equilibrium — ee-kw uh - lib -ree- uh m
noun: a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced; the mid-point of a reaction before the downfall or ascent.
The white walls of the room wrap around Izuku, like he’s trapped inside an egg, or a tomb. His skin is pale beneath the artificial white lights that shine down from above, harsh and industrial-quality. He inspects his arms, freckled and pitted, and counts the scars as the clock ticks seconds in the hallway outside.
The door opens with a bang. Izuku tries not to flinch. He looks up and is greeted with the sight of the black-eyed police officer.
“You have a visitor,” says the officer, and steps aside.
The woman is short and round, with pleasant features and forest green hair. Her eyes glint wetly as they stare into his, and they are so, so familiar. Painfully familiar. They are the eyes he sees when he looks in the mirror, his eyes, but without the shadows. The eyes from his childhood, before everything crumbled to pieces.
“Izuku,” gasps the woman who is his mother.
Izuku forgets how to breathe.
She’s crying. They both are. Her fingers are on his arm, tracing those hideous, hideous scars, and her face is so terribly full of pain. Izuku wants to dig his nails under her skin and pull all that pain out, but he can’t. He can’t.
“Who did this to you?” chokes his mother. “God, who could do this to my beautiful, beautiful boy?”
Sickness coils In Izuku’s gut, dark and writhing like a snake.
I’m not him, he wants to say. I’m not the son you remember.
She reaches forward and pulls their faces together, until their foreheads are touching. Her breath is jagged and gasping, wetness dripping from her eyes to land, glistening, on the metal tabletop.
He wants to pull away. He wants to tell her, warn her. He is poison, dark and evil, and if she gets too close it will infect her. Her veins will turn black, her eyes will hollow, her skin will wither, and slowly, slowly, she will fade into nothingness.
He is broken, and scarred. His heart is pitted, shriveled, wrapped in darkness.
“My poor, poor, beautiful boy,” she murmurs again.
He is not beautiful.
He is a hideous monster not fit for the light.
All Might’s hand is heavy on his shoulder. He’s sure it’s meant to be comforting, but it feels like a chain, a shackle like those on his wrists and ankles. All Might, huge and god-like, All Might with his gleaming blue eyes and shining smile and booming voice.
When Izuku was young, he would have been trembling with excitement, overcome with joy. When he was young, he would have fallen to his knees, arms grasping for a pen and some paper, mouth spewing meaningless words.
Once, he had looked on All Might with admiration. Now, though, he just feels hollow.
“Come on, my boy,” says All Might, proud and strong. “Let’s get you home.”
And Izuku still wants to fall to his knees. He is still trembling.
But it’s not with joy, or awe. It’s not hero-worship, or admiration, or ecstatic disbelief.
Izuku’s blood runs cold with fear, cold like the metal clamped around his wrists and ankles, cold like the room he’d been kept in for the days and days since they caught him.
Izuku is terrified. He’s always terrified. And the awful thing is that there’s absolutely nothing he can do about it.
Izuku sits on the bed. It’s plush, and warm. It feels like a cloud.
He hates it. Hates it because it feels so alien and yet so familiar, like a long forgotten memory or the trailing whispers of a song barely recalled.
“Are you alright there, my boy?” asks All Might, huge in the doorway, blocking the hallway light. Izuku nods once, curt and rigid.
All Might sighs, deep and heavy like a gust of wind. “Okay,” he says—even though of course it’s not okay, nothing’s okay, everything is in pieces and it’s all slowly falling apart more and more and he’s spiralling and the darkness is pressing in and—
The doorway stands empty, All Might’s steps receding down the hallway.
Izuku sags. Slowly he drops to the bed, as if lowered on strings, and curls up with is back to the wall. His eyes flick from the open doorway to the barred window, and his fingers drum against his knees.
Everything is so foreign. Everything should be right, and yet it all feels wrong.
He’d dreamed of this. For years and years he’d dreamed of this, dreamed of being saved, but it’s too little too late and he knows he’s beyond saving. This life slips over him like an ill-fitting shoe, pinching and narrow and confining and so, so uncomfortable.
Izuku presses his fist to his mouth and bites down on his lip until he tastes blood, trying to stop the trembling. His eyes burn but he keeps them open, afraid to let his guard down for even a second.
It’s wrong. It’s all wrong.
A sob claws its way up Izuku’s throat, a wild, silent beast.
It deteriorates from there.
Kacchan sits in front of him, red eyes burning into his skin. “You’re not dead,” he says.
Izuku looks down and away.
“Where were you?”
He doesn’t answer. He can’t. His tongue feels glued to the roof of his mouth, even with Kacchan’s fire and Kacchan’s fury before him.
“Damnit, answer me, Deku! Open your damn mouth and say something!”
And Izuku wants to.
But he can’t.
“Who is he?” whispers the girl, brown eyes wide as her gaze follows him. Her friend, tall and blue-haired, makes a humming sound in thought.
“I heard the teachers apprehended a criminal,” says the boy. “And that All Might’s supposed to be watching him.”
Izuku’s eyes glue themselves to the dirt path before him. His heart beats loudly in his ears, like the heavy pounding of a drum, and his pace quickens. He’d come for the clean air, for the open expanse of the outdoors, for the blue of the sky, and All Might had let him, as long as he did not leave the area. Now, though, he wishes he’d stayed indoors.
“Why’s he by himself then?” asks the girl, sounding worried. “Should we do something?”
The boy’s feet crunch on the ground as he steps forward. “Hey!” he calls. “Hey, stop there!”
Izuku clenches his hands into fists. Sweat beads in his palms and his breathing grows ragged, the edges of it scraping in and out of his lungs like frayed cloth or shattered glass. Go away, he thinks. Please, please go away.
He’s a wild animal, locked in a cage. His keepers watch from all angles, and there is no escape. Curious onlookers poke and prod and try to make him dance, and when he falls they laugh and laugh and it’s been like this for so long, so long, and he hates it, sometimes he wishes Shigaraki had killed him ages ago—
Cloth wraps around him, stopping his movement and obscuring his sight.
“Let’s go,” says Eraserhead, voice stern, and Izuku has no choice but to obey.
The world is blue and silver in the pale moonlight. Izuku sits on the rooftop and watches UA slumber.
A breeze ruffles his hair, too-long but clean, cleaner than it has been in a long time. It smells like almonds, like the cream-colored shampoo All Might keeps in his shower. It’s a bit strange, Izuku thinks; in his memory, shampoo always smelled like lilacs.
(His mother still smells of lilacs, and whenever the scent wafts his way the tears come unbidden. It’s a painful smell, painful and familiar like the smell of rice cooking or tea brewing on the stove.)
Izuku stands and walks to the edge. His toes hang out over the drop and he spreads his arms wide and thinks about jumping.
Would it hurt? he wonders, would it be slow? Or would it feel like flying, and then release?
The concept of death should be freeing. In death, no one can hold him and no one can hurt him. But death isn’t freedom: it’s a cage.
In death, Izuku will not have the wind in his hair or the stars in the sky. He won’t have the subtle scent of almonds or the pink bursts of cherry blossoms in the early spring. Death holds no sunrises, no grassy hills, no private forest paths.
Izuku exhales deeply and steps away from the edge.
“Say something! ” yells Kacchan, voice breaking. “You’re useless! Weak! All you can do is get yourself kidnapped and now you won’t even defend yourself?! Answer me, Deku! ”
Kacchan’s fist blazes through the air, bursting with sparks, and Izuku sees red.
The world flashes away; white noise fills his ears, shrill and loud and roaring like the crashing of waves or the swift descent of a ruined airplane. He can’t see, can’t think—he just moves, pulling and twisting and pushing and when his senses return, he’s on top of Kacchan, knee pressing against his back and hand pressing his face into the dirt. His heart is pounding, and everything is horribly, horribly silent.
“Deku, what the—” Kacchan bucks him off and he falls to the ground. “What the fuck.”
I’m sorry, pleads Izuku. I’m sorry oh god I’m so sorry I’m sorryI’m sorryI’msorryI’msorryI—
Red hair and hardened skin bulldozes into him from the side and Izuku’s world flashes black and white. The other boy crashes to the ground, air gasping from his lungs at the force of it.
“Aah,” wheezes the boy, and clambers to his feet. “You okay, Bakugou?”
“Shut the fuck up,” says Kacchan, and then they’re both moving towards him and Kacchan’s eyes are burning and the world is spinning and something inside Izuku snaps.
Blood roars in his ears. The beast inside crawls its way up his throat and fights and tears and breaks and—
Electricity sears at his wrists and Izuku goes down hard.
“I need to understand,” says All Might, voice soft from across the table. “Please help me understand.”
Izuku says nothing.
“If you won’t talk to us, we can’t help you,” continues All Might. “I know this is difficult and you’ve been through a lot, but…” he trails off, waiting.
Izuku nails dig into the palms of his hands, so hard that it hurts. They’re all the same, the heroes and the villains, all threats. They’ll hurt him and use him and cast him away when he’s spent.
I’m sorry, he thinks, and doesn’t say a word.
(He’s young. He’s afraid. The man’s grip is rough against his harm, and it hurts. He doesn’t want this. He never wanted this.
“Go on,” says the man, gesturing towards the woman they’d captured. “Kill her.”
“No,” says Izuku, trying to wriggle away. “No, no, I won’t.”
The man leans close, breath hot against his ear and smelling of alcohol. “Yes, you will, or I’ll make you scream until your lungs give out.”
Izuku wants to cry, wants to run, wants desperately to escape and go home. Instead he watches the woman sob into the floor and watches the knife in his hand glint in the dim lighting.
“Come on, brat,” says the man. His fingers are vices around his arm and something snaps as he squeezes.
Izuku screams and plunges the knife into the man’s eye.)
Kacchan has a black eye and a broken arm. The other boy has bloodied lips and a fractured rib.
Izuku’s hands, pale and clean and smelling faintly of lemon, are stained with the blood of all the things he’s done. The heroes surround him, large and looming, and he knows that he’s going to die.
“It’s useless,” says Eraserhead dully. “The kid won’t talk.”
“Please,” says All Might. “We won’t hurt you.”
Izuku won’t meet his eyes.
He knows it’s a lie.
(Shigaraki is furious.
“You little brat, ” he rages. “Ironfinger was one of our best men and you just ruined him.” He pauses, a knife-smile spreading across his face. “And now you’re going to pay .”
His fingers close over Izuku’s shoulder.
All five of them.
Izuku’s skin splinters and he screams and screams and screams.
“I’m sorry,” he begs as the pain burns and burns and blood pools on the floor. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’msorryI’msorryI’msorryI—”
“Shigaraki Tomura! ” shouts Kurogiri and separates them.
Izuku falls to the floor, broken.
“I’m sorry,” he sobs, nose filled with the scent of his own blood.
“Shut up! ” yells Shigaraki.
Izuku does as he’s told.)
“I hope you understand,” says Eraserhead, tone severe. “We can’t allow you free range after this. You severely injured two of our students and we can’t let this go unpunished.”
Izuku stares at the floor, eyes wide. A single tear glistens, crystalline, and makes a small dark spot on the wooden floorboards.
I’m sorry, he mouths.
No one notices.
His mother runs her hand down the skin of his cheek, her touch soft and warm. The bed dips beneath her weight and the air smells of lilacs and baked goods.
They do not speak.
Her fingers trail down his arm and rest on the metal encasing his wrist. It hurts to look at, hurts to touch. The shackle is a loss of freedom, and he hasn’t had much freedom to lose in a very, very long time.
“I’m so sorry,” says his mother after an eternity has passed. Her voice is thick with tears and Izuku cannot meet her eyes.
I’m sorry, too, he whispers soundlessly into the night after she leaves. But, of course, no one hears.
All Might sits opposite him at the kitchen table.
“I want to help you,” he says. “Please let me help you.” He pushes something across the tabletop and Izuku looks up.
A notepad and a pencil.
The intention is obvious; if Izuku cannot speak, perhaps he can simply write out what he cannot say. But the difference is not that great, and Izuku finds himself unable to lift the pencil.
All Might sighs.
“Let me tell you a story,” he begins. “About a boy who wished to be a hero.”