There’s something weird going on with Bakugō.
It wouldn’t be obvious to anyone who hasn’t spent enough time with the temperamental blond, but Shōto could tell. It didn’t make sense. Ordinarily, Bakugō would have been the first person vaulting out of the classroom at the chance to showcase himself and see how he ranked against his classmates. That was literally the basis on which their relationship started— Bakugō pestering him to ‘show your real strength, Half and Half!’
In Dōryoku, Shōto planned to remain passive and unaffected, just going through the motions to placate his father and his delusions, while at the same time sticking it up to him by steadily refusing to use, cultivate or even just acknowledge his Flame. If it weren’t for the details written in his Quirk registration, Shōto could have just gone on living as if he only had the Quirk his mother passed on to him. His Frost was strong enough to get him to where he wanted to go. He could achieve his dreams of being a Hero even if he needed to spite half his existence in the process.
But somehow, after months of acting like he’d given up on their non-existent rivalry, Bakugō was able to get under Shōto’s skin, constantly showing up and demanding the best out of him. Sports Day ultimately showed Shōto what Bakugō was all about. He craved competition and demanded absolute victory. There’s no other reason for someone to be dogged enough when it came to an inconsequential obstacle race that they almost deafened the crowd and the competition despite ear protection provided for them. Seeing (and hearing!) Bakugō streak across the sky, one smokeless detonation after another, snapped Shōto out of his own stupor.
His unfair, idiotic and completely embarrasing disqualification during the steeplechase notwthstanding, Shōto had to thank Bakugō. Not to his face though. Swaggering bastard.
So when Shōto made it to Alpha Field and wasn’t automatically bombarded with bets about who would finish on top or aggressive remarks against any of these extras, he was surprised. In fact, the ones talking most animatedly about the assessment was that redhead Kirishima and his friend Ashido, the boy named Kaminari, and another one called Awase.
Stranger still, Bakugō wasn’t in the field at all. Same as that other boy, Midoriya, their mysterious sensei’s pupil who got in through Special Admissions.
“How come you all got here on your own time and didn’t bother to organise and come all at once?” Shōto heard Aizawa-sensei ask. “Where are Yaoyorozu, Bakugō and Midoriya?”
Momo? He looked among the girls and, sure enough, she was not there.
“Sensei, Yaoyorozu went back to check the classroom again.” The guy with the copying Quirk said.
“And why would that be?”
“I told her on my way down that Bakugō and Midoriya were having a strange standoff in the classroom.” He replied, haughtiness level dialed down under the withering stare of their rugged teacher. “I was calling out to them both but I don’t think they noticed me at all.”
Aizawa-sensei sighed like his whole body wanted to just give out and melt into the floor.
“Normally I’d advise you to take initiative, but since you and Bakugō already almost came to blows earlier, I’d say that was actually good judgment on your part, Monoma.”
“Sensei, I can go back and get them!” Iida said.
“Oh, there’s Yaoyorozu-chan now.” The green-haired girl named Asui said, pointing with her tongue.
Momo jogged up to where they were huddled and apologised profusely for being late. Bakugō and Midoriya followed shortly after. Fully assembled, their class waited on instructions from Aizawa-sensei.
“As you know, Quirks are physical characteristics. This fairly obvious and fundamental truth is often lost on people, what with Quirks granting our society a myriad of superpowers. Nevertheless, no matter how strong a Quirk is, it will fail based on the weakness of its wielder. Especially as Hero trainees, you will push your bodies past the brink of failure, pain and discomfort. But before you improve, you must know your limits first.”
He continued, “In this assessment, you will perform purely physical tests. No Quirks. I want to get a full measure of all of you. When you’re up, I expect you to give it your best shot. And while you’re spectating, I advise you to think about where you or your classmates can improve. As you might already be thinking, there are some in this class that are better suited to this test than others. If you think you’re one of those people, step forward."
Shōto looked around and, for a beat, everyone looked like they might have been taken aback, truly unsure or were playing at humility. And then he stepped forward, at the same time as Midoriya and Bakugō, followed closely by Iida, Shōji, Kirishima and then, after some obvious deliberation, Asui.
“It’s good to have a clear estimation of your capabilities. For the ones that did not step up, take this as your first challenge. By the end of the year, I want you to be able to confidently say that you are strong. Is that understood?”
From his phone, the Pro Hero projected a list of their names, currently ranked in alphabetical order. “There are bots stationed in areas for each event taking measurements for distance, speed and everything else. At the end of the assessment, you will be ranked based on weighted scores, with 100 as the highest you can get. Well then, let’s start!”
Shōto was surprised at the lack of physical training some of his classmates displayed. Although he knew that his situation was not typical, he still assumed that his peers who were wanting to be Heroes would have been preparing well before they entered high school. Such was not the case, evidently.
As the last six to have a go at the final event, the 3000 meter run, Shiozaki, Tokoyami, Aoyama, Uraraka and Sero posted 15:12, 14:44, 15:43, 15:31 and 14:26 respectively— way above the 10 minutes minimum required to be competitive.
He felt bad for all of them. If they were using their Quirks, they could all score better. If Shiozaki’s vines could support her weight, they could carry her faster along the track. Aoyama's laser could provide thrust and propulsion. Uraraka might be able to take away some of her weight to increase her acceleration. And Sero's tape probably afforded him lots of mobility if he could anchor himself to higher posts or buildings. Shōto was unsure how Dark Shadow precisely worked, however.
After taking refreshments and towels, the 13 students left the testing areas to make way for the remaining 7. Shōto assumed they would all go at the same time. That is, until Aizawa-sensei held Midoriya back.
"Is something wrong with Midoriya-chan, sensei?" Asui asked.
"There's just something I want to see. No need to worry about it." He replied with a smirk. "First event is standard push-ups. Only correct form counts. Elbows as close to 45°, lower backs flat, utilizing full range of motion."
Shōto already knew his personal best was 55 push-ups in a set. He was probably not as warmed up, because he had to stop at 50. Shōji did it with his two primary arms only and stopped at a clean 80. Considering how tiny her arms seem, Asui did a respectable 36 push ups. Iida clocked in at 53, Kirishima at 48 and Bakugō at 66.
The next test was sit-ups. He did 67, Asui 60. Kirishima and Shōji seemed to struggle, getting 46 and 52 each. Bakugō topped up at 74, Iida at 71.
Pull-ups were hard for him, and so it seemed for everyone else. He managed 6, Asui only 3, Kirishima and Iida both got 4. Shōji amazingly made 12 and Bakugō gave fair competition with 10.
The softball throw was kind of a break for everyone. "Like I said earlier, instead of looking at technique, the throw is only about how much force you can impart on an object to make it travel whatever distance. I don’t expect any of you to know the best way to throw a ball. I just want to know if you’re aware of your body, how you move, how you position yourself and how well you can visualise a target. Iida, you’re up first.”
Iida went and covered 60.33m. Asui recorded 64.21m. Kirishima got 59.08m and Bakugō hit at 74.69m. Shōji's ball landed at 79.01m. And although he was used to making big gestures with his arms when using his Quirk, his was only 63.71m.
Finally, the 3000 meter race. Asui's handicap was not being able to hop on all-fours, and of course Iida couldn't fire up his engines. Nevertheless, the boy with glasses was an efficient and practised runner, finishing first at 8:26. Asui's hind legs gave her explosive power and she was through at 8:51. Him and Bakugō were neck and neck at 9:13 and 9:17. Shōji at 9:48 and Kirishima last at 10:13.
Overall, Shōto's performance was good but he was dissatisfied. Although it wouldn't matter as much in the real world, where it would never make sense for him not to rely on the considerable strength of his Quirk, it irked him anyway. He expected to do better and thought he only got middling results.
After the scores were scaled, Bakugō and Shōji were in the lead.
Shōto watched as their teacher calibrated the bots and called on Midoriya, for whatever it was he wanted the other boy to do.
"Your scores will be sent to you for review but for now, here are the leading stats," he said, as the numbers were projected from his phone. "Push-ups: 80, sit-ups: 74, pull-ups: 12, softball throw: 79.01 meters, and 8 minutes and 26 seconds for the 3000 meter run."
“Wow, you guys are amazing!” Uraraka cheered.
Jirō agreed. “Seriously, some of our classmates are monsters.”
“Frightening temples of muscle, bone and sinew.”
Kaminari scrunched his nose and tilted his head at Tokoyami. “Huh?”
Surreptitiously standing in the back of the gathered class, Midoriya piped up with, “Aizawa-sensei, what—”
Ignoring him, the Hero addressed the class. “Do you know what Special Admission means?”
“You said earlier when introducing Nintai Ryoku-sensei that the principal recruited Midoriya-san personally. I imagine that means he must be specifically gifted and qualified to be able to enter this prestigious institution without need for an application, referral or review.” Momo answered.
“Well said, Yaoyorozu. What that means is that Midoriya did not take the written exam or undergo the practical exam like regular applicants. Unlike the recommended students, he does not have a junior high school’s faculty and staff to vouch for him either. He also did not have to pass a practical test or interview.” Aizawa continued. “All I have as his homeroom teacher is the word of an unknown senpai and the assurances of a mischievous principal.”
That took Shōto aback. Apparently, even Aizawa-sensei did not know who the older Pro Hero was. Perhaps he was using a different name now than when he was active. It’s likely that he could be under an assumed name for security reasons. It could also be that his jurisdiction was far from the mainland. It was an unfortunate side effect of the ranking system that most top-tier Heroes converged within the capital city and other metropolitan areas. That may also be why even his father had no information on Nintai Ryoku, since Endeavor Agency did not work with small agencies or freelancers as a matter of course.
“I want to see for myself if you’re worth the trouble.” This time, their sensei spoke directly to the greenhead. “The softball throw would mess up the timing for the rest so let’s get it over with first. Midoriya, time to pitch.”
The green-haired boy caught the ball and made his way into the pitcher’s mound. “Sensei, I don’t know what you’ve been told about me,” he started. “but I can promise you that I don’t want favors. I know how to work hard for what I want.”
Midoriya gripped the ball with three fingers, centered on his chest. He pointed his lead elbow straight and high, brought his throwing arm up, pivoted and brought the energy from his legs and hips right into a step and released with a well-placed aim.
“Waaaah, suge!” Awase shouted, pumped.
Sero whistled. “That has to be over 80 meters at least!”
“You might prove yourself yet.” AIzawa-sensei said, showing them the data sent to his phone. Midoriya’s softball landed 89.23 meters away.
He heard his sister come to welcome him as he removed his shoes at the genkan. She must have been waiting by the garden.
“Okaeri,” she replied. “You’re back later than I expected. Did you discuss the syllabus at length with your homeroom teacher?”
“We didn’t discuss it at all, neesan. We did a physical assessment instead.”
“Again? Even after the exam?” she asked, taking his bag.
“Aizawa-sensei ’s quite the character. I think he doesn’t think any of us deserve our spot, to be honest.” He said. “Or… I guess he wants to save his time. I heard from one of my classmates that there’s gossip from the other Hero class that sensei is notorious for expelling students.”
“Is that so? Well, you better give it your all, ne, Shōto?” She said, smiling. “Do you want a snack? I can make some crêpes if you like. We have some peaches, too, that’d be nice, huh?”
After snacks, he sat in the living room with his sister, reviewing the class schedule. The core classes were distributed in the mornings and just after lunch. Hero training covers 5th and 6th periods on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were divided into free study period and their choice of elective.
Saturday was quite interesting. First to third period are lessons about the public Hero persona— advertising, public relations and speech communication. After lunch, they'd have weapons training and then hand-to-hand combat. It was a rigorous curriculum guaranteed to put them through their paces.
There were a few hours remaining until lunch would be served so he headed to the gym instead. Ever since Aizawa-sensei revealed the regimen, and certainly after Midoriya's go at it, he'd been itching to see how he'd do. Everyone else seemed tired out— Hagakure, Uraraka, Kaminari, Monoma and Aoyama loudly expressed distress just reading it— except for Bakugō who was back to his usual form, visibly buzzing. Whether it was from anger or excitement was debatable.
After changing into his gear, Shōto warmed up with some dynamic stretches and low impact cardio. He already set up the various timers, plus the settings for the treadmill, since he'll be doing the test by himself.
Aizawa-sensei's minimum requirements for Midoriya were:
85 push-ups in 3 minutes
(3 minutes rest)
80 sit-ups in 2 minutes
(3 minutes rest)
(15 minutes rest)
3000 meter run in 8 minutes or less
Every event's minimum requirement exceeds the top stats for the class. The test was not only brutal, it was impossible. At least it was supposed to be.
He unrolled his mat and got into standard push-up position, bearing in mind that the green-eyed boy did this with his elbows closer to his body, effectively doing the more advanced version which targets the triceps.
His voice activated the timer which he set to make a beeping sound at 1:00 and 2:00 and continuous beeps from 2:50 to 3:00.
He could feel his arms close to buckling. There'd been 2 beeps. The last minute was winding down. 53 out of 85. Less than 65%. How did Midoriya do it?
The beep for minute one of his rest sounded. This feels impossible. How? He slowly got into position for the sit-ups, using braces to anchor his feet. Sit-ups seemed doable at least. He could give it a good try.
Rest time. He got very close with 71. Beep! Two more minutes before he tried to do 15 pull-ups. Seriously, how is that possible? Midoriya did not even activate his augmentation Quirk. Just how strong is he?
With a minute remaining, he got off the floor and prepped a foot stool. He was not going to swing as he pushed off of the floor since that would create momentum. Beep beep beep beep beep!
He was still not recovered from the painful pace of the push-ups. Clearly his body was revolting against the torture. His arms and shoulders were violently shaking by the end of the 4th pull-up. He hung on for a bit to try for one more, but he couldn't even match the 6 pull-ups from earlier in the day.
While wiping off sweat, he rechecked the pace, tilt and other settings for the treadmill. It would be different than running on a track, but it'll have to do for now. In the meantime, he rested, his arms in pins and needles.
On the treadmill, he had to slow down his running pace after 4 minutes. The result was definitely skewed using a machine instead of being able to pace himself and do sprints when he wanted to. Still, Shōto didn't think he could shave off more than a minute from his running time anyway. He finished at 9:18.
He cooled down, stretched his arms and legs and put away the equipment before taking a hot bath. As he sat in the steaming water like plenty of times before, his body feeling run down by repeated training, Shōto ruminated on strength, power and the price people pay for the pursuit of being the best and the strongest.
The following day marked his first official day in school. Although his father insisted on a driver, as had been done when he was in junior high, Shōto put his foot down and asserted that he wanted to be increasingly more independent. He stopped taking lessons with his father shortly after his mother’s banishment and he also refused his recommendation to Yūei. If it wouldn’t break his sister’s heart, he would have found a part-time job and left to live on his own even if he had to rent out only a small room. However, she always managed to bring him back from the brink, reminding him that their mother wanted them to stay together and that his dreams of being a Hero would be easier to achieve with the resources their father had to offer.
“I know it’s difficult for you. Like it was unbearable for Natsuo. But, please, Shōto. Please hold on a little longer.” She pleaded. Although she was trying to hold their family together, she never asked him to forgive, understand or even just try to get along with their father. He wasn’t sure if she was capable of that herself.
With his uniform on, he got plenty of stares on the train ride to Musutafu. A few students even asked him if he was on the Hero Course, to which he just smiled and offered no other answers. He didn't want to be rude but he'd also rather not encourage casual conversation.
Alighting at his stop, Shōto made his way towards the designated parking area for the school’s shuttle service— available at the three major train stations connecting to the Musutafu area, the 30-passenger shuttles were free to ride from 5:30-7:45, with 1 or 2 shuttles leaving every 15 minutes.
The driver asked him to tap his ID in a handheld scanner, after which he was let on to the van. There were 3 girls chatting in the row behind the driver and a lone boy with purple hair in the row behind. The corner seat at the back would be a good spot to get some quiet time but it'd be a hassle getting off. He decided to sit at the edge next to the girls instead.
Lazily scanning for Hero news on his phone, Shōto carefully shut the sliding door close on the shuttle van. All the while completely unaware of the interested eyes watching him from outside.