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There's something horrible hanging in the air when he wakes. It's nothing he can stop, barely anything he can identify, but the tension in his shoulders swells to something horrible, crushes him down like he's nothing more than a child. Izuku, belatedly, realizes that this has been a theme all night.

"Alright." It makes him feel better to say it out loud, almost, like the dust collecting on his bookshelf and desk has the opportunity to answer him back. Reassure him, maybe, that everything is actually fine and dandy and not at all falling apart in front of his eyes. "Alright," he says again, then moves from his room, shuffling past his old All-Might name plate with the whisper of an affirmation on his lips.

He starts with the bathroom mirror. It was getting too dirty anyway, he reasons, and grabs the cleaning products from under his sink and gets to work. He blanks out through cleaning the toilet and bathtub. the floor gets mopped while he's at it, though by the time he forces himself to focus again everything is spotless and shiny and ready for company.

Company he's not having, he thinks bitterly, then shakes out of it before it can grow into something petty. Izuku doesn't want to focus on that right now, not when his consciousness is spotty enough to forget if he washed the toilet or not. He did, apparently, but he does it again just in case.

He cracks his knuckles when he's done, threads his hands through his greasy hair, and grabs the vacuum from his hall closet before he can change his mind.

Izuku's on a roll. he refuses to be slowed down tonight, refuses to be dragged to the floor with his own brain up against him, and heads towards the kitchen next with intent. His vision is starting to get blurry again, he knows this, but keeps cleaning. The plates, the tabletop, the counter and cabinets and trash all get taken care of, and by the time his kitchen is finally clean enough he's sweating through his All Might pajama set.

"Alright," Izuku whispers. "Alright."

He doesn't process when he sits down, not at all, he's slipping, too far away to grab and haul back before it can get bad.

He doesn't remember when he puts the cleaning supplies away, or changes from his pajamas to sweats and a long-sleeved shirt.

When he looks back up at the clock, four and a half have slipped between his fingers like sand and he allows himself to feel blinding fear about it. he looks at the clock again and forces his brain to make it process this tiny sliver of information, please, please, just look at it. Please, focus.

It's 6am, and he has school soon, and he really needs to stop doing this to himself.

No, no, he corrects. It needs to stop doing this to him.

Izuku twists his head, bringing shaking fingers to his hair and tugging hard enough to disorient him for a second. Good, he thinks. Good. It's leaving. Focus on that. Utilize it. Before the novelty can fade, he starts counting the things he can see, the things he can hear, touches his fingers while he does it and forces himself to remember what he's trying to do alone in his home at 6 am. He tells himself the remote is real and picks it up, feels the buttons, then grabs the book he's been trying to read from the coffee table and lets the impending paper cut bring him back to life.

One more ragged breath in and he can move from the couch, watching his own blood pool onto his thigh where it drips from his finger. his back is aching from being sat in what he assumes is the same position for several hours, and moves to his now spotlessly cleaned bathroom to take a shower.

It's gone, it can't hurt you right now, Izuku thinks. It's gone for now, and he'll just have a lot of coffee today, and maybe Kacchan will have mercy, if just once.


 

There's ink in his fingernails, ink staining his wrists, ink dripping from the ruined mess that is his hero notebook. Ink on the concrete beneath, dripping on his red sneakers, beading when it can't soak through. Ink drawing funny little patterns on his hands, tracing across old scars and fresh burns, dripping in an endless stream.

It's very beautiful, he thinks, and could be some twisted form of art; a mockery of the crayon-wax meltdowns on canvas spreads he used to make in kindergarten, when things were more colorful, when things moved slowly, when everything wasn't ebony dark and didn't drip away so quickly, like the ink running down his forearm and dribbling off his uniform sleeve.

It's very messy, though. He doesn't like how it feels on his fingertips, the way it trickles down his palms. He hates the texture of wet paper so he lets his precious notebook fall to the concrete beneath, and simply stares at it, unmoving.

The ink continues to drip. Falling down onto the concrete, in a constant, gentle, pattern. Tapping against the stone, like the little footfalls of light rain. Ink peeks out from beneath the notebook's edge. Peering from beneath crumpled pages, a deep, dark black, stark against the yellowed cover. Not even the title is legible anymore. Each kanji molds together into a hazy mess.

Izuku, for a rare moment, does not move. His muscles grow lax and his gaze falls, falls lower, to the spots of ink on his feet. He sees the water of the koi pond crawl its way across the earth, barely reaching his soles. He does not move, and he wonders, wonders what could be, if he left right now. How his day would go.

His walk home would be long. Long and winding, with the heat creeping down his neck and burning beneath the heavy fabric of his uniform. The slap of his feet against the concrete would soon become jarring and his labored breaths would become painful when he saw heroes leaping through the skies, once a thing he smiled and fantasized about but now only a bitter, bitter joke that Kacchan jeered about when the adults weren't looking. Then he'd be home, the smell of microwaveable noodles filling his nose with toxins as his mother hustled out the door to work the night shift of her second job.

Then he'll be alone, the night wearing in and sleeping through his window no matter how tightly he shuts the blinds; he'll lie awake, staring at his ceiling, the only spot not covered with his idol's memorabilia, and think about the ink running down his forearms wishing it were colorful wax instead.

Just like yesterday, and the day before. Just like tomorrow, just like the next day, just like the next month, the next year, forever and ever and ever. The sun would rise and fall and he would trace every scratch in the ceiling until his lids finally fell and he lost himself in his fantasy dreams.

Izuku has grown rather tired of the constant cycle of days and nights. He decides to do something a bit differently. He takes the long route home instead.


 

Someone is crying.

Soft, hiccuping sobs, muffled behind a hand, mournful sounds Izuku recognizes, sounds he has heard before. They echo through the street, growing in volume as he moves ahead.

Izuku's stride echo, bouncing off the underside of an old bridge's walls in muted thumps before fading into whispers; his soles scraping against the concrete, nudging stray newspapers and cigarette boxes. Driven by some unseeable force, his body moving against his will, Izuku walks and walks until he spots a pair of bloody, dirt-stained bare feet, poking out from behind a stack of cardboard boxes and empty pails, hidden well beneath the shade of the bridge overhead.

There's a man, curled up in a huddle of tense muscles and oily hair, his suit torn and in disarray. Izuku eyes him wearily, clutching the worn straps of his backpack. He takes comfort in the folds of the fabric, where the threads have given way to his frequent, anxious fiddling.

"Are you alright?" Izuku asks, before he even realizes his lips are moving.

The man does not reply. If anything, his sniffles grow louder. His shivers shudder though his malnourished figure as he rocks back and forth, back and forth, like a child.

"Are you alright?" Izuku repeats, and wonders what he will gain by doing this, what he ever gains by doing anything. "Are you alright?" he whispers, crouching to the stained ground, peering past the man's arms, which tighten around his face in a last resort defense.

"No," the stranger chokes. "No—No. I'm sorry."

"It's okay."

Izuku reaches out, a hesitant hand. Carefully, softly, he places it on the man's shoulder. They both flinch with the contact.

"It's okay," Izuku says again.

The man laughs, voice cracking, his face twisting in a carefully crafted patchwork of emotions, from bitterness to loneliness to stitches of fragile longing. His arms unfold, revealing a broken, beaten face, with skin pale as bone and eyes like empty shells, caved in and brown like dirt in a gutter. "No, you," The man shudders, looking as if he wants to run, wants to push Izuku's hand away. He doesn't. "You don't know what I've—you don't understand."

Izuku rubs a circle into the stranger's shoulder, his calloused palms brushing a tear on his coat. "It'll be alright. I promise."

"I've done," The man chokes, curling in on himself, "I've done horrible, horrible things. Horrible."

"It's okay."

"Horrible, horrible, horrible—"

"It's okay." Izuku stares into other's eyes until the he is unable to avoid Izuku's gaze, "Tomorrow will be different. You can try again tomorrow."

The man shakes his head. He looks ready to say more but cuts himself off when Izuku places his wallet, chock full of years of allowances and depicting a fading picture of All Might on the cover, onto the concrete. The man makes no move to pick it up, so it sits among the litter, its colors bright against the dirt and dust.

"Take care of yourself," Izuku says. "Please."

"I can't—"

"Just do your best," Izuku murmurs. "It'll be okay. I promise."

The man looks, really looks at him. Izuku wonders what he sees. A boy, forgettable, plain, unimportant, futureless; a boy with no motivation or obvious talents, whose sleeves are ripped and covered with burns, whose face is stained with a yellowing bruise, whose shoes are damp with ink.

"Okay," the man says. He takes the wallet with trembling hands. "Okay."


 

His mother stops him at the door. There's a paleness to her, a certain weariness in her eyes, a tremble in her hands, her lips parting, pursing, closing, like she's too afraid to speak and too drained to break the silence. She reaches a plump hand and brushes the bandage on his cheek, traces the cut on his brow. She doesn't ask about his wounds; she must've gotten tired of hearing him lie.

"You cleaned," she says.

"I did."

"Thank you. I love you, Izuku."

"I love you too."

"I'm sorry I was gone so long."

"It's alright." He murmurs. "I'm okay."

"Good," she says, "good." then she ambles back into the kitchen, to check the blinds and check the locks and maybe clean the whole house while she's at it, scouring the floorboards for nonexistent flecks of dust, limbs too stiff and eyes too wide, licking her chapped lips until they start to tear and bleed.

Izuku has always been just like his mother.


 

He can taste the smoke on his lips. It sits on his tongue, his saliva makes it syrupy and bitter like wine; his throat burns when he swallows. His district is poor, and poor is such a terrible word, like the word you call a child who doesn't know any better, who lives life without knowing any better. It makes his eyes tear up and he has to swallow, wincing.

He walks slowly and his ink-stained shoes are the only things he can see, bright against the backdrop even in their sun-bleached, mangled state. The red is all he can focus on, red like a traffic light, red like the poppies his mother grew on the windowsill, full and bright and bursting. He's hungry. He didn't eat any breakfast. But the packaged rice cake he has for lunch doesn't sound appetizing either.

He tilts his head back, then a buzz slinks through his lips as he shivers. The sky is grey. It might rain and he is sure it will be cold, then people will freeze in their sleeping bags on his block and the sirens will keep him up all night. But he'll be up all night anyway, brushing his teeth to get the smoke off his tongue.

Then he stops, abruptly, because there is a girl sitting on the sidewalk, dressed in rags, teeth crooked and hair so matted he can hardly see her face. She peers at him through frizzy locks. Her skin is a pale, sun-spotted imitation of chestnut. She might've been pretty, once, back when the world was kind.

He stares at her, for just a moment. She admires at his school uniform, and by the look of it she might be his age. She doesn't get to go to school because she's poor. He hates the word. It bounces around his head. Poor.

She's still looking at his uniform. Then she glances at the bandage covering the left side of his face, the burns on his fingers, then the backpack straps he has clutched in his fists. Then, finally, her eyes stray to the comic book he has rolled in his left hand. It's a paperback edition of the hero Kamui Woods' debut.

"Do.." Izuku pulls his fingers apart and reveals the comic. It's a bit creased. His hands shake. "Do you like to read?"

The girl is silent for a moment. Her eyes drop, tracing the cracks in the concrete.

"I don't know how." Her voice rasps as if someone had run it through a grater.

She looks away. Her gaunt cheeks flush, all the way to the tips of her ears, which pear out from behind knots of tawny hair. She's so skinny; her neck is pulled so tight that he can see the outline of her bones.

"Do you want me to," he chokes up, just a little. "read it to you?"

That day he skips school for the first time. He sits down next to her on the curb and reads her comics, shares his rice cake, and stays until her eyes start to shine a bit and her face doesn't seem as cold. When he offers her his jacket, she starts to cry.


 

When he leaves it's with a promise to return and minus one school jacket. He's got a spare at home, but he'll have to stitch a hole that he'd earned when a boy pushed him down the stairs a few months prior, and most of the buttons are missing, too. He decides he'll worry about that later.

His mother is gone when he walks through the door. The house smells like bleach. She cleaned again. His nose stings, and is already clogged from all the smoke. He'll suffocate at this rate. Izuku toes off his shoes, ambles into the apartment, and runs a finger along the dining table as he goes. The oil on his finger squeaks, and smears the glass.

Izuku pauses, raises his palms, and looks at his hands for a moment. He stares at them, forgetting what to do with himself, before stumbling over to the kitchen sink, and turning on the faucet.

The rush of water drowns out the rumbling of the air conditioner. Izuku's backpack, slumped next to the counter, is bright and unfamiliar next to the drab, creaky floorboards. The sink sputters. Izuku adjusts the nob. His fingers are so cold.

He doesn't know how long he stands there, but when he pulls his hands out of the sink they're rough and wrinkled along the edges. He admires his fresh, pink palms, and shoves them into his pockets.

The air in the living room is still. Each cushion on the couch is perfectly set, all loose threads cut away, stains scrubbed and blankets folded. Izuku's foot suddenly stings. He hisses, and looks down to see blood beading from his big toe.

It seems he'd wandered too close.

The picture frame lay at his feet, face down, shattered glass spilling around it like a halo, buried deep in a carpet of dust. It hasn't been repaired for years, and is left on the floor, avoided like the plague, simply sitting in the corner of the living room, paused permanently in time. In the past, when the sun shone in on mornings, the glass glimmered, as there was a little galaxy in his apartment. His mother would circle around it when she walked past, then stop, then circle it again, like a weary, reluctant bird.

"Should I move it?" She would ask. She would look at him then at the picture then back at him again, hands poised, still as stone. "It's dirty. Should I move it?"

But she never did, and Izuku never touched it either. The dirt collects so heavily, that in the mornings, the little glimmers of his galaxy are suffocated by grime and dust.

 

Chapter Text

"This is hysterical," someone jeers. "Guys, do you see this? Do you see this?"

"Holy shit," they're laughing, laughing. " holy shit, would you look at this fanboy motherfucker? Holy shit."

They kick at his stomach until they tear open his ribs, they slam his head into the wall and the cut on his face opens beneath his bandages, warm blood soaking the cloth and dripping off his chin.

"Look at all these comics!" The boy laughs, and Izuku, shaking, begins to sob, his frail body quivering and lungs constricting and heart booming pound pound pound pound.

Bile and spit spills from Izuku's lips and onto the mud-covered tiles, his vision blurs as she endures hit after hit—Izuku whimpers, says nothing as blood mixes with the bile, says nothing when the boy's laughing blends with the ringing in his ears, rising and rising in crescendo, a discord of pounding and shrieking and heaving breaths as everything fades into—

"What the fuck are you all doing?"

Kacchan stands in the bathroom doorway. Izuku recognizes the scuffed, burnt marks in his shoes. His eyes are red and burning and he refuses to look at Izuku, who lays in a pile of his own sick.

"Let's go." Kacchan says. He turns, and is gone, his friends trail behind him while muffling their laughter in their fists.

Izuku hiccups, then his breath hitches, then a sob lets loose from his throat, toned and guttural. Izuku cries because of the pain, then he cries because he can't stop crying, tears pooling onto the tile beneath, mingling with the blood.


 

Kacchan doesn't bother him anymore. Izuku isn't sure why, of course. Kacchan is still angry, though. His eyes are like molten lead, drifting through the crowd of people he never bothered to care about, before settling on the windows, the walls, the places where he doesn't have to look at the bandages on Izuku's neck, arms, and face. Izuku likes to think Kacchan feels guilty, but he knows that's not the case at all. If he felt guilty, he'd stop his lackeys when they cornered Izuku after school. Or, at the very least, help him fish his belongings out of the fountain.

Kacchan doesn't speak to him, but Kacchan is loud when he wants to be. He puts his feet up and yells and laughs with his whole chest, a breath that heaves and rockets with him, bellowing and condescending, like a superior to a young, impudent child. He is angry at the world for things Izuku can't understand. He is angry and Izuku still doesn't understand.

For Kacchan, anger has its own center of gravity. Its heat spreads through his chest and makes him sharp, makes him loud. It drives him and fuels the sparks in his hands and the fire in his eyes; Kacchan and fury are two sides of the same coin. So closely aligned, that Izuku doesn't know who he'd be without it.

It scares Izuku, sometimes. His drawings of Kacchan's hero costumes are ripped apart and thrown away, replaced with drawings of burning buildings and the blond's condemning smile. How many people he could kill in one blast. How much property damage a city could sustain before he ran out of steam. The things Kacchan did to him, done to children, to families. Kacchan standing in flames.

Kacchan the villain.

He throws those drawings away, too.


 

Izuku finds the girl again a week later. She's still wearing his jacket. It looks like she's never taken it off. Almost all of the buttons are gone, there's rips in both sleeves and the hem is stained with something unidentifiable. She never offers it back, but Izuku wouldn't want it anyway.

"These are my friends," she says. "Can they read comics with us?"

Izuku looks at the boys behind her. They're both shorter than him, with small faces and beady, desperate eyes. They seem about nine or ten. Neither of them move or say a word, their thin, blank eyes counting his every breath. Izuku is suddenly embarrassed by the new bruise that slinks along his jawline. He reaches up and fiddles with the bandages that engulf the left side of his face.

The first boy looks displeased by his silence, his black hair falling in curly snarls above his narrowed brows. The other, a blond with hair so dirty the color is more of a brown, watches Izuku wearily, fiddling with his thumbs.

"Sure," Izuku says, "why not."

His comic book meetings become regular, and little by little, his audience grows. Friends of the girl with his jacket bring more friends. Children, and even teenagers, linger, pause, and then sit next to them on the curb, peering in over Izuku's shoulder as he reads aloud, pointing to unfamiliar kanji and pronouncing each syllable in a delicate, careful voice that each listener strains to hear over the passing traffic.

Eventually the group stretches too far down the sidewalk, and Izuku suggests they move the sessions to the public park. Even then, though, the group is too big for everyone to see the pictures, so Izuku takes his most experienced listeners—the girl with his jacket, curly boy, and blond boy—and gives them comics to read aloud, splitting them all into smaller groups and making it easier for others to learn. He teaches them to add descriptions to their pictures, for the blind men and woman, or for those who can't get a view of the book. Even adults make a move sometimes, embarrassed to be listening to children's stories, but sitting just close enough so they can hear, leaning up against grocery carts and overturned trash bins, eyes jaded but seeming to glimmer when Izuku says I am here! with a boisterous grin.

His meager earnings from his part-time job are all spent on the latest releases, which he piles into his worn yellow backpack until the bag is bursting at the seams. Each evening he lugs it to the park, where the homeless are waiting, smoking, drinking, rolling joints, selling suspicious packages—but he doesn't really mind. He just hands out the comic books and he gets started.

Today the air is cool but not cool enough for a sweater. He leaves his on anyways, and coupled with the bandages underneath, he begins to sweat. The girl with the jacket doesn't seem to mind, though. She claims the spot closest to him, and pillows her head on his leg, matted hair spilling on his lap like a ragged rug.

Izuku flinches, and his muscles tense, but he's afraid to move her. Silently, slowly, he reaches into his yellow bag, takes out the latest volume, and begins to read.

As always, it takes a while for a group to form. He doesn't coax them, but with the sound of his voice, they come, peering from behind trash bins and alleyway cobblestones. Curly boy and blond boy run up with big grins, and practically leap to get a view over his shoulder. A frequent visitor, a woman who seems in her twenty's, ambles over and smiled at Izuku with missing teeth.

A dirtied pregnant woman seats herself just a ways a way. The teenagers exchanging the packages pause before leaving, and instead move a bit closer. A crippled man is helped by a boy who's so skinny he can barely stand, and they both collapse to listen. The pregnant woman shares her shawl with blond boy, who, at the gesture, starts to cry. Izuku, despite the grime, begins to run his hands through the girl with his jacket's hair. For a world so broken, he thinks, everyone is so kind.

Passerby pay them no mind. Most are the rich, who come to this part of town for business transactions, or something of the like. Ignoring the homeless has become so ingrained that their comic book sessions aren't even questioned by the locals, or the people who live in the apartments surrounding the park.

However, today, there's a man who's stopped to listen on the sidewalk. He towers, his face gaunt and eyes wide, staring at him. Izuku feels the burn of his gaze and looks up, pausing.

Izuku supposes it must look odd. He's a beaten, bandaged boy, his school uniform muffed and wrinkled, the hems torn, and his shoes are so muddy the red is barely distinguishable. He looks homeless himself.  The girl with his jacket fidgets at his side, and taps him with an impatient finger to urge him to continue. Izuku looks down at the brightly colored page, and, a bit reluctantly, starts where he left off.

"There seems to be no way to fight back," Izuku reads, his voice barely above a whisper, soft and dreamy even to his own ears, "But he does. He perseveres. He's All Might, the symbol of peace."

"Did he win?" The girl with his jacket murmurs, curling closer into his thigh. She smells like stale beer. Curly boy tugs at Izuku's arm, and pulls a thread loose from his uniform sleeve. "Did he win?" The boy repeats the question, eyes wide.

"I won't spoil it," Izuku says.

"Hush, brats." The toothless woman says. The old man next to her huffs in agreement, adjusting the grip on his cigarette.

Izuku takes that as his cue to continue. He takes a heavy, gulp of a breath that's much too big for his lungs, because the scarecrow man is wandering closer. "The villain laughs. 'You won't stop me!' He says, 'besides, what will you gain?'"

Izuku lifts a broken fingernail and scratches at his bandage, where an itchy scab lay beneath. "All Might stands proudly, his cape waving behind him. 'It's not what I will gain,' he says, lifting head high, 'It's what others will gain. That is the essence of being a hero.'"

The pregnant woman sucks in a breath and the old man nods, chewing thoughtfully on his cigarette. The blond boy, still wrapped in the shawl, sniffles, and smiles.

Izuku closes the book. The papers slap together with a snap of finality.

"That's it?!" The girl with his jacket whines, and swats at his hands. Izuku lifts the comic out of her reach and lets out a muffled string of giggles.

"No way, we have to fuckin' wait till tomorrow?" Skinny boy whaps his fist against the dirt. "No fuckin' way."

One of the teenagers laughs. "That's how daily releases go, dumbass."

The pregnant woman sighs. "Now we'll never know if Doctor Dragon will win."

"'Course he ain't gonna," blond boy wipes his snot on his hand. "All Might always wins."

"Alrighty, git the fuck outa here." The old man flings his cigarette to the earth and stomps at it, "don't bother Mido-kun no more. You oughta thank 'em for buyin' 'em comics anyways."

"Thanks, Mido." Some of the kids chime together, out of sync and muddled like an old cartoon. A few race away without saying anything, but others, like skinny boy and the crippled man, need aid from the girl with his jacket, who smiles at Izuku in farewell. Izuku can barely muster a smile back.

He stands, and shoves the latest issue into his backpack. He meets the eyes of scarecrow man.

The scarecrow man is a towering, terrifying thing of taught skin and sharp bones. He looks like a puzzle of mismatched pieces, all sharp angles and hollow cheeks and big teeth and long arms. He seems so tired, his coal eyes drooping, his stringy hair greasy, framing his sharp face in tattered waves, like straw, honey, and grain. He sighs, but it's wet and heavy—like there's a monster trapped in his lungs—and adjusts the suit-jacket that's much too big for him, hanging heavy over his shoulders.

"Are you..a student, young boy?"

Izuku nods, afraid if he opens his mouth, his terrible muttering habit will scare this man away.

The scarecrow man scratches behind his head. "You come here and read to them?"

"Yes," Izuku says. It's so quiet he can barely hear himself say it. He has to crane his neck to look the man in the eye.

"That is.." the man smiles, blocky teeth peaking from thin lips. It's a pretty smile, in its own way. "That is such an honorable deed, young boy. That's something a hero would do."

And Izuku freezes. He freezes, his breath catching and throat collapsing and stomach falling so low it must escape from his body and dig itself into the earth. His body burns for oxygen so he inhales, a strangled gasp.

"Thank you—I," Izuku can barely catch his breath. "I—"

Izuku scrambles for words, but none come to mind and he blinks back the tears in his eyes. The scarecrow man looks slightly stunned.

Awkwardly, he lowers his long-boned hand from where it was poised behind his neck. "Which comics did you bring?" The man asks, his vibrant, haunting eyes trailing to Izuku's overflowing bag.

Izuku gains a little control over himself, then, but he still turns around so fast it gives him whiplash.

"This one is my favorite," Izuku says, hands shaking. He digs through the pile and pulls out an All Might, Silver Age comic, holding it in calloused hands, displaying it with pride.

The scarecrow man can't stop himself from smiling.

 

Chapter Text

"I'd be so easy," Kacchan says. He's delighted, the sharp edges of his grin creeping farther, showing too many teeth. "Just take a swan dive off the roof—maybe you'll get a quirk in your next life."

Izuku, frozen, can't lift a finger as his precious notebook—so many hopes, so many thoughts and words and flurries and rambles—is thrown from the window, pages fluttering like a flightless bird, twisting, tumbling, saying: jump for me, come after me, leap, leap, leap—

Izuku cries out, hands reaching, trembling, shooting up from the sweat stained sheets. And he pauses, the darkness buzzing in his eyes, watching the blurred silhouette of his fingers twitch, outstretched.

His alarm clock flickers, the numbers red and glaring. He doesn't spare them a second glance, despite how brilliantly they glow. Quivers rocketing his body, Izuku twists, and sets his feet on the cold floorboards, his comforter creasing and falling from the mattress as he stands. His limbs tingle, much too cold. There isn't enough money to turn the heater on.

The living room is silent, full of heavy, still air. Izuku pauses in the center, where the walls don't feel as tight, where he can watch the moonbeams as they peer through the blinds, drawing stripes of light on the floor near his feet.

"I won't jump."

His voice echos, quivering in its solitude, trailing past the pristine carpeting, the perfectly dusted lamp, the freshly wiped countertop, the bleached sink, fading and fading until it's gone, quiet in memory.

Izuku inhales.

It tastes like dust.


 

After school Izuku stops by the convenience mart to buy more bandages. His hands shake as they hover, undecided, over the cream-colored wraps or the regular white gauze. The cream ones would be less noticable, but they're more expensive. Izuku picks the white ones off the shelf. He still needs money for dinner.

The line isn't very long. The strip lights blink above, revealing dust as it floats about the air, drifting between cans of soup and magazine racks. The cashier, eyes dull in the low lighting, scans a cereal box and a jug of juice for the man in front of him.

Izuku, unsure of where to look, stares at the back of the stranger's head. His pale, blue hair is limp and dry, wavy and thin over his shoulders. A hand snakes around the ragged locks, and begins to scratch at the skin beneath. The resulting sound is a nauseating scritch, as the man rakes and peels away at his own skin.

The stranger shivers, with impatience and malice Izuku cannot explain. His broken, beaten nails tear ceaselessly at the skin on his neck, which flakes and falls on his dark hoodie, giving the impression of snow. He reaches down only to throw a few yen on the counter, before he turns and stalks past Izuku with burning, unfocused eyes. As he stumbles away, his quivering fingers rise to his lips and pick until the dryness is peeled away and he begins to draw blood.

Trembling with fear, discomfort, or maybe something in between, Izuku reaches and grabs a bright pink bottle of lotion from a rack beside the register. As he leaves, he digs out a special edition bandaid from his new pack. He picks up the pace, and practically launches out the sliding glass doors, stumbling down the sidewalk, glancing about until he spots the stranger's mop of hair.

The air is dry and makes his mouth burn, as he takes in a breath much too big for his lungs.

"M-Mister! Um, Sir!"

The man turns to him and drops a hand that's covered in flaky skin and pus. His eyes narrow, the crimson almost glowing.

Izuku's fist tightens on the plastic bag. His palm stings with the movement, one finger a bit crooked, one scrape scabbing over, bumpy and pink against the rest of his skin. Izuku pulls out his purchases and offers them, his wrist limp and heavy.

Careful, and perhaps a bit hesitant, the stranger holds out his hand. His fingernails are stuffed with dead skin.

"For you," Izuku says, then places the cherry-scented lotion and a slightly crumpled Present Mic bandaid into the stranger's calloused palm.

Eyes half lidded, the stranger stares at the brightly colored objects, lips parting, then closing with a silent breath.

"Have..Have a nice day," Izuku murmurs, and he scurries away before he can embarrass himself further.


 

It's an afternoon on a particularly chilly Sunday. Izuku is bound head to toe in scarves. The other children have huddled under the blankets he brought, and they don't seem to mind that the wool threadings are frayed with holes. They cuddled together, reading; it is so cold they insist on keeping their hands in their pockets, giggling and trying to turn the pages with their pink noses. Adults linger, dressed in layers of rags but smiling all the same, greeting him with careful pats on his shoulder before they meander off to join the others laying in the dirt.

Scarecrow man stops by around two'o'clock. He has a package of fresh doughnuts in one fist and a cup of coffee in another. The children go wild for the warm treats, and Toshinori laughs, handing them out with deft hands. He sits down next to him and places one on Izuku's lap; strawberry with sprinkles. Izuku picks it up and takes a bite that spreads icy, sugar-specked frosting on his tongue. It's lukewarm, but he enjoys it immensely.

"You're graduating soon," Scarecrow man says, adjusting his oversized coat as it slips off his shoulders. "graduating junior high, correct?"
Izuku nods.

Scarecrow man inhales, then exhales, then pauses for a long, long, moment, as he oftentimes does. The day is wearing, grey-speckled skies darkening, brown leaves like a cushioned carpeting beneath Izuku's feet as he brushes them against the earth. Scarecrow man doesn't leave, which is rare. He usually drops by for minutes at a time, but today he seems keen on staying, his eyes heavy on Izuku's bandaged face.

"Young boy," Scarecrow man begins, and shifts his weight. The bench creaks. "Have you ever wanted to be a hero?"

Izuku pauses, licking the crystalized sugar off his lips. He notices the girl wearing his jacket, sitting with her friends a few feet away, and waves. She smiles, and waves back.

"Yes," he says, "I think I wanted that, once."

"Do you still wish to be one?"

Suddenly, an image comes to mind. His mother, on the train, hundreds of miles away, unable to afford a proper meal and turning over herself in worry for her son, who lives in a bad neighborhood and can't afford a bus, walking past alleyways and street corners knowing he might be picked off the street and sold like a bag of rice. Then he thinks of the things he's done. The horrible joke he's grown to be, trying to fool himself by teaching the homeless kids to read—but he's not fooling anyone.

Tears spring to Izuku's eyes. He refuses to let them fall, and bites his lip so hard it bleeds.

"I can't," He whispers, so quietly the wind almost drowns him out. Then louder, "it's—it's impossible."

Scarecrow man's gaze is much too soft, much too kind. "Nothing is impossible, my boy. You just have to—"

Izuku jerks his head back and forth, eyes burning, fingernails digging into his school jacket, so hard he feels himself bruise.

"I can't," Izuku says again. "I can't be a hero."

The scarecrow man reaches a hand that trembles, and places it on Izuku's shoulder, quietly, unsure.

"It's alright, my boy," he says. "It's alright."


 

Izuku walks home in the rain. He's heavy, his limbs like boulders, feet dragging against the broken concrete, one step, two steps, three steps. Ringlets of his damp tresses hang over his eyes, dark and drooping. His hair has gotten too long, since his mom hasn't been home to cut it. It just about brushes his shoulders, sticking to his nape as rain snakes down his collar and sleeves.

The rain tickles his skin, biting with cold. Izuku rather likes the feeling. It keeps him awake, as he drags his failing body across the sidewalk. Reaching a hand, shivering, he itches at the damp bandage over his left eye. It's still swollen and pinkish beneath.

Izuku starts to cry, but it's raining, so he hardly notices. His junior high diploma is clutched in the safety of his fist, but it's crumbling, falling apart in wet clumps, beaten by the downpour.

No one had come. Not his mother, not a single friend. He'd stood on an empty stage long after the ceremony was over, watching, waiting. The teachers had pity in their eyes, but they didn't say anything, didn't do anything. They never did.

Izuku rubs at a tear that tastes salty on his lips, but a raindrop take its place. The clouds, relentless, send streams that thump along rooftops and patter against trash bins, pooling in puddles beneath his feet.

It's easy. He knows the way by heart. He ambles along until the sidewalks, crumbling and broken with age, blend into the abandoned buildings lining them, the stones weathered into smooth peaks, remnants of their jagged forms.

Faces peer out in the darkness. Beady, hungry eyes, shimmering like the broken glass near his feet.

He finds her huddling under the skeleton of a grocery store, surrounded by pails to collect rainwater, staring at him with a small smile on her lips.

"You're here," she says.

"They're soaked," he murmurs.

She shakes her head. "I don't care about the comics."

His feet barely move, and when they do, it's a sudden, startling motion that almost sends him sprawling to the floor. He reaches out a hand and steadies himself on a cobblestone wall, sliding down to sit next to her. He scrapes his hand, but barely feels it.

"Izuku," the girl with his jacket watches him, eyes trailing to his poorly-repaired clothes, to the bandages on his face, to the burn scars on his hands. "Izuku, did somebody hurt you?"

The rain makes it dark, gives everything a tint of grey and blue; the streetlights peer out from behind corners in a misty haze, flickering with dying light. He huddles with her, silent, beneath a dripping overhang, surrounded by her empty bottles and her damp, torn blankets.

"Somebody hurt me too," she says. Her eyes are dull like rusted bronze, crushed to shards, unrecognizable.