“Can you be honest with me for once?” Izuku is sitting across from his teacher in an otherwise empty classroom, his feet not quite hitting the ground as he hunches in even farther on himself at the question.
“I’m not lying,” he says to the floor, tears pricking in his eyes. He does not want to cry though, not here, not now. Crying now will only make his teacher even more angry, even more convinced that Izuku is lying. So he strangles on the lump in his throat and refuses to let the tears fall.
“So you mean to tell me that you managed to get a perfect score on this test without cheating?” Tanaka-sensei says.
Izuku does not trust himself to speak without bursting into tears, so he nods his head fiercely, never shifting his gaze from the floor. There is a heavy sigh from his teacher and Izuku tenses, heart rate picking up.
“I know you may think that by lying to me you won’t get in trouble, Midoriya. But it’s only making your situation worse for you.
“Now, tell me, who did you use to cheat off of?”
“I didn’t cheat.” Izuku whispers.
“Enough with the lying Midoriya! I know people like you aren’t as intelligent as the rest of us! And I can tell you don’t pay attention in class! So I know you could not have received a perfect score on this test! So who did you cheat off of?” Izuku keeps quiet even as Tanaka-sensei’s words cut him to the quick.
After several beats of silence, his teacher lets out another heavy sigh and says, “If you won’t tell me who you cheated off of I’ll be forced to give you a zero for the whole test.”
Izuku could hear his heart pounding in his ears, drowning out all other noises. His mind scrambled to come up with something that would satisfy his teacher, but it was like trying to grab onto water, his thought just kept slipping out of his head.
“Fine, you get a zero then.” Tanaka-sensei bites out, and Izuku knows he has been dismissed. He gets up from the chair and grabs his stuff as if he is in a trance. He is aware that he is moving, aware that his body is performing actions. But he does not feel any of them. It is as if a layer of cotton is wrapped around his brain.
He manages to make it outside like that. Putting one foot in front of the other because somewhere deep down he knows that it is what he is supposed to do. But as soon as he makes it outside his school gates, the dam holding everything back shatters.
Izuku has no idea what he is going to do. He has never gotten such a bad grade before. He wonders if his mom will believe him when he tells her or if she will take his teacher’s side, arguing that his quirklessness makes him stupider than everyone else, that he must have glanced at another student’s paper as they were handing it in and subconsciously put down their answers., that he’s nothing more than a stupid, useless deku.
Izuku is not entirely sure how he makes it home, but by the time he reaches the front door, he has dried his tears and done his best to conceal the burn on his arm Kacchan gave him that morning. And he has resolved to keep the incident from her for as long as he can, he does not want to be a burden, does not want to add more to her already overfull plate. He pastes on the brightest smile he can muster and lies straight through his teeth for the rest of the weekend.
On Monday morning when Tanaka-sensei is handing back their tests, he pauses a moment by Izuku’s desk and says, “Do better next time Midoriya.”
There is a large red zero on his test paper and Izuku’s cheeks burn hot with shame. He can feel the tears building in the back of his throat as he shoves the paper into his bag, trying to keep everyone who had overheard Tanaka-sensei from seeing his grade.
He manages to keep most of his tears in his throat. And the few that do manage to slip out slide soundlessly down his cheeks. No one notices his tears and it stings and soothes in equal measures.
As soon as they are released to lunch, Izuku is out the door. He does not give Kacchan and his friends the chance to catch up with him even as he hears them shouting after him. There are even a few explosions, but Izuku has had more than enough practice running and hiding from all of them at this point.
He makes it to the bathroom and locks himself in. Then he pulls his test from his bag and starts tearing it apart, more and more tears escaping the lump in his throat with each piece he tears off. Once he has a small pile of paper scraps on the floor, he scoops them up and dumps them into the toilet before flushing them down. Then he resumes tearing up his test.
Izuku spends the rest of his lunch period making the test disappear.
The next few tests Izuku gets back from his teacher meet the same fate as each one comes with a red zero and a comment about needing to study the material better. Izuku is hoping that eventually his teacher will realize that Izuku is doing the work, that he is not cheating, even as the hope grows dimmer with each failure.
And then Tanaka-sensei asks him to stay back after school one day and Izuku feels hope flare brightly in his chest.
“I have tried to be lenient with you Midoriya, I had hoped that if I simply failed you, you would learn the error of your ways and stop cheating off your fellow students. But it seems you are insistent on continuing this charade of yours. So this will be my final warning on the subject. You will either stop cheating off your fellow classmates, or I will be forced to report you to the principal.” Tanaka-sensei says and Izuku stops breathing.
If his teacher reports that Izuku is cheating to the principal, it will go on his permanent record. Anyone schools he might potentially go to will have access to those. And there are certain things you absolutely cannot have on your record when you’re trying to get into certain schools. If Tanaka-sensei makes good on his threat, Izuku can kiss any chance he has of making it into U.A. goodbye.
Izuku could try to appeal the mark, but he knows without even having to think about it that it would do absolutely nothing. No one would take the word of a weak, crybaby, quirkless deku over a teacher’s. They would laugh him right out of the school.
Izuku bombs his next test on purpose.
The next day Tanaka-sensei asks him to stay back again. Izuku feels the pit of his stomach drop through the floor as his head fills with white static. Part of him distantly wonders if this is what it feels like before you black out. And if it is, will it get him out of this meeting with his teacher or if it will just be another mark against him.
“I am glad to see that you have decided to stop cheating off your classmates Midoriya. That brings us to our next topic however. With this most recent test it is clear that your understanding of the material is poor at best.
“So in order to get your grade up and to make sure you truly understand the material so you don’t feel the need to cheat off any of your classmates. I must insist that you stay after class at least twice a week for remedial sessions.
I am aware that some of your previous teachers might have been willing to bend the rules for you and let you slide on certain things due to your condition. But that has not helped you any Midoriya. And I do not intend to let it go any farther. I will not make exceptions for you because you are Quirkless. I hold all my students to the same standard of learning and I expect you to meet it.
“Do well in your remedial classes and I won’t recommend you stay behind an extra year. Have a good night Midoriya.”
Izuku barely feels anything at all as he makes his way out of the classroom and starts walking home. He does not feel anything until it is much later at night, long after his mom has gone to bed. He turns his face into his pillow and breaks.
His grades for that semester are abysmal and they come with a schedule for his remedial classes attached to it. His mom grounds him for getting too invested in his hero notes during class. He wonders briefly if he should come clean about the tests and the accusations and everything. But then she is rushing out the door because work called her in for an extra shift and he lets the idea fade into the background noise of his mind.
That night, he stays up later than he should. He does as much research as he can with his phone under the covers. And when morning comes, he does more research on the computer. Izuku figures out the exact lowest his grades can be if he wants to make it to all the schools in the area, U.A. included. He researches heroics courses and general education courses and everything in between. He decides on what he wants, the things he will settle for nothing less than. And he plans.
His next test is two weeks after their semester grades come out. Tanaka-sensei gives him a look as he passes out the tests and Izuku knows that his threat is still hanging over his head. Izuku flicks his eyes away, heart rate picking up as his palms start to sweat. He knows that one slip up will cost him his dream and it makes him shake in his seat.
The test starts and Izuku begins answering questions. He goes through the whole thing and he knows he does not miss a one. He does just to prove to himself that he can, that he is capable of doing it. Then, once he has reached the very last question, Izuku flips back to the first question and starts erasing answers. He gets questions wrong on purpose. Just enough to fly under the radar while maintaining a grade he can work with.
He hands in his test and Tanaka-sensei gives him an approving smile when he hands it back, remarking later in the remedial classes that he is happy to see Izuku’s grade improving as he hands him the schedule for the next few weeks.
Izuku gives him a smile he does not feel and he goes home and he analyzes hero fights and reminds himself again and again that his goals are worth it, that his dreams mean needing to make sacrifices sometimes.
He works on disappearing in class. He does not raise his hand to answer questions, he does not call attention to himself. Izuku tells himself he is practicing for stealth missions as a hero, but even that has the stale taste of a lie told one too many times.
Still, he does not allow himself to dwell on the truth, that it feels like he has made himself a ghost. It echoes too much like other thoughts he would rather not entertain.
And when the year ends Izuku breathes out a sigh of relief, a crushing stone weight lifting from his ribcage as he leaves Tanaka-sensei’s classroom for the last time. He spends as much of his break with his mother as he can. And when he’s not with her he goes to the library and learns as much as he can, or he trolls the hero forums and watches hero fights in real time again.
He walks into his next year bright and refreshed again, a bounce in his step.
And then Ito-sensei asks him to stay after class and Izuku can feel his fight or flight instincts spike. But there is no one he can fight, no where he can escape to. So he sits there with the buzzing in his veins and the small tremors that wrack his body no matter how hard he tries to keep them inside.
“I want you to be aware that Tanaka spoke to me about you when he learned you would be in my class and I am aware of your history of cheating off your classmates. Neither of us want to see you backslide into nasty habits, so I will be continuing the remedial classes he started with you in order to ensure that you do not feel the need to cheat in order to obtain the results you want.
“I also want you to know that if I see any signs of cheating from you I will not hesitate to bring it to the attention of the principal. There will be no second chances with me Midoriya.”
Izuku nods his head woodenly, forcing himself to listen to what Ito-sensei is saying even past the cotton layer that has firmly wrapped itself around his brain. As soon as he has been dismissed, Izuku picks up his bag and walks out the door. It does not feel like he is in control of his body as he does so, or if he is, there is a significant delay.
He makes it home and forces a brittle smile on his face. It does not feel very convincing, but his mom is distracted and she does not notice. Or maybe she has seen so many fake smiles from him that that she cannot tell the difference anymore.
That year he plays games with himself as he changes answers. He spells out words and messages in his lies. He makes up insignificant rules and then changes them whenever it looks like he might be losing. Part of him wonders if anyone notices, if anyone will call him out. But no one does, and he manages to mostly fly under the radar again.
When he walks into Suzuki-sensei’s classroom, he knows better than to expect his past to have left him behind. He does not even bother to hope. Instead he spends the first few weeks bracing for the blow he knows is coming.
He realizes after a while that it is not coming. But he can feel Suzuki-sensei’s eyes on him every time he takes a test, staring down the top of his head, making his skin prickle and itch with the knowledge that he is being watched. And Izuku knows that even if Suzuki-sensei has not taken him aside to let him know, his teacher is watching him for any small slip up.
So Izuku keeps his head down and he keeps playing games and getting things wrong on his tests. He does what he needs to, to fade into the background, to not stand out. He does what he needs to to survive.
And it works for the most part. Until one day when Suzuki-sensei comes by and collects Izuku’s test from him before he has even finished half of his first run through. Isuku startles as the paper is practically ripped out from under his hands, his pen leaving a long mark from where he had not finished writing.
“See me after class Midoriya,” Suzuki-sensei says above him, but Izuku cannot make himself look at his teacher, his heart is pounding in his chest and his palms are sweaty and he cannot breathe properly. There are snickers from his classmates and Izuku feels his fate heat up as tears that he refuses to let fall form in his eyes.
He feels fuzzy for the rest of the day. He knows what is coming even though he does not know why it is coming now.
“Do you know why I asked you to stay back today Midoriya?” Suzuki-sensei asks as soon as the last of his classmates has left the room. Izuku shakes his head, studying the wood swirls in his desk.
“I expect you to look at me and answer verbally during this conversation Midoriya,” Suzuki-sensei says sharply.
Izuku forces himself to look up at his teacher as he forces himself to meet his teacher’s gaze, “Yes sensei.” It feels like there is no air in his lungs as he answers.
“Good. Now the reason why I asked you to stay back today is that I saw you intended to apply for the U.A. Heroics Course.”
“And the General Education department,” Izuku says, even as he begins to feel hot and itchy all over.
“Do not interrupt me Midoriya,” Suzuki-sensei snaps.
Izuku bows his head and whispers “Sorry sensei.”
Suzuki-sensei lets out a snort as Izuku looks back up at him. He is shaking harder now, and he wonders if it is visible to his teacher. It feels like he could be shaking his enteri desk, his entire classroom with his tremors.
“Now, I asked you to stay back because I heard you intend to apply for the Heroics Course at U.A., and it is my job to be realistic with you and tell you that someone with cheating on their record will never make it into U.A.”
“But I’ve never cheated!” Izuku bursts out.
“Do not lie, Midoriya! Your previous teachers may have been willing to let your infractions go, but not me! I may not have been able to catch you yet, but believe me when I tell you that I will. And I will not hesitate to mark it down as soon as I do. I will not allow a cheater into U.A.”
Izuku does not go home as soon as he has been dismissed. Instead he goes to a beach by his house that is filled to the brim with trash. He finds something breakable among the piles of stuff and he destroys it. Then he finds another item and he breaks that too. He breaks things until his is panting, chest heaving with each breath he takes.
Then he goes home and pretends everything is fine. He does not allow his mom to see that anything is wrong.
He stops doing his first run through on tests. He gets answers wrong on purpose the first time around. And he refuses to look at anything besides his test no matter what else is going on around him. His heart rate spikes every time he feels Suzuki-sensei’s eyes on him. But he does not give his teacher a reason to single him out over tests.
He meets All Might soon after and things start to get better. He feels less like a ghost in class and more like someone who is biding their time. With All Might, getting into U.A. feels less like a hopeless dream he is clinging onto and more and more like something he can actually achieve with each passing day.
Izuku leaves his middle school feeling lighter than he has in years. He has a quirk, even if it shatters his bones every time he uses it, and he has gotten into his dream school. He feels like he is walking on air.
He manages to hold onto that feeling right up until the very first test he has to take at U.A.
Present Mic-sensei is handing out tests and as soon as he gets his test, he can feel his heart jump into his throat as his hands start to shake. He knows the answers on the test. He still gets some of them wrong on purpose. He maintains his ability to fly under the radar, he does not draw attention to himself.
Present Mic-sensei smiles at him while he hands the tests back. Izuku gives him a wobbly smile in return.
He can feel Aizawa-sensei’s eyes on him during his next test and Izuku hunches his shoulders forwards even more. He continues to spell out words with his wrong answers.
Midnight-sensei walks the aisles as he takes his test and Izuku hears static each time she walks past his desk, worried that she is about to smack him with her whip and accuse him of cheating. Worried that he is about to be thrown out of his dream school and his dream course at any moment.
But Izuku knows how to fade into the background in a classroom. He has spent years perfecting the art of being completely unremarkable.
He knows they are watching him for one slip up and he is determined not to give it to them. Even if they have not made their intentions known yet, he knows. He knows better than to think his teachers will take an increase in his grades in stride. Being too smart is not for someone like him.