A Friend in Need
Summary: Izuku has been friendless for most of his life. He hasn't dared hoping that UA would be any different.
Despite UA's strict no-bullying policy, Izuku is so used to making himself invisible that he fails to befriend a single person in 1-C. By the time he transfers to 1-A, he's just accepted that he'll continue to be on his own for three more miserable years.
His new classmates strongly disagree.
Izuku started sparring with Kacchan regularly. He wouldn't exactly say their training was fun, but it was... something. It was exciting. It was exhilarating.
Izuku basked in the feeling of being treated like Kacchan's equal, and even though he knew that both Shouto and Shinsou didn't understand, he started to look forward to their mock-battles.
And if Izuku started to feel a little braver during class – if he spoke up a little more, and initiated conversations with his classmates a little more often – well, if Kacchan could learn to respect him, then why shouldn't he expect the same from everybody else?
"Why do you keep sparring with him?" It wasn't the first time Shouto had asked himself that question, Izuku could tell. "You don't enjoy it."
"Well... Not really," Izuku admitted.
He hesitated. "It's... I don't know. It helps me become a better hero."
"So does class," Shouto said flatly.
"You could spar with anyone. You could spar with me."
"We already do."
"But you're not going to stop sparring with Bakugou."
"Why?" Shouto asked without missing a beat. "You don't have to humor him. He's been horrible to you."
Izuku fidgeted with the hem of his shirt, wanting nothing more than to escape the conversation. It felt more and more like an interrogation. "It's complicated."
Shouto just kept looking at him. Izuku knew that in things like these, Shouto had the patience of a stone statue.
"Look... Kacchan and I, we... We used to be friends."
"And then he was your bully."
Izuku cringed. "Yes, but... He's not anymore. He's never treated me like this before."
"Like a punching bag."
"That's not what it's like," Izuku protested. He paused. "Before, our fights were always one-sided. He'd start it, and end it, and I... I'd try to fight back, but I just, I never really stood a chance. But now..."
"So it's okay now because you've gotten stronger?" It was hard to tell whether Shouto asked for actual clarification or to express his disbelief. Even after weeks of knowing him, Izuku still struggled in reading his friend's microexpressions.
"It's not just me who's gotten stronger. Kacchan has changed, too. He doesn't see me as a punching bag... At least, I don't think he does," he added in a whisper.
Shouto didn't seem convinced, but he let it go. It was something Izuku appreciated about him: he never pressed, even when he clearly disagreed.
Then again, a part of the reason Shouto let it go may just have been that Kacchan came out of their spars with just as many bruises as Izuku did.
Having somebody to worry about him was odd. Shouto never intervened, but he always accompanied Izuku to his sparring sessions.
He didn't need the silent support – he was no longer afraid of Kacchan – but a part of him relished at having somebody in his corner who cared about him so openly.
"Are you sure you want to stick with it?"
"It's very provocative."
Shinsou smirked. "I know."
Izuku couldn't help but to smile in return. Maybe they weren't really friends – Shinsou had made it clear from the start that friendship wasn't the reason he was here, though sometimes Izuku wondered if he'd changed his mind – but he still felt a surge of not-exactly-pride.
Satisfaction, maybe? He definitely felt something as he watched Shinsou improve through his hard work. He deserved to be a hero more than anyone Izuku knew.
"I see you've decided to take a break."
The drone of Aizawa's voice had both of them straighten up guiltily. Shinsou threw him a wry look that screamed 'Whoops, busted.'
"Did you at least settle on something?" Aizawa drawled, hands planted firmly in his pockets.
While Izuku felt the need to profusely apologize bubbling up in his chest (Aizawa spent his rare free time training them, and here they were, slacking off!) Shinsou didn't seem to feel cowed.
"I think I did," he said, utterly unapologetic.
"Well?" Aizawa crossed his arms. "Let's hear it then."
"I want to go by Oversight."
Aizawa hummed. "Oversight," he repeated, giving no hint as to what he thought about the name.
Izuku couldn't bear the silence for long. "It's fitting," he said, bobbing up and down on his toes. "To oversee, as in to control: It's on brand for his powers without being obvious and giving away his quirk. It's recognizable if Shinsou decides to become a limelight hero, but subtle enough if he plans to stick to the underground. I think it's a great choice!"
"Right." Aizawa gave Shinsou a sly look. "And the other definition of the word has nothing to do with you choosing it?"
Shinsou grinned. "It's brilliant."
"It's a 'fuck you'."
"Fuck yeah." If anything, Shinsou's grin widened. "You can't complain. You aren't one of the people it's for."
Aizawa huffed out a breath of air, but didn't comment.
Shinsou was right. Without Aizawa, they both wouldn't be here, doing their best to bridge the gap between them and the original hero students. Aizawa was the first person who'd seen Shinsou's potential. He was the first who hadn't dismissed his dream of becoming a hero right away.
Without Aizawa, Shinsou wouldn't be thinking about a hero name at all. His transfer into a hero course was still not guaranteed, but the sole fact that Aizawa encouraged him to think up a name was promising.
(Well. It didn't matter now.)
(Aizawa was here now, and both Shinsou and he would learn from him as much as they were able.)
So, Shinsou's name wasn't meant for him. It was meant for everybody who'd ever told him that he didn't have it in him to become a hero.
Once or twice Izuku had asked Shouto why they never met up at his house instead of Izuku's. He'd never gotten a clear answer, but Shouto was so obviously uncomfortable with the question, Izuku stopped asking altogether.
He didn't mind. Shouto didn't make fun of him for all of his merchandise and he told him he liked his mother even though she'd cried the first time he'd brought Shouto for a visit.
("Did I do something wrong?"
"No, no! Sh-She just... I just haven't really had a friend over in years."
"It's okay. I've never had a friend over at all.")
They sat in silence for a while, their conversation having died down naturally, when out of the blue Shouto said, "My mom gave me this scar."
Judging by his tone, he might as well have said 'I forgot to do my math homework.' or 'I found an old rubber band in my bedside drawer.'
Izuku floundered, trying to figure out what in the world he'd said in the past minutes that could have prompted this. "Wh-What? I– Sh-Shouto, that's–"
Shouto didn't look especially uncomfortable, but there was a tension to his jaw that betrayed him. "It wasn't her fault."
That cleared up exactly nothing. Izuku straightened up, giving Shouto his full attention. "D-Do you want to talk about it?"
Shouto did. He talked about quirk marriages and training and a mother who'd splintered under the pressure put on her by a husband she hadn't wanted to marry.
By the end he added, "I was determined to become a hero without ever using my flames."
Izuku's brows – already scrunched up in horrified sympathy – furrowed deeply. They'd been sparring together almost since Izuku had joined class 1-A. Shouto had used his flames during practice just that morning. In only a few short weeks he'd already made so much progress–
Realization drained all the color from Izuku's face. "I'm sorry," he whispered, digging his fingers into the blanket draped over his lap. "I kept pushing you. I'm so sorry."
"No, it isn't!"
Izuku was having a crisis. He'd been tormenting Shouto practically since he'd joined his class. He'd pressured him into using that part of his powers despite his trauma. Had he been remembering that day of his life every time Izuku had stupidly made him use his fire? The audacity Izuku had, needling Shouto about his quirk when he'd been so clearly reluctant–
"Stop," Shouto said flatly, unceremoniously cutting off Izuku's internal spiral. "I'm not telling you because of that."
Izuku curled in on himself without looking away from his friend. (Classmate? Were they still friends?) (His fingers clawed deep furrows into his blanket.) "Why are you telling me?"
Somehow, despite the heavy topic he'd started, Shouto smiled.
Self-deprecating thoughts were still rampaging through Izuku's mind, but he found himself relaxing. Shouto didn't smile often, so when he did it always felt special. If he was smiling, he couldn't be so mad not to want to be Izuku's friend anymore, could he?
"Everybody has always talked about my quirk as though it belonged to my parents," Shouto started. "That's how I thought about it, too. My father's flames and my mother's ice." He paused. "But when you asked me about my powers, you didn't talk about it like that at all."
"I didn't know about your family," Izuku said quietly.
"You knew my father."
"He's the number two hero. Everybody knows him."
"But you didn't talk about my fire like it was his power."
Izuku blinked. "Because it isn't." He didn't really know why he was stating the obvious, but, "It's yours."
"Yes." Shouto's features softened even more. "I know."
Due to him teaching Heroics classes, Izuku saw a lot more of All Might since joining class 1-A. He'd known about this – he'd tried to prepare for it – and yet even after weeks, he still didn't know how to act in front of him.
Sometimes he wondered if All Might remembered him. He'd throw him an odd glance and Izuku was convinced his gaze would linger...
He never said anything. It was probably better if he didn't remember their first meeting.
(He wondered if All Might did remember, and simply chose not to say anything.)
(All Might had told him to give up on his dream, and yet here Izuku was, seizing his chance to become a hero despite being quirkless.)
(Izuku's fear of being kicked out at the slightest mistake had never really faded. Who was more likely to push for his expulsion than the person who'd already told him he wouldn't be able to make it?)
All Might asked him to stay behind after class and Izuku felt his heart seize up in his chest.
Was this proof? Did All Might remember him after all? Was he about to tell him that he didn't have a place in Heroics?
"Midoriya, my boy."
Why had he waited? Why hadn't he marched up to Aizawa on the very first day after the Sports Festival and asked for the transfer to be reversed? Why dangle hope in front of Izuku's face only to yank it back the second he started to feel even remotely secure in his place at UA?
All Might extended one giant hand, but pulled it back before it could make contact with Izuku's shoulder. He floundered, letting it hang awkwardly at his side. "There is something I need to tell you," he said, circling both thumbs restlessly over the palms of his hands. "I have been... warring with myself to do so ever since you have joined this class."
Izuku closed his eyes. This was it then. All Might remembered him – or if he didn't, then the Sports Festival had made him painfully aware of Izuku's status as a quirkless student. At this point, it wouldn't make a difference. He was going to be told that he wasn't good enough. He was going to be told–
Izuku clenched his hands to fists.
He wasn't that same kid anymore. All Might's opinion mattered to him, but... But... He'd been wrong before. Izuku had earned his place in 1-A. He'd fought for it, and he'd earned it, just like any other student in this – in his – class.
All Might had told him he was better off giving up, but he'd been wrong.
All Might had been wrong.
"I should not have waited as long as I did–"
"I'm going to be a hero," Izuku cut him off, frantically smothering the part of his brain that screeched at him for interrupting his childhood hero.
If he lost his momentum now, then he wouldn't be able to make his voice work again.
"I d-don't know if you remember," Izuku muttered, "But you once told me that a quirkless person couldn't be one."
He dragged his eyes off of the ground with great effort. All Might's eyes were dark and gave away nothing. It was a wonder that nobody had found out about his emaciated form when his eyes looked sunken in even like this.
"But you were wrong," Izuku said, his voice only trembling mildly. "And I'm going to keep proving you wrong. I will be a hero, and not having a quirk to rely on won't stop me."
All Might's sunken eyes were wide. Izuku felt his fists tremble from the rush of standing up for himself, of defending his dream from his idol. He wasn't going to take any of it back. He was right, and All Might was wrong.
All Might turned his head to cough into the crook of his elbow, deflating out of his muscle form as he went. There was blood trickling down his chin when he turned back, but the corner of his mouth curled upwards.
"A-All Might! Are you alrigh–"
"Would you indulge an old man and listen to what he has to say?" All Might carelessly wiped the blood from his chin.
Izuku tracked his movement, concern and apprehension twisting his gut. "I– I guess?"
All Might sunk down in the teacher's chair. He folded his hands on top of the desk and paused, leaving Izuku to vibrate with restless anxiety.
"My quirk..." All Might faltered before pushing on. "It... came in unusually late. For most of my childhood and teenage years, I grew up quirkless. Much like yourself."
Air left Izuku's lungs as though he'd been punched. His eyes widened.
Even now, looking at the emaciated shadow of All Might's public persona, Izuku found it all but impossible to imagine him as anything other than the ideal hero. All Might was strong and popular and kind. Surely he'd been all of those things from the very start.
"Y-You said I couldn't be a hero," Izuku muttered, clutching the fabric of his school uniform tightly.
"Indeed." His strained expression morphed into something bitter. "After all, I wasn't able to become a hero until after I received my quirk. Naturally I assumed it was impossible." He laughed joylessly. "How very self-centered of me, don't you think?"
Izuku was still reeling from the revelation. To think that once upon a time, All Might had been in the exact same position as he'd been... It was impossible.
"Please, don't misunderstand me," All Might said. "What I told you back then, I told you because I myself had almost gotten myself killed through recklessness. Even after my quirk manifested... Well. Surely you remember what I showed you that day."
Of course Izuku remembered. He was unlikely to forget the gnarly scar covering one half of All Might's torso. He remembered staring at it and wondering how he was alive.
"My quirk is widely considered as one of the strongest in the world," All Might continued quietly. "Yet, I was almost killed... In my mind, I was protecting you. Though in retrospect, I realize that I could have gone about it with more kindness."
Izuku's eyes dropped back to the floor. Thinking of it like that, he supposed... "You still don't want me to become a hero."
"I didn't say that."
His head snapped up so quickly, Izuku felt something along his spine crack.
All Might carted one hand through messy blond strands. Several decades of carrying hero society on his shoulders were written into every line on his face.
"When I was almost killed, I was already the number one hero," he said. "Wielding one of the strongest quirks in the world, I still almost died. So what does that mean for everybody else? Should nobody be allowed to be a hero and risk their lives, because nobody else has a power quite like mine? Should I treat every hero weaker than me like they are fragile?"
He pulled his hand out of his hair and looked at it, something uncomfortably close to self-deprecation in his eyes.
"My biggest flaw has always been trying to take on everything by myself. Just look where it has led me."
Sunken eyes that only hinted at what they might have once looked like. Skin pulled over lanky bones so tightly, Izuku wondered how All Might was even walking. A body so marked by the hardships it had endured, it was a miracle it had not yet given out.
A chasm opened up in Izuku's chest, a mourning sort of sadness for the untouchable hero he now knew no longer existed. A part of him would never stop idolizing All Might. Another part wanted to scream at the unfairness of a person being reduced to this.
"Ahh. Forgive my digressing, dear boy." The self-deprecating glimmer in his eyes – thankfully – faded. "What I meant to say was simply this: Only because your goal was impossible to reach for me, does not make it impossible for somebody else."
Izuku's mouth went very dry. "Wh-What are you saying?"
All Might's thin face lit up in a bright smile. "I would be delighted to be proven wrong, Midoriya, my boy. I know it is much too late, and I do not expect you to forgive me just like this. But please know that I have been quietly cheering you on since I recognized you during the Sports Festival."
Izuku was tearing up before All Might had finished speaking.
All Might's words didn't mend everything. Some lingering hurt from that horrible day on the rooftop remained.
But Izuku believed that All Might had been genuine. He believed that he'd wanted what was best for him before, and he believed that All Might regretted his words now. If anything, it was proof that even the number one hero wasn't infallible. That he was a flawed human, just like everybody else.
The part of Izuku that still idolized him only respected him more.
The internships that had originally been planned for after the Sports Festival had been postponed by several weeks. Izuku was glad for it: it gave him the chance to attend his first batch of Heroics classes before being thrown headfirst into real conflict.
He may have earned his spot, but compared to his new classmates (who were infamous for having faced villains during the first few weeks of the semester), he still had a lot of catching up to do.
Iida went after the Hero Killer.
(Izuku hadn't expected his chance to catch up to his classmates to be quite this literal.)
"Step aside, boy."
Izuku's entire body shook. He fumbled with his phone behind his back, barely stopping it from slipping through trembling fingers.
"You're not the one I'm going to kill." Stain hardly spared him a glance.
Every fiber of his body urged Izuku to run, but he stayed rooted in front of Iida and the Pro Hero Native.
He didn't dare glance at his phone. He'd tried contacting Aizawa – his homeroom teacher had given him his number after offering to take him along for his internship – but he had no clue whether he'd succeeded.
What was he supposed to do?
"Midoriya," Iida pressed out from behind Izuku. He'd been paralyzed with his face half pressed into the concrete, so his voice came out muffled. "This isn't your fight! Run away."
He stood no chance in an actual fight. His training with 1-A and Aizawa had paid off, but at the end of the day he was still quirkless, hopelessly inexperienced and facing a murderer capable of killing Pros.
What was he supposed to do?
"Midoriya!" Iida yelled when Izuku said nothing in return. "Run away!"
Beside him, Native wasn't saying anything. His eyes were closed. Izuku hoped he'd only lost consciousness.
"You should listen to your little friend." Stain kept his sword pointed at the ground in a seemingly casual posture, belied by the glint in his eyes that made him look like a predator. "I'm not eager to cut down kids, but I will if they get in my way."
Fighting wasn't an option. Izuku was faster and stronger than when he'd started training at UA, but against the Hero Killer he'd be paralyzed or killed before he could land a single hit.
He'd tried calling for help. He had no inconspicuous way of checking if it had worked, so either Aizawa was on his way or nobody knew where they were. The odds weren't good, but there was at least a small chance that somebody was coming.
There was only one option. Izuku needed to stall in case Aizawa needed the time to get here.
"Why do you want to kill him?" Izuku asked, unable to keep his voice from trembling.
"I'm not arguing my ideology with a high schooler," Stain said.
Izuku put up his hands. They were sweaty underneath his gloves. "I-I'm not arguing. I just want to know." If Stain was even a little arrogant... If he had a self-centered streak... "The media keeps talking about you, but nobody's said anything about your motivation."
"My motivation?" Stain stopped his creeping approach.
Izuku was under no illusion that he could trick the criminal. Stain knew fully he was being stalled: he just didn't care. Why should he? He'd already incapacitated the two biggest threats to him, and he could do the same to Izuku within seconds, should he wish to.
Even if backup arrived at any moment, so far no Pro had been able to take Stain down.
"Do you know the kind of hero you're trying to protect?" Stain's teeth glinted in the dim alley lighting. "Do you think he deserves you putting your life on the line for him?"
"Why?" If Izuku's hands weren't already raised, he'd be throwing them up in frustration. "What did he do to deserve being murdered?"
"What do any of them do?" Stain sneered in the direction of a still paralyzed Native. "Every government-sanctioned mercenary calling themselves a 'hero' deserves nothing less."
"Who gave you the right–" Iida started.
"So you'd let Iida and I go?" Izuku interrupted, willing his classmate to stay silent. Every moment Izuku could draw Stain's attention away from him was another he'd bought for Aizawa to hopefully catch up with them. "We're just students. We're not government-sanctioned anything."
"Go ahead, boy," Stain said. "Run away. I don't care about ridding society of cowards. But your friend? He's already proven that he will grow up just as self-absorbed as the rest of the filth."
Izuku bit his tongue, cursing his mistake. He'd missed Iida's confrontation with Stain so he didn't know what had happened, but he'd have to distract the killer from Iida as well as from Native.
"If you hate heroes so much," he tried, "why still call yourself a vigilante?"
Stain scoffed, the sound whipping through the alley. "Call me a vigilante, call me a villain. I don't care either way. It's not heroes I hate, it's false ones. If all heroes were selfless like All Might, I'd happily play along and be one of them."
There. Something in Stain's voice other than indifference and scorn: somehow, impossibly, the criminal seemed to actually idolize the number one hero.
"What makes All Might so different from everybody else?" Izuku asked, burying a decade's worth of hero worship to try sounding genuinely confused. "He's not any different from the other Pros. He follows rules and earns money through his work just like any hero."
"All Might doesn't check for cameras before he enters a disaster scene," Stain said dismissively. "He doesn't show up in interviews and on TV more than he does in news reports. He's in the public eye because the media forces him to be, not because he shoves himself into the spotlight any chance that he gets."
"How would you know?" Izuku forced out, the words almost physically painful. "He might just be better at hiding it than others. How would you know he's working hard to help people, not for the fame of being number one?"
But Stain wouldn't let himself be baited. Maybe he could tell that not even Izuku was convinced by his own words. "If all heroes were like All Might," he said, "there wouldn't be a need for people like me."
Izuku felt mildly disturbed that there was something he saw eye to eye on with a mass murderer. He didn't get how he could talk so highly of All Might, then turn around and murder Pros like it was a sport.
Then again... Izuku didn't quite agree after all.
"If every Pro were like All Might, we wouldn't have heroes at all."
"So you agree," Stain said, "that by the standard All Might sets, no Pro deserves the honor of–"
"N-No." Izuku shrunk away from Stain's darkening expression. "I-I meant it literally. If more people acted like All Might, hero society wouldn't be sustainable."
The tension filling up the alley grew and grew. Only the sound of Iida's rapid breathing was heard. "What are you talking about," his classmate asked quietly.
"Yes." Stain's eyes were narrowed to slits. "What are you saying?"
The intensity of Stain's gaze caused Izuku's body to tremble. He felt one wrong step away from being cut down for good. But if he lost Stain's interest, there'd be no stopping him from killing Native and Iida.
"I– I just," Izuku's voice cracked, the words splintering in his throat. "I j-just mean–" He forced the words out, carving out bloody traces in his body. "If you're such a fan of All Might, can't you see that he's killing himself?"
Stain's eyes, if possible, narrowed further. The murderous aura that surrounded him like a shroud dimmed imperceptibly.
"Go on," he said, hardly louder than a whisper.
"You're right when you say that All Might helps people regardless of whether there's cameras nearby," Izuku said, stumbling over his words in his haste to keep Stain engaged. "But even then, in his prime he'd be mentioned in newscasts all hours of the day. He was always working."
As a child, Izuku had spent entire days glued to the TV screen, watching news report after news report featuring fleeting glimpses of the hero before he rushed off to the next crime scene.
"If you admire him, you must have noticed... You barely see him anymore. You could argue that crime has been decreasing, and you'd be right, but not to the degree to explain the rapid decline in appearances. And it's not just his apprehension rates that have been going down. He's barely seen interacting with fans anymore."
Izuku swallowed, his mouth awfully dry. "So... even though he's the kind of hero who wants to save as many people as he can... even then, you're seeing him less and less. So if it's not decreasing crime rates, and if it isn't All Might focusing more on his media appearances than actual crime, what's left?"
Izuku could tell him about the injury that was effectively (though slowly) ending All Might's career. He could tell him about his emaciated form and the time limit dictating his hero work these days. He could tell him about the blood his childhood hero coughed up, his body shutting down on him with every passing day.
He said none of those things. He wanted to buy time for Iida and Native, but he wouldn't betray All Might any more than he already had.
"You say that the only hero who gets to kill you is All Might, but at this rate he won't be able to defeat anybody." Izuku clenched his hands to fists. "Heroes shouldn't be working just for compensation, but I also think that a hero who runs themselves into the ground thinking only about others can't help anyone.
"I think that... I agree that there are many corrupt heroes out there. And they should be... not killed, but apprehended. But I don't think All Might is an ideal we should be striving for."
"Aren't you just proving my point?" Stain's voice had lost some of its fanaticism. Were it not for the eyes that tracked Izuku's every motion like a bird of prey, he could almost pretend to be having a regular debate. "If even the ideal hero isn't what he's cut out to be, then what does that say about the rest?"
"That's not true though!" The ferocity of his own shout startled even Izuku. "I haven't been doing this for long, but... I've met so many wonderful people who've helped me along the way. I... I'm quirkless, you know? And being quirkless can be a death sentence in this society..."
Izuku had thought that UA would be just like middle school all over again. But it hadn't been like that at all. Even though everybody in his class had such wonderful powers, and even though their potential to become heroes far outshined his own, that never mattered to them.
"My classmates welcomed me, even though I expected..." Izuku trailed off, not quite willing to put his insecurities on display quite so blatantly. "But every step that I've taken, I've had people who've helped me. Isn't that what being a hero is all about? To help somebody with less power than you have?" He hesitated. "You say there aren't any real heroes out there, but maybe you've just met the wrong people."
The temperature in the alley dropped abruptly. Stain narrowly dodged a spike of ice before he was able to reply.
"Todoroki," Iida shouted.
The panic Izuku had been frantically pushing down surged upwards. "Shouto!"
He had no idea how his friend had found them, but even though Shouto was stronger than he was, Izuku didn't know if he stood a chance against Stain. He doubted it.
"Another one." Stain didn't sound worried. "It's like you hero brats are multiplying."
Izuku clenched his teeth and charged in after Shouto, hoping against hope that they'd be able to achieve a miracle.
In the end, they'd never really stood a chance. Shouto was stronger than many third-years and Iida shook off his paralysis soon after Shouto's arrival, but they were still up against a mass murderer and forced to protect an unconscious Native.
Before, at least Izuku had still been able to move. Now, he was paralyzed alongside everybody else.
"We've got a few more minutes." Stain crouched low and reached for Izuku's throat.
Panic rose up in his chest in suffocating waves, but instead of choking him, Stain dragged him up by his collar and propped him up against the alley wall.
"That's enough time to finish our chat." Stain was no longer grinning. "What would you do in my position?"
Terror was still present in every pore of Izuku's body, but there was something beside it, too. Something even more pressing, more intense than fear. Izuku was getting angry.
How dare Stain toy with them like this? How dare he pick up the discussion like they were old friends conversing instead of Izuku bargaining for his friends' lives?
"Killing heroes hasn't discouraged any corruption," he said, clenching his jaw in between sentences. He couldn't even glare properly. The angle was all wrong. "Only civilians are scared of you. Heroes? They're just angry. You're casting yourself as the villain, and that only encourages people to go after you instead of the corrupt heroes you fight against."
"That's not quite true though, is it?" Stain tilted his head sideways. "I'm not just the villain. I've inspired people, too. What does that say about your precious society if somebody like me inspires others?"
"Of course there are people who are inspired! They've probably been hurt by society, like you. And they have the right to feel that way, but–"
"Don't you think they deserve justice?"
"Killing people isn't justice," Izuku snapped. The terror in his mind was faint compared to the pulsing anger. "Especially not the way you're choosing who to kill."
"Oh?" Stain's voice was dangerously low. "What would you do? You're a student now, but what about later?"
Izuku clenched his teeth, thinking quickly. It wasn't something he'd considered in depth before, but... "I don't think it's a good solution to take down singular heroes. Maybe by elevating and supporting those who want to do the right thing… It would discourage corruption and encourage growth without spreading fear."
"What a naive way of thinking." Stain sounded disappointed. "Truly corrupt people won't respond to soft tactics."
Izuku swallowed against the dry sensation in his mouth. "Maybe not, but... I think there are far more people who are unhappy with society than you think. And I think that if they were in a position to change something themselves, they would. Not instantaneously, but... I think going against these issues at the core is the only way to achieve the changes you're going for."
"Is that not what I am doing?" Stain asked. "How could you fight corruption closer to its core than to go after the very people responsible?"
"But that's not what you're doing. Maybe the people you've killed have benefited from the system, but they've had no hand in creating it. What you're doing just isn't enough. No matter how many heroes you kill, there's always going to be more."
Stain scoffed. "Attempting to achieve change is pointless then. Is that what you're saying?"
"That's the opposite of what I'm saying." Izuku frowned. "Maybe I'm idealistic in thinking that society can be made better without violence. But if I am, then so's All Might."
Stain narrowed his eyes. "All Might?"
"Of course." Izuku would have shrugged if he could have. "He's been a hero for decades, so he's had to have seen all the ugly parts of society. Do you think he hasn't changed them because he doesn't care? I think it's because he can't. He's the Number 1, but he's just one person. I don't think he can change society on his own, and I don't think you can, either."
Izuku's heart pounded in his chest, no longer a furious drum but a steady rhythm. "Maybe All Might is idealistic, but I think he needs to be. Because if he let himself be discouraged by the things he can't change, then why should he try? You treat idealism like it's a bad thing. It doesn't mean that you think everything is wonderful, it means that you want it to be. I think we need a little idealism, because if we're just killing people... Do you really, honestly think that you can make a difference all by yourself? Maybe I'm idealistic, but aren't you being arrogant?"
There was a long, pregnant pause. Izuku knew he should keep talking – every second that Stain was engaged was one he didn't spend on killing his friends – but somewhere along the way, he'd run out of words to say.
"You don't sound very much like the Pros you hear on TV," Stain said quietly.
Izuku tried to place his tone, but came up empty. "I've been told all my life I wouldn't make a good hero." He swallowed painfully. "Maybe they've got a point."
In all the time since he'd paralyzed them all, Stain hadn't raised his weapon once. He didn't even look at Shouto when he was the first to shake off his quirk.
He dodged a fresh attack of ice without looking away from Izuku. "Time's up," he said, making eye contact with Izuku. "So long, hero."
Stain fell back into the shadows just as shouts rang out from the mouth of the alley. Shouto almost gave chase, but he seemed to change his mind at the last second.
Izuku realized he must have been able to move for a while, but he didn't try pulling himself to his feet. His legs were shaking too badly to hold him.
He was still there, propped up against the wall and staring at the space Stain had disappeared from by the time Aizawa found them.
Izuku didn't remember much of what followed. Pro heroes flooded the alley after Stain made his escape, Aizawa and Endeavor among them.
Izuku blinked, and the alley was gone. Buildings flew by behind a glass wall. No, a window. When had he sat down in a car?
Izuku blinked, and he was inside a hospital. Sterile walls caged them in, not unlike the grimy walls of the alley had seconds (Minutes? Hours?) earlier. Shouto and Iida were with him. Aizawa was nowhere to be seen.
"Where did he go?" Izuku muttered, the first words he'd spoken after Stain.
"Who?" Shouto asked. "Native?"
"They brought him into a different room," Iida said quietly. "They told us he'd recover. Don't you remember?"
"No." Though that was good to know. "Aizawa?"
There was a pause. A part of him was surprised his friends hadn't yet called for a doctor to check him over.
He was fine. He just... His brain felt numb and stuffed to the brim at the same time. Every sensation felt just that much removed from reality.
"He told us he was giving a statement to the police," Shouto said finally. He paused. "Are you okay?"
Izuku pulled out his phone instead of answering. How long had it been since the alley? Would there be news articles about the incident yet? Had Stain killed somebody else that night, after having lost both Native and Iida?
A text message was open on screen. Izuku blinked. When he'd tried sending a message to Aizawa, he'd accidentally sent it to all of his contacts instead.
But that meant–
"Why did you come to that alley?"
Shouto frowned, his eyebrows hardly pinched. "You sent me your location."
"Didn't you think that was a mistake?"
"I considered it," Shouto admitted. "But if there was a chance that my friend needed help, I had to investigate."
Izuku couldn't come up with something to say to that. Yes, Shouto and he were friends, but he hadn't expected their friendship to be referenced so casually.
The haze settled back over Izuku's thoughts, though it felt more calm than disorienting this time. Shouto and Iida let him be. Shouto had never had an issue with spending time in silence, and Iida... Izuku didn't know why the other boy wasn't talking. Maybe he still felt guilty. He'd have to do something about that, soon.
He was forcefully torn out of thoughts he later couldn't remember when voices rang in from the hallway. All of the sudden the hospital room seemed a lot more crowded than it had been only moments before.
"Are you guys okay?" Kaminari skipped from one hospital bed to the next, cringing at the sight of their bandages. "Do you have any idea what kind of rumors there are? What happened?"
"Every news station is going crazy speculating," Kirishima added. "Seriously, dude, what actually happened?"
Nobody waited for one of them to answer, so the conversation soon sunk into chaos. Izuku stopped trying to follow along. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton.
"Great. You guys saw them." Kacchan scowled deeply from his place near the doorway. "Can we fucking go now?"
"Bakugou," Ashido whined. "Don't pretend like we had to drag you here."
"Yeah, man," Kaminari said. "You were like the first in line to come."
"Shut your fucking mouth!"
Mild explosions bled into laughter and chattering, and Izuku found that he didn't flinch at either of the sounds.
Shouto kept sending him looks that Izuku recognized as him gauging social cues, so he gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile. It must have conveyed something, because his friend instantly relaxed.
Half of his class was scattered in the hospital room, lounging on plastic chairs and perched on hospital beds and falling deathly silent whenever Yaoyorozu gave a signal from near the hallway, trying not to be caught and thrown out by the hospital staff.
It was all so... casual. It was the kind of affectionate bonding Izuku hadn't known he'd missed out on prior to joining class 1-A.
It was... almost too much.
"Midoriya." Kirishima sounded alarmed without trying to put too much attention on him. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Izuku gave him a watery smile. Across from him, Shouto held eye-contact that might have been unnerving coming from anybody else.
Kacchan's scowl was etched into his face like usual, but he didn't bat an eyelash at the sight of Izuku's tears.
"I'm just happy." Izuku had friends. It had only been weeks, but he almost couldn't remember what his life had been like before.
A/N: Beta'd by the lovely Igornerd, To Mockingbird, fishebake and lilahri!
And that's a wrap! Let me know what you thought! :)