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Ripples on Deep Water

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Izuku’s foot caught the side of the pavement, and he stumbled, waving his arms to reorient himself until he regained his footing.

He glanced around, suddenly getting the feeling that he was like one of those characters on TV that gets introduced by doing something really stupid.

… it was probably nothing. After all, why would anybody start their story at the end of a day like his?

Izuku smiled bitterly, looking down the street. His mother would be worried sick, Kacchan’s probably pissed as hell, he’s got to do his homework which hopefully wasn’t completely destroyed, and transfer to information from #13 to a new one. 

But… can’t that wait for a bit?

Doubling back to the underpass (Izuku shuddered at the smell), he continued to a different destination-- one he hadn’t exactly figured out yet. 

As he progressed in his journey, the pitying glances he got from familiar faces became few and far between, fewer and fewer recognizing Izuku as the ‘poor quirkless boy’. And he reveled in that anonymity, being given nothing but a passing glance. His plain looks are an advantage outside of the area his schoolmates lived in.

He boarded a train, finding a seat in a relatively empty car and setting his burned bookbag at his side, sighing as he managed to get it open, even though the sludge still clinging to it made the process more difficult than it had to be. He’d have to get a new one. Along with a new journal, he thinks glumly as he pulled the ruined notebook from the bag, flipping through scorched and soaked pages, ink running and making his drawings and kanji indecipherable.

I should get this cleaned up as fast as I can--

A slight wheeze escaped his throat when he came upon the pair of pages. ALL MIGHT! , the paper proclaimed. 

They were balled in his hands before he even realized what was happening. Tears-- not of sadness, Izuku realizes with a jolt, but anger -- are pricking his eyes. His tears usually feel cool on his cheeks, popping free without resistance. But these were hot and stinging, refusing to fall as he tore the papers to shreds and shoved them to the bottom of his bag, the reality of how absolutely shit his day had been settling in completely.

“If you wanna be a hero that badly, there's a quick way to do it. Believe that you'll be born with a Quirk in your next life and take a dive off the roof!”

“It’s not bad to dream. But you also have to consider what’s realistic.”

His fingers dug into his pant leg, pain shooting up from where the nails went hard enough to pinch the skin. 

Maybe they were right.

“Are you okay?”

No, the rose-colored glasses just got ripped off my face and smashed to bits on the pavement with my dreams. Nodding was his only reply to a girl with pink dreadlocks.

The girl stand from her place and practically throws herself over to his side of the train. Izuku shifts uncomfortably as she leans over to check out the ruined pages. 

“Uu, this is really cool, stranger-kun! Looks really messed up, though. And smells like sewage.”

The girl seems perfectly happy to invade his personal space, and the only other occupant on the train— an exhausted-looking man— huffs in amusement.

“I’m Hatsume Mei! Uuuuuu, oh my Kami, is that a breakdown of Space Hero Thirteen’s suit?

He felt himself redden slightly. She snatches the notebook from his hands and seems unbothered by the general grossness of it as she leafs through and looks at the other ruined sketches of support items.

“You’ve got an eye for detail, stranger-kun!” Hatsume declares, dropping the notebook back in his lap and then grabbing his arm, ignoring his panicked yelp as she pulls a big black marker from nowhere and scrawls a bunch of random numbers and letters on him. “If you can figure this out, I’ll show you how to build support items for real instead of just theory!”

The train whistle blew, and Hatsume flounced off without Izuku saying so much as a word and a weird code on his arm.

Minutes ticked by before he wondered aloud, “What the fuck just happened?”

Sue him, sometimes he swore. He grew up around Kacchan .

The weird man huffs a short laugh again, but offers no explanation. Instead, he asks, “What’s got her so interested in that beat up thing?”

When Izuku looked to the notebook, he felt his heart sink a little further. This thing was really useless now, huh? As useless as he was. 

“Hero analysis,” he mumbled in response. “I think she was talking about the parts where I go over improvements in support items.”

“... you any good at it?”

Izuku shrugged in response. “I guess so. I was mostly doing it so I could analyze on the fly when I got to be a hero, but I’m probably gonna drop it now.”

“Why’s that?”

He doesn’t say anything this time, just shrugging again and closing the notebook.

The man sat up, suddenly looking way more attentive. Is he okay? Izuku blinks at him a few times— bags under bloodshot eyes, messy hair, white scarf, plain black clothes and what looked like a weird belt. He wasn’t homeless, from how the scarf was taken care of, but likely doesn’t have much free time from the hair. Eyebags are indicative of insomnia or long work hours, bloodshot meaning like sight-based quirk, belt looks more like a utility belt, which led him to a logical conclusion of—

“Take a breath, Problem Child.”

Izuku felt himself flush again as he clamped a hand over his mouth. Dammit, he needed to dump the muttering habit soon. It wouldn’t help him, and everyone thought it was creepy anyway.

“Sorry, Eraserhead-san,” he mumbled. Eraserhead lifts an eyebrow, but doesn’t comment on it.

“With a mind like that, you could pretty easily be an intelligence hero or an underground hero. Even a support hero.”

Izuku focused his eyes down. “Even if I’m quirkless?”

Eraserhead huffs again, this time sounding more annoyed. “Nighteye doesn’t read the future of every villain to win battles, kid.”

The train whistle blows, and Eraserhead leaves without another word. Izuku stares after him, turning the phrase over in his mind.

He hadn’t said a single cruel word.

Izuku zipped up his bag and, when the train came back to his area, he disembarked and ran to the corner store, using his small allowance to get a new bag and notebook, and walked home.

When he finally stepped over the threshold, his mother was waiting there. 

“Izuku, where have you been ? I saw the news, I was so worried--”

“Mom, I’m fine.” Izuku interrupted her tearful rambling, closing the door gently. “I just needed to clear my head. Think some things over.”

Mom didn’t seem to hear him, fluttering her hands as she walked in a circle around him. “You should get a shower, sweetie, you could get sick…”

He nods and heads to his room, copying the numbers onto a scrap piece of paper and staring at it for a few minutes, thinking. 

a1b4, a1b3a, a1c1a1, b1e, a1a2a1a, a1c1a1, a1a1b1a, a1b4, b1e, a1c2a, a1b1b1, a1a1a2a, a1c1a1, b1e, a1a1b2, a1b1b1, a1abc, b1e, a1c1a1, a1b1b1, a1c3, a1b1c, a1a1a1b, b1e, a1b3a, a1b1b1, a1b3a, a1c1a1, b1e, a1a1a1b, a1b1c, a1a1b1a, a1c1a1, a1c1a1

How did she even fit all this on his arm? Her handwriting wasn’t that small. And she wrote it so fast .

He thought it over while he showered, pondering the weird mishmash. It was a pattern , and an important one. 

Letters and numbers in random order, maybe…

Maybe it stood for something?

Pattern of one and another, switching.

Caesar cipher, coordinates… one after another got thrown out, abandoned like trash.

Binary. Switching ones and zeroes.

… it couldn’t hurt.

When he got out of the shower, he threw them in a binary translator with numbers as ones and letters as zeroes, but he just got a confusing mess- some simply weren’t long enough.

Wait a second.

The letters and numbers weren’t random at all!

For the next quarter hour, he spent painstakingly writing out the numbers and letters into ones and zeroes. A was one zero, B was two, C was three, D was four, E was five. 1 was one… one, 2 was two, 3 was three, and so on.

ONEZEROFIVESIXEIGHTNINETHREE

ONE-ZERO-FIVE-SIX-EIGHT-NINE-THREE.

It was a phone number.