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Virtuoso

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“You should give it up.”

Five words that had shattered the confidence and dreams of the boy known as Izuku Midoriya forever. He didn't hear his mother's desperate words and the doctor's sober, clinical responses. The five words had struck his mind and skin like blades, his attention and hope bleeding from the gashes. They left him stunned like electricity, with nothing to think of but the pain. He should give it up. He was never going to be a hero. Not without a quirk.

“Typically, a second joint on the pinky toe determines if a person will develop a quirk. Unfortunately, Izuku does possess this joint.” The doctor sighed, with the false sadness only an uninterested medical professional could manage. “I'm sorry, but it just doesn't seem possible outside of a miracle.”

“I... I see.” Inko Midoriya said, with a sigh. She glanced to Midoriya, who remained distant. She placed a hand on his shoulder, and he jumped. Inko offered a sad smile. “It's okay, Izuku.”

“Everything will be alright.”

- - -

Izuku Midoriya sat in front of a computer screen, replaying the video of his idol, All Might, pulling people from a crash. The words in the video had become so ingrained in his memory he could recite the whole thing, start to finish, alongside what happened in every second. The man yelling, the triumphant boom of All Might's laughter, and the resonant words of "I am here!" that brought hope to good and terror to evil. He heard the door open to his room, and didn't even recognize that he had begun to cry as tears welled in his eyes and threatened to burst forth in a tidal wave.

“Izuku?” His mother asked.

“Mom... he's such a cool hero...” Izuku slowly turned, and pointed towards the monitor, finger shaking. “Can I... be a hero too?”

Inko broke down at that, and rushed the chair to embrace her son. Tears fell alongside her voice. “I'm sorry, Izuku! I'm sorry. I'm sorry...” The words poured out of Inko like a tide. She didn't know what to say, other than an apology. Or perhaps, she simply didn't understand it was the wrong thing to say. In that moment, Izuku Midoriya bid a tearful farewell to his dreams. All he wanted to do was make people smile. He just wanted to be remembered, and to be looked up to as a hero. Tears poured down his cheeks as he kept a false smile, something he couldn't wipe away, a memory of an ambition that was dead.

There is something powerful about the words of a mother, something that commands knowledge and respect. When one is so young, the words of your elder are something to be heeded, regardless of what you think. Young Midoriya had not broken from the clutches of unconditional trust in his mother, and her words sealed his fate with the certainty of nightfall.

His heart and soul had been ripped away in the span of a day. The dreams of Izuku Midoriya crumbled into dust that swirled into the void, and ceased to be without merely a sound.

But in its absence, other voices, once shackled within his mind, whispered.

- - -

The years afterwards saw a dramatic shift in Izuku. He no longer dreamed of being a hero, but even lacking said hope, he still approached life with unusual grace. Where once he felt joy in protecting others and seeing people smile, Izuku became absorbed in his own universe. Artistry and the human body fascinated him. His intrigue was so deep that it got the young man in trouble for peeping on girls and boys alike in the minutes after physical education had concluded. He could frequently be found drawing in his notebook, abstract pieces of humans in poses that defied bone structure, but were nonetheless enchanting. Where other boys and girls drew stick figure heroes and villains in combat, Izuku detailed poses of men drifting in an astral sea, and women eating apples from the tree of life.

The new approach to life was intriguing to his mother, who had never stopped to consider what Izuku would do without his previous ambition. Heroics seemed to define him from an early age, from his personality to the decorations in his room. She never thought of what Midoriya without being a hero would be. But she found delight in his love for the beautiful, and encouraged it whenever she could, buying him various notebooks and professional pens.

His patrician adoration of music was another change that brought joy to Inko, as his interests shifted from popular music to the more abstract and underground. Orchestral psychedelia ambient drones, and dark operatic tones surrounded by the slow thrumming of artificial violins emanated from his room. He would use this music to drift in his own thoughts, his ideas and mind alien to all but his mother. Even then, she barely understood.

He remained a model student, of course. From elementary to junior high school, Izuku obtained some of the highest marks in his class. He would be pestered frequently about help on homework, or leading study sessions; such tasks he took to with a cold and detached enjoyment. All signs pointed to young Izuku becoming a professional artist, especially as he gained fame and requests for commission-- the prices of which reaching into the triple digits.

The voices he heard in his youth had never stopped, however.

They demanded payment for the inspiration they had given him, for all the beauty he had the ability to bring.

One day, he did pay. With interest.

- - -

“... And I believe Izuku is also considering applying for UA, correct?” His teacher droned, looking at Izuku with a smile. Midoriya returned the gesture in kind.

“Of course.” His voice was as serene as a soft summer breeze in a forest, disturbing nothing and holding a distant warmth. “I am planning on attending for the general education course.”

“Well, I'm sure you will find great success there, Mr. Midoriya.” She nodded once, and returned to grilling every single student about their plans for the future. Izuku was about to return to drawing, when a hand pressed against his table. He didn't need to look up to know it was Katsuki Bakugo; his blonde hair framing red eyes that burned constantly. He was staring down at Midoriya with cold judgment, studying like a hawk studies the field mouse.

“What is it, Kacchan.” He asked with resignation, knowing that he was about to get an earful of some vitriol. To his surprise, the next words that came from Katsuki were calm, though carrying something like a growl.

“What are you doing, Deku.” The nickname of 'useless' barely stung Izuku now, not like it had. It was still unpleasant, of course, though it lacked the same venom as before.

“I'm confused as to what you mean.” Izuku flipped another page in his book, but it was snatched from his hands by Katsuki. Izuku flared with anger for the briefest of moments, before looking up at Bakugo with hunched shoulders and worry in his eyes.

“You know people only go to UA if they want to be a hero, you piece of shit. Still holding on to your dream? Want to slip into the hero course without putting in the work?” Katsuki leveled the accusations upon him, as he flipped a page in the notebook to a drawing of a viper eating a mouse. The detail was immaculate, and it pissed him off. Izuku sunk deeper into his chair.

“Kacchan, I... I really just want to go to prepare for college, alright?” Midoriya looked away, and towards the ground. “UA is a good school in general, not just for heroics.” Bakugo sneered.

“Yeah. Right. You expect me to believe that you've just given up on being a hero? Just like some bastard who wants to be a salaryman?” He considered burning the notebook for a moment, but grunted. He tossed it back down at Izuku's desk and buried his hands in his pockets, tromping back to his desk. “If that's true, you're more useless than I thought.”

Izuku didn't have a comeback for that. It had been the closest thing to motivation he had gotten in the last ten years, but still. Izuku Midoriya didn't have a quirk. He would never be a hero.

As Izuku walked home that day, he ran several thoughts through his head. The idea of becoming a hero had seemed lost to him. He gave it up, so long ago it felt like an eternity. Yet still, it rung in his thoughts. The hopes he had long since thought lost to darkness burned softly, like embers that had just felt the kiss of heat. He considered changing his declared course. There was nothing wrong in trying, right? He stepped into a long tunnel, the darkness and trash concealing much of the environment. Sure, he could try. But what if he failed? Could he still apply for general education? He didn't know.

Those thoughts slipped away when cold steel settled against the base of his spine. A small circle of pressure pushed against his backbone. Izuku became inhumanly still, a gravelly voice rumbling, too deep and distorted to be identified.

“Alright, kid. You seem smart, so do what I say. Empty your pockets.” He said, applying pressure. Midoriya's eyes dashed from left to right, up and down, searching for an escape path. Something. Anything. Finding little success, he slowly begun to reach into his pants, and he spoke.

“I r-really d-don't think y-you should do this.” Izuku stuttered as he began, pulling out his cellphone and dropping it with a clatter of plastic on stone. “I d-don't have m-much money, a-and we're in sort of a p-public space. I won't tell the c-cops if you l-l-let me go.”

“Aint happenin', kid.” He pushed the gun more. “Back left pocket.”

Izuku complied, pulling out his wallet, which was snatched by the mugger. There was a sound of fabric on fabric as the man looked at the contents. He chuffed out a breath.

“Izuku Midoriya... Aldera Junior High.” He chuckled. “Heh. My alma mater. Small world. Be a dear for your senpai an--”

The moment the mugger was too absorbed in gloating to notice, Izuku twisted his body to the left, grabbed the gun, gripped the muzzle, and pushed it to the right. It went off as the mugger realized what was happening, a bare moment too late to do more than graze Midoriya's pants. Izuku kept a handle on the gun, yelping as the explosion echoed from the walls of the tunnel and rung in his ears like a bell. He crashed a shoulder into the man and pulled the gun towards him, catching the mugger off balance. With a sound of pain and expulsion of air the man hit the ground, and released the gun.

It was too early to run, however, as the man coiled back and sent a boot flying at Izuku, which he caught on the cheek. Izuku grunted sharply in pain and felt a tooth come loose, finding himself lying on his side with the barrel of the gun still in his hand. He scrambled to his feet, but found a hand on the collar of his student uniform, yanking him down. The back of Midoriya's skull hit the pavement sending an explosion of stars and dull pain throughout his mind.

The man found the gun and pulled hard, but Izuku kept a grip-- up until a fist smashed into his face, of course. His nose crumpled inward, the sickening sound of cartilage breaking and blood gushing forth. Time slowed as Midoriya saw the man, lining up his shot, face twisted with rage.

He was going to die here. Izuku Midoriya's story would end, not as the number one hero or a great artist, but as a student, mourned for a month before being forgotten. This wasn't the fate he wanted, but it was the one he was going to get. Time stopped as Izuku enjoyed a final moment of serenity in life before tranquility in death.

It was only a few moments of waiting that Midoriya realized that he was still alive, and time did not stop.

The man had.

He made sounds of effort as something, some indiscernible force, held him in a vice grip. The mugger's teeth gritted and air escaped his lungs as he struggled against this force. A force that Midoriya felt connected to. Izuku felt himself move, his right arm slowly raising in an attempt to get his bearings. As he did, the man's right arm shot up with intense speed, and he let out a sound of pain. Izuku raised his left arm. The left arm shot up. He held the man like a puppet master. One does not truly learn to enjoy the beauty of holding another life in your hands until it is experienced.

With a scream filled with as much pain as anger, Izuku pushed, only wanting to will him away.

God has a strange sense of wish fulfillment.

The body of the man took this action literally. His spine bent backwards at a ninety degree angle with pops and cracks of dislocation and breakage in his vertebrae. His ribs pushed from beneath his skin and out, breaking from the sternum and the jacket he had on. The mugger's arms tore from their sockets and blood rushed in rivulets from torn skin and muscle at the shoulders. His ribs flowered out in jerky, manic motions, becoming like a rafflesia with a hole of gore in its center. At the end of this orchestra of shattering bones and ripping flesh, the man's neck snapped with the finality of a composition's final note.

Izuku Midoriya had killed a man with a quirk he had never known.

It took a moment to comprehend what he was looking at, some part of him hoping or believing he was dreaming. When he did, his stomach churned, and his eyes became as wide as dinner plates, a mix of horror on his face and... fascination in his eyes.

He ran from the tunnel, deaf to the sounds of sirens and the concerned questions of bystanders. He ran for what felt like hours, turning corners and ducking between pedestrians. He found some semblance of privacy, an area of sidewalk lacking onlookers, and dove into an alley, breathing heavily. The contents of his stomach could no longer be held back. Izuku puked, spilling blood, bile, and the half digested remains of his bento lunch. Izuku's back hit the wall and he slowly slid down it, weeping and brushing away the vile streams of vomit that remained on his lips and chin.

He had killed a man. The smell, the looks, the feeling... it all disgusted him. The way his quirk-- his quirk?-- had killed him was also utterly revolting. But the thing that made him the most sick?

He found it beautiful. The ribs in a flower around torn, pale flesh and tattered leather jacket, the blood running silently and deep crimson like paint across a canvas, the look in his eyes as--

Izuku realized the voices were silent.

For once in his life, they did not call for him.

And in that back alleyway, surrounded by garbage and stained with bile, tears, and blood, Izuku Midoriya smiled.