A/N: For those who haven't been keeping up with the SB thread, a few minor edits have taken place to prior chapters in order to bring them into compliance with the last chapter - both the fact that Hikigaya's healing was previously shown as occurring without scars & his erroneous use of Kushieda's shrink quirk before he acquired it have been corrected. Many thanks to my readers for finding those inconsistencies!


I was getting depressingly used to having my nose broken.

The pain isn't that bad, honestly; at least not right away. There's that brief burst of literally blinding pain, where your vision erupts into fireworks and your eyes water uncontrollably, but after that, you're mostly dealing with a headache that pounds in time with your pulse. And the fact that you can taste the blood in the back of your throat is no big deal; for whatever reason, most hero costumes don't exactly come with mouthguards, so that coppery taste is just something you kind of get used to.

I still wasn't used to the sound, though. Being able to literally hear the crunch of my own bones breaking under Midoriya's fist was an experience I could have done without. Even as my head snapped back and my vision swam, though, I buckled down and pulled my hands back up into guard position, reflexively pulling on my stockpile of Kirishima's Harden quirk just in time to block Midoriya's follow-up punch.

Up until recently, Midoriya had fought like a smaller, slower version of his father; throwing 'Smashes' with all of his body weight behind them that, though they were so powerful that they were nigh-impossible to block, were relatively easy to dodge. Apparently, at some point since the last time I'd fought him, either his father or Mirko had taught him that he didn't actually need to commit to a full-body right hook, not when he could break someone's nose just fine with a supersonic jab.

That was the main problem with fighting Midoriya. It wasn't how hard he hit; I had counters for that. He was just too goddamn fast. Sure enough, as I threw my weight forward and tried for a Hardened return punch, Midoriya effortlessly skipped backwards out of reach, then took another jump backwards so he could bounce off the wall of the faux alley our spar was set in. He came flying at me with a descending kick, with enough power behind it to smear me across the alley and enough speed that I only had a split second to react.

Luckily, a split second was enough. Grabbing one of my newest quirks, I shrunk to about two feet tall, and ducked for good measure. Midoriya let out a surprised shout as he sailed harmlessly over my head. Kushieda's Miniaturize quirk reduced my size and mass, but somehow kept my strength constant - meaning that it made me light enough that I could accelerate fast enough to catch up with Midoriya on his ballistic trajectory. My hands hit the pavement just before Midoriya did, and even though my head swam from the sudden change of size as I dropped Miniaturize, I managed to focus enough to use Honenuki Juzo's Softening quirk on the floor where Midoriya was landing.

I didn't have a lot stockpiled in Softening; but it was enough to turn things into a mud pit, to make Midoriya struggle to keep his balance and not be able to dodge freely. Enough, in other words, for me to grab Hori Kyouko's Oni quirk, turn all of the pain from my broken nose into a boost of strength, and hit Midoriya from behind as he struggled to turn around. I caught him in the ear with a stockpile-boosted sucker-punch, and even with One For All providing him with easily triple the amount of strength I had, it was enough to knock Midoriya off his feet.

"Stop! Point to Hikigaya!" Eraserhead shouted. My arm froze in mid-air; I'd been planning to hit Midoriya again if I'd needed to, but with the spar won, I unclenched my fist and instead reached down to pull him out of the mud.

"Good hidt," I said nasally, reaching up with my left hand to gingerly prod at my nose even as I clasped Midoriya's hand with my right. "Yep, dat's definidely broken," I said, finding myself unsurprised as my fingers came away red with blood.

"O-oh, um, sorry about that, but you really, um, need to keep your hands up," Midoriya said. As he stood, one hand reached up to his ear, which looked kind of red and bruised. "Guess I messed up with that kick, huh."

"You wend doo high," I said, doing my best to immobilize my nose as I spoke. "A front kick would habe worked bedder."

The two of us walked back to the waiting class. "Myriad? Recovery Girl," Eraserhead told me as I got back to the larger group. "I don't want you bleeding all over the place. What about you, Deku? Do you need to go with him?"

Midoriya shook his head. "I'm fine, sensei."

"Trick question. Go anyways," Eraserhead said.

"Y-yes!" Midoriya said, startled.

"Next up, Froppy and Hayato." As Eraserhead turned away from us and began supervising the next match, I began trudging towards Recovery Girl's office, Midoriya close behind. Luckily, it wasn't far; sparring practice tended to be held in the gym closest to the Nurse's office for a reason.

"So, um, Hikigaya," Midoriya said, "u-um, All Might said he talked to you?"

I whipped around and glared at Midoriya - a motion my nose almost immediately made me regret - then cast several significant glances at Jiro, who we definitely were not out of earshot of. "Yeah, I think he said he was going to talk to everybody with strength-boosting quirks," I agreed, my voice maybe coming out louder than strictly necessary.

"R-right, yeah," Midoriya said, slightly shamefaced. I guess a lack of ability to lie worth half a damn ran in the family. "So, um…"

I waited patiently for him to finish his sentence, but by the time we exited the gym and made it to the hallway, he still hadn't said a word. "Spit it out," I said.

"Thanks," Midoriya said. "I mean, for not saying anything or making a big deal of it not that I really expect people to make a big deal of it or anything but it's really the sort of thing that you know I would have thought people would act weird about but you just kind of treat me like a normal person and even help me out sometimes even though you know about it and that's actually really a relief but also I was kind of hoping we could get to know each other better and that's way easier now that stuff is out in the open so, uh, yeah."

Though slightly off-put by the wall of anxious babbling, I managed to get the gist of what he was saying. I shrugged. "Fine by me," I said, still slightly nasally. "What do you want to know?"

"O-oh, um." Midoriya thought for a second. "That's a good question, I didn't really have anything prepared… um, who's your favorite hero?"

There was something oddly comforting about the fact that the son of the most famous hero in the world was just as bad as I was at small-talk. "Uh, well… after everything that's happened recently, I'd probably have to say Cyberpunch," I said. "But if you'd asked me a year ago…" Well, a year ago, I probably would have rolled my eyes at the question; ranting about which heroes you liked was the sort of thing that brain-dead normies did. My only interest in heroes had been whether any of them were close enough that I could drop in on a handshake event to copy their quirk. The only heroes I could actually stand were the ones who were obscure enough not to be popular. "Probably Ursun," I said.

"Ursun?" Midoriya said. "I think I've heard of him," he said, to my mild surprise. "He's a Chiba hero, isn't he?"

"Yeah. That's kind of why I like him," I said. "He's super big on the hometown pride. I mean, he's got kind of a boring quirk - he's a bear heteromorph, that's it - but you know, every day he's out there doing his thing, going on patrols, making shitty bear puns and talking about how great Chiba is. It's so corny and cheesy it wraps all the way around to being ironic and back to being sincere."

"I see," Midoriya said politely. "That's really interesting, I'll have to read more about him."

"What about you?" I asked. "I mean, I can probably guess who your favorite hero is."

"Haha I guess it is kind of obvious, huh," Midoriya said.

"Who's your second favorite, then?" I asked.

"Hmm… well kind of like you said, after this year, it's probably Mirko. I'm really learning a lot from her," Midoriya said.

"I can tell," I said. "Your hand-to-hand's gotten a lot better recently." I paused for a second, mentally replaying his last phrase in my head. "Did you say, learning?"

Midoriya flinched guiltily. "She, uh, keeps texting me when she's in Musutafu and makes me come outside to get beat up?"

I gave Midoriya a scathing glare. I didn't know whether to be more jealous of the fact that he was getting extra training from a top ten pro hero, or that he was getting texted for one-on-one meetings with Mirko. I mean, damn. But if Midoriya was getting extra attention even after the internship, I couldn't help but wonder how many more of my peers were experiencing the same.

Did I really have to start going to Cyberpunch's dojo, just to keep up? Even now, was I still not doing enough?

Naturally, as soon as we walked into Recovery Girl's office, I immediately got told that I was doing too much. "You're still underweight, Hikigaya," Recovery Girl said bluntly. "I can't heal you up all the way today. I'll straighten your nose and get the healing started, but I need you to put some calories back on before I can do more than that."

I bristled at the implied scolding in her voice. "Yeah, well. Next time the Hero Killer tries to take my head off, I'll tell him he isn't allowed to kill me because I have a doctor's note," I said snarkily, then yelped as she thwacked me in the shin with her cane.

"Don't get smart with me, young man," Recovery Girl said waspishly. "You were in this situation long before last week, even if it did set your recovery back. Now, hold still and don't bite your tongue." I winced and braced myself as Recovery Girl reached up to my nose and straightened it with a single brutally efficient tug. Again, I saw stars, but after she leaned forward and kissed my nose with her extendable lips, I was already breathing easier.

"Thanks," I said, resisting the urge to reach up and touch my still somewhat sore face.

"I'm not finished yet," she said, reaching into a drawer for some bandages and tape. "Let me just set you up with something to keep it immobile for a day or two," she said, quickly putting a pad over the nose and taping it down. "There. Try not to get that wet, eat well tonight and tomorrow, and come back Monday so we can finish healing you up. Now," she said, turning to Midoriya. "What seems to be the matter with you, dear? No broken bones this time, I hope?"

He shook his head. "N-no ma'am, I don't think I need anything, Eraserhead just told me to come down just in case."

"Hmm." Recovery Girl said, sounding unimpressed. "Let me guess, head injury?"

Midoriya blinked. "I, um, I suppose?"

She nodded and kissed his forehead gently. "Heroes are at a high risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy," she said, "but metahuman healing can help prevent it, so we try to apply some just in case, even after minor head injuries. It might not seem important now, but in the small chance that you actually survive until retirement, you'll thank us for it later."

"Cheerful," I said sarcastically.

"Yes, well, maybe if the two of you stopped being such frequent visitors to my little clinic, I'd be more optimistic about your long-term prospects," Recovery Girl said dryly. "Go on, now, take some gummies and get out of my office. And try not to injure anything important until next week at the earliest."

As the two of us left, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and couldn't help but snort in amusement. "I look like a tanuki," I said, admiring the two half-healed black eyes and the white padding covering my nose.

Midoriya laughed nervously. "Haha, um, sorry? It's, um, it's not that bad," he lied.

"It's fine," I said, rolling my eyes. "It's not like I had a hot date this weekend, or anything."

"Oh!" Midoriya said with surprise. "You have a girlfriend, Hikigaya?" He looked at me with eyes so full of respect and admiration that I almost felt bad piercing his bubble - by which I mean that I was incredibly weirded out and felt the need to disabuse him of the notion immediately.

"No!" I said hurriedly. "I just meant - it's a saying, that's all. I don't really care what I look like."

"Oh, okay," Midoriya said. "Sorry, that makes sense."

"I met some third-years who were dating at Student Council yesterday, though," I said, trying to fill the awkward silence that was threatening to engulf the conversation. "I have no idea where they manage to find the time."

"Yeah, that does seem tough," Midoriya agreed. "Um… is there… um, anyone you … you know, like?"

I flushed. Was I seriously having this conversation right now? "That's… uh…" How did I describe what was going on with Kawasaki? The answer was, I didn't. "... it's complicated."

"Oh, really?" Midoriya asked, clearly curious.

"I, uh, well, how about you?" I asked, desperate to change the subject. "Is there anybody you like?"

After a second's silence, I looked over to see Midoriya blushing, looking down, and poking his index fingers towards each other. "Um, I mean. How do you know if you really like someone?" He asked, not meeting my eyes. "I mean, there's someone who I admire and respect and I think she's c-cute but I don't know if that's really something like liking her or maybe just admiring her but at the same time I don't think I've ever really met anybody like her before so…"

Internally, I panicked. Why were you coming to me about this? Isn't this the sort of heart-to-heart talk you should be having with your father? Or one of your actual friends? Then again, who were his actual friends? Iida? Tokoyami? Bakugo? Oh god, was I his best option? I coughed awkwardly. "I mean, I could be wrong… but I think the main difference between liking someone and just having a crush on them is how well you know them?"

"What do you mean?" Midoriya asked.

"I mean, everybody lies," I said. "Everybody puts on a false face to the world, at least a little. Like, if someone thought they liked you, but they didn't know about your relationship to All Might, would it really be you they liked? Or just an image of you that they built up in their head?"

"I-" Midoriya began, then stopped. "Oh. I see."

"It's like being a hero," I said. "We put on costumes and we lie to people and tell them that we're perfect and that they're safe as long as we're around, and if they're lucky, the lie turns out close enough to the truth that we don't get caught." After a few seconds of silence, I turned to look at Midoriya. He was looking at me with a weird expression on his face. "What?" I asked.

"I don't want to lie to people," Midoriya said.

I rolled my eyes. Really, how idealistic could you be? Even All Might couldn't guarantee that he could save everybody. "I mean, personally I don't think showing up to a villain fight and telling all the bystanders that they're probably going to die is great for keeping people from panicking, but you do you, I guess."

"No, that's not it," Midoriya said, more passionately. "I mean, I'm going to tell people that they're safe, and it's not going to be a lie. Ever."

I was stunned into silence for a while. He had to know that what he was saying was impossible, right? An ideal, not an achievable reality. "Yeah, well. Good luck with that," I said, for once entirely serious. Who knew? With All Might's power, maybe he'd even be able to pull it off. But I wouldn't hold my breath.


By the time Midoriya and I returned to the training field, there was only a short time before class ended - a little early, even - and everyone got changed back to our uniforms. Although I was hopeful that we would be able to go home, it turned out that Aizawa had an announcement - apparently Parent's Day was next week. For a second, I was afraid that meant extra work for the class representative position, but no - he just handed out some paperwork for us to bring home, and then we were finally free… is what I would have liked to say.

"Hikigaya, over here!" Yaoyorozu said with excitement. "We were just discussing the logistics for the group study session this afternoon. "

By the time I finished packing up my bags and getting ready to leave, Kaminari, Jiro, Yuigahama, and Ashido were all crowded around Yaoyorozu, chattering excitedly about studying together. "What do you mean, logistics?" I asked.

"Well, we do all have to get to your house somehow," Yaoyorozu said matter-of-factly. "I was considering offering the use of one of my family's cars, but with six of us all traveling together, that's likely to be quite crowded, so it might be better to charter a limousine, instead."

I tried to picture a limo pulling up next to my house in a very suburban neighborhood, and failed. "I, uh. I'm sure that's not necessary," I said. Quick, what could I use as an excuse? Oh, right. "I was planning on riding my bike home so I would have it available this weekend, anyways."

"Hmmm," Yaoyorozu said thoughtfully. "Well, I suppose that five would fit into a car relatively comfortably…"

"Even if we have to squeeze a little, I don't mind!" Kaminari said, giving me a surreptitious thumbs-up. I looked from him to all of the girls he'd be squeezing with and barely restrained myself from rolling my eyes.

"It seems that will work, then," Yaoyorozu said. "How long does it take you to bike home?"

"Forty-five minutes or so?" I said, shrugging.

Jiro whistled, impressed. "Each way? Dang."

"And the address?" Yaoyorozu asked. After I told her, she typed it into her phone and looked at it thoughtfully. "About the same travel time as a car, then. Assuming we left at the same time, we would arrive around when you did… although, I think we should probably make a stop beforehand at a cafe for beverages and snacks, so that we're not arriving empty-handed, and you don't feel pressured to rush."

"Oooh, that's a great idea!" Ashido said excitedly. "Sugar and caffeine are essential study fuels!"

The joke was on Yaoyorozu, I was absolutely going to rush anyway. "Sounds like a plan," I said. "In that case, I should probably head out," I said, grabbing my book bag. "I'll see you guys there, I guess."

"Bike safe, Hikki!" Yuigahama shouted.

Coming from anyone else, I might have felt irritated at the unnecessary warning, but given that she'd literally seen me get hit by a car, I decided to forgive her. I raised a hand and waved an acknowledgement even as fast strides took me towards the front gate of the school. Part of me almost regretted not taking Yaoyorozu up on her offer of a ride. It was a hot day, and I was already tired from a long week of classes. Just because I was used to the long ride home didn't mean that it didn't take effort.

But going from a day full of being surrounded by people in classes, to being surrounded by people in a car and having to make conversation, to having to talk to everyone as we all studied together - it sounded at least as exhausting as the bike ride, if not more so. Having time to collect myself and relax as I pedaled home wasn't the worst thing in the world, even if I was going to have to push it more than usual to make sure I had time to clean once I got home.

My bike was easy to pick out from the mass of ordinary bikes chained up on the racks. The tires were wider, the frame more rugged; if not for the lack of a massive battery or a motor, it could almost be mistaken for an e-bike. Even my helmet was closer to a motorcycle helmet than the lightweight foam construction that most bicyclists wore - but then again, most bicyclists weren't at risk of falling at 80 km/h. As I pedaled my bike out of the parking lot, I stuck to muscle power, but once I hit open roads I switched quirks to Stockpile and started shifting gears. My legs pumped, sending me flying with ease between and around cars, treating traffic as a mere suggestion. Then I hit the Quirk-Enhanced Travel lane, and I was able to really cut loose. I didn't usually bother using Ooze-Mime just to bike home, but people coming over definitely counted as an emergency. I bent forwards, grabbing the lower handlebars to reduce my drag profile, doubled up on Stockpile, and shifted into high gear.

Frankly, it was a little unnerving at first. I didn't usually go this fast; even though the bike was rated for it, I wasn't used to the way the pavement whizzed by. With the helmet I wore, I couldn't hear the wind whizzing past my ears (which was probably for the best, since the visor also protected me from accidentally swallowing a bug), but the air caught at my short-sleeved uniform shirt, ballooning it outwards, and if I hadn't put my tie in my bag when I got on the bike, it probably would have choked me. It was like I was permanently on a downhill slope, except that when I got to an actual hill I would probably have to stop pedaling or risk wiping out from the speed. Would it be lame, if as a Pro Hero I showed up to stop crimes on a bike? It was probably faster than waiting for traffic - no, what was I thinking, heroes had sirens. And if I ditched my bike at the scene of a crime, there's no way I would get it back later.

As I slowly got used to the higher speed double Stockpile offered me, my mind started wandering. How was I going to use the new quirks I picked up this week? Which should I prioritize charging? Caffeine Fiend and Raijuu were both extremely tempting - I didn't have nearly enough speed quirks, and speed quirks were incredibly useful, even weakly charged. But Caffeine Fiend required large quantities of coffee to even charge, and Raijuu was itself a quirk that needed to charge up to be useful - and my quirk seemed to render it slower in the charging aspect, in addition to the strength aspect. There might be a minimum quirk charge I would have to build up before I could achieve the turning-my-body-to-lightning effect that Miyamura had. Unfortunately, neither seemed like I could afford to make it a priority.

My train of thought was disrupted as I left Tokyo and the high-speed enhanced travel lane ended. I merged into Funabashi traffic, dropping back down to a single iteration of Stockpile in order to keep my bike under control. On Saturday, the roads weren't quite as busy, making it easier to keep up the pace, but I still had to keep an eye out for the occasional pedestrian, off-leash dog or recklessly driving chauffeur. At the traffic lights, though, I had a few spare seconds to consider. Hado's quirk was a pretty reasonable choice to prioritize; although it was slow, it was a ranged attack, and it hit pretty hard. The only downside was that it cost stamina to use - something told me I should probably avoid it until Recovery Girl stopped trying to fatten me up like a pig to the slaughter.

As I coasted into the last light in Funabashi before I could pick up the Chiba expressway, I heard the distinctive rumble of motorcycle engines. I glanced over my shoulder and saw a group of half a dozen punks on bikes, all of them wearing identical outfits. Even though they looked like mostly teenagers, if older than me, they weren't wearing school uniforms; instead they wore all black, with golden kanji stitched onto the sleeves and chest, spelling out edgelord phrases like 'Inseparable Killing Squad', 'Pure Land of Bliss', 'Chaotic Dance' and - as I saw on their backs as they pulled up next to me - 'Tenth Generation Black Dragon'. Most of them had obvious heteromorphia, none of them wore helmets, all of them had shitty haircuts, and a few had visible scars and tattoos. In other words, they were clearly doing their best to look dangerous.

Even though Cyberpunch had told me about the Black Dragon Gang, strangely, I didn't feel much in the way of nervousness as they drew even with me at the stoplight. Even if these guys were a bunch of gang members, the odds of them starting a fight with a random commuter seemed pretty minimal… or so I thought, until their apparent leader - a tall kid with black and white striped hair and a massive tattoo on the side of his neck - pointed straight at me and started laughing. "Hey, prep school! Nice helmet! Check it out, this fucker thinks he has a real bike!"

As the asshole's asshole friends started laughing and shouting their own insults at me, strangely, I still wasn't scared. If anything, I was pissed. Part of me - a small part, but getting louder by the minute - wanted not to duck my head and hide until they drove off and tried to make me eat their exhaust, but to make them eat their words. A year ago, running into Bakugo and his buddies from middle school had been enough to make me bow and scrape; here I was today, looking at six probably armed and dangerous hooligans, and I was honestly thinking… if it came down to a fight, could I take them?

If it were Bakugo in my shoes, he probably wouldn't even have hesitated. Yukinoshita would probably have frozen these clowns to the ground. Yuigahama or Yaoyorozu might have held back, but then again if either one of them were here, they'd have been getting catcalls and rape threats instead of just derisive laughs, and that probably would have changed things. It's not like any of these morons were Stain… So why the hell should I be scared of them? All of a sudden, the Black Dragon with the striped hair swung his chopper around and pulled it in front of me, as if threatening to run me off the road. "Oops, careful there!" He said with a sneer. "You wouldn't wanna crash and crack your fancy helmet." Then, through the visor of the helmet, our eyes met. "Nice uniform," he mocked. "Where'd you get that lame-ass outfit from?"

"Oh, you know." I said. "UA."

"Oooh, scary," the biker said mockingly. "We got ourselves a hero here!"

Then, as the light turned green, I switched to Stockpile, and smirked. Was it cheating, to blow my saved up adrenaline stockpile just to slow time down and weave effortlessly around his motorcycle? Maybe, but the kick he threw at me was an equally cheap move, and it was only my cheating first that let me dodge it. Was it also worth burning several hours' worth of stored up Falcon Flight just to take off from a standing start faster than their bikes could accelerate? Probably not, but as I heard the shouts of alarm and the revving of engines from the gangsters I had left in my dust, I couldn't bring myself to care.

On my usual commute, I tended to mostly let Stockpile do the pedaling for me, but now I was standing up for extra power, using flight to keep myself from throwing myself off of the bike due to the sheer power I was putting into the gears, even at their maximum linkage ratio. As I got to the big hill leading down into the center of town, I heard the engines roaring behind me and kept pedaling, screaming in sheer exhilaration as the speedometer on my bike passed a hundred kilometers an hour and kept going. I nearly slowed down at the hairpin turn off the highway into the city streets, but given that I could see the bikers getting closer in my rear view mirrors, I temporarily abandoned Stockpile to throw all three of my quirk slots into flight and leaned the bike nearly sideways, 'flying' towards the center of the turn to keep the centrifugal force from throwing me off the road.

Unfortunately, although I gained some distance by taking the turns so close, as I got into the city proper I knew that I had run out of terrain where my bike would have the maneuver advantage, and the bikers knew it too. I knew something they didn't know, though - namely, that there was typically a speed trap at the bottom of the hill. So I hit the brakes, reducing my speed to something slightly less insane, and turned off onto a side street just as the bikers came roaring down the hill in hot pursuit. The bwoo-woop of the police cruiser served as an impromptu race flag declaring my victory as I pedaled on into the city, putting distance between myself and the now-distracted bikers.


I was shaking slightly from sheer adrenaline as I cruised up to my house, the sheer dumbassery of the stunt I had just pulled slowly sinking in. Clearly, all these hero courses were rotting my brain. Although to be fair, it's not like I'd fallen far enough to think it was a good idea; it was just a bad idea that I decided to do anyway. Grinning like a loon, I stowed my bike in the garage and headed into the house, sighing in relief as the air conditioning hit my sweaty skin. I made a beeline to my room - I didn't have time for another shower, but throwing on a clean shirt and some more deodorant would at least mitigate the scent. As I threw my shirt into the clothes hamper, out of habit I took off my uniform pants as well. I could have kept wearing them, I supposed, but they would look silly with a casual top. What to replace them with, though? Shorts would be the most comfortable, but would it be weird to have me be the only one lounging around in super-casual clothes while everyone else still wore their uniforms? After a moment's hesitation, I grabbed one of my nicer pairs of jeans. They were too loose, of course, but not as bad as they had been a few weeks ago. As I buckled the belt that would keep them securely on my hips, it buckled on one of the actual holes, rather than the extra hole I had punched myself when even the tightest notch on the belt had been too wide for my shrunken waist.

Looking around my room, it was reasonably neat - Mom and Dad tended to bitch if I let it get too messy - but given that I had people from school coming over, I took the time to tidy up even further, and to make sure that any and all incriminating magazines and manga volumes were carefully and securely stored away. If only because Ashido Mina was absolutely the sort of person to look for those, as a joke. Once that was done, I stepped out into the living room. Surprisingly, it was already in good enough shape to host a study session, more or less - had Komachi cleaned up? If so, I'd have to do something nice for her; though depending on how much of a pest she was later today I might have to retract that statement. Ugh, this was so weird. I'd never had to worry about how other people would think of my sister before; beyond the obvious fact that not even Zaimokuza had ever come to my house, Komachi was so much more socially successful than I was that worrying about her seemed superfluous. Yet for some reason, there were butterflies in my stomach - what could go wrong? What if I said or did something, or Komachi did, that made the study session crash and burn and nobody came back next week?

As my stomach growled, I considered the alternative. Maybe I was just hungry. Yaoyorozu had said that everyone was going to stop at a cafe of some sort for snacks, but there was no guarantee that they would bring anything for me specifically, and even if they did, no guarantee, given my enhanced diet, that it would be enough that I could eat my fill without eating everyone else's food. I decided to get a snack ahead of time to take the edge off just in case, but as I walked into the kitchen to scrounge something up, I found myself unexpectedly interrupted.

"Hachiman?" My mother's voice called out. I turned in surprise to look at her. As she stood up from the couch, I noticed that it seemed like my mother had taken the entire day off, not just come home early; she was wearing yoga pants and a tee-shirt, rather than her usual office lady skirt and blouse. Then again, she had probably only woken up an hour or two ago - on the rare weekends that she didn't have to work overtime, she tended to sleep in until well past noon. "Welcome ho- you're hurt! What happened?"

"Huh?" I said, briefly looking down at my arms and legs like a moron before realizing what she was talking about and reaching up to touch the bandage on my face. "Oh, this? It's fine," I said, rolling my eyes at her overreaction. "It looks worse than it is," I said. "Recovery Girl just wanted me to eat more over the weekend before she finished healing the rest of it."

"Why were you getting injured at all, if you weren't healthy enough to be treated fully?" Mom said angrily. "What are those teachers doing?"

"Uh, teaching us how to fight?" I said sarcastically. Ugh. Did she stay home just to argue with me about school again, or something? I opened the cupboard and grabbed a protein bar. What was it I'd said to Recovery Girl earlier this afternoon? Oh, right. "It's not like villains are going to let me off easy just because I have a doctor's note," I said, tearing open the wrapper and biting off a corner. Mmm, chalky chocolate, my favorite.

"Oh really?" My mother said, her voice still filled with anger and irritation. "You know, I was just watching the news, and wouldn't you know it, but they were talking about Campestris. The hero who got you injured? The one who was injured by Stain, herself? Apparently, she's taking some time off to recover. Like a sane human being."

Seriously? I scoffed and grabbed a water bottle out of the fridge. "More like taking time off to film her shitty movie." She absolutely seemed like the type to milk her injuries for everything they were worth, anyway.

"And as long as it doesn't interfere with her recovery, that sounds perfectly fine," Mom said, glaring at me. Honestly, I was starting to get irritated - no, that was a lie. I had already been irritated by this stupid conversation, but Mom treating me like I wasn't taking things seriously was an extra squeeze of lemon juice in the paper cut.

So naturally, I decided to be extra flippant on purpose. "I dunno, sounds kinda like a skill issue to me," I said, taking a few deep swallows of water.

"Would you listen to me and take this seriously!?" My mother snapped.

Reluctantly, I turned and faced her. It looked like she was waiting for me to say something, so deliberately, I took another bite of the protein bar. I chewed. I swallowed. I took another sip of water. "What?"

"Hachiman, you can't keep doing this," she said.

"Doing what?" I asked.

"Getting hurt." To my discomfort and shock, I saw tears forming in my mother's eyes. "Sweetie, you getting sent to the hospital with life-threatening injuries isn't normal. It's not okay, you shouldn't be okay with this. And neither should your teachers! Oh, I'm going to give them a piece of my mind," she fumed.

"What are you talking about?" I said in disbelief as I reached up to touch my face. "I got punched in the face during sparring. Not exactly life-threatening. Even if there wasn't a healer on staff, I would have been fine."

"And you were in the hospital a week ago!"

"Yeah, because I had the bad luck to be in the studio that the League of Villains decided to attack!" I said. "It's not like I'm going out and picking fights with these assholes!" Like, what did she expect me to do about it? I didn't ask for people to keep trying to kill me while I was supposed to be in school!

"Uh, you kind of did." I turned in place as the retort came from an unexpected direction. Behind me, Komachi stood in the hallway, looking uncomfortably between Mom and I. "I mean, didn't you chase the villain in your school down?" That little shit. I immediately revoked any and all 'doing-something-nice-for-Komachi' impulses.

"Komachi, go to your room," Mom said, forcing calm into her voice. "Please. I'm trying to have a discussion with your brother."

"Save it," I said. Irritated, I switched quirks, and winced as something crunched painfully in my nose. Reaching up, I yanked the bandage off my face and hucked it in the waste basket. "There, happy? All better."

"Hachiman, no - I - your face isn't the issue here!" Mom shouted.

"Really? Sure seems like it is," I muttered, grabbing plates and cups on the counter and putting them one by one into the dishwasher, albeit with more aggressive motions than were strictly necessary. I mean, what more did she want me to do? I was eating every chance I got, holding back on healing myself even when it was inconvenient; just because Stain came along and fucked up my recovery, didn't mean I wasn't working on it. And now she was treating me following doctor's instructions like it was the end of the fucking world.

"You. Are. Injured." My mother said. "You need to recognize that. You need to let your body heal. Whatever you're doing that's keeping you in this state, it's not worth it!" Case in point.

Angrily, I looked up and met my mother's eyes. "Tell that to Campestris," I said. "Ask her if it was worth it."

My mother closed her eyes, taking deep breaths to try to maintain her self-control. "The same young woman who's currently on vacation, you mean? Hachiman, I'm… I'm very proud of you, for saving her life. And yes, that was worth it. But continuing to push yourself like this when you should be in recovery isn't healthy."

"Oh yeah?" I said. Oddly, my initial anger was fading, and replacing it was this weird jangly calm. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, but my thoughts felt clear. "Hey mom, when was the last time you took a vacation?"

"This and that are totally different," she said, but I laughed.

"Yeah, you don't want to get fired, right? Don't want to miss your deadlines. Well, UA has deadlines too," I said. "Every class I skip, that's me falling further and further behind. I can't afford that. I just can't. I'm barely hanging on as it is." It was uncomfortable, admitting that, even to my mother. Even just hinting at acknowledging how stressed I was, how much work it took to keep up, made me feel uncomfortably exposed.

Mom looked at me with a complete lack of expression on her face. "Well. If it's taking you this much effort just to barely hang on, then maybe you shouldn't be doing it."

Oh. There it was. I should be mad, furious, betrayed. How dare she say such a thing, right? If it had been the first time someone had said something like that, maybe I would have been. As it was, I was… disappointed. That it was her. That just because I couldn't fight a murderer like Stain without getting hurt yet, that meant I was too weak to be a hero. That just because I only made it to the top 8 instead of being on the winner's podium in the Sports Festival, meant I wasn't a competitor at all. I told her the classes were hard, because I was struggling to keep up, and instead of recognizing I was keeping up, she just heard that I was struggling, because that was what she expected from me. Hachiman, the imperfect son.

She seemed to notice that she had said something wrong, because her face twisted, but before she could say anything the doorbell rang. "Looks like my friends from school are here," I said, my voice oddly hoarse. "I'll go let them in." As I headed for the door, I lifted the collar of my shirt and used it to wipe my forehead and face. For some reason, it seemed like I was still sweating.

"Yahello, Hikki!" There was something about Yuigahama Yui. Even at times when I desperately wanted to be alone (which, come to think of it, was more often than not) Yuigahama's irrepressible cheerfulness and positivity had a way of making her presence tolerable.

Which wasn't to say that I was going to dignify that abomination of a greeting with a similar response. "Hey," I said. "C'mon in." As she did, the smells of coffee and baked goods came in with her, and then multiplied as one after another, everyone else - Jiro and Kaminari, Ashido and Yaoyorozu - came in, each of them holding bags with the logo of a bakery on them. "Are you sure you brought enough food?" I said somewhat bemusedly, raising one eyebrow at Yaoyorozu as she came in last, closing the door behind her.

"It should be," Yaoyorozu said with a hint of doubt, as if she hadn't just bought out what looked like an entire bakery. "There's six of us, and two with enhanced metabolisms, and most of us will be having late dinners, and I thought it might be appropriate to leave a gift with your family as well so I decided to get a little bit extra, but if it isn't enough I can always order something -"

"I'm sure it'll be fine," I said, cutting her off as I led her into the living room. "So, uh… can I get anybody anything?" I asked, doing my best to ignore that my mother was still standing in the living room, looking slightly bemused at the teenagers who had just barged into her house.

"Sorry, uh… your restroom?" Jiro asked. I pointed her in the right direction, but as people started finding seats around the table, I realized that there wasn't quite enough room.

"Hey, Kaminari, grab the other side of the table, would you?" I asked. Together, the two of us pulled at the dinner table. The two sides of the table slid apart from one another, revealing additional slabs of table-top (called leaves, for some reason) that could be lifted up and slotted into place to make the table longer. I couldn't remember the last time they'd been used - a few years ago, when our grandparents had visited for New Years', maybe?

Kaminari raised an eyebrow. "Neat," he said. "You have a pretty nice place, Hikigaya," he said.

I mean, I didn't hate it or anything, but it wasn't like I had anyone else's house to compare it to. "I suppose," I said with a shrug. I looked towards mom to see if the compliment had registered with her at all, but it seemed like she had stepped away to give us some room.

"Oooh, do you have a stereo, Hikigaya?" Ashido asked me. "We totally need to set up some study tunes!"

"Oh, that's an excellent suggestion! I've read research that classical music can be used to improve concentration and skill at memorization tasks," Yaoyorozu suggested.

"Whaa? No way," Ashido protested, her hands coming up in an X across her torso to emphasize her argument. "Studying already makes me fall asleep, we don't need to put classical music on top of it!"

"If we're voting, I say we should throw on some rock and roll," Kaminari said, taking up an air guitar pose.

"Ehhh…" Ashido said. "I mean, it's better than classical, but I'd really rather go for something peppier. Something with a beat, you know? You'll back me up, right Yui?"

Yuigahama looked uncomfortably between Ashido, Yaoyorozu, and Kaminari. "Well, I, um…" rather than be the one to make a decision, she turned to me. "What sort of music do you like to listen to, Hikki?"

Crap. I was not ready to have my musical tastes judged today. "I mean, I'm not exactly picky," I lied. "But for studying, I like to listen to video game soundtracks. They're kind of designed to be background noise." Also, when I wasn't studying. Honestly, my taste in music was probably pretty lame, according to others' judgment. If it wasn't a game soundtrack, it was an anime soundtrack; and if it wasn't either of those, it was some sort of indie rapper or obscure punk band I found in a dark corner of the internet. Not that it bothered me; I didn't really care what anybody else thought. Or hadn't until thirty seconds ago, anyways.

All of a sudden, music started playing. It was a smooth, jazzy rhythm that felt like it should be playing in a cafe somewhere, simultaneously energetic and relaxed. I turned in surprise to look at Kyoka Jiro, who was stepping away from the stereo with a flat expression on her face. She brought one finger up and twirled her earlobe around it. "Good enough?" She asked.

I shouldn't have been surprised that Jiro had decent tastes in music. I mean, she dressed like a punk rocker, so clearly music was a thing she enjoyed, but part of me had somehow expected that she would have been a normie that listened to whatever was popular, just like everyone else. "I'm fine with it," I said, and from the general consensus of agreement, it seemed that everyone else was too.

"Okay then," Yaoyorozu said, clapping her hands once to get everyone's attention. "What does everybody need help with? Where should I start?"

"Mostly math," Jiro said, "but I could probably stand to go over social studies more, I'm having trouble keeping all the dates straight."

"Ehehe… Everything?" Yuigahama said, scratching her head in embarrassment.

"Samesies," Ashido said, mock-collapsing onto the table for effect. "Like, why do we gotta bother with regular classes anyways?"

"My math and science grades are kind of okayish?" Kaminari said. "Everything else… not so much. I was better in middle school but studying after classes is kind of hard for me. Even when I don't zap my entire charge, sometimes my brain still feels fuzzy."

Seeing people turn to look at me, I looked away in embarrassment. "... Math and English. Otherwise I'm more or less fine."

"Well, that's two votes for Math specifically, so we'll start there and then work around to our other subjects, if that's alright?" Yaoyorozu asked. "Oh, but before we get started, let's get the food set up."

"Like, seriously Yaomomo, this was super nice of you," Ashido said as people started pulling a cornucopia of baked goods out of various bags and putting them on the table - and then, when they threatened to overtake the space we needed for our books and notepads, the kitchen counter. "I mean, you totally didn't have to buy all of this."

"It's really not an imposition," Yaoyorozu said. "Better that we have too much than not enough. I want to make sure that we can all study successfully." She looked at me as she said it, then looked away once she saw me notice, as if I had caught her in the act.

Reaching down, I picked up a cookie and bit into it. It was flavored with mochi; a little bitter, a little sweet. I could easily see myself eating about a hundred of them. Maybe I wouldn't regret impulsively using Regeneration after all. Yet, as we all opened our books and Yaoyorozu began to lecture, I found myself enjoying them less and less. Was it really right, for me to be taking advantage of Yaoyorozu this way? She - and everyone in my class other than me, really - was a hero. Still in training, yes, but even so; all of them had that drive, that instinct to help other people. If someone had come up to me complaining about their grades being terrible, I probably would have scoffed and told them to study more; Yaoyorozu didn't even hesitate to offer her assistance.

Like Orimoto, Yaoyorozu was a nice girl. Someone who would help anyone, no matter who it was. No, even worse. A heroine, who would help someone else even to their own detriment. Someone so fundamentally lonely that she was willing to make sacrifices in order to receive the approval of others. In a way, heroism was society's last refuge for the competent and socially awkward; you could just buy your way into other peoples' good graces by being useful to them; trade in your pity and benevolence for their guilt and gratitude.

Except, Yaoyorozu had mistaken me for someone whose social circles she needed to buy her way into. For months, now, I'd been faking my way through the hero course, managing to keep up the disguise in part due to the fact that I kept tripping over assholes like the shapeshifter and Stain out of sheer dumb luck. For all that I was … disappointed with my mother for not believing in me, looking at things objectively, I couldn't really say she was wrong. I wasn't hero material, not really. Just someone willing to fake it, until he could avenge a classmate.

So as Yaoyorozu talked and explained and taught the things we all needed to know, I thought about how I should tell her to stop wasting her time, and took enthusiastic notes. Because regardless of whether I was the sort of future hero she thought I was, I still needed to pass my classes. A year ago, I had vowed that I would never need to be saved again, but the truth was, time after time, I had no option but to rely on someone else. Even now, I was still a victim playing as a hero. But I would keep on playing that role as long as I could, even if it meant lying and accepting others' pity and wasting their time when they could have been helping someone who mattered. Because as long as All For One was still out there, I couldn't afford to stop.

Of course, the human attention span was only so long. Even fueled by caffeine, sugar, and the desire for vengeance, I found my concentration starting to flag - and by the looks of everyone around the table, I wasn't the only one. But as Yaoyorozu kept cheerfully lecturing, none of us quite had the heart to tell her to pause. What I wouldn't have given for some form of distraction…

"Hey, can I have a cookie?" Bless you, Komachi. You're officially back on the nice list. As everyone turned to look at Komachi with some interest, she smiled and waved. "Oh! Nice to meet you! I'm Komachi, this idiot's sister," she said, nudging me in the shoulder with her elbow.

I rolled my eyes and reached up to grab Komachi in a headlock. Of course, without Stockpile or something equivalent, my actual chances of dragging her down so I could give her a noogie were slim, so it wound up more like using her shoulder to pull myself out of my chair than anything else. "Oh? Insulting me, are we? Is that any way to ask for a favor?" I asked, managing to reach in and tousle her hair before she batted my hand away.

"Maybe if I was asking you for a favor," she sneered, before shoving my arm off and making puppy-dog eyes at Yaoyorozu.

Something told me Yaoyorozu was an only child, because she folded right away. "Oh, of course! Help yourself!" She said. "I'm your brother's classmate, Yaoyorozu Momo."

"Just don't ruin your appetite for dinner," I said. "I've already listened to enough of Mom's nagging for one day."

"Ymph wmll, ish yr own fahlt," Komachi said through a mouthful of cookie. "So, you guys are all onii-chan's friends from school?" She asked.

"Yep!" Yuigahama said. "Hikki talks about you a lot, you know."

"You call him Hikki?" Komachi said with a snort of amusement. "Oh yeah? What sort of stuff does he say?"

"Ehehe," Yuigahama laughed nervously, putting one hand behind her head. "Mostly good things, I think?"

"Are you in middle school, Komachi-chan?" Ashido asked.

"Mmm-hmm," Komachi mumbled around another mouthful of crumbs. "I'm a first-year there this year."

"Do you have a copy quirk like your brother?" Kaminari asked.

"No, that's Mom," Komachi said. "I'm a heteromorph type, technically."

Seeing the playful look in Komachi's eye, I elbowed her gently in the shoulder. "No arm-wrestling my classmates, either."

Komachi pouted. "You're no fun."

"I don't actually care if you shatter Kaminari's ego," I said with a smirk, "the table's just too crowded."

"Harsh, dude. Also, seriously?" He said, looking dubiously at Komachi's deceptively skinny frame.

Komachi eyed Kaminari in a predatory fashion. "So, you're saying it's okay if we use the coffee table?"

Kaminari looked between Komachi and me before shaking his head. "You know what? She's your sister, I'll take your word for it." Again, Komachi looked disappointed.

"You involved in any fun clubs?" Jiro asked, giving Komachi her best friendly smile. "That was probably my favorite thing about moving up from elementary school to middle school, getting involved with clubs."

"Well, I can't really do any of the sports clubs," Komachi said with an offhand shrug, acting like the fact didn't bother her, though I was pretty sure it did, "so I decided to join the student council!"

"Oh, cool," Kaminari butted in, "just like your brother, then."

Komachi turned and looked at him incredulously. "Sorry, what?"

"Oh, are class representatives at your school not automatically part of the student council?" Yaoyorozu asked.

All of a sudden, it was me receiving the disbelieving stare. "Onii-chan, since when were you a class representative? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Didn't I?" I asked, slightly confused myself. "I could have sworn I had."

"I'm pretty sure I would have remembered you telling me something that weird," Komachi said accusingly. "You definitely didn't mention it at all!"

"Really?" I said dubiously. "Wait, no way. I told you I would be late the other day after school because of that stupid student council meeting, you definitely knew about it!"

"You said you would be late after school because you had 'a meeting'," Komachi said sarcastically. "And when I asked you what it was, you said it was, and I quote, 'some boring bullshit'," she said, making air quotes in my general direction.

"Yeah, well, I wasn't wrong," I muttered.

With a scandalized expression, Yaoyorozu folded her arms with a huff. "Well, I certainly found it useful," she said quietly.

"I suppose we did meet some interesting people," I admitted. Or at the very least they had interesting quirks, which was sort of the same thing, right?

Fascinated, Komachi looked between me and Yaoyorozu. "Hey, hey, what's onii-chan actually like, at school? I mean, he clearly never tells me anything," she said accusingly.

Yaoyorozu opened her mouth to answer, but closed it again after a second or two. "Hmm."

"Ummm…" Before Yaoyorozu could answer, Yuigahama interrupted. "Hikki's kinda… responsible?" I don't know who was more flabbergasted at that word choice, me or Komachi. "Like, he's always helping people out." Don't just lie to my sister, Yuigahama! You don't need to make me look good in front of her!

"Hmmm…" Komachi hummed, unconvinced. "He's always super lazy at home, though."

"I prefer the term efficient," I said in mock affront. "Conserving energy for important things is only logical."

Yuigahama laughed. "Ah! Eraser-gaya!" She said, her eyes sparkling with mirth.

I hadn't intended the joke, but for whatever reason, I decided to lean into it. "Learning from successful examples is also logical," I said, keeping my voice as flat and dull as possible even as I tugged on my Dad's quirk to subtly change my facial features for a split second.

That got a second, louder laugh, to Komachi's obvious puzzlement. "Eraser?" She asked.

"Eraserhead, our homeroom teacher," Jiro explained with a chuckle.

"Oh, I remember him from the sports festival, he was an announcer, right?" Komachi asked. "Are you saying he's even lazier than onii-chan?"

"Sometimes he shows up to school in a sleeping bag," Yuigahama confided.

"Wouldn't you, if you could get away with it?" I asked.

"Hmmm… I suppose not having to get out of bed so early would be nice," Yuigahama said, "but I feel like it would be way too easy to fall asleep in class."

"Isn't naptime what classes are for?" Kaminari joked.

"And this is why we're having a study session," Jiro retorted.

"Hey, classes are hard," Kaminari whined. "Especially when people like your brother," he said, mock-glaring in my direction, "keep making us overdo it in work-outs."

"Don't confuse me with Bakugo and Yukinoshita," I replied in irritation. "They're the tryhards, I just keep up with them because it's better than being mocked relentlessly."

"Are they your friends too, onii-chan?" Komachi asked.

That was a really good question. "More or less," I said with a shrug, then frowned. "Wait, why is it that when I tell you they like to make fun of me, your immediate response is to think they're my friends?"

"... Because you smiled when you said it?" Komachi said.

I folded my arms in a huff.

"It's too bad neither one of them could come to this study session," Jiro said, idly toying with one earlobe. "Listening to your brother argue with Yukinoshita is practically a manzai comedy routine."

"Don't repeat that around her, or you'll be giving her an excuse to slap me upside the head with a paper fan," I grumbled. "But I'm glad someone enjoys Yukinoshita being a total pain in the ass besides Yukinoshita."

Yaoyorozu coughed politely. "Um… Hik-, that is, Hachiman, I've seen you argue with her, and you obviously enjoy it too."

Startled by Yaoyorozu's sudden use of my first name I couldn't rebut her fast enough - not before everyone else started nodding in agreement. "You think I enjoy constantly having to defend myself?" I said.

With an exasperated expression, Yuigahama resorted to outright slander. "You're definitely the one who starts the fight half the time, Hikki."

"That sounds like my brother," Komachi agreed, the traitor. "He's a total hinedere."

"That's just part of his charm!" Ashido said, a teasing grin on her face. "The aloof exterior, the sarcasm, it's all part of your brother's ladies' man routine!"

"Ew," Komachi responded immediately.

"See, now you're just straight up lying," I said wearily. "Seriously, Komachi, I'm not that different from how I am at home," I said. "They're just playing things up for laughs."

"I totally know more than one girl who has a crush on you, though," Ashido lied, faking a hurt tone to her voice at my correction of her earlier words.

For my sanity's sake, I didn't really want to consider that statement right then. "Just because I'm better-looking than average doesn't mean I accept culpability for their poor judgment," I deadpanned instead.

"And more modest than average, too," Komachi said sarcastically.

"Of course," I agreed, "when it comes to modesty and humility, there's nobody better than me."

Yaoyorozu giggled. "You're right, Hachiman. You really are the same at home and at school," she said.

Again, the casual use of my first name threw me; it made sense, given that Komachi was also a Hikigaya, but it still felt weird. This time, however, I was able to cover my unease with a laugh. "Why wouldn't I be?" I asked, my mind immediately conjuring a long list of reasons why I in fact was no such thing.

Kaminari leaned in, grinning. "Hey, you know who I bet is completely different at home and at school? The teachers. Like, I bet Eraser-sensei goes home and turns into a total softy."

There was a thoughtful silence at the idea. "I can see Midnight-sensei going home and like, putting on a comfy sweater," Yuigahama suggested.

"Oooh! Maybe Mic-sensei just sits at home and reads a book!" Ashido added.

I burst out laughing, for real this time. "No way," I retorted. "There's literally zero chance Mic-sensei is that obnoxious as an act."

"He's pretty much exactly the same on his radio show," Jiro backed me up.

"Oh yeah?" Ashido said, disgruntled. "Then, who do you think is the most different at home?"

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mom peeking in at us from the kitchen, looking bemused at the raucous group of teenagers in her dining room. Another time, I might have tried to quiet things down a little, but right at the moment I didn't really care. Instead of my first response, which was the obvious answer of All Might, I suddenly found my face spreading into an evil smirk. "Recovery Girl," I suggested. "She's probably the same in private as Midnight-sensei is in public."

The round of groans of disgust I received for that suggestion was immensely satisfying. "Well. On that note, we should probably get back to studying," Yaoyorozu said, prompting a consensus of sighs and imprecations from around the table.

For a second, Komachi looked sad at the notion of having to leave, but suddenly she perked up. "Oh! Can I study with you guys? I'll go get my homework!" she asked.

I probably should have told her to leave us alone, but at the end of the day I wasn't any more immune to puppy-dog eyes than Yaoyorozu was. "No trying to scam my classmates into doing it for you," I warned.

She stuck her tongue out at me impishly, then ran into her bedroom to go grab her stuff. With a sigh, I turned to the group. "Sorry about her," I said.

"It's fine, she's cute!" Ashido said. "I always wondered what it would be like to have a younger sibling, both of mine are older."

"Don't over romanticize it, it's a pain in the ass," I grumbled. "Back me up here," I asked, looking at the group expectantly.

I was met with an awkward silence. "Ehehe, I'm kind of an only child," Yuigahama said.

"As am I," "Yeah," Yaoyorozu and Jiro agreed.

"Kaminari?" I asked, but he shook his head and scratched at the bridge of his nose.

"Youngest here too," Kaminari said, smirking a little.

I sighed in mock exasperation. "Well, you'll just have to take my word for it, then. Younger siblings are a pain in the ass."

"It's our prerogative!" Komachi agreed with a smile as she pulled up a chair to the corner of the table. Grudgingly, I scooted sideways to let her in.

"Just ask us if there's anything you need help with," Yaoyorozu told Komachi kindly. "Now, let's finish covering substitution in integration before we move on to social studies, shall we?"

Honestly, I really couldn't stand calculus. It was hypocritical. They handed you an impossibly complicated equation, and told you to integrate it, to sum it up from point a to point b. Apparently, the way you were supposed to do that was to just put a label on the parts you couldn't understand, make it look like something you did know how to handle, and then take those pieces out of the box you put them in once you were done with all the rest.

Maybe that worked for numbers, if you were smarter than I was anyways, but it didn't work for people. If I was the same at home and at school, it was because I was hiding all of the ugly pieces of me behind a mask named Myriad, disguising myself as something that looked just like all of the actual heroes. Something that could, not to put too fine a point on it, be integrated. But unlike with numbers, replacing yourself with an easy to understand facsimile didn't actually solve any problems.

It would be easy to let myself be Myriad. To hide all of those pieces of myself that nobody wanted to see behind a heroic smile and a flashy costume. Here and now, studying with classmates after school, I had to admit… I was having fun. There was just one problem. Could I really call myself someone's friend, if I was abusing their trust? Even now, I was building relationships with these people that were based on false foundations. The longer I kept up the lie, the more it would hurt them when they finally found out the truth. Some day, I would have to tell them.

Some day.