Outside, he can hear the birds start to chirp.

Soft light filters through the drapes—adorned in All Might patterns that Izuku is definitely too old for, but he doesn't want to ask for new ones—casting his room in dim blues and reds. It's the moment of daybreak where everything outside is colored in a cold blue hue. He glances at the alarm on his nightstand—4:35 am.

Beside it is the letter from UA, lying surreptitiously. Sealed and untouched.

He hasn't slept a wink.

There is a dull throb at the back of his head, accompanied by a slight light-headedness from lack of sleep or something else. It's not exactly unwelcome, the haziness.

He's starting to get sick of his bed, he notes. But he doesn't want to get out. Rather, he doesn't want to not want to get out...

Even from this angle and the light turned off, he can see that his room is a mess. Izuku has never been the tidiest person, but this is a different kind of mess. A precariously familiar one.

He turns, burying his head into the pillow. His room smells of musk and heavy, draping bleakness. Sleep won't come. He wishes it would. It's better to just turn off. If only he can turn off.

If, huh?

That's enough, he decides.

Izuku gets out of the bed and takes his hoodie—the one with the wallet inside its pocket—from the chair. He doesn't bother to check himself in the mirror; he has enough idea of what absolute mess he currently looks like. A walking corpse at best.

The walls of the apartment are thin; he could usually hear Mrs. Sagasawa vacuums her floors above his room, or the Yamada kids next door run around with laughter and the occasional crying tantrums from the young one. But it's dead in the morning; even his mother, an early-riser, is still tucked in bed.

He thinks, anyway. Sometimes she has trouble sleeping when she's too anxious—a trait that Izuku inherits dutifully—and Izuku has given her much to be anxious about lately. As always.

Nonetheless, Izuku silently tiptoes through the narrow hallway into the living room. He takes a stack of the sticky notes on the desk and plucks one, scrawling quickly on it: going out for a run. Be back later.

He puts it on the coffee machine where he knows his mom will see (she goes for coffee first thing in the morning) and stares at it for a while.

After some time of consideration, he adds a new line of writing underneath: I promise.

He locks the door behind him as quietly as possible. The air outside is slightly chilly, even with his hoodie on. The birds are louder now, perching on the branches of the ginkgo trees in front of his apartment complex. This neighborhood has never been particularly noisy, but he can always hear the sounds of people. Industrial sounds, too, occasionally; he does live in the city after all. These early hours in the morning are the quietest it can be.

The elevator is out of order per usual.

The first train takes off at five and the trip to the station is a mere ten minutes walk. He spares a few yens to the homeless man sleeping at the front while he waits patiently, if rather anxiously, for the station to open.

The first train is always empty, but never as empty as one would expect. He takes the red line and sits at the corner, his hands stuck in the pocket of his jacket. He's forgotten his phone, he realizes belatedly. He's got his IC card and some money, though, so he should be fine … so long as he goes back by six. He doesn't want his mom to worry.

She will worry. Izuku is perfectly aware of how he's been acting this past week after the exam. She has every reason there is to worry.

He doesn't want to think about that.

The coastline is still in the Musutafu area, so the train ride is fairly quick. Izuku idly watches the man with the suitcase nodding off at one corner, the old lady quietly sitting primly on the other. The effects of lack of sleep have gotten into him; everything seems to be moving in lesser frames per second as if his vision is a lagging video processor. The dull ache at the base of his skull thrums almost steadily in an odd rhythm. He is very tired. Wrung out.

When Izuku is finally out of the train and the station, he checks his shoelaces. It's past five and the sky has started to brighten. The last of the stars hang dimly in the sky, washed out by the rising sun.

And then he starts to run. And wonder why the hell did he make all the choices that he did in the past year.

It's been a while since he ran—a full week and a day, as a matter of fact—and it shows. He started too fast, too eager, and his breath has begun to deplete rapidly. His lungs are sitting uncomfortably in his chest, rattling. His sides ache. He can't damn well feel his legs. He doesn't care.

Maybe if he runs fast enough, exerts himself hard enough that it hurts, that he hurts—

Maybe if he hurts himself enough he can turn off.

He isn't sure how long he's at it, but by the time he falls on his back, staring up at the now blue-yellow sky, his lungs are so, so sore with pain. Every drag of breath wheezing out of him is accompanied by asthmatic, hitching noises. His throat feels drier than sand and he realizes, almost distantly far too late, that he hadn't brought any water with him.

His heartbeat is deafening, a series of thunderclaps in his ears. He thinks, rather calmly: I'm going to die.

He waits. And just in case, he waits for a few more seconds. He still does not die.

Izuku rolls to his side and retches.

Nothing but acid. His stomach is revolting fiercely against him. Grains of sand prickle into his fingertips as he digs them into the ground. Izuku coughs violently, lungs seizing in panic as carbon dioxide is hacked out of him bits by bits, and nowhere near enough oxygen coming in.

Going for a mad run after being awake for thirty-six hours, on an empty stomach, with no water. It's what he deserves, he thinks gravely, underneath the pain. 15 Year Old Dumbass Found Dead at Dagobah Beach.

The nausea is almost sobering. The outside world is slowly trickling back into his senses, his heartbeats softening ever so slightly into a dull thrum along with the headache.

The pain is sobering.

This is what he was looking for, Izuku thinks, sand cutting into his hands like razor dust, his digestive and respiratory system spasms in agony, his head spins, spins, spins. This, this is what I was looking for—

He's missed this.

It's so close, he thinks. It's the closest thing he could get to it. The clinical sense of detachment, above the pain, underneath the pain, all around it. Like he is watching himself suffer, as both the actor and the audience simultaneously. A sort of agony that he could pretend to be big enough and boisterous enough, fits itself on him like a glove.

Being not all there. This is the closest thing he could get to it, other than—

"Dear god, are you all right?" a voice says, and Izuku startles, and is then struck by a sudden sensation of deja vu.

You okay, buddy ?

But the circumstances are different. There is no sidewalk this time, no Seven-Eleven, no distinct sensation of a semi-trailer truck slamming to his demise at 80 mph, writhing under his skin like muscle memory. He is at the beach, he reminds himself. He tries to look, but his eyes are bridled with tears and confusion, unseeing. He tries to breathe.

"Are you all right, my boy?" the voice repeats. Izuku is cast in a shadow as the person hovers above him, effectively shielding him against the sunlight. "I'm—" Izuku starts, but his throat is way too dry, choking on itself.

A bottle of water is held in front of him with urgency. "Drink this, please—"

It's ridiculous. Izuku jerks back, shaking his head amidst it all—he shouldn't trouble others due to his own bad life choices, much less some passing strangers unlucky enough to witness his hysteria.

"Midoriya-kun," the voice says, insistently, "please," and Izuku looks up to see Toshinori Yagi crouching in front of him with an expression of absolute horror.

Izuku accepts the bottle with shaking hands.

He drinks a little too fast, throat constricting momentarily with a stutter. Toshinori—Yagi looks like he is going to call the ambulance. After coughing his throat out, Izuku takes a much slower sip, evening his breath out until the black spots crowding his vision dissipates.

"Better?" Toshinori asks, softly. Carefully.

Izuku nods jerkily. "Thanks," he adds hoarsely, because it's only polite. The nausea persists, doubled now with anxiety. He ignores it.

Now that the imminent danger of passing out has passed, shame eats Izuku alive inside out. He sits there, drenched in sweat in his faded hoodie (printed with All Might illustration and a grammatically wrong english sentence underneath: do with all you might! ), hair wild and greasy due to having not been washed for at least two days because he is a useless piece of crap, eye bags the size of Mount Fuji, looking like a haggard, insane person who can neither do anything right nor gather even a shred of will to live. He looks down at the water bottle.

Toshinori gingerly sits beside him, on the sand. They go silent. Izuku wonders if this is going to be yet another period of Grown-Up Consultation.

(It won't work. It never works on Izuku. That's why sometimes he thinks those therapy sessions have been in vain.)

(Not Dr. Mitsugu's fault, of course.)

He wonders, too, what kind of face Toshinori is making right now. He doesn't dare to cast a glance at him. The last time they talked was two weeks ago—the week before the Entrance Exam. It hadn't ended … well.

(Not Toshinori's fault, of course.)

Izuku even thought, at some anxious point, that maybe they would never talk to each other again. Izuku knows people have expiration dates. And Izuku's is particularly very prompt. Expirable. Disposable.

He's mourned about it, a little. Friendships never come easily to him, if it ever comes at all (does Kacchan count?), and Izuku knows he's only got one shot at it, if he has any at all. And he did shoot. And then he messed up everything.

Izuku has never been a winner. That's the thing, isn't it? That's the whole issue.

Izuku opens his mouth, and then closes it again. What is there to say? Other than … he's sorry. Sorry that he messed up. Sorry that Toshinori had to see him like this, crouching on a public beach at five in the morning like the public hassle that he is. Sorry that he made Toshinori—Toshinori! He even gave Izuku his first name—so repulsed by him that now everything changes and they are never going to talk to each other again.

All because Izuku can't be a normal person for once and have normal thoughts. Do normal things. Not even once.

So there is only one thing to say before they separate ways forever. Izuku opens his mouth—

"I'm sorry."

—and keeps it open. Izuku gapes at Toshinori Yagi, forgetting momentarily his aversion for eye contact because he is just too startled by the unwarranted apology.

"I'm sorry," Toshinori Yagi repeats, and he sounds so genuine. So guilty. He looks guilty, now that Izuku is really taking a good look at him. He looks downright dejected, the harsh shadow over his features gaunter than Izuku ever remembered them to be, casting his eyes almost completely in back. Did he lose weight in the past two weeks?

Stunned, Izuku tries to formulate a response in his daze. "What?" is the only word he manages to form, which is rather rude. It's just so baffling. He corrects himself. "I'm sorry … what?" better. "Why would y— Why ? Toshinori-san, there is absolutely nothing for you to be sorry about..."

Toshinori looks at him, still with that sombreness thick in his eyes. "The last time we spoke, I believe I went too far. I caused you discomfort. For that I apologize."

Izuku stares at him. "You didn't—" this is just so wrong that Izuku, for a moment, forgets about his full-body ache and his miserable life and et cetera. "I don't … what? No! You didn't do anything wrong."

"I overstepped," Toshinori continues, sounding so grave he might as well be in a funeral. "I spoke over matters of which I have no business—"

Izuku has always believed himself to be rather demure. He doesn't look for trouble, most of the time (they just find him too easily). And he has always respected his elders, which is the ironclad rule that his mom has bestowed upon him. And he sticks to that. He tries to curse very sparingly, and never in his life has Midoriya Izuku ever uttered so much as a "darn" in front of his mother.

Right now, however—although he doesn't give voice to it—Izuku stares at Toshinori Yagi and thinks, what the hell is this guy talking about?

"..Toshinori-san, please , you have nothing to apologize for!" Izuku says, exasperatedly and insistently because he can't handle a second more of this. He rarely ever has anyone apologize to him before, and it's making him highly uncomfortable. "If anything, it was me, I overreacted, you were only asking a question! And it wasn't even … it was just a question!"

It was a rather kind one, at that. Izuku just can't handle kind things when they are directed at him. But he isn't going to elaborate on that, because if he couldn't explain it to a professional therapist, then he doubts he can to anyone else.

"I'm the one who's supposed to apologize! I made it weird, for no reason, and I made you uncomfortable. For that I'm very very sorry!" Izuku says, at a very rapid speed. "And I understand if you aren't comfortable with talking to me anymore—"

"What?" Toshinori says, so baffled that he is too, momentarily startled out of his own angst. "My boy, why … why in the world would you think that?"

Izuku stops, confused. Toshinori stops, also confused. They both stare at each other in double confusion.

"Because.. I mean..." Izuku begins and then trails, unsure. Because that's how it's always been … some people gave Izuku a chance, talked to him, and then he messed up, and then they left. That's how it's always been. But he can't say that. "You … don't?" Izuku hypothesizes, unsurely, "You don't … feel that way?"

"Of course not," Toshinori says, sounding astonished, and on some level, horrified. "I would never."

"Oh," Izuku says in a small voice, looking at him strangely, because it's an entirely foreign concept that someone wants to talk to him. Not only that—they want to talk to him even after he's messed up.

Another baffled silence. But Toshinori, seemingly the one with the more capable and mature processing of the intricacies of emotional confrontations and also being the adult in this situation, says, slowly, "..I think there might have been a misunderstanding between the both of us."

Izuku, who has much lesser capacities of such, and who also has been awake for more than thirty-six hours, blinks slowly. "Oh."

Toshinori goes silent once more, but this time he seems to be calmer and less morose. It's a contemplative sort of silence as he ponders how to go with this direction. "Nevertheless," he decides finally, "I apologize for having made you feel uncomfortable, Midoriya-kun."

"But you didn't.." Izuku protests weakly, but Toshinori shakes his head.

"Nevertheless," Toshinori says, resolutely.

Izuku opens his mouth to protest, but then he shuts it again. He frowns, palpably disturbed by the whole idea, but he says, "Okay?" and then, "Thank you?" and then, "I'm sorry..?" because he has no idea how to respond when someone apologizes to him. Due to lack of experience. And due to Izuku being Izuku in general.

Toshinori sighs, with a note of exasperation and something else Izuku can't quite understand. Before he can think too much about it, though, Toshinori smiles. It's a fond, genuine smile, surprising Izuku himself with how real it is. "I'm glad to see you again, Young Midoriya," he says.

And then Izuku realizes, despite it all, the Izuku feels the same way. A sort of relief floods his system. It feels good, a slither of something close to happiness, after everything. A part of him is very glad he meets Toshinori, even in this circumstance.

Toshinori is his friend, Izuku realizes with faint wonder.

Toshinori watches him, for a moment, and the smile fades a little. "I hope you've been well," he begins, carefully. "Have you? That was … quite a fit you had there."

There is hesitance there, strained with anxious worry. Izuku blinks, and then remembers himself. What he had been doing. What sort of situation Toshinori found him in, just a moment ago.

The way Izuku felt, just a moment ago. Beneath the pain, above the pain, all around it. The way he was so close to being not all there .

So close.

Izuku blinks. "I.." he trails. "I was.." Yes? What was he doing? "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you," he adds, hurriedly, "for the drink.."

Toshinori takes his bottle from Izuku's offering hands. He is still watching him closely, but not unkindly. "Of course," Toshinori says. There is a worried frown on his forehead. "Did you forget to bring your own? That's unusual of you."

"Yeah.." Izuku tries for a smile. It doesn't feel right. "I was sort of … distracted." More or less. He adds, a bit too fast, "You really saved me, Toshinori-san. Thank you."

If Toshinori notices that Izuku looks far more messed up than he usually is, he doesn't say anything. "Have you eaten, Midoriya-kun?"

Of course he notices. Toshinori is far more perceptive than one would think he is. Izuku knows that. "Um.."

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day," Toshinori prods gently. Izuku looks at him, sideways. There is a stiffness to Toshinori's gesture that Izuku didn't notice before. Izuku realizes, suddenly, that he isn't the only one nervous in this conversation. Something unfurls in the pit of Izuku's chest. A warmth.

"Have you eaten?" Izuku replies, just as softly, but there is a note of humor in his voice that he himself hasn't heard in a while. "Pot, kettle."

Toshinori laughs, abashed. He always looks a bit better when he laughs, a bit more alive. "The usual, then?"

Izuku nods, and tries for a smile. It feels right. "The usual."

'The usual' is a quaint little restaurant just by the street side across the sea. They serve great egg rolls and fresh grilled mackerel. They are also the only restaurant open by this hour in the area, which Toshinori introduced to Izuku only a short week after they started to run together.

The bowl of oyakodon—the cheapest item on the menu, but also one of the best—is placed in front of him, steaming with a tantalizing smell and looking like absolute perfection. Izuku wills his own stomach not to make desperate noises.

He doesn't really remember the last time he ate—somewhere yesterday afternoon, probably, courtesy of his mom. "Thank you for the food."

"Haven't seen you in a while, eh?" Katsumi-san, the most youthful sixty-five year old woman Izuku has ever met, puts down Toshinori's order with a grin. She is a co-owner of the restaurant, and her katsudon doesn't rival Izuku's mom's, but it's close. "Bit pale today, aren't you? You look like you're going to topple over, son. Usually it's just Toshinori right here."

"Now, now," Toshinori says, though good-naturedly. Hard to feel offended when the food is that good. Even harder when he's been a loyal customer throughout the twenty years since the opening of the restaurant.

"Bullying customers again, dear?"

Kotone-san, the second most youthful sixty-five year old woman Izuku has ever met, saunters between their seats to pour the tea. She is the other co-owner of the restaurant. She tilts her head, when she arrives at Izuku's seat, a pair of parietal eyes inspecting Izuku ardently. "Hmm. Haven't been sleeping right, have you?"

"Ah," under three pairs of scrutinizing eyes, Izuku shrinks on himself. "A little … I guess."

"Honey, could you get the miso soup, please? And we ought to get some ginger tea in you, dear. Get that strength again, yes?"

It seems like today Izuku cannot escape … whatever this is. "Please," Izuku says, half-pleading, "Kotone-san, there is no need, I couldn't possibly—"

"Shush, none of that," she tuts, taking the bowl of miso soup from the counter, courtesy of Katsumi. "Here you go, on the house."

"I'm not the only one bullying customers, am I?"

"Shush, you," Kotone tells her wife. Her wedding ring glints under the light of the morning sun through the window as she arranges the table. Their marriage is as old as the restaurant itself, and amazing food aside, it's one of the reasons Izuku loves to come here, even on the days where he runs solo. There is a sort of warmth to the place, in the simple and modest interior, the scent of spice and cooked rice lingering in the air. He can't put a finger on it, he just knows that it quells his head, for however short.

At the moment, it is more than enough. And certainly more than what Izuku deserves.

Izuku accepts the tea with a thank you, sipping it slowly—it's not too sweet and the ginger aftertaste is balanced well with the honey, warming him down to the core. He watches Kotone-san making a fuss over Toshinori-san, lecturing him on his eating habits. Toshinori looks resigned, but the three of them are laughing.

Izuku is struck, slowly and quietly, by a sudden clarity.

This is what he was missing, Izuku realizes. He's been locking himself up in his room for a full week and—to no one's surprise—it messed him up. Of course it messed him up. It always does.

Izuku should have known better, he knows. It's not as if it's the first time. Far, far from it. He knows the telltale signs like the back of his hands, at this point. But maybe … maybe that's it. That's exactly it.

Maybe he does know better. He knows perfectly that it's going to screw his head over. That's exactly why.

He knows. He just did it on purpose.

Izuku doesn't know what sort of strange look is evident on his face, but Toshinori inspects him somewhat carefully above his bowl of okayu. "All right, Young Midoriya?"

"Sorry," Izuku digs his chopsticks into a piece of egg. Such good food. Would be a waste to spoil it with his stupid, noisy head. "Just a bit tired. How have you been, Toshinori-san?"

"Me?" Toshinori says, surprised by the sudden direction of the topic. He doesn't call Izuku out on it, though. He smiles amiably. "Ah, the usual. You know how it is."

"Didn't you say you got a new gig, Toshinori?"

"Oh, really?" Izuku perks up, missing how Toshinori startles at the further direction of the topic. "What kind of gig? Congratulations, Toshinori-san."

"Yes, what kind of gig?" Kotone ponders, sweetly. At her side, Katsumi hides a snicker under her wife's shoulder. "Do tell us all about it."

"Er," Toshinori pauses for a short second, before seemingly regaining his composure. "I have … the fortunate opportunity to work as a teacher, starting this semester." He ducks his head a little, like he is abashed about it.

"My, congratulations!"

"A teacher," Izuku repeats, momentarily forgetting all his woes. He contemplates this. He doesn't like most teachers, but... "I can picture you as one."

"Really?" Toshinori says, sounding surprised by it.

Izuku nods. He really can. Izuku doesn't like most teachers, but he does not not like them either. It's just sort of a slippery slope that he doesn't like to delve much into, to be honest. Teachers haven't always been attentive to Izuku or his … issues. And Izuku has a lot of issues. Teachers mostly ignore both.

(Which is understandable. Izuku would too.)

Toshinori, however … they've been sparring for months, after all. No, 'months' is a bit of a stretch—they don't do it regularly; only sometimes. They ran together once in a while, and by the forth, maybe seventh time, the conversations stirred and shifted, and somehow, at one point Toshinori became Izuku's sparring partner-slash-sort-of-instructor. A part-time one, anyway.

(And a full-time friend-slash-father-figure, but he isn't going to acknowledge the last part if he can help it. And totally not to Toshinori.)

Izuku has somewhat "practiced" basic (and occasionally not-so-basic) moves with Toshinori. And while awkward instances were unavoidable and Toshinori's little bits of instructions don't always come across clearly, Toshinori is patient and understanding. It is also obvious that he is knowledgable and wise. And above all, he is very, very nice to be around.

Sometimes, Izuku wonders if Toshinori is an ex-Pro Hero. The thought doesn't exactly bother him, but it does nibble his brain from time to time. It's just an inkling, but he never asks about it. If Toshinori wants him to know, he decides, Toshinori would tell him himself. Toshinori has always respected Izuku's ... Izuku's boundaries, after all. For the past months, he never really bothered him about the occasions where Izuku goes AWOL, or when Izuku isn't ... all put together. So Izuku will respect that. And that's one of the things Izuku likes and admires about him, too; that comfort. That trust.

And Toshinori isn't intimidating—if anything it's the opposite: his presence is calming, comforting. Izuku is sure, as a figure of authority, Toshinori would still attain that charismatic friendliness to him. "Of course," Izuku nods vigorously. "I'm positive you'll be a great teacher, Toshinori-san! I would love to be your student."

Toshinori stares at him. "Thank you, Young Midoriya," he says, so genuinely that it almost sounds grave. Suddenly embarrassed, Izuku ducks his head.

"Ah, no way, no way. Kids are gonna bully the hell out of him."

"Now, now."

"Eat more, so kids don't bully you."

"I'm not sure if that's how it works, dear," Kotone informs her wife. She pours more tea to their half-empty cups. "Now, come to the back with me for a moment. I need to find the mirin—it's never where I think it is."

"I told you, it's on the left shelf, honey."

"Just come with me, dear," Kotone takes her wife's arm, and to the both of them, she says, "hold the fort for a minute, will you? Call us if a customer comes."

"Having the customer do our job, Ko-chan?"

"Hush, you." They disappear to the backroom, hand in hand.

Izuku smiles a little to himself. He feels—good. He can almost say that with confidence. It's a drastic change from how he'd been just half an hour ago. How he's been the whole week. The change is drastic enough that his head spins a little from it, reeling, knowing that he feels okay. He almost forgets how it feels to feel like this.

Or maybe that's the fatigue talking. He doesn't mind either way. He feels calm enough that he's near sleepy. It's the best way he can feel in these circumstances. Nothing he deserves.

Toshinori clears his throat. "Young Midoriya, there is something I have to tell you."

"Oh, of course," Izuku says. Something about it surprises him—Toshinori's tone sounds … not serious. Anxious. Like he's nervous about it. "What is it?"

Toshinori stares at him, silent for a little too long. The shadow across his face, previously gone, now returns with full force. Darker. "It's very important," he says quietly. He sounds like he means it.

The calmness that came over Izuku dissipates, slowly replaced by worry. "Okay," Izuku swallows. And then, with more than a little panic in his voice, "Toshinori-san … you're okay, right?"

Toshinori has never been loose-lipped about his health. Izuku asks him, sometimes—never directly, and never about why, only how have you been and how are you doing today. He never really gets a helpful answer out of it. And he certainly never pushes.

There is surprise in Toshinori's face before he smiles and the shadow lightens, a little. "Yes, I'm fine, my boy. Don't worry," his lips thin. "I … wanted to tell you this for some time, now," he says, like it's a confession. "I just never had the courage to do so."

Izuku waits, a little confused now, albeit relieved. Toshinori has a sort of pinched, constipated look on his face. "The truth is," he begins, sounding somewhat trained, "I—oh, customers."

Katsumi slips out through the noren with a dutiful smile at the middle-aged lady that just walked in with her dog. "Welcome! Good morning."

"Ah, good morning to you too, Katsumi-san!"

Toshinori glances at the scene, and looks back at Izuku, who is still waiting patiently. The smile returns to Toshinori's face. It looks genuine, but—there is a certain twist at the corner of his mouth, like he is a little sad about it. "I just wanted to tell you that I believe in you," he says, finally. "You will become a great hero at UA."

Izuku stares. For a moment, something twists in Izuku's chest. No one ever says that to him besides his mother. That they believe in him. His throat closes up.

And then: one more person to disappoint, his traitorous brain supplies.

Izuku falters, biting his lips. "Thank you," he says quietly. "That means a lot to me. Really."

There is a pause. "Is everything … okay?" Toshinori says, the smile gone from his face. He sounds hesitant, confused.

Izuku stares at his half-empty bowl. He worries the chopsticks between his fingers. "I don't know about that," he says faintly.

A longer pause. "You … don't know?" Toshinori prods carefully. "Have they not … told you the result yet, Young Midoriya?"

If Izuku was in a better state of mind, or if he had slept for minimum eight hours like a normal person of his age, Izuku perhaps would've noticed how odd that question is. As if Toshinori knew UA's entrance exam schedule. As if Toshinori knew how UA's entrance exam acceptance worked. Izuku never told him—so who did?

As it is, though, Izuku merely shakes his head slowly. "They have … they sent me a letter, yesterday.." he trails. He didn't even tell his mom about it. He took it from the locker and kept it quietly in his room. "I just … I haven't.."

Haven't the courage to open it. Haven't the courage to face his failure. Haven't the courage to accept—even though he has reminded himself of this time and time again—haven't the courage to accept that Izuku has never been a winner.

Haven't the courage to find out what he will do to himself if he fails.

But then again, the voice in his head says, what hasn't he done to himself?

He shrugs, and shakes his head out of it. "Thanks," he tries for a smile. Toshinori is being kind. It's not Toshinori's fault that Izuku can't take it. "Thank you, Toshinori-san."

Toshinori doesn't reply for a moment. Great—Izuku ruined it. Again. Of course he did. Made things worse to everyone—Izuku stares at his food, having lost all his appetite.

He can't do this again, he thinks. Toshinori even was so kind as to apologize to him. Izuku doesn't want that to happen ever again. He mustn't make Toshinori feel guilty about Izuku's … issues. Ever.

"Don't worry," Izuku adds, a little rushed, but that's alright. He can work with that. He works out a smile. "I mean, it's UA, after all. Of course it won't be easy," Izuku laughs, and his voice shakes a little. Toshinori is looking at him with a pained and tortured expression, but Izuku doesn't even notice amidst his attempt to placate. "I'm not … so arrogant as to think I would … I mean, a lot of people try their best and they.." he's rambling, at this point. Izuku takes a deep breath to compose himself. Come on. Don't mess this up again.

"Even if I don't get in—" his voice doesn't even waver at this part, which is a feat in and on itself. "I'll be okay! I'll … find some other ways, or … well, you know. I'll be fine."

"I see," Toshinori replies, softly. There is an unreadable look on his face, but he smiles at Izuku, if a little tentatively. "I'm very happy to hear that."

Izuku thinks that'll be the end of that, but Toshinori continues, "I've watched you put in your best every single day, my boy. Regardless of UA, those efforts will be rewarded. You have done very, very well. I promise you."

Izuku doesn't know if it's the generous, very kind words, or the solemn conviction in those shining blue eyes, or the way the wisps of sun rays hits Toshinori's blond hair just right—

But there is that sensation again, that sort of odd, calming deja vu, like he's seen this before, he knows this, something so terribly and dearly familiar that has taken root in his chest. In that split second—and remarkably, the sentiment echoes in his heart long after that—Izuku believes him. With all his heart.

"Thank you," Izuku says, and then he busies himself with the rest of his food so that Toshinori won't see him cry.

They paid for their food with great effort. First, Izuku has to fight with Toshinori because Toshinori insisted on paying for him. Overcoming that, he has to fight with both Katsumi and Kotone because they won't let him pay for his meal. Granted, this is a common occurrence. Katsumi has said, at one point, that Izuku is the esteemed bearer of a discount for the rest of his life due to his pseudo-community service.

("We never had so many customers before you cleaned up this godforsaken beach," Katsumi told him, many months before. "You deserve a lifetime's worth of katsudon from us.")

After fighting a losing battle, they separate at the station. "See you next week?"

Izuku missed it, but Toshinori takes a millisecond too long to reply. "Of course," he smiles, reserved and kind. "I'll see you next week. Take care, Young Midoriya."

Izuku fiddles with his hoodie by the neck, trying to somehow fan more air in. The sweat and grime—and sand, he notices with a cringe—combined under the layer of the thick fabric … far from pleasant. Not recommended.

Nonetheless, he thinks, standing up between bodies, holding onto a rail. He feels. Light.

Even good. Maybe. Just maybe.

Izuku wonders if he has just successfully cheered himself up. Cheering one's self up. A mystifying concept, but … he did it. It doesn't even bother him that much, he notes, being in a crowded place like this. It's commuting hour, people are going to work, and the train is on its way to being full. But he feels. Well. He feels like he can handle it.

It's absolutely perplexing, to find out that one can cheer themselves up instead of just moping and waiting for the depression to go away. After fifteen years of doing the later … it astonishes him.

Izuku walks home feeling like he just unlocked a special feature from life.

The moment Izuku enters the house, even before he could say I'm home, Midoriya Inko stands up from her seat at the kitchen table.

"Where have you been?" she says, her mouth tense and her figure rigid.

Izuku blinks. And then his stomach drops.

The clock reads seven-fifteen. That's why the train was so crowded—it's way past six.

Izuku swallows. "I went for … a run.." he cringes. How stupid.

"I know," his mom says. The sticky note is held tight between her fingers—of course she knows. "What I want to know is why you didn't bring your phone with you."

Izuku has never seen his mom raise her voice against anyone, and less of all Izuku himself. Not once. She isn't angry a lot. Anxious, nervous, tense—all the time. Sad, sometimes, when she thinks Izuku isn't looking. But anger? He rarely ever sees that—rarely ever sees this: the hard, pinched frown between her brows, the tight pull around the eyes, the clenched teeth. So rare, in fact, that when she is angry, it surprises Izuku like nothing ever could.

And when she's angry because of him, it breaks Izuku's heart like nothing ever could. Knowing that he's pushed his mom—his gentle, kind, patient mother—so far to the edge.

"I'm sorry, Mom," Izuku says quietly. "I forgot. I should've—I'm sorry, I ... I wasn't thinking."

Her shoulders, Izuku realizes with alarm, are shaking. Her eyes wet. She doesn't raise her voice. She never does. "I thought," she says, just as quiet, her voice shaking with something painful and fragile, "I thought —you were—you could'veanything could've happened, Izuku, and I wouldn't know, do you understand? For all I know you could be—"

She stops herself. She doesn't need to say the word—they both know what she meant.

You could be dead. That's what she meant. You could be dying. You could be on the way to the morgue.

And she's right. He could.

Guilt makes Izuku sick to the stomach, curdling and festering along with deep shame. "I'm sorry," he says numbly, and it's not enough. It's never enough. I'm sorry—two words written on a suicide note, scrapped and blown to the wind. I'm sorry, as if he could ever fix everything that he's done to his mother. How stupid. How less. How selfish. "I'm sorry. It'll never happen again."

She takes a deep breath, composing herself. "No," she says, sternly, despite the tears. She walks around the kitchen table. "I hope not."

This is what Izuku does. He messes things up. He makes his mom cry. "Mom, I—"

He has absolutely no idea what he's going to say. And he will never know, because his mother embraces him in a tight hug before he gets anywhere with it.

"I was so worried," Inko says, muffled and wet with tears into Izuku's hoodie. "I'm sorry," she pulls back to look at him, a hand cupping the underside of his jaw firmly. "I overreacted, I'm sorry, I just panicked, son. It's just the thought of you … I just couldn't—"

No trace of anger left on her face. Just like that. It's incredible, the generosity of unconditional love. Izuku's throat closes up and his vision is blurring quickly. "I know," he says, his voice hoarse and all messed up, breaking along the edge. "I'm sorry. Now you're going to be late because of me."

She makes a noise that's half-sob, half-scoff. "They don't pay me enough anyway."

Izuku chokes a laughter between his sobs and hugs his mom tighter. Trying to quietly, wordlessly, say things that I'm sorry could never suffice.

It's a nice paper. Thick with a smooth, fancy texture. UA really doesn't compromise quality on anything, he supposes. He never sees a letter with an actual stamped seal on it. Why is it so heavy, anyway?

Izuku examines the envelope. Staring it down like it's going to un-envelope itself. It doesn't.

He swallows, the corner of the envelope pinched between his thumb and pointer finger. Here goes nothing.

Yeah, right. Here goes everything. Everything, in this nine and a half inch envelope … everything.

(If he fails, what will he do to himself?)

(What hasn't he done to himself?)

Well, he thinks, with a wry smile on his face, fingers trembling, I won't die, for sure. He lets go of the envelope like it burns him. Calm down, he chastises himself. Calm down. Come on.

You have done very, very well. He believed it, at that moment. Truly, for some incomprehensible reason, he did.

You are going to be a hero, sweetheart, his mom had said, all those months ago.

That's right. Izuku takes a deep breath. Whatever it takes, remember?

Whatever it takes.

He opens it.

The disk falls to his desk with a soft, metallic sound. And then light fills his room, constructing itself into a shining hologram towering up to the ceiling. Izuku gapes as All Might— The All Might—All Might's face fills the narrow space of his bedroom. Just behind the projection are the numerous posters of the same man—a dozen of identical faces staring right at Izuku.

"Testing, one, two," says Izuku's Number One Hero. "Am I on screen?"

Izuku, impressively, does not pass out.

A four-in-hand knot, Izuku finds, is yet another thing that he doesn't have any talent nor hope in succeeding.

He doesn't understand what he's doing wrong. He usually is pretty good at following instructions. He inspects his reflection, somehow at a loss. Why is it so short? Is it supposed to be like that, this ... length? He pulls at it jerkily. It's sort of too tight around his neck.

"Izuku, did you pack some tissues?"

"Yeah!" he calls out, still fiddling with his tie. Maybe—if he puts it in this loop instead of that loop—

"What about a hanky? You can't leave without a hanky, dear!"

Izuku throws his head back in a burst of laughter. "Mom, don't say hanky. Please."

Inko slips through the ajar door, and laughs at her son's attempt on … whatever that is, because it's definitely not a four-in-hand knot. "Come here, you."

She can't resist the urge to ruffle his hair a little (ignoring Izuku's incoherent protest, he's tried to tame them down for hours, you know) before going to attack Izuku's monstrous recreation of a normal tie. The green highlights on the uniform bring his colours out. He's so much taller than her now—when did that happen? "There. Perfect."

"Thanks, mom," Izuku zips up to put a kiss on her cheek. She follows him as he stumbles through the hallway, and watches his son almost trip on empty air. Her perfect, clumsy son.

He's in a hurry, Inko notes. Izuku's cheeks are flushed, his freckles prominent against them. He keeps fidgeting, but not just from anxiety. He's very excited.


Inko is far from perfect—as a person, as a mother. She has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Irrevocable mistakes, that haunt her in her sleep (bloodied uniform, bloodied scissors). And she's scared, constantly, so afraid of making another one. Another one for the list of things she hates herself for.

But this one. This right here, that smile on her perfect, clumsy son—this does not feel like a mistake. This can't be a mistake. Not this. Not something this bright and wonderful and perfect.



"You look mega cool, son."