A curl passes gently across his forehead. His lungs burn, but it’s not too bad yet. If he concentrates, Izuku can hear the blood rushing through his ears. For the most part though, he just floats, blinking around at the blue around him. Garbled voices break through his calm, startling him out of his relaxation.
His limbs are heavy as he moves them through the water, breaking the surface and taking a breath for the first time in… probably a while. The air is a welcome change, soothing the dull burn in his chest as he pushes his hair out of his eyes.
When Izuku does look up though, it’s to see the scowls of his classmates, who must have come up a while ago. With a jolt, he realizes he’s the last one up. Again.
“Three forty-six,” the gym teacher says, handing Izuku a towel as he leaves the pool. He sounds impressed. “Head to the nurse, Midoriya. We should make sure you’re alright, since you’re…”
Quirkless. Izuku gives Shouji-sensei a wry look as the other kids start jeering. Shouji-sensei looks back at him apologetically, but Izuku doesn’t blame him. It’s not new, and at this point Izuku is used to it. A first year teacher like Shouji-sensei probably just doesn’t know what to do with this kind of behavior, if the waves of uncertainty coming off him are any indication.
“Alright, sensei.” He heads to the locker room, toweling his hair off as he walks.
Breath tests end this way every year; they’ll test the class to see their how long they can hold their breaths, so they know who can be pushed further during swim units and who needs a more manageable lesson. But for Izuku, who’s somehow missing both an extra toe joint and a quirk, it’s an average day. He used to hold out hope that he’d manifest some kind of quirk, and tried for years to breathe fire like Dad or pull objects like Mom. But to breathe fire, he figured, he’d need a lot of breath.
So he trained, holding his breath for a little longer every time he took a bath or went to a pool. Even now, when he knows there’s no chance of his quirk manifesting, just sitting in the water for a while is nice sometimes. And every year, this is the one physical test he beats the rest of his classmates in because of it. Shouji-sensei is concerned because he’s new and doesn’t know that.
To be fair, Izuku admits that spending more than three minutes underwater without a quirk is a little unusual, especially since he could easily have gone longer.
When the door slams open and someone stomps in, Izuku expects the fear that runs through his veins and churns his stomach.
His locker door slams shut. Izuku just barely manages to get his fingers out of the way and yelps.
“Oh don’t give me that shit.” Kacchan is suddenly very close, bright red eyes glinting with anger and something only Izuku could ever hope to recognize as humiliation. “Didn’t even fucking touch you, stupid Deku.”
Izuku inches back as much as he dares for some breathing room. Kacchan is radiating anger like an oven, and while it isn’t unusual, it’s still uncomfortable. Often, Izuku finds Kacchan’s (frankly pretty obvious) emotions mirrored in himself. Izuku’s angry too. He’s humiliated too. He doesn’t like Kacchan any more than Kacchan likes him; the difference is that Izuku is weak, and Kacchan is strong. Izuku has to control himself because the world Kacchan thrives in is literally designed to be against him.
When he shoves his own anger aside though, there’s only room for fear. Izuku shakes as Kacchan berates him, though he knows better than to think even Kacchan would hurt him during school. Fear, Izuku’s learned, is irrational. It doesn’t care whether or not he’s in actual danger; it’ll rear its ugly head regardless.
Some pitiful voice in the back of his mind whispers that he still cares about Kacchan, and that Kacchan still cares about him. He shoves that thought as deep down as it will go.
Of course he still cares about Kacchan. Izuku has always been the type to love and forgive easily. He forgave Kacchan so many times though, that at some point it became routine. So he stopped. It was easier than it should have been, but Izuku still cares about him; love and hate, he’s realized over the years, aren’t mutually exclusive.
But Kacchan doesn’t care about him anymore, not in the same sense. He just misses, on some level, the validation that Izuku’s blind worship brought him.
Izuku flinches hard when Kacchan punches the locker by his face. “Are you even listening to me, you shit?”
The locker is dented now, but Kacchan does have his full attention. Izuku only looks at him, unable to speak. Kacchan is livid , convinced that Izuku somehow challenged him by not hearing the verbal beating he’s been dishing out.
He’s fairly sure he’s used up his luck quota for the rest of time when the bell rings, signaling that it’s time for homeroom and giving Izuku an escape route.
He manages to grab his bag and slip away with a quick “Gotta get to the nurse, see you later Kacchan!” and he knows that, were they not in school, he’d have a very angry, very explosive boy on his tail. As it is, Kacchan yells something unintelligible and Izuku flinches involuntarily at the telltale smash of locker doors.
The way to the nurse’s office is unfamiliar at best; for all the minor injuries Izuku has accrued from the other kids over the years, he very rarely gets hurt on school grounds. He can count on one hand the number of times he’s been here.
To his surprise, it’s not just the sour-faced nurse waiting for him when he gets there, but Shouji-sensei too.
“Midoriya! I was wondering where you’d gone.”
Izuku blinks at him. “I got… sidetracked. I thought you had a homeroom class, sir. What are you doing here?”
“You don’t seem the type to care much about your own wellbeing,” Shouji-sensei says. There’s a wry grin on his face, a mirror image of the look Izuku gave him earlier. “I wanted to make sure you actually came to get checked out.”
Well, Izuku can’t say he doesn’t appreciate the sentiment, particularly since no teacher has ever actually cared this much about him before. Still… “I was coming, but you didn’t need to worry. I’m fine.”
It’s not the most thorough checkup Izuku’s ever gotten, but he’s completely fine so it doesn’t matter. The nurse seems to really hate her job, or maybe she just hates Izuku. Wouldn’t be the first time, so he’s not surprised if that’s the case. She checks his eyes with a light that Izuku is fairly sure should be brighter, and asks him some questions about the day and time, as though she’s checking for a concussion.
Shouji-sensei does a really terrible job of hiding his relief at the nurse’s proclamation that Izuku is alright. For what it’s worth, Izuku knows he wouldn’t have been able to hide it at all.
Mom calls it being sensitive, but Izuku thinks he’s just observant. People try so hard to hide their emotions, but he can always tell. It’s part of why, he thinks ruefully, he was so close to Kacchan all the time. There was never anything to dig through; he acted on his emotions, rather than trying to hide them. The people who try to lie about emotions (adults in particular, Izuku’s noticed) are beyond exhausting.
“—did you manage to stay under for so long without hurting yourself?”
Izuku startles and looks up at Shouji-sensei. “What?”
He laughs and waves Izuku over. “Come on, I’ll walk you to class. I asked how you can hold your breath so long.”
“Oh.” As they walk, he scrambles to find an answer that is less pathetic sounding than I was training for a quirk I knew I would never get and comes up with “I’m a freediver.”
Shouji-sensei looks like he wants to ask more questions, but they’re already at Izuku’s classroom. Hoping to avoid continuing the conversation, Izuku slips into the room quietly. Shouji-sensei is standing in the doorway, in plain view of everyone, so Izuku isn’t asked for a late note.
He stares at his desk and doesn’t look up until he knows for a fact that Shouji-sensei is gone. They’re apparently discussing the “goals for the future” worksheet they filled out last week, and their plans for high school.
Izuku pulls out his notebook and goes over it, seeing if there are any holes in his notes on Shouji-sensei. He may as well fix them up while he’s still thinking about it. There’s no way he’ll be called on before the end of class; no one, the teachers included, really cares about Izuku’s goals for the future.
Name: Shouji Mikio
Classification: Memory Quirk
What follows is a mostly airtight description of Shouji-sensei’s quirk, followed by a sketch of his face and a doodle of what his hero costume might look like. Izuku absentmindedly adds a few minor details to both, then glances at the clock. Still another five minutes. He flips through the pages, seeing if there’s another one he might have to clean up a bit, and lands on… Kacchan’s.
Well, more precisely, Kacchan’s entry in this journal, which is a continuation of his entry in journal thirteen, which is a continuation of his entry in journal twelve, and so on. Sometimes Izuku winces at exactly how much information he’s accumulated, but it makes sense. After all, whether they like it or not, the two of them spend quite a lot of time together. And the pages and pages of notes he’s taken are only basic self-preservation; the more he analyzes Kacchan’s fighting style, the easier it is to dodge, and the less likely he is to come home with bruises in noticeable places.
“—Midoriya trying to get into U.A. too?”
The low hum of noise that’s always in the room stops immediately, and Izuku can feel the tension and anticipation skyrocket for a moment. Then the class bursts into disbelieving laughter, sneering at him.
The bell rings, announcing the end of the school day, but Izuku knows better than to try and move. There’s only one person that’s not laughing, and that seriousness spells even bigger trouble if Izuku tries to escape.
“What the fuck, Deku?”
And just like that, the laughter dies and the tension snaps back into place so fast Izuku gets whiplash.
The rage pouring from Kacchan is unusual only in its intensity. If Izuku wasn’t so sure of his goal of being a hero, he’d be afraid for his life right now. Kacchan is standing in front of Izuku’s desk, towering over him. His eyes are almost glowing with… well, at least it’s not hatred, though Izuku doesn’t think that much unfiltered hostility is much better. Yet again, it’s mirrored in Izuku, who chokes down his own negativity because picking a fight with death itself is a more inviting prospect than provoking Kacchan further.
“You think a quirkless shitstain like you is going to get into U.A. with me ?” he asks, words dripping with venom. “You think you’re going to take this from me, Deku?”
“I just want to apply,” Izuku says, looking down at the desk to avoid Kacchan’s eyes. “Just because there’s no precedent—”
Kacchan picks up the notebook from the desk. He examines it for half a second before throwing it out the window, completely ignoring the dismayed noise Izuku makes. “That’s because people without quirks are weak, you fucking idiot. You’ll never be a hero.”
Izuku keeps his mouth shut, tears welling up in his eyes. He can’t help it; this may not be anything new, but the anger, the humiliation, the confusing pang of guilt all hit him at once. He can’t say a word without making everything worse— all he can do is wait for Kacchan to, for lack of a better word, excuse him.
“You know, Deku,” he says, looking much calmer than he should, “If you want a quirk so bad, there’s a much faster way to get one. Just jump off the building and die already. What do you think the odds are that someone can be born quirkless twice in a row?”
Izuku lets out a sob, choking on the painful, confusing guilt that’s overtaking him even as Kacchan and the other kids leave. He scrubs at his eyes with his sleeves and shoulders his bag.
He moves quickly, ignoring the other students and the teacher. If they don’t hate him, they pity him, and Izuku knows which is worse. By the time he gets to the first floor and finds where his notebook landed. It’s in the fountain, completely useless now.
Anger bubbles up, almost boiling over. If Izuku wasn’t who he is and he actually did decide to jump off the building, Kacchan could kiss his hero career goodbye. Though, knowing Kacchan it was a calculated risk. Somehow that makes this even worse.
Izuku fishes the notebook out of the fountain. It’s soaked through entirely, so Izuku wraps it in his towel from gym. He can dry it later, with Mom’s hair dryer. For now, he just puts the towel-covered notebook in his backpack and decides to go home. He’ll take the shortcut under the bridge today; he just wants to dry his notebook and check the news for hero fights he missed in school, then maybe take a nap. It’s been a long day.
The walk home is usually calming. There’s no one around, assuming he hasn’t been trailed by the other boys, and Izuku finds that he likes the silence. The silence means that there’s less to notice.
And he notices everything about the people he’s around. If it wasn’t so exhausting, he thinks he’d love people reading.
Days like today, when there aren’t any people around, or even any cars, are a welcome change. Izuku wants to sort through all of his emotions. Not that he seems to be doing a particularly good job; a phantom of his anger and fear creeps up on him as he passes under his favorite bridge about twenty minutes’ walk from home.
Then the ground explodes in front of him, or at least it seems to. The manhole cover clatters to the ground as Izuku is overcome with a tidal wave of rancid goo and anger and mindless terror.
Izuku is no stranger to fear. Fear haunts his every waking thought, and it’s been that way for so long that he’s not sure what it’s like not to live with terror thrumming through his blood.
Which is why, even as the villain’s goo is filling Izuku’s sinuses painfully, he’s able to focus on anger.
All he wanted to do was go home and mind his own business. All he wanted to do was lay low until he got to high school, then maybe try to make some friends there. All he wanted was to help people, and now he’s being suffocated by living slime because he took this stupid shortcut home and it’s not fair.
His lungs and sinuses clear, just for an instant.
Then the sludge is back, noxious slime filling his lungs and mouth and overwhelming his senses. The burn in his lungs isn’t oxygen deprivation; it hasn’t been nearly long enough for that. He’s drowning, that’s what’s happening, his lungs filling with sentient goop. He can’t see, doesn’t dare open his eyes because there’s more of this stuff covering his face and it’s definitely toxic and he doesn’t want to know what’ll happen if he gets it in his eyes. Not that it matters, since he’s going to die here. No one ever comes this way, and for an instant Izuku is enraged with himself for taking a road like this, where no one will come to save him—
And then the slime is being whipped away from his body with a yell that, even as foggy as his mind is right now, Izuku would know anywhere.
Izuku can feel his body hit the ground hard, too weak to keep itself upright. He coughs until his throat is raw, though there’s nothing in his lungs to come up anymore. His adrenaline rush ebbs in seconds, leaving him nauseous and… numb.
He knows he should feel something, especially when his hero stands above him and tells him not to worry, “For I am here.” He just… can’t.
The nausea takes over and Izuku retches, dry heaving painfully over the open manhole before rolling over and passing out.
He doesn’t know how long it’s been when he wakes up, only that he’s all but smacked in the face with relief when he does. Somehow, he ends up with All Might’s autograph and a pat on the head—which is more interaction than he ever really expected—but he’s still too out of it to realize that he hasn’t asked the question he wants to ask before All Might is about to bound away. So Izuku does the only thing he can do: he holds on for dear life.
Izuku knows he’s not at a hundred percent still. He’s not totally numb anymore, just… muted. Even the bone-deep ache in his muscles isn’t as painful as he thinks it probably should be. That’s probably why, when All Might’s body deflates before his very eyes, Izuku can’t muster up more than a surprised blink.
He can’t get a read on the man in front of him, but he imagines there’s some form of panic happening internally. After all, he’s projecting a fairly calm aura in the face of something that, Izuku knows, could be the end of an era. He could, with a word, end the era of All Might, now that he knows this secret. For all that All Might knows, he will. And yet, his face is deadly calm.
Izuku feels the faint tug of disappointment; he’s always hoped that All Might wouldn’t lie like other adults, but he supposes that even the Symbol of Peace is only human.
He listens as All Might tells him the story of a near-fatal encounter with an unnamed arch nemesis, and winces in sympathy when he shows Izuku the massive puckered scar in his side. There’s a time limit, All Might tells him, to how much he can use his quirk per day now. The fanboy within Izuku is both saddened and curious at all this new information.
But even through his numbness, All Might’s blunt explanation of why Izuku can never be a hero deals a crushing, tear-inducing blow. He doesn’t cry immediately, waiting until All Might dashes away to find the villain that somehow escaped while they were talking.
Everyone who knows anything about Izuku knows that he’s something of a crybaby, but these tears are different from the ones most people see. He knows this feeling well—a hopelessness that has a tendency to take over late at night or on particularly bad days. When he feels like this, crying is the last thing he wants to do. The tears don’t seem to care though, streaming down his face regardless as his heart shatters in his chest.
He pulls himself together as quickly as he can, resolving to go home and sort through all this in a place that’s… not some rooftop across town.
That’s when he notices that the explosions All Might was heading for aren’t stopping. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any other movement in that area at all, meaning… no hero activity. Izuku climbs down the stairs and jogs over to investigate, his skirmish-chaser instincts keeping him from being noticed by the crowd.
There are so many heroes here, so why aren’t they doing anything? A sharp stab of anger pierces through Izuku’s devastation as he fights his way to the front of the crowd.
The slime villain is holding someone hostage, is the first thing he notices. The sharp tang of terror makes him nauseous, though Izuku isn’t the victim this time. No, the victim is slightly bigger than him, with a shock of blonde hair peeking through the sludge—
Izuku doesn’t remember moving, or deciding to help, but the next thing he knows, his backpack is on the ground in front of the villain and Kacchan manages to grab a few vital breaths before the villain recovers and sets his sights on Izuku.
Still, Izuku buys just enough time for the heroes to—finally—step in and rescue Kacchan.
He’s scolded for putting himself in danger, over and over until every single hero (plus Kacchan, because of course Kacchan can never pass up an opportunity to yell at him, even if Izuku did just save his life) has had a chance to tell him, indirectly, how someone who’s quirkless is useless in battle and shouldn’t play the hero. Were Izuku more stable, he might have cried or snapped back that the only useless person in battle is a person who doesn’t do anything.
As it is, though, he takes his verbal lashings quietly, without complaint, and moves to go home.
It’s only when he turns onto his street and is met with a familiar pair of blue boots that Izuku looks up from the concrete.
When All Might, with his signature bright smile, says that “Young man, you can be a hero,” Izuku cries again, from happiness, from relief, from pride, from total emotional overload that’s going to leave his nerves positively raw later.
All in all, he supposes as his hero’s hand lands on his shoulder, it’s been a damn good day.