Tiger & Might – Chapter 1: I'm Going To Be A Hero
Izuku Midoriya sucked in a sharp breath of air as he gently prodded his forearm with the tip of his ninth notebook on hero facts. It was bruised, courtesy of Katsuki Bakugo. That was the price he'd paid for just pointing out that he should be more careful with his Quirk. All it would take was someone getting seriously hurt because of it and his goal of being a hero would go up in flames from a black-mark on his records.
They'd both wanted to be heroes as children, and it was one of the only careers that allowed for the use of Quirks like his in public—being able to generate explosions from his sweat had very limited uses outside of combat. As prideful and egotistical as Katsuki had gotten after getting his powers, Izuku still didn't want him to lose his chances of being a hero because it.
If he did, then there was no telling how badly he'd take it.
Unfortunately, Katsuki's temper was as explosive as his Quirk. Not only had he'd hit him in the arm hard enough to knock him onto the ground for it, but he'd told him that he was the last person on the planet who had to right to tell him that. After all, without a Quirk what could he do?
As he walked the solitary path through the park, a winding stretch of concrete surrounded on both sides by a sea of viridian-green grass, Izuku's mind drifted back to that day when the doctor said that he would never get his Quirk. He had the extra joint in his toe that indicated that he didn't likely have the capacity for powers like Quirk-users after the Third generation, and none of his family had the luminescent glow present when they used their powers to show they had a heritage power that might have a delayed awakening.
Out of all the people he knew, he was Quirk-less. He was the only one who wasn't special. He was the only one who was worthless, like Katsuki said.
The thought made his body shake as he tried to hold back the tears. He could still remember his mother crying that day, apologizing for bringing him into this world without a gift. Without a means to be a hero like All Might—the man who inspired him to become one himself.
Those weren't the words I wanted to hear, Izuku thought as he clamped his eyes shut to stop the stinging tears and clenched his teeth. Mom, those weren't the words I wanted to hear.
It was a moment of weakness that moved his arm, spurred on by the lingering resentment of his mother's tearful apologies and the taunting of his oldest friend-turned-bully. Without a thought, Izuku flung the notebook—the culmination of his efforts at becoming a hero, filled with facts and details about others heroes—as far as he could away. No sooner than he had done so did he regret doubting his dream even for a moment, despite what he told himself.
It was only compounded when he heard the sound of someone letting out a surprised sound. Izuku's eyes snapped open to see that he had accidentally hit an older gentleman. He was dressed in a white vest and black pants, with gray hair and a goatee to match that was split down the middle.
"Now what's this…?" the older man wondered aloud as his aged fingers rubbed his head. The black-and-white newsy cap that had presumably been on it was on the ground. In his other hand was the notebook, which he turned back-and-forth.
"I'm so sorry!" Izuku said as he ran over and picked up the hat. Frantic fingers dusted it off as he apologized over and over, chastising himself inwardly for doing that. "I'm really sorry! I didn't know you were there!"
"No harm done. Everyone makes mistakes." The man placed the hat upon his head before opening the notebook and taking a look inside. "You've got an eye for details. You must really like heroes huh?"
"I do…." His right hand nervously rubbed his left forearm. "I wanted to be one when I got older… but I can't."
"Oh?" The older man closed the notebook and titled his hat up with the edge, revealing pale-golden eyes that had lost their luster due to age. "And why's that?"
Izuku looked down to the ground as he spoke. "I don't… have a Quirk."
A moment of silence passed between them at that. It was filled by the ambient sounds of the rustling grass that swayed with the passing breeze. Then the man laughed softly, a gentle rumble in his throat from it.
"It's not that funny…" Izuku mumbled when he felt a light tap on his head. He looked up to see the older man was handing back his notebook with a gentle smile.
"Since when does having powers determine if you're a hero or not?" he asked the younger boy. "The powers are only a tool that makes the job easier. They don't define what it means to be a hero."
"Do… do you really think that?" Izuku asked cautiously as he accepted his notebook back. There was a fleeting feeling of hope in his chest. Even if they were the words of a stranger, they had been among the first that weren't belittling him or decrying it as impossible.
"Are powers really what the word 'Hero' has boiled down to today?" The older man ruminated as he dug into his pocket. "Back in my day, things were different. Powers didn't define you, but the values that you upheld them with. Even when my powers began to decline, I remained a hero until the end."
His words left Izuku wondering just how old the man was. He was definitely older than his mother, so he couldn't be part of the Fourth generation of Quirk-users. And if he was talking about "power-decline", that was a condition that usually happened to the First and Second generation Quirk-users, with a scant few cases in the descendants who inherited their powers. That made him in his mid-60s… or older.
"Ah, here we are." Aged fingers pulled out a card of some kind and held it out for him to take. "Here you go."
Izuku took it cautiously and took note of the details on the card. The picture had a man in a white and blue costume and the words 'Wild Tiger' on it. On the back were stats and a brief summary of him. "I don't think I've heard of this hero before."
"Then it gives you something to look up later and add to your notes." The old man gave him a pat on the shoulder and then started walking down the path. "Do your best, kid."
Izuku watched the older man depart down the path before looking back to the card. He… supposed it couldn't hurt to look it up, could it? It wasn't like he had anything else to do at the moment.
Plus, the man's words gave him a fleeting feeling of hope that he wanted to hold onto.
It turned out that the reason he hadn't heard of Wild Tiger was because he was a hero from just after the Second generation of Quirk-users were born, over half-a-century ago. Back then powers weren't commonplace among the population. Those who had them were called NEXTs—Noted Entities with eXtraordinary Talents.
It was only after the Third generation that more people started developing powers, whereupon the mutation found in the left-toe became clear. Legislation passed and, rather than the term NEXT being used, they were simply listed as "Quirks". The fact that the card was in near-mint condition meant the old man had obviously cared for it over that time period.
Then again, watching the vintage footage of the man standing in his broken suit as the mind-manipulator threatened a girl, made it clear why. Though he had drastically shrunken due to his advanced age, without a doubt the older man he had run across was Wild Tiger himself back when he was in his prime. He was Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, a veteran hero of Sternbild City.
Back then heroes were the stars of a reality television series program. They were somewhat famous until roughly two years after the revelation that the person who established the system had been orchestrating crimes to bolster its popularity. Sternbild City had been stricken by a massive tidal wave and sank into the sea shortly around that time, with the death-count in the tens of thousands.
Wild Tiger, the 'Crusher for Justice,' was quoted stating that saving lives above all else was the duty of the hero. To that end, he ultimately drove the first sponsor he had bankrupt. Yet, despite being seen as a laughingstock, framed for murder, chased down by his friends, and becoming the first public case of "power-decline" to be recorded after he'd been reduced to nothing but a minute, he'd continued to dedicate himself to being a hero.
He proudly declared he would do so even if his powers died out entirely.
If that was the case… then, could he teach Izuku how to be a hero too?
The thought left him shaking in anticipation and hope. If someone who lost his power could continue to be a hero until the collapse of the previous hero system, then could someone who was Quirk-less be a hero? He had to know.
So Izuku made up his mind to ask him as soon as possible.
Since Izuku didn't know how to find the veteran hero, he went back to the park every day. Arriving at the same time each day, he waited for hours on end in the hopes that he visited it again. It was only after a week that they crossed paths again.
"Oh, if it isn't the boy from last week," Mister Kaburagi said jovially as he approached. "How have you been…"
"Izuku Midoriya," he offered as he brushed his palms against his pants. His heart was starting to pound from how nervous he was now, leaving them sweaty as a result. "You were the hero on that card you gave me, weren't you? Wild Tiger of Sternbild City?"
The older man nodded. "Been decades since someone's called me that, but you guessed it. I guess that means you looked me up after all."
"Yes, I did." His body went rigid as he stood up straight, chest out from steeling himself. "I went over all the footage I could find of you and the other heroes of Sternbild. I was moved by your comments on being a hero and I wanted to know if…."
He took a deep breath and then bowed his head in supplication. "I was hoping you could teach me how to be a hero despite not having a Quirk!"
The veteran hero blinked in mild surprise silently for a moment. Then he rubbed his chin in thought before looking around. His eyes came to a stop on a nearby bench and he gestured to it.
"Let's sit down for a bit," he said. "I'm not as spry as I used to be, and this seems like it could be a long talk."
Izuku followed him over to the bench. The wood creaked as he sat down with his hands in his laps. Mister Kaburagi sighed as he sat down next to him and then cleared his throat.
"Now then," he started. "Why do you want to be a hero? When did you make that decision?"
He took a moment to gather his thoughts, while the older man simply sat there patiently. It was as if he had all of the time in the world. "When I was a little boy, there was a video that I loved to watch online. It was All Might's debut to the world, where he saved over a hundred people. I couldn't help but think that I wanted to be a hero just like him."
"What was it about him that made you come to that conclusion?" he asked.
"It was how cool he looked," Izuku explained. "Going through the fire without fear and a smile on his face, he helped others without worrying what would happen to himself. I told myself that once I got my Quirk, I was just going to be just like him. Then I learned that I wouldn't and…"
Mister Kaburagi lowered his hat over his eyes as Izuku trailed off. "Mmm…" A low rumble bubbled in his throat before he exhaled and spoke. "Honestly, the issue isn't whether or not I can train you to be a hero. It's whether or not you're trying to be one for the right reason. If you're willing to hear an old man's woes for a bit, let me tell you a story?"
Izuku nodded silently and shifted his posture slightly forward, to listen better.
"When I was 10, back when I couldn't control my powers properly and hated them, a hero once told me that my powers existed to help others," Mister Kaburagi said. "As the years went by, I came to believe that and thought the best way I could do that was by becoming a hero. The 'Crusher for Justice' they called me, because if it meant saving lives I would crush whatever was in my way."
That much Izuku knew. Of all of the heroes, he had the highest overall property damage total. It literally drove his former sponsor into bankruptcy.
"As time went on, the point-system and sponsorships made it so that the act of being a hero became a spectacle." A frown appeared on his face at the last word, as if he found it disdainful. "It devolved to a competition among them when they should be focusing on saving lives, and I found myself in a place where my ideals weren't supported. I wasn't cool by any stretch, but I still loved the fact that I could be a hero and couldn't see myself doing anything else…."
He looked up from the grass ahead as he trailed off, towards the sky above. "However, it had a price. My duties as a hero left me unable to witness my wife's final moments. My daughter grew distant from me because I couldn't always be there for her. And then, despite our best efforts, Sternbild sank beneath the waves and took just about everyone with it—including most of my friends."
As he spoke, Izuku noticed he looked so much older than he had before. Or rather, he looked his actual age. The wrinkles become more pronounced, as if his very flesh was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to fall from the bone and collapse.
"To be a hero, I had to give up so much and spent a long time never being respected for it," he admitted. "It stressed my relationship with my family, it put a strain on my body, and it cost me time that I could never get back. And, in the end, I lost my city and friends whom I miss to this day."
"I'm… I'm so sorry to hear that," Izuku said to him, regretting asking him now. The fact that he hadn't been active after Sternbild City fell could have just as easily have been grief as it was that the former system collapsed. "I had no idea you went through so much when I asked you."
The veteran hero shook his head slightly. "The thing is, my story isn't likely to be very special. The times have changed and I may not be a part of the hero community anymore, but I'm sure that the others who have taken that role have also suffered something similar as a result. They put themselves on the line against dangers that others shouldn't have to face, being the first ones to respond and likely the first ones to die. After hearing all of that, do you still want to be a hero, despite being powerless?"
Izuku looked away as the pale-golden eyes fell onto his green pair. They were deeply tied into the question that was asked, and he didn't want to show him any doubt or hesitation. Despite the fact that it crawled up his spine the more he listened to him.
"If it's just helping people, then you would probably do well as a Police Officer or Investigator," the older man said. "For someone without a Quirk suited to heroics, it's an option that's not appreciated nearly enough but necessary. Investigation is often the key to solving cases that can't be stopped with brute force."
There was a tense, prolonged period of absolute silence between them as Izuku actually thought about it. Was he really willing to die for this? Was he willing to risk watching as other heroes died next to him, allies and comrades? Even without anything special to back up his wishes, would he still be able to throw himself into danger?
"…When I think about it, being a Police Officer would be a more realistic thing for me," he admitted after he'd gathered his thoughts a minute later. It would be somewhat safer since when a villain ran amok it was the heroes who rushed into the fray before they did. And since Quirks weren't allowed to be used as a weapon, he would be on even-grounds with everyone else. "In fact, I could probably do well in that sort of field. My mother would certainly be happier that way."
Mister Kaburagi closed his eyes and nodded his head sagely. "That would probably be for the best—"
"However, I don't want to settle for that," Izuku abruptly added, jumping up to his feet. "Somehow, deep inside, I know that if I don't pursue my dream of being a hero… if I simply took the closest thing to it, I would regret it."
That was the crux of it. Izuku didn't want to simply stand back and say, 'we need to wait until the heroes arrive' when someone needed help right away. He didn't want to stand back and watch as others put their lives on the line first when he could do the same. He wanted to be at the very front to ensure that he could do everything in his power from the start.
"Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a hero," he continued, looking down to his palms. "Even when the doctor told me I wasn't likely going to develop a Quirk. Even when my mother cried when I asked her if I could still be a hero without one. Even when my classmates mocked me for aiming so high when there was nothing special about me. I…"
His fists clenched and looked straight into the pale-golden eyes, unflinching in his resolve this time. "I wanted to be just like All Might, a hero who arrives first to help save lives and inspire others with a smile. I wanted to be a hero because it's the best way I can think of to save lives, even if people laugh at me for trying when I don't have a Quirk. Even if they say I can't do it, even if they mock me for chasing something so distant, I won't waver. I want—no, I'm going to be a hero!"
He was going to become one, without a doubt. He would stake his pride, his dreams, and even his life on it.
"I'm going to be a hero," he said again. No, not 'said.' That was too soft a word.
He declared his intention once more. "I'm going to be a hero, and I'm going to be the best one I can. That's why I came here every week and waited to find you again. That's why I'm standing here now. I want you to—ow!"
The aged hero had cut-off his decree with a flick to his forehead. "That's enough," he said, a soft smile pinching his lips. "If you had said 'yes' right away, I would have walked off right then because you weren't taking it seriously. But the fact that you put so much conviction into your voice even after all of that means that you've decided to act despite the consequences. Nothing I could say would change your mind, so I may as well take responsibility."
He perked up at that. "Does that mean you'll train me?"
"I'll give it a shot." The older man rose to his feet and stretched his back. "I can't promise that you'll be an official hero, but I can train your body to where it'll be able to match your determination. It'll be harder than anything you've done to this point, and if you give up halfway then that's that. Can you sacrifice your time and effort into training; even when there's a chance you'll still be unable to become a hero because you lack a power?"
"It's not a sacrifice when that's what I want," he said. "It's an investment towards my dream, nothing less."
The answer brought a grin to the veteran hero's face that made him seem a decade younger. "Good. Ambition is the key to success, and you've got plenty of that." He reached up and rustled the boy's hair. "We'll start tomorrow, after I've come up with a training regimen. I won't go easy on you either."
Izuku beamed with a bright smile. "Yes, sir."
Later that day, as he arrived at his small apartment home, Kotetsu Kaburagi felt a fire burning within him in a way that it hadn't in a long-time now.
The resolve in the boy's eyes, the way his voice grew tempered as he made his decree, and the way he kept his back straight and unwavering as he declared that he would be a hero without any doubt—even if for a mere moment, it had been enough to get his heart pounding in a way that it hadn't in a few decades now.
He flicked on a switch and light illuminated the walls and shelves that housed photos of times that had long since passed. There were pictures of friends and comrades and family that he had outlived when Sternbild City ceased to exist. Remnants from the last time he truly felt alive, when he could help others without reservation.
Kotetsu hadn't been completely honest with the kid about what happened to Sternbild City and its sinking. What happened wasn't a natural disaster, but a manufactured one courtesy of Ouroboros. They had been the one to bring their city down, an alliance of villains backed by a NEXT capable of wielding multiple powers—and stealing them.
Nathan had been the only one who had seen it with his own eyes as the man stole their powers and killed them. He had also been stripped of his flames, describing it as having a part of his soul ripped out, and it was only by chance that he had been swept away by the rushing water. That was why he lived to tell about it while Kotetsu and Karina were handling the evacuation.
Finding Barnaby's body floating in the water, empty and lifeless, had been the breaking point of Kotetsu. Something had died in him that day with his partner, and he'd settled for simply existing and growing old with his memories as the last things that he treasured along with his grandchildren and daughter. But now… he didn't have to settle for simply housing the memories and values he held dear.
In the end, maybe the reason that he had decided to help the boy was because it was the last chance he would have to do something useful before he died. It was a final chance to impart his ideals on what it means to be a hero to the newest generation. It was a final chance to honor their memory beyond pictures, immortalizing it as a legacy itself.
Izuku Midoriya was going to be a hero with or without his help. That much was clear from the veteran's point of view. But Kotetsu would ensure that he had all the tools possible to do it.
No matter what.
[-CHAPTER 1 END-]