Tiger & Might – Chapter 5: Partners
Izuku’s palms were sweaty. His heart was racing. Blood was pounding at his ears. The mere fact that a simple winter breeze could spell his death left a primal fear in his heart as every thought in his mind told him one thing:
You will die if you take another step.
Izuku was six stories in the air at least, standing at the ledge of a building. The average height of a fall that would be fatal was about five stories, with eight stories having a near 100% rate of death for the average person. Those who had Quirks that made them especially resilient were a different story, but for Izuku those statistics were accurate.
‘Quit being so scared and get ready to jump.’ ordered a voice through the earpiece. Mei, no doubt monitoring his vitals.
‘Don’t say it like that!’ a second reprimanded. Miss Kasumi. ‘It’s natural for him to be afraid when he has to try jumping from that height for the first time.’
Looking down he could spot the three people who had accompanied him to this near-abandoned neighborhood of buildings and complex roads. The construction of the expressway nearby had reduced the amount of traffic and a lot of businesses either relocated or closed, leaving plenty of old buildings for them to use. Less of a chance of someone calling the police also meant less time trying to explain everything.
‘He’ll be fine,’ Mei insisted. ‘If the sensor reads that he’s falling close to the ground it’ll deploy the airbag to cushion him. And Mister Kaburagi is holding the manual trigger as a backup.’
‘Well, assuming your gear doesn’t work—and I don’t—that’s why I have Hundred Power active right now. I can speed up my reaction time and movements a hundred-fold and catch him before he gets hurt.’
Why did she have to say that out loud? Izuku fought a shudder as he checked over the equipment on him now. The AR visor that Mei had made were fixed firmly on his face, information being fed into it from the tablet she had on-hand, such as his current height.
Next, he ran his fingers over the protective pads meant to shield his body from a collision, light but firm, and the airbag belt around his waist that would detect when he was falling and deploy from both sides to cushion him from an impact. That he’d seen her test as she nonchalantly pushed a crash test dummy (he didn’t ask why she had one) she had over the edge of a taller building twice and showed the results with and without using one.
He only wished she hadn’t put an image of his face on it. Both times. That did not help.
‘Are you calling my babies shabby!?’
‘Last time I checked, that watch of yours nearly took off the arm of a practice dummy.’
His fingers then drifted to the wrist-watch grappling hook model she had been urged to make and test, ensuring it was firmly in its place. The modified version prior had been cleared by whoever it was Mister Kaburagi knew that had the proper means to test it before they even conceived doing this. And Izuku knew it would on the smaller buildings already. But their argument was not helping.
‘I adjusted that flaw three iterations ago!’
‘That meant you needed three times to get it close to working right!’
‘You’re supposed to test and building things like that—it’s a process!’
Izuku closed his eyes and let out a sigh as they began to squabble in his ears. It had been about a month since they’d met Mei, and all that entailed. Her drive to invent and improve herself was somewhat akin to his drive to be a hero, but she couldn’t really find it in her to focus all that strongly on the person using it so much as she was focused on getting the optimal result. With any luck, that would get better with time, but she and Miss Kasumi were like oil and vinegar.
‘That’s enough, you two.’ Finally, a voice of reason in Mister Kaburagi. ‘Izuku-kun, if you’re uncomfortable we can stop. The first step is always the hardest, but the idea is to get you over the primal fears so you don’t freeze up in the event you do run into them.’
He swallowed before responding. “No,” he said as he exhaled deeply through his nose. “I’ll do it now. I can’t let my fears slow me down.”
‘Then let’s get started.’ Mei again. ‘I’m activating the auto-assist program now.’
No sooner than she said a crosshair appeared on the screen of his visor, set to move along with the watch through whatever monitoring system she had place into it. As Izuku moved his hand, it moved as well, no doubt predicting where the line would connect based on the length and force of the wire. On the inside of the crosshairs there was a checkmark that turned into an ‘x’ as it passed from the building to the glass, signifying whether or not it would latch.
“Firing now,” Izuku said as he took aim and confirmed it would connect before he triggered it. The moment the end of the grappling line shot out, a number displayed on the screen that displayed both the total length of the wire as well as how much was in use. The moment the end touched the building, an electric current flowed through the wire and magnetized the tip.
‘It’s connected,’ Mei said. ‘I’ll set the reeling system to automatic rather than manual control to minimize human error. Jump now.’
She put real effort into it, and they’ve all taken safety measures, so it should be okay. Izuku took a deep breath before steeling his resolve and staking it down into his fears for a single moment of courage. Then he jumped, separating from the building that had been holding gravity at bay. He plunged like a stone immediately, a scream falling out of his mouth.
Then the line began to reel in.
In an instant, everything changed as he crossed the gap in a single fluid motion, momentum and the pull of the wire carrying him across the distance. His descent transformed into an ascension. The sensation of falling was turned into one of flight. And his scream of fear turned into one of surprise as an exhilarating sensation coursed through his body as Izuku defied gravity for the first time.
It was a cross between the adrenaline-fueled thrill and the satisfaction of overcoming the limitations of his body. The realization of the impossible becoming possible. Was this what it was like for heroes like All Might as they leapt towards the rescue?
Izuku didn’t have a chance to dwell on the line of thought for too long as he was propelled over the ledge of the building he’d jumped towards. Unprepared for the landing given the unexpected rush, he ended up stumbling into a roll until the connected line snagged him. That left him flat on his back, eyes fixed to the sky.
‘Izuku-kun, are you okay?’ Mister Kaburagi asked, concerned.
“Ye…Yes…” He took heavy and hurried breaths, chest rising and falling even with a smile spread on his face. “I never… felt better…”
Kotetsu watched as Izuku was swinging through the air with relative ease. Now that his fear had been largely minimized, he was getting used to it and steadily growing more accustomed to using it. Even smiling as he gave chase after Kasumi, who had gotten bored sitting around and decided to test him as she leapt from one building to another with Hundred Power.
The veteran hero knew the feeling of excitement very well, starting out. He’d originally used the watch in order to get to locations that were normally inaccessible for him when he needed to save on using Hundred Power—even before his powers began to wane. Of course, with his age now he couldn’t indulge in that sort of behavior.
“Don’t go out of the area I designated!” Mei shouted into the earpiece as she continued tapping the tablet she was using to keep track of Izuku’s progress. “You’ll mess up the baseline I’m working on here!”
‘Quit being a stick-in-the-mud,’ Kasumi said. ‘How often does Junior get a chance like this? Let him have some fun with it before you start slapping limitations onto it and making it boring.’
“I don’t want there to be a malfunction because you’re pushing him to go faster than he can manage when he’s had it for less than three hours,” she shot back. “There’s an order to things, which I would expect someone who’s supposed to be a hero to know.”
“Calm down you two,” Kotetsu said before they started fighting one another again. “Just slow down for a bit, Izuku-kun. We’ve got time.”
He then turned to Mei. “You should be a little gentler. I can understand how important data is for your engineering, but for him this is something new and exciting.”
“I don’t want there to be any mistakes for when I present this version to that engineer from the Helios Energy company again,” Mei said, annoyance in her voice. It wasn’t directed at him of course, but rather in response to the feedback of the previous model he’d gotten analyzed—keeping with his word.
She had done an adequate job on modifying the watch he’d given her. It met all the criteria that he had set out for Izuku, so he couldn’t complain. But it clearly wasn’t her best given the functionality of her new model, so most likely she was simply trying to get to his Wild Tiger suit as quickly as possible. The engineer had likely seen that on some level, and it had stricken her pride when he rejected it.
“Even so, you should try to understand that since it’s important for you to better understand the people you’re working with,” Kotetsu told her. “Otherwise, it’ll be a little difficult for you to get along with the heroes you’ll be making the equipment for, and that might make your future plans a lot more difficult. A bad reference from one can ruin a lot of future prospects, even if the equipment you provide is top-notch.”
She opened her mouth to respond but words only came out after a pause. “…It’s easier said than done. Especially when around people who don’t see things the same way as I do.”
“Which is why you should get in practice now,” he said gently, nodding his head towards Izuku as he swung from one building to the next. “If there’s anyone here who will understand you, it will be him.”
Hours later, the practice came to an end. They had all arrived back at Mister Kaburagi’s home, the sun setting over the horizon. The veteran hero quickly retired to his home to get some rest, leaving Kasumi to get ready to drive Izuku back home, while Mei sat on her scooter and went over the footage of the day’s practice on her tablet.
Already she could see improvements that could be made. The way the grappling system’s design worked at the moment only allowed for it to attach to buildings that had metals that could be attached to by a magnet. That was sufficient for most modern buildings, but it wouldn’t be for those that were made of some sort of natural material.
She could add in a secondary attachment component. Hooks that fired off once they received the electrical charge and then dug into the building material. But the problem was that she would have to compensate for the additional weight—which also meant recalibrating the launching system, using a thicker wire, and a wider compartment to store it in—and then have a secondary system to release the hook with enough force to penetrate whatever it needed to attach to.
Her lips slightly pursed as she considered the resources she had at hand and how much harder it would be. But, before she could think on it much further, Kasumi’s phone began to ring.
“What’s up, Mom?” she answered. Mei couldn’t hear the other end from her perch, but from the way the expression on Kasumi’s face shifted, one brow raised, whatever it was must’ve been intriguing to the woman. “How did they get up there?”
Mei turned her attention away from the conversation and focused back on the footage. It was none of her business, concern, or interest after all. That was, until a shout came over the line that even she could hear, nearly causing her to fumble it.
She turned back to see Kasumi holding the phone away from her ear, wincing as the voice continued for a bit. “Okay, okay. I’ll come get them down now!”
Then she sighed and hung up, before turning to Izuku. “Sorry, Junior. I won’t be able to give you a ride home. I’ve got to go get my nephews since they managed to get themselves into some trouble.”
“It’s fine,” Izuku said. “I can walk home.”
“I really think you shouldn’t. We were going at it for a while up there, so you’d probably pass out the moment you got home…” Her eyes drifted over to Mei. “She’ll give you a ride on her scooter.”
Mei blinked. “I will?”
Kasumi gave her an insistent look at that. “You’re the only one who can drive him. It’s not that far on a set of wheels, compared to having to walk in the dark. And besides, you’re not that busy at the moment.”
Mei frowned at the presumption that she’d have free time. It was almost insulting considering how much work she had to do. She would have to rework the design of the watch, find a material that was hard and light enough to not make it cumbersome to act as a hook, and somehow maintain the discreet appearance that it being a watch entailed. Anything more fitting, like a gauntlet, would stand-out and elude the purpose of having it in that form to begin with.
The worst part was that trying to explain that to her would be an exercise in futility. People usually just didn’t get it unless they were more inclined to the engineering side of things. She turned her cross-haired gaze towards Izuku. “Come on then.”
“I really don’t want to be a bother,” Izuku said defensively, hands raised to pacify her. “Really, it’s no trouble for me to walk.”
“Just give me your address and we’ll go,” Mei insisted as she set the tablet into a slot on the front and brought up the GPS. Once the boy did and she entered the information into it, she inched forward so that he could get onto the seat behind her. “Hold onto me.”
“Wrap your arms around my waist and sit against my back,” Mei clarified as she placed her goggles over her eyes. Her Quirk may have enhanced her vision, but having the wind blow in her face tended to throw her off. “I don’t have a second helmet with me, so it’ll be bad if you fall off.”
“O-okay.” He visibly and audibly swallowed before he held his arms out towards her waist. They were shaking for some reason, even before she started the scooter up. And his grip was rather loose as he inched forward until she felt the warmth of his trembling body.
Mei looked over her shoulder to see that he was sweating lightly too. She supposed he really might have been too tired to walk back home at that rate. It really couldn’t be helped then. She turned her attention back forward and pressed down on the pedal, taking off from the residence of Mister Kaburagi.
The evening air brushed against her face, its sting more tolerable due to having a passenger behind her. Her focus was on the road, but traffic was light and so her thoughts turned back to her project. At least until she looked in her side-mirror and saw Izuku’s mouth opening and closing, as if he wanted to say something. “What is it?”
“Sorry about this and earlier,” he said with his eyes turned down and lips downturned at the corners. “I… didn’t mean to throw your calculations off when we were testing out the equipment. I know you’re working hard, so that probably didn’t help.”
Mei realized he must have been thinking about that for some time now. Had she sounded that upset with him? “…Under normal circumstances I’d be excited to see someone happy with what I’ve made like that. I’ve just been under a lot of stress lately to get this right after what the engineer said to me. since this is a big chance for me to get an ‘in’ with a major company.”
She’d been spent weeks of testing and refining it after her classes, and it had been eating up the majority of her focus. That meant she also had to ignore her other projects, which was easier said than done. New ideas came to her mind as often as she thought about a problem in need of a solution, yet she was restricted to a single one for an undefined period of time.
“Umm… can I ask why you want to get into a major company?” he asked.
She indulged his curiosity. “Because it’ll give me access to everything I need—space, equipment, resources. I mean, have you tried making half of the equipment I do in what amounts to a garage?”
He shook his head. “I live in an apartment, so I can imagine that all the noise would at least would cause a disturbance. Not to mention the safety hazards.”
“Tell me about it…” she muttered under her breath. The noise bothered the neighbors and her parents, and she could only get so much tools and materials to work with due to costs and safety regulations. “That’s why I want to get into U.A. Their Support Department is among the best. Then, once I’ve established myself, I’ll be able to get my own workshop and make whatever I want, whenever I want.”
“Still, you managed to make all of this equipment on your own, despite not having access to everything you’d want,” Izuku said, an earnest tone in his voice. “You’re amazing, Hatsume-san.”
She couldn’t help but feel a little happy when he said that, all things considered. Her babies were the product of her love of engineering, despite having so little to work with, and she had worked up from failure before—every time being a chance to improve. It was being rejected from her first major company that had pushed her out of enjoying it, but if she didn’t enjoy it… what was the point?
“You’re pretty amazing yourself, Izuku-kun,” she told him sincerely, smiling as she felt a weight lifting from her. Mister Kaburagi was right about him after all. “With you as my partner, I get the feeling we’ll make lots of great babies together.”
An awkward laugh followed from Izuku’s mouth, but he smiled as well. “I wish you’d phrase that a different way, but I’ll look forward to it, partner.”