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An Irrational Team-Up

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It’s not like Shouta took any pride in completing training exercises during his third year at UA. In fact, if he had a say, he would never do another training exercise as long as he lived. He’d had his fill of real-life disasters during his first two years at UA, so, frankly, a mock disaster wasn’t exactly high on his list of enjoyable hobbies. After all, he’d already experienced the worst tragedy imaginable for a hero, that no amount of training could have prepared him for; why would he waste his time on what seemed like pointless training? 

No, if he had a say, he’d have graduated already; spending his time actually saving real people in danger, instead of getting perfect marks on written exams or rescuing his hundredth training dummy. He just wanted to be a real hero, and he wanted to do it as fast as possible. As far as Shouta was concerned, he was the only one who could make that happen.

“Listen, Aizawa, I’m worried that you’ve gotten too complacent,” his teacher told him. “After what happened last year… you haven’t exactly been interested in working with a team. I know you wanna go independent, but if you want to be a real hero, you have to be able to rely on others, and they need to be able to rely on you, too.”

So when his teacher assigned him to yet another joint training exercise with students from other hero schools, he was none too pleased about it. Even moreso when he met who it was he’d be partnered with: 1st year student from Ketsubutsu Academy, Emi Fukukado, also known as aspiring hero: Ms. Joke.

The two weren’t given much instruction for the exercise, other than a building collapse had left three people trapped-- their conditions unknown. Of all the training exercises they could put him through it had to be this? A building collapse? Maybe that was the point.  

And couldn’t they have paired him with someone else? He already wasn’t keen on working with others, but, given Shouta’s personality, this certainly had to be the worst match-up of all time.

“We’ve checked all the other floors,” The cheerful, green-haired first-year says, carefully examining the map she has in her hands. The two traverse the dark halls of their training location, Emi using her flashlight to get a better look at the map, while Shouta just continues forward on his own, ahead of Emi. “So, all that’s left is floor nine!” She chuckles to herself, proud that they’ve almost finished their training exercise.

Shouta on the other hand has been noticeably quiet since the training began, making him a wonderful challenge for the extroverted Emi. “Did you notice how they didn’t make all our classmates do this assignment? They probably grouped us together because we’re the ‘problem children’ and want to teach us some kind of lesson, right?” She asks, purposefully walking closer to his side. Shouta, however, is quick to widen the gap once again. “Soooo….? What’s your story?” Emi asks, when her first comment doesn’t get any reaction out of him.

“Why?” He finally responds, his reply curt.

“Just making small talk,” she responds, with a bit of a nervous grin, confused as to why he’s responding so harshly. He’s only just met her a little while ago and he’s quick to be rude? ‘Not much of a heroic persona...’ she thinks to herself.

“No thanks,” he responds, shining his flashlight in the other direction, in an attempt to distance himself from her further. The tension between them is palpable-- and a bit uncomfortable perhaps-- which doesn’t sit well with Emi in the slightest.

“Gee, thanks for asking!” She says with a snarky grin. Shouta groans in response, wanting nothing more than for this exercise to be over so he can go home. “They say I don’t take the job seriously. I mean, come on! Of course I know being a hero is dangerous! I totally get what the risks are. But my power makes people laugh,” she says, with a proud little laugh of her own. “So, that’s what I’m gonna do!”

“Even if it’s forced?” Shouta asks, blithe. 

“Even if it’s forced…” She affirms, her demeanor slightly altered, with a bit of sadness in her voice, though still with a smile on her face. “This world is too cruel not to try and face everything with a smile, you know?”

“A smile, huh?” He responds, sardonically, stopping dead in his tracks. ‘She’s right, it is cruel,’ he thinks to himself. But she’s still a carefree first-year, with a brighter outlook on the world (brighter than he’s ever known, anyway). A part of him doesn’t want to take away that speck of optimism from her, but the other part knows there’s a different version of reality she’ll have to face one day. “When you watch helplessly as someone dies in front of you, and you know there’s nothing you can do to save them, see how easy it is for you to smile then.”

Emi looks at him, doe-eyed; speechless for the first time since they met. He looks away, realizing the weight of what he just said to her, not able to bear any further reaction from her. “Let’s just find that last training dummy and get this over with,” he says, continuing onward, leaving a heavy sigh in his wake.

As they make their way up the steps to the top floor, one of the wooden panels in the stairs gives way, causing Emi’s foot to fall through the hole beneath her. But Shouta is quick to grab her by the arm, pulling her back up onto a higher step, before the entire thing has a chance to collapse.

“Damn,” She exhales a chuckle, realizing he just saved her from something that could’ve ended up much worse. “Some reflexes you got.”

“Heroes can’t hesitate,” he explains plainly, before continuing up the steps again, making it to the top. “If you can’t keep up, then don’t bother.” He’d stomp his way up the stairs out of annoyance if he didn’t just witness the rotted boards crumble from hardly any weight.

Emi wants to be irritated by his brash and tactless personality, but something about him makes her want to keep following him. Maybe she thinks she could learn some things from his experience, maybe she wants to prove to him that she’s not some pushover… or maybe she just wants to make a stick-in-the-mud like him laugh. Either way, she finds herself intrigued by him and wants to try and push the envelope more. 

“Oh, I can keep up!” Emi snickers, gripping one hand onto the railing and the other onto the fabric of her costume’s shorts. “The question is, can you?”

Shouta scoffs as he watches her charge her way up a very unstable set of stairs, in an attempt to show off. Some of the boards collapse under the pressure as she slams her foot against each one, luckily running faster than gravity tries to pull her down… barely. She makes her way to the top, swinging her arms in the air. “WA-HOO!” She yells out in victory. “Ha-ha! I did it!”

“Guess they were right about how you don’t take anything seriously,” he responds, monotone as ever, continuing on the path forward yet again.

“You’re one to talk!” Emi pouts, having to catch up with him once more. “You couldn’t hide how bored you are of this if you tried.”

“What gave it away?” He asks, his rhetorical question lost on Emi.

“You’re such a stuffed shirt, acting like you’re so above all of this. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, could it?” Shouta doesn’t even dignify her with an answer, and instead continues onward. “And let me guess, the reason that you’re here in the first place is because you probably can’t get along with people on account of your bad personality, right?” When she still doesn’t get a response, she decides to push his buttons further. “Makes sense. no one’s going to want to be saved by a hero who only cares about himself.” Shouta grits his teeth, wanting to bite back at her comments, but he resists. 

“You know what, find the last dummy yourself,” Emi crosses her arms, turning away from Shouta and heading in the other direction. “If you wanna be a one-man-army who’s always rude to everyone, then be my guest. I have no interest in working with someone like you,” she huffs, heading back toward the half-broken set of stairs. Shouta has no intention of stopping her, and yet, he turns to watch her leave.

It’s as if the world began to move in slow motion after that...

As Emi steps down onto the first rotted board, the wood practically turns to dust, crumbling under the weight of her feet. She tries to catch herself by grabbing onto the railing, but ends up stumbling into the wall. Shouta watches in horror as the wall gives way too, with Emi now falling backward into the open space.

The way Emi reached out her hand as she began to plummet, how fast Shouta dove to grab her arm… it all happened in a fraction of a second, but to the two of them, it felt like an eternity.

With one hand gripping the railing and the other holding onto Emi by the wrist, Shouta groans as he struggles to pull her up. He has a good grip on the railing, but the boards beneath his feet are ready to collapse at any moment.

“Climb up, Joke…!” He struggles to say, his chest and stomach pressed up against the edge of the metal railing, forcing all the air out of him. “C’mon… you can do it!”

She tries to climb up, using her free hand to grab Shouta’s arm, but she can see that her weight is only pulling him down toward her. “I can’t…!” Emi refuses. “You’ll fall too…”

“I’ve got you, okay?!” He assures her, wincing in pain. “Just… climb up!”

Still, he holds a tight grip on her arm, refusing to let go. Emi looks down to the ground beneath her and looks back up at Shouta, now with wet eyes and a smile. 

“Eraser… it’s okay,” she tells him softly, as he continues struggling to pull her up. It’s her way of saying he doesn’t have to hold on anymore. 

“Stop smiling, damn it!” He says through gritted teeth, trying desperately to get better traction. “I can pull you up! I can do it!” He yells, hoping he doesn’t lose his grip on her. He continues trying to pull her up, even though she’s gone dead-weight, with barely any strength left to do so. As Emi loosens her grip on Shouta, he starts to lose his as well.

“Thank you… Eraser…” Emi whispers, just as her fingers brush past his, having completely lost his grip on her now.. He yells out in absolute horror as she begins plummeting to the ground below. What can he do now? He hesitates for a split second before tossing down his binding cloth to try and grab her, but that split second made all the difference.

He looks away, unable to bear the sight of what’s about to happen. He knows he’s still screaming out loud, but he can’t hear it. All he can think about is how he, yet again, let someone slip through his fingers. He let someone else get hurt when he should’ve been able to protect them. How can he ever call himself a hero?

It’s not long before he hears someone calling to him from below. “Oi! Eraser!” That voice is kinda familiar…

Shouta builds up the courage to lean over the railing and look down below him. At the bottom, his gaze meets Taishiro Toyomitsu, a third year student from Shiketsu High, also known as Fatgum. That’s right, he was also part of the training exercise with some other Shiketsu students-- they met earlier in the day. By the looks of it, he must’ve been at the right place at the right time, considering he’s helping Emi to get on her feet. Did he… break her fall?

“You alright up there, buddy?” Taishiro calls out to Shouta.

With a heavy exhale, all he does is hold a thumbs up out to him in response. He’d never admit how his knees were about ready to buckle.

“ERASEEER!!!” Emi calls out to him now, waving up at him. “You big baby!” She starts cackling out loud. “You shoulda seen your face! I can pull you up! I can do it!” She mocks him. “You! Were! So! Scared!” She can barely contain her laughter at this point. Shouta can only grimace at the exchange, having nothing to say in response.

All’s well that ends well… right?

After the exercise had officially ended, the students were being loaded onto their buses to head back to their respective schools. Eager to get home and forget about this awful day, Shouta groans out loud when Emi calls out to him, running up from behind.

“Hey, Eraser! Sorry for making fun of you back there. You just seemed so scared and… it’s usually a reflex for me to try and make people laugh when they’re upset. Sorry about that. It was actually really cool of you how you rushed in there to save me. I appreciate it.”

“Yeah… sure…” he responds, a mixture of annoyance and embarrassment in his voice. It really is strange to hear her being genuine, though.

“Well… Thanks again. And I hope we can see each other again soon,” Emi tells him with a bright smile.

“Yeah… see ya,” he says, turning back around and heading toward the bus.

“Hey, Eraser?!” He reluctantly turns his head back to look at her. “Whaddya say we go out sometime?”

“Not interested,” he says, quickly turning back and continuing walking away.

“Oh, come on!” she yells out. “You and I both know we have amazing chemistry. You can’t fight it forever!” She’s practically screaming by the end of it; everyone around them can hear. Even though he continues walking away from her, Emi sighs happily.

One of Emi’s classmates walks up, having only caught the tail end of the ‘conversation’. “You’re looking more cheery than normal, Emi. Something happen?”

“See that guy over there?” Emi says, pointing to Shouta.

“That emo-looking kid from UA? What about him?”

She looks longingly, with a beaming smile. The sunset casts its light on Shouta as he walks away. “I’m gonna marry him someday!”