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another face in the crowd

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The sports festival felt different at this angle, like this was Midoriya’s first time seeing the festivities. In a way, it was. As a student, he had used side entrances and private corridors during the sports festival. He saw the inside of the arena—its secluded corners and rooms, where so many of his relationships were formed and strengthened—rather than the crowds, the public seating area, and the stalls set up over campus.

And before that, he had watched the live broadcast from his couch, holding tightly to his hero journal. UA had looked different on TV. More untouchable. Like someplace out of a dream.

Attending the sports festival as an observer was strange. He had graduated years ago, but he still expected to be ushered through the ‘students only’ doors, to see Uraraka in her sports uniform flagging him down, to hear Present Mic announcing, the indomitable Midoriya Izuku! one last time over the speakers.

That was in the past, though. His excitement was all for the kids. He had a fresh journal in his bag, ready to take notes during the activities later, and now, he finally had the chance to check out all the stalls.

Midoriya fidgeted with his mask. It was a plastic Batman mask that obscured the top half of his face. Uraraka had bought it for him a year ago, hoping he would wear it when he wanted to duck out during conventions and browse the con floor, rather than stride through the crowds bare-faced like he had always done. He would have gone without it today, but Todoroki had pressed it into his hands that morning and insisted.

Midoriya squeezed through the crowds. There was so much to see—stalls selling merchandise and food, carnival games, and other pro heroes sprinkled through the crowds. Most heroes were in costume (unlike Midoriya, who wanted everyone’s attention to be firmly on Bakugou's class). Maybe he should seek the other pros out, or go find them in the VIP cafeterias reserved for high profile attendees. Midoriya loved talking to other heroes, especially those he didn’t get to regularly work with, but the freshmen were always up first, and he couldn’t accidentally miss seeing Bakugou’s class—

Midoriya turned the problem over in his head, checked his watch compulsively, and almost mowed down a father and son turning the corner. He stopped abruptly, and people behind him rammed into him, the group behind them following suit, and then there were strangers knocking into strangers, belongings and limbs flying everywhere.

Midoriya threw himself to one side so someone didn’t fall and brain themselves on him. His hoodie might have hidden it, but he was built like a brick wall. He managed to avoid most of the damage, but a nearby pair didn’t; a father had pulled his son into the gap between stalls, and bent over, wiping ice cream stains off his son’s chest with a napkin. The kid’s face was screwed up like he was trying not to cry. His ice cream laid in the middle of the walkway, rapidly melting into sludge.

Midoriya’s legs moved on their own. “Excuse me.” The father looked up. Midoriya smiled sheepishly. “That was my fault. I wasn’t watching where I was going. Sorry. Can I buy you another ice cream?”

“It’s alright,” said the father. He reminded Midoriya strikingly of his own mother. The messy curls, the dark circles under his eyes, the polite smile, even the narrow shouldered kid, sucking in great gulps of air and dressed in a sticky All Might hoodie—it was the Midoriya family fifteen years ago.

“Please,” Midoriya said. “The sports festival is supposed to be an exciting day out, and I’ve ruined it. Let me try and make it a bit better?”

The father must have seen something in Midoriya’s face, something he trusted, because he dropped the napkins and stood. “I’m Takanaka,” he said, “and this is Ikki. He’s more upset about his hoodie than his ice cream, I think.”

“I had that exact hoodie when I was younger. If it got covered in ice cream, I’d be upset, too.”

Ikki stopped sniffing long enough to glower up at Midoriya. “You ruined it.”

“Ikki,” Takanaka scolded. “You have your Deku hoodie in your bag. You can change into that, and we’ll wash the All Might one tonight.”

“Deku’s not as cool as All Might, though,” Midoriya said, ignoring Takanaka’s long-suffering sigh at this stranger encouraging his son’s behaviour. “All Might is the best of the best. There’s no competition.”

“Deku is cool, too,” Ikki said defensively. Just like that, all traces of tears were gone as he recognised just who it was in front of him: a fellow fanboy. “I mean, All Might is kind of old, and—”

Midoriya gasped. “He’s an icon! He’s timeless!”

Ikki huffed and changed tactics. “Last week, Deku held a building on his shoulders for almost half an hour while his sidekicks evacuated everyone.”

“Have you seen the footage of All Might rescuing over a hundred people in a few minutes?”

“Of course, but—!”

“Boys, boys,” Takanaka said, hands held in front of him. “They’re both great. And Ikki, you shouldn't start fights with strangers, especially when they’ve offered to buy you ice cream.”

Before Midoriya could apologise for starting an argument with a preteen, Ikki rolled his eyes. “We’re not fighting, dad. He’s a hero fan like me. We’re friends now.”

Midoriya liked this kid immensely. He reminded Midoriya of himself in a way, but he had certainly never snapped back this fast after a near-panic attack. (And Midoriya had also never reached out and made a friend that didn’t hurt him until he started high school.)

“I am a big hero fan,” Midoriya agreed. “The biggest.”

“I’m the biggest hero fan,” Ikki said. “Come on. Lets get ice cream. You can tell me about All Might, and I can tell you about Deku.”

Ikki strode into the crowd, and his dad scrambled after him. Midoriya looked at his watch. He had enough time for an ice cream break and a serious hero nerd out.

Ikki lead them to a stall that sold hero themed desserts. Ikki stubbornly ordered the Deku Delight. Midoriya countered by ordering the All Might Mania. Takanaka looked on, completely lost.

“I’m not a fan like Ikki,” he admitted. “Uh. I like pancakes?”

Midoriya ordered the Pinky Pancake Pyramid for him, and Ikki nodded approvingly. “Pinky is cool, too. Good choice.”

Takanaka’s helpless expression reminded him, again, of his mother—not understanding her son’s hero obsession, but supporting him every step of the way.

“They’re all very cool,” Midoriya said, gesturing at the board. “Just … not as cool as All Might.”

“No!” Ikki lead them towards a shaded area beneath an outcropping of trees, and started in on a lecture about the level of coolness between heroes, and the differences between Deku and All Might. Takanaka trailed after them. Midoriya guessed he was allowing this strange man to spend time with his son because he had bought them apology desserts and was indulging his son’s passion for heroics.

Midoriya pulled out his phone, and sent off a text to Uraraka, letting her know where he was. When pocketed it and looked back up, Ikki was staring at him, more serious than any preteen had the right to look.

“All Might is more golden age,” Ikki began, shoving his spoon into the mint ice cream. “He’s classic, but Deku is totally different. He’s Number One, for starters!”

Midoriya pointed a yellow wafer at Ikki. “All Might was Number One for decades. Decades.”

They finished their ice cream as they talked. Takanaka picked at his pancakes and watched on, baffled, as they argued back and forth. Midoriya was far too enthusiastic, but it had been so long since he has been able to talk with other fans like this, especially about the best hero that had ever lived, All Might.

“Ahoy!” Midoriya cut himself off, and looked up. Uraraka waved, crossing the grass towards them. “I knew it was you. I’d recognise those curls anywhere.”

Sero trailed after Uraraka. Kaminari was further back, crouched to take a photo with a fan. None of them were wearing their hero costumes, and they hadn’t taken measures to blend him; Kaminari’s recognisable, eccentric hairstyle had already attracted a flock of kids.

Midoriya risked a glance at Ikki. His eyes looked like they were going to fall out of his head.

“Uravity,” he whispered to himself. “Cellophane. Charge Bolt.”

Takanaka looked from Ikki to Midoriya. “Are they heroes?”

“Dad, oh my god.”

“Yeah,” Midoriya said. And then, almost sheepishly, he waved back at Uraraka. “Hey, guys.”

“You’re going to miss the first years if you’re not careful,” Sero said. “Everyone else is already at the stadium.”

“Have you seen Kacchan yet?” Midoriya asked.“How is he holding up? Is he worried?”

Uraraka laughed. “He pretends not to care, but we all know he’s secretly stressed out, hoping his students will do well. He’s just like Aizawa.”

Ikki was staring at Midoriya, now. “You said Kacchan.”

“Uh,” Midoriya said.

“Deku is the only person that calls Detonation Kacchan. Not even Red Riot calls him that.”

“Uh,” Midoriya said again.

Ikki’s mouth opened and closed, like he couldn’t remember how to form words. Takanaka was still smiling, oblivious. Uraraka and Sero looked pained.

“He’s done it again, hasn’t he?” Uraraka said to Sero.

Sero rubbed his temple. “Please, Midoriya, we can’t keep doing this.”

Kaminari waved goodbye to the last of his fans, and bounded over. “What has Midoriya done now?”

“Hung out with hero fans without being aware of the fact that he’s number one,” Sero said.

Kaminari looked from Ikki’s stricken expression, to Uraraka, trying to look stern while also trying not to laugh, to Midoriya himself, fidgeting under their stares, still wearing the Batman mask.

“Dude,” Kaminari said, “again?”

Midoriya reached up, and carefully took off the mask. Ikki made a small sound in the back of his throat, like someone had stepped on him. His eyes grew wet.

“I’m sorry,” Midoriya hurried to say. “I wasn’t trying to be mean, I just—”

“He forgets, sometimes,” Sero said.

“He’s still not used to being famous,” Kaminari agreed, and made a face. It had been years since they had first made national headlines, and they had stayed in the national headlines ever since.

“He’s … ” Sero groped for the words.

Uraraka shrugged. “Deku is Deku.”

“I’m sorry,” Midoriya said.

But, instead of getting angry or bursting into tears, Ikki leapt up, and said, a touch hysterical, “I win!”

Midoriya blinked at him. “What?”

“Deku bought me Deku-themed ice cream—you have to admit that you’re the superior hero, now!”

“Wha—no! That doesn’t count!”

“It makes sense. You can’t say that you’re the best hero yourself, so you automatically have to root for someone else, and that means your argument is disqualified.”

“It is not!”

“My prize will be autographs and selfies,” Ikki declared, nodding to himself. There was a gleam in his eyes that wasn’t there before, and he was smiling so hard his cheeks must have hurt, but otherwise, he looked smug, rather than on the brink of an emotional breakdown. Another way he and Ikki differed, Midoriya supposed; it had taken him months to stop shaking whenever he talked with All Might.

“I would have given those to you anyway … ” Midoriya said, taking the fabric marker Kaminari handed him.

After signing Ikki’s Deku hoodie (and hat, and phone case, and, after a bit of nudging, his All Might hoodie, too) and taking a bunch of photos together, Sero tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “We really have to go.”

Ikki’s shoulders slumped. “Right. I understand.”

“Why don’t you come with us?” Midoriya said.

Ikki’s head back snapped up. “What? Really?”

“Really. I wanted to take notes on all students’ quirks and fighting styles anyway, and something tells me that you’ll be able to help with that.” He glanced at Takanaka who had, aside from a mumbled, “I don’t understand heroes at all” when Midoriya had revealed himself, been quiet up until then. “As long as that’s okay.”

Takanaka took one look at Ikki’s blissed-out expression, and gave in. “As long as it’s no bother.”

Uraraka pumped a fist in the air. “The more the merrier.”

They threw away their napkins, soggy with melted ice cream, and hurried towards the stadium. In the distance, Present Mic was revving up the crowds. Soon, the first years would make their way from the private rooms to the arena, and step out into the sun for the first time.

He had thought that watching the kids in the sports festival would make him feel old, but it didn’t. Midoriya watched the billboard-sized screens replay highlights from last year’s festival; he saw the school kids weaving through the stalls, clutching newly bought merch that bore his friends’ faces; he looked down, saw Ikki staring up at him, and, without thinking about it, scrubbed his hand through Ikki’s hair, the same way All Might would do to him when he was younger—and still did, on occasion—and watched with quiet fascination as the kid’s face lit up beneath his hand.

He didn’t feel old, he realised. He felt excited to watch the next generation grow.