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the curse of the anime protagonist

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Izuku's first memory is of his second birthday. His mother and grandfather are there, one bearing a bright green cake and the other bearing a case of brightly illustrated books. Grandpa uses his fire quirk to light the candles.

 

His father is not there. Instead, his mother turns on the TV to the daily news update and brings him close to the screen. A man in a sleek, black and red costume stands proudly before the camera, his hand on the neck of a scruffy criminal.

 

Izuku's tiny hands reach out to pat the screen. He sees Papa more on the screen than in the house. Papa looks different in his hero costume.

 

He vaguely remembers his mother saying, “It's his son's birthday …” and his grandfather coming up behind him to pat his unruly hair. Izuku stares at Papa on the screen and wonders when he'll come home.

 

He makes many more memories after that. But the one that stands out the most is the moment almost a year later, with him yelling and screaming as his grandfather holds him back, watching his mother fall to her knees, sobbing. Izuku yells and yells for them to stop, but nobody intervenes as his father’s coffin is lowered into the ground.

 

-

 

Three days after Kacchan turns four, he develops his quirk. It makes itself apparent through weak puffs of smoke coming from his palms, eventually turning into a loud and resolute pop of energy. It's no question what the nature of his quirk is: explosion.

 

Izuku, who has seen this coming ever since he learned what Kacchan’s parents’ quirks were, is not as impressed.

 

“You make nitro - ni - n - nitrogly - glycerin. Nitroglycerin,” Izuku brings out the word through tremendous effort. Even if he knows what the word means, his three-year-old tongue can't wrap itself around the difficult syllables.

 

“Nitro-what?” Kacchan, ever the impatient one, only makes it through the first two syllables. They're playing in Kacchan’s room, although to be more accurate, Kacchan is playing - Izuku’s sprawled out on the floor, doodling absentmindedly on scraps of paper.

 

“It's what they put in TNT,” Izuku says, proudly touting the knowledge he earned when he snuck one of his dad's heavy-looking books from his deserted room. It is the only reason he ever goes in there anymore. Grandpa had read the whole thing to him the last time he'd visited, making sure Izuku understood the whole thing. It had taken three whole days, but Izuku now knows more about chemistry than any three-year-old ought to know.

 

TNT is more familiar ground for Kacchan, whose sharp grin returns. “Yeah! So I'm gonna blow things up! Of course I get a cool quirk!” He pauses in the midst of climbing his bedpost and looks at Izuku critically, the other boy engrossed in the drawing directly in front him. He’s mumbling again - about the drawing, about Kacchan’s quirk, about how much it must hurt when it explodes -

 

“You'll get a quirk too, Deku,” he says to the younger boy, feeling uncharacteristically generous. Maybe Deku feels bad because he'd never have Katsuki’s awesome quirk. His declaration gets the other boy’s attention, snapping him out of his mumbling. “But it definitely won't be as cool as mine, because I'm the best!”

 

Izuku just smiles. “I don't mind if I don't get a quirk, Kacchan,” he says, before returning to his drawing of an elephant. It's fairly good.

 

“Huh?” Kacchan exclaims, jumping from his mount and standing before Izuku, fists on his hips. “How’re you gonna be a hero if you don't have a quirk, stupid Deku?”

 

Izuku shrugs without looking up. Not everyone wants to be a hero .

 

-

 

Two weeks after Izuku turns four, Kacchan bursts through his bedroom door.

 

Izuku looks up from his ABC’s ( A is for All Might, which his mother had bought for him. It's slightly more colorful than the book Grandpa had gotten, A is for Adenine . Izuku has yet to read that book on his own.)

 

“Do you have your quirk yet,” Kacchan demands, but it comes out more doyouhaveyourquirkyet .

 

“I don't think so,” Izuku says. “Maybe I don't have one.” If I don’t have one , he thinks. Then maybe people will stop thinking I want to be a hero .

 

Kacchan fumes . “You're just late,” he seethes, pointing accusingly at Izuku. “You have a quirk, stupid Deku! And I bet it'll come anytime soon, and then we can battle and I'm gonna beat you!” He turns on his heels and leaves, slamming the door behind him.

 

“But I don't wanna fight you!” Izuku calls out, but it falls on deaf ears. Or maybe Kacchan didn't hear it at all.

 

He frowns, then turns back to his book. C is for Crimson Riot ... Everyone, it seems, is fixated on the appearance of his quirk.

 

Everyone except for him.

 

-

 

A month later, Izuku gets the first hint of his quirk, although it will be years before he looks back and understands the significance of the event.

 

(“Hindsight is 20/20, as they say,” Izuku will mutter someday in the future. “If I had known it was my quirk, I would've been more careful and maybe I wouldn't be in this goddamn mess.”)

 

Izuku is walking happily home from a productive day at the library, muttering contemplatively over the various notes he’s written down in his tiny notebook when a loud cry catches his attention. He turns to the source of the sound and sees an old woman standing fretfully at the base of a tree, looking up at a yowling white kitten.

 

It's just like in stories , Izuku muses. A cat is stuck in a tree, and someone kind will save it .

 

He looks around, but no one seems to be coming to the woman's rescue. A heavy and insistent feeling settles in his stomach, urging him to do something. He sighs and puts his notebook away in his backpack before walking over.

 

“Good afternoon,” he greets her, remembering to be polite and not to mumble.

 

“Oh, good afternoon,” the old lady replies, momentarily cheered by the affable manners of the admittedly adorable child.

 

“Is that your cat in the tree?” Izuku inquires. Above them, the kitten lets out another plaintive meow , pacing anxiously on a branch.

 

“Oh dear,” the old lady says, then nods. “Emi has been stuck up there for almost an hour.”

 

“I can get her,” Izuku says, and before the lady can reply, he sets down his backpack and climbs nimbly up the tree. He's no stranger to doing so, having climbed up countless trunks in pursuit of nesting birds to study and admire. In less than a minute he's face to face with the pretty kitten, which tilts her head, studying him.

 

He extends a hand, gripping tightly onto the bark of the tree. “Here, Emi.” He calls her by name, and makes what he hopes is a comforting smile.

 

The kitten meows twice before deciding to trust him, and she pads over daintily to settle in his palm. He pulls her in and holds her close to his body, and she allows the handling without so much as a wiggle. Carefully, he begins to descend.

 

“Oh my,” says the old lady as Izuku nears the ground. “Be careful, dearie!” He hops nimbly down the last few feet and turns to her, gently holding Emi in both hands.

 

“Emi!” the woman cries, and gladly takes the kitten from his hands. Emi meows lovingly, then starts to purr in the hands of her owner.

 

“Thank you so much, young man,” the old lady says, smiling at Izuki. “You saved Emi for me.”

 

Izuku smiles back. “It was nothing. I'm glad she's okay.”

 

“What a good child,” the old lady sighs fondly, placing her wrinkled cheek on her wrinkled hand. She starts rummaging in her purse and takes out a couple of candy bars.

 

“Here you are. It's not much, but it's the least I can do for Emi’s hero,” she says.

 

“Oh, I'm not - ” Izuku begins, but he stops cold when he sees that these are full-size Snickers, he wasn't even allowed to eat a full one on his own . “Um! Thank you!”

 

“No, thank you ,” insists the old lady. With a pat on his head and one final wave, she leaves.

 

Izuku takes a moment to stare at his bounty, before placing them in his backpack. He starts walking back home, mood greatly improved.

 

He never notices that she had called him a hero.

 

-

 

Grandpa watches him for a day while his mother goes out with friends. “You're too kind, Hisahito-san,” Inko gushes, but Grandpa insists it's no trouble for him at all.

 

Izuku likes Grandpa’s house. It’s big and spacious, and the the floors are made of shiny wood that he can slide on in his socks. There’s always the smell of tea floating around the house, and there’s always a plateful of buttered biscuits waiting for him when he visits.

 

There’s also the fact that as soon as tea time is finished, Grandpa lets him go into the library.

 

“I got a new set of encyclopedias,” Grandpa says, as he idly follows Izuku to the library. Izuku practically bounces with excitement in front of the door, waiting for Grandpa to unlock it. Once he does, Izuku rushes in, admiring the rays of sunlight that fall from the wide, round windows near the ceiling. The library is, as always, pristine - no speck of dust mars the lovingly maintained covers of the books.

 

Izuku quickly spots a set of books that weren’t there the last time he visited. He points at them. “Are those the new books?” he asks.

 

Grandpa nods. Izuku beams and wastes no time in picking up the first volume.

 

For as long as he can remember, spending time with Grandpa is like this: the two of them read quietly, until Izuku encounters a term he doesn’t understand and has to ask Grandpa what it means. Grandpa will explain it, often more comprehensively than he has to, and if Izuku asks enough questions Grandpa will eventually sit beside him until he reads the whole book. Izuku doesn’t have too many questions these days, but sometimes he ends up sitting beside Grandpa anyways, relishing in his quiet comfort.

 

Grandpa is Izuku’s grandfather on his father’s side. Inko’s parents are both dead. Izuku never knew them, or Grandpa’s wife - aside from Inko, Grandpa is Izuku’s only family.

 

He is a more prominent feature in his life than his father ever was. Grandpa is the reason that Izuku’s always at the top of the class. Grandpa is the reason Izuku is so interested in quirks despite not having one of his own, to the point of having twelve full journals detailing the quirks of the people around him (an entire section is dedicated just to Kacchan, if only because he's the closest available subject). Grandpa is the reason that Inko and Izuku are never lonely, the reason Izuku even looks forward to any of his birthdays.

 

“No questions so far?” Grandpa murmurs. He sits in his usual leather armchair, with a thick book in his lap. There’s an entire wing in the library that Izuku hasn’t touched, because the books are too difficult even for him. It's full of medical journals, some of then focused solely on quirks. Grandpa promised him before that he'd be allowed to read them as soon as he was older.

 

“None,” Izuku replies. But he gets up from his seat and sits by Grandpa’s feet anyway. He spends the rest of the afternoon mumbling over his book until his mother comes in the evening to pick him up.

 

-

 

There must be something in the trees around here , Izuku muses at one point. The number of cats getting stuck in trees is plainly ridiculous.

 

He turns six and there's still no sign of his quirk showing up, but he has fifty-eight cat rescues to his name. He would know. He counted. (He's also counted the number of times Kacchan asks him if he still doesn't have a quirk. It's at a much higher figure of ninety-one.)

 

Since the first time, he's rescued Emi from a tree around seventeen times now. Mrs. Ando, Emi’s long-suffering owner, is now something of a family friend.

 

“Oh, you're too kind, Inko-chan,” she gushes, as Izuku’s mother serves her a hot cup of tea. Mrs. Ando visits them from time to time, and she always has some delectable candy to give to Izuku. “I see where Izukkun gets it from.”

 

Inko blushes but brightens at the praise for her son. “Did Izuku have to rescue Emi again today?”

 

“Yes,” Mrs. Ando sighs, looking fondly at the cat in question. She's glued to Izuku, who's lying flat on the carpet, letting the cat paw affectionately at his face. “I actually think she's just doing it for attention now! She's been attached to Izukkun since she first met him - a fine choice, I must say.”

 

Inko beams. “Izuku does seem to have a knack for rescuing cats. Why, you aren't the only pet-owner who's come here to offer thanks. I'm sure it means a lot to him.”

 

She's quieter when she says the next bit. “I'm glad he knows he can help people even without a quirk.”

 

“Inko-chan,” Mrs. Ando says, placing a hand over Inko’s. “Your son doesn't need a quirk to be a good person. Why, that Bakugou child has a quirk, and all he uses it for is scaring animals and other kids! Such a difference from Izukkun, I must say.”

 

“Oh, Katsuki?” Inko chuckles. “He's not a bad kid. Maybe a little spoiled and vain, but he will grow. He's quite attached to Izuku, you know - he comes over to play quite often. Izuku doesn't seem to mind not having a quirk, but Katsuki insists he's just a late bloomer. He worries about Izuku in his own way. It's quite sweet, really.”

 

“Well,” Mrs. Ando says, still doubtful. “I wish he wouldn't yell so much. It's quite fine that he's friends with Izukkun, but I worry when he screams at the other children.”

 

“Kacchan only yells at people if they're being mean, or laugh at him,” Izuku pipes up from the floor. Both women turn to look at him. “Sometimes some kids call me quirkless , and Kacchan yells at them ‘til they go away.” Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “He's very good at yelling.”

 

Inko looks at Mrs. Ando as if to say I told you so . “Is that so?” the older woman says.

 

Izuku nods absently. “Kacchan says we're gonna be heroes together, so they shouldn't be calling me quirkless,” he continues. Emi gently bops her paw against his nose, before curling up into a ball on his chest. “But I don't wanna be a hero.”

 

Mrs. Ando frowns, but Inko is unfazed. She smiles a little sadly, knowing what Izuku will say next. “Why not, Izukkun?” Mrs. Ando asks.

 

“Because,” Izuku says, placing a small hand on Emi’s head. “You don't have to be a hero to help people.”

 

-

 

Katsuki is restless.

 

When he's restless, sweat gathers in his palms and goes off with no prompting. He and Izuku have grown desensitized to the crackling sounds and the sudden waves of heat, but he still has to remember to be mindful in the presence of people unused to his quirk and its effects.

 

Speaking of quirks, and speaking of Deku…

 

“Do you really not care if you don't have a quirk?” he asks. It's late and they should be sleeping, and he asks this question with no preamble. A futon laid out on Izuku’s bedroom floor is as familiar to Katsuki as his own bed at home, but he can't sleep. Not tonight.

 

Izuku is awake, too. “Not really,” he replies, and Katsuki knows he isn't lying.

 

“Why not,” he mutters sullenly. He's embarrassed for caring more about the matter than Izuku did himself, but he can't help it - he can't understand how someone could not want a quirk.

 

Izuku hums thoughtfully. “Did you know that technology is advancing so much faster now than it ever did? It took people ages to make the wheel, then a shorter time to make a car, and then less than a hundred years later, they're in space.”

 

Katsuki’s brow furrows. This doesn't sound like an answer.

 

“Quirks were developed just before the first modern car, I guess,” Izuku says. “Or earlier. Grandpa must have told me, but I forget. But before that, people were just… people.”

 

“What's your point, Deku?” Katsuki asks.

 

“My point,” Izuku says. “Is that people don't need quirks to do things. We don't need quirks to help people, to get jobs, or to just… survive. Sure, having a quirk would be nice, but… it still depends on what kind of person you are, what you can do.”

 

There is silence. Then Katsuki makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a laugh.

 

“Maybe your quirk is being smart,” he scoffs, but it's lighthearted. “Wouldn't that be just like you, you stupid nerd?”

 

Izuku laughs quietly. “Whatever my quirk is, if I even have one, I didn't need it to save Emi from the tree again this afternoon.”

 

“Ando’s cat? Again?”

 

“Oh, yeah.  But this time, she was so upset. She was…”

 

Katsuki drowses off to the sound of Izuku’s voice. His palms are dry and steady as he drifts off into sleep, already dreaming about a hero's future, just waiting at his fingertips.

 

Maybe, if it's a nice dream, Deku’ll be there too.

 

-

 

Izuku is getting suspicious.

 

This is the second time this week that someone just so happened to be getting bullied in the playground. The eighth time this month. And for the months prior… just like the epidemic of stranded cats, there seems to be an epidemic of bigger kids picking on the little ones.

 

And it always seems to happen just when he's passing by.

 

(He steps in every time, the heavy and insistent feeling settling in his gut, familiar by now after countless interventions. He dismisses it as a sense of duty and oh, how accurate and yet mistaken that is, all at the same time.)

 

Most kids in the neighborhood know him. They know that if they hurt Midoriya Izuku, Bakugo Katsuki will find them and unleash his fury upon them, backed up by his now considerable control of his powerful quirk.

 

Kids who have cats know Izuku as the one who rescues them from trees, so there's that, too.

 

Today, Izuku finds Takeshi standing before a cowering little boy. Takeshi is an unusually big boy for his age, standing much taller and broader than Izuku although they are both only ten. His quirk is almost stereotypically perfect for bullying; it's called Intimidate , and it allows him, to, well, intimidate a target into doing almost anything for a certain amount of time.

 

Izuku knows, through extensive observation, that Takeshi’s quirk only lasts five minutes, tops.

 

He also knows that it doesn't work if the target is expecting its effects.

 

“Takeshi-kun,” Izuku says quietly. Takeshi and the smaller boy turn to look at him. Ah. Izuku recognizes the other one. It's Yashiro, a recent transferee to their elementary school. If he remembers correctly, his quirk is the ability to transform small amounts of water into different states of matter.

 

“Midoriya,” Takeshi says with a grunt and a nod, his face falling. He knows he can't use his quirk on Izuku, and he's acquainted with Katsuki, unfortunately.

 

(He's also the doting owner of a tabby he calls Tako, who owes every single one of its nine lives to Izuku’s saving graces.)

 

Knowing his hands are basically tied, Takeshi sighs and glares at Yashiro one more time. “I'll see you around, nerd,” he mutters, before slinking off, presumably to feed his cat or something. Izuku shakes his head. Years of being friends with Kacchan has turned the word nerd into little more than a slightly unflattering nickname.

 

Yashiro lets out a breath of relief, and turns, shaking, to Izuku. “You're… Midoriya-san, right?” he asks nervously.

 

Izuku nods. “You can call me Izuku. And you're Yashiro-san. We're in the same class, you know.”

 

“Ah,” Yashiro says, ducking his head sheepishly. “I'm sorry. I haven't memorized everyone's names yet.”

 

“That's fine,” Izuku says. “You're still new. You should probably go, though. Takeshi-kun might come back, or he might not. I don't know.”

 

A little voice pipes up in Izuku's head. He probably won't, seeing as I won't be around .

 

It's too faint for him to notice.

 

“Ah, um,” Yashiro stutters. “Th-thank you for helping me! The way he just left when you came - it was amazing.”

 

“Oh, that?” Izuku says dismissively. “He just knows he can't use his quirk on me.”

 

Yashiro’s eyes go wide. “ Really? His quirk doesn't work on you? Is that your quirk?” he asks excitedly.

 

Izuku shakes his head. “As far as I know, I'm quirkless.” He ignores Yashiro’s slight gasp, used to such reactions. “His quirk doesn't work on you if you're expecting it, so try not to get caught off guard again.”

 

Yashiro frowns thoughtfully. “If you're expecting it… I see.” He looks at Izuku again, something akin to reverence in his eyes. “You're amazing, Izuku-kun.”

 

“Like I said, it's nothing,” Izuku repeats. He subtly checks his watch, wanting to go home and start on the inhuman amount of sums their math teacher set for them today. Grandpa is also coming with a new book. He can barely wait to see what it'll be.

 

Yashiro shakes his head. “No, you're - you're just like a hero, Izuku-kun. You helped me out. Nobody - nobody's helped me out before.”

 

Izuku sighs, but he feels for this kid. He's heard the hero line before though, too many times for his liking. “I see,” he says simply, wanting more than anything to just go home. “But anyway, I have to go now. I'll see you around, Yashiro-san. Take care.”

 

“Thank you!” Yashiro yells as he leaves, and Izuku has to smile. Hero or not, it still feels good to help someone out.

 

-

 

“Deku,” Kacchan begins, tone dangerous, but curious, like a cobra who’s encountered a mouse who learned to hiss back.

 

“Yes?” Izuku says.

 

“Mind telling me why the heck all those kids rushed you at recess and gave you… all of this?” Kacchan says, gesturing at the various snacks spread across Izuku’s desk.

 

They’re in Izuku’s bedroom, and the boy himself is meticulously dividing up the food on his desk into piles of candy, chocolate, and biscuits. He sets aside two packs of sour gummies for Kacchan, knowing the other boy is strangely partial to those sweets.

 

Earlier today, a group of children, some in their grade, most of them younger, had swarmed around Izuku the moment recess began. Some of them were there to thank him on behalf of their families for rescuing their cat ( again ), but most were there to thank him for defending them, whether it was Takeshi or Riku or Kyosuke. A veritable army of grateful children led by Yashiro could carry a ton of snacks, it turns out.

 

“Don’t feel bad, Kacchan,” Izuku says reassuringly. He pats the sour gummies he’d set aside. “You can have these.”

 

Kacchan’s glare is murderous. “Like hell I care about that!” he yells. He grabs the sour gummies and violently tears it open, munching furiously on a handful of helpless gummies. “I asked you why the heck those losers crowded you in the first place!”

 

Izuku shrugs. “I think they wanted to thank me or something.” He picks up a bag of matcha candies and wrinkles his nose. That is going to his mother.

 

Katsuki scoffs. “ Thank you? Thank you ? What the hell for?”

 

“I helped them out,” Izuku says. “Either I saved their cat, or I told off someone who was bullying them. Speaking of the bullying, I think they should be thanking you instead. Those bullies only listen to me because they know you’d murder them if they tried anything funny.”

 

The other boy glares. “It’s their own fault,” Kacchan grouses, crumpling the empty pack of sour gummies and throwing it, hard , into the waste bin under the desk. Say what you will about Bakugou Katsuki, but the kid doesn’t litter. “Of course I’m gonna hit them for being stupid. And if those losers even think of trying to swarm me and giving me all this useless junk, then I’m going to hit them too!”

 

“Yes, yes,” Izuku says, discreetly passing the second pack of gummies to Kacchan, who takes it without even noticing.

 

“Why do you even bother helping them, Deku?” Kacchan asks. He backs off from the desk and goes to lie down on Izuku’s bed. Izuku cringes at the thought of him eating there, but at least he’s eating gummies and not crackers, which he has the unfortunate tendency of biting into so hard that crumbs fly off everywhere. “Thought you didn’t care about being a hero and all that. ‘Sides, it’s not like someone quirkless like you can do much.”

 

Sometime after they turned ten, Katsuki finally gave the whole “do you have your quirk yet” business a rest. The facts were just irrefutable - Izuku was ten, and he wasn’t able to breathe fire or pull objects to him, two of the most likely quirks that could be passed onto him. In fact, aside from being incredibly smart for his age (but not quite smart enough to warrant it being a mental augmentation quirk), he was incredibly normal. Granted, they hadn’t gotten his foot x-rayed to check for a pinky joint, but Izuku had always maintained that it would be a waste of money, and he really didn’t care either way.

 

“I was passing by,” Izuku says, by way of explanation. He absently opens a box of Pocky and picks one out. “Nobody else was gonna help them, so I did it.”

 

“Idiot. That’s what you call people like me for. The real heroes!” Kacchan sits up abruptly, pumping his fist in the air and sending about a dozen gummies flying. Amid Izuku’s aghast exclamations of “ Kacchan! ”, he rises triumphantly and stands on the bed. “ I’m the hero, Deku! And don’t forget that!”

 

“Yes, yes,” Izuku agrees quickly, hoping to placate him. “Now, please, Kacchan, get off, you’re getting candy all over my bed.”

 

Kacchan frowns, but sits back down and at least picks up the gummies that have landed on the bed. Those are somewhat salvageable, while Izuku picks up the poor gummies which landed on the floor and throws them away. “What a waste, Kacchan,” he mumbles. Sour candy is not his thing, but food is food.

 

The other boy scoffs. “It’s just candy, Deku. ‘Sides, those losers’ll give you anything if you just ask for it.” He shakes his head. “Lame, if you ask me.”

 

Izuku smiles slightly and returns to his desk, scrutinizing his arrangement. “Well, what about you, Kacchan? What would you do for someone who helped you out?”

 

Kacchan picks out a red gummy. “I’d punch them,” he says flatly, crushing the sweet in his fingers. “And ask them where the hell they get off, thinking I need their help.”

 

-

 

“Chocolate or strawberry?”

 

“Vanilla,” Izuku says, with no hesitation.

 

“Ehh?” Yashiro says, laughing. “That’s so boring, Izuku-kun!”

 

“Vanilla is really good,” Izuku says, frowning slightly. “You just haven’t had the right vanilla ice cream. Besides you can put anything on it. Chocolate, sprinkles, caramel, marshmallows…” He trails off, looking at the various ice creams in the freezer box of the store.

 

“But that’s exactly it! It’s so plain that it needs add-ons,” Yashiro argues. “Whereas if you had, say, rocky road ice cream, you could eat it exactly as it is and you wouldn’t need anything else.”

 

“But isn’t rocky road just chocolate ice cream with add-ons?”

 

“Deku!”

 

Izuku and Yashiro look up to see Katsuki marching over them, a furious glint in his eyes (not that there ever isn’t.) Yashiro breaks a sweat. He didn’t think Katsuki would be at the convenience store today.

 

“Kacchan,” Izuku greets him, smiling. Beside him, Yashiro stares at him. Izuku may well be the only child in their school - in this area - who could look Katsuki in the eye when he’s in that mood and smile . He shakes his head. Izuku truly is amazing.

 

Katsuki arrives and looks at Yashiro coolly, surveying him from top to bottom. Yashiro shrinks back, uncomfortable. Katsuki has a way of looking at people that makes them feel unworthy of his attention, just another someone to get stuck under his shoe like garbage. “What’re you doing, hanging out with this loser?”

 

“We’re getting ice cream,” Izuku says patiently. “And he’s not a loser. His name is Yashiro. He’s the one who got the sour gummies, you know.”

 

Yashiro flushes. He’s heard from Izuku sometime after the candy incident that his sour gummies had gone to Katsuki instead of Izuku. Granted, the sour gummies weren’t the only candies he’d gotten for Izuku, but it still bothered him slightly that his gift had gone to someone who was less likely to appreciate them.

 

“He’s a loser if I say so, Deku,” Kacchan speaks as if his word is law, and maybe for all other mortals except Midoriya Izuku, it is. The boy himself just laughs and asks, “What about you, Kacchan? You like chocolate, don’t you? They have a chocolate ice cream here today that has fudge in the center, I think you’ll like it.” He reaches in the freezer, idly rummaging around for the treat in question, before pulling it out and showing it to Kacchan.

 

Kacchan scoffs. “You’re such a nerd,” he spits out, then snatches the ice cream from Izuku’s hand. “Hurry up and buy your stupid ice cream, you’re coming over today, or did you fucking forget?”

 

“Ah, right,” Izuku says, as Kacchan stalks over to the counter. Yashiro watches as Izuku gets a vanilla cone and smiles apologetically at him. “Sorry about Kacchan. He’s really not good with names, so he just calls everyone a loser. Don’t take it personally.”

 

Yashiro shakes his head, half-dazed. Getting offended is the furthest thing from people’s minds when Bakugou Katsuki’s towering over them. “I’m amazed, Izuku-kun. You must be really awesome if Bakugou listens to you like that.”

 

Izuku laughs. “No, we’ve just been friends for too long. We’ve been together practically since we were born, because our mothers are really good friends. You know how I’m quirkless? Kacchan used to get really mad about me saying I’m quirkless and all, and kept insisting I’m just a late bloomer or something. He was always going on about being heroes and all that.” He shakes his head. “Even though I never wanted to be a hero.”

 

There it is again, Yashiro notices. Everytime Izuku is called “heroic” for his actions, he quickly denies it and even seems… uncomfortable? He doesn’t understand it. How could anyone dislike being called a hero? Sure, not everyone would be able to become a professional hero. Quirkless people like Izuku would have an even harder time, considering the nature of the work. But professional heroes are not the only “heroes.” People like Izuku - kind, selfless, and humble - are definitely heroes.

 

Before Yashiro can ask, though, Katsuki’s yelling again. “Deku! I told you to hurry up!”

 

“Coming!” Izuku calls out, then clamps his hand over his mouth, remembering he’s still in the store. “I’ll see you on Monday, Yashiro-san.” He rushes off to the counter, where Katsuki’s waiting impatiently.

 

Yashiro shakes his head as Katsuki berates Izuku for being slow. The boy must be blind if he believes for a second that Izuku's actually letting himself be ordered around.

 

-

 

For the second time in his young life, Izuku's world is shattered.

 

Someone from the nearby hospital calls Inko to inform her of the incident. It was a villain attack, they say. A major one, the likes of which were usually extremely rare in their peaceful neighborhood. Grandpa and about a dozen others had been caught in the crossfire.

 

Nobody had been able to save him.

 

(Probably nobody had tried.)

 

The authorities tell her that the body couldn’t even be recovered under all the rubble. He had probably been crushed. All they could find was a scrap of his tweed jacket, the shattered remains of his spectacles, and his wallet. The last item had his IDs in it. It was the only way they had even been able to name him as one of the casualties. Of the fifteen or so known casualties, only five bodies had been recovered.

 

(They say that considering the damage and the power of the attack, fifteen casualties was a miraculously low number. Sixteen, if you count the villain being unceremoniously gunned down while they were vulnerable. The authorities are actually considering this successful .)

 

Mitsuki Bakugou comes over the moment the news story breaks. She brings her husband and son, the latter of which immediately marches over to Izuku's room.

 

Masaru makes tea while his wife tries to console a weeping Inko. Through her sobbing, it's hard to make out her words, but Mitsuki tries. “Izuku… Izuku… Izuku …”

 

Kacchan, feeling strangely contrite in the face of unimaginable loss, knocks on the door. It swings open on impact - Izuku hasn't locked himself in like he thought he might.

 

Inside the room, Izuku sits on the edge of his bed. His hands are knit together on top of his lap, but they're steady. He's facing away from Kacchan, who can't see the other boy's expression.

 

“Deku,” he greets quietly. Izuku doesn't acknowledge him, and for some time, the room stays silent. Down the hall, they can hear Inko’s muffled crying as her face is pressed into Mitsuki’s shoulder.

 

“Hurricane,” Izuku says suddenly. Kacchan startles at the sound of his voice, raspy and dry. According to Inko, Izuku has been sick for a couple of days. Hearing about the incident has only worsened his condition. “Air Lock. Duodenum. Red Eagle. Golden Star.”

 

Kacchan recognizes those names.

 

“Five pro heroes at the scene,” Izuku continues ruthlessly. “Air Lock’s specialty is containment and apprehension - Red Eagle specializes in rescue. Even so, fifteen people are dead.”

 

“People are saying it's a miracle only fifteen people died - the villain’s apparently one of the ten most wanted criminals, and it's amazing they were able to take him down. But it doesn't change the fact that not even the heroes were able to save everyone.”

 

Izuku turns to face Kacchan, and the look in his eyes would haunt the other boy for months to come.

 

“What do you think? Still want to be a hero, Kacchan?”

 

-

 

Grandpa has apparently left his entire house and considerable savings to Inko. The library, however, is registered particularly in Izuku's name.

 

Izuku looks for a book on medical conditions. He'd been sick for days, but on the day of the attack he'd suffered stomach cramps so terrible he couldn't get out of bed if he wanted to.

 

In time, he will read the entire library, even the books he couldn't read before. But that is the future. For now, Izuku learns to move on. His mother is mostly worried for him - she knows how much he loves his grandfather, how much he treasured their time together. But Izuku is his Grandpa’s grandchild, through and through. He allows himself to feel his emotions and then stores them away - he has to be strong now, both for his mother and himself.

 

He puts on a blank and stoic face at the memorial. His mother had insisted that he didn't have to attend, not if he didn't want to, but Izuku would never dishonor his grandfather's memory like that. Two of the Pro Heroes who had been present at the attack, Duodenum and Red Eagle, are in attendance. They've been attending the funerals of the casualties of the villain attack.

 

Red Eagle looks small and slight without her usual costume of red mechanical wings. Her golden eyes, capable of identifying people from miles away, zero in on the face of the boy standing before her now.

 

Izuku regards her, as she appears to think nervously on what she can say. She's covered in bandages - she'd been knocked out of the sky at one point during the fight. Without her hero suit, she's only taller than Izuku by a head. She looks tiny. She looks so vulnerable.

 

Izuku can't believe someone like this is a hero.

 

“I'm sorry for your loss,” she finally says, then immediately makes a face like she regretted what she just said. Even her voice is small, bird-like. Everything about her makes her seem so young.

 

“You might think that it's presumptuous of us to be attending these funerals, the funerals of the people I couldn't save,” she begins. “But, um… we really - I really - wish we could have done more. It was our job, as heroes. Our failure is unforgivable.” She ends this passionate statement with a low bow, facing the ground directly. Beside her, Duodenum stands silently.

 

Izuku does not know what to say.  He cannot find it in him to forgive them. Not just yet. Not while the wound is fresh and new. Not when her words betray her naivety and self-importance - the thought that heroes can save everyone, anyone, so her inability to do so… must be a failure on her part.

 

It's ridiculous.

 

Izuku does not cry. Instead, he bows as low as she does, prompting her to look up.

 

“Thank you for saving the city,” he says quietly. He straightens and turns away to return to his mother's side, ignoring the tears that had sprung into Red Eagle's eyes.

 

-

 

Life continues.

 

It always does.

 

Izuku gets into his first life-or-death situation when he is twelve and walking home from school.

 

( It always happens when I’m walking home from school , he thinks later on. Maybe he should start taking another route.)

 

Izuku’s not actually the one who’s in danger - it’s a girl named Kimi, a classmate of his with doll-like features and a sweet voice prone to insulting those she doesn’t think pretty enough. Her quirk allows her to change her hair color at whim, and she usually uses it to imitate celebrities or idols in order to appear more appealing.

 

Well, anyway, her hair’s going to be blood-red if nobody pushes her out of the car’s way.

 

And so Izuku leaps , skinny limbs pumped full of adrenaline as he leaps for all he is worth and shoves her out of the way, curling around her as he tries to tuck his legs and arms out of the car’s way. The driver thankfully swerves, or tries to swerve, and a quick slam on the brakes has it skidding to stop, bumper just a few millimeters from the fence of the playground.

 

That goddamn playground.

 

Izuku’s lungs suck air in greedily, inhaling and exhaling as quickly as he can keep up. His stomach is curling in on itself, impossibly tense. Beneath him, Kimi lays on the ground, hair and dress a mess but wholly, blessedly intact.

 

Around them, adults are panicking. The driver gets out of the car and is the first to approach them. “Kid, are you okay?” he asks worriedly, and Izuku isn’t too sure which one of them he’s asking. “Are you guys hurt?”

 

Izuku sits up. He pats himself all over, and the only thing worth noting is the bruising that’s quickly making itself evident on his knees. “Just some bruising,” he says, feeling the pressure in his gut receding. His mind flashes briefly to the medical book he’d taken from the library ( that library). He doesn’t feel any alarming symptoms. He turns to Kimi, who is starting to sit up. He’s worried she’ll start crying - it would be a normal reaction, he just isn’t sure if he’s equipped enough to handle a crying girl right now.

 

“... ank...  you…” she murmurs incomprehensibly.

 

“Kimi-san?” Izuku asks, leaning in closer.

 

He’s unprepared for the feeling of thin arms wrapping themselves tightly around him (and ah , there’s some bruising on his back. Well.)

 

“T-thank you, Izukkun,” she sobs, tucking her face into the crook of his neck. She’s trembling and shaking all over, but she’s alive , and Izuku did that. He saved her. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

 

The driver approaches the two of them and kneels, gently placing a hand on Izuku’s free shoulder. “You did a real good thing today, kid,” he says kindly. “You should be proud of yourself. You’re a real hero.”

 

That statement is a blow to him. He does not understand how it makes him feel.

 

Izuku hesitantly raises his hand, then places it on Kimi’s head, stroking her silky hair over and over as she continues to cry. Around them, people are laughing and smiling, relieved that no one was hurt and amazed at the bravery shown by the little boy they all know, the boy who’s helped so many.

 

“‘M not a hero,” Izuku says, shaking his head. His voice is almost defiant. If a child could save someone this easily, then why ? “I'm not a hero.”

 

No one hears him except for Kimi, who lets out a shaky sob and says, “You are. You are .”

 

-

 

Emi gets stuck in a tree again.

 

Mrs. Ando is faithfully standing beneath the branch her cat is perched on, looking more exasperated than anything. “Why are you climbing trees again, Emi?” she asks, reprimanding. “We already visited Izukkun yesterday. It’s too soon to be clamoring for his attention like this again.”

 

“Mrs. Ando?” someone calls, and she turns to see Izuku. He sees her standing under a tree and makes a face of understanding. Wordlessly, he climbs the tree, movements already second nature, and in no time at all has a purring cat snuggled comfortably in his arms.

 

“Looks like someone misses me, huh?” he laughs quietly, dangling his fingers in front of her face. She licks it affectionately, pawing at him. He hands her off gently to Mrs. Ando, who looks at him fondly. Izukkun is so strong, she thinks. His smile is returning, slowly but surely.

 

“Thank you, Izukkun. I really should have gotten home some time ago, but this little girl decided to be a troublemaker!” she sighs, stroking Emi’s pristine fur.

 

“It’s no trouble at all,” Izuku says. “I was just on my way to…” he pauses. “The library. I'm glad I happened to pass by.”

 

“Well, thank you anyways, Izukkun,” she says. She smiles at him, then looks over his shoulder. “Oh my. I think someone’s waiting for you.”

 

He turns around to follow her gaze and sees a young girl standing a little ways off, clutching a small basket. Izuku is surprised to notice that it's Kimi. He hasn't talked to her since the incident. She jumps a little when they turn around to look at her so suddenly, but she meets their gazes, if a little sullenly.

 

“I’ll see you around then, Izukkun,” Mrs. Ando says. She has a little, knowing smile on her face. She was, after all, present during the (almost) car accident. “Please tell your mother that I’d like to visit her sometime next week. My son brought some delicious biscuits I’d like to share with you two.”

 

“Ah,” Izuku says. “Okay.” He bows lightly to her as she leaves, then turns to jog over to Kimi, who suddenly looks like she wishes she could be anywhere but here. “Kimi-san,” he greets her. “Um… do you want to… talk, or something?”

 

“Um…” She looks down at the ground. Her hair is bright pink today. It’s rather pretty.

 

“Yes?” he prompts. Kimi stares at the ground as though wishing it would swallow her up.

 

“Would you… Do you want to go shopping with me?” she finally bites out.

 

“Ah?” Izuku’s face must look priceless. Shopping? With Kimi? What would that even entail? “Um, I mean, I wouldn’t mind, I guess, but I’m? I’m not sure I’d be much help?”

 

“You can carry the stuff I buy,” Kimi says, finally looking up. She’s meeting his gaze determinedly. “My mom asked me to get a lot of groceries, and I’m pretty sure I can’t carry it all.”

 

“Ah?” Izuku says again. “Um. I’m. Don’t you have, uh, other friends who could help you out? I mean someone other than me? No offense, Kimi-san, but this is kind of coming from nowhere.”

 

“I’m asking you to come with me,” Kimi declares, pointing at him. “And besides, aren't you supposed to be helping people? What kind of hero would you be if you didn’t help a poor girl out?”

 

Izuku pouts. “Alright, alright, I’ll go with you, Kimi-san. Just don’t call me a hero.”

 

“Good!” Kimi says. Her hair settles into a lighter, paler pink, almost as if to signify her relief. “And I’ll call you whatever I want!” she adds almost as an afterthought.

 

He rolls his eyes and falls into step beside her as they walk away from the park. She grows quiet, thoughtful, almost, and Izuku is all too happy to leave her alone with her thoughts.

 

They enter the shopping district not too long after that. Kimi pulls out a small note from her bag and inspects it. “Well, my mom asked me to get some vegetables, and meat, and some gardening supplies. And cheese, milk…”

 

“Sounds like we should get a move on if we want to finish before it gets dark,” Izuku comments, looking over her shoulder to read the list. “That’s a lot.”

 

Kimi sighs. “We should probably go to the supermarket first.” She looks up and notice Izuku peering at the list, and visibly jumps back. “Right, uh… let’s go.”

 

The process is surprisingly pleasant. Izuku isn’t too upset about giving up a Saturday afternoon at the library to accompany Kimi. It’s incredibly similar to shopping with his mom. Both of them are terrifyingly efficient, and extremely critical of the smallest differences in price and nutritional content.

 

“Which one, Izukkun?” Kimi asks, holding up two brands of yogurt.

 

Izuku wrinkles his nose. “Yogurt isn’t on the list, is it?”

 

“No, but I want yogurt,” Kimi says, lowering the goods to examine them herself. “And my mom lets me get some stuff for myself if I do the shopping for her.”

 

“Huh.” Izuku looks at the yogurt. They stand there for a comically long amount of time, examining the two brands seriously. Izuku dissolves into mumbling immediately, and Kimi isn’t even fazed. Around them, mothers smile fondly, some shaking their heads and saying, “What good kids.”

 

“I’ve had this one before,” Izuku finally points at the one in Kimi’s right hand. “And it’s pretty good. The nutritional content is pretty balanced, and besides, it’s the cheaper one.”

 

“Hmm,” Kimi says, tilting her head. “Okay.” She sets the other one back in the fridge. “Now help me decide between flavors.”

 

They spend another five minutes arguing vehemently about whether or not vanilla is a valid candidate for best flavor. (It is .)

 

With the groceries secured, they walk over to a hardware store. Kimi’s mother had included instructions to buy a new watering can, since their old one was getting faded. There’s an even wider variety here, and they take even longer than they did in the grocery.

 

“You know what, I don’t think Mom really cares what the watering can looks like, as long as it’s big enough and does its job,” Kimi finally says, after looking at what must be the fiftieth kind of watering can. Izuku’s about ready to throw in the towel as well. “Let’s just get this over with.”

 

In the end, Kimi picks out a nice, bright yellow watering can with white floral designs. It’s bulky, and Izuku has to carefully apportion the goods he’s carrying as he adds it to his load. At least Kimi’s carrying some of the groceries as well.

 

The sun is setting as they walk back to Kimi’s house. They run into several acquaintances along the way, mostly people whose cats Izuku has rescued, and they all smile fondly when they see him helping out another person. How typical of Izuku , they seem to say, and while Izuku can't say it isn't pleasant to have that kind of reputation, they’re getting uncomfortably close to comparing him to actual heroes.

 

Surprisingly, Kimi starts to talk as they walk. It starts off small, asking about Emi and then eventually hearing about all the different cats he’s rescued, and soon she starts offering stories of her own. She doesn’t talk much about school, but Izuku doesn’t mind, because they’re both politely pretending that she didn’t use to call him names when they were younger. The air between them is already weird enough.

 

“And Ai-chan keeps saying that I should try turning my hair two different colors, but I think it’d look ridiculous, don’t you, Izukkun?” she asks, twisting a pale pink lock of hair between her slim fingers.

 

“Hmm,” Izuku says, pondering it. “You mean like, if the right side of your hair was a different color from your left? Like half-and-half?”

 

“Yeah,” says Kimi, nodding seriously. “Like if one side was black, and the other side was white, split clean in the middle. Can you even imagine it?”

 

Izuku tries.

 

It’s all he can do to keep from laughing. He does, anyway.

 

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” he says, struggling not to drop all the stuff he’s carrying. Kimi looks at him with an offended glint in her eyes, but she looks amused, too. “What if you made one side red, then the other side green? Then you could stand at an intersection and take the place of the traffic lights. Red,” he turns his head one way - “then bam! Green!” - he sharply swerves the other way.

 

Kimi starts laughing. “Where would I even stand? I’ll get hit if I’m on the street!”

 

“Maybe we should build a special platform, and you can stand on it,” Izuku suggests in a serious tone. “You’d be the Traffic Hero; Stoplight!”

 

Kimi throws her head back, laughing. “Izukkun, you’re ridiculous!” she exclaims. “Well, if I’m the Traffic Hero, then you should be the Cat Hero; your name would be Izunyan!”

 

Izuku wrinkles his nose. “I take it back, Kimi-san. You shouldn't be a hero,” he says. “Heroes wouldn’t come up with names like Izunyan.”

 

Kimi giggles. “Ah, wait,” she says suddenly, looking up. “This is my house.”

 

Izuku looks at the fairly large structure. “Wow. It’s pretty big, Kimi-san.”

 

“Mm, I guess,” Kimi says noncommittally. She walks forward to the door and opens it. They step into a quiet, dimly lit hallway and carefully remove their shoes before going to the kitchen to deposit the groceries.

 

Izuku puts the watering can down by the counter. “Thank you,” Kimi says. She finishes putting the rest of the groceries away in cupboards as Izuku sits down and watches her. “Mom isn’t home yet, but would you like to stay for dinner? It’s the least I can do, after you went shopping with me today.”

 

“That sounds nice, but I think I should be getting home, actually,” Izuku says. “Mom might be getting worried by now.”

 

Kimi nods and accompanies him back outside. He stops at the gate one last time to turn and bow slightly. “Thank you for inviting me today, Kimi-san. I had a lot of fun,” he says honestly.

 

Kimi smiles, and it’s a small but sincere smile. “Thank you for coming with me, Izukkun. I had a lot of fun as well.” She hesitates, as if considering her next words.

 

“Um,” she starts, uncertain. “I never really got to thank you properly after you saved me that time. And to apologize for getting you injured, when I was being careless.”

 

“There’s no need - ” Izuku begins, but she cuts him off.

 

“I also want to apologize for the way I’ve treated you in the past,” she says firmly. There’s guilt in her voice, but her tone is resolute. “And I also want to apologize for my behavior, in general. I haven’t exactly been the nicest person to you, or to the other people in class.”

 

She’s not wrong, so Izuku doesn’t bother to contradict her. Instead, he simply says, “Okay. I forgive you.”

 

“Why?” she asks. Her face is confused, but somewhat… hopeful?

 

“Why?” Izuku repeats, confused. “Um, what do you mean? Of course I forgive you, you weren't really - ”

 

“No, why did you save me, that time?” she asks. “If you were just the least bit unlucky, you could have died. Or we both could have died. You didn’t have an obligation to save me. In fact, I was horrible to you. So, why?”

 

Izuku stares at her for a moment. Then he shakes his head and laughs incredulously.

 

“Kimi-san, I don’t know what kind of person you take me for, but what person would see a girl in danger and not try to help?” he says. Bitterly, and privately, he thinks he might know the answer to that question. But he keeps silent on that.

 

“A lot of people,” she says quietly. “You were the only one who helped me that day. I remember that very well.”

 

She sounds like Yashiro, Izuku thinks. He shakes his head again. “What I did was nothing special, Kimi-san. I just wanted to help. You don’t have to thank me or do anything. I was already glad that you’re alright, and that's more than enough for me.”

 

He must have said something wrong, because Kimi’s eyes fill with tears. In a second, she’s got her arms wrapped around him, and it reminds him of the incident, of the way her thin limbs had wrapped themselves so strongly around him. “You're such an idiot, Izukkun,” she says shakily. “But then again, you help people all the time, so you must not realize.” She pulls back just enough to give him a smile.

 

“You saved my life . How could I not be thankful? How can you think for a single second that I wouldn’t admire you?” She pauses and looks down. “You know, I heard from Yashiro-kun that you dislike being called a hero. But even so, I called you that on purpose today. And for good reason.”

 

Kimi looks up and fiercely meets his eyes. “You’re not a pro hero, but you’re still a hero, Izukkun. You’re amazing, and kind, and I know that everyone will see that. I’m glad I see it now. It would’ve been pretty awful if I never got to see that side of you, you know?” She embraces him again. “So stop selling yourself short. It would be embarrassing for me to admire someone who’s lame, so stop trying to downplay what you do, okay? You’re amazing . Don't ever forget that.”

 

Izuku is silent.

 

Then he wordlessly buries his face in Kimi’s neck and allows her to hug him tighter. She seems to understand, and stays still, saying nothing about the sudden dampness she feels on her shoulder.

 

A few minutes pass and Izuku gently leans back. Kimi does so as well, and quietly watches the boy compose himself. He raises his head, and he’s smiling.

 

“Thank you for today, Kimi-san,” he says. “I hope we can hang out some time again.”

 

“We definitely will,” she says firmly. “Bye for now, Izukkun.”

 

As he starts walking away, he hears Kimi call, “Izukkun! Wait! Look at me!”

 

He turns around. Kimi is grinning hugely, carding her fingers through her long, long, hair.

 

The strands are deep green, just like his own.

 

“Does it suit me?” she asks jokingly. Izuku laughs.

 

“Yes,” he says sincerely, smiling. “Yes it does.”

 

“It’s green,” she says, and asks, “You know what it means when traffic lights are green, right?”

 

She widens her stance and spreads her arms, pumping her hands like a cheerleader. “ Go , Izukkun!”

 

Through their laughter, Izuku banishes the last vestiges of dampness on his eyelids.

 

-

 

Izuku and Katsuki fight.

 

It’s not a petty argument either, the kind where they get drawn into long conversations about the merits of chocolate ice cream compared to vanilla, or the almost imperceptible difference in their heights (it’s kind of hard to tell when both boys have hairstyles that add at least two centimeters to their normal heights).

 

No, it’s a real, honest-to-goodness fight, one that has them screaming and spitting and coming close to tears, and Izuku yells and yells but does not take anything back. “It’s not about you being weak , Kacchan! It’s not about you being powerless! It’s seeing a friend fall and helping them up, is that a crime? I thought you were hurt! What kind of friend would I be if I left you alone?”

 

Katsuki gives as good as he gets and grits his teeth. “Shut up! ” he yells. “I don’t need your help! I don’t need your pity! I don’t need to be rescued by some useless, quirkless loser!

 

Ah.

 

That stings.

 

Belatedly, Izuku wonders why. That has never hurt before.

 

“You listen to me!” Katsuki roars, thrusting his finger into Izuku’s chest and ignoring the sudden silence of his friend. “I don’t need your help. I will never need your help. I don’t need someone like you ,” he spits, with all the fury and self-righteousness of a worked-up twelve-year-old, “someone who doesn’t even really care !”

 

Izuku hates the tear the slips through, but he lets it trace its poisonous path down his cheek. He can’t even pretend that that hadn’t hurt, because it had - Izuku, who spends his time rescuing every cat in a tree, driving off every bully, and taking every single vicious word Katsuki could throw at him, because nobody else could or would - Izuku, who does nothing but care .

 

And what does the world do but take away all that he cares for?

 

“You’re right,” he says quietly. “I don’t care. I don’t care what you want, and I don’t care what you need. I don’t care that you don’t need help, because you’re going to be a hero. I don’t even care about being a hero, and you know that .”

 

He looks up and looks his childhood friend in the eye. “I don’t care, Kacchan.”

 

He takes one step forward, and Katsuki takes one step back. “And if you’re really set on not needing me, then I shouldn’t need you either. Leave those guys alone. Don't ever try to protect me again. It’s not your business what they do or say to me,” Izuku says fiercely. “ I don’t need you saving my neck either.”

 

I’ve never needed you , Izuku doesn’t say, because he isn’t sure it’s true.

 

Katsuki takes one step forward, but Izuku doesn’t move. He sighs, and looks down. “You really need to understand this. And someday, I hope you do. Sometimes you need to be saved, Kacchan, even if you don’t want to. Sometimes you can't save everyone,” he says. “And sometimes you can’t even save yourself.”

 

Katsuki opens his mouth to say something, but Izuku’s tired. “Leave me alone, Kacchan,” he says simply, and walks away without looking back.

 

-

 

Two weeks later, the Bakugous adopt a kitten.

 

Not once does it climb a tree.

 

-

 

Losing Kacchan is painful, but life does not stop for Midoriya Izuku. It never has. He supposes it's his own fault for even trying to help him (never mind that he'd fallen from a bridge, had stopped Izuku's heartbeat for a solid second and had landed inches away from a jagged rock.) After all, Kacchan had told him long ago what he would do to people who tried to help him.

 

To the credit of the universe, it seems more than happy to distract him, throwing all that it possibly could at him.

 

He stops a supply closet from falling over an elderly janitor.

 

He catches a younger boy as he falls from the tree he’s climbing.

 

He is the only one who rushes to the fire extinguisher when Kacchan accidentally gets too rowdy in the middle of science class.

 

The last one was awkward for everyone, especially when Kacchan promptly tried to wring Izuku's neck for even coming near him. ( I wasn't helping you, I wasn't helping you , Izuku repeats over and over in his head.)

 

Each time, the people involved thank him (in Kacchan’s case, he screams at Izuku for the first time since their fight until the teacher approaches and tells him to calm down) and tell him he’s just like a hero.

 

“What a heroic young man you are.”

 

“Onii-san… you’re just like a hero!”

 

“Damnit, Deku! Where the hell do you get off playing hero again?!”

 

Again, one of these things is not like the others.

 

Each time, however, he feels the same insistent tugging at his gut.

 

Izuku is a smart kid. He’s not one to believe too much in coincidences. It’s not coincidence that before he's even close enough to hear the forlorn meowing of a cat stuck in a tree (in his twelve years of existence, he’s racked up three hundred and forty-one cat rescues), he's struck by a sudden discomfort in his stomach. It’s too much to believe that he was simply getting a stomach ache every time he happened to pass by the playground when Takeshi or some other bully was frequenting it. It’s no mistake that when the car had been about to hit Kimi, or when the closet was about to slam into the old man’s head, or when the child came falling out of the tree he just so happened to be walking by, his gut had turned and twisted and demanded for him to do something.

 

It’s more than instinct. It’s almost like a power.

 

It’s almost like a quirk .

 

“Mom?” he asks quietly, over dinner. He’ll be entering junior high soon, and he feels he can’t tolerate three more years of being drawn into ridiculous situations where he’s forced to - to play the hero .

 

“Yes, honey?” Inko replies. He stays quiet for a little while, frowning thoughtfully, before blurting - “Can we get my foot x-rayed?”

 

Her chopsticks clatter to the table. “Oh - oh my. Izuku, sorry, it's - it was so sudden , and what brought this on, all of a sudden?” she stutters frantically. “You never wanted to get an x-ray before.”

 

Izuku grips his own chopsticks tightly and stares at his bowl of rice. “I know I said before that I don't care,” he starts carefully. “And I know there haven't been any signs of my quirk manifesting, if I even have one.” Not true. My stomach begs to differ .

 

“But I… I guess I just want to put the matter to rest, once and for all. I'll get x-rayed, they'll find the extra toe joint, and we can all just… forget this whole thing.”

 

Inko looks at her son, contemplative. She looks a little sad, too. She feels sad - this issue must be tearing her son up inside, no matter how much he pretends to be unaffected.

 

“I understand, sweetie,” she says gently, and she's buoyed by the sheer gratitude that floods Izuku's face. “I'll ask around for where we can get an x-ray, and then we can all move past this, like you said.” She smiles. “It makes no difference to either of us, does it?”

 

“Yes,” Izuku agrees firmly. “Quirk or no, it shouldn't matter.”

 

-

 

Dr. Tsubasa is a friendly old man with a comforting aura. His grandson is in the same class as Izuku, even though they've never really talked.

 

He's also useless.

 

“But I don't understand,” Inko says blankly. “I… there have been no signs. No hints. Nothing .”

 

“The x-ray does not lie, Mrs. Midoriya,” the doctor says kindly but firmly. He taps the x-ray again. “He's missing the extra toe joint. The probability that he does indeed have a quirk is incredibly high.”

 

“But how can I?” Izuku asks desperately. Please , he wants to say. Please explain it away. Please tell me I can't have a quirk. Please tell me I don't have a quirk .

 

“There's two possibilities,” Dr. Tsubasa explains. “One, you may have developed your quirk, but its symptoms and/or effects are too specific or unobtrusive for you to notice. Cases like someone having a balancing quirk - because of it, they never fall or trip by accident - in those situations the effect is too common to actually perceive.”

 

“And the second?” Inko prompts.

 

“The second is that you're a late bloomer,” says Dr. Tsubasa. “In which case there are two possibilities yet again. The first is that you are simply a late bloomer - time is the only element you require. If I recall correctly, the oldest anyone's been when they manifested their quirk for the first time is thirteen. So, you have still some time, if that's the case.”

 

“The second possibility is that your quirk is triggered by extremely specific circumstances,” he continues. “There are cases where people's quirks were triggered by stressful situations, such as life-or-death incidents, and probably wouldn't have discovered their quirk otherwise.”

 

There's a third possibility, and it's the real one , Izuku thinks miserably. I have a quirk and I know what it is, I just won't tell anyone about it or even acknowledge it because I don't want a quirk.

 

Out loud, he says, “What are the chances that I really don't have a quirk?” Izuku asks. Dr. Tsubasa raises an eyebrow at his hopeful tone, so he dials it down. “Considering that I'm missing the pinky joint.”

 

“Practically zero,” the doctor says definitively. “You being a late bloomer or having an unobtrusive quirk is much more likely.”

 

Those words are the final nail in the coffin.

 

Izuku covers his face with his hands and leans over, trying his damnedest not to cry. His mother rubs his back soothingly, while the doctor makes a sound of consolation.

 

“It's okay, Izuku,” Inko says gently. “Whether your quirk comes or not, you don't need it. You've always been a wonderful boy, and nothing could change that.”

 

“Precisely,” Dr. Tsubasa says encouragingly. “I've heard so many good things about you, Izuku-kun. The way you helped so many people is amazing. Having a quirk or not is irrelevant. It doesn't change the fact that you're a good person.”

 

No, Izuku wants to scream. You don't understand. You don't understand at all. I'm not crying because I don't have a quirk, I'm crying because I do have one. And it's the worst quirk I could ever have gotten.

 

It's basically forcing me to be a hero.

 

Dr. Tsubasa clears his throat and suggests that perhaps all this information is a little too much to absorb all at once. He gives them his number and tells them to call him if any symptoms start showing up. Inko nods and does the talking for her listless son, which is a small mercy. The ride home is silent.

 

Later that night, Izuku lies on his bed and stares at the ceiling. He rethinks every moment in his life.

 

Three hundred and forty-one cat rescues.

 

Ninety-three times he's driven off either Takeshi, Kyosuke, Riku, or some other bully.

 

Twenty times he's saved people from falling objects, including the time he pushes a woman away from a falling girder as he passed by a construction site.

 

Three times he's caught people as they were falling, or broken their fall. (One was a suicide attempt. He will never, in his life, regret that instance.)

 

Kimi.

 

He curls in on himself, trying to breathe silently through his tears. How much of those had been him ? Had been his own genuine desire to simply do a good deed?

 

How many of those had simply been a consequence of his quirk?

 

He thinks, for the first time in a long while, about his late father. The man he swore he would never emulate, the man he swore to forget. He promptly abandons the thought, still too painful for him to face. His mind immediately veers towards Grandpa, but that wound still festers, unhealed.

 

He curses softly and pulls a pillow in, embracing it tightly.

 

Was he doomed to be a hero from the start?

 

Was it his fate?

 

There has never and will never be a more reluctant hero than me , Izuku thinks spitefully, as he screws his eyes shut and prays for sleep to take him away from his turbulent thoughts.