Chapter I: Izuku
Sunlight illuminates pale skin littered with bruises as he peeks from between two buildings in the center of the small village of Shizuoka. He doesn't dare step foot from between the buildings as a group of big, rich high school boys are congregated at a shop nearby. Instead, he waits for his two best friends to come and get him so he can get some food for the week and go to the library. As he waits, he observes the people he once called his friends as they go about their happy lives.
A big, heavy hand lands on his shoulder, making him jump and barely contain a yelp.
"Oi, you just scared him, Hanta!"
"Oops! Sorry, Izuku!" Sero replies, lifting his hand off the smaller boy's shoulder and holding them both up in mock surrender. "I forgot."
"I-it's okay, H-Hanta," he replies, still stumbling over calling his best friends by their first names. "But why did you come up from behind me?"
"Huh? Oh, well, we saw those guys and figured you wouldn't want us to draw attention to you so we came from the back. Sorry again," Sero replies. Hanta Sero, Izuku's first friend in the village of Shizuoka. He's the only son of Akio and Nanami Sero, some of the wealthiest merchants that reside in the village. He's extremely tall, towering over Izuku, with well-defined muscles from all the training he does as a part of his schooling over in the next city, and his smile is blinding.
"It's fine. Thank you for thinking about me."
"Of course, Izuku. Now, where are we gonna go?" He asks, flashing his signature smile and throwing his arm around Izuku's shoulders.
"Well, we were gonna go somewhere so I can get some food," Izuku replies, leaning against his friend.
"No, we were gonna go somewhere so we can get you some food, right Fumikage?"
"W-wait, I can get some food for my-myself! You guys don't need to get anything for me!" Izuku's pleas fall on deaf ears.
"Don't argue with us, Izuku. You won't win," Fumikage states as they turn to head back into the alleyway to go somewhere else in the village to get some things for Izuku. Fumikage Tokoyami is the middle son of Kouki and Aiko Tokoyami, prominent carpenters in the village. His older brother, Daisuke, moved to the city to open a shop and is married with a few kids. His younger brother, Michi, is an apprentice under his father. Fumikage goes to school with Hanta and is preparing to take over his father's business in a few years. He's tall, a good six inches taller than Izuku, with well-defined muscles from working as a carpenter. Most of the town regards him as a mysterious person who isn't to be trifled with because of a dark aura that surrounds him, but he's actually really sweet.
Knowing that talking won't get him anywhere, Izuku just huffs and goes along with them as they emerge from another alleyway and head straight towards his favorite sweet shop. "Guys, I need more practical food!" He protests.
"We know, but we're gonna buy you some sweets to eat while we're out!" Sero exclaims cheerfully.
"Then I'll just wait outside," he says, already feeling the eyes of the villagers on him.
"I'll wait with him. Get me my regular," Fumikage says, following Izuku over to an empty piece of wall.
"Sure thing." Sero disappears into the sweet shop while Izuku and Fumikage wait outside.
"It's a lovely day out today," Fumikage states after a moment of silence. "Perfect for an outing."
"Y-yeah." Izuku wants nothing more than to just disappear back into his alley to be out of sight of all the prying eyes of the villagers. Yes, I know you don't like me, but instead of wasting your time staring at something you dislike, why don't you just look somewhere else? I'm not that interesting to look at.
"Ah, Tokoyami-kun! How are you today?" It's one of the enforcers.
"I'm good. How are you?"
"Good, good." Izuku can feel the enforcer's eyes on him. "Having any trouble?"
"No; Izuku and I are just waiting for Hanta to bring us our sweets before we go shopping."
The enforcer laughs. "Ah, well have fun, then."
The enforcer walks away, leaving them standing in silence.
"He thought I was giving you some trouble by trying to beg from you."
"I know," Fumikage says plainly.
"He also thinks that I'm going to be carrying yours and Hanta's bags when we go shopping."
"Oh, come on. Didn't you see the look on his face?"
"Evidently not. Looks like I'll be carrying your bags for you."
Izuku groans. "That is not what I meant when I said that, Fumikage. I'm just stating facts."
"I know, but the fact that they think that is just said. I know you never were the richest family in town, but before your mother died, both you and she were well respected around here. What changed?"
"Nothing changed, Fumikage. No one liked my mother and me, they just pretended because of how close my mother was to yours and Hanta's parents. I knew that once we weren't seen in public with your parents all the time the show would end and everyone would show how they really thought of us."
"That's bull," Sero states, walking over with three crepes balanced precariously in his large hands. "Are you serious?"
"Would I lie to you?"
"It's okay, though. I don't mind; I'd prefer to have only two real friends than a bunch of fake ones," he replies, shrugging his shoulders and accepting the crepe before biting into it.
"Why wouldn't they like you?"
"Because my dad was never around and my mom wore no wedding band despite being married."
Izuku shrugs. "I'm only repeating what I've heard since being on the streets. Apparently, raising a child without a husband is seen as scandalous to certain people. My mom was married, Dad was just never around for whatever reason. It's whatever, though, because she still loved him despite never being around," he says.
"Dude, that's sad. Do you know how many people have kids who aren't married? And they weren't shunned by society."
"It could also be because we were outsiders."
"Outsiders my ass!"
"It's whatever, Hanta; I'm over it, and so should you."
Fumikage elbows Sero in the side after taking his crepe. "We'll get there. Now, let's go!"
"Oi! Sero!" A loud, obnoxious voice calls from behind them, one that makes Izuku's skin crawl.
"The gang and I are going to the tavern for dinner; you and Tokoyami should come along." He pointedly ignores the smaller boy munching on his crepe with his back towards him.
"No thanks," Sero replies, halfway turning to him. "We're hanging out with Izuku today."
"Wh-what? You love hanging out with us!"
"I do, but not today. Plus, I've seen how you treat him; haven't I talked to you about that?"
Mizuki stiffens. "Wh-what are you talking about? Oi, that wasn't us, was it, Nerd?"
Izuku can hear the threat in his voice. "N-no, it wasn't th-them," he stutters, not wanting to pay for it later when Sero and Fumikage aren't around.
"See, you heard him! Besides, I wouldn't want to touch him anyways. He's cursed; first, his mom dies and now he's homeless. Plus, he's a freak; he reads about weird shit in the library and mumbles to himself all the time!"
Fumikage shoves Mizuki up against a wall. "Bad mouth him in front of us again and it won't end nicely," he growls, power surging through his voice.
"A-all right! I'll leave!" Fumikage backs up and lets him go. Mizuki shoots Izuku a dirty look before turning tail and almost running back to his friends.
"Guys…" Izuku sighs, knowing that they've just created a problem. "You didn't have to do that; I'm used to being talked about and to like that."
"It's not okay, Izuku; just because they don't like you doesn't mean they can treat you like that. You don't like everyone, yet you still treat people nicely."
"I know I do, Hanta, but that's just my personality. But thanks anyway." He walks slightly ahead of them while Hanta and Fumikage share a look.
"Okay, wanna go get you some food now?"
Before they can go any further, running footsteps sound behind them. Fumikage and Sero spin around, ready to fight, only to find one of their stewards running towards them.
"Give us a minute, Izuku," Sero says, knowing the stewards won't talk with Izuku around.
"Sure, sure. I'll just go over there." He points in a random direction before heading off.
"Ugh, there he goes again, leeching off those two boys."
"Either he's blackmailing them to hang out with him and buy him stuff or they're just using him."
Izuku winces as people don't even try to cover up their gossip with him around. Geez, what did I ever do to you?
"I bet it's all his mother's fault; she had no husband after all."
"I heard she got knocked up by some noble in the city and had to flee in order to escape being killed by the noble's wife." There's a collective gasp.
"Well, I heard that she used to be a prostitute in a brothel and got knocked up by one of the customers before getting kicked out because of her uselessness."
He wants to go over there and shout at them to stop talking about his mother like that, but he knows he can't or else the enforcers will drag him away. Tears come to his eyes as he ducks into the safety of an alleyway where he can't hear the voices anymore. Mama, I miss you. His appetite leaves him and he stares down at the half-eaten crepe in his hands. I don't want to waste food, but I'm not hungry anymore.
"Kota!" Izuku almost has a heart attack when a small, dirty figure emerges from behind a trash pile. "What are you doing here? Isn't your mother worried?"
"Mother is sick and sent me to get the doctor. I got him and sent him to Mother, and then I saw you. You're crying."
One of Izuku's hands flies up to his cheek to find it wet. "Oh, I guess I am."
Kota creeps closer. "Why are you sad?"
He smiles down at the child. "Because I miss my mama, that's all," he replies in a whisper, knowing that no child needs to hear all those things they were saying about his mother and himself. He hears a loud grumble and looks around in confusion. His gaze lands on Kota's red face. He chuckles. "Hungry?"
"Uh-huh." He nods sheepishly and tries to keep his gaze from the crepe in his hands.
"Here," Izuku holds the crepe out, "I'm not hungry anyway."
Kota's eyes light up. "Really?!"
He snatches it from Izuku's hands. "Thanks so much, Izuku-onichan!"
"You're welcome." Izuku watches him eat for a little bit before turning to watch for Hanta and Fumikage. He sees them still in a conversation with their stewards and the conversation doesn't happen to be a good one. Hearing people nearing the alley, he shuffles Kota and himself back farther so they're not seen.
"Look, that's the Sero kid and the middle Tokoyami son. They look like they're having such a pleasant conversation," one man chuckles. Izuku identifies him as the baker.
"Wonder where their tail is?"
"Who? The Midoriya kid? Who knows; maybe they got tired of him or something." They laugh loudly.
Izuku's eyes water as he physically holds Kota back while slapping a hand over his mouth so they won't be found out.
"Wonder why they always let the leech hang out with them. He's a good-for-nothing homeless, son of a whore. There's no merit in keeping him around because it will only lower your reputation. How can their parents let them keep hanging out with him?"
"Who knows? I'm just glad I can stop pretending to be civil to the kid. It was getting tiring."
"Better not let your wife hear that; she'll skin you for saying that because she's got a soft spot for him."
"I know, but I don't let him in my shop anymore, so that solves that problem."
"Not that he'd have any money to buy anything. My wife likes him too, but I don't give handouts at my bakery, so he doesn't come in. I've forbidden my wife to give him any or else we'd have all the other homeless at our shop wanting handouts."
"What other homeless?"
"There is no other homeless; I just said that so my wife would stop giving him handouts. I don't want him loitering around my shop just waiting for some."
"Oh, here come the Sero and Tokoyami kids; better make yourself scarce before they hear you talking like that and destroy your business."
The baker and the other man, who Izuku now identifies as the blacksmith, scurry away from the alleyway.
Izuku turns to Kota. "Don't try to defend me if you hear someone talking bad about me, Kota. It will only get you hurt." He releases the boy.
"But they were saying all those nasty things about you!"
He smiles sadly. "I know, but you can't go after them. Who knows, maybe I'll come set up camp near your house someday."
Kota brightens up. "Really?!"
"Really. Now take your crepe and run along. Make sure to stick to the back alleys or else people will think you stole the crepe."
"Okay! Bye, Izuku!"
"Bye." Izuku watches him run off into the gloom before moving back to the front of the alley. He finds Sero and Fumikage standing there, looking around.
"Where could he be? He said he'd be over in this general direction…"
Izuku places a hand on each other their shoulders and giggles as he watches them both freak out and spin around. "Hi."
Sero places a hand over his heart. "Don't do that, Izuku! I could've hurt you!"
"Nah." Izuku waves his hand in dismissal. "My reflexes are too good for that."
"What are you doing back in an alley?"
"Hmm? Oh, I saw some enforcers coming and I came in here so they didn't think I stole the crepe." It's sad to think about how much lying has become a part of my life. It's also sad that I have to lie to my best friends.
"Oh, I guess that makes sense. Well, let's go."
"What did those guys want?"
Instantly, the mood shifts and Sero and Fumikage share a look before smiling back at Izuku with too-big smiles. "They were just telling us that there are some important people coming to dinner tonight and that our families were entertaining them together," Fumikage replies.
"Oh! I know! Izuku, you should come to dinner with us! I'm sure our parents would love to have you!"
Red flags, loud warning bells, and flashing lights are all going off in Izuku's head right now. "Uhm, no thanks," he says quietly. "If you have guests, it's best not to bring someone like me to dinner. Maybe some other time."
"It's no big deal, Izuku!" Sero is more forceful than usual, trying to make Izuku come to dinner with them. "Come one, let's go." He reaches for Izuku.
He jumps back. "No thank you, Hanta," he states a bit more forcefully. "You two have a nice dinner. I'll see you some other time."
Sero looks shocked at the refusal. "I-ah, uhm, if you're sure?"
"Okay, well, we'll see you some other time then…" Fumikage uncharacteristically trails off, avoiding Izuku's eyes for a moment.
"Yeah. Well, you guys should get going since it's getting late and you have a pretty long walk back to your places. I'll be fine and will get food for myself as it gets later."
Sero and Fumikage press a little bit of money into Izuku's hands. "Use this and get yourself some halfway decent food."
"I will. Thanks, guys."
"You're welcome." With a wave, Sero and Fumikage begin their walk to their respective homes while Izuku disappears back into the alleyway to avoid being seen.
Now what? Am I really confident enough to walk into a store with all this money and attempt to buy something? He pauses. No. Definitely not. I'll be accused of stealing it and have it all taken away. I'll hide some in my shoe and only use the barest minimum to buy stuff. Hiding the money in his shoe and only leaving a little bit out, Izuku weaves his way through the back alleys until he gets on the poorer side of the village where he's accepted more readily. He goes inside a shop and buys some bread and milk for his dinner before heading on his way back to the alley that he calls his home.
As he's walking, he becomes aware of footsteps behind him. Knowing that if he looks back he'll be attacked, Izuku hurries his pace and goes down alleys and back roads to try and lose his followers; he has no such luck. Just as he goes to turn onto the main road again, he's suddenly grabbed from behind and thrown up against the wall harshly. He loses his grip on his food and drink and watches as the glass container of milk hits the ground and shatters and his bread gets trampled underfoot of his assailants.
"Thought you were safe, huh? Thought those words would keep you safe?" It's Mizuki and his band of lackeys. "Bet you felt so high and mighty when Sero and Tokoyami defended you, huh?"
"Shut up!" Mizuki punches Izuku in the stomach, causing him to double over with a loud wail. "What a wimp!" He laughs, swinging again and catching him in the side of the face.
Izuku falls to the ground, gasping and trying to catch his breath while he wants nothing more to do than to cry. Mizuki and his lackeys land blow after blow, alternating between punching and kicking him. Izuku manages to hide his face and keep it from getting too hurt. He loses track of how long they're at him before someone comes down the alley, yelling at the boys to go home.
"Oh, Izuku." It's the baker's wife. She kneels down beside him and takes stock of his predicament. "They beat you up pretty good, huh?"
With a whimper, Izuku pulls himself up, wincing as he goes. "Yes, ma'am."
"Please, I thought I told you to call me Ai."
She glances at his ruined dinner. "Oh no! That was your dinner, wasn't it?"
"Yes, ma'a-Ai. Yes, Ai."
"I'm so sorry, Izuku. Wait here, I'll go get some of my husband's leftover bread!" As she rises to go to her husband's bakery, Izuku reaches out and catches her skirt.
"It's fine; I wasn't really hungry anyway." I can't let her go and get in trouble for me. He remembers the baker's words from earlier.
Ai gives him a look. "Well, if you're sure…" She knows better than to argue with him because it's well known how stubborn Izuku can be. "At least let me give you my handkerchief to wipe up the blood coming from your nose."
Izuku gives her a shaky smile. "Okay."
She fishes the piece of cloth from her pocket and crouches down next to Izuku again, holding it to his nose. "Don't worry about returning it to me; I have plenty more at home."
"I-if you're sure."
"Then, once you have your breath, I suppose you'll be on your way?"
"Yes, ma'am." She doesn't correct him.
"Very well. Stay clear of the main streets and stick to back alleys. I'll try and secure a shed or something for you to stay in as the winter gets closer."
"It's okay if you can't. I know someone I could go stay with." Izuku knows he can always count on Kota and his mother to provide him shelter in the winter.
"That's good. The only problem is, the full moon is next week and I don't want you out for it."
That's right. I forgot about that. "I'll figure something out."
"Well, if nothing comes through, you let me know. I have a shed that I use to store my preserves and it's kinda empty right now so I can squeeze you in there for the night."
"Okay. I'll let you know."
"Very good. I've got to get going now, so get back safely." She rises to her feet again.
Izuku smiles up at her. "I will."
"I'm sorry, again, for what those boys do to you. I suppose it's the fault of us adults for spreading such nasty rumors about you and your mother."
"It's all right. I'll be okay."
She gives him a look full of doubt. "Well, if you're sure."
"Very well. Good night, Izuku."
"Good night, ma'am." He watches as Ai walks out of the alley and down the street before painfully pulling himself to his feet and limping through different alleyways to his bed of newspapers. He collapses down on it and looks up at the darkening sky, holding Ai's handkerchief to his face. Izuku takes a deep breath and inhales the scent of freshly baked bread.
A tear rolls down his cheek as an overwhelming sadness washes over him. Mama, I miss you so much! More tears track down his cheeks as a sob spills from his throat. As the sun sets and the sky darkens, as people scurry home after a long day's work, Izuku sits, curled up on his measly bed of newspapers in a back alley of the village Shizuoka, crying. He's crying out in pain from being jumped earlier, from the hunger in his belly, and from the grief he feels from losing his mother. Mama, why did you leave me? He eventually cries himself to sleep, leaning against the wall with Ai's handkerchief clutched tightly in his hand.
"Mama, you won't ever leave me, right?" Young Izuku asks, looking at his mother as she tucks him in.
"Of course not, Izuku! Why would you ask that?" Inko asks, smoothing her hand over her son's cheek.
"Because I heard the baker saying something about how Daddy left us. You won't leave, right?"
Tears come to Inko's eyes as her husband is, once again, brought up in conversation. "Izuku, Daddy didn't want to leave us. He had to so he could protect us. But don't worry, Mama's not going anywhere."
She begins humming a lullaby as watches Izuku's eyes droop closed. "I love you, Izuku," she whispers, pressing a kiss to her son's forehead.
"Love you, too, Mama," he mumbles, almost completely asleep.
"I'll always be here with you, always."