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An Incurable Diagnosis

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Truthfully, Izuku scarcely remembered what life was like before he was Quirkless. Sure, he remembered his friendship with Kacchan, how everyone treated him the same as his classmates, how he was a child. But he was still Quirkless, even if no one knew it.

After his diagnosis (and it was always a diagnosis, a disease), Izuku felt the same. Everyone treated him differently, but he hadn’t lost anything, he wasn’t any less than he had been before. He was still human.

No one else saw it that way, however, not even his mom. She loved him, of course, but Izuku could now sense an underlying pity, and something else too. For a long time he didn’t recognize what it was, until one night when he was watching a news feature about a girl with cancer who had a powerful regeneration quirk. Normally, cancer was easily curable nowadays, but with her, every time they removed the tumor, it grew back at twice the speed. The newscaster lamented how she would die soon, how it was tragic that such a gifted child would die so young. In the father’s eyes, the look that Izuku saw in his mother’s shimmered prominently.

Izuku finally understood that look. It was the look of a parent whose child was dying.

But Izuku wasn’t dying. He had even asked his mother, and she had told him he wasn’t, though she started crying afterwards. He knew she was telling the truth, so why did she look at him like that? He was still the same, he just had two joints in his toes! He didn’t have a quirk before, so why was it such a big deal now?

She stopped answering those questions after the first one. He stormed to his room, but even the thought of All Might couldn’t make him happy. Why did everyone care? Why did Kacchan call him useless, Deku? They weren’t supposed to use quirks anyway, why did everyone care so much? Why wasn’t he good enough?

The silence of his room gave him no answers, and he cried himself to sleep.

When Izuku woke up the next morning, he understood the difference between not having a quirk and being Quirkless. It wasn’t one he knew that he knew, not for a long while longer, but he understood it, deep down.

He knew why the teachers ignored his crying when Kacchan burned him, why his few friends’ parents refused to have him over at their house, and even why dad left. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a quirk. A lot of his classmates had quirks so useless they might as well not have them, but they weren’t treated like this. No, it’s because he was Quirkless. It was the diagnosis, not the condition, that brought him so much pain.

Over the years, as real life became more unwelcoming, Izuku slid into the welcoming arms of the Internet. Heroes gave him the most hope, especially All Might, but they were not his only sources.

He found people like him. Quirkless people who found pride in their condition, who wore it as a badge and a shield. He found Quirkless adults too, one who endured the same things as Izuku and grew up, who lived on through the struggles to tell their stories.

What he didn’t find, however, was anyone Quirkless who was any sort of hero. There were some working in support companies or administrative roles, but extremely few. It turned out that the Quirkless community as a whole was generally against the hero industry. As they argued, the hero industry put focus on quirks over what people are like as people. Izuku understood the argument, though he felt that part of the draw of heroics was the quirks. He did wish though that heroes would at least be more inclusive, if only for selfish reasons.

The internet taught him other things too. After the first time Kacchan told him to kill himself (“go sleep in a river and hope you dream up a better existence,” almost poetic, if it weren’t so harsh), he looked up suicide rates among Quirkless people. Ten percent of all Quirkless youth attempted suicide between the ages of 12-25. A study from 20 years ago said eight percent. Things were getting worse as the population became more Quirked.

That was the other interesting word Izuku found: Quirked. Like Quirkless, but opposite. The words actually originated when quirks first appeared, though it was the Quirked people who were often discriminated against. Izuku found that in several countries, including Japan, the Hero Industry was actually created to fight against Quirk Discrimination. Basically, it was a way for people with quirks to say, “Look, we’re people! We’re good and we want to use our powers to help!”

Nowadays, the word was rarely used. Izuku saw it online a lot, in discussions and forums about discrimination, but in his life “Quirked” just meant “normal.” In Izuku’s district, so close to UA and therefore full of heroes, Izuku was the only Quirkless person he knew his age. He knew a few older Quirkless people, but they’d always kept to themselves, and Izuku barely knew anything about them. He was too nervous to go talk to them anyway.

Now matter how much he learned, Izuku never took pride in his Quirkless status. No matter the community or history, it was nothing but a hindrance, a disability keeping him from becoming a hero. It was the reason for his suffering. He wanted only to move past it, to survive school and become a hero. Everything else was secondary.

That’s why when All Might offered him a quirk, and with it a chance to become a great hero, he accepted without hesitation. Even after thinking about the consequences of the quirk, he never doubted that he wanted it. He wished to shrug off Quirklessness like bad acne or shortness: something he outgrew, something he moved passed and never missed.

And for the most part he did that. He trained, accepted the quirk, got into UA, and made the first great step into achieving his dreams. He accepted the fact that he had friends because he was at a new school, that things were different here because the people were different. Hell, he even fought a ton of crazy Villains at the USJ. Then came the Sports Festival.

See, just like when he had been diagnosed as Quirkless, getting a quirk didn’t change him. Sure, he now had a near-godly amount of power that he could call upon (mostly to break his bones), but he was still Izuku. There was no additional feeling that a quirk granted him, no extra confidence or intelligence or any other sort of mystical aspect. Maybe that’s why it was so easy to pretend that the people were different, that they weren’t just being nice because he was ‘normal’ now.

Then Izuku won the first event at the Sports Festival without using his quirk once. He won with his intelligence and sheer willpower, beating all the prodigies and teenager-shaped weapons of mass destruction. He was on top of the world. He got glares from many of the other students, but he thought it was for getting first place, for being worth ten million points. He barely used One for All in the second event too, relying on Hatsume Mei’s (built-without-a-quirk) machinery, as well as Uraraka and Tokoyami’s quirks. Not the same, but ultimately his quirk was just an unwieldy tool to him.

During the break, Izuku learned of Todoroki’s birth, of his abusive situation, and his heart hurt for him, though the curl of anger whipped through him as well. How dare he have this power, something that Izuku would have done anything to have, and not use it? That was bad enough.

It got worse. During lunch, Izuku overheard some of the kids from another class -- he didn’t recognize which one.

“God, and that Midoriya kid? He didn’t even use his quirk in the first round, and just a tiny bit in the second.”

“I know, right? I mean, Bakugo might be a dick, but at least he uses his quirk well. What’s even the point of being in heroics if you don’t use your quirk?”

Oddly, the words didn’t hurt because they made fun of his quirk control. They hurt because of the implication: he was nothing but a quirk.

Logically, Izuku didn’t understand why that bothered him so much. It was a complaint he’d heard so many people make about the modern world in general and heroics in particular. He’d never agreed because he’d been judging people on their quirks just as much, but now that he was being looked at like that… he hated it.

But he had to keep moving, for now.

Then came Ojiro’s warning. Shinsou’s quirk was amazing to Izuku; it was perfect for villain capture, for calming civilians, for doing, well, anything with people. He understood the chip on Shinsou’s shoulder, he really did. Quirkless people and those with ‘villainous’ quirks often were in similar communities, fighting a lot of the same laws and understanding each other on some level.

But Izuku had a quirk now, and Shinsou had no sympathy for him.

“Your life must be so perfect!” Shinsou shouted, his eyes watering. “You don’t know what it’s like to have everyone think you’re a Villain, to have to claw your way up!”

I do, Izuku wanted to say, I really, really do.

He won that fight, eventually, and lost the next, sacrificing his chance to win to help someone else overcome their block. He didn’t regret it.

The thing is, water boils slowly, but once it boils it has more energy than almost any other common substance at the same temperature. The gas had been running for a long time, and the Sports Festival was the spark.

He first noticed the heat on the train to school the first day after the Sports Festival. The other passengers said they cheered him on, and that felt good, even if it was embarrassing. A few stops later though, a woman got on who started praising him as well. Not about his performance though, but about his quirk, how impressive it was.

He got off the train a stop early and walked the rest of the way to school.

The feeling lay dormant for a while, through the internship and his encounter with Stain. Then, one normal day at school, he was sitting at lunch with his friends, all of them laughing and generally having a good time. Then, during some conversation that he couldn’t even remember, Uraraka made a comment.

“I mean, it must suck to be Quirkless nowadays,” she said flippantly. “I can’t even imagine.”

“But I’m --” Izuku was about to stop her, to protest, but stopped himself. The beginning of his comment went unnoticed as a few other people agreed with her. Iida scolded her for speaking so rudely, but it sounded rote, like he was simply parroting something his brother said once about discrimination. Everyone laughed it off like they had earlier when Iida lectured them on balanced diets while knowing little about nutrition.

But I’m Quirkless, was what Izuku was about to say. But he had a quirk now. That made him Quirked, right? Then why do I still feel Quirkless?

And he did. Nothing had changed about him when he was diagnosed, and nothing changed when he got a quirk. As he’d learned as a child, Quirkless didn’t mean he didn’t have a quirk. It meant people treated him like he was different for it.

But no one else knows. He knew, Kacchan knew, and All Might knew. His mom never asked about his problems and he never told her, so she wouldn’t understand, even though he loved her.

Would his friends be friends with him if they knew? If he didn’t have a quirk, would they want to hang out with them and joke? He’d always distanced himself from who he was (Quirkless) and he never even bothered to think about if they had the same discriminatory habits as his classmates in middle school.

He liked to think they were better, but they all had strong, ‘perfect’ quirks. Even Uraraka, who grew up struggling with money, and Kirishima, who was clearly self conscious about his abilities, had great quirks, and had always had them.

Once he noticed, it never really went away. He could ignore it most of the time, but sometimes he’d look at them, the way they talked and walked so confidently in public, how they weren’t scared of standing up to themselves, how they treated authority like a protector rather than the punisher that Izuku had always known it to be.

He felt bitter, sometimes. He wanted to grab them and yell at them how lucky they were, how they didn’t even notice or care because they’d always been this lucky, how they never flinched at the question “What’s your quirk?”, or how they didn’t even notice it was the second thing people asked after your name.

But Izuku knew he was viewed as one of them now. He no longer received glares when he gave his answer to that previously-dreaded question. He noticed how easy it was to exist without people bullying him constantly. He got nice remarks from his teachers, even comments on his intelligence.

But he wasn’t one of them. He didn’t think he ever would be.

So he went to the one person who would understand his struggles: All Might.

Only, All Might didn’t understand.

“What do you mean, my boy?” All Might asked, clearly confused by the question.

Izuku tried again, figuring that he hadn’t phrased it well, “Like, how do you cope with having a quirk now, when you used to face so much for not having one? How do you deal with being Quirkless while having a quirk?”

“My boy, I’m not Quirkless, I have One for All. It’s true that it will pass fully to you soon, and I will once again lack a quirk, but it will be easily explained that my injuries have simply limited my use of my quirk.”

All Might didn’t feel Quirkless, he realized. When he’d gotten One for All, he’d become Quirked, never looking back on his life before. That’s why he told Izuku he couldn’t be a hero without a quirk, why he’d never spoken out against quirk discrimination before beyond lip service and general motivational speeches. He didn’t get it.

“Young Midoriya, are you alright? You look shaken.”

Izuku felt betrayed, almost. The one person who he thought would understand, didn’t. That was ridiculous, right? All Might didn’t owe him that. But that anger still sat there. Why hadn’t All Might helped the Quirkless? He had the power to do so without betraying his secret, why --

“Izuku!” Izuku looked up at his idol using his given name, rattled. “You look ill, are you alright?” Shakily, Izuku nodded. “You know you aren’t Quirkless anymore, right, my boy? You have One for All now.”

He said it like he had been lifted of some curse. Until a few weeks ago, Izuku would have agreed with him.

“Of course,” Izuku lied. “I’m fine now.”

The other thing about water is that it boils faster with a lid on top.

With no one to talk to, the issue consumed Izuku from the inside. He felt bitter toward his classmates, then guilt for being mad at them for no tangible reason, then more guilt for feeling like he was lying to the world about being Quirked, then annoyance at himself for feeling that way, until it spiralled inside of him, twisting in ways even he couldn’t understand.

Uraraka, Iida, and Todoroki all noticed. They had individually told him that he could talk to them if he needed. While he appreciated the gesture, he simply couldn’t: they just wouldn’t get it.

After weeks and weeks of heating up, Izuku finally boiled over.

Shinsou was training to get into the hero course, and Izuku genuinely hoped he’d make it in. He was clearly driven and intelligent, and Izuku saw a spark in him that honestly a lot of classmates lacked (looking at you, Mineta). He was doing some of the exercises with 1A now to see if he was up for the material, and Izuku wanted him to do great.

Unfortunately, he was also a huge pain in the ass.

Izuku understood why Shinou tormented him at the Sports Festival, he really did. He was airing his frustrations to someone he thought was privileged, and also needed him to respond, so he said a lot of inflammatory things to him. Izuku wasn’t holding it against him, as it was a valid, if underhanded, strategy.

Why Shinsou was still being an asshole when they were on the same team was completely beyond him. It had no tactical purpose. He was just being a dick.

“God, it must be so easy for you to do all this, with such a good quirk.” They were just finishing up the exercise, coming back from Ground Beta in their gym uniforms.

“Shinsou, can we please not do this? I’m tired and I don’t want to do this.”

“Oh, scared of a little banter? You probably just don’t have the intelligence for it, having relied on your quirk to get in and all.”

Izuku disliked it when people assumed he was dumb because he was strong. It was a new development, but one he hated.

“I’m smart enough to get in, and to do better than you on the robot section of the entrance exam when I couldn’t even use my quirk without breaking a limb.” To be fair, he hadn’t figured out the test and got in mostly by dumb luck, but Shinsou didn’t need to know that.

“You know, you hero course types really are the same. Always so arrogant and stuck-up.”

“Well you’re trying to be a ‘hero course type’ so maybe you should think about your words,” replied Izuku, struggling to keep the ire out of his voice.

“Please, I’d still be better than your types. You’ve never struggled, not in the way I have, Perf-quirked.”

Izuku wasn’t sure whether it was the accusation that he had never struggled or the old, dumb internet slang he hadn’t heard (or more accurately, seen) in five years that made him snap, but snap he did. He whirled around, facing Shinsou for the first time.

“What the fuck do you know about my life?” he shouted. “You think you’re so mistreated because you’ve got a slightly scary quirk, but you don’t know shit! You’ve never dealt with people treating you like you can’t do anything at all, like you have no purpose but to waste space. You’re at the best hero school in the country and all you do is complain about how you don’t have as easy of a time as everyone else, like you weren’t using anything but your quirk during the Sports Festival! I got first place in the first event without using my quirk once, and all you can do is define me by it. We are more than our quirks, and if you want others to start treating you like it, then you should do the same!”

When he finished, there was silence. Everyone was staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed at him. He supposed from the outside, that came from nowhere.

“Midoriya. Shinsou.” Aizawa’s voice rang from just inside the classroom a few feet away. He stepped out, no sleeping bag in sight. “Both of you, with me. Now.” His tone brokered no argument.

They both followed him to an office that Izuku knew was used for private, smaller meetings, usually between a student and teacher who didn’t have their own office.

“Shinsou, you come in first. Midoriya, I’ll speak to you after.” Aizawa entered the room with the other boy following behind him. The room was obviously sound-proofed, not that he would listen in anyways.

Now alone, Izuku felt… weird. Conflicted.

On one hand, he had said what he’d been thinking, and it felt good to finally say it, to make them all see. On the other hand, he shouldn’t have said it. Not only was he mean to Shinsou, but it just wasn’t something he was supposed to say. He wasn’t entitled to those feelings anymore.

He was still mad, still upset at Shinsou and his classmates and the world, but at the same time he just felt… tired.

After what could have been an eternity, Shinsou finally exited the room. Normally, Izuku would have analyzed his facial expressions, trying to figure out what was happening, but right now he didn’t want to look up from his shoes.

“Midoriya, come in,” called Aizawa from the meeting room. Shinsou was trying to meet his eyes, but Izuku kept looking away. He entered the room and closed the door.

“Sit down.” Aizawa commanded. Izuku did. “Would you like to tell me what that was about?”

“It was nothing,” he lied. “I haven’t been sleeping properly and Shinsou was pushing my buttons, I just got overly annoyed and snapped. I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.” He was looking steadfastly at Aizawa’s scarf, able to see his expressions without really looking at him.

“You’re lying. Tell me what’s actually happening.” After it became clear Izuku wouldn’t respond, Aizawa continued, “You know I can expel you, right?”

“You won’t.”

Aizawa was clearly startled by his confidence in the statement, as if Izuku was simply stating a fact. And he was.

“I know you don’t hesitate to expel students when you don’t see potential,” Izuku explained monotonously, “but you deal with Bakugo’s temper all the time, so one outburst isn’t enough for you to deem someone unworkable. You wouldn’t do it to someone for not sharing either, you’re not that petty.”

He said it like fact because it was. Izuku watched carefully, and he knew Aizawa had learned that.

“Alright, you called my logical ruse.” he paused for a moment, clearly trying to assess the best way to go about doing this. “I’m surprised you knew what a ‘perf-quirked’ is, it’s rather jaded and old internet slang, not even very creative or popular. You don’t seem the type to be on those forums.” Izuku didn’t respond to the obvious goading. “I doubt you haven’t had any reason though, given that you must have had an easy time growing up with your perfect quirk.”

Izuku’s eyes shot up to glare at his teacher for just a moment. He immediately looked back down, realizing his mistake, but it had been enough. Instead of pushing, Aizawa waited, knowing that Izuku knew he knew, and would therefore respond.

“I didn’t grow up with my quirk,” Izuku conceded. “It came in a few months before the start of the school year.”

He expected Aizawa to nod, to know that piece of information from his file.

Instead, his teacher looked shocked.

“What?” he almost yelled. Izuku had never seen his teacher look surprised like this, not even at the USJ. “Why didn’t you tell me this?”

“You didn’t know?” asked Izuku, stunned slightly out of his angry moping. “It’s in my files that I changed my quirk registration just a few months ago.”

“I don’t have access to those files.” Aizawa looked like he was regretting some choices.

“Really? Well I’d be surprised if it wasn’t mentioned in the incident reports from middle school, I’m sure you had those.”

“It wasn’t, not directly, and I didn’t think to look for it.”

“Well, clearly you’re a terrible investigator.” They both knew that was simply not true, and that Izuku was only saying it to cover up… whatever he was feeling right now. He went back to staring at the scarf.

“Midoriya, this is important information. Do you know what I thought of you on the first day of class, why I almost expelled you?”

“Because you thought I was some privileged kid with a powerful quirk who never bothered to learn to use it, instead relying on others to clean up my messes rather than deal with them myself,” Izuku gritted out. “You didn’t expel me because you probably realized a kid who breaks his bones willingly didn’t have a lot of opportunity and therefore could learn. You also appreciated that I was smart enough to pass the test without crippling myself.”

Aizawa looked surprised again, clearly not expecting Izuku to outline what had likely been his exact thought process yet again. Izuku allowed himself to feel the tiniest bit of satisfaction at that.

“Damn, problem child, you are observant, aren’t you?” Aizawa said, twisting an eyebrow. “You’re off slightly though. The finger thing impressed me because of your drive, but it wasn’t actually that smart. No, I knew you were smart because you scored first on the academic portion of the entrance exam.”

Now it was Izuku’s turn to be surprised. He instinctively looked up, but Aizawa caught his gaze this time, and Izuku didn’t feel it was right to look away, not when he wasn’t saying anything. However, it wasn’t awkwardness that made Izuku want to open up, but the emotion in his teacher’s eyes.

It was empathy. Aizawa wasn’t trying to win an argument or keep an unruly student in check, he wanted to help Izuku. He was the first adult to ever look at him like that. His mom loved him, but she only looked at him with pity. All Might was so desperate to run away from his own past that he couldn’t help Izuku come to terms with his. But Aizawa wanted to.

He felt tears in his eyes, the first he’d allowed himself to shed for his confusion. He’d cried for his lost dreams, for his mother’s pity, for the burns he got at school, but never for this.

“I just,” Izuku began before cutting himself off for a moment, trying and failing to regain composure. “Everyone treats me so differently now. Now that I have this amazing quirk, they act like I’m important now, and they never used to do that before. Everyone said that I was nothing, that I was useless, Deku, and now I’m suddenly important, but I haven’t changed at all. I’m still me, but now I’m allowed to be a hero because of this power. Like I needed permission to be a hero!”

Izuku knew his voice was cracking and tears were running down his face. He knew he should stop, that Aizawa wouldn’t care about his problems, but now that he’d started he couldn’t.

“But that’s not even the worst part,” he continued frantically. “The worst part is that I feel so alone. None of my friends understand what I’m talking about, they’re so removed from it. And I can’t talk to the Quirkless people I know because I’m not one of them anymore! I left them when I got a quirk and I never looked back, but I still feel Quirkless. I can’t even talk to --”

Izuku cut himself off before he could give away too much, disguising it as a voice crack. He was positive Aizawa didn’t buy it, but thankfully the man didn’t push.

“I just,” Izuku’s voice caught, “I don’t know how to feel. I can’t even do anything about it, it’s so useless, it’s not like my feelings would change anything.”

Finally, Izuku let himself stop. His speech was clumsy and not concise, and he didn’t even hit half the points he would’ve given if he’d been writing an article, but it didn’t matter. The tiniest bit of the heat escaped in his words, even if he was far from cool. His teacher waited a few moments, clearly seeing if he was going to add something else.

“Midoriya, it’s okay to feel that way,” Aizawa said eventually, speaking slowly. No longer Problem Child, Izuku noticed. “Your feelings matter. They don’t need to be actionable or useful to being a hero to matter. I want you to remember that you are a person, not a tool. It’s alright for you to simply feel, even if that emotion is negative.

“I’m sorry you’ve been going through this alone,” the hero continued. “I know I can’t fully understand, and I won’t degrade your experiences by trying to, but know that I am here for you. I know I’m tough on you usually, but I want you to know that had I known you were going through this, I would have handled the situation much differently. A lot of situations, really. I’m not the best at this sort of thing, but if you want to talk, I can listen.”

Izuku looked up at his teacher again, searching his eyes for a lie, but found only the same empathy as before.

He realized that while his and Aizawa’s lives were undeniably different, he probably would understand. Erasure was a quirk that fundamentally questioned the importance and hierarchy of quirks, and Izuku knew that that had made Aizawa controversial for some people despite his underground status. Hell, that was how he’d heard of Eraserhead in the first place.

He could trust his teacher. So, sniffing once again and wiping his eyes, Izuku straightened, and started to talk.

Things didn’t feel good immediately. If Izuku was being honest, they didn’t completely become perfect. He was still a Quirkless boy with a quirk in a world that wished the former didn’t exist.

But things felt better, after his discussion (and subsequent discussions) with Aizawa.

His situation hadn’t technically changed, and he still felt the occasional flare of resentment or annoyance at his classmates and friends when they say something mildly quirkist, or when they acted like quirks were all that mattered. Now, though, he either pointed out the problem and carefully tried to correct his friends, or he just went and ranted about it later.

Perhaps it was odd to rant about your friends to your insomniac teacher, but Aizawa never seemed to mind. He did put back his facade of ‘I’m too tired, Problem Child’ after that first conversation, but Izuku could tell at this point it was mostly just for show. Heck, Aizawa had even started ranting to him sometimes about a ‘loudmouth roommate’, though Izuku didn’t have the heart to tell him that he already knew that he and Present Mic were married.

Perhaps Izuku and Aizawa didn’t have the most conventional or even professional student-teacher relationship, but they were almost friends now. Not that it stopped the elder from being any less savage to him in class.

Izuku was also doing better with his friends. He’d finally started talking to Uraraka and Todoroki about it sometimes; their hardships were undeniably different than his, but they could still empathize in the same way he empathized with them.

He also told Iida some of it, but frankly Iida was not the best with these kinds of things. He always tried to relate, but never quite managed to get it.

Izuku even became friends with Shinsou, after the purple-haired boy apologized for being a presumptuous asshole. In fact, they quickly learned that they understood each other the best, as they both grew up with quirkism and only recently started being praised for their quirks.

For a long time, this was enough. Things weren’t perfect by any measure, but Izuku felt better about the world and his place in it. He was Quirkless, but had a quirk. He knew who he was, even if it was bizarre.

Things changed again after graduation. That was a given, obviously, the point of graduation is that things change, but a lot of things changed for Izuku, especially about his view of his place in the world.

For a little while, it was fine. Izuku was far from an expert at navigating complex social issues, but he knew enough not to advertise the fact that he still considered himself Quirkless. He knew he was, and would truly be Quirkless again whenever he passed on One For All, but he was content to let it lie, confiding only in his closest friends.

Then, Hero Fest came along, and he was invited to join a panel of up-and-coming new heroes.

Izuku was thrilled. He’d wanted to go to Hero Fest ever since he was a child, but even after high school, he’d never had the money or time to attend. It was a relatively minor part of his dream, all things considered, but being invited to the event was a dream come true nonetheless.

Walking through the crowded halls of the convention, surrounded by art and excitement and smiling people, he felt like he was floating on air. Even the smell of sweat and the sidelong glances couldn’t bring his mood down.

His panel was scheduled for the end of the day, so he spent most of his time exploring the Festival, buying off-brand yet expertly crafted merchandise and taking pictures with fans. By the time a tired-looking intern pulled him away for sound check, Izuku was grinning ear-to-ear with his arms full of merch.

After finally pushing down his childlike excitement, Deku managed to put on a proper game face: still a smile, but determined and proud yet respectful. These were the things Deku stood for, and Izuku would defend them to his dying breath.

Alongside him, three other rising stars similarly steeled themselves, though Izuku didn’t know any of them personally. Soon, the first questions began.

“What’s the most bizarre application of your quirk you’ve had to use?” a man with a spike on shoulder inquired.

“How have you adapted to your quickly-growing fame?” a brunette woman with a serious face asked.

“What’s the scariest villain you’ve ever fought?” a teenaged boy wondered excitedly.

Deku smiled at each one, painting stories of triumph over fear and how even the most helpless could save the day with bravery. He expertly navigated the waters between joking and seriousness, captivating his audience with charisma while never letting him forget that he too was human.

It was a song that Izuku had learned to sing years ago at UA, and though he occasionally forgot himself and sang off-pitch, he always righted himself.

The problem came, as it often did, not from the civilians asking questions, but from the other heroes.

“Who can be a hero, in your views?” The voice of the girl asking shook with her hands, the nervous excitement apparent in her posture.

“Anyone who works hard enough,” came the reply from the first hero in the lineup, though Izuku could hear the lie in his voice. Based on his earlier responses and his reputation, he was likely just paying lip service to equality.

“Those who show bravery no matter the circumstances will always be heroes, no matter their circumstances,” the next hero, Legacy, responded sincerely. Izuku knew she was subtly pro-vigilante, so he figured she wasn’t lying.

Being third in the lineup, Deku opened his mouth to say something of a similar effect, but the last hero, a rescue hero known as Diver, spoke up first.

“Those are lovely sentiments, but being a hero takes more than hard work and courage, though those are both certainly necessary,” Diver spoke confidently. “As harsh as the reality is, you need a strong quirk to survive in heroics.”

“That’s blatantly false,” Izuku responded automatically, momentarily losing control of his annoyance at the statement. “Even if heroes with traditionally less powerful quirks aren’t at the top of the charts, they’re still heroes who do meaningful and essential work. To say that a strong quirk defines a hero undermines the efforts and struggles of hundreds of fantastic people.”

“Look,” Diver began sharply, “you villain apprehension types might be able to wax meaningless platitudes about how anyone can be a hero, but in rescue, you need a good quirk, or you die. It’s not pretty, but it’s a fact.”

“They aren’t meaningless, and the statistics would disagree with you,” Izuku gritted out, barely reigning in his temper. “Only 2% of rescue heroes die in accidents while only 3% retire due to permanent injuries, which is nearly only half the rate of standard heroes. While ‘weak’ quirks cannot and should not be quantified, a recent study from the Journal of Varied Quirks found that there was little difference in quirk power and quality between standard and rescue heroics. Therefore, those with allegedly weak quirks can and do thrive as heroes, and should not be discounted.”

At this point, Legacy looked increasingly concerned about the argument while the first hero looked like he wanted to be literally anywhere else. Before she could cut in, however, Diver spoke up again.

“Please, weak quirked people do nothing but get in the way,” he said with an eye roll. “They should just do the rest of us a favor and stay out of heroics. It’s what’s best for them anyway.”

Izuku practically saw red. He’d dealt with quirkist people before, but this was his first time directly arguing with another hero about it, especially in front of an audience.

“You don’t get to tell people what’s best for them,” Izuku practically growled. “Anyone can be a hero, no matter their quirk or lack of one.”

“You believe Quirkless people can be heroes?” Diver scoffed. “That’s just wishful thinking. There’s never been a Quirkless hero, they just don’t have what it takes.”

“They don’t have what it takes?” Izuku practically yelled. “I was Quirkless for the first 15 years of my life, and I’m a better hero than you’ll ever be!”

“Alright!” Legacy cut in, preventing Diver from yelling back, if his face was any indication. “It sounds like we should take a five minute break. We’ll take more questions then.”

I should not have said that, Izuku thought as he went backstage for his water. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Legacy interrupting Diver from coming over to him. From their respective postures, he could tell that she was lecturing him harshly while he clearly wasn’t listening. Regardless, the rescue hero backed off, which Izuku was thankful for. He nodded at Legacy, who hesitantly nodded back.

After the break, the questions were much more tame, and Deku allowed himself to take a back seat so as not to worsen his previous fumble. The air was still tense, but Legacy managed to pick up the slack easily; by the end, Izuku found himself enraptured with her words and message. From the looks on the audience’s faces, she had gained many fans that day.

The event ended, and Izuku quickly excused himself from Hero Fest. While he had planned to stay a bit longer to explore and mingle some more, his cheery mood had suffered a bit, and he definitely did not want to face any more questions on that topic.

Once he got home, however, he let himself check his social media. Somehow, it wasn’t as bad as he anticipated: though there were certainly a litany of quirkist defenses of Diver (which Izuku honestly didn’t even care about), the initial responses were largely supportive.

As was usually the case, avid fans were already piecing together the narrative of a boy raised quirkless until it suddenly and violently manifested. People were already connecting it to his inability to use his quirk without hurting himself his first year.

The entire experience felt… freeing. Izuku still felt nervous that someone would connect the dots and realize his quirk wasn’t his own, but beyond that, the weight on his chest that he’d carried for years had lifted somewhat. It felt good to be himself.

It felt good to be Quirkless again.

It was a Thursday when Deku, the current Number Five hero, saw the future.

Having just celebrated his 17th year of hero work, Deku was enjoying his place in the ranks, inspiring and saving all those he could, even if he was too controversial to ever reach Number One.

Quirkless individuals now only 5% of the total population, and the birth rates of Quirkless people were even smaller.

These statistics were not on Deku’s mind when he knocked out a cryokinetic man in a single punch. They were, however, on his mind when a young boy, at most maybe 14-years-old, cornered him after the fight.

“My name is Akatani Mikumo,” the boy shouted passionately, “and I will be the first Quirkless hero!”

Deku looked at the boy, with his black hair and curls, and was thrown into the past.

Akatani didn’t ask if he could be a hero, he stated that he would be with determination. He didn’t say Quirkless like it was some disease, he declared it with pride. He didn’t allow himself the opportunity to be put down, he demanded respect.

In that moment, Deku understood how All Might might’ve felt so many years before, on that eventful day. However, Deku didn’t see the next holder of One for All in front of him; he saw something much more special.

He saw a true successor.

“Hello, Akatani Mikumo,” he said politely, but with respect. “I’m Midoriya Izuku. I think I can help you, if you’d like.”