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Down the Road

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 It starts, as many things do, because Bakugou is having a Moment.

Todoroki didn’t understand before, that some things have capital letters where they wouldn’t when in a sentence. Uraraka explained it to him.

 “It’s grammatically incorrect,” Todoroki pointed out, because he spent a lot of years quietly rebelling against his father’s efforts to turn him into a perfect physical specimen bent blindly to his father’s will by determinedly, spitefully growing his brain as well.

“It’s a thing,” Uraraka assured him. “Unnecessary capital letters. Totally invisible, but you’ll know them when you see them.”

At the time, Todoroki accepted her wisdom with the doubtful resignation of someone who didn’t really get it but was starting to realize just how little he knew about actual things involving people.

Now, whenever Todoroki looks at Bakugou, he understands. Everything about Bakugou is capital letters, all of the time.

Including apparently, being called down to the Engineering workshops for costume upgrades alongside Todoroki, Midoriya, Iida, and Uraraka.

“You couldn’t have called me down alone?” he demands, arms crossed and eyes squinted. Todoroki has several secret theories that Bakugou actually squints because he needs glasses, but would rather walk around with an aggressively scrunched-up face rather than admit it. Uraraka’s also explained to him the idea of ‘aesthetic’, and Todoroki’s tucking that away as evidence, alongside the fact that maybe Bakugou shoulder-checks people so often because he can’t actually see that them in his way until it’s too late to correct course. “Or, at least, with Shitty Hair, or literally anyone less fucking awful?”

Midoriya laughs, like this is a joke. He also has tried to explain this to Todoroki, the relationship dynamics between him and Bakugou. Todoroki actually comprehended this perfectly well already, even before he and Midoriya were friends, no additional explanation needed, with a single glance and a flash of annoyingly hot recognition down his spine. It’s possible, in retrospect, that Midoriya interpreted Todoroki’s silent and unwavering projection of ‘I will never approve’ as ‘I don’t understand’.

Todoroki’s probably going to fight Bakugou for Midoriya’s honor at some point before they all graduate, which the UA-appointed therapist that Aizawa-Sensei requires them all to see will definitely call ‘somewhat misplaced but still understandable seething rage, Todoroki-kun’. The fight will no doubt level at least one training field and will most likely end with Midoriya delivering a tearful, savage beat-down upon both of them and the fight will either fix things a little or break them entirely. Todoroki would ask Iida to run the numbers on probable outcomes and property damage if he thought it wouldn’t make Iida devolve into long, stalwart speeches on the importance of harmonious classmate relationships (which is ridiculous, honestly—last week, Bakugou said something especially cutting to Midoriya and later that night, Iida turned up outside Bakugou’s door for a loud and extremely thorough ‘surprise room inspection’ at just past 3AM).

Standing a little ways away, near her work bench, Mei Hatsume also seems unbothered by Bakugou’s perpetual bad mood. This is possibly because Mei Hatsume exists in a world of metal parts and moving gears, where fleshy things like human emotion have no business or place. Todoroki fears her in an entirely different way than he fears, say, Uraraka. With Uraraka, world domination would come loud, bright, and impossible to miss. With Hatsume, Todoroki wouldn’t even know a hostile mechanical takeover was happening until he ripped the face off of what he assumed to be a person and found a robot instead.

Hatsume’s workbench rattles with the mortal remains of spare parts and half-finished projects, the latest version of Aoyama’s belt (which is starting to resemble a rocket launcher, worryingly), engine grease, and something that looks like a tin can that Hatsume says is an attempt on her part to turn back time for fifteen whole seconds.

“Fifteen seconds?” Iida asks. “That seems a strangely nominal number.”

“I think it’s great, Hatsume!” Midoriya disagrees. “I mean, think of the battle applications. Imagine what you could do with fifteen seconds given back during a fight.”

Uraraka and Todoroki nod in placid agreement. Todoroki is starting to suspect that other teenagers wouldn’t have looked at Hatsume’s invention and immediately gone for ‘battle applications’. Todoroki is starting to suspect that this is why Aizawa-Sensei looks so desperately aggrieved every time even a single member of Todoroki’s class steps outside.

“I don’t give a shit about your other toys,” Bakugou decides to remind them all.

“I upgraded your gauntlets,” Hatsume explains, ignoring Bakugou’s complaint entirely. Her crosshair eyes are bright and overly wide. Todoroki knows that she invented some kind of superpowered caffeinated beverage—he bumped into Aizawa-Sensei, once, skulking out of the Engineering workshops with a mug of something clutched in his hands and Hatsume waving a fond goodbye at the door, calling at his back to ‘make sure you log the results properly, Aizawa-Sensei!’. “For better durability and maneuverability. Because I’m amazing.”

“Fuck off,” Bakugou says, but he grabs at the gauntlets. This is how he says ‘thank you’—Midoriya explained that, too, and Todoroki can only hope that the vastness of how unimpressive he found this was properly communicated by his facial expression.

They all get upgrades—even Todoroki, who’s decision to stick with a plain jumpsuit for his costume seems an eternal source of frustration to Hatsume. She would prefer that everyone at UA have at least one stupidly visible statement piece stamped with her name, and Todoroki has thus far refused. Hatsume appears to be taking this frustration out by inventing increasingly elaborate and ridiculous-looking flame resistant materials with which to fashion Todoroki’s costume.

But then, Midoriya compliments Bakugou’s new gauntlets, which Bakugou’s brain interprets as an unforgiveable offense, which sets Bakugou off into one of his snapping diatribes, which makes Iida lecture and Uraraka call Bakugou ‘an exploding, shitty infant’ to his face, which makes Bakugou kick Hatsume’s workbench, which makes Hatsume’s disorganized mess of half-finished projects rattle, which makes the tin can-looking contraption kick to life with a static whine and a tangible change in air pressure, which makes Todoroki’s ears pop, over which he can barely hear Hatsume say, “Oh—oops”, which is the most terrifying thing Todoroki has ever heard. He doesn’t even have time to act on his animal instinct to run before the world goes gray, the oxygen in his lungs goes tight and green (somehow…he couldn’t explain why he’s so certain of this), and there’s a horrible sucking sensation around his entire body, punctuated by Hatsume’s voice shouting (getting alarmingly more distant with every word), “Uh…don’t worry! I’ll fix it!”

##

What feels like a long time ago now, in the clear and ringing shock that followed the Sports Festival, with Midoriya’s words still echoing through his bones like a thunderclap, Aizawa-Sensei found Todoroki in the bowels of the arena, barricaded inside a ready room and breathing carefully between his teeth. His jumpsuit was still blackened and peeled away in giant patches, smelling of heat and smoke and the fire he’d never thought he’d use. He ached all over from the force of Midoriya’s hits, but that soreness felt a million miles away, distant and vaguely like a watercolor painting. Dreamlike. Like the sensation was being described by somebody else, taking place in a body not Todoroki’s own.

Todoroki kept both palms carefully flat against the metal tabletop and focused on his inhales.

“Do you need medical attention?” Aizawa-Sensei asked from the open doorway, one shoulder propped against the frame and arms crossed. “Fair warning, I might drag you there even if you don’t. Recovery Girl already threatened to hide the coffee pot ‘should you pass your bullshit medical ward avoidance tactics onto your impressionable children’.”

Todoroki shrugged, because knowing if he was hurt would require him to be able to feel any part of his body, which was apparently not an option at the moment.

“Great,” Aizawa said. “We’ll go in a minute, then.” He paused, considered. “Also, Midoriya’s awake,”

That was…good, but Todoroki couldn’t signal it. Could only breathe. If he focused on breathing, he might be able to stop himself from throwing up. The acrid smell of fire burned inside his nose, clogged his mouth, tightened his throat and formed a hard, greasy knot in his stomach.

“He’s asking for you,” Aizawa-Sensei added.

That penetrated just enough to furrow Todoroki’s brow. He wanted to ask ‘why’, but couldn’t manage it around the saliva pooling in the back of his throat like a warning. Aizawa-Sensei must have been able to read the unspoken question in his face, though, because he elaborated without being asked.

“He wants to see you. He wants to make sure you’re okay.”

Again, Todoroki’s face must have perfectly communicated ‘I goaded him into breaking so many of his bones and then blasted him into a wall with two natural elements’ without actual words, because Aizawa-Sensei shrugged a little.

“He’s not upset.” With a look of deepest despair, Aizawa-Sensei added, “He seems weirdly proud of you for launching fistfuls of fire at his face.”

A single, crystal-cut moment of clarity about just what kind of Hero Midoriya was going to be penetrated Todoroki’s clouded haze of shock. He resonated strongly with the poor, unsuspecting villains, who were probably unprepared to spill their tragic backstories mid-fight and then be met with unrelenting compassion and unwavering belief in their ability to be better.

Todoroki said, “He told me that it’s mine. My Quirk. Not my father’s.”

“Midoriya can be surprisingly insightful for a kid who hasn’t yet figured out how to save the day without breaking every single bone in his body first.”

“It looked like my father’s. When I used it. The end result was the same.”

“Ah. Seems like you’ve got some things to figure out, too.”

“And what’s that?”

Aizawa scratched at his chin and said, in a stunning display of his teaching style, “Yeah, no, I’m not going to tell you. You’ll get it, or you won’t.”

“I shouldn’t go near him. Near Midoriya.” Todoroki stared at his hands. They were unmarked, unblemished, blister-free. For some reason, that made his throat clog even harder. “Apparently, I’m a byproduct of my family, no matter what Midoriya tells me.”

Aizawa sighed. “Kid, we’re all byproducts of our family. But that doesn’t have to mean what you clearly think it does.”

Todoroki looked at him, brow furrowed even further. How could he not be a byproduct of his family? In spite of his best intentions and Midoriya’s belief otherwise, he’d used his fire once and caused untold amounts of damage and harm. Didn’t that signal him, more firmly than ever, as Endeavor’s son, in spite of it all?

Todoroki’s spine curved with a weight that felt like inevitability. “Is my father here?”

“He was,” Aizawa said.

“Was?” Todoroki couldn’t imagine his father leaving—not after Todoroki had used his fire inside the fighting ring for the first time. He’d been braced for booming speeches and an approval that probably would have made him throw up for real.

Aizawa scratched his chin again. “I sent him away.”

Todoroki blinked.

“Turns out your father’s Quirk is the kind I can erase,” Aizawa elaborated. “I’ve never tried before. But I’ve wanted to take away his stupid fire-beard for years.”

Something bubbled in Todoroki’s chest. He was surprised, after a moment of contemplation, to realize that it was a laugh.

“Come on,” Aizawa said. “Let’s go. Midoriya is waiting.”

##

When the world takes shape again, Todoroki is still in the Engineering Workshops, but everything is wrong. The workbenches are made of wood, not metal. The walls are a different color. Hatsume is nowhere to be seen. Instead, there’s a woman in coveralls, with a smear of engine grease on her orange and pink-freckled face, standing there with a giant wrench in one clawed hand and an uncertain look in her eyes.

“Uh,” she says. “You guys first years? I haven’t seen you before. Did you get lost on the way to Homeroom, or something?”

Midoriya is on his feet, because of course he is. Todoroki has watched him trip over his own shoelaces in the cafeteria more than once and come up laughing, pink-faced and embarrassed, but whenever he senses danger, he plucks this weird grace out of absolutely nowhere.

“It’s evidence of All Might’s genetics,” Todoroki said once, deadly serious.

“Oh my God,” Uraraka replied, and shoved a steamed bun in his face to stop him from extrapolating.

“You’re Lander,” Midoriya squeaks. “The Tracking Hero. You—you taught at UA.”

Lander gives him a long, strange look. “Right. I teach at UA.”

That answer implies a lot of things about their current situation, none of which are promising.

“What the fuck,” Bakugou explodes. He scrambles to his feet as well. He’s still clutching his new gauntlet, which is…not ideal. Given the uncertainties of their current situation. “Lady, who the hell are you? Where the hell is this?”

Lander’s face goes dangerously still. Every muscle in Todoroki’s body locks up in instinctive anticipation. He may be terrible at recognizing invisible capital letters, or interpreting the mystifying lexicon of smiley faces made out of punctuation marks that sometimes comprise the entirety of Midoriya’s texts, but he’s been trained since childhood to recognize danger when he sees it.

“You guys are UA students,” she says. It sounds like a question. That is also less than ideal. “You’re wearing the uniform. You’re the right age.”

Bakugou sneers and opens his mouth again. Todoroki runs through his options at warp speed, many of which consist of ‘freeze him into the angriest icicle that ever was’ and also ‘feed him his own gauntlets to shut him up’.

But then, Uraraka rises to her feet like an ocean wave of beaming calm, brimming with goodwill and carefully cultivated innocence. Her smile is sweet, soft, a little bit embarrassed. Her eyes are very wide. There’s a laugh caught in the scrunch of her nose, like she’s aware of her own mistake and she’s warmly inviting everyone else to laugh along with her.

“Oh, sorry!” she says, all flustered apology. “We are! We’re UA students. First years. Our teacher sent us on an errand, and we got all turned around. Embarrassing, right? We’re so sorry for bursting in on you, Lander-Sensei!”

It’s softness. Sweetness. It’s not even totally untrue, this facet of Uraraka. When they’d first met, this was mostly what she showed the world. But, instead of training it out of her as Todoroki’s father would have done, Aizawa-Sensei taught her to weaponize it instead.

“People call me ‘little girl,” Todoroki heard Uraraka saying once, frustrated and borderline furious in the middle of a training session. “They don’t take me seriously. Because I like to smile and sing and wear pink.”

“How does smiling and singing and pink stop you from beating villains into the pavement?” Aizawa-Sensei asked back, as he adjusted Uraraka’s fists inside pretty pink gloves that hid how tightly her hands were curled. “If people are going to be that fucking stupid, to equate ‘little girl’ with ‘less’, then it’s your sacred duty to kick their ass with a cupcake smile, you got it?”

Now, Uraraka deploys that aura of harmlessness like a bomb. She smiles and flutters and projects total innocence and, out of Lander’s line of sight, rams an unapologetic elbow into Bakugou’s gut full-force.

Bakugou makes a noise, another ‘what the fuck’ that strangles itself around Uraraka’s elbow and ends on a very satisfying wheeze.

“Really,” Lander says. Her starburst eyes are narrowed. She’s a Professional Hero, after all. And one who teaches at UA. Todoroki’s understanding of the hiring qualifications for UA teachers is that they all include ‘an unparalleled ability to see through teenage bullshit’. “Who’s your teacher, then?”

“Prin—I mean, Nedzu-Sensei,” Midoriya interjects. Also beaming radiant purity and softness, but on him, it’s 100% earnest. Midoriya is a lot of amazing things that Todoroki still can’t quantify in explainable words, but he, like Todoroki and Bakugou, is garbage at subterfuge. On days when they train in stealth, Aizawa-Sensei always ends the sessions with frankly incredulous looks and questions like ‘please explain to me how you translated the mission objective of ‘do your best not to be seen’ into ‘explode an entire field and topple two different statues’.

Honestly, it’s a blessing that Uraraka and Iida are with them. Were Todoroki, Midoriya, and Bakugou thrust into this situation alone, they’d already be arrested for tantrum-like explosions, accidental applications of brute strength, catastrophic waves of ice, and being absolute embarrassments at lying.

“Wait right here,” Lander says, and steps into the little office tucked in the back corner of the Engineering Workshops. She leaves the door open and adjusts her stance in a way that keeps Todoroki and the others in her immediate line of sight, even as she presses the intercom button on her desk and dials a number.

Definitely a UA teacher.

“Apple Face, do you want to die,” Bakugou hisses at Uraraka, once they’re alone.

“Shitty Exploding Infant, do you?” Uraraka snarls back. Her beaming, sweet-natured smile never wavers, because Lander can still see them, even as she adds through tightly clenched teeth, “You’re an idiot. You land in an unfamiliar and potentially hostile situation, and what, immediately try and fight it?”

Sternly, Iida agrees, “It’s not a strategy Aizawa-Sensei would approve of.”

“Fuck off,” Bakugou scoffs back. “I can fight anything that comes at me, hostile or not.”

“Bakugou,” Uraraka says. “As soon as we’re alone, I’m going to be the hostile thing coming at you, okay?”

“You guys,” Midoriya adds in a whisper. “Something is seriously wrong. Lander taught at UA fifteen years ago. Back when Principal Nedzu was still a teacher, too. That’s why I said his name.”

Iida adjusts his glasses. “Your studied awareness of the Hero community continues to be of great benefit, Midoriya.”

“Fucking nerd,” Bakugou adds.

Todoroki also considers becoming a hostile thing. He doesn’t particularly care if they’re alone or not.

But something else pings inside his skull, a tiny kernel of suspicion that slowly sprouts into a horrible realization. “Fifteen years. Didn’t Hatsume say that she was working on something to turn back time by fifteen seconds? Wasn’t that thing on the workbench that Bakugou kicked?”

There are twelve beats of shared, stupefied silence. And then, Uraraka says, “Bakugou, I’m going to kill you so hard. The hardest.”

“Try it,” Bakugou invites.

“Okay,” Midoriya says, ignoring the two of them entirely. “Okay. So, initial guess: we’re in the past. Fifteen years in the past.”

This should probably be met with screams. Tears. Total breakdowns. But Todoroki’s been in Class 1-A for enough time that all he says is, “Aizawa-Sensei’s going to have to update the bingo card.”

“I don’t believe so,” Iida muses. “I think ‘my gremlins destroy the fabric of time’ is one of the squares.”

“Is that specific enough to count? It doesn’t mention the past.”

“I believe Aizawa-Sensei left it deliberately vague. Something about ‘knowing better than to limit the ways or in which manner we could mess with the flow of universal constants’.”

“Ah.”

Midoriya ignores this, too. Says, “Okay. I thought I heard Hatsume, before we…left. She said something about fixing it? Do we just…wait for her to do that?”

There’s a silent beat where they all contemplate just how terrible they are at waiting for anything, as a collective.

“Hatsume is an amazingly intelligent individual,” Iida finally allows. His words are a compliment, but his tone implies ‘she’s also a little crazy and easily distracted by shiny things, so we should probably have a back-up plan’.

It’s a smart move. Also, Aizawa-Sensei looked them in the eye during their first month at UA and said, “One thing to wrap your head around right now: you are the line. You may sometimes be the only line between what you’re fighting and the people you’re protecting. The world of Heroes is a community. You’re never alone in this fight, but you can’t always rely on timely backup, either. Have a plan.”

“Should we meet with Principal Nedzu?” Midoriya asks. “Or, I guess, the current principal at UA? Try and explain the situation.”

Midoriya’s faith in authority figures is admirable and lovely and Todoroki Does Not understand it (capital letters absolutely intended).

Bakugou audibly scathes the air. “You’re such a fucking nerd, and you still haven’t read a single sci-fi book about fucking with the flow of time? Ripping holes in the fabric of reality?”

“I think that is also a square on Aizawa-Sensei’s bingo card,” Iida observes.

“We need time,” Uraraka says, and then makes a noise like ‘pfft’. “I mean, more time than the fifteen years we were just randomly given. To figure things out.”

Iida nods seriously. “Battle Tactics 101: first, survey the situation, and see what is available to you. An excellent idea, Uraraka.”

“So, do we run?” Midoriya asks. “Regroup somewhere…safe? Safer? Not in a building populated by UA faculty, who are usually super deadly strong and have a documented tendency to use that strength in defense of their students?”

Bakugou scoffs at the very idea of leaving a situation instead of fighting it. Sometimes, Todoroki has to sit down and really wrestle with the fact that he and Bakugou very occasionally have the exact same instinctive responses.

But before then can make a bid for the door, Lander returns with her arms folded and says, “Nedzu-Sensei is on his way down.”

“Great,” Uraraka beams, like this isn’t terrible news. Like Nedzu-Sensei isn’t going to take one look at them and immediately call them out for being unfamiliar.

Todoroki slides a sideways look at Midoriya that means ‘do you want me to freeze her into a giant icicle yes/no’. Midoriya looks back at him with a panicked anguish that most likely means ‘I have done so much research on her and the idea of fighting her makes me want to die’. Todoroki’s about to do it anyway (Aizawa-Sensei always calls him ‘book smart but objectively terrible at drawn-out decision making’), but then Principal Nedzu arrives at the door of the Engineering Workshops.

And he isn’t alone.

There’s a boy at his side, slouched inside his uniform jacket, and studying his face for more than five seconds steals all the air from Todoroki’s lungs. Given Midoriya’s sudden wheeze and Uraraka’s absolute stillness, he’s not alone in what he sees.

“Is that--?” Todoroki murmurs, before Iida chops him on the back to shut him up.

“Oh no,” Midoriya chants in a whisper. “Oh no, I forgot. Fifteen years ago, some of Principal Nedzu’s students—"

“Nedzu-Sensei,” Lander greets. “Thanks for coming down.”

“Of course.” The Principal Nedzu of fifteen years ago looks mostly the same as he does now. Same kindly eyes. Same warm smile. Same general air of terrifying opaqueness, like the genial face he wears is true, but also covers up something sharper that’s willing to appear at any moment. His eyes flick from person to person in Todoroki’s little group. They don’t stay for more than a single second, beady eyes barely lingering, taking in their clothes and technology and the gauntlet Bakugou is still clutching, but Todoroki still feels horrifyingly seen.

Once, toward the beginning of his time at UA, Principal Nedzu called Todoroki to his office. Todoroki spent an entirely bewildering forty-five minutes drinking tea and eating rice crackers and talking about nothing in particular, but at the end of their time together, Todoroki looked back and realized that he’d somehow shared more about his childhood than he ever had to anyone, out loud, in his entire life.

Todoroki doesn’t get it. Will probably never get Principal Nedzu. This belief is cemented when Principal Nedzu turns his benign smile on a still suspicious Lander and says, “Thank you so much for locating my students for me!”

“What the fuck,” Bakugou says.

“I didn’t see them at the entrance ceremony,” Lander says. Slowly. Like she doesn’t want to question a fellow teacher but she’s also a Professional Hero, and so fuck being polite when it could mean danger. This is one of Todoroki’s favorite components of the profession. He plans to use it to great effect. “I haven’t seen them around since.”

“Exchange program!” Principal Nedzu sings out. “I was meant to meet them at the gates, but I was delayed. They must have gone looking for me and ended up here. Apologies, Lander-Sensei, and also to you, my students!”

“That’s…quite alright,” Iida says, and again, Todoroki thanks every higher power he can think of for Iida’s presence. Because Todoroki is currently employing an approach of suspicious, borderline sullen silence, Midoriya looks wildly guilty for no real reason, which is doing nothing to help their cause, and Bakugou clutches at his gauntlet in a way that implies he might just blow them up to avoid dealing with this situation altogether. “Lander-Sensei has been very kind in your absence.”

“Sure,” Lander-Sensei says, in a way that sounds like ‘I was two seconds away from deciding you all were a group of invading, baby-faced villains and pulverizing you into dust, but thanks for the vote of confidence’.

Todoroki thinks about responding, but then Principal Nedzu nudges forward the boy at his side and Todoroki loses the air in his lungs all over again.

“Shouta,” Principal Nedzu carols. “Won’t you walk with our new students as we head back to class?”

“Meh,” says a fifteen-year-old Aizawa-Sensei, staring them down from a face both screamingly familiar and yet somehow completely foreign. “I guess.”