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It starts, the way it normally does: with a boy beneath a bridge, and a question burning on his tongue.

But instead of a titan standing opposite the boy, a being taller than the pedestal he stands on, the figure that stands before him is simply a man. And when the boy asks his question—asks the Question—well… 

The man had not been handed a quirk he could control from the moment it settled in his veins, the man hadn’t been given a legacy and purpose and power to become a modern day Atlas, holding the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The man was simply a man; and the man remembers being helpless. He remembers being small and scared and different in a way the god, the titan, cannot.

He looks down at the kid—a boy with bright, watery green eyes and enough desperate hope curled in his chest to make even Aizawa soft hearted—and in his place the man sees another boy. One with a rifle in his hands and tear tracks on his cheeks and a dawning understanding of how unfair the world truly is.

In the face of that, is there really any chance of the man saying no?

***

Snipe’s a practical kind of hero, just as he’s a practical kind of man.

He’s efficient with his takedowns and he doesn’t linger on the scene. There’s always more work to be done, other villains to wrangle, more homework to grade—Snipe doesn’t have time to entertain the press and he certainly doesn’t have time to dawdle.

Except, when he hands the trussed up pile of sludge to a beat cop and turns to find the kid still there, sitting on the curb looking all moony-eyed, Snipe stops.

His Pa would say it’s serendipity, his Momma would call it gut instinct, whichever the reason, Snipe finds himself dropping down to sit next to the kid. He must’ve really been out of it, cause the movement startles him enough he almost falls over.

“Ah! Mister Snipe, Sir!”

Snipe snorts, amused by the earnest jumpiness of the kid. “Just Snipe’s fine, kid. Don’t need nothin’ fancy.”

“Er, right!” the kid nods, practically tripping over himself. “Of course.”

“You got a name, son?”

“Oh- uh. I’m Midoriya Izuku.”

Snipe tips his hat to the tyke. “Nice ta meet ya Midoriya. Mind if I ask you a question?”

The kid blinks up at him. “Uh… yes. Sure. Anything.”

“What’s got yer heart set on heroics?”

“Well, I…” the kid starts curling in on himself, picking at his fingers and going nervous.

Snipe leans forward onto his knees, trying to catch Midoriya’s eye through the mask. “Hey. Don’t start gettin dumpish on me now. I meant what I said before kid, and I ain’t takin’ it back.”

Midoriya’s quiet for a long while, eyes darting up to Snipe before looking back down at his hands. He’s quiet for so long, Snipe doesn’t think he’s going to get an answer.

But then: “I want to save people.”

He says it fast, like he can’t keep the words in any longer. And then, it’s like he can’t stop.

“I… There are… so many people out there just - suffering, and ignored, and discarded, and - and I want to help them. I want to give them hope. I want to be there, and be strong enough and brave enough that the people just know that everything’s going to be okay. I want to beat back the darkness so they can feel safe, so they know they aren’t alone, so they-” he cuts off, biting the word in half before it can escape his mouth. “I want to be a hero because what other option is there?”

Snipe thinks that over, lets the silence settle before saying something he thinks the boy needs to hear. “You can’t save everyone. No one can.”

“Does that mean we shouldn’t try?” Midoriya shoots back, whip-quick and with a look in his eyes… Snipe hasn’t met many people with that kind of fire burning in their gut.

So Snipe does the only reasonable thing in that moment: he laughs. 

“Hah! The chickabiddy’s got spirit.” Snipe shakes his head, chuckles trailing off. “Nah, kid. I don’t suppose it does.”

He spends the rest of his evening sitting on that curb, listening to the kid spin tall tales of the future living in his heart. By the end of it, Snipe has realized two things.

The first being that this kid’s gonna be a hero no matter what. Even if he’d said no, Snipe knows the little firecracker would have bulldozed right over the denial and kept running straight toward his goals.

The second is that he wants to see the kid become a hero. Snipe wants the kid to succeed, wants his success to spit right in the same discriminatory faces that Snipe’s had, even if they don’t know it. (Snipe wants, selfishly, to not be alone, to no longer stand as the only man in a world of giants.)

***

The first thing Snipe tells him, once he commits to taking the bean sprout under his wing, is the truth about his quirk, True Target. Specifically, he tells the kid it’s fake and that he doesn’t and never had a quirk to begin with.

The first thing Snipe tells him, is that he’s just like him.

He tells him because this whole thing is only going to work if the kid actually knows anyway and understands why Snipe knows that lying about this is even possible in the first place. It’s a gamble for Snipe, telling a kid he’s only just met a secret this large, but it’s a gamble in his favor.

Even if he had wildly misjudged the kid, Snipe thinks bitterly, who’s going to believe a quirkless teenager over a Hero teaching at UA?

“You- But- But how?” the kid shouts, looking confused and just the barest hint of distressed. “How did you fake a quirk for years without anyone finding out?”

“A couple reasons,” Snipe says. “But the biggest being that, despite what all those chuckleheads tell ya, quirks ain’t everything kid. ‘Specially not when you’re a hero.”

When the kid just stares at him blankly, Snipe has to remember that he’s not a third year UA student, there’s no way he’d know the basic principles of heroism, not beyond the basics anyway. So Snipe tries to explain.

“What do all good heroes have in common?”

Midoriya frowns, confused. “Uh… Strong quirks and excellent control?”

Snipe shakes his head. An expected answer, but a wrong one all the same.

“Training, intelligence, the ability to adapt to a wide swath of situations,” he begins listing on his fingers. “Excellent situational awareness, both on battlefields and simply walking down the street. Social skills or, lacking that, charm and charisma.” He wiggles all five of his raised fingers at the kid. “Quirks, even for those who have them, are not the end all and be all of heroics. They’re just another tool in your belt. Most people get lucky enough to be born with a damn powerful tool, but me and you? We were born with the ability to choose how we get to forge our own.

“And, if you asked me, there ain’t many quirks out there that can’t be replicated with practice or by some crazy mechanic in the support department anyway. Any con artist worth his salt could fool you just as well as an ol’ Joe with a mind quirk, and humanity’s been messing with fire for years. Endeavor ain’t all that special just cause it comes outta his hand instead of a lighter.”

Midoriya looks at him, and he looks achingly hopeful but also cautious and skeptical. Kid’s unwilling to get his hopes up, which, he supposes, makes sense. So Snipe takes a deep breath and decides to tell him something he’s never told anyone.

Trust, as he knows, is a two way street.

Snipe looks down at him, serious and solemn. “I spent hours, every day after school since I was nine years old, learning how to shoot every type of gun I could get my hands on. Teaching myself the weight and the scopes and how to be so good no one would ever think twice when I said that’s what my quirk was. And why would they?”

Snipe remembers being nine years old, no trace of a quirk to be found, as the whispers began to start. Dark, hungry things, hissed behind his back by people he’d thought had been his friends. Broken. Weak. Useless.

Snipe remembers coming home crying, remembers watching his Momma go red in the face from anger when he told her what they said, remembers her pushing a rifle in his hands and telling him a quirk ain’t no different than talent, and Heavens knows you got that in spades, sweetpea.

Snipe remembers going to school the next day, the lie his Momma told him to tell on his lips. Remembers spending day after day on the shooting range until he got so good he couldn’t miss a shot if he tried.

“From the outside, is there actually any difference between talent and a quirk?” Snipe asks Midoriya, whose looking up at him, eyes watery and bright. “Can you tell if someone is naturally good at something, or if they’ve spent years of their lives working to become good? Do you think anyone else will?”

***

Almost immediately, Snipe hits a roadblock.

It’s not the kid - at least, not in the sense that it’s the kid’s fault. Midoriya’s got the makings of a good hero, a great one, actually. All gumption and heart and more brains than Snipe rightly even knows what to do with.

When Snipe had asked him what he’s been doing to prepare for heroism, the kid had mumbled and blushed and pulled out a notebook chock full of impossible things. Observations and ideas and theories about the quirks and fighting styles and personas of damn near every hero Snipe can name.

“Most of it’s covered by the media in interviews or you can find details in the public releases of incident reports,” the kid explains nervously when Snipe asks. “The rest is just… following the logic. Connecting dots, asking the right questions - things like that.”

The kid has a notebook full of classified information only found in the dossiers safely stashed away in Commission vaults and most of it are things the kid only guessed about. He feels a tension headache coming on and it certainly isn’t helped by the pages near the end covered in diagrams and the latest quirk theory.

He gives up trying to make any sense of the nonsense after a few minutes and just hands the notebook back to the kid. There are more important problems to deal with. 

Specifically the fact that Snipe doesn’t actually have any idea what to do with him.

The kid hasn’t got much in the way of practical skills. No muscle, no combat experience, no rescue skills—nothing. He’s the greenest greenhorn Snipe’s ever laid eyes on and it’s not his fault.

The bean sprout is still almost a year from highschool for devil’s sake—course he doesn’t know anything. Why the hell would he?

But that’s still the problem. Cause the kid don't got a clue and Snipe ain’t got a lick of an idea how to teach it to him. He’s a third year teacher for a reason. He don’t build foundations, and he ain’t no bronco buster. Aizawa and Vlad have always broken all the little broomies before they even step foot in his rodeo.

Snipe looks out at the kid who, despite being covered head to toe in dust and sweat from running around paddocks, is practically hanging over the fence in order to coo at all the young fillies and calves. Snipe wonders how he even has the energy to be amazed by such things after all the farmwork he’d been tasked to do that day.

(Snipe got the kid hired as a farmhand on a friend’s ranch in order to build up his muscle. He figures that Midoriya picking up an after school job is a lot less questionable than hanging out with a strange adult his Momma don’t know from adam.)

But, as he watches the kid who’s all but bubbling with that one-of-a-kind spark Snipe knows can change the world, he figures he can cowboy up this one time and ask for some advice. Midoriya deserves the best that he can give him.

And, if he’s being honest, the kid’s gonna need it for the shitstorm he’s runnin towards.

***

Snipe is sitting at a picnic table with the kid who’s taking a lunch break before he gets back to cleaning the stables. Snipe should be organizing lesson plans and grading week old quizzes, but he can’t focus on any of that right then.

For the last ten minutes, he’s watched the kid split his attention between eating his bento, watching the new Mirko fight, and writing down an entire page of theoretical calculus trying to break down how the new support items Detnerat released in the last week actually work. With what Snipe can gather from his frantic mumbling, the kid is hoping to figure out if the equipment can be adapted to replicate the quirk it was designed to support.

(Ever since Snipe spoke to him about quirks being talents, he’s gotten really into support items. Something about how if quirks are tools, why not make tools to be like quirks?)

After the Mirko fight finally ends, Midoriya looks up at Snipe—the kid apparently needing his brain to focus on at least three things at all times—and says, “I’ve been wondering for a while, but when are you going to teach me how to shoot? Cause I think I need to get some kind of permit before I can even look at a gun. Also my mom-”

“I weren’t gonna,” Snipe says before the kid can really get going about all the logistics he already knows. But then the kid makes this face and shit- no. That ain’t what he meant. “No, I don’t- well, I might one day but only cause it’s a good skill to have. But I weren’t gonna teach you for the reason yer asking.”

Midoriya blinks and stops his scribbling. “What?”

Snipe sighs and pushes his grading to the side. He’s not going to be doing any of it any time soon.

“Shooting works for me cause I was already a dab hand at it young and then I worked at it to get so good no one could tell the difference. That took years. Even if you did have a knack for it, eleven months ain’t enough time to convince anyone you ain't just hand with a rifle. For this kind of thing, you can’t just be good, you need to be jo-fired.”

Izuku’s face scrunches up. “Then what am I supposed to do? I don’t have any talents I could pass off as a quirk.”

For a long moment, Snipe just stares at him waiting for the punchline. Eventually he realizes that it’s not coming and that the kid doesn’t even understand how smart he is. How many people in his life overlooked him and his mind just because he lacked a quirk?

(More than Snipe wants to know, probably.)

No time like the present to start fixing that.

“Kid, I’ve seen you deconstruct entire fights in real time. I’ve watched you break down quirks and fighting styles and support equipment in ten minutes flat with a worrying amount of accuracy. Your brain jumps tracks faster than a rabbit on a hot day and keeping up with some of the things you say is like trying to follow a lecture on quantum mechanics.”

“Well, actually, quantum mechanics isn’t actually that-”

Snipe raises a hand and the boy quiets instantly. “Kid, you’ve already got your knack, and judging by your notebooks, you’ve been building it up for years.” Snipe pokes him in the forehead. “Trust me, your greatest asset is what you got in that noggin of yers, and it ain’t gonna be hard to convince folks that it’s your quirk.”

As he says that he realizes something. Snipe had originally gone to Aizawa for advice since he should have a lot of free time this year after expelling his entire class. He wasn’t as helpful as Snipe had hoped.

But… Snipe thinks he might have an alternative. 

He doesn’t know why he hadn’t thought of it sooner, actually.

“In fact, I’m gonna take you to meet the smartest man I know to help you cultivate it. Or, well, I suppose he ain’t technically a man, but the sentiment still applies.”

***

The next day, Izuku meets Nedzu, the Beast Principal of UA. He leaves the meeting, after having completed three separate academic tests and two logic puzzles, with a meticulously planned schedule for the next nine months and a dazed smile.

Nedzu, one of the busiest people in all of Japan with a known dislike of humans in general, wants to meet with the kid three times a week.

Snipe is lucky if he sees Nedzu once a fortnight.

***

Snipe, as he said, isn’t used to the whole ‘untrained greenhorn’ thing. Nedzu’s fancy new schedule filled with what to teach the kid and when certainly helps, but more than once Snipe finds himself accidentally skipping to something only in the third-year curriculum.

He’ll just be explaining something to the kid and then he skips about ten steps in the middle because he’s used to his students already knowing what he’s talking about. It happens… more than he’d like to admit.

It’s a good thing Midoriya’s sharp as a tack.

Snipe thinks any other kid would have broken down in frustrated sobbing, utterly buffaloed at the things he was saying. But Midoriya just goes quiet, thinks over what Snipe had said, and either just gets it or asks for clarity and understands the moment Snipe explains.

It’s fantastic, and Midoriya is spoiling him by being such a good student.

“Oh, no,” the kid waves him off after he apologizes for it one day. “Principal Nedzu is way worse and he does it on purpose. Not that he’s told me he does it on purpose, but he’s the principal so he has to actually be good at teaching and stuff.” He shrugs. “He’s probably doing it to see how much I can figure out myself and how long it takes me to catch up. Something about having to get used to not being given all the information I’ll need? I dunno.”

Snipe blinks. Then he pinches the bridge of his nose.

Everything the kid tells him about his lessons with Nedzu just gives him a headache. He knows the kid is gonna be a damn good hero, but Snipe’s also sure that the principal is molding the kid into a younger version of him. Already the kid is being fed a steady diet of ‘question authority always’ and slowly having his rose colored view of hero society dismantled before he even steps into his first class.

Shit, Snipe wouldn’t be surprised to find of Nedzu is planning to eventually push the kid into spearheading an overhaul of society with his bare fucking hands. It’s no secret within UA’s staff that their dear principal holds little love for the Hero Commission and its ‘goals’.

(And the worst part is? Some days Snipe can actually see Midoriya doing it too. He’s too clever and kind and charismatic to not leave the world changed.

Snipe can only hope Nedzu doesn’t decide to use the kid for evil or something.)

***

“There’s a key difference between us, you know,” Nedzu says one day, mostly from nowhere. 

Up until a moment ago, they’d been discussing public opinions and how it affects a Hero's ability to do their job properly. Izuku isn’t sure what brought on the sudden subject change, but it doesn’t really matter. Nedzu does this often, and Izuku too, sometimes when his brain jumps tracks faster than his mouth can keep up with. So when he tilts his head in confusion, it has less to do with the topic change, and more the topic itself.

“I thought there were many differences between us, Sir?”

Nedzu laughs. “Yes, but not as many as you’d think. And certainly less than when I compare myself to most other people.”

Izuku supposes that’s true.

“Do you know what they call people with my kind of intelligence and methods, Midoriya?”

“A Chessmaster,” he answers. Then he thinks about this line of questioning and the things Nedzu isn’t saying, and guesses, “But I’m not?”

“Exactly right, my boy!” Nedzu praises. “You are something far rarer.”

Izuku blinks, incredulous. “I am?”

“Of course! There is a similarity in our foundations—how we observe and analyze and predict—but where we begin to differ, my boy, is what we do with those observations. My talents lie with manipulating factors and people to produce a desired outcome.” Nedzu’s eyes almost begin to sparkle over the rim of his teacup. Izuku has the conflicting urge to both sit up straight and hide behind his own teacup. “You, on the other hand, choose to build.”

“Build, sir?”

“You focus on people; learn their weaknesses and strengths, theorize on how they can grow or what they could do. You produce a favorable outcome by making the people around you stronger, faster, better. It’s a more…” Nedzu pauses, taking a sip of tea, “hands-on approach then I tend to take.

“People of our intelligence class do not often let their heart lead them as you do. Chessmasters are more common because we remove ourselves from the people and begin to see only them as pieces on a board, rather than beings in their own right. But you, my boy, have kept your heart firmly in balance with your mind. Your desire to help and to see people grow outweighs your desire to be in control.”

Izuku sits, thinking about that for a long moment. Then, “And what are people like me called, Principal?”

“Why, you’re an Engineer, my boy. What other name would be given to those who build up others?”

***

A few days after the end of winter break, just under two months until the Entrance Exam, Snipe leads the kid through UA. He doesn’t have a meeting with Nedzu today, but Snipe called him in for a surprise.

It’s after hours, so there ain’t many students still wandering the halls, but each one rubbernecks at the kid as they pass. It’s making him nervous, shuffling closer and closer to Snipe’s side until he just drops his arm around the boy, using his poncho to hide him as much as he can.

“I had a talk with Nedzu recently,” he says, if only to distract the kid. “And we agreed it’s best if we just gave you a recommendation instead of having you deal with the robots in the normal exam.”

“Recommendation-” Midoriya begins, startled, before interrupting himself. “Wait, robots?” 

“Don’t worry ‘bout it,” Snipe dismisses. “Course, you’re still at a disadvantage even in the recommendation exam. Your little noggin is damn useful, but you’re gonna need more than that to make it through and pass.”

The kid frowns. “Okay… but why does that mean we have to be at UA? The goats are gonna be upset that I’m not at the farm today. Especially Milo, you know how she gets.”

“Don’t worry about Milo, kid.”

“Too late, I’m already worried.”

Snipe rolls his eyes fondly, changing the subject. “We’re here to add more tools to yer belt. Ones you can hold.”

It’s then that the kid seems to realize where, exactly, in the school they are. With it’s reinforced walls twice as thick as the rest of the school and the excessive amount of fire extinguishers hanging on them.

“I’m getting support items?” Midoriya asks, frowning. “Wouldn’t that be against the rules? If everyone could bring support items to the exams, they would.” He stops abruptly, forcing Snipe to stop too, and stares up at him. “I don’t want to cheat.”

“It ain’t cheatin’, kid. It’s playing smart,” he tries to reassure, but the kid doesn’t budge. Just keep staring with that stubborn face of his that makes him want to tear out his braids most days. He sighs. “Support items are allowed, it's just a bitch of a vetting process to get them approved. But luckily for you, the Hoss in charge of approving them likes you.”

There’s still a frown on the kid’s face, but he softens, and when Snipe starts walking again, he follows. “That still sounds like cheating.”

Snipe shakes his head. “Having someone lend you a hand ain’t cheatin’. It’s called getting help. And whether you like it or not, yer gonna need a lot of help to be the hero you wanna be.”

“The kind that gives people hope,” the kid says.

“Right,” Snipe agrees. “But you ain’t ever gonna be the Superman type. You can’t hold up entire buildings and you can’t stop a bullet with nothing but your chest.”

Midoriya frowns, but it looks more confused than disheartened. After months, he’s lost the habit of expecting Snipe to take everything back, to tell him he’s not fit to be a hero. After months, he also knows Snipe’s habit of using non sequiturs to bring up an important point, so he waits for Snipe to explain himself instead of freaking out or something like he would have in the beginning.

“You can’t be All Might or Superman, but that’s fine.” Snipe grins, stopping at a door. “Cause there’s one old school hero you can be.”

He opens the door to reveal a room full of second year support course students, all staring at him and the kid with avid curiosity and hunger.

“2-F, please welcome your new best friend. This is Midoriya Izuku, your live subject for Project Batman.”

By the sudden clamour, you’d have thought he just announced the second coming of Christmas.