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vii. isolation

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The first time someone told Midoriya Izuku to kill himself, he was 7 years old.

(Personally, he didn't really think it counted. But when he’d told them about it, Aizawa-sensei’s face had gone hard and furious, and Toshinori-san wrapped an arm tightly around his shoulders, so he didn’t think it wise to press the issue.)

They were learning about natural selection and evolution.

Their teacher told them all about how a certain species of moth had bright white wings, which they used to blend in with the white bark on the trees they lived on. Occasionally, a moth with black or speckled wings would be born because of a random mutation, but those were quickly picked off by birds, since they were easier to see, and rarely lived long enough to have more moths that looked like them.

But as more and more factories appeared and put soot in the air, the bark of the trees got darker, and suddenly, those few moths with black on their wings were much better at hiding than the ones that were pure white. Over the course of several decades, the percentage of black speckled moths grew and grew, until almost none of the moths had white wings.

“Many scientists believe that quirks are the next stage of human evolution! Since quirks first emerged, the population of people with quirks has grown incredibly fast. It’s thought that within the next 40 years, over 98% of all people will have quirks!”

She didn’t look at Izuku once during this lesson, which more or less summed up the way she tended to deal with him in general. By 7, Izuku had learned well that his very presence as the only quirkless student (deku a voice in his head corrects) tended to make people (normal people) uncomfortable. He thought he preferred being ignored to having his every action picked apart for flaws that were blamed on his quirklessness and turned into reasons why he shouldn’t be in the normal class. (Watanabe-sensei last year really hadn’t been very subtle).

He absorbed the lesson silently, feeling odd and hollow at his teacher’s joy at the promise of there being not a single quirkless person on earth in 100 years

He knew, of course, that he shouldn’t want people to be born quirkless – and he didn’t! Really! He knew better than anyone how difficult it was.

But the thought made him feel lonely. Maybe that made him selfish.

He jumped at the shrill sound of one of his classmates, Ito-san, yelling to no one in particular, “So’s Midoriya gonna die? If he’s quirkless then shouldn’t he die like the, uh, the moths in the book?”

Tanaka-sensei looked surprised by the question, but before she could answer, Akari-chan, added, “Yeah! He doesn’t even have a quirk to defend himself with.”

All eyes were on him, and Izuku shrunk down into his seat. The jeers grew louder, Katsuki’s raucous laugh standing out among the crowd, until he heard, “Yeah, why even bother, Midoriya? You’re just gonna die off anyway.”

Izuku’s mouth opened without his permission, though he didn’t know what he was going to say. “i- i- Qu-quirks a-are-“

“Enough,” Tanaka-sensei called, sounding annoyed, “Midoirya, Akari, Ito, if you talk out of turn again, I’ll be calling your parents. Moving on…”

Shame and relief roiled uncomfortably in Izuku’s gut as he allowed himself to quietly fade back into the background of the class, but his classmates’ words still rang in his ears.

Why even bother, Midoriya? You’re just gonna die anyway.

-

Izuku sat alone at recess. He didn’t hide exactly – teachers yelled at him when he did that, told him to stop messing around, to get down before he hurt himself, and he’d found that if Kacchan and his friends wanted to find him, hiding from them would only make it worse – but he found a spot off to the side where he wouldn’t be getting in anybody’s way, and settled down with his notebook on his knees, taking notes as he watched his classmates use their quirks.

He kept an eye on Kacchan and his friends, but they didn’t seem interested in bothering anyone that day, and everyone around them was smiling and laughing – Izuku was torn between relief (he never regretted putting himself between Kacchan and whoever he was bullying, but he still dreaded the sharp feel of an explosion against his skin) and something that made him feel sick and ugly.

It was good that Kacchan had friends. And of course he did! He was so strong, and powerful, and he was gonna be the greatest hero ever one day!

Izuku just wished-

He just wanted-

He felt a familiar sting behind his eyes, and bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, leaning further over his notebook.

(He didn’t know why that meant he couldn’t have friends too)

“Hi.” A small voice said from behind him.

He jumped, whirling around to find a girl he’d never seen before standing behind him. She was wearing the school uniform, but Izuku didn’t recognize her. She was about his size, but seemed a little younger than him, and considered him curiously.

“I’m Yoshida. I’m new. What’s your name?”

Izuku glanced around nervously – looking for other students waiting to come out and laugh at him or trick him into doing something to embarrass himself. It had happened before.

But no one was there, and the girl – Yoshida – was beginning to look impatient.

“I-I’m M-Midoriya.”

Yoshida nodded, the movement making gold swirls on her skin – what was her quirk? – reflect in the sun. “Can I sit with you?”

She wanted to sit? With him? He looked around again, positive that this was some sort of prank, but no one seemed to be paying them any attention.

He should tell her – if she got caught hanging out with a quirkless deku like him she’d get made fun of too, and she was new, and it wouldn’t be fair to her, but-

“Yoshida-chan!”

Before he could decide, another voice rang out, familiar this time, as another girl from the class below them – Suzuki – ran over.

“Yoshida-chan, what-“ Her wide yellow eyes (slit pupils, and reflective, maybe night vision?) fell on Izuku, and her hand snatched out to grab Yoshida’s wrist protectively. “We should go.” She said, giving Yoshida a significant look.

“Oh,” The girl said amicably, clearly pleased at having been sought out by one of her classmates. “Okay. Do you want to come, Midoriya?”

No,” Hissed Suzuki before Izuku could respond (it was fine, he told himself. It didn’t matter, he would have said no anyway-). She tugged Yoshida closer, and, in a poor attempt to keep her voice quiet, whispered “Deku’s quirkless.”

Yoshida looked at her classmate blankly, a little confused. “So?”

So?” Suzuki repeated incredulously, “Don’t you know? It’s contagious. Tsubasa-kun said so. If he touches you, you could turn quirkless too! And your quirk is so pretty!”

“I-i-it’s- it’s not-“ Izuku tried to argue weakly.

Suzuki glared at him. “He’s lying,” She told Yoshida conspiratorially, “He just wants to make you quirkless too, so he won’t be the only one. Come on!” She added, tone becoming more cheerful, “Come play with me and Saito-chan instead!”

Yoshida looked between them, eyeing Izuku with some mix of pity, disgust, and fear. He dropped her gaze – if she didn’t want to sit with him then he wouldn’t ask her too.

(he’d learned well by now that trying to force himself where he wasn’t wanted only made things worse)

“Okay,” Yoshida responded easily, “Let’s go!”

Izuku sat tense until they were gone, feeling empty and tired. He wanted to go home.

-

When he was 10 years old, Hayashi-sensei picked him to take a note to the teacher’s lounge – this was rare. He normally seemed to prefer pretending that Izuku doesn’t exist, but he had been the first one to finish his test, and Izuku jumped at the opportunity to be helpful eagerly.

(Maybe if he was - if he was quiet, and helpful, and well-behaved – then one day he’d get a teacher who actually seemed to like him)

He tried to ignore the way Kacchan’s glare burned into the back of his neck. Normally Izuku was more careful, but he’d been so pleased with how easy the test had seemed that he hadn’t stopped to make sure Kacchan had gotten to turn his in first.

He didn’t let himself think about that, about the inevitable retribution, and focused on completing the task at hand. He entered the teacher’s lounge to find it empty, though he heard voices coming from the copy room in the back.

He approached cautiously, a little awed by being in the teacher’s lounge where he’d never been. He considered calling out to them, but that seemed rude – he would just poke his head in and hand them the note.

“Well, you know, my sister is pregnant,” one of the voices said casually, over the hum of the printer, “So, she and her wife went to the doctor’s yesterday, and did you know, they can test for quirklessness in the womb now?”

Izuku stopped in his tracks, something cold and hard weighing his stomach down.

Wow,” Said the other voice, sounding suitably impressed, “I bet poor Mrs. Midoriya wishes they had that when she was pregnant.”

Izuku should- he should go in. He didn’t want to hear this, felt the urge suddenly to curl into a ball and cover his ears, even as he wondered what would she have done?

But if they found him out here now, would they think he was eavesdropping? The teachers at school seemed to either decide that he wasn’t capable of anything or he was always up to something bad, with very little middle ground.

“No kidding,” the first voice responded before he could make a decision, “God, can you even imagine? I mean, it’s awful that her husband left her alone to deal with that, but can you blame him?”

“I know,” the second replied, “Honestly, I don’t know why she didn’t just put him up for adoption.”

“Who would take him?” The first asked, voice almost amused, “Besides, it’s not like Midoriya’s the easiest kid anyway. Always getting into fights with the stronger kids for attention, crying whenever something doesn’t go his way.”

Shame burned in his gut, hot and painful, and Izuku wished he could disappear. 

“Well she coddles him, obviously.” The second voice scoffed, and Izuku felt something like anger in his chest, because that was his mom, and they shouldn’t say things like that about her. “She feels bad about passing on whatever genes she had that made him quirkless, so she lets him get away with whatever he wants.”

The first voice sighed. “Honestly, I don’t know why he’s even allowed to go to school here. Certainly not in the regular classes.”

“His grades are good,” The second allowed, and Izuku felt proud, briefly, before it continued. “Though I don’t know how – I was never able to catch him cheating, but I mean, you can tell just looking at the kid, there’s nothing going on upstairs. Just writes in those weird little notebooks of his – it’s scary, to be honest. You’ll look up sometimes and he’s just staring at you. Gave me the creeps.”

It must be Sasaki-sensei, he realized numbly. The first voice let out a commiserating hum, and they moved on to other topics.

Izuku felt his chest tighten, his eyes start to burn with tears, and anxiety took over, because he couldn’t start crying – the teachers would hear, and they’d know he’d heard what they said, and they’d be mad, and if he came back to class with his eyes red and puffy Hayashi-sensei would get that look on his face he did whenever Izuku came up and asked him a question, and Kacchan and his friends would yell at him for being a stupid crybaby deku.

Sometimes, when he wasn’t fast enough to get away from Kacchan and the other kids after school, when it felt like the kicks and burns and punches would never end, Izuku was able to… go away.

Not physically, not in any way that mattered, but he could go somewhere in his brain where the fear and the pain was far away and muffled, and he didn’t feel anything for a while.

Panic encroaching, feeling tears prick at his eyes now, he tried to go there again. Willed himself to be not here, to separate until his body was just this unwieldy thing he was leading around, and his mind was somewhere gray and hazy and safe.

He walked back to the entrance of the teacher’s lounge, and made like he’d only just walked in. “Um, excuse me?” He called, finding it oddly difficult keep the question from coming out flat and cold.

One of the voices – the second one, Sasaki-sensei, emerged from the copy room and frowned at him. “Midoriya-kun! What are you doing in here? You know the teacher’s lounge is off-limits to students.”

Normally he would have shrunk away, anxiety making it hard to breathe, but it was like the effect was… dulled. It wasn’t as though her sharp tone bounced off of him, but like something had intercepted it before the blow could hurt.

“Hayashi-sensei asked me to deliver this.” He told her, finding it difficult to get the words to form. He felt like a heavy fog was settling over his brain.

“Oh,” She responded taking the note from him. “Alright. Go back to class then – straight back.”

Then, Izuku blinked, and found that he was walking home.

When he tried to sift through his memories for what had happened after leaving the teacher’s lounge, he found most of it a haze. There were a few points he remembered – Kacchan’s voice, loud and furious, palms popping along the top of Izuku’s desk. Tsubasa-kun jeering, a landing a kick on his ribs while he asked what a useless deku like him thought he was doing trying to show up Bakugou.

As he walked, he felt the fabric of his uniform irritate fresh burns along his back, his shoulders, his arms.

That pain felt distant too.

Izuku thought that he should feel worried, maybe, that he’d just floated through the rest of the day like a zombie – he didn’t remember anything from class, didn’t remember anything about walking home, and wasn’t that dangerous?

But he didn’t – he didn’t seem to be feeling much at all.

He was just tired.

-

At some point, some of the other kids looked up and realized that quirkless deku was beating them in class rankings. Mostly, because the teachers pointed this out to them with a disappointed stare.

This, Izuku supposed, is what made Hokama-kun come sidling up to his desk during lunch. “So, Deku, how’d you do on the last test?” He asks casually.

Izuku started at being addressed and glanced around at the other students to see if this was some kind of prank. Hokama let out a slightly annoyed huff and tapped on his desk. “Hey, did you hear me?”

“S-sorry,” Izuku stuttered, “I- um, I did okay?” He’d made a perfect score, actually, but he’d learned by now that bringing that up was bragging, and none of his classmates would tolerate that from him. “W-what about you?”

“Okay?” Hokama asked incredulously, ignoring Izuku’s last question. “I looked at the grades while Kawata-sensei was in the hallway. You got the best score in class. Even better than Bakugou.”

Izuku flinched, but Kacchan was engaged in a discussion with his friends and didn’t seem to have noticed.

“K-k-kachhan’s really smart.” Izuku replied anxiously, wishing privately that Hokama would just get on with whatever he was going to do.

“Yeah, sure, but he didn’t get a perfect score.” The boy replied dismissively. “You did.”

Izuku chances another glance at Kacchan – still distracted – before shrugging slightly. “I-I guess.”

“Listen,” Hokama said, leaning in closer, “I have to do better on the next test, or my mom’s gonna kill me. So how about, during the next test, you help me out with the answers, yeah? I could even pay you for it if you wanted.”

Izuku felt alarm raise in his chest. “No!” He answered empathically, without thinking about it. A few curious stares were shot his way, and one vicious glare from Kacchan, and Izuku shrunk in his seat until they returned to their conversations. “No,” He said again, quieter but just as firm. “Th-that’s- that’s cheating, we could get in trouble, a-and, it’s not f-fair to the others. Besides,” He added, staring down at his desk and not noticing the way Hokama’s gaze had darkened slightly, “H-heroes don’t cheat.”

By the time Izuku looked back up, Hokama had an easy smile on his face. “That’s fair,” He told Izuku amiably. “Can’t blame a guy for trying, I guess. Do you think you could help me study after school today at least?”

And Izuku – he should have been more careful. It was his fault, really, because Hokama had always laughed with the rest of them when Kacchan shoved him around, when he got called a deku, when the teacher sighed at him and said “that’s quite enough, Midoriya-kun” because his questions got too long.

But he was so caught up in the possibility of being useful – and Hokama-kun didn’t seem mean, and well, everybody laughed at him. If he used that as a method to rule out potential friends, he wouldn’t have any.

That was how he ended up with his face shoved against the brick wall of the school building, arm twisted painfully behind his back.

“You think you’re fucking better than me?” Hokama growled. He grabbed a fistful of Izuku’s hair and slammed the side of his face into the wall, sending bright sparks of pain along his cheek. “Fucking quirkless piece of shit, everyone knows you’re cheating anyway! The teachers talk about it all the time, they just can’t figure out how you’re doing it. So why the hell can’t you just help me out, huh?”

Before Izuku could respond, he felt frigid water surround his head.

Right.

Hokama’s quirk – hydrokinesis. He could create and manipulate up to a gallon of water at a time, and right now, apparently, was using it to “teach him a lesson”.

He shut his mouth tightly and tried to will down the rising panic. Hokama-kun wasn’t going to kill him – that would ruin his life. He just wanted to scare Izuku, and when he did that he’d leave him alone.

Does he know how long it would take to kill you, though? What if he does it by accident?

The thought had him panicking before he could suppress it, sucking in a little gasp that set him coughing violently.

It wasn’t helped by Hokama shoving him to the ground and aiming vicious kicks at his ribs.

He didn’t have nearly as much control over his quirk as Kacchan, though, and soon what was left of the sphere lost its shape, leaving Izuku soaked as he coughed up the rest of it.

Through the tears in his eyes, Izuku saw Hokama start forward again, another fledgling sphere of water floating between his hands, but before he had a chance to be terrified, a sharp voice rang out.

“Midoriya-kun! Hokama-kun! What are you doing? No roughhousing on school-grounds! Go home, both of you, before I call your parents!”

If he were younger, Izuku might have argued with the teacher that he wasn’t “roughhousing”, but by now he knew better.

He stayed on the ground as Hokama gave him a dark look and growled, “This isn’t over,” not moving until the other boy left.

Ignoring the aching in his ribs, and the pain in his chest, he dragged himself up and started home. He needed to be sure he was able to dry off before his mother got home.

(Inko was baffled as to how Izuku had managed to get pneumonia. He felt bad for shrugging when she asked him how this could have happened, but all it would do was make her upset when the school didn’t do anything.

Lying stuck in his bed coughing his lungs out wasn’t fun, but it did mean that he missed the next test, so he couldn’t help but feel relieved.)

-

When he was 12, the new student in class heard the other kids calling him stupid, useless Deku, and sat with him at lunch anyway. Talked all about how cool Endeavor was, and while Izuku didn’t necessarily agree, he was so shocked, so relieved to have someone who wanted to talk to him, that he just nodded along politely.

At the end of the day, he asked if he could have Izuku’s number – he was having a hard time with what they were going over in history, and you seem really smart, Midoriya-kun and Izuku was so caught up in the euphoria of having a friend that he didn’t think twice.

He’d only been home for an hour before the texts telling him to do everyone a favor and jump off of a bridge began rolling in.

Two weeks later, Kacchan caught him laughing at something on his phone, and immediately accused him of fucking mocking me, Deku? He grabbed Izuku’s phone and threw it on the ground. When Izuku went to pick it up, he stomped on his hand, hard.

When Izuku saw the screen, cracked beyond repair, he was almost grateful.

-

Izuku walked into school on a Tuesday to find something on his desk. This wasn’t unusual – other students often put things on his desk; garbage, or rude notes, or set-ups for pranks. But this time, it’s different.

It’s a flower – a white lily – tied with a black ribbon.

Beneath it is a newspaper, opened to a story and- oh.

Quirkless Teens In Japan Form Suicide Pact – Jump Off Bridge.

Beneath the story, in bold letters, is scrawled “What are you waiting for?” The handwriting is vaguely familiar, likely from one of the other times someone had left something cruel scrawled across his desk, but he couldn’t pick out which of his classmates it belonged to. He supposed it didn’t really matter.

The teacher was already there. Had they seen who’d left the newspaper on his desk? Against his better judgment, Izuku looked up at him – for what, he doesn’t know. Reassurance? An answer? Some kind of defense?

He rolled his eyes at Izuku and looked away.

He swallowed the despair that rose up in his throat and calmly picked up the newspaper, with the flower on top, and dropped them in the trashcan, eyes downcast.

“What’s wrong, Deku?” One of his classmates jeered, “You didn’t like your present?”

Izuku didn’t look up and returned silently to his desk.

-

He’d thought about it – of course, he’d thought about it. When he heard it every day from his peers, when he was surrounded by reminders of how he was lesser, weak, useless, how could he not?

He’d imagine – a tall building, maybe the bridge? He didn’t want to do it at home and leave his mother to find his body, but he didn’t want no one to find him and leave her worrying.

He’d stand on the train platform and imagine – only a few steps forward, and then- but he’d read about how that kind of thing could really mess up the people who saw it, and he didn’t want to cause problems for anyone else.

Sometimes he’d have what he started calling absent days – days where that gray haze would settle over his brain and no matter what he did, he couldn’t get it to clear – body functioning on autopilot, while he was simply an observer.

On those days he’d fall into (fantasies? They didn’t make him feel good, but didn’t make him feel bad either) – thinking about the bottle of pain pills from his mother’s back surgery a few years ago that sat untouched in her medicine cabinet – the small, sharp pocket knives sold by the convenience store near their apartment – the rushing water beneath the bridge, nothing but a waist-high barrier between the road and the edge-

He would never do it, of course. He’d comforted his mother too many times, promising her that she was a great mom, the best, it wasn’t her fault he came home bruised and bloodied, please don’t cry- He could never bear to hurt her like that.

(And privately, he worried what she would do if he did – she had Auntie Mitsuki, but they didn’t talk as much anymore, their interactions strained and plainly avoiding the ever-worsening relationship between their sons, and sometimes she seemed so sad, so frustrated with herself, and Izuku worried if he killed himself then she-

It made him a hypocrite, he knew, but by that point, Izuku had come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t a good person.)

-

The teacher announced to the class that Izuku was applying to UA, and he imagined himself sinking into the ground and disappearing as Kacchan started to yell.

It was pointless, but he still wondered why his teacher felt the need to tell everyone. Wasn’t it enough that he’d scoffed when Izuku had handed in the form, made him go talk to the school counselor again about “being realistic”?

Kacchan cornered him after class, letting his quirk singe Izuku’s uniform and burn his skin as he yelled about how he was the only one from this school going to UA.

Were he more confident (or less attached to living) he would ask why Kacchan cared so much if he was so sure that Izuku wouldn’t get in – but he has the patchwork of scars along his shoulders, his arms, even one along the shell of his ear that has left him with hearing damage to this day, to remind him why that’s not a good idea.

And then Kacchan leaned in and grinned in a way that made something in Izuku’s stomach go cold. Anger, he was used to, he more or less knew how to handle. But that grin was enough to freeze him in place.

“You know, if you want to be a hero so badly, there’s one thing you could do. Take a swan dive off the roof, and pray you get a quirk in your next life.”

Ah.

Izuku wasn’t sure why it cut as deeply as it did. Kacchan has certainly agreed when others had told him much the same thing, certainly joined in with their raucous laughter-

But he’d never said it himself.

Not an hour later, Izuku’s hero told him to “be realistic” in the same tired tone the school’s counselor used before leaving him alone on a roof. He walked up to the edge and stared down – much taller than the school’s roof.

Most definitely fatal.

He wondered if All Might would be upset if he killed himself right after the man had put so much time into saving him – if he’d think him ungrateful as well as foolish.

At least he would know his secret was safe, he noted numbly.

He stood there for another minute, feeling the wind on his face and wondering how it would feel to step- to fall-

His phone buzzed.

Can you stop at the store on your way home? We’re out of eggs. Love you!!!

He blinked down at the message.

Took a deep breath.

He should go – he wouldn’t want his mother to think something had happened on the way home.