When they were kids, it always began with a pop.
Then a smack. Sometimes a thud.
Izuku would hit the ground, roll, and try to scramble away while he talked Kacchan down. Talking...used to work. At least he thinks he did (he remembers going home smiling sometimes. Those times...they were the ones that worked, right? Sometimes Kacchan would still come over-).
He always tried talking first. After all, Kacchan was going to be a hero (everyone said so). So he wouldn’t hurt Izuku for no reason - there was a reason. There had to be.
And if he could figure it out, Kacchan would stop hurting him.
If he could figure it out, he could be a hero, too.
When they got a little older, the pops stopped. Izuku, imagining them now, thought they almost sounded cute. He could see why his younger self thought he could talk his way around them.
They get older. Pop becomes bang.
His ears ring. They actually still ring now, years later, but he’s used to ignoring it (he’s used to ignoring a lot of things. All Might had been impressed by his pain tolerance - his determination - though Izuku just thinks it was more of the same. Ignoring more of the same).
Bang (nearly drowned out by the thudding of his heart and the ringing in his ears).
The thud of his body hitting the ground was never quite enough to cover up that word. Sometimes, when he’s feeling low, Izuku wonders if Kacchan said it louder than anything else on purpose. If he made it so that Izuku could always hear it, even after what happened with his left ear (the outer curve warped just a bit, like a candle in front of a blow dryer).
He didn’t try talking too much anymore. Not when it came to himself, anyway. Sometimes though, when Kacchan went after other people, talking worked.
He used to think it was because he made Kacchan realize the other kids weren’t villains. That they hadn’t done anything wrong.
Eventually he realized, though, that he’d just made himself a better target.
Kacchan didn’t hurt him without reason. He didn’t. He hurt Izuku when he talked back. He hurt Izuku when he got in his way. He hurt him when he thought Izuku was threatening his dream (Kacchan was going to be a hero. Everybody said so. He WAS. Izuku just wished Kacchan could understand that, too).
He tries to stay out of the way. Somehow, it doesn’t work.
(If just by existing, just by being there, Izuku could stop a hero from becoming a hero...what did that make him?)
(If he could stop someone as great as Kacchan from reaching his dreams - well, Izuku never had a chance at his own, did he?)
“I’m sorry, Izuku.”
“I’m so sorry, baby!”
“Talk to me Izu-chan. Please - I know something is the matter. Let me help!”
His mother pleads from the other side of the bathroom door. Cold water runs over his burns (his palms...don’t feel right. They feel static and numb). His mom was crying.
It occurs to Izuku that he could tell her. He could...he could move schools. He could report Kacchan’s behaviour. His mother would back him - she’s indulged everything he’s ever wanted so far (taking him for a foot x-ray, sitting through a thousand hero re-runs, replacing his burnt shoes and notebooks-).
He opens his mouth. She’s still crying softly (“I’m sorry, Izuku.” Rings through his head. Not the words he’d wanted to hear back then, but now...did he want them now?).
Objectively, Izuku knows things have gone too far. His palms don’t feel right. His ear...doesn’t look right. He...he doesn’t...
Something is wrong. She’s RIGHT.
He could tell her. She could force the adults to stop ignoring him. To stop ignoring Kacchan.
Why did they ignore Kacchan, though?
(Because he’s going to be a hero)
(UA won’t accept anyone with a stain on their permanent record, let alone irresponsible Quirk use)
Izuku doesn’t open the door.
(Kacchan is going to be a hero. Izuku won’t kill his dream, too. He’ll just work harder...work harder to realize his own)
“Take a swan dive off the roof.”
That’s an explosion.
That’s the door to the roof.
That’s in Izuku’s head. He won’t hit the ground - not in reality. If he jumps, he’ll never be a hero. If he jumps...Kacchan will never be one either.
“You can’t become a hero.”
All Might says.
All Might says.
“Worthless, useless, Quirkless.”
All Might doesn’t say, however Izuku is sure he’s thinking it.
It’s silent after All Might leaves, but Izuku could swear he hears a bang over the ringing in his ears. Maybe it’s just the sound of his dreams collapsing.
Kacchan looks scared. He’s told Izuku before not to interfere with his business. Not to speak to him. Not to look at him (to stop existing, really).
But Kacchan is going to be a hero. Izuku can’t let him fall here. He can’t let Kacchan’s dream collapse (not after his already has. He doesn’t think he could take it).
His bag makes contact. He frees Kacchan’s hands, and explosions had never sounded so comforting (they had, actually, never comforted him before this at all).
They struggle until All Might arrives. Once they are safe, Izuku begins to feel dread pool in his stomach. Kacchan hadn’t wanted help and Izuku knows there will be consequences.
Just like every other time he’d intentionally gone against Kacchan’s rules though, Izuku can’t bring himself to regret it (can’t find it in his heart to say what he’s done is wrong). He lets Kacchan say his piece and, exhausted, he heads for home (and it never occurs to him that that right there is why Kacchan will never like him).
“You can become a hero.”
All Might says.
The announcement doesn’t come with a bang. There’s no thud, either, not even of Izuku’s ever-nervous heart.
Instead, there’s a silence that is heavy and weighted and -
He says yes, of course.
(There was never a time he would’ve said anything else)
All Might booms, posing dramatically from atop the car Izuku is slowly pushing through the sand of Dagobah Beach,
“Your hands are bleeding. Take a moment to wrap them - it’s important to take care of yourself as a hero!”
Izuku blinks, taking a moment to shake his awe of the image of All Might (!!!!) looking down at him while wreathed in sunlight (!!!!!!!!!) from his exhausted mind before examining his palms. All Might (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) is right. They are bleeding.
He hadn’t felt a thing (just static).
Laughing nervously, he wraps them and swipes some hair behind his left ear.
All Might says, expression shifting curiously,
“What happened, my boy?”
Izuku pauses. He remembers his mother on the other side of the bathroom door. It’s the only other time that somebody had given him the chance to...
(All Might is everyone’s hero)
(He’s Kacchan’s hero)
(He’ll set a good example for him. No sense in inviting judgment. No sense in dragging up the past - not when Izuku can finally become a hero, too)
Izuku chuckles, fingers twitching across the shell of his warped ear,
“It’s nothing. It’s been this way ever since I could remember.”
He should’ve known Kacchan would be at the exams.
He should’ve known he’d be angry.
It’s not like he knew Izuku was finally able to become a hero, too. It’s not like he knew Izuku wouldn’t drag him down. It’s not like he knew that his origin story didn’t have to feature him all alone.
Izuku shatters his bones in an attack more powerful than anything Kacchan had ever used against him and, for the first time in a long time, he feels...
(Kacchan was going to be a hero. Why wasn’t that good enough for him?)
(Why couldn’t Izuku be one, too?)
Meeting in the classroom goes poorly.
Meeting in the first exercise goes poorly.
Kacchan is making a bad impression on people. He’s making other heroes dislike him. He’s getting in the way of his own dream.
When the others offer Izuku support, jokingly noting Kacchan’s bad attitude, Izuku shrugs them off. Tells them Kacchan’s good points.
He doesn’t say nearly as much as he usually would, though. In fact, he barely manages to say anything positive.
People start liking Kacchan. Not many, but there’s a few. They’re good people.
Somehow it doesn’t make Izuku feel any better. Kacchan...isn’t terrible to them.
Somehow that doesn’t make him feel any better, either.
Kacchan targets Todoroki. But somehow, it’s different than how he targeted Izuku. He’s challenging him even when he’s insulting him.
He respects Todoroki. Izuku abruptly realizes that Kacchan never respected HIM.
It’s ok, though. Izuku will become a great hero, stand on the same stage as Kacchan, and MAKE him look at him as an equal.
Kacchan decimates Urakara despite her incredible strategy and determination. He gives her a smidgen of respect for it, but he still destroys her. Somehow it doesn’t feel fair. Somehow it doesn’t feel right.
Izuku always knew Kacchan was going to become a hero - one of the best, even.
He just...didn’t see why that meant Kacchan always had to win.
(He doesn’t see why that should mean no one else got to be a great hero, too)
Izuku fights Todoroki and forgets everything for a few minutes. Todoroki LOOKS at him. He acts like he isn’t, however Izuku can SEE it. He can see below the surface. He can see Todoroki reaching out to him (like Kacchan never did).
Todoroki uses his fire and Izuku feels like a winner. He feels like a hero. He also feels like a smear on the pavement, though it’s worth it.
Then Todoroki loses to Kacchan with just his ice and...
USJ is a disaster.
The practical exam is a disaster.
All Might is the only reason Kacchan comes even remotely close to listening. To learning. To...to...
Acting like a hero. To acting like someone who DESERVES to be a hero. To acting like the man Izuku KNEW he could be.
Kacchan’s friends flock around him. They scold him, but it’s...gentle.
All Might had been gentle, too. Even Aizawa seemed gentle. Guiding.
Kacchan had decked Izuku in the face and had lost nothing he couldn’t regain. Izuku, though...
Nobody asks him about his hands. Nobody asks about his ear. They ask about Bakugou’s attitude but not about what he did (what he's done).
Izuku wants to say something, but at this point he doesn’t even know what.
Then he fails to save Kacchan from villains and he wonders...why he was ever frustrated about Kacchan getting to be a hero anyway. He wonders if all the traits he wanted someone, anyone, to see in Kacchan were the reason villains took him.
If he had’ve said anything, would villains have taken him sooner? Would Kacchan have been even the slightest bit vulnerable to their recruiting pitch?
If he had’ve said something, would Kacchan be even half the hero he is today?
They get Kacchan back. Izuku...doesn’t say anything.
Even though Kacchan’s becoming a better person, less gruff, less angry, less...less the thing that scared Izuku when they were kids (bang, thud, smack, Quirkless-), somehow Izuku doesn’t feel any better. He tries to, of course.
He encourages his friends to befriend Kacchan’s. He tries to talk to him. He takes his advice.
But Kacchan...looks at him and sees All Might. He looks at him and doesn’t see his hands or his ears. He looks at him and doesn’t say sorry.
Izuku’s gut twists.
He faces the League and he faces Overhaul and he faces Stain and he gets his ass kicked over and over and over-
He meets people worse than Kacchan. Izuku meets people way worse than his childhood bully. People who scare him more and have hurt people in ways Kacchan would never have hurt him.
It makes something strange bubble up within him that he shoves down again and again and-
He meets Eri and he sees the marks Overhaul left on her. He keeps meeting Eri and keeps finding more of them. He hears Aizawa talking to her about them.
And he thinks of Todoroki. He thinks of Endeavour and the bruises coating Todoroki that don’t come from training at UA. He thinks of the look on Todoroki’s face whenever he has to go home and how it gets so much worse when he mentions his missing older brother and-
People knew about Overhaul. Overhaul was punished. Eri...Eri could see that and begin to understand what happened to her shouldn’t have (Aizawa talks a lot about psychology, about justice, and Izuku feels something twisting harder and harder in his gut).
He thinks Todoroki didn’t get to have that. He...he wonders why.
Endeavour is the number one hero. Kacchan is their number one student. Todoroki...Todoroki told Izuku part of what happened to him.
Izuku didn’t tell anybody.
(Kacchan was going to be a hero, so Izuku knew it would end one day. He knew it would never be too bad. He would never die from anything Kacchan did and, when Izuku became a hero, Kacchan would have to respect him, too)
(But Endeavour became a hero)
(He became number one)
(Izuku doesn’t know what that means)
Mirio is watching Izuku play with Eri. He pays special attention to how quiet it is. Eri is slowly learning to become boisterous with the others (mostly through Mic’s efforts and Mirio’s own boundless enthusiasm), however the way she plays with Izuku is always quiet.
There’s a look in Izuku’s eyes that says,
“I’ll never hurt you like they did.”
Which doesn’t surprise him. What surprises Mirio is that the same look is on Eri’s face. It’s a private look, so Mirio doesn’t ask.
(But he will, because Mirio is a hero)
Kouta, the Water Horse’s child, visits Izuku when him and Mirio are babysitting. Mirio watches and waits. He knows that this kid has been hurt, has lashed out at countless people before, and struggled with relationships. He’s been violent in varying degrees, so Mirio wonders how he’ll interact with Eri.
Kouta isn’t as gentle with her as Izuku is. He’s a little rough, however Mirio can see the care he’s trying to exhibit. It’s commendable.
It’s interesting, though, that he keeps shooting glances at Izuku whenever he’s a little rough. Uses him as a makeshift gauge to tone it down. Because Izuku twitches before Eri ever does.
Kouta looks at Izuku exactly like Eri does.
That gives Mirio questions that he’s uncomfortable leaving unanswered.
“Has Izuku been abused?”
Mirio asks, apropos of nothing. It makes Nighteye freeze at his desk, mouth twisted with confusion, hands clenched around the paper he’d been signing.
He asks (not at his most eloquent). Mirio repeats himself, face smiling but eyes serious, and Nighteye tries to figure out where this is coming from.
“He has a history with villains. His whole class does. Beyond that, nothing that I know of.”
He eventually responds, quirking a brow. Mirio frowns and it’s uncharacteristic enough that he has Nighteye’s full attention.
“All Might would have told me if Midoriya required special attention.”
Nighteye tries to assure his student. It doesn’t work, however, as Mirio’s fists clench.
His student says, tone pleasant but gaze still too serious,
“Do traumatized children treat him like he’s one of their own? Just another hurt kid?”
Nighteye can’t think of an answer. Instead he promises to call All Might, and for the first time in over a year, Mirio storms out of his office without saying goodbye.
“Does your successor have a history of abuse?”
Nighteye asks the moment Toshinori picks up the phone. It makes him inhale sharply, then choke on blood and cough horrifically for several minutes to the tune of Nighteye’s panicked apologies. Once he can breathe again, Toshinori wheezes,
“What? No, not that I-“
Toshinori pauses suddenly, thinking back to when he first met Izuku.
“He was Quirkless before.”
He murmurs, fingers unconsciously tracing over his left ear,
“I’m sure he was bullied by his peers. He never let it stop him, though.”
Nighteye is silent and Toshinori’s gut twists. He feels like something is wrong here.
Nighteye begins before trailing off. He sighs audibly into the phone,
“He seems to think that Midoriya...has a different relationship with Eri and the Waterhorse boy than himself. That the children see him as ‘one of them’.”
The sensation of ‘something wrong’ settles across Toshinori’s shoulders heavily. He remembers countless times in training that Izuku’s palms took heavier damage than anticipated. He remembers the warped ear. He remembers Izuku saying,
With that LOOK. With frustration in his eyes.
“I’ll talk to Aizawa.”
Toshinori says, then hangs up.
Midoriya has just left Eri for the day when Shouta strides in. He wants to be quick - Eri was best at answering questions about feelings when they were fresh. She still struggled to understand a lot of emotions when she had to relate them to memories (feelings...hadn't been important in her upbringing).
He starts, boosting her onto the sofa next to himself,
“What do you think of Midoriya?”
She tilts her head and scrunches her nose.
“He’s a big brother. That’s what Kouta calls him.”
She says, looking mildly confused. Shouta feels a tightness in his throat, but ignores it to soldier on (it was ok. Big brother didn’t mean anything bad).
“And what about Mirio?”
“Is he the same?”
Eri stares at her scarred arms and wiggles her tiny fingers.
She says after some deliberation,
“Lemillion is Lemillion. He’s a hero!”
Shouta sort of wants to drop this conversation. There’s a certain kind of creeping dread threatening to squeeze his throat completely closed. He coughs into his hand to clear it and asks,
“Is Midoriya not a hero?”
Eri shakes her head, then stops. Tilts her head. She frowns.
“He is...he’s Deku. But heroes don’t let people hurt them, so...”
She mumbles. She blinks, tracing a finger over her gnarled forearm,
“Heroes just die when somebody hurts them. They don’t get put back together. Not like Deku.”
Her hand wraps fully around her opposite wrist, covering the scars, and Eri frowns again when she whispers,
“Deku’s like me. Kouta thinks so, too.”
Shouta grits his teeth (don’t panic or she’ll panic-).
“Has he said something to you?”
He asks, slowly reaching out to take Eri’s hands in his. He gives her the frayed end of his sleeve to play with instead of her easily irritated skin and she immediately latches on.
She hums, happy with something to occupy her attention and spare her from making eye contact (she still finds older men hard to look in the face),
“Deku knows how to be quiet.”
The dread in Shouta’s throat nearly crawls right out of his mouth. He’s pretty sure that if it did, it would have a name.
And he doesn’t want to say it.
Aizawa’s tone is completely blank on the phone, though Toshinori imagines he can hear a flicker of his own dread beneath it all,
“Eri says Midoriya knows how to be quiet.”
Toshinori leaves his apartment.
(His door closes with a bang)
Izuku is at Dagobah Beach. Somehow, Toshinori thinks it’s fitting. This is the place he’d first asked Izuku, in the single most roundabout way possible, what had happened to him.
His student doesn’t even twitch (eyes shut and body limp - almost relaxed) as Toshinori lays down in the sand beside him. Eventually though, he sighs.
“I saw Aizawa-sensei sneaking into Eri’s room as I was leaving.”
“And I can guess why. Mirio-senpai hasn’t exactly been subtle.”
Toshinori is silent. He’s afraid that if he says anything, Izuku will say 'it's fine' and that will be that.
“Kacchan bullied me for years before we enrolled in UA. He was pretty harsh.”
Izuku’s eyes are open now. He’s vacantly staring at the clear sky above.
“I don’t really know why he did it. I don’t really know why he still hates me or...or whatever it is that he feels towards me now.”
He laughs, though to Toshinori’s ears it’s a completely hollow sound.
“First it was that I was Quirkless. Then it was because I was in the way. Then it was...just because, I think. It was always just because with the other kids he hurt. He really had it out for me, though.”
Other kids...? Toshinori can imagine exactly how Izuku reacted to that (drawing attention to himself, trying to keep Katsuki from hurting anyone else).
“Then I got here even though he told me not to come, that I couldn’t do it, that he’d fight me if I did, and I thought...I’m not useless anymore. And then he didn’t even have the decency to hate me for me. Or like me for me. All this insecurity and it was just...”
Izuku brings up one of his scarred hands (One for All taking its toll...and maybe Katsuki taking his) and covers his eyes with it.
“It‘s always about you. That you picked me and not him. That he ‘ruined’ you somehow. And I just-“
Izuku is crying now. It’s quiet (“Eri says that Midoriya knows how to be quiet.”). It rips Toshinori’s heart right out of his chest.
“I just wanted Kacchan to be a hero. I wanted to be one, too! I want him to say sorry, I want him to go away, I want him to be as alone as I was, and I want him to stay and be better and be friends but it’s never ENOUGH-“
“He hurt you.”
Toshinori interrupts Izuku’s increasingly frenzied rant,
“He hurt you for a long time, rejecting your every attempt to make it better. He twisted your dreams. He tried to crush them too, I think.”
Toshinori inhales, squeezes his eyes shut as his chest aches (in sympathy, regret, guilt), then slowly exhales (Izuku won't thank him for his guilt. He has to move past it).
“He hurt you.”
“And sometimes that means nothing will ever be enough.”
Izuku wails, loud and jagged, bringing both arms (battered, scarred, used to defend so many others in place of himself) to cover his face.
“I’m so selfish.”
“He’s better now. He’s a better person and it - it had nothing to do with me. To do with what he DID to me. He’s better and that shouldn’t, I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t be hurt by that-“
Toshinori closes his eyes again, gently placing one of his hands on Izuku’s head as he prepares to ride out the storm (he needed to be steady now. Izuku needed to be able to hurt without hurting others).
“He wouldn’t have been a hero if I said something, but did he - did he deserve to be? Should he have been? He’s a hero now - he’s a HERO like I always knew he would be. He’s good to everyone...but me.”
Izuku inhales sharply, shuddering under Toshinori’s hand,
“He never said sorry. He doesn’t regret it.”
He draws in another wet shuddering breath,
“How can he be a hero when he’s just moved on and...forgotten about it. When I can’t forget about it.”
One of his hands snakes up to link its fingers (scarred, bent, broken) with Toshinori’s. Toshinori clutches Izuku back with all his strength (his successor, his kid-).
“How can I be a hero for anyone else when I couldn’t...I couldn’t even help myself?”
Izuku finally whispers.
“You told me now.”
Toshinori says, trying to keep the tears out of his own voice,
“That has to count for something.”
He clutches Izuku’s hand even tighter,
“Somebody knows now. Somebody knows and that changes things. Because I’d say...”
Toshinori opens his eyes. Tears pool at the corners and slide down his cheeks into the hot sand.
“I’d say that Katsuki is no hero until he does something about the pain he has caused. And if you never feel better-“
Izuku’s breath catches as Toshinori says with the utmost gravity,
“Then he’ll never be a hero to me. I’m just one broken man, but I hope-“
His speech cuts to a sudden halt as Izuku tackles him. Izuku’s muscles had certainly grown, because he weighed a ton, leaving Toshinori wheezing and trapped in his embrace.
Izuku whispers into his neck,
“Thank you, Toshi.”
It’s not enough, but Toshinori hopes it’s a start.
Izuku gets a text at 2am. He blinks against the bright light of his cellphones screen as he reads,
“Your hands and your ear. Was it him?”
It’s weird, being asked. It’s weird talking about it in general. He kind of feels like he should talk to his mom sometime soon (he doesn't think he knows how after so many years of doing the exact opposite).
“Yeah. It was him.”
He types. He stares at the words, stark and uncompromising on the screen, and sends them.
Then he turns off his phone and goes back to sleep.
Toshinori calls Aizawa.
“Heroism isn’t all action, Bakugou. It isn’t all fighting and protecting only the people you respect. It is if you’re simply thinking of it as a career - it’s going through the motions with civilians and making sure no one dies if they don’t have to. It's competition."
Bakugou sits in Shouta’s office, hands steaming, eyes averted (is he ashamed of himself? Or is he ashamed of what he suspects Shouta knows?).
“Heroism, when it’s more than just a job, isn’t about action. It’s about yourself.”
Bakugou’s fists and jaw clench. His shoulders hunch inward for just a second before he forcibly straightens them. He still can’t look at Shouta (it’s best that he doesn’t. Shouta hadn’t quite managed to keep his poker face together).
“I think you know that, though, don’t you?”
Shouta's tone is bland, yet he can see his words are cutting.
“You know you don’t have what it takes to be a hero yet, even if the rest of them think you do. You’re still hiding from your past.”
Shouta lets a single drop of the sharp anger he feels slide into his voice at last, raising his eyebrows as he stares down at his student,
“You’re still hiding from the fact that Midoriya is the kind of hero you wish you could be, despite your best efforts to crush it out of him.”
He lets silence fall over his office (gives Bakugou the chance to say something. To show he’s learned something on his own - Shouta doesn’t want to spell it out for him). It grows thicker and thicker until Bakugou’s palms spark.
Shouta stares at him, obliterating the source of the quiet hiss and pop. Bakugou grits his teeth.
“I already get it.”
He finally hisses,
“I was a bad person. It made villains headhunt me, ruined All Might, it made Deku my greatest rival-“
Shouta slams a palm down on his desk with a bang. His throat is tight and his eyes burn.
He starts with a growl before he can tone it down,
“Are still a bad person if that’s what you think about the situation.”
Bakugou snarls at him but doesn’t stand, doesn’t try to storm out, and Shouta hopes that that means something (though he’s learning his lesson about assuming anything makes sense when it comes to the situation between Bakugou and Midoriya).
“This isn’t about you.”
Shouta says, slowly gathering his composure again,
“This is about what is right. And, on that note-“
He flips open his laptop,
“I’ll be updating your personal information, your school records, and letting your teachers know about the situation.”
Finally, Bakugou can’t hold back anymore. He lunges forward from his seat, crying out,
In a second he’s wrapped up in Shouta’s capture gear. In two seconds, he’s dumped at the door of the office.
“And I will. By all means, you should have never made it into UA, Bakugou.”
The boy’s eyes shine with unshed tears, however Shouta is merciless (he has to be),
“But you did. And I have to acknowledge the potential you currently have, which is why you haven’t been expelled yet. Given that chance, though...it’s only fair that those who are meant to educate you on heroes know about your greatest failure as one.”
He loosens his capture gear and watches as Bakugou gets shakily to his feet. His student opens his mouth (another retort, another excuse, another insult), and Shouta simply opens the door in response.
The message is clear: get out.
Passing each other in the hallway, two boys pause for a single heartbeat.
“You ruined my life. You’ve always been ruining my life, Deku.”
“You ruined it yourself, Kacchan. And it’s not over yet. If Endeavour can become number one...why can’t you?”
Passing each other in the hallway, one boy continues forward, trying his best not to cry, and one stands frozen in place (only the thudding of his heart and the popping in his palms keeping him company).
"People should know what your dad did."
Izuku says. Todoroki is silent. He's safe. He's leaning heavily into Izuku's side as a movie neither of them cares about drones on in the background.
"He's trying to be better."
Izuku continues, fingers twisting into Todoroki's shirt hem,
"But does it matter if nobody ever gets to judge him for what he's done? If nobody ever supports you, or your siblings, or your mom?"
Todoroki stays silent. Stays safe. It gives Izuku the strength to say,
"Does it matter that he's trying to be better when he isn't willing to expose himself for what he's done?"
Todoroki exhales, his breath ruffling Izuku's hair.
"You know what he did. You judged him to his face. I know. My siblings know. My mom knows...at least I think she does."
Todoroki murmurs quietly,
"It's not enough, but it does matter."
"He doesn't deserve to be a hero."
Izuku hisses. He doesn't know why he's crying now, not when Todoroki is still so calm, but he is and he can't seem to stop.
Todoroki agrees. Izuku can hear the slightest hint of a smile in his tone and somehow it makes his tears even more stubborn (refusing to stop, refusing to slow).
"So me and you,"
Todoroki says, patting Izuku's hand that is currently strangling his shirt,
"We're going to become real heroes. We'll be great and..."
Todoroki is definitely smiling now, a hint of petty glee in his voice,
"It'll have nothing to do with them."
A choked laugh, wet and pathetic, leaves Izuku's throat. He clutches Todoroki's hand tightly in his own. A decision sits heavy in his heart, but he knows he can carry its weight with the help of the people around him.
He'll become a hero. He'll become the greatest hero. And he'll make sure that everyone who has the same dream he does will make it there, too.
Izuku won't be alone at the top. He won't be alone, but he won't just be standing with Kacchan either.