.A battle against imaginary enemies; fighting your shadow.
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Turning the corner, narrowly avoiding the shoulders of strangers, he sped past. No one paid him any mind. That was normal.
His face itched, like usual. Bruises and bandages littering his skin, burns and blisters and scars hidden beneath the worn-out, charred fabric of his blazer. His hair was a mess, matted and sticking out uncontrollably in an unruly mess.
Musutafu’s sky was overcast and the streets surprisingly quiet at this time; schools let out an hour ago, strangers presumably decided that the weather is unfavourable and chose to stay indoors. He decided, puffing deep breaths as he kept up the sprint, feet pounding across the pavement.
Midoriya Izuku, a thirteen-year-old boy, was trying to get home, travelling through the back alleys as if they were a second home.
They were in a sense.
The city paths and bridge way aren't an acceptable journey today, as he just can't risk the road being blocked from this mornings battle. Endeavour versus a hoard of small time villains, if he remembers correctly. That was bound to have caused some damage- was the conclusion for his current journey.
Midoriya's mum wouldn't be back from work until some time past nine o'clock, but he would have the solitude of their modest apartment, time to study and rest. That would be enough for now, he thought, jogging through the underpass. Quiet time.
It's so quiet.
Midoriya paused, he couldn't feel anything wrong immediately, except the ache in his bone and skin and just - everything. But Musutafu was never this silent, even on calm days. The stillness felt unnatural, it raised the cautious red flag of his head.
Stood under a raised footpath, the ground is littered in sparkling patches of glass, broken and intact bottles. The cement is dirty and water stained a murky green where the gutters hit the ground and the walls are slightly chipped, but plants and small flowers push through the gaps to fill in the darkness there. It feels like it should be peaceful here, but not noiseless .
Yet, a sound brushed his ears. A choked sob, and against all common sense, the messy-haired teen made his way towards the noise, ignoring the twinge in his bruised knee as he tried to locate the person in distress.
Were they upset, or is this some kind of elaborate trap?
Is someone just going to try and hurt him again?
'Poor little, worthless Deku. Still trying. Still wanting to be a hero.' No one thinks he can get there, he's only a quirkless Deku to them after all. He's part of the minuscule twenty per cent of the global population who lacks the supernatural power dubbed as a 'quirk' or 'individuality' ( how ironic is that, your worth being determined by a power ). He can't even esc- he shook off the thought before it could begin. No point thinking about himself.
He didn't need a quirk to be kind to people. He doesn't need a quirk to be considerate and friendly and helpful. That logic is ingrained in his skull.
Peeking around the cardboard boxes clustered beside the old wall, he spotted a young male. He looked to be older than Midoriya and wore an unkempt, stained fleece above an oversized white t-shirt, muddy grey trousers and scuffed tan hiking boots. All in all, he looked homeless, or at least left behind. A forgotten trinket. Midoriya approached.
"Hey. Are you alright?" He crouched in front of the other boy, who looked up with weary eyes. The eyes of someone untrusting, someone hurt and in pain. "It'll be okay." Midoriya reassured, glancing at the other boy's face, trying not to seem judgemental or overconfident. The older boy's skin was pallid and his icy-ocean blue hair was matted with grime, messy locks falling past his eyes.
"How would you know?" The syllables sounded like they were being hauled through a grater, but he coughed to clear his throat. "Everything is bad, it's all horrible." He continued nervously, scratching his head roughly with injured fingers, then looked at his hands with possibly the most disgusted glare Midoriya has seen in a while, and for once, it wasn't directed at him. He just looked at the stranger, listening and gazing at him with blank, but understanding eyes. "I-I messed up..." The teen whispered, his breath hitching. "Everything is a mess…"
Midoriya gently patted his shoulder, resulting in the other youth glancing up through short, thick eyelashes. Swiftly yanking his age-damaged rucksack from his shoulders, Midoriya procured his bento box.
You see, the poor freckled boy hadn't been able to eat his school lunches for the past week, needing to hide or escape or run from people during free periods so he could get home with fewer injuries. Midoriya gently placed the box in the stranger's hands and smiled kindly. "I know it's not much, but try and get some strength. Darkness doesn't last forever, you know? You can do anything if you have a little food in your stomach." No doubt about it, he looked like the saddest person possible, offering a homeless child a bandaged, weak smile and a bento box.
Midoriya stayed with the boy for a couple more seconds before stumbling on tired legs and waving the teen a goodbye, with a message of good fortune on the end, and hastily left the area. The rain had yet to fall and he needed to re-patch his injured hands and face before his mum got back to sad hurt Deku.
Scooting through the streets, he broke into a jog as he spotted his apartment complex emerging from the shorter bungalows and detached houses that surrounded the miserable neighbourhood. His mum, his amazing mum, Midoriya Inko, was practically a single parent. She put all her time and effort into her two jobs just to try and scratch up enough money to let Izuku go to school, working to bone weariness to give him a chance to live in this dismal society. That in itself shows her love for him, and he loves her just as much, returns as much as he can by cooking her breakfast and dinner, tidying the house and any other chores he can.
Still, no amount of love from his mother could stop the rest of the world from hating him. So be it, he doesn't need to be liked. Today's generation went along the lines of 'no quirk, no life'. And as sad as it sounds, the world has never been fair, but that won't stop him! Midoriya clenched his fist as he stopped in front of the door. He hadn't even noticed that he'd already walked through the building and up the floors to his apartment.
Rummaging through his school bag, he collected his keys from the inside pocket and unlocked the door, letting the keychain jingle in the lock quietly before swiftly shoving them back in the compartment and closing the door behind him, removing his shoes at the genkan. Lights were off. He was definitely going to be alone for a couple of hours.
Three hours after his arrival, Midoriya is sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of Yaki Udon. The noodles and stir-fried vegetables something that was easy to cook up. He was just going to whip up some fried rice with ham, egg and onions, but in the end, he decided to make something that his mum could enjoy when she got back, tired and no doubt also having missed her lunch break. All he'd have to do is warm it up in the microwave or just heat it all in the pan again- he doesn't trust himself with the latter option, he'd probably burn it somehow- so his mum can have a nice meal before inevitably crashing into bed.
Midoriya now has plasters covering his fingers in an odd array of cream colours and a cold pack pressed between his left shoulder and cheek, trying to reduce the swelling on both, be useful, resourceful. A bruise was starting to appear, a brown-green mark that was the result of a hit to the head probably. Midoriya thought about it while he slurped up his noodles, not paying the flavours any mind. He couldn't remember anyone going for his face, not even Kac-Bakuguo.
Midoriya had walked past the bathroom mirror and caught sight of the injuries, a graze on his cheek from an explosion and a yellowing mark spreading from his ear to the curve of his jaw. His face was dotted with gold-brown freckles, and four more prominent ones sat under each eye respectively.
He could never get over it. How similar his eyes were to his mum's. It's peculiar at best even though they're related by blood; they both had wide eyes, and those wide eyes held the pair of melancholy green irises, swirled with moss and sun-soaked ivy leaves. Matching dark circles settled under them, a showcase of their missed sleep and high stress, and they had the same cry of sadness, of pain and joy. Izuku is petty much a carbon copy of his mother, except his hair had a lighter green hue and darker shadows whereas his mother's was a beautiful colour of dew soaked pine needles.
He'd stumbled in after a particularly bad beating that day. Bakuguo Katsuki's quirk, explosion, allows him to sweat a substance similar to nitroglycerin and ignite it in his palms at will. It felt more like conclusive energy rather than an actual explosion quirk, the heat and pain was still there, but research didn't add up with the specifics. The bullying didn't do most of the damage, the shrapnel from an idiot's explosion had. Some plastic vegetable crates flung like hazardous projectiles as they got caught in the crossfire, courtesy of messily aimed explosions. Shards of plastic were sent flying and, being the closest, Midoriya caught several to his shoulder and arms while defending his face, the short distance between them only made the hits more painful and the burns he got from the melted plastic left irritated ruddy marks on his freckled skin. Nothing like the shiny starbursts of healing skin and the paled but slightly pink handprints scars around his collar bones and shoulder blades. Bakugo really didn't care about who or what he hurt along the way, and that scared Izuku.
Inko had been home that day. She cried out as soon as he shuffled past the door, bloodied and teary-eyed. Like the domino effect, Izuku cried soon after, Inko nestling him into her side as they both wept their uncontrollable tears, the green-haired woman avoiding his arms and letting him hug tightly (even though it hurt). It wasn't surprising that they ended up on their knees, still clutching each other's respective cardigan and blazer.
He'd hidden how bad the bullying had gotten, and he still did. He's good at lying. But, just him walking in without a word, and her understanding it all showed her smarts and strength despite her timid demeanour and his own vigilance.
His chopsticks scraped against the bowl, jabbing him out of whatever daze he'd fallen into. He's already finished his food without a single taste to his tongue, he realizes. All of his limbs feel distant and static-edged, like they went to sleep, but worse than pins and needles. Glancing up, Izuku catches sight of the wall clock, eight o'clock, and collecting up all the unwashed utensils and his bowl, he dumps them in the sink. Washing everything up and placing them on the draining rack chased away the bizarre sensation in his limbs, so he fled, trying to dull down his facial injuries in the bathroom once again.
By the time he heard the front door open, he was already back downstairs, curled up on the sofa. He sported an All Might themed T-shirt and black joggers with a white stripe down the outer edges. Comfort clothes. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Inko toeing off her shoes in the small genkan and opening her mouth, obviously about to yell a welcome.
"Hey, mum!" He welcomed, standing up. She turned around just in time to be engulfed in a hug, instantly embracing him and landing a kiss on his forehead. "How was your day? I made dinner, Yaki Udon. It's not the best but I can heat it up before you go to bed?" He didn't let go as he glanced up and grinned at his mum. Inko did the same and smiled at him fondly, before brushing her chin through his curled hair and giggling at his pout when she leaned back again.
She started to shake her head, "I'm sure it'll be lovely!" She stroked his fluffy black-and-green hair, twirling a strand between her fingers as she subtly peered at his face, seeming to search for something. He held his grin, disguising his misery behind his smile; just like All Might.
She found what she was looking for.
Taking a step back, she turned his head, inspecting the small bruise that spread from his earlobe to his jaw. "Was your day okay?" She asked anyway, pointing to his bandaged shoulder and gesturing his face, already accepting of the fact that she couldn't prevent the wounds. Izuku had a blistering mark hidden under a white cotton pad that was taped to his skin, he couldn't tell her that Bakuguo had flared an explosion from between his fingers while going for the punch today. That was sad. Why couldn't he dodge them? He'd pondered this a lot, but, the least he knew is that he was petrified of his ex-childhood friend, he couldn't even curb his trembling when the angry teen walks past. This was the end result of 10 years of verbal abuse and 9 (maybe more actually) years of physical abuse. But he was not deterred from his dream just yet.
Inko must have seen the same determination in his eyes when he was four years old, sitting in the office with the revelation of two pinky toe joints. She pulled him in for another hug and gently kissed his cheek, "I believe you can do it Izuku. You'll be an amazing hero." She was crying again.
Izuku flinched, "MUM! Mum, please don't cry! Please don't-" he was cut off as a sob escaped his lips. Ah, it appeared he was crying too…
Today, Izuku climbed an old sakura tree within ten seconds. It was amazing because he was also running from his schoolmates and it was only then that he acknowledged how agile and flexible he was. It was freeing, to just know where to put his hands and feet, where to twist his hips and roll his shoulders without actually thinking about it, it felt natural to run like this.
On the walk home, he had fewer pains by far and he couldn't guarantee this chances for tomorrow, but now he knows he's going to try to get stronger.
But first, he's going to get some fresh groceries for his mum. Walking to a local shop, still in school uniform, he glanced over the windows and noted that one of the lower panes had been smashed and covered in sticky plastic. This place sold a wide variety of products, but all he needed were some vegetables and maybe a couple of soba noodle packets.
Calmly opening the door and hearing a bell chime, Izuku greeted the kiosk manager with a small smile and hesitant wave. The lady smiled back, a close eyed smile that showed how regularly she grinned, practiced or genuine, he didn't know.
Ducking behind an aisle, he quickly scanned the shelves, picking off two large boxes of four individually wrapped noodle packets before turning towards the fresh goods section. Baskets of fresh vegetables and fruits coloured the shelves. Bright reds and dark purples littered the higher shelf, orange and yellows below it and right at floor level were the greens and odd coloured ones, a colourful rainbow scattered across the shelves, deliberate on the shop's part. Grabbing a bundle of leek from the lower basket, he reached up, plucking a wrapped packet of carrots and two white and red onions each where he cradled the bundle in the crook of his arm. In the corner of his eye, he saw an assistant stacking the shelves at the end of the aisle, but he didn't pay them any mind.
Straightening up, he decided to just go around the entire shop, seeing if anything caught his eye. At one point, Izuku saw a rice box with dumplings and plucked one from the cold isle before continuing his stroll. Closer to the counter, he encountered a stationary section, a clean white Campos notebook called out to him, one of his favourite books to write in. Hastily grabbing the item, he queued to pay. A few minutes later, just as he's started packing everything in a paper bag and in the middle of thanking the till lady, he heard a shout.
"Oi, isn't that Deku?!"
Izuku tensed on instinct, his skin feeling uncomfortably warm under criticizing gazes; he kept up the smile, forcing up the facade to try and escape or at least reassure the store worker if the worst did happen. It seems he wasn't so lucky.
A yank on his collar is what broke the smile, yelping in surprise as he was felt himself being dragged backwards. The paper bag he was previously filling toppled off the counter, all its contents spilling across the tiled floor. "Oh look! It is Deku! He even managed to make a mess of the shop!" The pair laughed as he struggled to pry the strong grip off his blazer collar, shoes squeaking on the tiled ground as he kicked his legs. He didn't know who they were yet, but thankfully, he already knew Kaccha- No no, he's Bakugo, remember that Izuku- wasn't here. The teen would've exploded him on site, no care of people near by and feasting off his building ego.
"Co-come... come on geh-guys." He started, trying to spot all of his previously bought items while still toiling in the other student's grasp. "This is- this is a shop, the-there are people here-" he was going to begin to explain that they could get all of them kicked out when he was cut off by a hit on the head. The blow hurt, a completely solid whack with an edge of blunt force. It had to be the boy with the 'stone hand' quirk if that was the case.
"What Deku ?" A face entered his line of vision, it was the boy who could extend his fingers. His almost shoulder-length hair was a mess and there was a tang of smoke - tobacco smoke- that surrounded his being like the buzzing wings of lethal bugs. "Do you think you're embarrassing everyone? 'Cause I think you are. Such a wimp, why did you have to be in the shop we were going to, huh? Such a waste of time." His voice was plaintive and high in mockery, something like a sneer plastering across his slender face that looked a little too ordinary to be threatening.
Handfuls of people walked past with the majority not even casting a look his way, still, some gave him pitied glances before bolting for the entrance, not even trying to help. Guess all of them follow the ways of the crowd. The counter lady was glaring at the pair but didn't think to interrupt it, opting to take care of other customers while his unnoticed bag of shopping stayed resigned to the floor.
Through analyzing his situation, Midoriya had missed part of what the rock kid had said, as the boy suddenly flicked his forehead with his finger and scowled. Now, in normal cases, Midoriya wouldn't be fazed by the ding of pain and it would soon become a dull throb in his head, but this, however, was not to be taken lightly. The kid's entire hand is made of rock, and the power a single finger flick from him can produce a lot of pain. In this case, a jagged edge had actually cut Midoriya's forehead, he could feel it, even though he refused to voice his pain. The light teasing had turned to distress like the theory of vampires burning in sunlight. Instantly.
Midoriya could feel the stickiness of the blood in his eyebrow, the somehow comforting warmth of the liquid a little numbing. Ultimately, the possible beating cut short by a new arrival. A young worker stood there, appearing to tower over them, though only stood a few inches taller. His long, ice-blue-grey hair was tied back in a neat ponytail, the store's customized jacket worn proudly over his shoulders and chafed tan boots squeaking on the clean floor. "You brats better leave the kid alone. I will not tolerate bullying or commotion in this store and I will stop it, ya hear me? As for you-" he pointed at the kid with rock hands who still had Izuku by the collar. "I can call the police for quirk usage in relation to violence. Causing injury by means of quirk is illegal, even transformation and mutant quirks fall under those restrictions. This shop also has a no violence policy so you better hop right outta here and not come back. Yeah?" Hands on his hips, flip-phone visible in his left palm emphasized the promise of an easy call.
Midoriya felt the unseen pressure around his neck vanish and his heels hit the floor with a tap. Quickly turning, he saw the pair open and pause at the door, the bell chiming loudly as if it was gleefully signalling their exit. The pair cast a hate-filled glare his way before closing the door with a second chime and walking away.
Sighing in relief, the green-haired boy discovered that the assistant was still standing in front of him. They seemed to click at the same time, Izuku recognizing him as the boy from two days ago, and the other identifying Midoriya as the one who cared for him that day. They stepped back and started to hastily bow to each other with 'thanks yous's floating on awkward voices, but the gesture cut off as their heads collided with a thunk. Quickly pulling away, staring for a moment, the boys crossed eyes before bursting out with laughter.
Customers paused and peered at the pair with pleased gleams to their eyes, some letting out small chuckles after having watched the entire spectacle. The other, still unnamed teen, spoke in a voice that was far too soft for his situation, the heel of his hand rubbing the mark on his forehead. "Thanks for helping me the other day. The darkness really didn't last, like you said, and I managed to get a job here yesterday. I don't think I would've made it if you didn't help me." He smiled wider, Izuku noticed that his skin wasn't as pale as it was on their last meeting, and his hair was clean and his eyes shone with thankfulness, hope. "Thank you. A lot." He bowed again, only a slight bow, but the freckled boy easily gave one of his million yen smiles in return. It had never crossed his mind that people might actually return the compassion he offered. Izuku was honestly joyous, no matter the reason for the situation.
Despite his current train of thought, Izuku bowed too. "Thank you for helping me. I'm really sorry that we caused a ruckus, and I apologize if anything got damaged." He stood straight again, feeling a sudden warmth drop onto his lip. He licked his lips - a nervous tick - and tasted the blood that had come from the cut. "Oh." He mumbled, quickly holding his sleeve against where he thought the injury was.
"Ah! Sorry, let me get the first aid kit!" The assistant whirled on his heel but immediately spun back and grabbed a couple of Midoriya's recently bought vegetables, placing them on one of the unused counter tops. He ran off at breakneck speed, and the greenette used the time to repack all his groceries (plus a notebook) and apologize to the counter lady, she waved him off and handed him a tissue.
Being dragged to the staff room all of a sudden has Midoriya twitching in his skin, the injury wasn't as bad as it seemed but he knew it might have upset other customers, so he complied. They shared a civil conversation and Izuku discovered that the boy was called Betsuzaki Seni, he was sixteen years old. His family was killed in a bus crash only a few months ago and he was the only survivor (the green-haired boy suspected that Betsuzaki suffered from survivor guilt and PTSD. Learning to identify the symptoms of illness is something he has to learn if he's to join UA's Hero Course and help people). He was on the streets for three months before the freckled boy first met him, plenty of time for the boy to have completely given up on himself. Betsuzaki admitted that he was still on the alleys and didn't have enough money to get into a school yet, but there was a shelter which helped teach homeless kids basic maths and other subjects. The manager had been kind enough to let him into the store if he promised to work hard and he did just that, from what Midoriya could tell.
When the wound had been fixed up with medical tape and a bit of clean cotton, he was free to leave. Betsuzaki thanked Mirdoriya again for the bento and the latter promised to come by and talk to him in the future. So, with his bag of shopping and newly acquired and cleaned injury, he was out the door, the bell ringing a goodbye as he went. There was a breeze in the air, it tugged Midoriya's fluffy hair around, the sea-foam green highlights blurring with movement.
Today was good, Izuku concluded.
Thirteen-year-old Midoriya Izuku decided that he'd work harder than everyone else. He was going to be a hero, he wasn't going to let anything stop him.
“You know... how people say that their... life flashes before their eyes?”
“...I think they were right...”