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Phoenix

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"Without power, I am afraid you can never become a hero."

Midoriya Izuku didn't usually swear, but as it had been an exceptionally bad day, he figured he could take a leaf out of Kacchan's book just this one: what a really shitty fucking day.

Wait, did I order that right? Should it be "fucking" before "shitty"?

…He put swearing on the shelf for some other time.

But really – every foul word that Katsuki Bakugou knew probably wouldn't have sufficed to say just how terrible Izuku felt just then. He'd met his hero – All Might! – and promptly been told something he'd known all his life, something he'd been denying with all the vehemence his scrawny fourteen-year-old self could muster.

At no point in his life had he ever manifested any sort of supernatural ability – a Quirk, as they were called, things possessed by eighty percent of the population. Despite his parents being in that eighty percent, Izuku fell squarely in the other twenty.

Sure, some (hell, most) Quirks were either useless or not particularly effective; he'd gone to primary school with a boy whose Quirk allowed him to magnetize ants, and no matter how hard little Izuku had tried, he absolutely could not find a use for that Quirk. Others were very simple: his mother possessed a weak form of telekinesis that she could exercise on objects with a mass of less than five kilograms, while his father's Quirk was exactly as the name implied – fire breath.

Neither of them were likely to make him a hero, but at least he wouldn't have been Quirkless. He'd have actually fit in if he had a Quirk, no matter if it was flashy or strong…

Meanwhile, his childhood friend (and, though Izuku wouldn't have admitted it at the time, current bully) had a flashy and strong Quirk that allowed him to create explosions. When they'd been four, Izuku had thought that was the most awesome thing in the world, but shortly thereafter, Bakugou had…changed, morphed into something he hadn't been before, and quite suddenly they were no longer friends.

Izuku never told his mother about the bullying. Midoriya Inko and Bakugou Mitsuki remained under the impression that their children were just as good friends as they had been at the boys' ages.

He was quiet at dinner that evening.

"Izuku, sweetie, is something wrong?" his mother pressed, gently, kindly.

A hot prickle of shame shot up his spine as he glanced up at her. He'd never paid it much mind as a child, but the older he got, the more he couldn't help feeling like he'd hurt his mother by not having a Quirk; she'd gotten much plumper since he was small, and he had the distinct idea that her weight gain had been precipitated by the stress of feeling like she'd failed as a parent when it turned out her only child was Quirkless.

His fault, again.

"Nothing's wrong, mom. I'm alright," he lied through his teeth.

"You're normally excited about some cool new Quirk you saw on the street – "

"I'm fine, mom, really," he cut in, sharper than he'd intended, and immediately Izuku's face flushed red as fire. "I'm – I'm gonna use the bathroom. I'll be right back."

Abruptly, he rose from the table, scraping his chair on the tile floor, and evacuated the dining room, leaving his confused mother to eat by herself.


"Lost him, huh?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry," Toshinori Yagi grunted to Tsukauchi Naomasa.

"It's no big deal. Scum like that always turn up again sooner or later. We'll find him again," the detective shrugged, and Toshinori gave a humorless chuckle.

"You're awfully nonchalant about this whole business."

"It's that or be pissed about a kid whose dreams you crushed," Tsukauchi shot back, teasing, but to his surprise, Toshinori trained his hollow gaze on the tiled floor of the police station.

"…Yeah. He's Quirkless. No matter how strong his drive is…he's gotta have a Quirk to do anything with heroics."

"Hey, ya never know. There's a kid preregistered for Yuuei's entrance exam whose Quirk literally just makes his hair sticky, and he's at least gonna give it a shot. Who's to say someone with even more drive but no Quirk can't at least try? Besides…look at yourself, Toshi."

The skeleton of a man hunched over a desk chair nodded, tiredly, as if he'd heard this before. "I know, I know. Tell me, Nao…I did something shitty, huh?"

Tsukauchi tapped a finger on his chin, thinking hard. After a moment, he handed Toshinori a mug of coffee, which the other begrudgingly accepted. "I think you should have taken a look in the mirror first."

"Me too. Nana-san took me in when I was just a Quirkless kid with a dream. But I mean…there's Togata. Nezu suggested that he become the ninth holder – "

"I understand feeling obligated to Togata," Tsukauchi cut across him. "But he doesn't know anything about this yet. Nezu also said that you were free to make your own selection. You're All Might, remember? I think, out of anyone and everyone, you're the one who should have the last word here. Hell, you kinda have to have the last word." The detective took a long sip of his own coffee, swilling it a moment before swallowing, then quirked an eyebrow at the number one hero, whose gaunt form was far too small for the suit he wore. "Think about it this way. Finding someone who's that driven but Quirkless, just like you…you could change a life. Togata's already found a way to make his Quirk into something fit for a hero, and he'll have his dream either way. This kid…he'll probably end up staring at heroes' backs for the rest of his damn life, always wishing for more than what he was given."

A pause. Toshinori took a drink of his own coffee.

"In the end, it's up to you," his friend shrugged, at length. "I've gotta go fill out the database report on this Sludge Quirk. You gonna be alright by yourself for a little while?"

"Yeah. I'll be fine."

Toshinori didn't elaborate, and Tsukauchi turned to leave, but just before he crossed the threshold of the room, the gaunt man's voice stopped him.

"…Thanks, Nao."

"Anything for a friend."


Izuku winced as he splashed cold water over a face rubbed raw from crying.

He'd been stupid to think All Might would have told him anything else.

When he got back to the dinner table, his mother gave him a long, silent look that said quite a bit more than the words that failed her just then ever could have.

The next morning was uneventful. Inko hugged him extra-tight before he left for school that day, but Izuku couldn't quite meet her eyes; by the time he was on his way back home, his mood still hadn't improved. He'd been completely helpless against a real villain yesterday – had been someone in need of saving – and now he was, yet again, completely helpless against Bakugou's bullying.

Useless. Worthless. Quirkless.

The words hung around his head like a black cloud as he fished Hero Notes for the Future, Volume 13 out of the koi pond and trudged home, crossing a footbridge that crossed the busy Shizuoka street –

Boom.

Out of habit, Izuku raised his head, then lowered it again.

I know, said a little voice in the back of his mind. You wanna go see, you wanna go take notes. What good is that gonna do you?

I could join the police force, like All Might said, he offered halfheartedly, but the voice laughed, cruel and humorless.

Sure, sure. You're too weak to be a cop and you know it.

Another blast, closer this time. Whatever was happening, his path led him right towards it, so, resigning himself to his fate, Izuku hiked up his bright-yellow backpack (such a contrast from his mood!) and marched on, letting his feet carry him home…if "home" was the sight of the same villain that had attacked him the previous day surrounded by burning garbage and a horrified crowd of onlookers, who'd been cordoned off by the police as several pro heroes stood by, seemingly unable to do anything.

Then he caught sight of Bakugou Katsuki and all the doubt in his mind flew out of the window.

"Kacchan!"

Wrapped in the villain's slimy clutches, Bakugou was too far away for Izuku to make out his reaction – if he'd even had one – but it was more than obvious that the blonde was fighting as hard as he could; here and there, portions of the sludge's body would pop and burst as Bakugou forced explosions through the slime, but it wasn't having any noticeable effect –

Wait a minute. All Might captured him…how on earth…?

Then it hit him. He'd dislodged something when he'd grabbed All Might's leg – it must have been the villain, there's no other way he'd have gotten away…this is my fault.

This is your fault.

Izuku fought off the thoughts and struggled his way to the front of the assembled crowd, chest against the police line. The villain was barely fifteen meters from the crowd, anchored to the pavement of a side street with its eyes bulging and its massive, ugly teeth gnashing.

"Deku…stay back, you shitty nerd!" Bakugou half-screamed through clenched teeth, but in the moment he'd diverted his attention to Izuku, a fold of sludge clamped down over his nostrils and mouth, and Izuku knew that it was only a matter of seconds before his – friend? enemy? – would lose consciousness and it would all be over for him.

Everything Kacchan's hoped for…his dreams will die before they ever come true! And it's my fault that he's in this situation to begin with…!

Izuku screamed and was five meters over the yellow tape before anyone even knew he'd taken off running.

He could see the shock in Bakugou's eyes, the confusion, the fear, and as smoothly as if he'd planned to do it all along, he shrugged off his backpack, spinning on the spot to use the bag like a sling and hurl a barrage of notebooks and binders into the villain's face. A few struck him – it – in its bulbous, grapefruit-sized eyeballs, and it recoiled in pain, releasing Bakugou's mouth and nose; the next second, however, a sludgy arm shot out from the mass of human sewage before him, and Izuku barely dodged it before taking a second arm in the small of his back that threw him to the asphalt underfoot. He rolled, trying to stagger to his feet, but –

Crunch.

A tendril of slime, thick as a tree trunk and just as hard, slammed into his chest, and Izuku felt his ribs break. Weakly, he raised an arm to defend himself, but it was pointless; the bones in his forearm snapped like twigs and he screamed in pain, blood bubbling at the back of his throat.

This is it. This is the end. You tried to be a hero and you just couldn't.

Another slam, into his pelvis this time. He felt it fracture, but the pain just melted into the agony he was already in.

Midoriya Izuku. Weak, Quirkless.

A third slam. Thick, blackish blood spouted skyward from between his lips as he wheezed out the last air in his lungs, that last gasp before silence.

Dead.

The fourth slam crushed his skull and stained the pavement with gore.

In the few seconds that Midoriya Izuku was dead, police crowded forward, seeking to block the grisly scene from view, and the heroes assembled shook their heads sadly; they'd seen such things many times before, and this was no different. Izuku would become just another statistic, just another casualty, the Quirkless cadaver of a Quirkless kid – until his ravaged body burst into flames and five seconds later erupted in a column of red-gold fire that shot into the sky, radiant light pouring from the ashes –

Izuku's consciousness returned to the living world in a surge of heat, embers glowing beneath his skin, and his body (now entirely out of his control) took a single, powerful step forward; a ring of molten fire blazed forth from where his foot touched the ground, and his palm shot out, making the barest contact with the outer surface of the slime.

Instantly, the villain screamed, writhing in agony; trapped in its clutches, the terrified Bakugou struggled, but Izuku plunged his other hand into the sludge and it shriveled, dried, burned, freeing the blonde as the villain – the villain, the villain, as if he were nothing else, never human, never conscious, just a nameless, formless something that could only hurt and be destroyed, a catalyst for whatever power had suddenly awakened in Quirkless Izuku – as it, as he, let out an unholy rattle, what breath he could breathe escaping in strangled gasps through his sludge-skin just as the flames surrounding Izuku withered and died.

At five forty-two PM on June 8th, Midoriya Izuku was killed by and subsequently killed a villain before collapsing in a smouldering heap on the pavement.

Overhead, the rain rolled in.


"So, lemme get this straight. A Quirkless kid gets the shit beaten out of him, then explodes in fire and kills a villain that's been giving us hell for a year and a half now."

"That's the gist of it, yeah."

Tsukauchi had been hearing such things through the grapevine for several hours, but when he finally checked out the case file and caught a glimpse of the supposedly Quirkless kid, he bit his lip and dialed Toshinori's number.

"Yo, Yagi-san," he quipped, the honorific ironic, trying to mask the strange anxiety in the pit of his stomach – why was he feeling this way? "You see the news?"

"I've seen nothing else," came the voice of Toshinori Yagi from the cell, grave as could be. "That's him, no two ways about it."

"Still thinking about the transfer?" In public as he was, he couldn't exactly say are you still thinking about giving your Quirk to this kid?, but Toshinori was no fool, and he immediately understood what his friend meant.

"No," came the reply, and Tsukauchi was surprised until the other man went on: "I've decided I'm going to do it."

The surprise twisted into a knot of dread. He couldn't pick out a logical reason for this, but it was there, and it was tangible. Something was telling him – giving this kid One For All could be simultaneously the best and worst decision of all time.

Still, he wasn't able to explain his feelings, and so he ceded to Toshinori's will, nodding into the phone even though the other couldn't see him.

"Alright. You gonna contact him directly?"

"Yeah. I'll get in touch tomorrow, probably. He's in the hospital right now."

"…Gotcha."

Beep.

Briefly, Tsukauchi reflected on just how disappointing hanging up on a touch-screen cell phone was – because, as it stood, he'd simply been left staring at the screen, all his doubts and worries bubbling to the surface like the sludge villain's last gasp.

Perhaps he'd invest in a flip phone. At least then he could shut them away with the call.


Izuku awoke at four in the afternoon the next day to the sight of a complete stranger seated at his bedside.

"Ah. You're awake, young Midoriya."

He blinked and reevaluated his assessment. The man at his side wasn't a complete stranger – but he certainly would seem it to anyone passing by. As far as Izuku was aware, only a few people knew of All Might's true form, and he was one of them.

"W…what are you doin' here?" he slurred out, still a little out of it; maybe it was the medication? "I…I thought…"

"You thought I'd no further interest in you?" All Might finished for him, and Izuku gave a bleary nod. "Well…I've been doing a lot of thinking, and despite thinking yourself Quirkless, you were willing to go as far as to sacrifice yourself to save that other boy. And that…that is true heroism, my boy."

Izuku blinked.

"I understand you might be baffled by the sudden manifestation of a Quirk…but as far as any of us are aware – " he didn't specify the us, and Izuku noted this for later " – it's just a Quirk that can repair lethal damage to your body, with a brief powerup afterward. Still not something you can become a hero with, considering the requirements for its use…but your actions are what I've been thinking on, not your Quirk. Think of it as a backup plan."

Still unsure where this was going, the boy in the bed could only nod again, and his heart leapt when All Might – All Might! – bowed his head and clenched one fist, holding it out at the level of his chest.

"Young Midoriya…how would you feel about becoming my successor?"

The heart monitor nearly exploded.