At the age of three, Izuku learned that all men aren't equal.
At the age of six, however, Izuku learned that miracles exist.
Stumbling upon All Might on his way home was not what Izuku had wished for that day. He had long since given up on a chance encounter with his favorite hero. After all, celebrities don't just walk around the street all day waiting for a quirkless nobody to request an autograph. But here he was, in all his glory, All Might stood in the middle of a crowd of admirers, looking more terrified of the notebooks and phones and gifts being thrust at him than he had ever been in front of villains.
Thanks to his small frame, Izuku crawled his way through people's legs with slight difficulty and soon made his way in front of his idol. Now that Izuku was mere feet away from All Might, he was astonished at the man’s extreme physique that was kinda hard to tell across the monitor. Being next to him made Izuku feel so small and insignificant. But the overwhelming height of the man only brought him a feeling of protectiveness, like being under a shielding giant tree on a rainy day.
Trembling from excitement, Izuku bounced up and down as he pushed his notebook up as high as possible, hoping the popular hero would choose his notebook amongst the many that was offered to him. "A-A-All Might!" He yelled, his voice breaking. "C-Can I get an autograph!?"
The second surprise of the day came when All Might heard his pitiful squeak among the clamorous chatters and gladly took the offered notebook. "Of course! What's your name, boy?"
All Might signed the notebook with a flash, his signature smile on his face as he returned it to Izuku. It was incredible how he was capable of looking so cool while doing something so mundane. Izuku mused as he thumbed over the page where All Might’s glorious signature carved its way to memory. All Might, the greatest, legendary hero, the Symbol of Peace, protector of the country, the most amazing person alive had been holding his notebook… His notebook.
Izuku broke out of his musing when he saw All Might bent his legs slightly, a sign his years of observation helped him notice habitually before the man jumped. All Might was leaving. His first encounter with the legendary hero was about to end in less than a minute with a few insignificant exchanges of words that most likely won't be remembered if he was to think back on it years later.
He couldn't just end it like this. He wouldn't.
"C-Can... Can someone without a quirk become a hero!??"
Before the man could leave his sight, Izuku spluttered out a question that had been clogging his mind for years.
All Might stood with his back faced towards the crowd, who was starting to get impatient with Izuku getting all the attention. Slowly, he replied in a low tone, "I'm going to be frank with you. Heroes deal with life and death situations on a daily basis. It's not something to be taken lightly of. If a quirkless hero was to participate in a hero fight, without any power to defend themselves, they will only be a hindrance to the other heroes and give the villains an advantage. Even with the help of gadgets and equipments, they will still be the weakest link of the heroes. Plus, hero equipments are hard to come by and are a big investment. A group of heroes is only as strong as their weakest member, and the addition of a quirkless hero would greatly reduce the chance of successful captures. Which is why a quirkless person has never passed the hero license exam."
There were many words that Izuku didn't understand at the time, but one thing he knew was that being quirkless equals to no hero.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but I don't want you to waste your life working towards an impossible goal. it's better to give up early than regret later on." All Might's stern face fell when he turned around, beaming, "That's all!"
Izuku didn't hold him back this time, letting his idol jump out of sight. The disappointed crowd dispersed, with a few lingering people throwing dirty looks at the small boy who was lucky to be blessed with All Might's attention, even for a few minutes.
That day, Izuku's dream was totally, completely, and utterly shattered into pieces. Not a single scrap remains.
The next day, he went through school without his usual vigor. He sat quietly in class not participating in any of the class discussions. Everything around him seemed to blur out and the noises seemed to fade. Izuku was in his own little world, a dark vast empty space with a small ball of flame lighting up a path that led to infinite darkness. During lunch, he sat alone as usual as he watched his classmates with all their amazing quirks laughing and fooling around.
As school came to an end, Izuku packed up quietly, hoping to return home as soon as possible so he could crash onto his bed and just... black out.
But all good things must come to an end, Kacchan appeared next to him with an explosion effect.
"What's wrong with you, Deku!?"
Izuku glanced at him warily.
"It's nothing, Kacchan."
"It's obviously not nothing! You were zoning out the entire day! It took Yama-sensei three times to get your attention! And you didn't even look at me once! What's wrong with you!" Kacchan slammed a hand onto his desk, causing Izuku to flinch.
Kacchan was right. What was wrong with him? Well, for one, he didn't have a quirk, yet he dared to dream about becoming a hero. Then, he even had the nerve to speak to All Might. Someone like him... An extra like him...
"Come!" Kacchan yanked his arm and dragged him out of the classroom. School had ended for a while and the hallway was nearly void of students. Good. No witnesses. Perfect timing for Kacchan to torment him. Even if someone did see the way Kacchan was treating him, they would probably dismiss it as Kacchan being his usual aggressive self. Izuku's mind spun wildly as memories of past encounters flashed across his mind.
Izuku sneaked a glance at Kacchan's face. As expected, Kacchan was seething like he wanted to murder someone. Great, today he probably won't let Izuku off the hook so easily.
Was it too much to ask to just leave him alone? He just wanted to go home.
Kacchan kicked open the door to the roof. For some reason, it wasn't locked. He pulled Izuku near the railing and let go of his arm, looking away and grumbling something underneath his breath. Izuku rubbed his sore wrist where Kacchan had grabbed as he watched on with confusion. What does Kacchan want with him now?
"Look! You know I hate your guts, right!??" Kacchan spat, face red with anger. Small explosions danced on his sweaty palms.
"I know... You don't have to remind me everyday, Kacchan..." Izuku bowed his head, ashamed. He knew Kacchan never saw him as a friend. He'd known it since he first met him. But it hurt even more to hear it from Kacchan.
"You're a worthless, useless, stupid quirkless Deku! I...I...I hate you! You can't even defend yourself yet you want to be a hero? Don't make me laugh! What're you gonna do when you face a villain, huh!? Throw your damn notebook at it? The villain could kill you in seconds! If you want to die so badly then just jump off the roof! It'll save you the time and effort!"
Kacchan rambled on, fingers clawing through his messy hair as if frustrated that his words would never get through Izuku's thick skull.
"You hear that!? What I'm saying is that..." A series of small explosions spooked Izuku. Kacchan looked so mad. "H-H-Ha... Ha... Dammit! Stupid, shitty Deku!" With that said, he ran down the stairs, leaving a trail of smoke behind him.
This was the last straw. Izuku knew how useless he was, but he always pushed down those negative thoughts and focused on the positive emotions. He continued to dream on and wish for a brighter future. He hoped one day he’d meet someone who'd support him no matter what, who'd stay by his side and urge him on, who'd tell him, "You can be a hero." Yesterday's meeting with All Might crushed those hopes. And today's meeting with Kacchan even more so extinguished that small flame of ambition inside his heart.
Izuku stepped closer to the railing, watching the students trail out of the school gate, a blond pomeranian head standing out in the crowd. Some students remained on the field due to club activities. There was a group of students standing on the baseball field, not doing anything— No, they were discussing something.
Izuku squinted his eyes. Something was off with the field. There were some charred grounds all over the baseball field. They seemed to form something...
"O... O... No, is that a D?" He pushed himself forward, leaning against the railing. "That's definitely an E... And then K... And the last one is...V?" Izuku frowned. Whoever was fooling around would probably get in trouble tomorrow when the teachers caught them. It wasn’t Izuku's job to worry. Beside, he didn't care anymore. Whatever that'd happen to this world, to other people, to the heroes, to the villains... to himself.
Izuku placed a hand on the railing, drumming his fingers on it as he walked along the borders of the roof, stopping when he reached the back of the building. Underneath the railing was the backgate of the school that was mostly used by teachers and the likes. It was a shorter distance to the building than the main entrance. Izuku could see some people walking past outside of the locked gate.
He wasn't thinking when he pushed himself over the railing. His mind was blank as he stared down his feet, at the hard cement ground that seemed suddenly so close to him. His vision swayed and he felt like he was falling forward...
The cold metal under his sweaty palms snapped him out of his trance. His hands tightened painfully around the railing, sweat caused his palms to become slippery. The realization of what almost happened got his heart racing.
What was he thinking? Was he really going to kill himself? Why?
His obedient mind began replaying all the rejections he had received.
"I'm so sorry... Izuku," as his mama cried.
"You're a worthless, useless, stupid quirkless Deku! You should just die!" screamed Kacchan, red-faced.
"It's better to give up early than regret later on," said his hero, All Might.
Maybe it was better to die. Maybe he'd be born with a quirk in his next life.
But as he was contemplating, his mama's face appeared in his mind. Her crinkling eyes when she found him during Hide and Seek, her soft laugh when she played Heroes vs Villains make believe with him, her warm smile when they watched hero movies together, her beautiful, glowing emerald long hair under the sun, her awkward pose as Izuku fumbled with the camera during their visit to All Might Amusement Park.
All those happy memories surged up all at once. As Izuku thought back to how much his mama treasured him, how he was everything she had, his grip on the railing tightened. He couldn't do it. Not when he imagined how much pain it would bring to mama, how much she'd cry in his absence, or how she'd sit on the couch alone in the dark, with the tv's dim light dancing off of her dull, blank eyes that used to be so remarkably bright.
How could he possibly hurt mama like this? How selfish was he, to only think about his own pain and problems, and not spend a penny worth of thought on his mama? What kind of son was he?
This was stupid. He shouldn't do this. He'd just be a cop... or something. No matter what, he had to keep on living. For his mama's sake.
Izuku didn't even realize he was shaking until he tried to get himself over the railing. The severity of the near death situation just downed on him and all those fears that was absent turned out to be merely delayed. He couldn't bring any power to his hands and the railing was too high for him to simply jump over. He couldn't stop trembling no matter how much he tried. He regretted doing this. He was so stupid. If he hadn't done this in the first place... then...
Then he wouldn't be falling off the roof right now.
School just ended. It was a fairly normal day for Tobita. He didn't pay attention in class but instead doodled his hero costume in his elegant pocket notebook. Teachers yelled at him, and he just tuned them out as usual. Takeshita, the best student in the hero course, was popular with the girls as always, and according to the rumors, he had already been accepted to a hero agency. Tobita had sat aside and watched with masked disinterest and slight, suppressed envy as he ate his bento. Talking about bentos, his mom had been slacking off while making them. They used to be so aesthetically beautiful; now, he lost his appetite whenever he looked at it. Well, at least it was still wrapped perfectly in his favorite furoshiki.
One thing that made today slightly different was the parent conference in the principal's office. That arrowhead principal once again ranted about his behavior issues, but this time in front of his parents. Tobita had seen the gleeful looks in the man’s eyes when his dad glared at him and his mother began crying in distress, and he didn’t like it. It was a look full of mockery and superiority barely kept hidden behind fake pleasantries and professionalism. It was obvious that the principal had already given up on Tobita and lost all hopes of him ever achieving something remotely satisfactory. Arrowhead's mask had crumbled for a second when he mentioned how expulsion was a possible ending if Tobita didn’t up his game, but it was quickly replaced with a concerned smile before his parents caught onto it.
He thought that threat was enough to waver Tobita’s determination? Well, it would take more than that. Tobita wasn’t going to give up his hero dream if that was what he was planning. His optimism was his best weapon and he would continue fighting for a bright future.
However, his grades indeed needed some polishing. Judging from the heated glares his father had been shooting him with, he won’t be getting away scot free this time. He would have to put more effort into his school work, but how do the teachers expect him to become a hero if they don’t give him more opportunities to do actual hero stuff? Experiences were a necessary requirements when applying for hero agencies; thus, Tobita continued actively searching for opportunities to save people.
And that led him to a crowd of people gawking at something high above them. Tobita glanced out of curiosity and found a glass cleaner panicking on the suspended platform that was barely connected to the building, wire ropes snapping apart.
It was his chance!
Tobita grinned. He'd show them how heroic he was. He would save that man!
The moment the last wire rope snapped, Tobita rushed forward, creating air cushions to launch himself towards the falling man. In his hurry, he didn't notice a hero rushing to rescue.
The scene seemed to be going in slow motion. The man was falling, falling, and he was getting closer, closer...
Then someone rammed into his barrier.
Tobita gaped in shock as another man dressed like a pro hero frantically found his footing and jumped towards the fallen man yet again, but the encounter delayed his rescue and the man fell onto the ground in a sickening crack, the perfect sound effect of the current state of Tobita’s heart.
Later that day...
Today was a horrible day, Tobita decided when he was finally released by the furious hero and the police. His mother stayed back, still apologizing profusely as the police reminded her repeatedly the severity of her son’s actions. This incident would be brought up to the principal, and with his already low reputation, expulsion seemed like it wasn't outside the range of possibilities. Great. Just great.
The sun was setting and the road home seemed longer than normal. Tobita shuffled his feet, staring hard at the stubborn ground. How he wished for the ground to open up and swallow him whole, right here, right now. Maybe life would be better if he lived in a hole. The world was too cruel for him. Heroes saved people, but where was his hero?
His mind was a mess. Terrible thoughts of what was to be expected bombarded his bursting head. How would his parents react if he was actually expelled? How would his classmates react? Would he still be able to go to school? Was his parents going to kick him out? Could he still be a hero?
The last question drifted a while longer in his mind as he took in his surroundings. He had walked upon the elementary school he always saw on his way home. Today was no different. The backgate was locked. The guard was snoring. A cat was stealing the fish off of his bento. The school was nearly empty. The roof was... Wait. Is that—!
Tobita couldn't believe what he was seeing. He rubbed his eyes, then pinched himself just to make sure. A boy was standing on the edge of the rooftop, outside of the railing!
He couldn't see the boy's face from afar, but judging by his slouched posture, it seemed like this was a suicide situation.
For a moment, Tobita contemplated turning away and continuing his miserable life. His earlier incident was a clear indicator that he wasn't hero material. He had also failed the provisional hero license exam four times. He had faced rejections all his life and his attempts to help someone almost always ended up biting him in the rear. Why would this time be any different? It wasn't like saving one person would make him a hero anyway...
But when he saw the boy attempt to climb back over the railing, but slipped and lost his footing, Tobita moved, his mind suddenly clear.
Who cares if no one believed in him?
Who cares if no one appreciated his help?
Who cares if he'd be expelled tomorrow and his hero dream was likely crushed for life?
If he was going to watch a child fall to his death without doing something to help, when he had the ability to do so, then he wasn't even a man! Let alone a hero!
"Gently Rebound!" Tobita jumped onto the elastic barrier and launched over the locked gate; the guard remained asleep. He repeated the technique and another aerial cushion appeared underneath the falling boy. Tobita prayed silently as he watched the boy land on the elastic, stretching it a little, and bouncing back up. Tobita was already in position and he caught the boy's small body without much effort.
All the energy seemed to vanish and Tobita fell onto his knees, his bangs drenched with sweat. Perspiration mixed with gel slid down his cheeks, making its way very uncomfortably into his uniform. That stubborn little curl once again escaped his gelled rest of his hair and flopped against his forehead. His heart was racing so fast he was sure the boy was able to hear it. Well, when he came out of the trance, that was.
When his feet slipped and his grip slackened, Izuku was so sure that today was the last day of his life. As he was falling down, he didn't panic. It actually felt quite nice to be in the air, not restrained to any surface. He wondered briefly if anyone would save him. If All Might would... No. He clenched his eyes shut. All Might had no reason to show up at an ordinary elementary school. He was probably busy fighting villains on the street. No one was going to come to his rescue.
The school was nearly empty. Most teachers already left. Nobody knew he was on the roof, except Kacchan, who had already left the school. Izuku was going to die. His head was going to hit the concrete so hard it shattered to pieces, much like the state of his hero dream. No one would save him... No one—
Izuku hit the ground. But he didn't feel any pain.
The ground was surprisingly soft, and it seemed kind of... stretchy. Like rubber, Izuku thought as his fingers made contact with the ground, Soft, slimy—but not wet—rubber. Izuku felt his body sink in, then bounce up, right into a pair of strong, steady arms.
The world stopped spinning and all movements stilled. Izuku felt the silky smooth texture of clothing rubbing against his cheeks. He could faintly hear the beating of a fast thumping heart. He cracked open an eye slowly, the concerned face of a stranger filled his vision.
Unable to believe what just happened, Izuku had to ask to make sure, "Did... you save me?"
The stranger let out a chuckle, sighing deeply, "Seems like you’re okay." He bent down and allowed Izuku to stand on his own. "Can you walk?"
Izuku tested a few steps. His legs felt like jelly. "Yeah—”
"No, you can't." The stranger interjected. He bent down, back facing Izuku. "Get on, I'll carry you."
"I-I can't trouble you. You already saved my life! T-that's more than enough—"
"That's not enough!" The man gently took Izuku's hand and placed it on his shoulder. "You're probably still terrified of what just happened. I'm not leaving you to deal with the aftermath by yourself."
Izuku got on his back reluctantly.
"Where do you live?"
"Okay, hang on tight." The man shifted Izuku so he could sit more comfortably. "So tell me. What happened?"
Izuku bit his lips. It was a mistake in the first place, and now that he thought back to what he had tried to do, his face heated up and he tightened his clench on his savior’s silky suit. He didn't want to tell the man who just saved him... That he had tried to kill himself merely because nobody told him what he wanted to hear. It would sound like he was just seeking attention. He was afraid the man would regret having saved him, after knowing he was just stupid, quirkless deku who couldn't do anything right but still wanted attention when he didn't deserved them.
"Hey." The voice snapped Izuku out of his thoughts. "I can't help you if you don't tell me your problems. People want to end their lives for all kinds of reasons. I am sure that whatever problems you are facing, there is someone in this world, right this moment, that's having the exact same problem as you are. So there’s no need to feel embarrassed. Problems cannot be solved if they remain hidden, you know?"
"Um..." Izuku started. The man's words hit home. Was there really someone who'd also gone through what he had? Who knew what he was feeling? How do they overcome it? How do they deal with it? He wanted to know. "I... I'm quirkless."
There was no visible reactions from the man.
"A-and... I want to be a hero. But... everyone told me I can't do it. Even my mama, even my best friend. Everyone laughed at me. I mean, I get it. I have no power so there’s no way for me to become a hero. Heroes' job is dangerous and if I do become one, I'd only slow everyone down. B-but... I just can't help it! I want to be a hero so bad! I think about it every day! Everything I do is so I can become a hero! Without that... If you take that dream away from me, then I..." Izuku's voice cracked, unable to continue. Streams of tears rolled down his cheeks, blurring his visions. He wanted to bury his face into those broad shoulders, to seek comfort, and to cry to his heart's content. But he didn't want to cause the man any more trouble.
The man stayed silent after Izuku's confession. Izuku waited, panicking. Did he say too much? Was the man mad at him?
"Hey..." the man started. "You don't get to choose what you yearn to be. Sometimes, your heart's words don't match up to what your logical mind's telling you. You know that it's impossible for a quirkless person to become a hero, but your heart only speeds up to the idea of becoming a hero. That cannot be controlled, or suppressed by any means. Doing so would only cause you pain."
"If I can't stop that, then what can I do so I don't feel anymore pain?"
The man turned his head and Izuku was shown the brightest smile he has ever seen. It wasn't the confident, victorious smile All Might symbolically held on his face everywhere he appears. It was the smile of someone giving their all to overcome the obstacles thrown at them. They may not win, but they were trying, and wishing with that hopeful smile on their face, that everything would be all right, that they would win in the end.
"Do what your heart tells you."
"But... But I can't become a hero! I'm quirkless!"
"Other quirkless people may have failed to become a hero. But you're not them. They failed to do so, doesn't mean you will also fail. Many factors lead to failure. Who's to say those factors also apply to you? It's not always the end result that matters; it's the process. If you still failed to become a hero after giving it your all, you can at least look back and say, Hey, I've done everything I can to achieve this dream, but I still failed. So it's not my fault. I've given it my all. You would have no regret. But if you were to give up now, then when you're older, you would look back and think, If I haven't given up back then, maybe... just maybe... I would have achieved this dream. It's my fault for not even giving it a try. Remember. Even if there’s a very small chance of success, it's still a chance. You can't say something is 'impossible' without taking every opportunity to give a go at it."
Izuku didn't know if the man did something with his quirk, but these words were like magic, suddenly clearing up his troubled mind and lighting up his path. All the uncertainty, anxiety vanished from his mind. This was the first time... someone told him...
"You can become a hero."
Izuku's world stopped.
"Believe in that. Give it your best. And see where that leads you. Life is filled with miracles and mystery. If you failed in the end, then oh well. At least you tried and have nothing to regret. If you succeeded, then... You'll be able to prove everyone wrong. You'll show them that the boy they looked down upon is now a hero. They'll have to rely on you to watch their backs. They'll look up to you, admire you, appreciate you... You'll be at a place so high up those bullies can't even reach the bottom of your shoes!"
As the man said this, his entire frame trembled. There was a determined grin on his face, and it lit up that flame of ambition that momentarily disappeared. Izuku shuddered as the infectious smile brought a wave of excitement coursing throughout his body. This was the first time in his life he felt like... He could actually do this! No, he would become a hero, and no one, not even Kacchan, or All Might, could stop him!
Izuku was burning with passion on the rest of the ride home. He opened up to his savior and told him his name, his hero All Might (and how this man was now his new hero), his best friend Kacchan and his explosive personality (of which the man questioned, That doesn't sound very heroic to me... Are you sure he didn't misunderstand the word 'friend’ and ‘hero'?), his favorite person in the world—mama, and pretty much gave the man an autobiography on himself. He also asked the man his name, which the man replied, “My name is Tobita, but call me Gentle! I am aiming to become the Gentle Hero, someone who can save the spirits and heart of the victims with his mere presence and the mention of his name!"
Izuku was surprised to find out that the man was still in high school. He looked much older, or perhaps it was just due to the suit. In response to Izuku's confusion, the young man sheepishly admitted how he did poorly in school and had to drop back two grades. It was like a dam being broken. Many more embarrassing admissions flowed out of his lips. Izuku listened quietly as the young man recounted his life. How he got into a normal school with an okay hero course, but didn't work hard enough and failed all his classes. How he failed the hero license exam four times because he didn't put enough effort into it. And now, all those failures led up to him failing to save someone earlier the day, and was likely to be expelled.
"It's embarrassing, telling you to give it your all, but not staying true to those words myself," Gentle said, letting out an awkward laugh.
"But you saved me."
Gentle seemed to have forgotten that he indeed had just saved Izuku's life, as he perked up with a "huh?"
"Even after failing so many times, you still didn't give up your hero dream. It's thanks to you that I can live on and give my hero dream a try. Thank you, Gentle. You're my hero."
There was a long silence after that. Izuku cocked his head side ways, and saw a streak of tears on Gentle's cheeks. His expression frozen, eyes widened, lips parted slightly in shock.
Izuku held onto Gentle's shoulder when the teenager let go of one hand to wipe away his tears.
"It's the first time... first time ever..." Gentle choked out, his voice trembling. "S-see...? I can be a hero, too. I saved someone's life... I'm a hero!"
Izuku wasn't sure if Gentle was still talking to him, but he responded nonetheless.
"Yeah, you're a hero, Gentle!"
You're my hero.