The next practical saw 1-A assembled at one of the outdoor training grounds. The staff had been rotating to cover Aizawa’s lessons while he recovered from the USJ attack, and All Might had been chosen to cover their next practical. Still following Aizawa’s lesson plans, of course. Izuku had been tasked with reporting back to his mentor whether or not any changes had been made from his instructions, and after the first time someone decided to go off his carefully structured assignments none of the substitutes were willing to press their luck again. Izuku wasn’t quite sure what Aizawa had done, but it made Hizashi laugh every time it was mentioned, so he assumed it had to have been good.
With the Sports Festival only a week away, they were all focusing on getting in as much training as possible. It was different from before though. None of them could deny that. Izuku knew his own reasons for feeling off, and there was no telling what the others had been through when they were scattered through the USJ or blocked by the warp villain. It was with only a little hesitation that he had passed on what he saw to Aizawa. If he had been at school, Aizawa would have noticed in a second what was wrong with his class. It was only fair that someone tell him how they were doing so he could adjust the lessons as needed.
The group huddled around All Might as he explained the lesson Aizawa had prepared for them, looking at each other as though they weren’t quite sure they had heard the hero correctly. Aizawa’s lessons were always much more complicated than freeze tag sounded. Simulations and scenarios that pushed them to think through their problems and apply their skills in different ways. School had only started a short time ago, but they knew Aizawa well enough to know that there was more to this activity than it seemed.
“Yes, young Ashido!” All Might’s voice seemed to echo in the empty city street. The training ground was very similar to the one they had used in All Might’s first lesson with them with tall building, looping wires, and pipes raised high about the ground. “Freeze tag! Although there will be a few rules, of course!” He winked with a smile, and Izuku choked back his laughter at his classmates confused faces. Aizawa hadn’t filled him in on his lessons ahead of time-that would be cheating even if Izuku happened to be his personal student-but he thought he could see where this was going.
“The rules are simple, but make sure to listen! Aizawa-sensei will have all of the footage from this class as well, so don’t forget that he will be watching! Expect some notes on your performance to be emailed to you by the end of the day! There are a few things you will be graded on. We will have three randomly chosen seekers at one time. Seekers will gain points based on the number of people they tag. There will be a time limit for each round, so don’t waste it! If you get tagged, have no fear! This is freeze tag, after all. You will have a chance to try again. Points for the rest of the class will be determined by the number of classmates you unfreeze, so no running away from these fights! Use your quirks as you see fit, but remember we do not want to visit Recovery Girl because of reckless quirk use! Make smart choices.”
His instructions were so much better than their first class. It was easy to see that he had taken Aizawa’s and Hizashi’s advice to heart. Izuku and Denki exchanged a quick look, grinning. All Might had seemed nervous about covering their class during their last training session with him, but he seemed to have gotten over it. As for the activity itself, Izuku couldn’t hold back his excitement. This was just the thing the class needed to get in a better headspace before the Sports Festival. Something fun that still required them to strategize and work together. A way to ease them back into using their quirks around and potentially on each other. Making it so that students could only get points for unfreezing their classmates meant that everyone would have to be involved in the action at some point while putting the seekers at a disadvantage.
All Might tapped at the tablet in his hand and then held it up for everyone to see the three names in the middle of the screen. “Our first seekers are: Iida, Asui, and Uraraka! You have two minutes to prepare. The buzzer will sound when the round begins! Good luck!”
Izuku and Denki wasted no time. Two minutes wasn’t a lot of time, and with Iida’s quirk they needed to put as much distance between themselves and the starting point as possible. While they would still need to be close enough to get points of their own, it wouldn’t do them any good to get caught in the initial wave of tags. Iida was a bad draw for their first round, and Asui and Uraraka were almost as troubling. Asui had reach, and Uraraka had a grin on her face that was entirely too familiar for him to think that she would be easy to avoid.
Aizawa would have been disappointed had he actually been there, because Izuku was so focused on figuring out what Uraraka might have been planning to give her such a look that he only noticed that he and Denki were being followed a moment before she spoke.
“Hey, guys! You look like you know what you’re doing! Mind if I tag along?”
Izuku and Denki exchanged another look without breaking stride. Izuku wasn’t sure that he had ever had a real conversation with Ashido before, and he was fairly certain that Denki hadn’t been that close to her before they became friends either. So why did she suddenly want to team up with them? It could be as she said. Izuku and Denki had immediately reacted when All Might had started their count down. For some reason, Izuku thought there was more to it than that though. Still, there was no reason for them to refuse. Ashido hadn’t been anything but polite to Izuku, and she hadn’t been one of the ones who had looked at him warily when they learned that he was quirkless. That was good enough for him at the moment.
“Sure!” Denki said, shooting her a grin over his shoulder. For a second, Izuku couldn’t help but marvel that Denki had understood his thoughts on the situation without him having to say a word, but then he remembered that they were in the middle of an exercise, and their time would be running out soon.
“This kind of activity works better with a team, so thanks for the help, Ashido!” Izuku added, wanting to make sure she knew that it wasn’t just Denki who was okay with having her along. She grinned in return, and they lapsed into silence until they turned the corner of a building and slipped inside. By Izuku’s count they still had thirty seconds until the seekers would be released, but they should have moved far enough away to have a moment to get a better plan together.
“Ashido, did you see where everyone else went when All Might started the count down?”
The three had crouched down near the doorway of the building, out of sight of anyone who happened to run by but with a clear view of the street leading back to All Might. They couldn’t stay long, Izuku knew. Getting trapped in the building was a sure way to end up tagged, and they would have to venture out to earn points of their own, but it would keep them out of the fight for the moment.
“Everyone kind of scattered,” Ashido said, tilting her head to peek around the doorframe. “I think Blasty wanted to hang back and fight straight off, but Kirishima was pulling him down the street before I caught up with you.”
“Blasty?” Izuku covered his mouth with his hand so that he wouldn’t laugh. Denki didn’t even bother hiding it.
Ashido smiled with a sheepish shrug. “Yeah? Bakugou’s still refusing to call us by name, right? He has all those silly nicknames? So, I though he deserved one of his own. At this point, I’m not sure if that’s just a thing he does, or if he really doesn’t know our names. Either way, I’ve probably said it to his face a dozen times now, and he hasn’t blown up on me. I’m taking that as his seal of approval!”
She wasn’t wrong to take it that way, Izuku felt sure. He hadn’t spent much time around Katsuki since started school, but he knew that if he really didn’t want Ashido to call him that he would have told her so. Loudly. With his quirk to help get the point across. It was another reminder of how much Katsuki had changed in the recent months, and it made him wonder again what exactly had happened to his old childhood friend while Izuku had been distracted with his training. Something for him to worry about later.
“Not everyone went as far as us though!” Ashido said, bringing Izuku back to the conversation. “I saw a few people duck into the buildings closer to All Might. Probably hoping they can unfreeze the first people tagged.”
“Even though they’ll probably actually be the first people tagged,” Denki said, leaning into the wall beside him. “Iida’s too fast.” Just as he spoke, there was the sound of an explosion in the distance. Their time was definitely up now. They needed to be moving soon if they wanted to get any points.
“Looks like Blasty got his wish,” Ashido said, laughing. “I wonder how mad he’s going to be once he gets tags? I bet it’s going to be Uraraka who does it. He’s been spending a lot of time with her and Kirishima lately.”
“I guess we’ll find out if he actually decided to just fight them head on,” Izuku said, running through everything he knew about Iida, Uraraka, and Asui’s skills. “Head on confrontation isn’t going to work. This is set up so that people will have to end up getting tagged, not matter how much space is in the training ground. If we only get points for unfreezing people, then everyone is going to be drawn to the same general area. I think our best bet is to get in and get out. Find someone who has been frozen, tag them, and then get out of the main conflict as quickly as we can. The seekers don’t get points for keeping people frozen, so there’s really no incentive for them to keep watch of them once they’ve been tagged. As long as we can get in and out without getting noticed, we should be fine. If they’re smart, Iida, Uraraka, and Asui will work together to corner people to tag, which should leave everyone else fairly open. We make sure to move together, and if we get split up we meet back outside the main fighting. Sound good?”
“Wow, Midoriya! You really put a lot of thought into this!” Ashido said.
Izuku thought is said a lot about how far he had come that only looked for a double meaning in her words for a second before realizing that she was completely genuine. Compliments from his friends or Aizawa and Hizashi were one thing, but it was still odd for other people to take note of his skills. He rubbed at the back of his neck awkwardly, refusing to look at her or Denki. “It’s really nothing.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Izuku!” Denki said, and Izuku noticed Ashido’s eyes widen slightly at the use of his name. “That’s a great plan! If we stick together, I’m sure we can rack up a ton of points.”
Izuku grinned at the two of them, and reached for one of the pouches at his belt. “One more thing…”
They headed back towards the base without another word, sticking to the sides of the buildings as they hurried down the side walk. It wasn’t just the sounds of explosions they could hear as they moved closer, and Izuku wasn’t surprised when they turned the final corner to see that their class had descended into chaos. For a moment, Izuku’s thoughts shifted to the last time he had seen his class in such disarray, and there was a tightness in his chest as he stared at the scene. Denki and Ashido stopped on the sidewalk a few steps ahead of him and looked back at him, their confusion clear.
“Midoriya, are you okay?”
Shaking away the images from that day, Izuku hurried to catch up with them. “Sorry, guys. Memories.” Denki frowned, but didn’t press him, reaching over to give his hand a squeeze.
Ashido shuddered. “I get that. As if the nightmares aren’t bad enough. Do you want a minute?”
Izuku could tell she meant it. They had agreed to work together, and their grade for the practical was dependent on them getting out there, but if Izuku said that he needed a second to pull himself together then Ashido wasn’t going to complain. It was such a small thing. Kindness from someone who understood what he was going through. But for someone who had only recently started receiving that kindness from people his own age, the gesture meant more to Izuku than he cared to put to words.
“I’m good! Let’s go get some points!”
He hesitated only a second before removing his practice rods from where they were secured to his belt. They didn’t feel the same in his hand as his normal ones, but that was the point. It was one step closer to getting back on track, and it was a step that he could make without pushing his comfort zone too far. Aizawa would kill him if he thought that Izuku was trying to rush through his recovery in time for the Sports Festival, and Izuku didn’t want to let him down. He knew it would only hurt him worse in the long run. Besides, as Aizawa had told him many times since their initial conversation about his mental block, eskrima wasn’t the only trick he had up his sleeve.
It seemed that Izuku’s analysis had been correct. Most of the class had gathered in the open area of the base once the round truly began, and while it was clear that some of his classmates had the same idea of getting in and getting out again, the seekers were too good of a match up. From what Izuku could see, half of their class was already frozen with Asui and Uraraka on both sides of the streets waiting to pick off anyone who tried to get close enough to unfreeze them.
Ashido let out a quiet giggle as they approached. It seemed that she had gotten her wish after all. Katsuki stood to the right of Uraraka fuming, his arms crossed. If Izuku didn’t know better, he almost would have said he was pouting. Uraraka kept sending glances his way, trying to cover her own laughter with her hand. It wasn’t working though, and Izuku could hear the popping of Katsuki’s explosions grow louder the longer Uraraka struggled to contain her glee.
“This is going to be harder than I thought,” Denki said. Hagakure seemed to be having the most luck breaking into the crowded mess. Izuku could only follow her trail by the people who suddenly broke away from the crowd. Sero had used his tape to pull himself out of reach a second before Iida grabbed him again, slapping Ojiro as he went passed. Ojiro managed to block Iida’s next attempt to tag his with his tail and tagged Sato. It was hard to keep track of with everyone shifting, but then Todoroki was suddenly moving again, sending a wall of ice that cut off Asui from the rest of the group, and then Katsuki was letting off an explosion that almost knocked Uraraka to the ground. Their training together seemed to have paid off though, because Uraraka hardly seemed phase, lunging to freeze him again.
“It’s now or never!” Ashido said brightly, starting towards the chaos. Izuku and Denki had no choice but to follow. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as they slipped into the fray. Iida had managed to tag Ojiro again, but it was only a second before Tokoyami was there to unfreeze him. Iida was facing off against both of them, as they managed to keep him at an arm’s length through Ojiro and Dark Shadow’s blocking. Asui was trying to make it around Todoroki’s wall, and Uraraka was still fighting Katsuki, both of them grinning. Izuku wasn’t quite sure how that friendship had started, but he would have to get the story from Uraraka later. As he watched, Kirishima joined Bakugou’s side. They fell into a rhythm almost instantly, but Uraraka was still holding her own.
The trio headed to the center of the crowd, unfreezing people as they went. Izuku didn’t both to keep track, as he tried to watch all three of the seekers at once. Asui made it around the wall, immediately tagging Aoyama and Kouda who seemed to be working together. Iida pushed passed Dark Shadow, diving underneath him to tag Ojiro again. Without Ojiro’s assistance, it was only another moment before Iida managed to distract Tokoyami long enough to tag him as well. Kirishima and Katsuki were still going strong against Uraraka, which left only the two seekers to deal with.
“We can’t get out!” Denki said, backing up until he could feel Ashido and Izuku beside him. Even with Uraraka busy, Todoroki’s ice had cut off a large part of their escape route. Going by Katsuki was out unless they wanted to risk getting caught up in that fight, and Iida turned from Tokoyami and Ojiro to lock eyes with Izuku through the crowd.
“Too late. Iida’s spotted us. Remember the plan?” They both nodded, and Izuku’s grip on his practice rods tightened. They couldn’t show their hand too early. The timing had to be perfect. The space between them opened up as Iida approached, and Ashido took the opportunity to launch acid into Iida’s path. It didn’t make him choose a different target, but it did force him to slow down, edging around the path that Ashido was creating. Iida veered right away from Asui and the wall, and that was when Denki struck. His control had gotten so much better since working with Aizawa and All Might. Iida almost tripped avoiding the blast, another throw from Ashido sending him stumbling back towards the left where Asui waited.
Izuku ran to meet him, rods raised to knock his hands aside. Iida feinted left, but Izuku was already moving, ducking under his swing to come up behind him and throwing a small blue ball at his feet before Iida could recover, refusing to think about the last time he had used one. The ball exploded, covering Iida’s feet in the sticky material that would keep him from taking another step.
He only had a moment to appreciate the stunned look on Iida’s face before he yelled out, “Asui! Uraraka! Midoriya’s got-”
It didn’t matter though. Ashido had moved the moment that Iida was secure, tossing the ball that Izuku had given her towards Asui with a cry of “Catch!” Asui raised her hands instinctively, catching the movement a moment too late. Blue covered her hands the moment the ball made contact, and Asui cheered.
The last ball, given to Denki, exploded at Uraraka’s feet as she jumped out of the way of Kirishima and Katsuki’s joint attack. After that, it was only a matter of unfreezing the people who had been tagged before the buzzer sounded ending the round.
“That’s all for round one! Take a break, everyone, and we’ll draw names for round two! Midoriya, could you please release your classmates?”
“Of course, All Might!” Izuku said, his face going red. He reached into his pocket again, passing a vial of the solvent to Denki and Ashido, while he leaned down to pour his own vial on Iida’s shoes. “Don’t worry, Iida-kun. This won’t stain your shoes. It will just break the compound down, so you don’t have to wait for it to break down naturally.”
“As expected, Midoriya,” Iida said. “A brilliant plan, with a simple solution!”
“Thanks?” Izuku responded, not quite able to keep the confusion from his voice. Yes, Iida had apologized to him about their first training exercise, but that was a long way from what he was saying now.
“Ah,” Iida said, looking at him as Izuku straightened up. “About what I said before. I have to apologize to you once again, Midoriya-kun. What you did at the USJ…The situation might have been far worse if it hadn’t been for your quick thinking and action. You were a true hero that day, and I will be looking forward to seeing what you can do in the future.” The words were punctuated by a sharp nod, and then Iida was off, heading towards Asui before Izuku could fully process what he had said.
“What was that about?” Denki asked, coming back to his side, Ashido following a moment after him.
“Another apology. I think?”
“Iida’s a tough one to read, even though he seems so straight forward,” Ashido said, shaking her head. “But look at us! If we don’t have the most points after that round, I’ll be surprised! It worked just like you said, Midoriya!”
She grinned at them again, and he could feel Denki watching him for his reaction. “Only because you and Denki timed it perfectly! We couldn’t have done it without you.” If possible, her grin grew wider, and Izuku couldn’t help smiling in return.
“Hey, Ashido,” Denki said, throwing an arm over her shoulder. She blinked, surprised, her eyes drifting to his arm and then back at Izuku, but she didn’t step away from him.
“How do you feel about coffee ice cream?”
Once again, Denki had somehow managed to read Izuku’s mind, and Izuku didn’t have a problem with it one bit.