Chapter 4 - Decemenses
Of course, it was naïve of her to believe that a single conversation with her hero would suddenly make all of Izuku’s dreams come true. Though maybe that meant that she was wrong to have been disheartened in the first place? Whatever, none of that matters, she’s working with All Might now!!! How many other girls her age can say that?!
To be fair, she couldn’t say it because of the whole ‘keeping it secret’ thing, but she was still thrilled beyond belief.
The rest of their talk mostly amounted to vague hints on his part as to how this plan would work, ecstatic nodding on her part, and a promise to meet at the local beach tomorrow after school to discuss the finer points. Why the beach, she had no clue, but she was more than willing to trust him. In fact, she didn’t think twice about her miracle meeting until, after skipping up the steps to her house and through the front door, her mother asked her how it went with the UA representative that afternoon and she could only stutter in confusion in reply.
“Well,” Inko said, smiling brightly at her daughter, “I got a call from their principal around lunch, saying that since the school year had officially started, they were going to start sending out teachers to talk about the application process - Katsuki’s mother said the same thing when I asked her about it, so when you were late coming home from school I figured that was why!”
Izuku sat down next to her on the sofa, hands held over her lap and crossing her ankles. How to handle this? No point in trying to obscure the truth, better to hear now than on the news.
“Actually, uh,” she stuttered, “there was a villain attack on the way back from school… and Katsuki…” With that, she silently closed her eyes and leaned her head on her mother’s shoulder, the weight of the events that afternoon suddenly brought into sharp relief by her detachment from them.
Inko wrapped her arms around her daughter and ran a hand through her tangled brown hair, feeling the parts of it still damp from the slime. “I’m so sorry, honey… I’m just glad you’re safe.” She blinked. “Wait, is--?”
Izuku nodded, tears forming in her eyes.
Her mother kept hugging her. It was the most powerful thing she could say.
By the time Izuku was lying down on her bed, staring up at the soft light of the glow-in-the-dark stars which adorned her ceiling, she had accepted that she had almost died multiple times, and that because of that, her hero not only knew who she was but was helping her achieve her dream. Connecting those facts to everything else in her life, though, proved much more arduous.
Maybe it was a dream. There was something which still felt entirely unreal about the entire exchange. For one, what was so special about her that All Might would want to help her become a hero? There were plenty of chance rainbows and sunny days that inspired her to not kill herself on a bad day, but she never gave them personal tutoring on a whim.
Wait, no, that’s a depression thought. Ignore that.
What about his plan, though? As much as she had always dreamed of being a hero, she always imagined something more like in the comics she had read - a sudden mutation that generates a quirk, or medication that induces powers, or the discovery of an amazingly powerful ability she had had all along. The idea of becoming a hero without any quirk whatsoever seemed so incredibly foreign to her that she couldn’t imagine how it could ever be done, let alone how someone with an incredibly powerful quirk could teach her the way.
No, All Might is a good hero; he knows what he’s doing. If he trusts enough to share his secret, trust should be given in return.
There was a brief moment where she thought she might have actually died, that whatever was happening was some kind of afterlife, but dwelling on that too much meant going back to the villain attack again, and she could already feel herself getting sick thinking about it. Eventually, she resolved herself to just try her best to sleep, hoping to avoid thinking about it for as long as possible.
Luckily, she didn’t dream that night.
All Might stared down at the phone in his hand, gazing absentmindedly at yet another news article about his latest exploits. He wasn’t sure why he was still reading these.
Another e-mail from Nezu. Yes, he was alright; yes, he understood that the roles of his job were supposed to be his priority; yes, he was on track and wouldn’t have any trouble; yes, he was definitely still alright. As much as it sometimes felt overbearing, he did appreciate the compassion.
Izuku, though. He was glad to have had the opportunity to talk to her again, but what on earth was that? Talk about an impulsive reaction.
It was probably for the best, he supposed; he was worried about a lack of practice. Besides, changing people’s lives was his favorite part of being a hero. Just, usually it happened because he saved them, and not because he promised almost a year of his time to help them do the impossible. What’s life without a challenge, though?
He would have to figure out how to turn a vague idea into something remotely likely to succeed, with no experience, but that was a problem for tomorrow him.
Thinking that, he fell back onto his bed, arms splayed. There was still something that bugged him about the number of people to whom he had had to confess recently - not just to cover accidental transformations, but also to buy this apartment, to get identification cards, even a couple of weeks ago to the rest of the staff. He was still managing to keep track so far, but he was beginning to worry.
He could only pray that he had made the right decision all those times.
School was uneventful, or perhaps unmemorable. Izuku just stuck to her schedule and hummed through her classes, in desperate anticipation of what would follow. By the time school finally let out, she practically burst through the door in a mad dash for Dagobah Beach Park. She had somewhat forgotten what was actually there, though.
Past the gate, rather than the idyllic spring beach she had pictured, was a mountain of trash and discarded goods, almost like an impromptu landfill. Refrigerators jutted out from its slopes, washing machines littered the base, and the entire ocean side glimmered with the artificial sheen of thousands of plastic bags. Standing at the top of it, though, was All Might - transformed, posing, and dressed in his iconic red and blue Golden Age outfit that he debuted seven years earlier.
Izuku could do nothing but stare in admiration.
Seeing her arrive, he jumped down from the peak and landed gently in front of her. “Well then,” he said, dusting off the sand from the front of his costume, “shall we get started?”
“Oh! Uh, sure,” she stuttered nervously. “But… why are you transformed?”
All Might laughed uproariously, replying, “Are you worried about me, my girl? I appreciate it, but it was just a slow day as a hero, and it only made sense to go for the flashy introduction. I’ve got plenty of time left, fret not.”
“O-okay then,” Izuku said, still somewhat shocked at the entire situation. It still seemed hard to believe that any of this was even remotely real.
“So!” he declared. “What is the most important skill that a hero can have?” Izuku had no clue how to respond. After a few seconds had passed with no answer, he asked, “Do you not know? I would figure that somewhere in those books you’re writing, there would at least be a good guess.”
“Well, I mean,” she replied, shaking slightly, “they aren’t exactly thorough analyses per se, as much as just catalogs of heroes and their quirks; it never really occurred to me to prioritize anything in particular, and in fact usually I tried to be impartial when--”
Her train of thought was interrupted by another chuckle from All Might. “Sure, sure.” He didn’t exactly sound unhappy, but definitely he was more apprehensive than she was expecting. “But what about when two heroes have similar quirks but different levels of success? I’ve seen that happen to my colleagues; surely you must have noticed something like that.”
“Oh, uh…” Think, think! “Normally it’s when, uh, when there’s a difference in strengths between the two quirks, or occasionally because of random chance when one mostly fought villains against whom their quirks were more effective.”
“Exactly!” All Might shouted in response. “Their powers were more effective in the situation they were in. And if you want to be a good hero, that’s all you need. Any kid with a fire quirk can make a decent living by beating up the ice villains.” Izuku felt somewhat tense at that, but tried not to let it show.
“But,” he continued, “strength of a quirk does not always a hero make. The most important skill that a hero can have is the ability to act even when a quirk is ineffective. Did you think I beat that villain yesterday by punching him? Because I can assure you, that would have been thoroughly useless.”
She hadn’t actually considered it, but she supposed he had a point. “How did you beat him, then?” she asked.
“Well,” he said, sitting down in the sand, “the first time was harder. As soon as I showed up, he let go of you and started chasing me, and I figured he could only attack one person at a time - from there, it wasn’t that hard to guess that he wasn’t just smothering people, he was possessing them, and he could probably sense the strength of my quirk.” As he spoke, he started drawing diagrams in the sand, showing the three of them moving around as he described. “Anyway, from there I just had to grab an empty trash bag, bait him into it, and then carefully pour that bag into something that I could seal.”
Izuku was enraptured.
“Once I worked out how to beat him, it was a cinch to repeat it - especially since the poor guy wasn’t smart enough to learn from his own mistakes and not go after me twice. Saffir was on duty, I asked her to make a vacuum out of air currents, and it wasn’t that hard to find another bottle. Honestly, it’s a travesty she didn’t get more news time, as much as I tried, but the media have their favorites and it’s hard to shake that.”
As obvious as it seemed in hindsight, the idea that there were more ways to defeat villains than by simply using a quirk baffled her. Suddenly, the idea that she might actually be able to do this went from a wild fantasy to something possible, maybe even plausible.
“So.” All Might wiped the sand clear of the circles and arrows he had been sketching, and then stood up. “Now you know what it means to be a hero. I cannot possibly teach you everything you need to know before entrance exams in February, but I can cover enough to let you pass them - that is, of course, if you’re willing to learn,” he finished, leaning in expectantly.
“Of course!” she exclaimed. “That sounds absolutely amazing! I wouldn’t turn it down for the world.”
“Wonderful,” came his reply, followed closely by a plume of smoke. Back in his civilian form, he continued, “In that case, you should get to work fighting your first villain.”
Izuku blinked, and then looked around in a panic. There was a villain here? Where? How could All Might have even organized such a thing? Was she ready for that yet? Was--
“Don’t tell me you’ve managed to miss what’s right in front of you!” he chuckled, turning around and gesturing up to the pile of refuse which covered the beachfront.
“If you can defeat this,” he declared, “you’ll be ready for the exam.”
No way. There is no possible way.
“I’m sorry if you thought this was going to be easy.” All Might was sitting down now, arms folded. “It’s doable, I can assure you that much, but it’s going to be extremely difficult, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes you all year. Decem menses de infernum. But I have faith.”
That was all that Izuku needed to hear. If All Might believed in her, she could too. “I’ll do my best.”
“Wonderful! In that case, I should give you this.” He leaned back towards the rubbish pile and grabbed a brown satchel bag, which he tossed gently to her. Looking inside, she found a thick stack of paper, tied together at one corner, the first page reading triumphantly the words:
AIM TO SUCCEED!: American Dream Plan
“This,” he said with a smile, “is a schedule that should get you all the way there. Again, it’s going to be hard, but it’s doable.”
Looking through it, Izuku was suddenly much less optimistic. He had meticulously detailed everything, it looked like, and she was not looking forward to many of those numbers - especially the first and last ones.
“I’m ready,” she said, doing her best to match his smile.
“Good. Then we start now.”
In the mornings, Izuku woke up at 5:00, and she’d be at the beach by 5:20 - that's when the cleanup began.
“So, why the beach?” she asked on one of their first days together, in the process of pulling a washing machine across the sand towards the truck All Might had prepared. “Why not just go to a gym, if the exercise is important?”
“And why would you ever want to do that?” All Might replied, relaxing on a beach chair by the doors at the back.
“Well, I mean, it just seems like a hassle…” Maybe that was a silly question.
“There are two reasons,” he said, still not moving from his chair, but grabbing a bottle of water from the cooler next to him and rolling it towards her. “First of all, unless you're very lucky, you're not going to fight most of your villains in a gym. What you fight is mobile, ever-changing, and there's not an exercise machine in the world that can replicate the feeling of going out and doing work.” Izuku had brought the broken machine up to the sidewalk at this point, and was now struggling to lift it into the truck.
“The more important reason, though,” he continued, “is that you really are fighting a villain by doing this. I know it may not be the flashiest work in the world, but pollution is a serious problem. That this community park is being tarnished by all this trash is awful, and you should be proud to be helping.”
Thinking about it like that, suddenly the work seemed much lighter. The next machine she brought to the truck seemed almost effortless.
After that, head to school.
Izuku and Katsuki had mostly stopped talking after the villain incident that first day. She was more than grateful for this, though, as it meant that suddenly it was much easier to focus on the work she was doing. While being a meticulous note-taker was already in her blood, it was occasionally hard to focus that onto her schoolwork; the thought of that work propelling her into her dream school, though, was more than enough to motivate her.
A couple of months into the plan, she'd started doing light exercises under her desk while she worked. Small, single hand weights, or hand grippers, if only to keep herself busy during what was often a fairly monotonous school day. Besides, she always felt guilty spending so much time not practicing, and this seemed like a compromise in her book.
Then, back to the beach.
There was nothing on the schedule Izuku had that told her what she would be doing each day, but she worked it out fairly quickly. One day out of three, she came to the beach park, saw the truck parked by the sidewalk, and knew that it was time to start moving trash again.
It was on one of those days, around late July, that in the middle of dragging a loaded bag across the sand, Izuku collapsed. All Might ran over to her to check her breathing, and seemed to be on the verge of a lecture before he noticed her shaking legs and blank stare, and simply sighed. “You’ve been overexerting yourself, haven’t you?” he said concernedly.
“I… have to,” she gasped in response. “Otherwise… I can’t… be the best…”
All Might sat down next to her, wiped the sweat from her forehead, and smiled gently. “I appreciate the enthusiasm, my girl, but your body needs time to rest. If we’re going too slowly for you, however, I’d be happy to push you more during these sessions.”
Izuku nodded. The next day, she left her weights at home.
Sometimes, All Might would wait for her wearing a suit and tie, glasses tucked into his pocket, and she knew that it was a teaching day. He didn’t exactly look professional in this outfit, given that he was rarely transformed and all of his clothes were far too baggy for him, but she thought the effort was nice.
“Pop quiz,” he said to her when she arrived one October afternoon. “What are the three types of quirks?”
“Emitter, Transformer, and Mutator,” she replied, counting them off on her fingers as she went.
“And how would you combat someone with an unknown quirk in general?” he asked in response.
“Observe and analyze first and foremost, then come up with a solution. For Emitter-type, focus on the source of the power and attack them in a way which minimizes their ability to use it; for Transformer-type, try to adjust the environment of the fight to put their quirk at a disadvantage, or failing that prevent them from using it; for Mutator-type, attack the weak points of their mutation and try to manipulate the fight to expose them.” She had been taught every piece of this answer over the course of the last few months, and putting it together was a cinch at this point.
“Very good!” he exclaimed, beaming. “Of course, you’ll learn a lot of this again once you get into UA, but knowing it now is definitely going to be useful.”
Izuku looked at him puzzled for a moment. “Speaking of, I was told that one of the teachers was supposed to meet me to talk about the application, but I never heard back about that? I almost forgot until now…”
At this, All Might chuckled. “One of the teachers did meet you. Did you never check the back of the plan?”
She hadn’t. Grabbing her bag and flipping to the last page, there was a piece of paper with a UA header on it, which she read fervently. It was a letter, addressed to her home, which detailed the calendar for application and the topics that the written exam would cover - as well as a handwritten note announcing the employment of a new teacher for the coming academic year, All Might.
“I can’t believe you never read it! I almost feel disappointed,” he said with a smile. “I was on my way to deliver it when I saw you coming home and realized just who Izuku Midoriya really was, and at that point I felt like it was worth skipping all the setup. Besides, when we first talked, you didn’t have any doubts about UA; it’s not as though you missed out on much.”
“Still,” she replied, “it’s a little hard to imagine All Might, the Symbol of Peace, as a high school teacher.”
“You’re right; you’re probably used to me teaching junior high!” he said, and they shared a laugh. “Anyway, while we’re talking about teaching, we should probably go over mobility and scouting patterns…”
The days Izuku cherished, though, were the very few - usually right after exams or on holidays, but occasionally as a special treat - where instead of teaching or supervising, All Might would simply sit down on the steps leading to the waterfront, and the two of them would just talk. She was still nervous on the first few such days, and was more than happy to listen to his stories of heroism, but eventually she felt comfortable to chime in with her own stories - some she had catalogued in her books, some from school, and some from what she hoped would be her future.
On one of those days in mid-December, he brought hot chocolate. Izuku had recently taken to wearing a fluffy, fur-lined coat, which seemed neutral enough to be safe but still made her happy to put on. Her hair had also made decent progress towards growing out, though it was still “unconscionably messy” in her mother’s eyes.
Sitting down next to him and holding the cup to her chest, she was lost in the moment for a while before All Might interrupted with a simple statement. “I’d like to talk about next year.”
“Wh-what about it?” she stuttered. She had no clue what he could mean by that.
“Well, I mean,” came his response, “new year, new school - new you?” He looked up at her and smiled gently.
Izuku looked down and closed her eyes for a second before meeting his gaze with her own smile. “I think so, yeah.”
“Do you want to change your name, too?” he asked, pulling forms out of his bag. “It’s not that much of an added cost with your other paperwork, and it would be easier in the long run.”
This one, she knew the answer to already. “I appreciate the offer, but I couldn’t give this name up. Besides, it’s not like there are that many other Izukus out there.”
“Fair enough!” All Might’s smile lit up the dark beachfront like a beacon. “You should still fill out the rest of these, though,” he said, passing a now slightly thinner stack of papers to her.
She looked through them intently and filled them out as best she could. “Quirk reassignment application?”
“That’s just a technicality,” he explained. “Normally, we’d never be allowed to accept someone without a quirk, and it seems a shame to risk it. Fortunately, super strength is so commonly discovered late they won’t even check it; you just have to send in the papers.”
Izuku nodded, and then continued writing. As time passed, the setting sun made the papers too difficult to see, and she had to resort to the tiny flashlight of her cell phone to finish the last pages, but eventually she finished and passed them back to All Might, who tucked them gently back into his bag. “Well then,” she said, “I should probably get going.”
“I feel like there’s time for one more story,” he replied, still smiling. “If you’re willing to tell it.”
“Well, I was thinking of dyeing my hair…”
After the beach, she would head back home, usually just in time for dinner. One day in January, though, her arrival marked the start of her mother going through with her and opening packages and letters for about fifteen minutes. All in all, she had received a new birth certificate, passport, and quirk registration, which she gave to her mom for safekeeping; a box of green hair dye, plus another bottle of single-day dye for the exam; and most importantly for her, a miniature wardrobe of girls’ clothes. Izuku tried every single one of them on that night, and she couldn’t have been happier.
Then, studying, homework, and then bed. Try as she might, she could never make sleep any more interesting than it was.
Izuku didn’t realize it had happened at first. She had just rounded up another bag, emptied it into the back of the truck, and walked back to the beach, only to find that there was nothing left to remove.
She was done.
If the sun had risen yet, it would have shone over the beach, illuminating the glittering white sand as a testament to her efforts. But it was still several hours before dawn, and the dark waves broke against the dark shore almost imperceptibly, and she was done nonetheless.
“It’s weird,” she said to All Might as he came down to congratulate her. “Even though I know I’m done now, I still feel like I should be doing more.”
“That, my girl,” he replied, the delight on his face impossible to hide, “is the mark of a true hero.”
She couldn’t believe she had ever doubted herself.
“That being said, you should probably head home and get ready. Today’s exam day, after all, and you’ve only got a couple hours left.” OH RIGHT THE EXAM WAS TODAY SHE HAD TOTALLY FORGOTTEN WAS SHE PREPARED ENOUGH--
“If you could do this, you can handle a test,” All Might said, and while that didn’t quiet her nerves, it definitely calmed them. “Now go!!!”
Izuku waved back at him before turning forward and rushing off.