Like the rest of Class 1-A, Deku rose to fame while still in high school. Even now, as the confirmed Number One, Deku was relatively young, but had been in the spotlight for almost 10 years. At the apex of the war, and in its immediate aftermath, it was Deku’s face that was plastered on every flat surface. The photos were everywhere, of Deku’s soot-covered face, one bloody fist thrust into the air in victory, and then, later, his beatific smile as he stood before reporters, cameras, and the panicked masses and assured them in that unwavering voice that peace was upon them once more.
You’re safe, his smiling face said. It’s alright, because I am here.
Even though he was only in his mid-twenties, Deku had been shaping the landscape of heroics for years and inspiring scores of young, prospective heroes. Young heroes like Goldfinger.
She had apprehended the super-villain of the day quickly, but there had been collateral damage. Goldfinger volunteered immediately to help clean up. She had gone from sidekick to pro two weeks ago, but clean up was something she’d never outgrow. Some high-up pros stuck their noses up at manual labour, and it left a bad taste in her mouth. Heroes should help in any way they could. She briefly remembered an old photo of Uravity floating rubble the size of a car down the street. It had been her phone wallpaper for a month in middle school.
She created a giant gold hand, grabbed a chunk of concrete, and hoisted it into the air. A sidekick at her agency, Mini-Me, touched it. The chunk shrunk until it was smaller than a baseball.
There was a loud gasp from behind them, and then someone said, “Wow!”
Goldfinger and Mini-Me whirled around and then blanched. There was no mistaking it. The greens of the costume, the freckles, the furious red shoes, and the bright smile were unmistakeable; it was him. Deku. His mask was down, and thick curls stuck up in all directions. His big eyes shone in the afternoon sun.
Mini-Me choked on his own spit. Goldfinger’s heart stopped. She said, “Uh.”
“You make such a useful team up. You both have such versatile quirks.” Deku turned the full force of his smile on Goldfinger. “Goldfinger! I’ve wanted to talk to you since you were Cellophane’s sidekick, and I was just so amazed at how you took down Heavy-Weight last week. Your quirk, is it a form of limited telekinesis or do you physically manifest forms at will? Is it an extension of your body? I don’t want to impose, but I was thinking—”
As Deku went on, his words grew quieter and mixed together. His mumbling and babbling tangents were famous, partly because the shrewd way he absorbed information and formed strategies was an admirable trait in a hero, and also partly because fans were drawn to people with interesting idiosyncrasy. Mostly, Goldfinger thought, it was because it was exceptionally cute. Hunched over slightly, hand on his chin, working out the nuisances of her quirk aloud, Deku was incredibly endearing.
Goldfinger felt a little faint. Endearing was such an underwhelming term. Here was Deku, standing before her, talking about how her quirk could be strengthened through support training, like he wasn’t the Number One hero and she hadn’t spent hours re-watching videos of him punching walls into dust and blushing his way through interviews with overzealous reporters.
Goldfinger glanced wide-eyed at Mini-Me, trying to see if he was seeing this too or if she was hallucinating. Deku caught the exchange and cut himself off.
“Sorry,” he said. “I babble sometimes. It’s embarrassing. It’s just—I’m a big fan.”
“A what?” Goldfinger said weakly.
Deku turned to Mini-Me. The sidekick squeaked.
“I saw you at the sports festival last year. And the year before that. You were so cool. You really applied your quirk in unique ways, but I—I have some questions—”
Mini-Me had graduated from UA a few months ago. He was still shy around the experienced pros at their agency, like Cellophane. And now, without any warning, the Number One hero was in front of him, laying out the capabilities of his quirk like he had personally studied it.
Mini-Me looked like he might keel over. Goldfinger grabbed his arm, just in case.
Deku cut himself off for a second time. He ran a hand through his hair sheepishly. “Sorry. I did it again.”
“That’s fine,” Mini-Me said. He sounded like he was about to burst into tears.
Deku didn’t seem to notice. “I forgot to ask,” he said. He reached for the utility belt strapped around his waist and pulled out a tiny notebook, barely bigger than his palm, and flipped it open to a clean page. Deku held it out to them, sunk into a bow, and asked, “Can I please have your autographs?”
Red-Herring leant against Goldfinger’s desk, surveying the two figures sprawled facedown on the carpet like she was trying to work out if they were dead, concussed, or perfectly fine from sight alone. She prodded Goldfinger with the toe of her red boots.
“You good?” Red-Herring asked.
Goldfinger moved her head to the side. “I will never be good again,” she told Red-Herring’s boot.
“Shut up, drama queen.”
“You’re a student intern,” Goldfinger said. “You don't know about the horrors waiting for you outside of high school. We adults have to deal with our realities being turned upside down randomly. The universe does not make sense.”
Mini-Me whimpered and curled up like a pillbug. In one hand, he clasped a small sheet of notepaper. He gripped it to his chest like it was his only salvation.
“Boss,” Red-Herring called, “Goldfinger is acting screwy again!”
Cellophane crossed the bullpen and came to a stop by Red-Herring’s side. He didn't seem concerned by the two dead-eyed underlings laying on the ground in front of him. He only laughed, and asked, “What happened?”
Goldfinger made a distressed noise in the back of her throat. Mini-Me squeezed his eyes shut.
“They came back from patrol looking like their souls had been sucked out,” Red-Herring said. “Then they collapsed on the ground and haven’t moved since.”
Cellophane crouched beside Goldfinger. “I’m assuming nothing is actually wrong since I didn’t get any alerts. Big day?”
“Deku.” The word came out like a death rattle.
“Deku?” Cellophane prompted. “I heard he was in town. I’m assuming he’s also okay, because the group chat isn’t blowing up with people yelling at him for being reckless again.”
Red-Herring stared at her boss like it was the first time she had ever seen him. More likely, she had just remembered that Cellophane, as one of the twenty students from the notorious Class 1-A, was probably friends with Deku.
“He asked me,” Goldfinger said slowly, “for my autograph. He said he’d been wanting to talk to me for a while. He said he was a big fan.”
“Piss off,” Red-Herring said, with the conviction of a teenager who knew nothing of the world and its many, many horrors.
Cellophane rose to his feet, and flapped an unconcerned hand in the air. “Oh, yeah. He does that sometimes.”
Mini-Me sat up and held up the sheet of notepaper. It bore Deku’s blocky signature above the words, From your No. 1 fan.
“What the fuck,” Red-Herring said.
“Language,” Cellophane said, and grimaced. He hated scolding people for profanity, but he did have a minor under his care and HR would skin him alive if she went back to school with an even fouler mouth than she had arrived with. (No one wanted another Bakugou on their hands. No one seemed to realise that half the reason Cellophane had nominated her in the first place was because she looked like a terrifying cross between Kirishima and Bakugou, and he respected that).
“Fuck you,” Red-Herring said, and Cellophane smiled indulgently at her.
“He knew who I was,” Mini-Me cried. “He said he watched me at the sports festival. Twice. He started talking about my quirk, and gave me advice, and then said my power was really neat. He asked us for an autograph and then looked embarrassed when I asked him for one in return.”
“Deku’s always been like that,” Cellophane told them. “When he was a teenager he would get starry-eyed over every pro hero and sidekick and even the other students. He never grew out of that. He sees everyone’s potential.”
“But he’s Number One,” Goldfinger said.
Cellophane shrugged. “That doesn’t matter to him, not in that way. He never sees anyone as below him. You’re all his equal.”
Red-Herring bounced on her toes. Her antagonistic scowl was gone. Without it, she was as bright-eyed and eager as any other sixteen year old. “Can I meet him?” she demanded.
As Cellophane thought about this, his phone pinged in his pocket. He pulled it out, and laughed. “You’re going to. Deku’s coming tomorrow for lunch.”
“Here?” When Cellophane nodded, Red-Herring dropped into a desk chair with such gusto that she rolled across the bullpen and knocked against the far wall. “Holy shit!”
Mini-Me whimpered and hugged his knees to his chest. Goldfinger rolled onto her back, and asked the ceiling, “What the fuck?”
Cellophane laughed, typing out a reply on his phone. This time, he didn’t scold them for their language.