A big thanks to Unlucky Alis for betaing this story! You're the best, Laz!
It'd been a long time since Izuku had been a part of a group project. A really long time. In Junior High, the teachers usually let him complete the assignment individually since pairing him off with other students never went well. The last group project he could recall was during his second year of Junior High with Kacchan and his friends. He remembered that as the last night his only Bronze Age All Might figurine had been intact. Oh, and also his wrist—but that at least healed within the month.
So it was a bit jarring when Midnight announced that they'd spend the next week of history class researching a modern social issue in groups.
"The reason we learn history is so that we don't repeat the mistakes we've made in the past. We learn about wars and injustices so that we can strive to eradicate them altogether, however, schools often gloss over the current injustices in our society. How can we truly move forward if citizens aren't aware of the prejudices that still exist?"
Midnight stepped away from her podium and handed Aoyama a stack of papers to pass around the room.
"The sheet I've just given you has a list of social issues that you're allowed to research. Your groups are posted at the bottom of the page and the rubric for your oral presentation is on the back. Once your group selects a topic, approve it with me so that no group presents the same topic. You'll have one week to work on this project in and outside of class. I'm giving you all complete freedom and can't wait to see your passion for social injustices!"
From in front of him, Sero passed Izuku the stack of papers. He took the one from the top and handed it off to Shinsou. Most people were already moving from their seats to be with their groups, so Izuku did a quick scan of the sheet and found his name.
Group 2: Ashido, Iida, Uraraka, Todoroki, and Midoriya.
Well, at least he wasn't with Bakugou again. Their relationship had mellowed out a lot since Bakugou learned the truth about One for All, but Izuku wasn't exactly keen to test the waters.
"Oh, sweet!" Uraraka called. "We're in the same group, Deku!"
He looked up from his sheet and beamed. "Awesome!"
Luckily, Iida had already pushed five desks together at the front of the room so that they could all face each other. Without preamble, Izuku slid into the seat between Todoroki and Ashido. Across from him, Iida cleared his throat and pumped his fist into the air.
"I propose we take two minutes to review all the topics and discuss our thoughts!"
"Good idea!" Ashido declared. "We gotta scope out every possibility."
Izuku turned his eyes back to the list and began to read. Most of them were standard social issues such as gender inequality, criminal quirk-profiling, and poverty. Though, many of them were more specific, such as mutantism—discrimination against those with mutant quirks. Out of all of his options, Izuku felt inclined to choose that one. Millions of individuals were denied equal rights just because they had an additional body part or had an animal-related quirk. It wasn't as prominent as it had once been, but it was still around affecting people's lives.
"So, what did you guys think?" Uraraka asked. "I think covering gender inequality might be interesting."
"Personally, I'm inclined to research disabled rights," Iida said. "What about you, Todoroki?"
He shrugged. "I'm down with whatever."
"Oh, I know mine!" Ashido held out her paper. "Mutantism. I already know a bit about it, but I think it'd be cool to learn more."
"That's what I was thinking too," Izuku pitched in.
"I suppose that would be a well-rounded topic. It has many angles we can work from! Uraraka?" Iida said.
She smiled. "Well, we all seem to be cool with it. Sounds like a plan!"
When they moved to approve their project with Midnight, they met a brick wall.
"Sorry guys, Tokoyami's group just claimed mutantism," she said. "Do you have a second choice?"
"Not yet." Ashido pouted. "I really wanted to do something with quirk inequality that wasn't just villain-profiling."
"Quirk inequality, huh?" Midnight asked. "I didn't put it on the list, but there might be another topic that piques your interest. Ever heard of quirkless discrimination?"
Izuku's stomach dropped.
Oh hell no.
That was one topic he unfortunately knew too much about.
"Discrimination against the quirkless?" Todoroki asked. "That happens?"
"Oh, for sure," Midnight said. "Most of the quirkless population are above sixty-years-old, which makes it even worse for the younger generations. If you really look into it, it's appalling how cruel society is to them."
Nope, they were not looking into it. Not if Izuku had anything to say about it.
"That actually sounds super interesting," Ashido marveled. "I'm up for it."
"I agree," Iida seconded. "I know little to nothing about the quirkless and want to know more."
"Same," Uraraka said.
Shit. They were all going for it. He had to put a stop to this before Todoroki—
"I don't see why not."
"Midoriya?" Iida asked.
They all wanted to do it. His friends and Midnight were looking straight at him. What could he possibly say to dissuade them? 'No, I don't think the quirkless are important enough to research' or 'I understand you're all on board, but I don't like this topic that I certainly have no ties to.' They had him at checkmate—he had to say yes whether he liked it or not.
And he did not like it.
"I guess… it's okay."
"Alright, I'm putting you five down for quirkless discrimination." Midnight tapped her pen against a clipboard. "I can't wait to see what you put together!"
While the rest of his group chatted amiably, Izuku numbly found his seat and wondered how the hell he was going to make it through the next week.
After training, he found himself in the library with his group. It wasn't a frequent hang-out for many hero course students, but upon arrival they realized that a few other groups—as well as some Class 1-B students—had shared the same idea. It was a bit ridiculous that he'd been at UA for almost six months and had never explored the library. Aldera Junior High's library paled in contrast to UA's shelves upon shelves of academic resources, archives, and novels. There was an entire section on hero biographies alone, dating back to the first generation of quirk users! Once they were finished with this project, he was definitely cutting out some time to read up on lesser-known heroes that never made the Internet.
"I asked the librarian and she said that there aren't many books here on quirklessness. There's a few studies in the sociology section and there might be something in quirk-sciences, but she suggested that we look for books online," Uraraka summarized.
"Doesn't the library take book orders for free?" Ashido asked.
"Yeah, but if we want them to be shipped within the week we have to order them with our own money."
Todoroki ran a hand over his face. "At this point, online articles seem like our best asset. Even if we get books priority mailed to the school, they have to go through the new security check. We won't have time to read them."
"Eh, I was planning to do most of my research online, anyway," Ashido said. "Reading takes too long."
Iida frowned. "Even though they're slim, we should still utilize the reputable resources that are available. Midoriya and I will look in the quirk-sciences section. You three look for anything relevant in sociology."
"Ugh, fine," Ashido groaned. "Come on, Ochako."
Once they left, Izuku followed Iida to the quirk-sciences section. There were three four-foot-tall shelves wedged between the biology and dated anthropology sections. Given that there were two hours left before curfew they probably had just enough time to skim through the entire section.
After a few minutes, Izuku realized that it was probably a good thing Iida had teamed up with him rather than the others. Iida was far too rule-abiding to carry a conversation in the library, leaving Izuku alone to his thoughts. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to his friends, he just couldn't afford to slip up. What if he said something too personal about being quirkless?
The last thing he needed was for them to learn that he'd spent the first fourteen years of his life desperately trying to stand on the same stage as his classmates, only to have his legs swept out from under him at every attempt. That he'd been taught he was less than worthless—even adults agreed. He was never allowed in quirk counseling classes, never allowed to participate in playground games because he was 'too fragile'. When he was four years old, his world came to a standstill. Society crouched down to meet his eye level, took one look at his small figure, and told him that there was nothing special about him. It turned its back on Izuku Midoriya and collectively decided that he'd be most useful dead.
He wasn't that helpless kid anymore. He was a student at the most prestigious hero school in Japan. He was All Might's successor who carried his legacy. He had a quirk. This was the only version of himself that his friends needed to know. If they knew who he'd been before, they'd only pity him for living through that treatment. He didn't want pity—he just wanted to forget.
Because he was fine now. Those days didn't matter. He was fine.
"Midoriya, I think I might have found something," Iida said.
Izuku glanced up from the book he'd been thumbing through. When had he picked it up? He must have zoned out for a minute.
"What is it?" he asked.
Iida handed him a thick, blue book with a black spine. Aberrations of Post-Quirk Society: An Examination of Quirklessness by Shishido Saburo. Huh. Why did that sound familiar? He was fairly certain he'd never read the book, so where did he know the title?
Wait a minute.
This was that book.
He flipped open the front cover and checked the publication information. It dated back forty years, which was about the right time frame. It was actually kind of gross that UA's library had this book in stock, considering the damage it had dealt the quirkless community following its publication. Of course, it was old. Not many people would know it by name nor its impact. But Izuku had done his fair share of online research into quirkless individuals and found hundreds of articles that cross-referenced and debunked the vile claims Shishido's book posed.
This was an anti-quirkless manifesto.
From what he recalled, its driving theme was that quirkless individuals were inferior humans since their brains were less evolved. It also made fraudulent claims that quirklessness was caused by inbreeding, and falsified data that quirkless individuals were prone to a lesser IQ. One suggestion the book made was for the government to forcibly sterilize all known quirkless individuals—an idea that had all but scarred twelve-year-old Izuku.
"I don't know if this is a good book, Iida. It's kind of out-dated and the title sounds a little biased against the quirkless if you ask me."
"Hm, I see your point. Though, we won't know unless we read it."
"Or we can check its credibility online before we waste our time?"
"That's fair, but for now we'll keep looking!"
A few minutes and one internet search later, Iida thankfully set the book back on the shelf. Until Iida turned his back, Izuku tried his best not to look too smug about it.
They spent another hour in the quirk-sciences section searching for resources. Izuku found one book that mentioned quirklessness in the table of contents and set it aside. It seemed fairly safe and informative, but it still wouldn't be enough to carry the whole project. Hopefully, the others were having better luck in the sociology section.
Once they all came back together, Uraraka set three books in front of him and Iida.
"There isn't much to work with. One of these has a chapter on quirklessness, another is about how perception of quirks has changed over the past few centuries, and the last one is probably our most viable resource. It's about how society treats the quirkless and the difficulties they face."
"Who wants to read what?" Todoroki asked.
"I call the short one!" Ashido slammed her hand down on the first book.
"I'll read the one I found," Izuku offered. It should be a quick read, anyway.
"I guess I can read the one about perception," Uraraka said.
"That leaves me with the long one," Todoroki decided. He picked up the last book on how society treats the quirkless. "If I start tonight, I should have it finished in a day."
"I feel bad that I don't have anything to contribute," Iida admitted. "I want everyone to have an even amount of responsibility—"
"You can take my book, Iida!" Ashido offered.
He shook his head. "Oh no, I couldn't—"
"Iida, take my book." She pulled it from the pile and forced it into his hands. "There. It's all settled! Now I have nothing to read!"
"That's very noble of you, Ashido."
From there, they agreed that they'd all head back to the dorms to work on other homework. Iida suggested that if they had time to read they should compile all their notes in an online document so they had everything laid out of them later. Sounded easy enough.
The next morning, Izuku fell onto the common area couch after his training routine. Class didn't start for another hour and the idea of walking upstairs to change into his uniform sounded awful. He figured he might as well take a breather before pulling himself from the couch and getting ready for the day. At least he wasn't the only one up at this hour. Bakugou was camped out across from him on his phone, an energy drink on the table beside him. Sero and Ojiro were also awake, making something in the kitchen.
After a few minutes, Todoroki stumbled into the common area and took the seat beside Izuku. They greeted each other and Todoroki began reading the book from the night before. Surprisingly, he was already half-way through it. Hopefully he was having better luck than Izuku had with his book. It turned out that the brief chapter on quirklessness truly was brief; it'd been no more than six pages and generally projected how long it would take until all of society had quirks, nothing about the quirkless community itself.
"Hey, Midoriya." Todoroki lowered his book. "Did you know that at least sixty-percent of quirkless teenagers are suicidal?"
Bakugou choked on his drink. He shot Izuku an accusatory glance—one that could mean anything between 'did you tell him about your quirk?' and 'did you tell him about how I was an asshole in Junior High?' Personally, Izuku was willing to bet on the latter, but the former wasn't entirely out of the question either.
"Uh, that sounds about right," he managed to respond.
Bakugou crushed his energy drink and pointed it at Todoroki. "What the fuck kinda question is that, half-and-half?"
Todoroki sighed, unimpressed. "It's for our social issue project. Your group took mutantism so Midnight suggested quirkless discrimination."
Bakugou narrowed his eyes. "Midnight suggested it? Not the shitty nerd?"
"None of your business!" Bakugou growled. In one swift motion, he threw himself from the couch and grabbed a fistful of Izuku's shirt. "You and I are having a talk."
As fast as he'd grabbed him, Bakugou released Izuku. He shot Todoroki a dark look before storming upstairs, confident that Izuku would follow. He was right, of course.
Izuku moved to go after Bakugou, but before he could make a clean getaway Todoroki placed his hand on Izuku's arm.
"What the hell was that about?"
Izuku tried not to bite his lip. All Might told him that it was one of his tells, one that Todoroki may have picked up on
"I have no idea," he lied.
He broke away from Todoroki's grip and ascended the stairs to Bakugou's room. Moments later, he passed Shinsou on the way up and tried not to make eye contact. Like Todoroki, Shinsou would be able to tell that something was wrong. Izuku simply nodded and continued on his way.
When he reached the fourth floor, he stopped outside Bakugou's bedroom door and fidgeted with the hem of his shirt. He had a feeling that if he just walked in, Bakugou would do something destructive.
"Stop standing there like an idiot and shut the door behind you."
Ah, a warm welcome.
Izuku closed the door and the space between them. "What did you want to talk about, Kacchan?"
Bakugou appeared oddly restrained. His fists were buried in his pockets rather than at his sides. Also, his feet were pointed inwards—definitely not his normal stance.
"Was Icy-Hot telling the truth back there? Your group is doing quirkless discrimination?"
Izuku gulped. "Yeah?"
"And this isn't… some kind of elaborate way to guilt trip me because there's no way in hell you told them anything."
"What do you mean?"
Bakugou—predictably—erupted. "Don't 'what do you mean' me, Deku! You know exactly what I'm talking about!"
"I haven't let on anything about my quirk if that's what you're asking. I learned my lesson after telling you."
This only agitated him more. "No! That's not what I'm fucking asking! I want to know why you—you just brushed off what half-and-half said! If it wasn't some round-about way to get at me, then why did you just—?"
He cut himself off with an explosion and Izuku tried not to flinch.
"All you said was that it 'sounded right'. You didn't even think about what you were saying, you just took it at point-blank! I know what I did was fucked up, but fuck!"
"What are you…?"
"All that time I thought it was just some kind of fucking game—that you deserved all the shit we gave you because I was better than you, that you were just in my way. And then I came here and I hated your guts even more until everything with All Might happened. Then I finally started to realize that maybe torturing you our entire childhood was a shitty thing to do, but it doesn't matter because I was still fucking blind!"
He slammed his fist against the wall and growled. "I can't believe it took half-and-half reading some stupid book about suicidal quirkless fuckers for me to realize."
Izuku felt the blood drain from his face. "That isn't what I—"
"What? You weren't really suicidal? Can you really tell me that, Deku?"
Izuku should've seen something like this coming. It was a class project, he should've expected it to get back to Bakugou. Why did he have to realize the repercussions of his actions now? Why did they have to have this confrontation this morning? Why couldn't they just move on like nothing had happened? As far as Izuku was concerned, it was easier that way. They were already starting to rekindle a tentative friendship after Ground Beta. He thought the past was behind them.
But no—Bakugou's a decent human being now. Apparently. This conversation was happening.
"Well? Say something!" he shouted.
Izuku didn't want to respond. He wanted to run from Bakugou's room and flee to his own. He wanted to change into his uniform and join his classmates for a grueling day of academics and hero training.
Instead, Izuku's mental barrier broke—years of repressed trauma bubbled up to the surface at once and simmered until all that was left was anger. He was going to give Bakugou exactly what he was fishing for and damn the consequences because this was not what he signed up for this morning.
"What do you want me to say? That it's all your fault? That—I don't know—it was hard to feel like I was worth anything when you frequently told me to jump off rooftops? It wasn't only you, but that sure as hell didn't help! Maybe you just want me to tell you how many times I actually considered going through with it. I literally can't! Ending my life was always just there in the back of my head for years and it never really went away until I met All Might! Is that what you want, Bakugou? Is that what you want to hear?"
Izuku could count the number of times he'd seen Bakugou speechless on one hand. He always had something at the tip of his tongue, whether it be an insult, challenge, or intelligible screaming. It was eerie seeing him stand so stiff, without any hint of rage. Izuku suspected that if he pushed against his chest Bakugou would just fall over, dead weight. That realization alone sent Izuku into a sudden spiral of guilt.
"I didn't mean that." He bowed his head, hoping that would be enough to take the words back. "I was just angry and exaggerating and—"
Izuku looked up and saw that Bakugou's expression was pulled back into a scowl.
"You're right. I was pretty awful to you over the years, huh?" He clenched a fist and Izuku instinctually braced for an explosion that never came. "That doesn't even begin to cover what I did."
"But it wasn't all on you! It was the teachers and the other kids too. Plus, I was pretty annoying and probably deserved some of it."
"We tormented you, Deku. You didn't fucking deserve that. We only did it because you were different, because the adults encouraged us to stay away from the weak little quirkless kid. That made you an easy target, someone I could blame for all my shitty problems. When they told us that you were quirkless that's all I needed to justify being an asshole."
It was vindicating to finally hear someone from his childhood admit what they had done was wrong, and Bakugou no less. If anyone had told him a year ago that Bakugou would finally face what he'd done to Izuku, he wouldn't have believed it. He would've said there was a better chance of him spontaneously developing a quirk. And well…
Here they were now.
"Hey, that wasn't an invitation to start crying!"
The tears had already started coming and Izuku couldn't find it in him to hold them back anymore. He'd given up on caring for so many years—he'd just accepted that what had happened to him was probably wrong and tried to move on. But it was never really resolved. Maybe this wound would never fully heal but wasn't this a start? After all, admission that he was wronged was all Izuku had ever wanted.
"Th—thank you, Kacchan." It was hard to breathe through his sobs, but Izuku powered through and wiped the hot tears from his face. "I just needed—needed to hear it wasn't my fault."
"Of course it wasn't. You never asked to be quirkless. I'm sure if it were the other way around, all of the extras would've been beating on me instead."
His genuine assurance took Izuku off-guard. Bakugou never conceded defeat, even hypothetically. The fact that he even considered that as an option proved that he actually understood the degree of helplessness that Izuku had experienced; it proved that his words just weren't empty apologies.
Izuku's face was still wet with tears but he managed to crack a smile.
"Nah, if you'd've been quirkless you still would've found a way to get the upper hand on them."
Bakugou snorted. "Well, I can't argue with you there. Still, that doesn't change the fact that society is fucked up. Doesn't change the fact that I literally went out of my way to make your existence miserable."
"I guess we can't change the past. We can try to be better, though."
Bakugou's lips pressed into a thin line. "Better, huh? Sounds like one of Aizawa's 'what it takes to be a hero' spiels."
Izuku's stomach dropped. Aizawa.
"Oh my God, class is in ten minutes! I'm not even dressed!" Before Bakugou could respond, Izuku was halfway to the door. "See you in class, Kacchan! I gotta go!"
Shouto could tell something didn't add up.
Interactions between Midoriya and Bakugou were never not weird, but that last one made his skin prickle. The way that Bakugou had suddenly just… reacted as if Shouto had done something to kill his dog.
"What the fuck kinda question is that, half-and-half?"
The question itself was less accusatory and more defensive. It wasn't a secret that Bakugou and Midoriya had some kind of rivalry, but it almost seemed like Bakugou had been trying to protect Midoriya. But from what? Midoriya didn't seem particularly unsettled until Bakugou had grabbed a fistful of his shirt and demanded that they have a talk. And when he asked Midoriya about it… he just brushed him off.
"I have no idea."
Somehow, Shouto doubted that. Something was going on between Bakugou and Midoriya and he was going to figure out what.
He started by going back over everything that he knew. Bakugou reacted poorly when Shouto read that "at least sixty-percent of quirkless teenagers are suicidal." Midoriya almost didn't react—he just sat there and tried to downplay Bakugou's outburst. For some reason, Bakugou had also suspected that Midoriya had suggested their project's topic. Did Midoriya have some kind of affiliation with the quirkless? He hadn't mentioned one. Actually, now that Shouto thought about it Midoriya hadn't said much about their project at all. For such a chatterbox, it was definitely weird.
What kind of affiliation could Midoriya have, though? Shouto remembered that both his parents had quirks, he'd mentioned that once. Maybe he had a quirkless sibling? No, Midoriya was an only child. Besides, he doubted that Midoriya would be able to keep a lid on that big of a secret—there just wasn't a reason to. That only left a childhood friend… which was the most likely option. After all, Bakugou was in the loop and they'd grown up together.
Alright, so Midoriya had a quirkless childhood friend that he didn't talk about. He didn't really seem all that comfortable with their project and was pretending like everything was fine. Did they have a falling out? Or maybe… maybe his friend wasn't around anymore for other reasons.
At least sixty-percent of quirkless teenagers are suicidal.
Shit. How could he be so insensitive?
It was so obvious now.
Shouto pressed his head against his desk and absently rubbed his temples. This wasn't the kind of secret that he'd expected to uncover, but it was the only one that made sense. Bakugou must have known about Midoriya's friend, that's why he snapped at Shouto and dragged Midoriya away from him. It must have been awful having a friend kill themselves and Bakugou knew that. Shouto wouldn't be surprised if Midoriya blamed himself for it—he tended to blame himself for everything else.
Should he tell the teachers about it? No. Midoriya must have received counseling for this when it all happened. It wasn't Shouto's place to dig up the past. The least he could do was privately let his other group members know so that they didn't accidentally say something as cold as Shouto had earlier. He trusted the three of them not to go spreading rumors. Even though Ashido might not be the most discreet, she sure as hell had a big heart.
So, Shouto waited until homeroom was over before subtly approaching Uraraka in the hall. Out of everyone, he expected that she would have the most adverse reaction. She was close with Midoriya—there was no way this wouldn't hurt.
"Uraraka, I think I might have figured something out about Midoriya this morning."
She tilted her head. "Hm? What about him?"
Shouto glanced over his shoulder, making sure that nobody was nearby. Some Gen Ed kids were standing by the water fountain but he doubted they would listen in.
"I haven't talked to him yet about it… but I think he might have had a quirkless friend before. And I think something bad happened to them."
He flinched at her shout and pressed a finger to his lips. Uraraka's eyes widened in realization and she lowered her voice to a whisper. "What do you mean something bad?"
"I think they might've killed themselves."
When her hands started to shake he pretended not to notice.
"Oh. Uh, that is bad. How did you—?"
They had to be in Midnight's class in less than two minutes so he gave her the most condensed version as he could. "Both Midoriya and Bakugou acted really weird when I mentioned that quirkless teens are often suicidal."
"Right… right. Are we going to talk to him about this?"
That was the question, wasn't it? Ideally, he wanted to make sure that everything was okay. But supposedly Bakugou had already had a talk with him about it… and this entire project was probably emotionally straining enough.
"I don't know yet," he said. "I think we should talk with Iida and Ashido first."
She nodded weakly. "Yeah… good idea."
Once they had congregated in Midnight's class, Izuku noticed that Todoroki and Uraraka were both shooting him odd looks. He would've worried more about it if he didn't recall the exchange he had with Todoroki in the common area that morning. It was unsettling, to say the least, but Izuku could deal with that. It wasn't like they had any idea he used to be quirkless, right? This weird apprehension would eventually blow over and everything would return to normal. No need for any confrontations or heart-to-hearts!
He doubted he would be able to handle a second emotional crisis today, after all. His conversation with Bakugou had stirred up old memories and now they were all fresh in his mind.
"The book I read last night indicated that there are no physical differences between those with quirks and those without! A common misconception is that they are less evolved than people with quirks, but in reality they are fundamentally the same," Iida reported.
Well, whoever wrote that book apparently had never spoken to a medical professional.
"Not true," Izuku cut in. "Quirkless people actually are less evolved. They're just as smart as anyone with a quirk, but there's a few minor differences in their genetic structure. For instance, they have two joints in their pinky toe instead of one. They have a functionless organ called an appendix and also grow more teeth in late adolescence."
Izuku was painfully aware of the last fact. Sooner or later he was going to have a wisdom teeth removal surgery and boy—he was not looking forward to that.
"Whoa, I thought you said that there wasn't any good info in your book!" Ashido said. "I've never heard that before."
"It uh, wasn't in my book. I can't remember where I heard it."
"Interesting," Iida said. "We'll have to find an online source to verify it, but an 'appendix' sounds specific enough that we'll probably be able to narrow one down."
Todoroki cleared his throat. "Midoriya, are you sure you can't remember where you heard that?"
When Izuku looked over, Uraraka was burning holes into Todoroki's head. Everything about her expression just screamed 'no' and Izuku had a sinking feeling that they'd contrived another outlandish theory.
"No, not really. I think it was a few years ago, sorry."
"Oh! I've got something!" Ashido said, holding up her phone. "I know it's a YapTube video, but it seems legit.
She set her phone on her desk so they could all watch. Izuku craned his head to see a blue-haired woman standing in front of a black screen.
"It's a well-known fact that 20% of the population is quirkless—but is that really accurate? If you're anywhere below sixty-years-old that might not sound right to you. This is because less and less quirkless are born every generation, so a majority of the world's quirkless population are well into retirement by now. Roughly 85% of the quirkless community is above this age line—so what does that mean for the other 15%?
"At first, society turned against individuals with quirks. This was a time when quirk-users were in the minority, though that time didn't last long. Now the quirkless are in the minority and believe it or not society has turned against them. Like all forms of discrimination, it's not an active prejudice—it's passive. Learned behavior. Ingrained in the very scaffolding of our society. You might say that this is ridiculous. That there are many well established quirkless individuals who have never faced discrimination in their life due to quirklessness. That is an ignorant response.
"Behind me is a graph. On the left is the unemployment rate of two-thousand individuals with quirks, on the right is the unemployment rate of two-thousand quirkless individuals. See a trend? The quirkless unemployment rate is almost triple the normal rate. This is because many companies refuse to hire quirkless employees because they're more likely to cost the company more money. Because society has decided that these people are fragile. It's much safer to hire Ken with the teleportation quirk than Yuki with no quirk. But let it be said that this issue runs deeper than just unemployment."
The video rolled stock footage of children and the narrator resumed.
"Surveys show that nearly 92% of quirkless grade-schoolers—all under age eleven—have reported being bullied sometime during their academic career. Quirkless teenagers are also twice as likely to not finish high school."
The video cut back to the narrator, now standing in front of an advocacy group's logo.
"The purpose of this video is to raise awareness of the discrimination that the quirkless community experiences every day. If you'd like to donate to this cause, find the link—"
Ashido cut her phone off.
"So? What do you think? It's useful, right?"
It definitely was… but Izuku was having a hard time focusing. That data from quirkless grade-schoolers—he remembered that survey. His counselor had pulled him from recess and made him fill it out for the district.
"It's all anonymous, Izuku. It's not through the school so we don't see your answers."
Like they would've cared about his answers in the first place. They knew what was happening to him and they just made him fill out a stupid survey for a little extra cash. They knew the whole damn time—
"Deku? Are you alright?"
Uraraka had placed a hand on his back. When had he started shaking?
"Oh, yeah! I just zoned out for a second! What were you guys saying?"
This time Todoroki and Uraraka didn't even try to hide their worried glances. That probably wasn't good.
"Did you see how he reacted after that video? Unlike earlier, he was actually bothered by it. Probably the bit about quirkless kids being bullied, since his friend…"
Uraraka sighed. "I know. I wish I could just talk to him about it, but I don't want to overstep." She threw her head in her hands. "Deku's always been there for me and now when it's clear that he's uncomfortable I won't even say anything!"
"Hey, we said that we wouldn't do anything until we told Iida and Ashido," Shouto reminded her. "I was thinking that we can get them alone later in the dorms and explain. I don't know how they'll take it. Iida's usually rational about things but he might be a bit hurt that Midoriya kept this secret."
"Mina will probably be able to keep it under wraps once she understands it's serious," Uraraka amended. "I trust her."
"That's good," Shouto said. "The last thing we need is for this to turn into gossip. Midoriya doesn't deserve that and it's clear that he's going through a lot of conflicting emotions right now. He needs support, not attention. Besides… I owe it to him."
"He's pretty amazing," Uraraka agreed. "For someone who's probably been through a lot, he's super optimistic. I don't think I'd be able to have that outlook if anything like that had happened to me."
It was enlightening. Between his fucked-up family and the pressure to surpass All Might, Shouto had always seen the world as a ladder to climb. Until he met Midoriya, he regarded everyone around him as an opponent. Everyone had an ulterior motive; everyone was competition. It was almost ironic that he rejected his father's principles yet simultaneously took them to heart. He was grateful for Midoriya for lifting the wool from his eyes, for showing him that the world wasn't as bleak as he'd been taught.
His first impression of Midoriya had been that his optimism stemmed from naivety. Shouto realized now that he couldn't have been more wrong. Midoriya was aware that the world was cruel but he didn't let that dampen his faith in others. Despite losing a friend in such a tragic way, he was one of the most sanguine people Shouto had ever met.
If anything, learning about his past only bolstered his respect for Midoriya. When he and Uraraka finally cornered Iida and Ashido, it was clear that they shared the same sentiments.
"I can't believe I never knew…" Iida ran a hand over his face. "After everything he did for me, he never once mentioned it."
"I'm not that close with him like you three, but it kind of makes sense," Ashido said. "I didn't want to say anything but he's not exactly being subtle. He was so enthusiastic about mutantism and when Midnight suggested quirkless discrimination his entire face just fell."
"So what do we do now?" Uraraka asked. "Do you guys think we should go to him about this or just let it go? I don't want to overstep, but I also don't want to put him in a position where he can't be upfront with us."
"If he wanted us to know, he would've told us," Iida pointed out. "This happened before we met him, so it's not exactly our business in the first place."
"He probably doesn't know how to bring it up, though. He's clearly not comfortable with this project and might confide in us if we just tell him what we know," Shouto countered.
"Still, you have to consider that we don't know everything. What if that makes him feel worse?"
"But that's the reason we need to talk to him. We don't know everything."
"Do we have a right to know if he doesn't want us to?" Iida maintained.
Shouto ground his teeth. "I just want to support Midoriya."
"As do I!"
"Guys!" Ashido cut in. "Why don't you just ask Bakugou?"
For a moment, all Shouto could do was stare. Her question had caught him off-guard and he wasn't sure how to rebuke such a left-field inquisition. Finally, Uraraka broke the silence.
"Um, because it's Bakugou."
Ashido looked unimpressed. "So?"
"I don't think that will go over well," Iida advised. "We all know that Bakugou isn't the most… delicate when it comes to sensitive matters."
"You mean he's a raging sociopath—on a good day," Uraraka corrected.
"Look, I know what he's like," Ashido said. "He's impulsive and self-centered, but he obviously knows what we don't. He's the one who whisked Midoriya away for some super-secret conversation, right?"
"That's a fair point," Shouto conceded. "But you have to remember that Bakugou doesn't like any of us. Trying to get information out of him would be like going up against Kaminari with nothing but a metal rod."
"I can try to talk to him for you guys," Ashido offered. "I mean, I'm sorta close to him since he's always hanging with Eijrou."
"You'd really do that, Mina?" Uraraka asked.
"Yeah, it's no problem. If I can help you guys help Midoriya, then sign me up!"
Katsuki's conversation with Deku didn't leave his mind for the rest of the day. It was probably stupid to dwell on that fucking nerd all day, but the constrained feeling bunched inside his chest only clenched tighter and tighter. How had he not realized what he'd done to Deku all these years? He was always hopeful despite his defect and Katsuki hated seeing someone so pathetic be so self-assured. He never understood how someone so weak could be so confident when he didn't earn that confidence. He tried to stamp it out of him, tried to make him submit. Katsuki was so caught up in the notion that he deserved to torment Deku that he never saw what he was really doing to him.
For most of their childhood Deku had thought he should die. Now that Katsuki thought about it, it was a reasonable conclusion to reach. He and his friends had made his life a living hell and the adults only encouraged it.
"Teacher, Bakugou blasted Midoriya off the slide and now he's bleeding!"
The woman crouched to her knees with a sigh.
"Now, Katsuki. What did we say about using your quirk on Midoriya?"
"That he's fragile since he's quirkless and slow…"
"Right." She patted him on the shoulder. "Help him to the nurse's office and try not to push him off the slide next time."
What fucking bullshit. Deku was a human being, not a fucking porcelain doll.
It made him frustrated that those people were still out there, grooming more children to look down on the quirkless kids. What had Icy-Hot said again? That nearly sixty-percent of those bastards became suicidal? No fucking wonder.
By the end of the day, the tension building within his chest had yet to cease. He wanted it gone. As much as Katsuki hated to admit it, there was only one person he could talk to besides Deku if he wanted closure. Even though he knew All Might wouldn't mind, the walk to the administrative office was a bit jarring. Still, once he reached the door Katsuki forced himself to knock. He had to do this. It would tear him up inside if he didn't.
"Come in," Cementos called through the door.
Katsuki took a steadying breath and swung it open. There were only a few staff members sitting around the office, including Cementos, Midnight, Vlad King, and All Might. They all turned towards him and he tried not to outright scowl.
"Young Bakugou," All Might greeted. "What brings you here?"
"I need to speak with you, alone."
A look of confusion flickered across his face before vanishing behind a warm smile. "Of course. How about we talk in the lounge?"
The other teachers did little to mask their own befuddlement but Katsuki paid them no mind. He supposed they were used to All Might and shitty Deku gallivanting away for one-on-one private conversations instead of him. As far as Katsuki was concerned, they could take whatever reservations they had about him and fuck off.
Once they reached the lounge, Katsuki made sure to lock the door so they wouldn't be interrupted and then collapsed on the couch across All Might.
"What was it like being quirkless?" he blurted. In hindsight, that probably wasn't the best question to start off with.
Nonetheless, All Might leaned back and laughed until he spewed blood. "Blunt as always, young Bakugou." He shook his head. "What brought this on?"
Katsuki doubted that Deku would want him explicitly telling his mentor that he'd once been suicidal. That was Deku's private business and it wasn't his place to run his fucking mouth. So, he settled for a half-truth.
"We're doing a project on modern social issues in Midnight's class and Deku's group is doing quirkless discrimination. It got me thinking."
"Ah, I see. You feel conflicted because of how you used to bully young Midoriya."
Bully. He bullied Midoriya.
It was so easy to avoid the actual word, to gloss over it. Now that All Might had said it outright… he had no option but to admit that he had bullied Deku.
"Yeah… it's about that."
"I trained young Midoriya for ten months before I passed my power onto him. At that time, he didn't talk about school much and I didn't pry. Still, as someone who's been quirkless himself, it wasn't hard to read in between the lines."
"If you knew I was so shitty to Deku, why did you ever give me a chance?"
"He may be my successor, but when you enrolled in UA you also became my student. Since the moment you stepped through that gate, I've only had your best interests in mind—all convictions aside. You're still a child, after all. To your credit, I see that my advice hasn't completely fallen on deaf ears and that you've come a long way since your first training match against Midoriya. Even though you treated him poorly in Junior High, you've taken strides to learn from your mistakes."
That sounded a lot like what Deku had said earlier. What was it? We can't change the past but we can try to be better. From what All Might was saying, he'd already gotten somewhat better without realizing it. How about that.
"To answer your first question, being quirkless wasn't a walk in the park. I'm sure I had it better than Midoriya since I'm older, but prejudice was still commonplace in my time. Nobody went out of their way to explicitly harass me, but I was always ostracized. Most of my peers pitied me because I was powerless and supposedly defenseless. I remember there was a popular online forum at the time that advocated segregating the quirkless because we were 'too vulnerable to live in regular society.' It really pissed me off."
Of course, he'd already known that All Might was quirkless when he was younger, but hearing about how awful society had once treated the pillar of hope only expedited the pressure in Katsuki's chest.
"Being isolated from my classmates gave me a lot of time to contemplate society and heroes, which is something I've realized young Midoriya and I have in common. I'd devised the idea of a 'symbol of peace' long before I met my mentor and readily accepted One for All when she offered it to me. Despite what you'd think, I didn't see it as a way out of being quirkless—it was never about escaping that life. My goal was always to become the top hero and establish a peaceful society." All Might put his head in his hands. "You know, now that I'm older I wish that I'd remembered my origins more."
"What do you mean?"
"Children like you and Midoriya have been failed by society in the same way that I was. The anti-quirkless agenda is real and if anyone had the resources to combat it, I did."
Katsuki scoffed. "Bullshit."
All Might only stared so Katsuki continued.
"You might not be the number one hero anymore, but you're still All Might! It's not too late to start some kind of pro-quirkless movement."
All Might shook his head. "Not for me. The whole world knows that I used up the last of my quirk, if I were to start a pro-quirkless movement at this stage in my life everyone would only see it as a cheap grab at attention or a pity party. It's a sad truth, but people tend to see the worst in even the most wholesome intentions. I'm afraid that some other hero will have to lead the pro-quirkless movement."
Another hero, huh?
Somehow, Katsuki didn't think that Deku had the guts to head something so personal to him. So, when Katsuki finally became the top hero, he'd be the one to advocate for quirkless rights alongside an anti-bullying campaign. God knew the world needed less arrogant little shits like Katsuki Bakugou running around.
"I'll do it," he decided. "When I become the top hero, I'll lead the pro-quirkless movement!"
All Might smiled. "Ambitious as always, Bakugou. I look forward to that day."
When Katsuki left the lounge, he felt his phone buzz. Apparently, Ashido wanted to talk with him about something in person. Her text said they couldn't talk about it on the phone, which was definitely odd. Maybe it was something about Kirishima? He only interacted with her through him so that wouldn't be so weird.
On his walk back to the dorms, they decided that they'd meet around the back of Heights Alliance where nobody would hear them. When he arrived, Ashido was already standing there, almost solemn.
"What the fuck is this about?"
"It's, uh, about Midoriya. I'm in his group for the project and we were, uh, wondering about your guys' conversation this morning."
He narrowed his eyes. She shouldn't know about that—so who told her? Icy-Hot?
Ashido audibly gulped. "Um, the conversation you two had… this morning… after Todoroki mentioned our project."
"I don't see how that's any of your fucking business."
"It's my business because for some reason Midoriya isn't comfortable with our project and Todoroki figured out why. So either you tell me the truth or we go directly to Midoriya about it. Gauging by your reaction this morning, you're protective of him despite what you want other people to think."
She was bluffing and Katsuki knew it. Icy-Hot might have half of a brain in his head, but there's no way that he managed to unravel the secret of One for All and Midoriya's past-quirklessness from such a mundane interaction.
"If you're really that confident in what half-and-half pieced together, then why don't you say it? Oh wait, you can't because you actually don't know anything."
"Fine," Ashido huffed. "Midoriya had a quirkless friend that committed suicide and this whole project is opening old wounds. We figured it out, Bakugou, now stop playing dumb! We just want to know more so we can help him and—why are you laughing?"
She thought Deku had some quirkless friend that committed suicide, huh? Holy shit—that was so off the mark. If only it were that; if only Deku wasn't the one driven to be suicidal. He had to give Icy-Hot props for ingenuity, but damn… that was almost as pathetic as his secret love-child theory!
"Bakugou, I mean it! Stop laughing, you sadist!"
"You—you're wrong," he managed. "You're so fucking wrong."
"Wh—? But we were so sure! That doesn't make any sense!"
"What do you want me to say? Deku never had a quirkless friend kill themselves."
"But he's been acting weird since this all started!"
"That's just Deku." Katsuki ran a hand through his hair. "I don't know if you've noticed, but he's super fucking sympathetic."
"Then what was that conversation you two had this morning, huh? Todoroki said it was after he mentioned suicidal quirkless kids! That can't be a coincidence!" Ashido accused.
"As I said, that conversation is none of your business. If you really want to know so badly, just ask Deku himself. Just know that you're blowing this all out of proportion."
With that, Katsuki left Ashido alone behind the dorms and ducked into the nearest entrance. He'd tried his best not to let anything slip, but it was hard when the evidence was stacked against him. Apparently, Deku hadn't been as subtle as he thought. Figures. Katsuki couldn't exactly blame him for that since he'd done the same thing that morning. Besides, raccoon-eyes had been right about one thing; the quirkless discrimination project had opened old wounds. In the best of scenarios, trauma faded—but it never went away.
"Th—thank you, Kacchan. I just needed—needed to hear it wasn't my fault."
Even after he'd received All Might's power and made new friends, Deku still blamed himself for the way he was treated growing up. He wanted to live to become All Might's successor, but what would happen if that shot was taken away from him? Would he fall back into old habits, old mindsets?
Deku's mental health was mostly stable now, but if this project proved anything it was that he could easily relapse. He needed better support. Given their history, Katsuki wouldn't be enough to prove to him that he was worth something. At the moment, his new friends didn't know enough to help him and the adults in the know were still adults—Deku wouldn't trust them. So who could help him?
"So Bakugou denied everything?" Uraraka asked.
"Yep," Ashido dragged out. "He even said that we should just go ahead and ask Midoriya himself if we want to know so badly."
"Do you think he's lying?" Shouto asked. "I mean, it's possible that we miscalculated…"
"If I'm being frank, I think we should just drop this business altogether unless Midoriya explicitly indicates that he is uncomfortable with this project!" Iida bowed his head. "All this sneaking around is disrespectful and I want no more part in it!"
"It's not sneaking around, we're figuring out what's wrong with him!" Uraraka argued.
"From what I've seen there isn't anything wrong with him. Bakugou is right—Midoriya is a sympathetic person. It's only reasonable that he'd be off-put by such baseless discrimination. I care for him as a friend, but I truly think we are grasping at straws here! Now, if you don't mind me I'm going to bed for the night," he said.
Before they could stop him, Iida turned on his heel and left Shouto's room.
"I think I'm gonna do the same," Ashido seconded. "Not that I don't care about Midoriya, but I really think that this isn't that serious. See you guys in the morning!"
Once she had also left, Shouto turned to Uraraka. "What do you think we should do now? Talk to him about it?"
She bit her lip. "I don't know… I do feel like something is up with him, but what if they're right?"
"If something isn't wrong with him then there isn't any harm in asking, right? At least now we know that Midoriya didn't have a friend that killed themselves."
There was a sudden clammer outside Shouto's room. When he looked, he realized that Ashido had left the door ajar and that Midoriya himself was only a few feet down the hall.
"Deku!" Uraraka jumped. "What are you doing here?"
His cheeks burned scarlet and he shakily halted in Shouto's doorway.
"I—uh, didn't mean to eavesdrop!" he said. "The door was open and—"
"You're fine, Midoriya," Shouto cut him off. "It was wrong of us to talk about you behind your back in the first place."
"Oh… okay. I was uh, just coming up to ask a question about our project. I was looking back over the rubric and Midnight listed that we need some kind of visual aid and I was wondering what we should do."
"We can figure that out later. Right now, we need to talk."
Midoriya didn't seem surprised. "Alright."
He stepped through the threshold to Shouto's room and took a seat at the edge of his bed. "I don't really know what this is about, but I'm guessing it's what you were talking about when I walked up?"
"It is. Ever since this morning with Bakugou, we've noticed that you've been a little nervous when it comes to our project. Does something about quirkless discrimination bother you?"
If Shouto hadn't been watching closely he doubted he would've caught it, but there was a brief flash of panic in Midoriya's eyes. He hid it well, almost as well as Shouto hid his own feelings when it came to his father. Interesting.
"I guess it is a bit uncomfortable to think about? I knew a bit about it beforehand and looking into it again is just bringing up bad memories. I'm fine though. I can handle working on this project, it's really nothing more than that," Midoriya insisted.
"What kind of bad memories?" Uraraka asked softly.
"It—it's nothing, really!"
"Midoriya, it doesn't sound like this is nothing."
He groaned. "Look, it was a long time ago. I… I knew this quirkless kid, right? He uh, left an impression on me. That's the extent of it all, I promise."
"In what way?"
"In what way did he leave an impression on you?"
The look on Midoriya's face was oddly guarded and Shouto couldn't help but feel like he'd crossed a line.
"He uh, he was always made fun of by the other kids. The teachers didn't care about him either and just let it happen. It was hard... to watch. Hard to watch that happen to him, I mean."
Uraraka frowned. "That sounds awful. Were you two close?"
Midoriya bit his lip. "I guess you could say that."
So Bakugou had been lying, after all. Even though this friend hadn't killed himself, Midoriya had still had a quirkless friend. That must've been what their conversation was about earlier.
"Do you still talk to him?" she asked.
He shook his head. "We drifted apart during our last year of Junior High. I think… I think he's doing better these days though."
"That's good. I know we've been doing all this research about quirkless people, but you've actually seen what it's like for them. I think there might have been a quirkless girl a few years above me at my grade school, but nobody ever talked about her much. Now I'm starting to realize why."
"From what I've read, most quirkless children are singled out not long after they're diagnosed," Shouto recounted. "It probably took a lot of guts to befriend someone most people ostracized… which is exactly what I expect from you, Midoriya. You're always looking out for everyone."
Midoriya froze. "Is being friends with someone quirkless really that weird?"
"In principle? No, of course not. Unfortunately, society has warped the idea of what it means to be quirkless so much that people see them as abnormal. It's like you said earlier, they're just as smart as anyone else and they act like anyone else—people are just bigots. And that's what I respect about you Midoriya. You challenge bigotry."
Uraraka nodded. "When I meet someone new, I don't care what quirk they have as long as they're nice. Why should not having a quirk be any different?"
Without warning, Midoriya launched forward and wrapped his arms around both Shouto and Uraraka. "Thank you, guys…"
"Whoa, Deku! Could've given us a warning or something!"
"Sorry! I just… really needed a hug."
Shouto didn't entirely understand how he'd made Midoriya feel better, but he was glad that what he'd said had a positive impact. He leaned into the embrace, careful not to accidentally tap into his quirk. It'd been a while, but he still couldn't shake the time he set Fuyumi's cardigan ablaze when she leaned in for a hug.
"You're welcome, Midoriya."
The rest of their project went about as smoothly as any assignment could go at UA. On the last night before their oral presentation, Izuku's group holed back up in Todoroki's room scrambling to put the finishing touches on their project. They stayed up well past one in the morning going over the script and by third period the next morning it was finally time to present.
Their group directly followed Yaoyorozu's group, who spent a good ten minutes going over everything about gender inequality—in and out of the hero industry. Ever the natural leader, Yaoyorozu delivered most of the presentation but made sure that everyone had their own role to contribute. Before Izuku knew it, they were up in front of the entire class to present.
"For our social issue oral presentation, we've spent the past week studying quirkless discrimination," Ashido began. "In general, the quirkless are a thinning minority and face unprecedented prejudice—jeez that's hard to say—every day."
From there, Iida took over the first three minutes of the presentation. When he finished his segment, it was Uraraka's turn. Izuku listened to her speak with an air of caution and precision. She didn't linger on words or draw them out weird—she spoke as if they were the most natural words ever to be said. When it was finally his turn to present, Izuku tried to imagine speaking as she had. He had no emotional connection to what he was saying. They were just… sounds. Regular sounds.
"While it may be true that quirkless adults have trouble finding careers, it can be said that quirkless children and teenagers have their own hardships that last a lifetime."
(It had definitely impacted Izuku for a lifetime.)
"Studies show that up to 92% of quirkless students experience bullying—" including him including him including h— "and that sixty percent of teenagers are suicidal at some point in their academic careers. Oftentimes, the bullying will go unreported in favor of keeping other children's records clean. In turn, quirkless kids are unjustly marked as delinquents, and that makes it more likely for them to drop out of high school."
As he continued his segment of the presentation, Izuku tried not to notice that Bakugou gripped his desk so hard that his knuckles turned white. Actually, Izuku tried not to look at Bakugou at all. If he did, he would definitely lose all focus and composure. Instead, he focused on Shinsou, who was aptly listening yet looked so unbothered that it was almost mesmerizing. He wondered if that was just a subconscious effect of Shinsou's quirk or if he was really that engaged in Izuku's presentation.
After a minute or so, Izuku managed to finish his part without incident and handed it off to Todoroki to wrap up. He concluded the project by showing off their poster and the graphs that Ashido had drawn. Finally, they took their seats and listened as Tokoyami's group took the floor.
"Whew! That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be!" Uraraka announced once class was over.
"I have to agree!" Iida brought his hands together. "Everything went according to plan!"
"Hell yeah it did!"
"You seemed nervous there for a minute, Midoriya," Todoroki said, casually. "You alright?"
"Hm? Yeah! There was a moment I was a bit worried that I'd screw up the lines, but I powered through."
"That's good," he smiled. "You remember if you ever need to talk about anything you can always come to me, right?"
Ever since Todoroki had learned about his quirkless 'friend' he'd been taking measures not to make Izuku uncomfortable. Between checking on him after Midnight's class and offering to lessen his load on the research, Izuku felt a bit coddled but appreciated Todoroki's efforts. He supposed that it was nice to know that he was on his side. That he was on the quirkless' side. It was reassuring that there were people in the world that wouldn't judge him for having a quirk or not, even though it left him a bit bitter that it'd taken this long for them to come into his life. Still, he wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.
"Yeah, I know," he said.
Maybe they'd only known each other for a few months, but if Izuku had to choose someone to confide everything in, Uraraka and Todoroki would both be on that list. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but he had a feeling that one day he'd be ready to talk about it.
Maybe all his old wounds would finally crust over.