Soles slap the pavement and breath comes in harsh, heavy pants. The shouts and jeers of the other boys are now just echoes ringing in his ears, but Midoriya Izuku still runs and runs and runs. This part of the neighborhood is empty, the families tucked inside their houses, preparing dinner as the sun starts to sink towards the horizon. No one pays any mind to the kid running outside. He rounds a corner at top speed, swearing he can feel the sidewalk strip a layer of rubber from the bottoms of his shoes, and collides face first into another person.
He falls flat on his ass, but he pops up and begins to apologize profusely before he even registers the pain. He straightens from the bow he didn’t even realize he had fallen into and the third or fourth apology dies in his throat when he finally sees the person’s face.
The first thing Izuku notices is the sheer panic painting the other boy’s features. Which really says something when his face seems to be a perfect split, one half of his hair red, the other white, one eye grey, the other ice blue. A large mark covers one half of his face, from his hairline to nearly his nose. It’s a scar, Izuku realizes with a jolt, a burn scar. He didn’t even seem to realize Izuku had bumped into him, he just looks around the empty streets frantically.
“Hey.” Izuku says softly, trying to get his attention. It isn’t until he waves a hand in front of his face that he even notices Izuku and when he does, he starts and takes a few steps back.
“Are you okay?” he says, keeping the same soft tone, “Do you need to get somewhere safe?”
The boy opens and closes his mouth a few times before settling on a nod.
“Okay. Okay, well, I have a secret safe place. I was actually already on my way there, if you wanna come along. You don’t have to, though.”
Izuku waits a few beats for the boy to respond, but he just stands there, looking at Izuku with big, wide eyes. He tries his best reassuring smile, the one his mom gives him when anxiety got the best of him, “I’m just, gonna go there. You can follow, if you want, I guess? I’ll just… go.”
He continues on his way to his secret base and doesn’t hear the other boy follow. Was it a little disappointing? Yeah, but in all honesty he was just more concerned. The boy looked like he needed a place to go, even for a little bit. Izuku hopes that the boy got some help, even if it wasn’t from him.
He knows his hiding place wasn’t much. It was only a clearing and a hollow tree where he stashed some comfort stuff, way off the path and hidden, but it was his safe place. No one had been able to find it so far. Which is why he jumps about a foot in the air when a stick cracked behind him.
He whirls around to see the boy about five feet behind him. Izuku lets out a noise that was half wheeze, half laugh.
"I didn't realize you were still behind me!" he says as he pulls a bin out of the hollow tree, "You really scared me."
"Oh," the boy says, speaking for the first time, "I'm sorry."
Izuku flaps his hand in the air, "Ah you don't need to be sorry! It's kinda cool, yanno? You're like a ninja or something."
The boy just stares at Izuku impassively, so he lets out a nervous giggle and starts setting up. A ratty blanket acts as something like a carpet and he pulls out some old pillows, stuffing coming out the side. He plops himself down and looks up, the boy still standing at the outer ring of the clearing, picking at the end of his long sleeved shirt. Izuku once again gives his best smile and pats the spot on the blanket next to him. The boy inches forward like a frightened animal until he comes to the edge of it and it isn’t until Izuku nods encouragingly does he finally sit down.
“It’s nice to meet you! My name is, uh… It’s Midoriya Izuku.” It was the first time he had spoken the name aloud, but it felt right, felt like him.
If the boy notices his hesitation, it doesn’t show on his face. Maybe because he was hesitating himself though.
“I’m Todoroki Shouto.” He says, all in a rush and barely audible.
Izuku may not have caught it but years of mumbling and trying to make himself small gave him a talent for picking out words.
“Todoro-” He cuts himself off when a cold hand is placed on his wrist and he’s met with mismatched eyes shining with anxiety.
“Please… Call me Shouto.”
A smile stretches across his lips, something softer than usual, “Shouto.”
Silence falls upon them, but it isn’t tense or awkward. Or, it wasn’t at first. After a few minutes, Shouto seems to get restless, glancing about the clearing and picking at his sleeve again. Izuku wracks his brain for things to do or to talk about and runs mental circles for a while.
He just settles with what he knew the most about, “Do you like heroes?”
Shouto starts slightly at his voice and looks down, biting his lip, “I think… I mean, I think I have to?”
“You don’t have to like anything you don’t want to like.”
He seems surprised by this, like he had never been given the option before much less the choice. Izuku has been hurt a lot in his nine years of life, but he doesn’t think his heart has hurt so much for someone else until now.
He shifts on the blanket, drawing his knees up and turning towards Shouto, “Do you have anything you like?”
A shake of the head and more insistent picking at the end of his sleeve. The poor fabric was going to have holes ripped into it soon.
“Well, that’s okay!” Izuku smiles as bright as he could, his eyes almost scrunching closed, “That just means you’ll have a ton of fun finding what you do like!”
He pulls the bin towards him and starts to shuffle through it, still talking, “There’s so many things to like! There’s making stuff, like drawing! I think I have some crayons in here somewhere. There’s sewing too! My mom does that. I’m not allowed to anymore, sharp things and me do not get along. Or there’s doing stuff! Like catching bugs! Kacchan and I used to do that a lot by the river, there’s a lot of good ones down there. He likes finding beetles but I like going in the evening and catching fireflies. You’re always supposed to release them though, you shouldn’t keep them. Reading is fun too! There are whole worlds in books. Comic books are really cool because they have super heroes, but I actually like a lot of actual books too. Like, I’m sure there’s someone with a quirk out there that makes them look like a fairy, but can you imagine a world where there are hundreds or even thousands of fairies? Oh! And there’s music too, I like-"
He cuts himself off, “Ah, sorry. I’m being annoying again.”
Izuku is almost hesitant to look up. Why does he have to do this every time? He’s like one of those dolls that you push a button to make talk except he’s broken and doesn’t stop. A hand enters his field of vision and he almost jumps. Shouto has moved closer and is looking into the bin with him, now holding a pink sloth plushie.
“What’s this?” He asks, shaking the toy a little which makes the arms flop around.
He releases a breath he didn’t realize he was holding, “That’s Sakura. My dad sent her for my birthday last year.”
Shouto hums and shakes her once more, seeming to find some delight in the way her arms bounce up and down. The boy doesn't smile, the corners of his mouth do not lift, but something about him makes it feel like he is.
They sit like that for a while. Shouto taking things out of the bin and Izuku explaining each one. They get to the coloring books when Shouto hesitates.
"Do you ever feel like. I mean, do you ever get." He begins, letting out a frustrated huff.
Izuku just keeps coloring in the book, his black crayon worn down from all the penguins on the page. He has patience, he can wait.
"I just. I need to be perfect." Another huff, "I need to be perfect and I need to live up to his standards and I need to be the very best. But… But I can't and it hurts. It hurts to disappoint and it hurts to know I'm a failure and it hurts to…" He trails off, his voice getting softer.
Then, hushed, like an important secret (and maybe it is), "He hurts me."
Izuku glances at Shouto, seeing him run his hand through red and white hair. The skin of his wrist is mottled with bruises, purple and blue and yellow, painted in the shape of a large hand.
"I'm not good enough." He continues, "I might as well be worthless."
Izuku doesn't know what it's like to be struck by lightning, but he imagines this must be similar. His hand stills, crayon pressed to the page, and it feels like every hair on his body stands on end. His mouth is open, words spilling out before he even knows what he's saying.
"Everyone has worth though. Everyone matters to something. I mean, not good enough isn't a thing. Everyone is good at something. Like, even, even if someone else thinks it's stupid, it's your thing that you're good at.
"Even if it's like, uh, giving good directions or always being able to make someone laugh or even just sometimes make people laugh or even something like getting cats to trust you. It's your thing. And you know you're good at it. And so it means something."
Silence falls but it's not tense silence, or even neutral silence. It's a busy silence. One can imagine, listening closely enough, the turning of mind gears can be heard.
"I… Thank you." Shouto says as he rises, carefully brushing himself off.
Momentary panic fills Izuku and he almost reaches out, but thinks better of it, "You're leaving?"
Izuku may only be nine years old and he may not fully understand Shouto's situation, but he understands this. That all moments of peace come to an end. That making someone wait can be dangerous. That, sometimes, you can't do more. His heart begs him to stay, wants to offer something, anything. But Izuku knows.
"Stay safe. Please."
Shouto's eyes glisten and he nods. His departure is silent. 5 minutes, 10 minutes pass. Finally, after it's clear he's not returning, Izuku cries.
Izuku is not stupid. He's loved heroes all his life, of course he would recognize the name Todoroki. After all, Endeavor used to his second favorite hero. All Might was always the best, hands down, but Endeavor had a fire quirk just like Izuku's dad. He always looked so cool and powerful on TV. Red hair blazing (the same shade as Shouto's) and blue eyes fierce (Shouto has one blue eye), he was always a hulking, imposing figure (with hands big enough to grab and strong enough to bruise).
"Yes, honey? Is everything okay?"
"Are…" He hesitates. This was not his secret to tell. Even if it was, he doesn't want to worry his mom. She worries too much about him already.
"Can heroes hurt people?"
Helplessness is a funny thing. It can make people complacent. They can't help, they know they can't, why try? It can make people angry. Why isn't anyone helping? Can't they see there's something wrong? And in some people, it ignites a determination like no other.
One of Inko’s coworkers did martial arts in university and was more than happy to teach Izuku. Every Wednesday and Saturday, Izuku jogs to her house and then gets thrown into the grass of her backyard for hours. He went to the library almost every day, checking out books on topics ranging from first aid to mechanical engineering to psychology. The librarian there helps him out when he tries to carry a book that was probably half his body weight and then they stick around, teaching him the words he doesn’t know and practicing English with him. Eventually, they encourage him to enroll in the free first aid courses at their local clinic. From there, he befriends the nurses and they tell him all sorts of tips and tricks. This works best, but that can be used in a pinch; these hospitals will give you the best care, but those clinics won’t ask too many questions. Izuku is ravenous, hungry for every bit of knowledge he can get.
He even throws himself more into hero analysis. He dissects fighting styles and quirk usage. He makes charts on property damage. He takes notes on popularity polls and, when that frustrates him, scours forums for the lesser known heroes.
He finally reintroduces himself to his mother. She cries. He cries too, when he holds his new school ID, Midoriya Izuku so carefully printed on the plastic.
Five years pass in a flurry of grass stains, cramped hands, and sore muscles. Izuku can now proudly say he’s trained in first aid and a fluent English speaker. His martial arts teacher had to recommend him to her old club when she stopped being able to win against him. He’s built a great foundation for a future hero.
However, at the end of the day, Midoriya Izuku is still quirkless.
Witnessing three hero battles in one day should be some sort of a record. Or, Izuku supposes, witnessing one, being the victim in one, and participating in one.
The first villain was a simple one. Gigantification. An interesting, if short, fight. Plenty of notes to be taken, especially with the debut of a new hero.
The second villain was terrifying. Drowning on land, choking on heavy slime is not an experience he will soon forget. Being saved by All Might, though? That was simply amazing.
The third villain was just a repeat appearance of villain two. Dislodged by Izuku himself in order to ask All Might a question he already knew the answer to. Even worse was the fact that literal years of training only amounted to a few seconds of reprieve for Bakugou before the real heroes stepped in.
The sky is steeped in pink and gold and the street lights flicker on as Izuku trudges home. He wants a warm shower or two so he can hopefully scrub the phantom feeling of sludge crawling over his skin away. But it seems like luck is not on his side today.
He’s mentally replaying his scolding from the pro heroes, the pro heroes who scolded him for putting himself in danger (helping) while they praise Bakugou not even 5 feet away for his bravery. It’s this loop that he’s stuck in when All Might jumps out in front of him. His impossibly large form blots out the setting sun for just a moment before steam rushes out and his true form stands before Izuku once again.
“I came here to thank you,” For getting in the way?, “Only you, only cowardly, quirkless you!” Cowardly and quirkless, my finest traits, “You can become a hero!” And you tell me now?
Maybe if Izuku hadn’t spent five long years trying his hardest to even be able to help, maybe then he would feel differently. Maybe if it all hadn’t amounted to a few seconds and a thorough scolding. Maybe if he hadn’t worked so hard to be worth something yet still be branded as worthless, as Deku, maybe then, things would be different.
(A small voice from the back of his mind speaks, voice like his past self, “Everyone has worth though.”)
When this Izuku is presented with the gift of All Might’s power, he doesn’t jump with joy or cry tears of happiness.
“Is it safe for you to be offering the power of the number one hero to a child you met less than 6 hours ago? Is it safe for me to be accepting the offer of a hero who carries such large secrets?”
To his credit, All Might doesn’t stop smiling, “Of course, there will be time between accepting the offer and receiving the power. It is understandable to be wary. But with this quirk, you can become a hero!”
“I can become a hero, if I accept your quirk.” Izuku doesn’t mean to be so blunt, but he is just so tired, “I can become a hero if I stop being quirkless. If I… If I give up the thing that has hurt me so much. I’m not… Being quirkless doesn’t mean I’m dying. I’ve only been hurt because other people hurt me. Because other people see me and see a chance to pick on the weak, I guess? Or take out their anger on someone who won’t fight back? I don’t know their reasons or anything. It just seems… Wrong, somehow, to give up the thing that made me so determined in the first place.”
He remembers a child, trying to hide the scorch marks on his clothes so he won’t worry his mother. He remembers mottled bruises around a wrist, caused by a man who has sworn to protect. He remembers the feeling in his gut, having to let someone walk back into harm’s way. He remembers feeling helpless.
“Thank you for your offer, I truly am honored. I think I’m going to have to say no, though. I want to become a hero like this, like me. You don’t have to worry about me telling people about your secret though. Or, both of them, I guess? I won’t tell anyone.”
All Might stands there, eyes wide in shock, backlit by a truly incredible sunset. It looks like something out of a movie. Izuku hikes his backpack higher up on his shoulder and walks forward.
“Even if I wanted to tell, who would they believe? The number one hero or a quirkless nobody?”
Six months after the sludge villain was apprehended, a new vigilante is reported to the police. She’s described as wearing a dark green suit and using a staff to fight. The person who gave the report suspects some sort of agility quirk or maybe even an intelligence based one. The police write it down and promptly forget about it. Vigilante reports are nothing new and they’re usually just one or two off instances. Just regular civilians who found themselves caught up in something and fought back. Nothing to really fuss over.
Though, after 18 captured villains (with indisputable evidence of their crimes sent by anonymous email) who all give the same testimony of a girl in dark green, an official case is opened up on the vigilante. They don’t even have to think of a name for her, she’s already told them.
Nexus is the new name that strikes the fear of justice into everyone’s hearts. Or well, the name that makes police officers sigh and criminals slightly annoyed. She’ll get there.