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We Can All Be Heroes

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Izuku wanted a lot of things.

To not be quirkless, to be a pro-hero, for Kacchan to act like his friend again.

But at the moment, he wanted his teacher to stop talking.

"—and we're going to be discussing the high schools you all chose to apply for," his teacher said, voice a dry monotone that did nothing to stop Izuku's growing unease.  He was keenly aware of Kacchan sitting two seats behind him, lax for the time being, a caged monster at rest.  The easy atmosphere would disintegrate the moment Kacchan found out he had been planning on applying to UA, and he sucked in a breath and silently begged his teacher to stop.

His teacher didn't stop.

Izuku sank lower in his seat while his teacher went across the room, announcing his classmates' choices with little fanfare until he paused over Kacchan's name.

"Oh, Bakugou, you and...Midoriya seem to both be applying for UA," their teacher said, staring at the list in his hand.  "Wouldn't it be great if you both got in?" He asked, but neither student was listening.  Izuku was trying to vanish, and Kacchan emanated pure rage at his back.  Izuku guessed he had about three seconds before his friend either blew up his desk or his face, and he started counting.

Three, two, one—

"What the fuck are you trying to pull, Deku?" Kacchan yelled, explosions knocking over Izuku's desk.  Izuku barely managed to scramble backward in time to miss the blast and ended up on the floor.  He opened his mouth to respond, but Kacchan cut him off.  Today wasn't a talking day, apparently.

"I'm the only one from this shitty class that's going to apply to UA!  How the fuck would you even get in when you're quirkless?"  Kacchan spat and Izuku flinched, hiding slightly behind too thin arms.  Izuku watched explosions pop in Kacchan's hands as he tried to form an answer, anything to calm Kacchan down but reasoning and excuses never worked before so why would they now?  He shouldn't have thought he could apply—

"Bakugou, if you will, sit down," their teacher snapped, voice cold and precise as everyone fell silent.  Izuku swallowed, keeping his eyes on Kacchan until his friend gave him a murderous look and stormed back to his seat.  That look meant he would go home with new bruises and his mother's smile would falter.

"Midoriya, that means you too," his teacher said, staring until he scrambled to right his desk and sit down.  Scorch marks littered its surface and he ran a finger through the soot as his teacher rustled his list and continued. 

Izuku didn't try paying attention to the rest of class.  He couldn't stop dragging his fingers through the soot, willing the clock to slow down, slow down please, he didn't want to fight him.  Kacchan kept snapping pencils behind him, a silent promise.  Impossible to ignore.

At some point, he managed to slide out his pro-hero notebook and flipped listlessly through a few pages, but he couldn't form coherent sentences to add.  Ideas skipped and jittered in his mind, making his fingers twitch around his pencil as he tried to ignore the clock.

And then, the bell rang.

Izuku should have put away his things and stood to leave.  Instead, he stared at his desk and took stuttered breaths while the rest of the class filtered out.  He only managed to stand when his last classmate left, and for a brief second he thought Kacchan might leave him alone.

"Where do you think you're going?" Kacchan snapped, looming in front of Izuku and glaring him down.  Izuku shifted on his feet, one hand clutching his backpack strap while he looked around Kacchan.  He blocked the door with his body and hands, too large to get around and the room behind them too small.

"H-home," Izuku stuttered, looking at his feet.  Avoiding Kacchan's gaze wouldn't make him leave, but it might stop him from exploding if he couldn't find something he hated on Izuku's face.

"As if!" Kacchan said, stepping forward while Izuku stepped back.  "You didn't answer me earlier.  What the fuck makes you think you can apply to UA?"  He shouted, hands sparking.  Izuku cringed, mouth dry and words failing.  There wasn't anything he could say that would appease Kacchan.

"Answer me!" Kacchan yelled, voice grating and rough. "Is it because you think you're better than me, you shitty Deku?" Kacchan asked, and Izuku managed to form a reply.

"N-no!" He frantically said, making the mistake of looking up and meeting Kacchan's eyes.

They had been friendly once, years ago.

Now they breathed hatred and Kacchan snarled, face twisting into a violent expression and where did things go wrong?  Izuku found himself taking another step back, but not before Kacchan lunged and tore his backpack from his shoulder, wrenching his right arm.  He gasped in pain and then watched as Kacchan pulled his pro-hero notebook from his bag.

"You're still writing these stupid things?  They won't make up for the fact that you're fucking worthless," Kacchan spat, flipping through a few pages before sneering in disgust and lighting the book on fire with a small explosion. 

Izuku moved without thinking, body jolting and arms reaching for his book.  Kacchan shoved him away with an explosion, singeing his shirt and skin but that didn't matter because his future was burning.

"See?  You can't even fight back.  Even if you did apply, there's no way someone as pathetic as you would get in," Kacchan said, turning toward the windows they stood beside, Izuku belatedly wondering when they had backed up far enough to reach them.  Kacchan lifted an arm, aiming.

"If you're going to be such a shitty use of space, why don't you just—"

No, don't.

"—go jump off a building or something!" Kacchan yelled, throwing his smoldering book out the window.  Izuku watched in vain as it fluttered through the air, vanishing from sight before landing with a wet splash in what he guessed was the small pond below.  Kacchan grinned, and Izuku stared out the window, mouth open, hand frozen mid-air.

"What the fuck, now you're crying?" Izuku startled, hand falling back to his side.  He didn't bother trying to wipe his face.  "Maybe you'll finally understand that people like you can't be heroes," Kacchan spat before shouldering his own bag and storming out.

Izuku cried in the silence.

Soft, muted gasps while he curled in on himself, arms trying and failing to hold himself together.  What had he done wrong?  He shuddered, tears soaking his arms and knees and he knew he should go fetch his notebook, try to save it, but he couldn't move.  His breathing was the only sound in the room, ragged, loud, and painful enough that he hoped a janitor wouldn't hear.

Several minutes later he finally stood, not wanting someone to find him crying alone.  Snot dribbled down his face and his head felt fuzzy, thoughts muted and dull as he slowly left the room.  He might still manage to salvage his book if he tried.  He only had to turn left and go down the staircase.

Instead, he went up.

Izuku leaned against the railing on the roof, arms crossed, sniffling as he looked out over the city.  He had been surprised to find the door unlocked, and tried not to attribute that to some divine sign of what he should do. 

His notebook was a mess, a tiny dot in the small pond—very far, too far— below.  He watched a few pages float away from the binding, trying not to picture the pro-heroes it had housed or the hours spent on drawings. 

He shouldn't look down.

But he did it anyway, pressing his forearms into the railing until pain brought him back and he deflated with a shaky sigh.  He turned his gaze to the city then, picking out tiny people and sheer movement that reminded him how the world moved and would keep on moving.

Izuku didn't know how long he watched the city.

The sun had almost set by the time he blinked and realized he was cold, shivering on the roof in his thin uniform.  Unsure what time it was or where the hours went, he shakily pulled his cell phone from his backpack and flinched when he opened it.  He had missed a few texts and at least three phone calls from his mother, and if he rushed he might be able to make the last train home.

Shivering, he dialed his mother's cell and left the roof, relieved when the door wasn't locked and he slipped out of the school in silence.  The phone rang once before his mother answered, sounding frantic.

"Oh thank god, Izuku are you alright?" He winced, biting his lip and fingering his shoulder strap while he nodded into the air.

"I'm fine mom.  I just..." he trailed off, walking toward the train station as excuses slipped past him.  He couldn't tell her he had stayed after school for something, clubs never ran this late.

"I—" he choked, muffling a sob with a hand, unable to continue.

"Izuku, honey, are you heading home?" Inko asked, and he made a small sound of agreement.  "Then that's all that matters, okay?  We'll talk when you get here, just...be safe for me, okay?" She asked and Izuku nodded again, despite knowing she couldn't see.  He made another small sound and then hung up, rubbing his eyes when he stepped into the station.  Thankfully, he made it in time to catch the last train, and he ignored multiple worried glances when he stepped on and rode home, keeping his head down the entire time.

When Izuku stepped through the door at home his mother had been waiting for him, leaning against the hallway wall, anxious hands wringing out her shirt.  She waited until he shut the door and set his backpack down before she embraced him, holding him tightly and sobbing.

"Never do that again," she said between breaths, and then Izuku was crying, nodding into her shoulder.  She held him for a few minutes, both of them shaking, before she pushed him back and looked him over.  She frowned when she saw no visible wounds.

"What happened?" She sternly asked.  He looked away, unsure how to explain when his stomach growled.  Inko's gaze softened and she sighed as she let him go.

"You're going to eat a late dinner and then explain everything to me, alright?" She said, already walking toward the kitchen.  He followed, swallowing around the tightness in his throat and nodding.

Over a reheated dinner Inko slowly pulled the day's details from Izuku, her sharp gaze never leaving him as he picked and prodded at his food.  He didn't feel like eating, but his mother wouldn't let him leave until he finished, so he ate.  And talked, and lied.  Well, skirted the truth.  By the time he finished his mother had worked out his lateness had something to do with Kacchan, but she couldn't get anything more.  Izuku didn't want her to know, didn't want Kacchan to be punished, didn't want to voice the dark thoughts that had been spiraling through his head.

She took in his half-truths with a pained look and sighed.  He looked up when she walked around the table and pulled him into another hug.

"Will this happen again?" She asked, voice terribly small.  Izuku hugged her back and shook his head.  "You know you can talk to me about anything, right?" She said, fingers gripping him tighter.

"I know, mom," he said as she pulled away with a kiss to his hair.  She held him at arm's length and searched his expression for a moment before she nodded and let him go. 

"Go get some sleep, honey.  Tomorrow's going to be better," she said with a pained smile.  Izuku nodded and fled to his room, managing to shut his door before he broke down.  The faces of every pro-hero on the posters in his room bore down on him, watching him cry until he petered off into little hiccups.  When he finally looked up, he met All Might's gaze from across the room and shuddered.  He could never compare himself to someone like him.  Kacchan had been right.  How could a quirkless nobody become a pro-hero?  People had been telling him this for years but he had never listened, had never wanted to listen.  But if everyone was telling him the same thing, then maybe they were right.

When Izuku sat down for breakfast the next morning, rings under his eyes, hair still a mess, his mother beamed and handed him a plate of waffles.  He took one look at them and then spoke.

"I'm not applying to UA," he said, spearing a waffle with a fork.  Inko froze, coffee cup halfway to her mouth.  He watched her blink and then lower her cup.

"Are you sure?" She asked.

"There's never been a quirkless hero," he blandly said.  "I'm going to look up other schools today," he added, spearing another bite with his fork.  He didn't look up when his mother sniffled, and he finished his breakfast in silence.

"I'm sorry," she eventually said, covering her face and leaving the room.  Izuku watched her go and shoved away his own tears as he pulled on his backpack.  When he left for school, his mother called out from the other room.

"I love you, have a good day!" He gritted his teeth and called back the same before he turned to face the day.

**

Kacchan didn't show up for school.

Izuku had hesitantly sat down at his still-burned desk and had been surprised Kacchan wasn't already in class.  Despite Kacchan's standoff nature, he had some of the best grades and never missed a day.  Izuku dismissed his absence until the bell rang for homeroom and their teacher walked in.  Kacchan still hadn't shown up.  Unsettled, Izuku pushed him from his mind and immersed himself in school work, getting lost in the routine.

Kacchan didn't show up the next day.  Or the day after that.

It wasn't until a week later that Izuku stepped into their classroom and saw Kacchan sitting at his desk.

Izuku froze.

Kacchan was actually sitting at his desk, head down, notebook already open.  Izuku stared, unmoving until someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to please move because he was blocking the door.  Confused, he sat down and pulled out his own things before twisting around in his seat, opening his mouth to ask Kacchan where he had been.  But then he got a good look at Kacchan's face halfway through his question and paused.

A large scar covered most of Kacchan's right eye and a bit of his nose.  Stunned, Izuku stared until Kacchan noticed and looked up, immediately snapping his pencil in half.

"What are you looking at, Deku?" Kacchan hissed, narrowing his eyes.  Unable to respond, Izuku numbly lifted a hand to his own eye and watched Kacchan flinch

"It's a scar.  Stop staring, you idiot," Kacchan said, but there was no heat in his voice.

"But...what happened?" Izuku managed to ask, still staring, unable to stop because nothing could hurt Kacchan.  He was invincible, the golden child with the golden quirk, smearing Izuku's face into the dirt.  Something akin to hurt flashed through Kacchan's eyes, and he looked away, hiding his face.

"Didn't you watch the news?  There was a villain attack last week," Kacchan said.  Izuku waited for him to continue, but he didn't.  He just stared to the side and then pulled out a new pencil when their teacher walked in.  Izuku wanted to ask him again about what happened, but class began and Kacchan avoided him for the rest of the day.  It wasn't until Izuku looked up the news at home did he get the entire story.

 Apparently, a sludge villain had attacked a crowded intersection last week, and Kacchan had been caught in the middle.  Izuku watched a shaky video of the sludge villain attacking Kacchan, overpowering him within moments.  The video showed a few pro-heroes arguing, trying to keep the crowd back while figuring out how to save him.  None of them seemed to be able to get close enough, and Izuku watched his friend struggle and vanish when the villain shoved itself down his throat.  Izuku held his breath, reminding himself Kacchan would get out of this alive, and watched a large explosion light up the screen.  A few bystanders screamed and the video shook, but not enough to stop Izuku from seeing how Kacchan had reappeared with a hand aimed toward his face.  He set off another explosion, driving the villain back enough for him to scream profanities and heave a breath as blood dripped down his face.

"DO NOT FEAR, FOR I AM HERE!" All Might's voice rang out in the chaos, off-screen for a moment until the video swung his way.  And there he was, brilliant and tall and Izuku breathed a sigh in relief.  It was a matter of seconds before All Might took advantage of the opening Kacchan had created and pulled him free.  All Might set him down near the crowd and then took care of the villain, the camera focusing on him for the rest of the video.

Stunned, Izuku leaned back in his chair, trying to wipe the expression Kacchan had been making in the villain's clutches from his mind.  He had looked so scared, like he needed help, but none of the pro-heroes had been able to save him.  Izuku watched Kacchan turn his quirk on himself in his mind until his mother knocked on his door and opened it.

"I wanted to let you know that dinner's ready—" she stopped and blinked, taking in his tears and computer screen.  He didn't stop her when she walked over and restarted the video, watching it play through in silence until the end.  Only once it finished did she hug him tightly until their emotions ran dry.

The next day, Izuku walked into class and took one look at Kacchan, meeting his surprised gaze and giving him a brief nod.  Kacchan scowled, but Izuku ignored him and sat down, resolving to do better, to find a path that could save people.  He couldn't be a pro-hero, but maybe he could save lives in his own way.

**

All too soon, graduation was upon them. 

Kacchan had been accepted into UA, Izuku into a few different high schools.  All were good options, but they felt hollow when Kacchan yelled about his own success.

But Izuku moved onto his own high school while Kacchan moved onto UA, and Izuku didn't speak to him again.

**

The years trickled by after that while Izuku studied and worked and graduated from high school.  They were surprisingly calm, mostly gentle, and passed with an anonymity he had never experienced in middle school.  He didn't forget about Kacchan so much as quietly move his friend to the farthest reaches of his mind, locking his feelings behind a wall.  A wall that only grew stronger when Kacchan graduated UA and started his pro-hero career. 

Because while Izuku studied health and medical training, Kacchan built a name for himself.

Detonator.

Violent—passionate, his fans would come to say—and reckless, savage in his efforts to save and to destroy.  His anger became famous, mimicked by children, manipulated by villains, stirring up controversy on all sides until he clawed his way into the number two hero slot.

And what a pair him and the number one hero, Endeavor, ended up making.

Izuku spent late nights pouring over emergency procedures.  He studied everyday situations and then switched to pro-hero videos to watch how civilians were saved and treated.  He watched the top two heroes meet up during battles and begrudgingly agree to work together, if only because they believed no one could beat either of them.  Somehow, Izuku didn't find their constant swearing at one another funny as some of the news reporters did.

Maybe because they had never had those words directed at them.

Regardless, the two heroes worked together more than Endeavor and All Might ever had, even if neither party seemed enthusiastic about it.  They still weren't All Might.  Izuku watched video after video and never saw the sheer hope he had seen emanating from All Might in either of them.  He would heave a sigh at this point, look at the clock, and force himself to sleep.

All the late nights and analyses proved worth it when he completed his training with high marks and received his paramedic certification.  Grinning, he had raced home, certificate in hand, and celebrated with his mother until they were both stuffed with food and laugher.  He wasn't a pro-hero, but it was something.

Time skipped and jumped in spurts after that.  He landed his first job as an emergency responder, working under another paramedic until he could direct a crowd or a frightened mother to safety.  He moved into his own apartment—albeit a small, dingy one—and took up visiting his mother on weekends.  He worked third shifts, morning shifts, and random hours until he gathered enough experience and respect to be allowed in an ambulance as a first responder for villain attacks.

He would always remember the bright, vivid moment of his first villain aftermath.  He had thrown up behind the ambulance, shaking until he wiped his mouth and grabbed his medical bag, rushing toward the people who needed his help. 

On the good days, he saved lives.

On the bad days, he cried alone in his apartment after work, covered in blood or soot and unable to let it go.

Despite everything, he woke up early, greeted the day with a smile and went about his normal routine.  He ran as the sun rose, and then stopped at a corner shop for breakfast and coffee.  He could make his own, but then the elderly woman who owned the place wouldn't have anyone to talk to.  He went to work and cleaned the ambulance, coated his arms in blood, restocked supplies, and brought people down from panic attacks.  He'd stagger home, wash the day away and then fall into bed.

Rinse, then repeat.

He didn't fight villains, only watched the pro-heroes fight until it was safe enough for him to help the civilians.  He didn't have a hero name or recognition, but people clung to him when he saved their lives.  And that was enough.

Wasn't it?

He should have been happy.  He didn't exactly have friends, but his co-workers were nice, celebrated with him on his birthday, invited him to parties he never went to.  He worked hard, and his mother welcomed him home every weekend. 

And yet.

He couldn't escape the dull ache of loneliness and failure that lurked during the night.  The sense that he should be doing more, that what he was doing wasn't enough.  He would whittle away the hours filling his pro-hero notebooks with details until he fell asleep at his desk. 

Analyzing every new hero until he knew their names by heart. 

Analyzing every person he had lost on the job until he knew their names by heart, fingers scraped raw as he dug his pencil into his notebooks and wrote ways to save the dead. 

He wrote until the rings under his eyes became a staple he covered daily with concealer.  Until he looked in the mirror every morning, forcing himself to smile despite the weariness dragging at his sleeves.  Until he built himself up enough to face the day, and then challenged the world while knowing he wasn't doing enough.

Rinse, then repeat.