The Symbol of Peace and Justice

Chapter 17 – Will to Survive

"Well that was fucking dreadful," Kaminari deadpanned.

"You tell 'em, Pikachu," Sato chirped as he chugged his third can of Red Bull.

Bakugo chuckled sardonically. "I told you fuckers you'd be left disappointed, didn't I?"

"Well yeah, but it wasn't Midoriya's fault," Kirishima replied, frowning.

Bakugo snorted. "If Deku wasn't such a pathetic weakling, he could've ended this right at the start and spared us all the shitshow!"

Gohan let out a weary sigh and scratched the back of his head. The fight, if one could even call it that, wasn't horrendous… but it wasn't good either. The best way to describe it was unconventional, with a few interesting moments sprinkled throughout. Really, the biggest positive that came out of the whole thing was that it broke the streak of every match ending with at least one participant in the infirmary.

It started off on something of a high note when Present Mic announced that Hatsume belonged to the support course. That spiked Gohan's interest, as he was genuinely curious to see what someone with a traditionally non-combat background was capable of in a one-on-one fight. And, given the variety of odd-looking support gear she was kitted out in, his hopes for a grand spectacle were high.

The actual fight began normally enough, with Midoriya charging at Hatsume, who quickly took to the air with a pair of literal rocket boots. However, instead of mounting a counterattack, she casually dropped back down to the ground and began dramatically explaining the exact properties of her rocket boots.

After Midoriya overcame his initial surprise, he rushed Hatsume again, only for her to lunge out of the way with a pogo stick-like contraption protruding from her backpack – which she also went to great lengths to describe.

Now visibly frustrated, Midoriya proceeded to chase her around the ring, but was unable to keep up due to some speed boosting attachments on her legs that would've made Iida proud. It would've been a comical sight, if it wasn't so exasperating to watch.

The next ten minutes of the fight went like this, with Midoriya futilely trying to catch his foe, and Hatsume constantly staying one step out of reach while doing sales pitches for all her gear. It was definitely impressive, and her dedication to her products was certainly commendable, but it wasn't the exciting bout the overwhelming majority of spectators had hoped for.

Fortunately, once she had run out of gear to advertise, Hatsume forfeited, and normalcy resumed…

Well, aside from the fact that Sato had now sculled four cans of Red Bull without pause. That was more than mildly concerning. The fighting stage was also littered with everything from caltrops and landmines to a pool of oil and artificial banana peels – all courtesy of Hatsume's genius – but that was only slightly more unusual than the regular kind of damage the ring had sustained during this tournament.

It also meant another delay before the next match, as Midnight and Cementoss had to meticulously comb through every inch of the ring to dispose of any hazards left behind by Hatsume's menagerie of tricks. Unsurprisingly, neither teacher looked happy about it.

Kirishima rose from his seat and slammed a fist into his palm. "Well, I'm off to get in a last-minute warm up!" he announced before shooting a feral grin at Sato. "I suggest you do the same, big guy! You're gonna need all the help you can get!"

Sato's response was to smirk and open up a fifth can of Red Bull, the resulting pop and hiss startling the ever-quiet Koda. Kirishima chuckled at the sight, then walked away.

Once the redhead was out of earshot, Gohan frowned at his best friend. "Should you really be doing that?" he asked, gesturing to the pile of compressed cans beside him. "Aren't you going a bit too far?"

Sato shrugged. "My body's better equipped to handle sugar than regular people. The worst that'll happen is I'll have the shits later, but it's worth it to pound Kirishima into the ground."

"Eww!" Ashido gagged.

"What do you mean, 'eww'? It's a natural bodily function!" Sato countered.

"Doesn't mean you have to talk about it so openly!" Ashido fired back.

Gohan sighed and rubbed his temples. "If you're sure."

"I am," Sato declared, finishing his drink and crushing the can between his thumb and index finger.

It was then that Midoriya stepped foot in the box and reoccupied his previous seat, an exasperated frown adorning his freckled face. It was an understandable reaction; despite the fact that he was technically the victor, being led around the ring like a hapless puppy on a leash must've been an incredibly frustrating experience.

Ashido reached over and patted the boy on the back. "Chin up, Midori. You'll get your chance to show off in the next match."

"I will, won't I?" Midoriya muttered with a nervous chuckle, shooting a tentative glance at Todoroki, for whom it didn't even register.

"How's Uraraka?" Gohan asked, figuring his green-haired friend would appreciate a change of subject.

It did the trick, as Midoriya instantly perked up. "She's good," he replied, giving the demi-Saiyan a small smile. "Once she came to, she was more upset about losing than getting electrocuted."

"I told her I was sorry, but she wouldn't accept it," Kaminari interjected.

"Because she doesn't want your sympathy or pity. She's glad you took her seriously enough to go all out," Midoriya replied, his expression hardening ever so slightly.

Kaminari recoiled, looking a tad sheepish. "I-I guess that's fair enough."

"Would Sato Rikido and Kirishima Eijiro please make their way to the ring?" Present Mic requested, receiving an enthusiastic roar from the crowd.

"About damn time!" Sato exclaimed, spiritedly rising from his seat. He cracked his neck, stretched his fingers, then left the box.

A few seconds later, Ashido quirked a brow in Gohan's direction. "Not gonna give your best bud any last-minute words of advice?"

"No need," Gohan replied. "We already came up with a plan during the intermission. Now it's up to him to carry it out."

"Did that plan involve Sato consuming a litre of caffeinated sugar?" Ashido asked, motioning towards the five crushed energy drink cans that now looked like a set of aluminium frisbees.

Gohan frowned. "Nah, that was some improvisation on his part. I just hope he knows what he's doing." He scratched the back of his head, slightly perturbed. "I've been friends with that blockhead for five years, and I still don't know exactly how Sugar Rush works. All I know is that it's really, really weird."

Ashido chuckled. "Kirishima's Hardening is pretty straightforward, but he uses it well. Who do you think is gonna win out of them?"

"Honestly, I don't have a clue," Gohan admitted with a sigh. "Sato has the advantage in power, but Kirishima edges him out in speed and durability. It's too close to call."

"I hear ya," Ashido agreed. "But that just makes it more exciting, right?"

"It'll definitely be one for the highlight reel," Gohan remarked, his lip quirking at the thought.

While they waited, Ashido struck up a conversation with Tsuyu about Quirk-based diets, leaving Gohan to his own devices. To pass the time, he whipped out his phone and started cycling through breaking news stories, only to notice Midoriya leaning closer out of the corner of his eye, mouth curled in a dejected frown.

Concerned, Gohan slipped his phone in his pocket and turned to his green-haired friend. "You okay, man?" he inquired quietly.

"To tell you the truth, Uraraka was shattered after the fight," Midoriya whispered, choking up a bit. "She gave it her all out there, and to lose the way she did, after all the effort she put in… it hit her hard."

"I'll bet," Gohan murmured. "Did you tell her what I said?"

Midoriya nodded. "Yeah. I told her she was amazing, and that any pro hero in the crowd would be impressed by her performance."

Gohan smiled. "Exactly. The whole point of the sports festival is to impress the pros, and strategy-wise, she put in a far better showing than Kaminari."

"Yep. And that cheered her up a fair bit. But what really did the trick was the phone call she had with her parents," Midoriya revealed, much to the demi-Saiyan's surprise.


"Yeah. I left the room to give them some privacy, and when I came back in, she looked a lot happier. She was still pretty annoyed that she'd lost, though."

Gohan leaned back in his seat and breathed out a relieved sigh. "I'm glad."

"Me too," Midoriya added, his eyes drooping.

Gohan had nothing to say to that, so he turned his attention to the fighting stage. While he cared for Uraraka too, the relationship between her and Midoriya was on a completely different level, and sights like this only reinforced that fact. It was sweet, and he hoped with all his heart that they'd stop beating around the bush and get together for real. It'd do them both a world of good.

Another roar from the crowd signalled the emergence of Sato and Kirishima, who eagerly took up positions on opposite sides of the ring. Much like when their bout was first announced, a pair of matching smirks adorned their faces while their eyes blazed with the fires of competition.

Gohan fidgeted a little, feeling his excitement rise in tune with the raucous crowd. He knew how much this match meant to Sato, and while he hadn't spoken to Kirishima about it, the redhead's beaming grin told him all he needed to know.

"I hope you lovely folks are ready to raise the roof with your voices, because this next bout promises to be a real slobber knocker, starring two of the hero course's hardest hitters!" Present Mic teased to thunderous applause. "That's what I like to hear! YEAH!

"Our first contestant hails from the increasingly prodigious Class 1-A! With a physique that may as well have been sculpted from a slab of marble, and a swagger not unlike professional wrestlers of old, please put your hands together for Sato Rikido!"

Gohan's eye twitched as the audience erupted, and the figure of their adoration put a hand over his heart and wiped away an invisible tear. This little stunt spurred the crowd on even further, much to the demi-Saiyan's exasperation.

While he was pleased to see his best friend getting some positive attention, he had no doubt the praise would go to Sato's head, leaving him to deal with the fallout. He could already picture the incessant preening and cocky strutting that would go on for at least a fortnight. It'd be like that time in middle school when Sato somehow swindled a living, breathing female into dating him, even if said coupling lasted less than a week and went absolutely nowhere.

"His opponent, also hailing from Class 1-A, is a tough-as-nails bruiser with a rock-solid determination and the heart of a true warrior: Kirishima Eijiro!" Present Mic continued, eliciting a bashful grin from the redhead and drawing another round of cheers from the crowd.

Ashido half-snorted, half-scoffed, but there was zero malice in it. "That goofball… the fight hasn't even started and he's already having a blast," she remarked fondly.


Kirishima burst into a sprint, but a sudden raise of the hand from Sato had him halt in his tracks. Brow furrowing, he shot a questioning look at his opponent. "What are you playing at, bro?"

Sato's lips spread into a smirk. "Before I commence my beatdown of you, I just wanted to remind you that we're on live TV, and that millions of people all over the world are watching us right now," he proclaimed, his tone taking on a dramatic flair.

Kirishima tilted his head. "I know… what does that have to do with anything?"

"Just take a moment to let that sink in," Sato added gently, like he was speaking to a child. "It's okay. I'll wait."

Kirishima crossed his arms as though heeding the request, and after a few seconds, let slip a smirk of his own. "If you think that's gonna make me take it easy on you, you're dead wrong, my man! I'm going all out, and if that means having to embarrass you in front of millions of people, so be it!"

"Oh, believe me, I'd be hurt if you gave it anything less than your best, but you're still not seeing the bigger picture," Sato chastised.

"You calling me dumb, bro?" Kirishima fired back, a hint of steel in his voice.

Sato raised his hands in a placating gesture. "Of course not! If you were dumb, you'd have never made it into U.A.!" He sighed melodramatically. "Alright, I'll stop beating around the bush: now that we have an audience of millions of people, we finally have a chance to settle things once and for all," he exclaimed, clenching one fist for emphasis.

Kirishima raised a lone eyebrow. "Go on."

"You may have gotten the better of me in the battle test, but I owned you in our arm wrestle," Sato stated.

"What do you mean you 'owned' me?! It was a draw; the table broke!" Kirishima retorted.

"Come on, bro, stop lying to yourself," Sato chided, wagging his index finger. "I never took you for the kinda guy to fake his accomplishments. I thought you were better than that."

"Fa- wha- you-" Kirishima sucked in a deep breath, then exhaled sharply. His crimson eyes narrowed. "Sato, I like you, and I consider you a bro… but if you're trying to piss me off, you're in for a world of hurt."

"Well folks, it appears we're starting off this match with a bit of trash talk!" Present Mic commented, jovial as ever. "Not the most hero-like behaviour, but hey, a bit of variety's good every now and then! Am I right?!"

Unsurprisingly, the spectators roared in agreement.

"Why's Sato trying to rile up Kirishima?" Ashido asked Gohan, not sounding too pleased at the proceedings.

"Just watch," he answered, giving the girl a smile.

She frowned, but acquiesced.

"You hear that?" Sato asked, gesturing to the cheering audience with wide-open arms. "The people want a show."

"And they'll get one, when I grind your face into the dirt!" Kirishima growled.

Sato chuckled. "Okay, first of all, we're standing on cement. And second… if you really think you beat me in that arm wrestle… prove it."

To accompany his taunt, he lifted his left hand and held it high, arm tilted forward and fingers waggling invitingly.

Kirishima's eyes bulged and his mouth hung open, but he quickly recovered with a rueful shake of the head. "So that's your game, huh?" His sharklike grin returned full force. "If you wanted a test of strength, all you had to do was ask!"

Sato's lip quirked. "True, but where's the fun in that?"

Kirishima barked out a hearty laugh. "You cheeky bastard! Let's go then!"

Pleasantries dispensed with, the redhead rushed forward and locked his right hand with Sato's left, interlacing their fingers. He then squeezed tight and tried to push forward, only to be met with strong resistance. Smirk returning, Sato held his ground, making a show of appearing nonchalant. He even faked a yawn and whispered something the microphones couldn't pick up.

Whatever he said, it was enough to make Kirishima grit his teeth and hold up his left hand. Accepting the invite, Sato clasped it with his own free hand; the moment their digits locked together, he tightened his grip and tilted it downwards, drawing a grimace from Kirishima and forcing smaller boy off-balance.

Sato then disengaged and maneuvered around his opponent with a swiftness belying his side, wrapped his burly arms around Kirishima's midsection, and executed a picture-perfect German suplex that drove his crimson-coloured head into the cement with a sickening crunch.

A round of stunned gasps reverberated through the stadium, but Gohan wasn't too worried. He'd seen Kirishima activate his Hardening just before impact, meaning the grotesque sound was a result of the redhead's rock-hard dome drilling a hole in the floor. The fact that he could do all that with blunt force alone was somewhat concerning, but the demi-Saiyan knew his friend was too tough to let that keep him down.

While Kirishima scrambled to pull his head out of the hole in a scene straight out of Looney Tunes, Sato scurried over to a corner of the ring and crouched down, assuming the same position as an Olympic sprinter about to explode into action.

"Whoa! Talk about an explosive start!" Present Mic hollered. "Will this match end before it's even begun?! Or can Kirishima dig himself out of this predicament?!"

After a few seconds of struggling and an impressive display of upper body strength, Kirishima wrenched his head free and brought a hand to his neck, panting heavily in an attempt to regain his breath. This also left him blind to Sato's movements, and as a result the redhead was rendered helpless when his larger opponent charged him like a bull and landed a devastating spear that drove him back to the ground.

Not letting up on his assault, Sato mounted Kirishima much like Bakugo had done to Iida, and started wailing on him a barrage of brutal blows aimed at the face.

Punch after punch rained down on Kirishima's defenceless head, Sato's meaty fists hitting their target with practiced precision. Were it not for the redhead's Quirk buffing his durability, there was no doubt he'd be out like a light right now.

Gohan saw Ashido grimace out of the corner of his eyes, but to her credit, she didn't avert her gaze. "Ugh, that dumbass! How could he let himself get caught like that?" she moaned.

He would've answered, but held his tongue when he noticed Kirishima start dodging. Impressed at the redhead's resilience, he paid rapt attention as his classmate tried to mount a counterattack.

Kirishima was still being thoroughly pummelled, but displayed enough agility to slip a punch here and there, and after a few consecutive dodges, landed one of his own, drilling his hardened knuckles into Sato's nose. Staggering slightly from the hit, Sato's face scrunched in irritation, and he clasped his hands together before aiming a nasty, hammerlike smash at the object of his ire.

Unfortunately, since this attack was slower than the punches preceding it, Kirishima didn't have too much trouble tilting his head left to avoid it. As Sato's wayward strike slammed into the ground and cracked the cement, Kirishima retaliated with a sharp hook to the larger boy's temple, forcibly twisting his neck to the side.

Sato let out a wild roar and continued attacking, but the ensuing exchange was a lot more even, with Kirishima getting in an equal amount of punches. Both fighters had nosebleeds, but neither one let up, and soon enough Kirishima's greater speed gave him the upper hand, allowing him to land more clean hits that left his opponent reeling.

After a particularly vicious uppercut sent Sato's head spinning, Kirishima reached up, grabbed his opponent by the ears, and slammed their foreheads together.

The pair winced upon impact, but Sato took the brunt of the damage, his hands instantly flying to his new bruise. This allowed Kirishima enough space to wriggle free and drive his feet into Sato's chest, then knock the larger boy off him with a strained thrust.

Now that they were apart, the combatants scrambled to their feet, with Kirishima being the quicker of the two. By the time they had risen from the ground, the redhead managed to put some space between them, and was thus free to run at Sato with his right arm outstretched… only for it to bounce off his target's burly chest.

Kirishima looked stunned, and after Sato had gathered his bearings, the larger fighter snarled and lunged forward with both hands, only for his nimble, redheaded target to dart out of the way. Kirishima retreated a few metres, then rushed Sato again, this time propelling himself into the air with a dropkick of all things.

Just as he was about to collide with Sato's chest, the larger fighter grabbed his feet with one hulking hand, and before Kirishima could so much as register his failure, started slamming him into the ground like a roided-out blacksmith going to town on an anvil.

As the microphones picked up the thumping booms of Kirishima's body smashing against the cement on repeat, an audible round of wincing was heard in Class 1-A's box.

"Is-is this a wrestling match or a street fight?" Kaminari stuttered.

"Does it matter? This shit is epic!" Sero whooped.

"Sato can be quite frightening when angered," Tokoyami observed, his innate calmness a stark contrast to his two classmates.

Down below, Kirishima looked to have gotten tired of being used as a human hammer, and somehow managed to snake his body around Sato's arm, refusing to let go. Scowl deepening, Sato frantically waved the ensnared limb, but his attempts to dislodge his unwanted passenger were proving futile.

This allowed Kirishima the opportunity to wrench the arm closer to the ground, completely screwing with Sato's balance. Then, taking advantage of his downward momentum, the redhead executed a clean tomoe-nage that flipped the larger boy onto his back with a notable thud, and followed that up by springing to his feet and landing an elbow drop on Sato's chest.

Gohan couldn't help but wince; that had to have hurt.

Surprisingly – and impressively – Sato still mustered enough strength to throw Kirishima off him, and stagger to his feet. Kirishima did the same, and the pair of them paused momentarily to catch their breath, glaring at each other all the while.

Kirisihima was the first to break the ceasefire, letting out a deep exhale before charging at Sato and unloading a salvo of vicious but uncoordinated punches. Maintaining his cool, Sato blocked or deflected most of them, and after Kirishima overextended with a left cross, the larger fighter tilted the offending wrist to the side, shuffled forward, and drove a debilitating left fist into the redhead's gut.

Eyes bulging and mouth gaping, Kirishima hunched over in clear agony, only for Sato to drill a right-handed uppercut under his chin, lifting the smaller fighter off his feet and slamming him onto the cement, where he lay motionless.

"Oh snap! That last punch packed a real… punch!" Present Mic joked, albeit to fewer laughs than usual. "Is this the end for Kirishima? Or will- what the crap?! What is this kid made of, Eraser?!"

"Sixty percent water," Aizawa grumbled.

In an astonishing display of resilience, Kirishima stumbled to his feet like a zombie rising from its grave. "Is-is that all ya got?" he taunted a stunned Sato, flashing the larger fighter a bloodied grin.

Sato, who had used the brief moment of inaction to try and recover his stamina, shook his head and offered a confident smirk. "Bring it!" he declared, beckoning his bruised and battered opponent towards him.

More than happy to oblige, Kirishima dashed at Sato and engaged in another close-quarters exchange of punches. This time, after successfully fending off a few attacks, Sato caught Kirishima's arms and pulled the redhead into a crushing bearhug.

As Kirishima's pained screams filled the loudspeakers, Gohan pursed his lips. He hoped this wouldn't come back to bite his best friend in the ass.

While Sato tightened his grip and swung his captive from side to side, Kirishima wriggled his body like a worm, teeth gritting in exertion as he struggled to free himself.

In the meantime, Gohan paid close attention to Kirishima's face, and when he picked up on signs that the redhead was becoming more desperate – throbbing veins, more pronounced shaking, and fists clenching hard enough to draw blood – his own brow furrowed in concern. Then, in a scene that had the demi-Saiyan's eyes widen in shock, Kirishima's already hardened head became even more jagged and serrated.

Because Sato hadn't seen this, he was caught off guard when Kirishima pulled back his head and smashed it against his own. With the bearhug faltering as a result, the trapped fighter landed another headbutt, and then a third, making Gohan palm his face in irritation.

The absolute last thing his moron of a best friend needed was more brain damage.

Sato was left woozy from the savage assault on his skull, loosening his grip just enough for Kirishima to slip free, crouch low, and take him down with a clean sweep to the heel. Like a tree being felled with one swift stroke, the larger fighter landed on his back, while his smaller opponent staggered away to gather his bearings.

Groaning audibly and with one hand cradling his cranium, Sato tried to lift himself off the ground, only for Kirishima to hobble over like a drunkard and boot him in the face like he would a football. Before the redhead could follow through with another attack, his exhaustion caught up with him and he collapsed, his own face slamming into the cement.

The crowd went silent.

When neither of the downed duo moved a muscle, Present Mic cleared his throat. "In the event of a double knockout, the first combatant to stand up before the count of ten will be declared the winner! If neither combatant manages to stand up, the winner will be decided by an arm wrestle once they both awaken! Over to you, Midnight!"

"Four!" Midnight continued, having already begun counting. "Five! Six! Se-"

The audience erupted as both fighters jumped to their feet, obviously running on pure adrenaline. They locked eyes with one another, sporting matching grins despite their damaged states; Sato's nose was well and truly broken, while Kirishima's face was black and blue.

"Oh my goodness!" Present Mic squealed. "How about that, folks? How about that?! Can I get a 'hell yeah' for that immense display of determination?!"

"Hell yeah!" the jubilant crowd chorused.

The pair collided once more for a third round of fisticuffs, only this time the advantage was on Kirishima's end. The redhead made use of his smaller frame to slip past a few heavy punches and connect with some hits of his own: two jabs to the head, a hook to the kidney, and an uppercut to the chin.

Retreating a few metres while his dazed opponent recovered, Kirishima dashed forward, his right arm primed to unload another clothesline. Sato saw this coming and tilted his feet inwards while tensing his thighs – a technique used by karate practitioners to make themselves sturdier – but Kirishima retracted his outstretched limb at the last moment and instead drove his head into the larger boy's sternum.

Spitting out a glob of saliva, Sato hunched over in anguish, his eyes looking like they were about to pop out of their sockets. Unfortunately, this position left him extremely vulnerable, and Kirishima was quick to capitalise: he secured Sato's neck in the crook of his elbow, then dropped to the ground, burying the entrapped head into the cold, hard concrete.

"And Kirishima connects with a wicked DDT!" Present Mic boomed.

Not showing any mercy, Kirishima instantly mounted Sato from behind and secured his head in a basic but effective chokehold.

Gohan's gut churned in worry. 'Come on, bro. You can do this.'

Kirishima wasn't letting up, but to his credit, neither was Sato. The larger fighter's hands were flailing about as the flow of air to his lungs was cut off, but the light in his eyes hadn't yet dimmed, and he promptly rebuked Midnight when she asked whether he wanted to submit.

Gohan leaned closer to try and get an exact idea of what was happening, and noticed that his best friend had managed to wedge part of his chin between his neck and Kirishima's arm. It wasn't much, but it offered enough of a barrier that the redhead wasn't able to get a clean hold. It also did little to assuage the demi-Saiyan's worries, but it was something at least.

As the struggle continued, Sato's resistance gradually lessened, getting to a point where his arms were no longer waving about, but twitching against the ground. An ache surged through Gohan's chest.

Midnight raised her whip to call an end to the match, but a sudden shaking from Sato's hands gave her – and everyone in attendance – pause. Gohan's eyes then slowly widened as he witnessed his best friend pushing himself off the ground, his bulky body trembling with exertion.

Meanwhile, Kirishima's head darted all over the place with his eyes and mouth agape. The closer Sato came to standing, the more frantic the redhead's attempts to reapply his chokehold were, but it was a fruitless endeavour; the larger fighter had managed to wedge a meaty hand against his neck, providing yet another layer of protection.

After surpassing the monumental hurdle of rising to his feet while being burdened by a human backpack, Sato simply fell back down, squashing Kirishima with his hulking frame and rendering the spectators speechless.

It was a crude but marvellous display of fortitude, and Gohan couldn't suppress a grin as he watched his best friend roll off his opponent, then climb back to his feet and hobble away to catch his breath.

Midnight raised a microphone to her mouth. "Kirishima, can you still fight?" The combatant in question groaned unintelligibly, causing the woman to nod. "Kirishima is unable to continue. Sato is throu-"

"I said I can still fight!" Kirishima roared, dragging himself to his feet despite looking like he'd been spat out by a meat grinder.

Sato wore an expression of sheer disbelief, appearing so tired he could barely move his mouth. All he could do was raise his shaky hands into a rudimentary boxing guard, and nod at his opponent.

"Continue!" Midnight ordered.

Staying consistent with his earlier approach, Kirishima closed the distance as quick as he could and bowled into Sato with his shoulder, knocking them both to the ground. Upon smashing into the cement, their exchange descended into an uncoordinated brawl that had them rolling around the ring like a pair of cartoon characters. Wild punches and clunky kicks were thrown on both ends, but few hit their mark.

As Gohan quietly observed the fracas, his brow creased in concern. Because of how close Sato and Kirishima were to one another, the former's advantage in power was completely negated. In fact, due to his smaller limbs, leaner frame and greater speed, Kirishima could land five hits for every one that Sato dished out – and that exact scenario was playing out right now.

After about half a minute of scrapping, the pair scrambled to their feet, whereupon Sato lashed out with an agonisingly slow right cross. Kirishima brushed the punch aside with his right hand, grabbed Sato's wrist with both, and judo flipped the larger fighter, knocking him on his back once more.

However, Sato was reactive enough to grab Kirishima's ankle and yank it, causing the redhead to fall as well. Not sparing a second, Sato rose to his feet and threw his body onto his downed opponent, but Kirishima rolled out of the way at the last moment, leaving him to slam into the floor face-first.

The crowd let out a collective wince, while Kirishima crawled away from the carnage, gasping for breath.

Gohan couldn't believe what he was seeing, and if his classmates' awestruck expressions were anything to go by, neither could they. He was sure they were all thinking the same thing: how much more punishment could these two take?

"Sato, can you still fight?" Midnight queried. This time, she waited a few seconds before continuing. "Sato is unable to-"


"Oh for the love of… ugh!" Midnight groaned, facepalming at the sight of Sato scrambling to his feet.

"Habazza!" Sato garbled once he finally stood up. He clutched his head with both hands and staggered on the spot for a bit, before letting go and pointing a trembling finger at Kirishima. "Krombla!"

Ashido leaned closer to Gohan. "D-do you know what he's saying?" she asked, the faintest trace of fear in her tone.

The demi-Saiyan let slip a resigned sigh and shook his head in defeat. "I don't think even God could decipher that gibberish," he conceded with a frown.

"Continue!" Midnight growled.

The two warriors limped towards each other, and upon reaching touching distance, Kirishima unloaded a sloppy right cross at his opponent's head. Sato caught the fist with his left hand, pulled Kirishima closer, then aimed a right-handed body blow to the redhead's liver. To counter this, Kirishima shifted his free arm closer to his body, positioning it in the path of Sato's punch.

Gohan's heart sank. "No!"

A grotesque crunch emanated from the loudspeakers as Sato's bare knuckles shattered against Kirishima's hardened elbow, causing the larger fighter to stagger back and let out an agonised howl. Rivulets of blood spewed forth from his now broken hand, but at the same time, Kirishima gave a pained shriek of his own; his desperate defence may have spared his liver from being pulverised, but it came at the cost of his left arm, which dangled limply by his side.

Regardless of their otherworldly displays of endurance, it was clear this fight wouldn't last much longer.

With a bloodcurdling battle cry, Sato moved within striking distance of his opponent and went ham with a wild barrage of left-handed punches – none of which hit their mark. Despite his exhausted state, Kirishima managed to successfully weave past the slow and sluggish attacks, and nailed Sato in the chin with a feeble uppercut that lacked its usual bite, but still managed to tilt the larger boy's head upwards.

Like a slow-motion film, Sato's bloodshot eyes zeroed back in on his target, and his left hand sprung up and clutched Kirishima by the shoulder, eliciting a wince from the smaller boy. Kirishima tried to rip his arm free, but Sato slammed his forehead into his opponent's.

Then he did so again.

And again.

And again – and after this fourth collision, both fighters staggered backwards and slumped to the cement, motionless.

Silence reined across the stadium.

"Same rules as last time, folks!" Present Mic reminded the dumbfounded audience. "If neither fighter can get up before the count of ten, the winner will be decided by an arm wrestle!"

"Three! Four! Five!" Midnight counted.

Gohan's heart was beating so fast a part of him was worried it'd burst through his chest, while his hands had gripped his seat so hard, he could feel the grooves his fingers had made in the plastic.

"Six!" Kirishima started to stir. "Seven! Eight!"

"Uwaaaaahh!" the redhead roared, climbing to his feet like a mountaineer who'd just ascended Everest and raising his right hand, a thick coating of crimson covering his forehead.

Gohan's eyes clenched shut.

"Nine! Ten! Sato is unable to battle! Kirishima advances to the next round!"

The crowd exploded in raptures, while Gohan slumped deeper into his seat. Exhaling deeply in resignation, he opened his eyes just in time to catch Kirishima collapsing where he stood. Whatever energy the redhead had used to stand up before the count had evaporated, leaving him well and truly spent.

"Wow!" Present Mic cheered as a crew of medics stormed the ring to tend to the wounded warriors. "Was I right about this match, or WAS I RIGHT?!"

"You were right!" the audience whooped.

"Damn right I was! Now, give it up for these two champions, who gave it their absolute all – and then some!" he ordered.

The spectators were happy to comply, and that excitement extended to many in Class 1-A, too. Gohan couldn't bring himself to care though, and simply tuned them all out.

He was broken from his stupor when a soft hand patted his own. Surprised, he shifted his focus to the right, and was met with a pair of concerned yellow irises. "Your boy put up a good fight," Ashido said softly.

Gohan cracked a tiny smile for her sake. "So did yours." As much as it hurt to see Sato lose, Kirishima was his friend too, and while a part of him was happy for the redhead… his concern for his best friend overrode all that.

"Yeah, he really did," Ashido remarked warmly, the fondness in her voice almost tangible. "I'm so proud of him."

"I'm going to go visit them in the infirmary. Wanna come with?" Gohan asked.

Ashido's smile vanished and she shook her head in response. "I'd love to, but my match is coming up really soon, and I don't know how long the next one will take, and I want to have enough time to get ready…" she trailed off.

"Don't worry about it. I don't think anyone will begrudge you for that," Gohan soothed.

After taking a deep breath, Ashido nodded. "Be sure to tell Kirishima I'm proud of him, kay?" she requested.

"Of course," Gohan replied as he rose from his seat, picking up the crushed cans of Red Bull Sato had left behind.

He then made to leave, but Ashido's voice had him pause. "Oh, and Son?"

"Yeah?" he asked, turning back to the girl.

"You'd better not miss my match."

Gohan tilted his head, wondering if he'd just imagined the icy undercurrent in her tone. Nevertheless, he nodded. "Wouldn't dream of it."

Ashido grinned. "Great! See you later!"

With another nod, Gohan was off for good, out of the box and into the tunnel. As he walked down the well-lit hallways, he tried to drown out the sound of the crowd's cheering; their booming, boisterous voices assailing his disinterested ears like an array of waves breaking upon a cliffside.

He cared little for their entertainment in general and right now, he cared even less. All he cared about was whether his best friend was alright. He eventually passed a bin and deposited the trash he was holding, then continued on his way.

It wasn't a long walk to the infirmary due to directions plastered over the walls, and upon reaching his destination, Gohan was greeted by a metal door with a childishly-decorated signpost above it, denoting that it was Recovery Girl's temporary office.

He quickly reached for the handle and went to turn it, but stopped halfway and hastily retracted his hand. He grimaced; he was being impatient. It'd be both improper and impolite to barge into an infirmary like that, not to mention an invasion of privacy.

Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door and waited, the worry in his gut ever-present. A few seconds passed before the pattering of feet reached his ears, and the door swung upon to reveal a frowning Recovery Girl, her eyes narrowed. Despite her diminutive size, the aura she projected was quite intimidating.

Gohan gulped. "I'm sorry to-"

"You here to see the two boys who just came in?" she asked.

"Yeah," he replied.

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you in," Recovery Girl stated. "Neither of them is in any condition to be speaking right now."

Gohan's mouth hung open. "Are they gonna be okay?"

Recovery Girl's gaze softened. "Don't you worry, sonny, they'll be fine. Physical injuries like theirs are child's play to heal."

Gohan breathed out a sigh of relief and ran a trembling hand through his spiky locks. "Thank goodness."

"If you'd still like to see them, you can wait out here. It shouldn't take too long," Recovery Girl revealed.

Gohan nodded. "That sounds good."

"Would you like some candy while you wait?" Recovery Girl offered, shooting him a smile. "I recall you have a particular fondness for gummies."

Gohan shook his head. "No thank you."

The nurse pursed her lips, but accepted his decision. "Very well then. I'll let you know when I'm done."

With that, she closed the door, leaving Gohan alone with his thoughts. There were no chairs nearby, so he opted to lean against a wall and cross his arms. Eyes closing in concentration and breathing steadying, he replayed the match he'd just witnessed in his head, trying to analyse it from a non-biased perspective.

"You can come in now."

Gohan's eyes snapped open at the sound of Recovery Girl's voice. Blinking a few times to regain his vision, he saw the kindly old nurse standing in the open doorway, giving him a crinkled smile. She then stepped aside and gestured for him to step inside.

Not needing to be told twice, Gohan entered the infirmary and did a cursory scan of the place. It was larger than Recovery Girl's usual office, with dark blue tiled floors and two whole rows of beds on opposite sides of the room, separated from one another by large, light blue curtains. Currently, only three curtains were closed.

He turned back to the nurse, who was typing away at her desk, which was located just by the door. "Is Uraraka gone?" he asked.

"She left a while ago," Recovery Girl answered without looking up from her computer.

"I see," Gohan mused, a little surprised to her that. Then again, he couldn't blame Uraraka if she wanted some time to herself. "Is Iida alright?"

"He's in a stable condition," Recover Girl supplied. "I've done all I can for him. What he needs now is rest."

Gohan nodded, pleased to hear that. "Which cubicles are Sato and Kirishima's?"

"Sato's is at the back and to the left, and Kirishima's is a few cubicles down."

"Okay, thank you," Gohan replied.

Taking a deep breath to get his nerves under control, he walked over to the curtain cordoning him off from his best and placed a hand on the smooth fabric. A sudden surge of trepidation assailed him, but he suppressed it with a shake of the head and slid it open.

As expected, Sato was inside, lying in bed and glaring at a small TV that had been placed on the stand beside him. A thick white bandage was secured around his forehead, while smaller bandages covered his fists, the right one of which had a bit more padding around the knuckles.

All in all, Sato looked like a soldier who'd just been airlifted off the battlefield and received rudimentary first aid.

"How you holding up, Rambo?" Gohan joked, forcing a smile.

Sato tiredly craned his neck to face the demi-Saiyan and held out a shaky arm as he struggled to sit up. "S-Son… give me… your hand…" he wheezed.

Not sure what his best friend was playing at but willing to humour him, Gohan swallowed thickly and did as was requested, only for a bandaged hand to grasp his wrist and squeeze it.

"I'm not… long for this world… tell my mother… I… love… her," Sato continued.

Gohan rolled his eyes. "You're not dying, Sato."

"You don't… know that…"

"No, I'm pretty sure I do," Gohan corrected, trying to sound casual, even if inwardly he was confused – and concerned – as hell. "Besides, if you died, I'd just bring you back to life."

Sato's brow furrowed. "I… don't… deserve it."

Feeling his heart clench at those words, Gohan gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile. Self-deprecating humour or not, that was a horrible thing to say. "For what it's worth, you kicked ass out there," he offered kindly. "It could've gone either way in the end."

"Not like it matters, since I lost," Sato grumbled as he let go, the faint traces of jest in his tone no longer there.

Gohan bit back a curse, realising that was the wrong choice of words. "I'm sorry. I know it's not any consolation."

"It's fine." Now Sato just sounded dejected.

"I know it's probably not what you want to hear, but if you really want to beat Kirishima that badly, try and take comfort in the fact that you can keep trying as many times as you need," Gohan suggested. "If not at next year's sports festival, then surely during one of our classes. I don't think our teachers would object to allowing friendly spars between students in a controlled environment."

Sato's glum expression lightened ever so slightly, much to Gohan's relief. "Life… can be cruel and unfair in many ways," the demi-Saiyan continued, "and it's unrealistic to expect to win all the time. Even I've had my fair share of losses." At this, his best friend's look morphed into one of sadness and… sympathy? Gohan winced; the last thing he wanted was to be pitied. "Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is: it's the defeats that allow us to grow the most, as long as we're willing to learn from our mistakes."

Silence reigned for a few long, tense seconds. Those seconds quickly stretched into half a minute.

On the TV, Sero and Tetsutetsu were making their way to the ring, showing Gohan that there had been an intermission between this fight and the last. It seemed like U.A. knew the value of proper pacing.

Worryingly, Sato remained quiet, causing Gohan to scratch the back of his head. Had he messed up? Talking to people in this capacity was something he had zero experience in. Guilt started to gnaw at him from within.

Why did he have to be such a social dunce sometimes? Why couldn't he have inherited his father's natural charisma in addition to his alien genes? Maybe Mari had a book on how to-

"Train me," Sato requested, snapping the demi-Saiyan out of his funk.

Gohan blinked. Was that all? "Alright."

"I'm not talking about that wimpy shit, though," Sato elaborated, his voice shaky. "I want the full-on training from hell that made you into a badass!"

Gohan's eyed widened. "Do you want to be mentally traumatised? Because that's how you get mentally traumatised."

"I can take it!" Sato protested.

Gohan let out a weary sigh and rubbed his temples with his thumb and middle finger. "Even if you could, you wouldn't want to. Trust me. The training I went through… it only works in a fantasy setting, or if you're a half-alien freak of nature."

"Then what the fuck do I do?" Sato pleaded, his voice dropping to a near-whimper. "I'm sick and tired of being a fucking loser! I'm cool with you being the best, since you're you, but fuck, I want to at least keep up with everyone else! Is that too much to fucking ask?!"

Gohan paused to ponder that surprising admission. He'd never seen his brash, overly confident best friend sound so defeated before. It tugged at his heartstrings – and not in a good way.

Whenever he himself was feeling down, Sato's first approach at cheering him up was to start cracking jokes in the hope of lightening the mood. It didn't always work, but the gesture was much appreciated. Perhaps he'd respond well to the same approach?

"Whatever happened to your plan to mooch off my success?" Gohan eventually asked, a teasing lilt to his tone.

Sato snorted. "Piss off. I have my pride too, you know."

"I know," Gohan replied softly. He sighed once more. Now it was time to get to the core of the issue. "Do you know why you lost?"

"I was too impatient," Sato spat, his face scrunched in an irritated scowl. "I wanted to make up the speed difference with power, so I overdid it on the sugar. I didn't look down on Kirishima or anything – I know he's a beast – but I didn't expect him to be able to take my hits so well."

Gohan nodded, glad that his friend was self-conscious enough to recognise his flaws. "You probably would've floored just about anyone else, but Kirishima's a lot tougher than most people."

Sato's expression darkened. "I was too focused on trying to score a flashy KO. I wasn't… I wasn't thinking straight. I was still in control of my actions, I just…"

"Didn't fight as smartly as you could have," Gohan reasoned.

Sato grit his teeth and shut his eyes tight. "Yeah."

Gohan allowed the silence to stretch on for a few seconds before speaking. "So, we work on improving your Quirk. That's generally how these things go."

Sato perked up. "You know how to do that?"

"I got a few ideas. We'll figure it out as we go." Gohan stroked his chin, more for dramatic effect than anything. "Maybe if we build up your tolerance enough, you'll be able to literally Hulk out without losing your mind."

Sato's eyes lit up like a child who'd just stumbled into Narnia for the first time. "I'm not gonna lie, that sounds pretty fucking badass!" he exclaimed.

Gohan grinned. "Right?"

Sato's expression softened. "Thanks, bro. You're a legend."

Gohan opened his mouth to respond, but shut it straight away. 'Ahh, what the heck!' Instead of speaking, he held out his right hand, arm tilted upwards and the palm half-opened. "Cobra Kai…"

"Never dies!" Sato finished, slamming his own hand into Gohan's and leaving them locked in an arm-wrestling grip, his large lips split in a beaming smirk.

Rather than letting go, Gohan subtly tightened his hold, making his best friend's eyes bulge. After a few seconds of this, he felt Sato try to push against his hand, only to no avail. It was then that the demi-Saiyan smirked. "What's the matter? The CIA got you pushing too many pencils?"

Sato froze, his eyes slowly widened, then he burst into a fit of laughter. "You can't just mix up two different franchises like that! That's now how references work!" he guffawed.

"I didn't know there was a rulebook for this kind of stuff," Gohan remarked with a shrug as he let go, feeling pleased with himself in spite of his 'failure'.

"That's because you're part caveman!" Sato retorted, a few snickers still slipping out.

"Whatever you say, bud," Gohan replied as he stepped back from the bed. "Anyway, I need to go. You gonna be okay?"

Sato sobered up. "Yeah, I'll be good. I got some things to think about, but I'll be out of here in time for your match."

"Don't hurt yourself thinking too hard," Gohan teased.

Sato snorted and flipped him the bird, to which he chuckled and responded with a thumbs up. He then left the enclosed space and shut the curtain, giving his best friend some privacy.

With that out of the way, he strode over to Kirishima's cubicle and slid open the curtain, only to see the redhead engrossed in his own TV. Much like Sato, Kirishima wore a large bandage around his forehead, while his left arm was encased in a sling. Unlike Sato, Kirishima wore a decidedly calmer expression.

Upon realising he had a visitor, Kirishima turned to Gohan and grinned. "Son! Thanks for dropping by!" he greeted. His smile then turned uncharacteristically timid. "Umm, how's the big guy?"

"Sato? He's fine now," Gohan answered.

"I see. That's good. I, ahh, know how much it sucks to lose like that." Kirishima mumbled before averting his gaze, much to the demi-Saiyan's confusion.

"Yeah…" Gohan cleared his throat and scratched his cheek. The redhead's sudden awkwardness was making him feel awkward. "How are you holding up?"

"Me? I'm good. Sore as hell, but good," Kirishima responded, clenching and unclenching his unbound fist. He also bit his bottom lip.

Gohan offered a kind smile. "That's good. By the way, Ashido wanted me to tell you she's proud of you."

As if a switch had been flipped, Kirishima's head swivelled towards Gohan at startling speed. "She really said that?" he questioned, enunciating each word.


"That's… wow, that's great!" Kirishima exclaimed, a dopey smile sliding onto his face while a light coating of pink tinted his cheeks. "That's really great."

Gohan didn't know what to say to that, so he just nodded in agreement.

Kirishima then cleared his throat and turned to the demi-Saiyan, his features hardening. It was like Ashido's praise had breathed new life into him. "Ya know, I probably would've lost if it wasn't for you, Son," he admitted.

Gohan tilted his head. Did he hear that right? "Huh?"

"Seeing you and All Might annihilate that big dude at the U.S.J… it stirred something up inside me, bro," Kirishima confessed, his intense crimson irises burning into Gohan's gaping onyx eyes. "It showed me how far I still had to go and made me want to push even harder than I already was. So, I did.

"I started getting up at like six in the morning to go running, I put in extra hours at the gym until my body wanted to shut down, I watched clips of Pumping Iron every night before bed." His fist clenched and hardened. "I pushed myself to the absolute limit, Son… and I'm gonna keep pushing myself to the limit, because I don't want to fall even further behind you."

Gohan was gobsmacked. He had no earthly idea his redheaded friend harboured such thoughts. "Geez, Kirishima, I don't know what to say… I-I guess I'm flattered you feel that way," he mumbled sheepishly.

Kirishima laughed. "Get used to it, bro. Half the class was already gunning for you and after today, half the school will be, too. If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best."

"Huh," was all Gohan could say. Truth be told, he figured this would happen the moment he decided to take part in the sports festival. He just hadn't expected his classmates to already get a head start on it. In hindsight, he probably should have.

Still, actually having it confirmed was a bit of a shock to the system. For five years he'd been doing his absolute best to keep a low profile, both as Son Gohan and the Golden Blur. Now, it was time to announce himself to the world, and prepare for whatever obstacles it saw fit to throw at him. A pang of anxiety mixed with paranoia passed through him, but he fought it back.

This was inevitable. It had been since he'd resolved to get into the top hero school in the country. It was just happening a fair bit earlier than he envisioned.

Then again, was that really a bad thing? The longer his peers sought to surpass him, the more time they'd spend-

"You okay there, bro?" Kirishima asked, snapping Gohan out of his trance. "You looked totally out of it just then. Sorry if I scared you – that wasn't my intention."

"Huh? Oh, no, it's fine. Really. Just a bit of a surprise, you know?" Gohan replied, scratching the back of his head.

Kirishima nodded sympathetically. "I'll bet. But I'm sure you can handle it."

"I appreciate the vote of confidence," Gohan muttered, but managed a smile nonetheless. "Anyway, I'll leave you to-"

"Before you go, bro, would you mind, ahh, telling me what plan you and Sato came up with to use against me?" Kirishima requested, sounding embarrassed at having to ask such a question. "You guys did have a plan, right?"

Caught off guard, Gohan couldn't help but shoot his friend a sheepish smile. "Yeah, we had a plan. It was to wound your pride enough that you'd agree to a test of strength, where Sato has the advantage. That's what all the trash talk before the match was for." He paused, realising how offensive that might seem to someone as honourable as Kirishima. "Sorry about that, by the way," he added as an afterthought.

The redhead laughed off the apology. "Nah, man, it's cool! I can respect a well thought out plan, and you guys played me like a fiddle! Sato hits like a goddamn monster truck on steroids! But yeah, thanks for letting me know. Now I have something else to work on," he chirped.

"Well, I wish you the best of luck with that," Gohan offered, placing a hand on the curtain.

"Cheers, bro. I'll need it. This hero stuff is no joke, huh?" Kirishima mused.

Gohan just chuckled in agreement and left his friend to his thoughts, closing the curtain on the way out. He then walked over to Recovery Girl, who was still on her computer, and bowed. "Thank you for your time, and I'm sorry to have bothered you."

The little old nurse turned to him and beamed. "You weren't a bother at all, dearie! On the contrary, I love it when people come to see me of their own volition, and not because they need medical treatment!" she cooed.

"I'll remember that," Gohan promised.

With a parting wave, he was off. After shutting the door to the infirmary, he paused momentarily to consider his next course of action.

Sero was fighting Tetsutetsu right now, but to be perfectly honest, he wasn't that interested in their match; the emotional rollercoaster of Sato's bout against Kirishima had worn him out mentally. He also wasn't too keen on going back to Class 1-A's box and potentially being interrogated about what went down in the infirmary.

Hanging out with Uraraka was out of the question. He liked the bubbly girl and considered her a friend, but if she wanted to be social, she would've rejoined the rest of the class in watching the tournament, and not gone off somewhere by herself. He'd respect her desire for privacy.

That left Yaoyorozu, who had been missing since her loss to Todoroki... but going after her was also out of the question…

Or was it?

Yaoyorozu was alone right now, and unlikely to be disturbed.

Last time he saw her she looked beyond devastated, and the memory made his heart clench.

He'd just managed to cheer up Sato, and he had a positive conversation with the person responsible for kicking his best friend's ass.

Whether it was because of hubris from his earlier successes, or Kirishima's revelation emboldening him to step out of his comfort zone, Gohan didn't know… but right now, looking for Yaoyorozu didn't seem like the same impossible task it used to be.

His heartbeat picked up, possibly from adrenaline or hormones, or a dangerous mix of both, but he paid it no heed. It'd settle down eventually. Besides, the rush he was experiencing felt rather nice.

After checking left and right to make sure he wasn't being watched, Gohan flashed into super speed and sped down the hallways. He wasn't approaching Blur levels of fast – nowhere near that – but he was moving a fair bit quicker than in the obstacle course.

He checked his class' locker room, but Uraraka was taking a nap in there.

He peered into the other class' locker rooms, but they were unoccupied.

He poked his head through random doors, but they were completely empty.

The female toilets remained unchecked; he wasn't a creep.

He blitzed down the hallways and corridors, taking extra care to not bump into anyone, but didn't encounter a single soul.

After each and every location he looked turned up nothing of note, he spat out a muffled curse and halted his search. Shaking his head in annoyance and letting out a resigned sigh, he walked up a vending machine he spotted in the distance and dug around in his pocket for some spare change. Upon finding enough, he shoved it in the vending machine and bought himself a can of soda.

Once it crapped out the carbonated drink, he scooped it up, wiped off the top with his sleeve, and proceeded to open it with a twitchy finger.


Startled, Gohan's reflexes sprang into action and his hands automatically clenched into fists. Unfortunately, since one of said hands was holding a can of soda, the frail aluminium crumpled in his grip.

"Gah!" he gasped, leaping back just as a waterfall of sugary liquid splashed onto the floor.

"Oh no! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to startle you!" the female voice cried out.

Gohan swivelled his head to the source and his eyes widened a smidge when he spotted the very person he was looking for. "Yaoyorozu! You're here?" he uttered disbelievingly.

Indeed, his pretty, black-haired classmate was sitting at the foot of some stairs, watching a portable TV with her own can of soda beside her. She was holding out an arm and spawning something in the palm of her hand.

"Here. Let me help you clean that up," she offered after it took shape, standing up and strolling towards him. "You can always count on Burly Paper Towels, or so our cleaning staff tells me."

As Yaoyorozu knelt to clean up the spill, Gohan crouched down beside her and swiped a few paper towels for himself. "You don't have to do that yourself; I'm the one who goofed," he mumbled. "Thanks, though. I really appreciate it."

Yaoyorozu gave a barely perceptible nod, and as they cleaned, Gohan couldn't help but glance at the girl out of the corner of his eye. She wasn't crying, but the red tint of her sclera showed that she had been.

Once the job was done, Gohan scooped up their paper towels, as well as his crushed can, and disintegrated them with a ball of ki since there weren't any bins nearby. He then turned to his classmate and bowed his head in gratitude. "Thanks again. You're a lifesaver."

Yaoyorozu blinked once at the hasty disposal of trash, before her onyx eyes locked on to his own. "You're welcome."

As uncomfortable as it felt, Gohan didn't break eye contact. "So…" he trailed off.

"If you don't mind me asking, Son, what exactly are you doing here?" Yaoyorozu queried, not beating around the bush.

Gohan gulped against his will and scratched the back of his head, his mind scrambling to find a way out of this predicament.

He considered lying about his intentions, but the rational part of his brain immediately shot that down. Putting aside the very real possibility that she was smart enough to see right through him, Yaoyorozu was too far out of the way for their encounter to be a coincidence. Besides, lying in that manner didn't sit right with him.

Feeling some of his earlier courage resurface, he bit the bullet and shot the girl a shaky smile. "To be honest, I was looking for you," he confessed.

"You were looking for me?" Yaoyorozu repeated, clearly taken aback.

Gohan nodded. "Yeah. I was worried about you, and wanted to come see if you were alright," he elaborated. When the girl's mouth opened in surprise and she took a step back, he hastily averted his gaze. "I'm sorry for intruding. I-I can leave if you'd like."

"No! No, it's fine! Truly! I just wasn't expecting that," Yaoyorozu admitted. A small smile flitted across her luscious lips. "That's awfully nice of you, Son. I appreciate the gesture."

Gohan's own smile returned full bloom as his heartbeat quickened in kind. "Ahh, it's nothing! I'm just trying to be a good friend, you know?"

"I know."

Gohan's gaze slowly shifted to the foot of the stairs. "Should we sit down?" he asked.

"Sure," Yaoyorozu replied, retaking her previous spot.

Gohan hesitated momentarily before following suit and planting himself beside her – not too close, though; he didn't want to weird her out.

A few silent seconds passed, with Yaoyorozu looking none too likely to speak. It made Gohan frown and adjust the collar of his jacket, just to give his hands something to do. "You know, umm, if you want to talk about it, I'm all ears. Talking helps. Trust me," he offered honestly.

Yaoyorozu stiffened slightly, but said nothing, much to Gohan's concern. Swallowing thickly, he turned his attention to the TV, where Sero and Tetsutetsu were engaged in a tug of war of sorts: the former had had wrapped his tape around the latter and was trying to throw the metallic boy off the stage, but lacked the strength to do so.

"I don't want to burden you with my issues, Son," Yaoyorozu muttered, finally breaking the silence. "I'm just being silly. I'll get over it. Besides, I'm sure you have more important things to worry about, like getting ready for your match."

"Don't say that," Gohan chided gently, casting an eye on the downcast girl. "Being a hero isn't just about beating up bad guys and saving innocent people from harm. It's also about the little things, like cheering up someone who's feeling down."

Again, Yaoyorozu remained mute, her expression betraying no discernible emotion. Sighing inwardly, the demi-Saiyan looked back at the TV.

Tetsutetsu had come out on top in the tug of war, pulling Sero towards him and kneeing him in the gut, causing the tape user to hunch over in pain. Tetsutetsu took full advantage by landing a double hammerfist smash to the back, knocking his opponent to the floor, and followed that up by drilling another knee into Sero's spine while pulling back his arms, as though trying to yank them out of their sockets.

Unsurprisingly, Sero tapped out.

Yaoyorozu sighed audibly. "I knew… I knew Todoroki was one step ahead of me, but I didn't think the difference between us was so vast," she murmured. "We both got in through recommendations and we're both from prominent hero families, so technically, we should be on somewhat equal footing. And yet… I was incapable of doing anything against him."

Gohan's expression softened. He figured the problem was something along those lines. "Everyone's different. Everyone has something unique about them that sets them apart from others," he consoled. "That's especially prevalent in today's society." He neglected to mention that the public's perception of such qualities wasn't always fair, but the thought alone was enough to draw a small frown. "Anyway, what makes you special is your intelligence. Todoroki… well, he just has an obscenely powerful Quirk, and not many people can stand up to him when he goes all. In fact, I'm willing to bet he could even beat a few pro heroes if he caught them off guard like he did you."

"You raise an excellent point, and I'm well aware of that," Yaoyorozu responded. "But this loss got me thinking: if I require several seconds to act out whatever plan I've formulated, how am I going to fare against other opponents who can overwhelm me the moment we start fighting?"

Gohan pursed his lips, thinking hard on what to say next. It was a legitimate issue, and he was glad she was self-aware enough to acknowledge it. Unfortunately, he got the feeling the humorous approach he'd taken with Sato would be ineffective here. "Have you ever read Batman?" he finally asked.

"I haven't," Yaoyorozu replied.

"Have you seen any Batman movies?" he tried next. "They're pretty old, but there are a bunch of them out there."

Yaoyorozu shook her head. "No."

Gohan frowned, but was undeterred. "Do you know anything about Batman at all?"

"I can surmise he's either half-man, half-bat, or a man who dresses up as a bat, but that's about it," Yaoyorozu answered, fixing him with an inquisitive look. "Should I know about Batman?"

"No, no, you're good," Gohan replied hastily, not wanting to offend her. "He's one of the most famous comic book superheroes of all time, but he's from a time before Quirks, so it's kind of a niche thing. I think." Well, to a degree.

"Oh," Yaoyorozu said softly, shifting her attention forward and placing her hands in her lap. "I don't read comic books or watch movies of that sort. My mother tells me they're a waste of time, and that I should instead be reading educational texts and watching documentaries in preparation for taking over the family business."

Gohan fought back a wince. That kind of lifestyle sounded suffocating, yet she spoke about it like it was the most normal thing in the world. "Well, one of the reasons Batman's so popular is because he doesn't have any genetic superpowers; he's just really rich, and really smart," he explained.

"So you think I'm like Batman?" Yaoyorozu queried, now sounding thoroughly bemused.

"No! I mean, yes! I mean, not in that way! I just…" Gohan scrunched his face and sighed in exasperation, eliciting a melodic giggle from the girl. "I'm sorry. Let me start again. I'm not saying you're like Batman. I'm saying he's someone you might want to take inspiration from."

"You want me to dress up as a bat? Because that seems counter-productive to my Quirk," Yaoyorozu rationalised.

Gohan choked at the mental image as heat rose to his cheeks, but he quickly shook the thought from his head. "While I have n-no doubt you could pull off the Batgirl look, it's, ahh, more about your skillset," he mumbled, not wanting to look her in the eyes lest his mind conjure up something inappropriate. "You see, Batman is one of the leaders of this group of superheroes called the Justice League, despite the fact that he doesn't have any superpowers himself. While he mainly shines in the war room, he's also one of the team's most formidable fighters."

Yaoyorozu looked surprised. "Because of his wealth and intelligence?"

"Yep," Gohan replied with a nod. "If given the time, Batman's smart enough to come up with a plan to counter just about anything – and he has the resources to carry it out. Whether it's something as simple as creating a weapon to take advantage of a villain's weakness, or building a suit of superpowered armour to fight the villain himself, Batman's done it. Because of his wealth and intelligence, he's capable of taking on beings strong enough to destroy planets and coming out on top." He paused briefly to scratch his cheek. "It's all situational, of course, but the potential is there."

"I get what you're implying, and I'm genuinely flattered by the comparison, but these situations you're describing sound incredibly farfetched," Yaoyorozu mused.

Gohan laughed. "Yeah, comics can get pretty wild, but they're a lot of fun to read. You should give them a try. You'd be surprised at what they can teach you."

"It's an interesting idea, but I doubt my mother would approve," Yaoyorozu stated, sounding a tad glum. "She'd probably think it incredibly childish."

Gohan's smile vanished. Yaoyorozu's mother sounded egregiously overbearing, and he genuinely sympathised with the girl. It reminded him a bit of his own upbringing, even if their situations weren't exactly comparable. For one, his mother was far more reasonable.

While she was strict, she never forbade him from engaging in activities any normal kid would partake in. She did make him study an awful lot, but she never locked him in his room and forced him to do it. She let him read picture books, watch cartoons, go bug Piccolo, visit Bulma to help her tinker with science experiments, and go camping with his father and their friends, among other things. Her way of parenting may have been a tad warped, but she just wanted the best for him.

Even when the Earth was under threat of extermination, and his father would make the most unreasonable requests of his wife, she always relented despite her initial protests and inevitable heartache… because she knew it was the right thing to do, regardless of how cruel and unfair it was.

Looking back on it all with a more mature mindset, Gohan could never, ever fault his mother for acting like any caring parent and wanting to keep her child safe.

He missed her dearly, and not a day went by when her absence didn't sting like a stake to the chest. But, he'd learnt long ago that dwelling on these thoughts caused him nothing but heartache.

Repressing those memories, he breathed out a long, melancholic sigh and turned to a puzzled Yaoyorozu with as pleasant a smile as he could muster. "For what it's worth, the first concept I had for my hero persona was inspired by Super Sentai," he admitted softly.

Yaoyorozu blinked, clearly not expecting that. "Really? But isn't that a children's show?"

"It is, but so what?" Gohan shrugged. "I loved it when I was a kid, and I still think the stuff in it is kind of cool. It's bright, colourful, fun, goofy – all things this world needs more of."

"What made you change your mind?"

Gohan ran a hand through his spiky locks. "As much as I love Super Sentai and what it represents, I know it's not everyone's cup of tea. The message I want to send as a hero… I need to reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and that's going to be a lot harder if my biggest fans are little kids and goofballs with questionable tastes," he revealed with a wry chuckle. His smile then dimmed. "I also wanted to pay tribute to two of the most important people in my life."

"I see," Yaoyorozu said quietly. A comfortable silence enveloped the pair for about half a minute, until she saw fit to break it. "Do you really think reading Batman comics would help me be a better hero?"

"Honestly, I think reading comic books would help anyone be a better hero," Gohan answered, before stroking his chin in thought. "Well, except maybe All Might. He's practically a real-life Superman."

"Oh, I've heard of Superman!" Yaoyorozu exclaimed, suddenly perking up. "I remember seeing an academic text about his influence on the American zeitgeist during the emergence of Quirks, but I didn't read it as I was studying modern Asian history at the time. I had no idea he was a comic book character."

Gohan couldn't help but chuckle, not surprised in the slightest. "You see what I'm saying? Even scholars agree with me!"

"So it would seem," Yoyorozu conceded with a laugh of her own. "I'm not going to lie, Son, you've piqued my curiosity."

"I have a bunch of Batman comics at home if you're like to borrow them," Gohan confessed, feeling his heartbeat quicken.

"I think I'll take you up on that offer," Yaoyorozu revealed, making his eyes widen. "My mother is frequently away on business trips, but if she happens to ask, I'll just tell her they're for research purposes." She then did a very slight fist pump, and a tiny grin broke out on her face. "Yes, that should stick."

Gohan bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from smiling like a loon. "Great! I'll bring them tomorrow!"

"I'm looking forward to it! I never thought I'd-"

"There you are," Jiro's voice suddenly cut in close by. "I've been looking everywhere for- Son? What are you doing here?"

Gohan's blood ran cold at the interruption, but he refused to wilt under Jiro's penetrating stare. "Nothing! We were just talking!"

"Son noticed how distressed I was after my loss, so he came to cheer me up," Yaoyorozu supplied helpfully.

"Did he now?" Jiro asked, quirking a brow in the boy's direction. "That was nice of him."

I know, right?" Yaoyorozu exclaimed.

"Right…" Jiro repeated slowly, her accusatory gaze unwavering.

Gohan gulped and looked back at Yaoyorozu. "Well, umm, I should probably go get ready for my match. I hope our talk helped you feel better."

"It did, Son. Thank you. You're a good friend," she acknowledged.

Gohan's stomach fluttered at the compliment, and he plastered a shaky smile on his face. "Right. Happy I could help." He stood up and made to leave. "I'll, uhh, leave you girls to it then. See ya!"

"See you later, Son. Good luck in your match," Yaoyorozu offered, shooting him a pleasant smile.

"Yeah, good luck in your match," Jiro added, a distinct sharpness in her tone.

Gohan gave them both a light wave, then booked it out of there without breaking out into a run. A few corridors down, he came to a halt and rested his back against the wall, letting out a deep sigh and pinching the bridge of his nose. A scowl slid onto his features.

Well that was annoying.

Things were going swimmingly between him and Yaoyorozu, and they were connecting on a far deeper level than in any of their class representative meetings… even if said meetings were dour mood-killers right from the start.

Then Jiro had to come in uninvited and ruin everything like the spoilsport she was.

Realising how mean that sounded, his frown softened. That wasn't fair of him. The only reason Jiro showed up was because she too was worried about her friend, and he couldn't fault her for that. He just wished her timing was better. He was also unsure whether she'd stopped thinking he was a pervert after that unfortunate incident at the U.S.J., and as such was loath to give her more ammunition to support that unfounded belief.

Casting those thoughts aside, he shoved his hands in his pockets and set off towards the fighting stage. The one positive to take from this debacle was that he could now dedicate his full attention to Ashido's match.

Upon reaching the end of the tunnel but staying just out of view of the spectating crowd, he was treated to the sight of his pink-skinned friend cartwheeling over a cluster of vines extending from Shiozaki's hair, the thorny projectiles possessing enough strength to drill through the cement floor as though it were made of mere cardboard.

From there, Ashido generated globs of acid under her shoes, and sped towards Shiozaki like a figure skater gliding along the ice. The moment she closed the distance, she formed two more lumps of acid in her palms and hurled them at her opponent.

Instead of dodging, part of Shiozaki's hair morphed into a baseball bat-like shape and whacked the poisonous projectiles out of the air. Interestingly, the parts of hair that made direct contact with the acid disintegrated within seconds.

Ashido grinned triumphantly and prepared to lob a few more ranged attacks, but Gohan frowned; the vines from Shiozaki's previous attack wriggled back to life and made a sharp a U-turn before barrelling towards their unsuspecting target.

Fortunately, Ashido noticed the disturbance and looked over her shoulder, letting out a faint gasp when she saw what was coming her way.

Gohan clenched a fist in worry as the vines drew closer and closer. Because of his friend's forward momentum, she'd be hard pressed to manoeuvre left or right fast enough to properly dodge the attack. Still, he had faith in her. She wasn't the most book smart person around, but she was a crafty fighter, especially when it came to using her Quirk.

Ashido banked left away from Shiozaki, but the vines did so too, tracking her like a group of homing missiles. She was fast, but they were faster, and just as their thorny tendrils proceeded to ensnare her ankles, she slid one foot into the air and followed through with an acrobatic backflip that drew a round of awestruck whoops from the audience.

Then, in an even more impressive display, she flung a volley of miniature acid bombs at the vines mid-flip, and by the time she landed back on her feet, the portion of Shiozaki's hair that had attacked her was dotted with sizzling holes and no longer a threat.

Frowning at the sight, Shiozaki somehow willed the damaged vines to detach from the rest of her hair. At the same time, Ashido started skating around the ring at a sedate pace, a determined glare fixed on her pretty features.

"Wow! After a high-octane start from these two lovely ladies, we now find ourselves at a bit of a stalemate!" Present Mic hollered. "Does Ashido have what it takes to land a killer blow? Or will Shiozaki's deadly defence steal the show?"

While several spectators snickered at the commentator's rhyming, Ashido went on the attack, increasing her strafing speed and unleashing continuous salvos of acid at her opponent. In response, a still-immobile Shiozaki's hair lengthened, widened, and wrapped itself around her entire body, forming a protective cloak so large it hid her from view.

Ashido's acid still hit its mark and burned through the viny mass of hair, but its rate of regeneration was too fast and shielded Shiozaki from taking any actual damage.

Gohan stroked his chin in silent contemplation, not liking that turn events. Shiozaki's regeneration was an unwelcome surprise – regenerating enemies were a colossal pain in the ass by principle – and it was made all the more annoying because it heavily restricted Ashido's attacking options.

His pink-skinned friend realised this too, if the tiny sigh that slipped from her lips was anything to go by. Still, her yellow eyes hardened in a show of resolve, and she put some distance between herself and her opponent.

Letting out a cute battle cry, Ashido then charged directly at Shiozaki, eliciting a raised eyebrow from the vine user, who simply unleashed another volley of thorny projectiles her way. Ashido ducked, sidestepped and leapt over the onrushing vines, successfully dodging them all, until she closed the distance and flung out her arms, teeth gritting in clear concentration.

Shiozaki's eyes widened a fraction as two thick globs of acid formed in Ashido's palms, then bulged when the pink-skinned girl leapt off the ground, hands outstretched and flying at her face.

Mere centimetres before Ashido's attack hit its mark, Shiozaki tilted her head back, and two thick strands of hair from above her ears lashed out and caught her nimble opponent's wrists. The pink-skinned girl cried out as her momentum came to a sudden halt, then screamed when Shiozaki's hair expanded and enveloped her whole body up to the neck.

Gohan cursed under his breath. 'Damn it! She was so close!'

"I have no desire to wound you too severely, so please forfeit while you're still conscious," Shiozaki requested of her struggling rival.

"Y-y-you'd… l-like that… wouldn't you?" Ashido spat back, before screaming when the vines' grip visibly tightened.

"I entered this lovely school because I want to help people, not hurt them; and my sole goal in this tournament is to attain victory, not beat down my adversaries… but if you continue to resist, I will have no choice but to put you down," Shiozaki threatened, a hint of steel slipping into her voice.

"I…" Ashido's eyes drooped, and her breathing turned haggard. Her body started shaking. "I… I… I... refuse! RRAAAAHHH!"

A wave of sickly grey acid suddenly erupted from within the thorny prison, coating the mass of vines and corroding them almost instantly.

Shiozaki shrieked as some of the poison splashed on her skin and relented her hold, dropping Ashido to the ground and revealing that a good portion of the pink-skinned girl's clothes had dissolved in the explosion: amid the tattered remains of her jacket, trackpants and shirt, a black sports bra and matching underwear were exposed to the elements.

If she was at all bothered by her state of undress, Ashido didn't show it. Instead, her expression morphed into one of absolute fury, and with an undecipherable roar she flung a handful of acid right into a panicking Shiozaki's gaping face.

The vine user let loose an ear-splitting screech as her hands flew to her wounds, but Ashido wasn't done. Eyes burning with vengeance, she clenched her right fist, threw herself at her opponent, and unloaded a debilitating uppercut that rattled Shiozaki's brain and knocked her flat on her back.

The crowd went silent.

"Shiozaki, can you continue?" Midnight asked.

No response.

Hell, there wasn't even a twitch.

"Shiozaki is unable to battle! Ashido is through to the next round!"

As though a bomb had gone off, the crowd erupted in cheers, with a few distinguishable catcalls here and there that made Gohan narrow his eyes. Face flushing, Ashido put on a shaky smile and sent a few light waves the audience's way.

"What a mesmerising display of grit, determination and heart!" Present Mic praised, his booming voice easily heard over the roaring masses. "Take pride in that performance, young lady, because you were SPECTACULAR!"

While the victor's blush deepened, a crew of medics rushed into the ring and hurriedly placed Shiozaki on a stretcher. Ashido spared a quick glance at her defeated opponent as she was carried off the stage, before shaking her head and making her own way down the stairs.

Gohan stepped aside to give way to the incoming medics, and managed to get a quick look at Shiozaki as they stormed past. The vine user was completely out of it, but despite her unconscious state, she wore a surprisingly serene expression on her face. Hopefully that meant she wasn't hurt too badly.

As the medics vanished from view, Gohan turned back to the ring, only to see Ashido jogging towards him. She boasted an uncharacteristically timid smile, so he flashed her what he hoped was an encouraging grin and held up his hand for a high five.

Lips splitting into a decidedly more cheerful smile, she accepted the offer and slapped her hand against his. "How'd I do?" she chirped.

"You were fantastic!" Gohan beamed, drawing another blush from the girl. "And that last uppercut was something else!"

"I'm glad you thought so," Ashido mumbled shyly.

"Oh! Here!" Gohan took off his jacket and handed it to her, leaving him clad in a form-fitting black singlet. "Just so you don't get any, umm, unwanted attention. You never know who's lurking around the corner," he remarked with a frown.

Ashido's eyes widened, and she quickly accepted the offered garment. "Thank you, Son. You're a true gentleman," she complimented, her tone suddenly subdued.

Gohan averted his gaze and scratched the back of his head. "Ahh, it's nothing!"

"No, it's something," Ashido countered quietly, slipping the jacket over her ruined one and zipping it up. Her pants were still a tattered mess, but fortunately her new jacket was large enough to reach down to her thighs.

"Would Shinso Hitoshi and Son Gohan please make their way to the ring?" Present Mic requested.

Gohan's expression hardened. "Already? Well, alright then."

He was then caught off guard when a pair of lean but still defined arms wrapped around his midsection. His instincts screamed at him to hurl his assailant into the stratosphere, but he kept them in check long enough for his bulging eyes to make out the familiar form of his pink-skinned friend. His jaw dropped.

"A-Ashido?! Wh-wh-wh-what are you doing?!" he stammered, his cheeks tinting a light scarlet.

The girl chuckled and tightened her hug. "Just a little something for good luck," she mumbled, holding on for a few more seconds before letting go. While he sputtered helplessly, unable to form coherent thoughts or sentences, she flashed him a winning grin. "I want to see you in the next round, Son. You'd better not disappoint me!"

With a parting wink, she was off, leaving him rooted to the spot as he struggled to come to terms with the fact that he'd just been hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Well, he had been hugged by his mother, Bulma, and Bulma's mother when he was little, but that was different. He didn't know what to make of Ashido's hug. All he knew was that it felt really, really, really nice, and that he definitely wouldn't mind receiving another one. Perhaps he'd have to consult his book for further information.

In the meantime, he had a far more pressing issue to concern himself with. Inhaling through the nose and exhaling out the mouth, he patted his cheeks, steeled his features once more, and exited the tunnel. The moment his foot touched the grass, the expectant crowd exploded, and a cacophony of raucous roars assaulted his unprepared ears.

The sheer volume of noise did make him falter in his step, but it was marginal, and a more subtle repeat of his previous breathing exercise helped him regain his composure.

His next course of action was to erect an invisible barrier around himself. There wasn't any ki involved – it was all mental – but it allowed him to imagine the spectators' shouts bouncing off him like pellets against bulletproof glass.

As he walked, his eyes locked on to the fighting stage – first the steps, then the smooth white surface of the ring itself. Upon reaching his designated spot, he spread his feet shoulder-width apart and let his arms rest loosely at his sides, fists clenched and posture strong.

Shinso appeared not long after and situated himself opposite Gohan, his ghoulish face harbouring clear disdain for the demi-Saiyan. Their eyes met.

"In the beginning, there was David vs Goliath… and now, it's time for their long-anticipated rematch!" Present Mic preached. "On one side of the ring stands Shinso Hitoshi: the pride of the general course! With the rest of his class having fallen by the wayside, it's up to him to carry their flag to victory and glory! Unfortunately for young Shinso, roadblocks don't come more formidable than this!

"For on the other side of the ring stands the undisputed, undefeated Number One of the hero course… SON GOHAN! Blessed with the strength of Hercules, the speed of Hermes, and the wisdom of Athena… he is the clear favourite for this tournament – AND HE HAS CERTAINLY LIVED UP TO THE HYPE!

"However! No battle is ever set in stone, and as history has proved time and time again, the underdog always has a fighter's chance! Ladies and gentlemen, I strongly urge you to observe this spectacle with an open mind, because anything – and I mean ANYTHING, can happen!"

"I'm starting to see a trend with the friends you keep, Son," Shinso suddenly remarked. "The cowardly monkey, the dumbass whose Quirk makes him even dumber, that exhibitionist bimbo-"

"On your marks!" Present Mic called.

"Do you purposely hang out with losers just to prop yourself up on a pedestal?" Shinso continued.

"Get set!"

"Or has being an orphan made you so socially inept, they're the best you can do?"



A strong gust of wind slammed into Shinso like a freight train, lifting him off his feet and out of the ring, where his powerless body crashed onto the grass below with an audible thud. As a resounding silence resonated through the crowd, Gohan retracted his fist and let his arm hang by his side, his features schooled into a mask of grim indifference.

"Sh-Shinso Hitoshi is out of bounds! Son Gohan is through to the next round!"

AN: I hope you're all staying safe out there. This year has been nothing short of catastrophic, and the world right now is a dark, scary and dangerous place. I know it's not much, but I hope you can find some comfort in this extra-long chapter, however fleeting it may be.

Now, as you may have inferred, I absolutely loathed the way Izuku vs Shinso went down in canon. Despite Ojiro's explicit warning to not respond to Shinso, despite his history of letting Bakugo bully him without protest for over a decade, and despite the fact that Izuku is actually quite smart, he STILL ended up falling for Shinso's provocations right off the bat? I just can't buy it. It seemed incredibly OOC for Izuku, and came across as nothing more than a way for Horikoshi to introduce a new aspect of OfA. The way Izuku eventually broke out of the brainwashing was just as bad, if not worse, in that it was a typical shounen asspull. Ugh, just thinking about it irks me. I get that the fight would've been over in a flash had Izuku acted the least bit rationally, but surely there was a better way to do it than the PIS we got.

On that note, I'm really not digging the direction the MHA manga is going in right now, mainly because of the insane power creep. Without spoiling anything for anime-only watchers, I'll just say that I'm not a fan of how strong one character became in such a short amount of time, and how undeserved it feels. When the stakes in MHA started ramping up, I was hoping Horikoshi would avoid the same pitfalls as Dragon Ball and the latter part of Naruto, but I guess that was too much to ask for.

To be honest, my enthusiasm for this manga has been waning ever since the MVA arc, and now it feels like I'm following it more out of obligation than anything. I still plan on seeing it through to the end, unless something major happens that completely turns me off from the series, but the love I had for it when I first started just isn't there anymore. Now, if anyone's worried this will affect this fanfic, don't be. I love this fanfic to death, and I plan on finishing it no matter how long it takes.

But that's enough rambling for now. Thank you to everyone who's favourited, followed and reviewed thus far, and to everyone who's offered words of support regarding my car accident. Your kindness has been very much appreciated. As always, if you have the time, I'd love to hear what you thought of this chapter.

Until next time!

PS: Is your fanfiction experience being ruined by the sudden influx of intrusive ads on this site? If so, I feel your pain. Fortunately, a solution exists! All you have to do is download Raid: Shadow Leg- I mean, uBlock Origin.

Seriously. I've been using uBlock Origin for years, and it's made my time on the internet infinitely more pleasant. If you primarily read fanfiction on your phone, then the free AdBlock app does the same thing.

I get that this site needs to make money to stay alive, but sticking big ass ads in the middle of stories isn't the way to go about it. This site is in dire need of some quality of life updates – as well as some actual fucking care put into it – and the last thing it needs is to drive more people away.

Speaking of QOL updates, did you guys know that the admins, or whoever's in charge of this place, removed PM notifications via email a while back? Probably not, because I don't recall it being advertised anywhere. They said it was to stop spam bots and girls in your area looking for a good time, and that it wouldn't last long, but it's been like half a year since then, and they still haven't brought email notifications back. Makes me wonder how many people I've PM'd that don't even know I've PM'd them. Anyway, it's bloody annoying.