right number. But I knew what I could do was offer you the choice to work with me for a week and I would do what I could so you wouldn't feel like that. Ever again, preferably."

Ochako studied the hero's face, in his smile and the soft eyes still visible beneath his visor. "Why?" was all she could think to ask.

"Why? Because it's what I want for people." Hawks turned his own gaze back to the city. "I want to make a peaceful world for everyone, free of stress and worry and all that crap, pardon my Cantonese. The uptick in criminal activity and people trying to play comic book villains is why society has heroes, but we don't need them to be heroes. I want days where I clock into work and I'm flying around the city just looking for something to do, because all the crime stops and everyone is living at ease." A shadow fell over Ochako before she noticed the red wing above her casting it. "You included."

He offered her the chance just to study under him because he wanted to cheer her up, the brunette laid it all out in her head. "That's…really kind of you, Hawks sir, but…I don't see how that translates to the work study assignment."

Hawks spun and brought his knees to his chest, bending his wing to keep it as a makeshift shade. "Then let's. What is it you want to do? Not of hero work or assignments; your other dreams. What is it you wanna do as a hero?" Other dreams? "Plenty of heroes have side hobbies. Jeanist has a fashion line. Uwabami sponsors and co-founds plenty of beauty products. Edgeshot runs a ninja school — small scale but he has some students, as long as they're hiding really well every time I fly by. What would you like to do?"

Ochako thought about it quietly, playing with her suit cuffs once more in silence. She did want to be a hero to help pay for her family's commodities and bills, since heroes were high-paying jobs in the industry, though that necessitated hero work and constant business. Her other dream?

"I want to go to space," she answered soon enough, glancing up just past the crimson feathers to the blue sky above. "I always loved learning about it, the planets and stars and moons and everything else up there. People used to go to the moon before quirks, but now we have empty space stations floating in the sky. I want to explore up there, chart the planets and the moons' surfaces, build homes on Mars, fly past the solar system and out into the great unknown. It's why I love Thirteen as a hero, with how she dresses and where she volunteers." A plane flew high overhead, a thin stream forming behind it as it passed. "I want to guide us to the stars."

When she looked back at Hawks, the man simply smiled at her and said, "Air jets." At her confused look, he continued, "To help move you around in the air. Like an astronaut suit in zero gravity. It might need a bulkier costume to hold all the equipment, if you're fine lugging around the extra weight until you quirk doesn't feel it anymore, but I think you'd look cool as an astronaut."


She must have sounded like a little kid in a candy store with how the pro hero laughed and patted her on the arm. "Definitely. And if that's what makes you happy, then I'll help you see it through. Like I promised." The shine in her eyes must have been visible, because his smile only widened. "Who wants to go shopping?"

The room Denki was brought to was dark, save the one light shined directly in his face. The chair they sat him down in was cold and stiff, and the table of dark wood between him and the muscular man sat before him was just as chilling to place his hands on. Not that it stopped him from lying them with his palms flat down, too nervous to move them.

"So then, young 'Chargebolt,'" the deep voice of the man began, "are you sure you made the right decision?"

Denki stared down the gleaming red eyes peering at him through the black face paint. "I am," he declared his conviction.

"Then why us?" the older man continued to prod. "Of all the choices you had on the table, all the good opportunities available to you, why choose us?"

"Because you're a team and you bring smiles to everybody. It's what I want to do."

Red eyes glistened at him in the darkness, the silhouette of the predator behind them ruffling in the light draft in the room. Denki could feel every pore a bead of sweat rolled over as it trickled down his neck. The only noises that reached his ears were the buzz of the light and the air leaving his own lungs.

"Would there be" — the hulking figure before him leaned closer, his elbows dropping onto the table — "a girl in mind this is for?"


The larger man let out a sigh, dropping his head and rising slowly from his chair; the loud scraping of metal on the stone floor was hell on his ears, but Denki kept himself together as best he could. "One final question then."

The bulky man of the Wild Wild Pussycats, Tiger, slapped the lamp off the desk with one hand, and with the other pulled out a matching black and yellow sleeveless top and fluffy skirt with the other. "Are you comfortable wearing the Pussycats Agency uniform as you study under us?!" he shouted at the top of his lungs.

"No I am not!" the blond boy shouted back.

"That is okay! It is not a mandatory rule!" Tiger threw the uniform over his shoulder as the lights overhead flashed on, and took one of Denki's hands into his large paws. "Welcome to your work study with the Pussycats Agency! We will be taking care of you for the next five days!"

Denki bowed his upper body as the hero continued to shake his hand. "Thank you for having me! I will do my best to learn under you!"

Mashirao wasn't expecting to spar with his hero of choice on the first day, but the Busting Boxer: Kick Back was eager to learn first-hand what a hero student was capable of.

Not enough, was the answer they both came to, as the young man danced around the tailed teen's kicks and swings more often than he took the blows. And the strikes Mashirao took in return were much faster than he was able to block. It was only a few minutes into their spar before the hero called the match, and the blond teen collapsed on the mats below.

"You are fast!" the black-and-yellow jumpsuited hero remarked with glee over Mashirao's gasps for air. "Much faster than my last students. One would think that extra mass of your mutation would slow you down; are you sure your real quirk isn't some variation of an overdrive?"

"I'm very limber," the boy panted between breaths. "Tail's all I got."

"Still very impressive, especially with that spring jump to launch back into the action. I would recommend not jumping forward, though; if you're shoved on your ass in a fight, you'll probably fly into the following punch if you don't fall back. Or up, if you know your enemy can't follow you into the sky, though that has its own dangers when you fall back down to the enemy. But you get the gist."

"I'm not looking to get punched in the face," Mashirao huffed in agreement.

"Glad you agree! Now take a water break. We'll try again in ten."

The tailed teen groaned as he pushed himself up, his mutation filling in for his left leg as he tended a small bruise above his ankle until he collapsed beside the water cooler. He took advantage of his isolation to enjoy the refreshment it provided, reminiscing little on the lack of other students or sidekicks the hero had present. Yo Kenshin was an acclaimed martial artist, winning the gold medal at the jujutsu regionals three years in a row, but as the hero Kick Back the man had little the same acclaim. The man did not open a dojo or a school unlike many other martial art heroes of new and old, and apparently he only employed sidekicks individually for part-time before they moved on to other agencies. But those who left him carried on good word of his reputation and teaching, and those he trained did manage to break off as pro heroes themselves not too long after, so Mashirao equated one and one to two and decided there was no better, available hero he could learn from to hone his talent.

His fight against Bakugou in the Sports Festival still stung. He had enough pride — and possibly ego — to admit he put up a good fight against the explosive boy, putting him on the backfoot for most of the fight, but he could not succeed in putting him down for the win. There was just that something he was missing that cost him the fight, and would have delivered the catharsis he was looking for in kicking Bakugou's teeth in since the first week of school. Right now, learning how to perfect the knockout was imperative, and luckily its use in active hero work was legal even if quite brutal in execution. Mashirao didn't want to cave a skull in, but he needed to figure out just how much to hold back to find that right spot.

"So" — Kick Back slammed into the wall beside him, and the jolt of motion and surprise spilled water down the blond teen's chest — "I've been meaning to ask you something. You have that quirkless boy in your class, right?"

Mashirao paused in his pat-down of his shirt to stare up at the man. "I do," he drawled out slowly, squinting his eyes ever so slightly.

"Cool. Is he actually quirkless?"

He took a deep breath in, and then a long exhale out. "Yes."

"Bummer." For the first time since he got here did Mashirao see the pro hero frown, kicking off the wall and sliding across the floor. "Oh well."

The tailed teen could feel the water he just drank begin to steam in his stomach. "What?"

Kick Back took no notice of the frown Mashirao could feel on his face. "It's just, he looked like he was fighting with a quirk, taking damage and dishing it back ten-fold like some sort of energy-stockpiling power. Are you sure he doesn't have a quirk?"


The hero shook his head and sighed in disappointment. "A shame, but I'll believe ya. You ready to go another round? I thought of a few tricks you can do with your tail; I wanna see if I got your anatomy right."

Mashirao took another long breath of air, strangling the towel he was using to dab the water off his shirt. Of course he just had to pick the hero who had something to say about his friend. He only spent the better part of two weeks hate-scrolling through the news reporting on the Festival and Midoriya's place not only in it, but in Yuei altogether, yet somehow he forgot to try screening the heroes he was selecting from to see if any of them had a problem with that. It was dismissive of Midoriya's claim, which wasn't too far fetched of an accusation knowing what the green-haired boy was capable of, but Mashirao had read enough threads to know the opinions that followed. Was it too late to go back to Yuei and pick a different hero?

No, Mashirao decided as he pushed himself up. He was going to learn from this man, spend five days talking with him and perfecting his takedowns until he had them right, and then he would report the man when he got back to Yuei. Successfully kicking his ass in a spar session just once would have to be enough until then.

Tenya didn't need much introduction when he arrived at the Normal Agency, led by one Manual. Not only had he roamed the family agency plenty of times to learn of a general layout of the structures, but the Normal Agency was a good partner to his brother's work in the past few years and one he heard much about from Tensei over dinner. With greetings made easy, it was no time at all before the aquatic-quirked hero to guide the teen on patrol around Hosu.

"My apologies but this might be the majority of your work study," the hero had told him as they had strolled well into town. "We're short on active staff at the moment — a good chunk of my sidekicks have been transferred around, so we're being stretched thin. And I'd rather not make your study all paperwork; I take it you've seen enough of it at home from the rest of Iidaten."

"It's no problem at all," Tenya assured the hero, his voice altered from his costume's mask. "I will fill in wherever you see me fit, I trust your judgment on that. And I have heard of agencies nearby transferring staff between each other; I promise to help with whatever you need."

"I'll do my best not to abuse that offer. Thank you."

Tenya trusted him at his word. Even with Tensei's glowing reviews of the water-based hero, the blue-haired highschooler still did his own research on Manual before committing to his choice. He was a hero praised for his generosity and public appeal; not too quiet but also not so confrontational. He was the right balance of approachable and formidable for him to become a local fan-favorite. Atop that, his agency was extending its reach further than it probably should, placing its personal staff inside the agency more often than on the streets, and those it did let out were working a good distance away from the town. Of all the heroes working in Hosu that would put someone like him on patrol — a position his family was all but familiar with — Manual was the most assured pick he could make. How else was he going to find Stain than being put in the field?

"Is it alright to ask about Tensei?" Manual gave him an apologetic frown. "It's been a bit worrying piecing everything together though news coverage."

Tenya nodded. "You may. I am…comfortable speaking about it."

"Is he still asleep?"

The blue-haired boy took notice of the man's choice of words. "Yes, he is. The doctors are keeping him stable, and they are confident he will wake up again, but it is still unclear as to when. But he will."

Manual nodded, pursing his lips into a small smile. "Good. That's good to hear. Your brother means a lot to me—and to my agency. I have a name made for myself thanks to him and your family's agency, and so have many others like me. We're all a part of the Iidaten family, even if it's through our work. Know that we are all hoping for the best for him, even if I've asked my staff not to pester you for answers."

"Thank you. Please let them know their thoughts and prayers are welcomed."

The hero's face hardened seriously, turning his attention forward as he stopped them at the next crosswalk. "I owe your brother more than I've paid him back. I wouldn't be where I am today if he hadn't taken my agency in; help me grow as a hero and a man. I owe it to him to keep this city safe while he's out. That includes making sure you don't chase after Stain."

Tenya froze on the spot, even as the light changed and Manual strode across the road leaving the armored teen to catch up. "You knew," he stated matter-of-factly.

"The instant you chose me," the water-bending hero admitted. "Because I feel the same way."

"Then why aren't we hunting him right now? He has hurt and killed enough heroes to serve a lifetime in Tartarus. Should we not be looking for him?"

Just as his voice began to rise, the hero shushed him when children ran up to them. The Normal Hero greeted them kindly, offering them handshakes, and pointedly brought their attention to Tenya. Their enamour and awe at his costume caught the teen off-guard, leaving him to stiffly respond in thanks despite their giggles of his robotic nature. It wasn't until the pair of kids moved on that Manual donned his serious expression once again.

"We are," he informed the teen, carrying on their patrol. "We and every other agency in the adjacent districts have been compiling all the information we have on the man that we can find, at night and during the day — like we are now." Tenya snapped his head from side to side, suddenly taking everything around them into consideration. "We are working with the police and a team of underground heroes to locate and arrest him. We send our information to Hosu General at the end of our patrols to build his file and his case. This is us looking for him."

Tenya could feel his heart thumping in his ears. So there was a hunt for the Hero Killer and his associate, and he was already a part of it. The relief was pounding in his chest, yet anger still gripped in his fists. "Is this not too passive? Should we not be pressuring him out of hiding, facing him on our terms instead of his?"

"This is just the right amount of passive we need. The heroes in Saitama prefecture already screwed up their chance like that when they thought he was there, hunting him down publicly before they even knew where to look or where he was hiding. Right now, we believe our 'idleness' has lulled him into a false sense of security. So long as he thinks he has the upper hand on us, the sooner we bring him to justice."

The blue-haired teen shook his head but bit his tongue. It was strategic, especially for a criminal keen on hiding in the shadows and remaining largely unknown to all but those he wounded. Paired with a man even less known to the police and the public for aiding the Hero Killer in his actions, an uneducated and uninformed response would only send the two men running until they found another city to pluck at.

"I'm not happy about it either," Manual admitted. "Your brother was a part of the mission; it's why he was scouting around here before, helping us know who we were hunting. But Stain caught him off guard, and nearly robbed us of a good hero and an even better man. We can't conduct a manhunt for him ourselves, but I ask you to help me in helping our friends find him as soon as we can."

But they still did not know of the man working with Stain, so far as Iida could guess from Manual's words. Everyone still believed it was only the Hero Killer at work, and even if they found him, it would not guarantee finding his partner. Tenya kept that to himself, as he continued to follow the man on his patrol.

As soon as he knew where the Hero Killers were, the speed of Ingenium would bring them to justice as they rightfully deserved.

The trek to the dojo was a long one. Izuku departed train after train to reach Tokyo's edge, and the public bus written about in the letter of recommendation just to make it to the base of the mountain where the agency stood atop. He could feel the look of pity on the back of his head as the driver left him at the base of a heaven-reaching stairway, crossing through the side of a mountain and leading to a home barely a few centimeters big in his vision.

He still climbed it, step by step, minute by minute. The sun shined hotter on his back and the wind blew into him stronger with every step, but he didn't give in. Ojiro's amazement, Iida's good wishes, Yaoyorozu's encouragement, his mother's hopes; he had doubts to prove wrong and support to prove right. So what if a few hundred steps stared him in the face, he argued internally, when he had already faced down much worse?

Reaching the peak left little space left to trek just to reach the dojo's doors, but Izuku took the moment to catch his breath. The structure was a quaint old building, though worryingly it looked in need of new paint and repairs. It was just high enough over the treeline, too, for him to look out and take one more look at the distant cities coloring the horizon. It was far more isolated than it looked even on the map provided to him, but maybe that was for the best; a chance to learn from a hero who truly believed in him without worrying of any other interference.

Or he had just been lured out into the woods to be slaughtered without anyone ever finding the body.

Pushing his gruesome and unnecessary worries behind him, Izuku sauntered up to the front door and knocked. Once, then twice more after the following silence of a response. Rumbling came from behind the entrance, growing louder by the second before a clicking sound signaled the door opening, revealing to Izuku a slightly older boy with bright orange hair peeking out to him.

The older boy blinked at him in silence for a few seconds, before recognition finally washed over his face. "Oh! You actually came!"

Izuku did his best to hold back a frown from the exclamation. "Sorry," he apologized half-heartedly, "it's a lot longer of a ride than I was expecting too. This is the Crushing Water Agency, right?"

"Yes, it is." The orange-haired boy opened the door wider, allowing the green-haired boy to enter and follow behind as he was led through the old interior. "Though Master Bang considers this his dojo more than he does a company. He is a martial artist first. I'm his only sidekick, Charanko."

The young teen bowed his head in greeting; in studying up on the martial arts hero as Ojiro had suggested — pronounced: pestered — him to, he had found at least some info on the one man listed as his sidekick; the orange-haired martial arts student who got his provisional license without ever attending a hero school. It was an impressive feat Izuku hadn't heard of for many other heroes and sidekicks, as the majority proudly shared their alma mater with the press and public.

"Right this way," the older teen offered, guiding Izuku through the facility. It was far more natural and old than the green teen was expecting, as though it was an old cabin built by hand first, adorned with a modern exterior and interior commodities second. Pictures hung across the walls they passed, framing crowds of students surrounding an older, white-haired man Izuku was only just starting to recognize. "So," the orange-haired man began, peering back over his shoulder at the younger teen, "you're quirkless?"

Izuku flexed his grip on the handle of his costume's case. "Yes, I am," he answered. "Learned it when I was four."

The sidekick only hummed in response and turned away, directing Izuku to the door at the end of the hall.

"Is that a problem?" the green-haired teen dared to ask.

"Not for Master Bang," was the noticeably specific response he got, but before it could be prodded further Charanko opened the door. "Master! The Yuei student has arrived!"

In the cozy lounge room presented before Izuku, there sat one old man on a couch in the center. The white-haired man turned away from his T.V., clicking off the news report covering sightings of Hawks in the Tokyo area, and pushed off the cushions with a grunt. He shuffled across the room, hands chambered behind his back, and came to a stop just in front of the two teens.

"Welcome, Midoriya Izuku," the Bloodwind Hero: Silverfang greeted the teenager, "to the school of the Flowing Water."

Villainy was a complicated business. Dealing with heroes constantly attentive and seeking new means of expanding their brand by looking to knock the next 'big bad' down a peg was one thing; a bowl of nails All For One had dug into plenty with but minor scratches. But villainy was a competitive scene between the spotlight-seekers, too. Any low-life scum who ran free long enough would let fame get to their head and turn their pursuits to challenging the Hero Agency and everything it stood for. The Yakuza existed with factions idolizing exactly that belief, and All For One knew of many moles in the heroes' ranks willingly to play pretend until the opportunity arose. Criminals fought to outrank each other just as fiercely as heroes did their own leaderboards.

But where shaking hands and signing contracts was easy for the heroes, such cooperation between parties was difficult for the underworld. The Hero Killer holding a blade to Tomura's neck was but a visual reminder of that very fact.

Kurogiri was rendered useless as well, slumped over the bar's counter muttering how his body felt paralyzed; the same had happened to the younger man. Nothing new to learn there, if All For One wasn't mixing up his knowledge of quirks from times past. The killer's time as Stendhal had revealed enough even in his few fights to leave a lasting impression.

"You are children without conviction," the Hero Killer chided the white-haired boy beneath him, pinned to the floor by the blade in his shoulder he mutteringly complained about. "Fools without foresight. Without real purpose, you will be weeded out of history, just as every other pathetic attempt before you." All For One kept his scoff to himself, listening as Tomura hissed in pain and Kurogiri groaned at his inability to move. "You think your goal to kill All-Might is purpose?" Yes, but the old quirk user kept himself silent still.

"The mere idea of heroes and villains are skewed," Stain drawled. "Money, fame, status, name; people are blinded by greed and power, fueled by a hunger for possessions and positions. Society has become a breeding ground for the corrupted and has infected heroes of today. And you, cosplayers who think the world is a playground for violence and lashing out your frustrations. You think All-Might is the root of your problems? He's the only true hero this world has."

Well this was a new sight into the killer, All For One mused. He was not aware the man possessed an infatuated respect for the holder of his brother's quirk. Wasn't that amusing?

"All-Might is the perpetuator of heroes today," the old quirk user shared into his microphone, lowering his oxygen mask to speak clearly and hearing his voice echo into the hideout of his underlings. "Heroics was an unsustainable profession until he hit the scene, and society has built its flawed structures on the path he paved. These weeds you seek to cut down only thrive because that big oaf allowed them to flourish unabated. Surely you must understand he is but the root of your problems." He could hear the paralyzing villain's growl reverberate through his speakers.

"All-Might took no part in shaping society; he holds no control or demand over the actions of the people. His own acts are done in the name of justice, and cowards have used his shadow to poison and tarnish that which exists under his name. He is not to blame for the faults of others, nor for the actions he does not carry out. He is a just man."

"He is just a man," he corrected the Hero Killer, his chest bouncing as his lips quipped upwards. "Surely your admiration does not blind you to the fact that he is not some god upon a pedestal to worship."

"He is the only hero who does not view themselves as such," Stain argued back once more, "And this the only man deserving of such recognition. He strives only for the peace and safety of others, nothing more. I do not expect men like you to understand such things."

This argument with a martyr was going nowhere, he could see. All For One had sent Kurogiri to hunt down the Hero Killer for a chance at a new recruit — something to make up for the loss of manpower since their attack on Yuei — but it seemed the man had his convictions set in stone. And on a stone that stood opposed to his own, no less. But Stain had only lived a fraction of his own life in years; it was always hard to convince men in their thirties of how the world truly worked.

"If you let my wards go, I shall allow you to leave," he bargained into his microphone. "Though we may not see eye-to-eye, our paths are still mutually beneficial. These two are quite important to me for now, and your work is still favorable to our own. I see no need for unnecessary bloodshed."

"I do not see how failing to kill children provides any benefit to me. And you seek to kill All-Might; our paths are not aligned." Tomura cursed again — a sign that Stain had pushed his blade deeper into the young man's shoulder blade — as if to further his position.

"Stendhal, do not mistake our distance apart as a sign you hold power in this situation. You can fell heroes like Ingenium and Scorpion all you like, but I assure you your life continues because I currently allow it. Now, please, retract your blades and I will send you on your way."

All For One listened to the silence of white noise playing through his speakers for several seconds before he finally heard Stain grumbled. Tomura cursed through hisses, likely as the killer removed his blade from his body. The doctor, silent through the whole conversation behind the quirk collected, muttered under his breath, "We should have sent a Nomu to Recovery Girl's infirmary to have her quirk. His wounds will take a while to heal naturally."

"Have Kurogiri take care of his stitches," he decided. "And we can do without her quirk; it does not suit the Nomu."

"Do not consider me your ally," Stain warned with his growl. "If you were searching for the one who took down those heroes you named, then you were fools to hunt me down."

All For One tilted his head back, humming at the man's exclamation. "Oh? I have not heard the name of another taking down heroes. You have direct competition."

"Do not credit their work to me. They are but another fool, following my efforts in hopes to claim fame. They would suit you better."

"Yes, I have given you too much credit. Kurogiri, can you move?" His human Nomu confirmed for him, while Tomura gave his own shout that he was still unable to. "Return our friend from whence he came. We have taken up enough of each other's time tonight." The portal user did as instructed, and Stain left without another word.

As Tomura hurled curses and swears at the fleeting image of the Hero Killer, All For One leaned back in his chair, mulling in his thoughts. Unable to read the news outright, the ancient quirk user had listened to the news in audio, subjected to the foolishly opinions of the employed writers crediting rumors to the Hero Killer. It was his fault for taking their words at face value, but there was little he could do without a reporter of his own to clarify the papers for him, especially when the doctor needed to play his role in the public eye.

"Did you suspect those heroes were not of Stain's work?" he asked the doctor behind him.

"The news did not report on the status of their wounds beyond Ingenium's comatose state," the old man answered. "And I've yet to receive access to their reports. I don't doubt he was telling the truth, but I've heard no names of other men of the underground starting to make a name for themselves. He could simply be lying; he didn't sound interested in joining us at all cost."

No, there was no need for Stain to lie; it wasn't his style. The man did not share their perspective on the disdained state of heroics, and throwing them on a wild goose chase for a man that didn't exist wouldn't save him, given how easy it was to find the Hero Killer in the first place. Which meant there was another man or woman out there attempting to kill heroes too. Unsuccessfully, of course, but improvements could always be made.

"Sensei," Tomura's groaning voice called though the speaker. "How many more Nomus do we have?"

"To the caliber of the Nomu I lent you for the attack on Yuei, none," he answered simply. "Six lesser Nomu are currently in incubation, and higher evolution is progressing slowly; we have months until our High End project is ready."

"Give me the other Nomu. They can substitute for a new party. I want to end that bastard for his insults."

The doctor scoffed under his breath. "Insolent brat. The Nomu are valuable creations, not playthings to throw away in a tantrum. We'd make better use of him in a jar than soiling our resources."

All For One rubbed his chin quietly, drumming his other hand on the edge of his desk. There was much going on he was still not privy to. All-Might had a successor he could only assume in name, another criminal was running around the streets attempting Stain's work, and a 'quirkless' boy was performing feats of strength he shouldn't be capable of. Before that blond tool had nearly killed him by ripping off his face, All For One had connections inside and out of both society and the underworld. Living in hiding and isolation was forfeiting useful information — information that could help him regain control — for the sake of his experiments.

When was the last time he took a calculated risk?

"Then give me three of the Nomu," Tomura argued. "That should be enough to end Stain's playthrough."

"Absurd!" the old doctor exclaimed, leaning towards the microphone for the younger man to hear him. "Do you not understand the value of these specimens? Given more months' time we can have several Nomu to the caliber of the one you lost! We cannot waste these beautiful creatures to feed your anger!"

"I know you have those spawns in droves, you faceless clerk!" the young man shouted back through the speaker. "We wouldn't have to bother with recruiting for this damn guild if we just made use of your summons! And it's Sensei's choice, not yours!"

The doctor grumbled and cursed under his breath, stepping back to walk circles in frustration. "There are better choices for a new vessel than this child, my lord. The Decay you gave him would make for a better High End under your command than this—"

"You may have all six," All For One interrupted, speaking into the microphone calmly. "In a few days. Preparations are in need, and your wound attention, if I am to permit you outside once more. Kurogiri, if you could stitch up his cuts. I will supply you with further information tomorrow."

The portal Nomu humbly responded before the master cut the line, leaving him to the sounds of his doctor gaping at him in shock. "My lord, we cannot waste the potential of these creatures on a pathetic massacre of the Hero Killer! Such trifling matters are below them!"

"The Nomu were created to supply us with manpower, Garaki," All For One narrated, pushing up from his chair slowly. He toed along the side of his desk, feeling out with his sensory quirk until he had hold of his headpiece and replaced his breathing mask with it. The metal contraption clicked into place, as cylinders on the collar's side whirled and supplied him with oxygen. "An army to control without worry of uprising or rebellion. Heroes today are weak, and many will die trying to face them even en mass. But the High Ends are our goal; we've spent too long amassing a larger army of our own fodder to pad the time for perfection. We're beginning to lag behind a power creep of the youth that may take us by surprise if we do not act. Stain is an afterthought. I have different plans for our creations. Focus your efforts on the High Ends and those nearing their levels; we shall leave the state of our lesser creations to function as is."

The doctor wallowed silently at the sacrificial destiny of his creations, but All For One passed him by without a thought. "Contact Kagero; I will make you a list of supplies to request from him. The Nomu will not simply be sacrificial lamb. We must pluck from our enemies the information necessary to regain control of this accursed world right under their noses, when they are none the wiser to our intent." He came to stop at the lone table at the end of the room, running his hand over the bumps of braille that spelled out Midroiya Izuku. His other hand reached to the other side of the table, brushing over the files of many other students within the boy's class.

"Which one of you will do?"