Six times. Izuku picked up a marker pen from his desk and drew the number in his loopy handwriting onto the skin of his wrist. Blowing the ink dry, he capped the pen and pulled down the sleeve of his jacket to cover the mark.
Six times. Seven, if he counted that first frantic morning.
Blowing a gust of air out of his nose, Izuku debated his options with a heavy heart. Nothing he did would return in the morning if he died. It wouldn't matter what he told his mum, his teachers, any officials. They wouldn't remember if he didn't make it through the day, and he rather didn't fancy being locked up for sounding crazy.
Izuku gripped his wrist tightly, the number hidden under a layer of cloth and did his absolute best not to cry.
It was almost a chore now. He knew everything his mother would say when he stepped into the kitchen. Everything she would do or how she would reply.
But that was when it came to Izuku. In fear of another death he'd focused too much on the bigger picture, the avoidance or an alleyway, a dark tunnel and a final breath.
And so, instead of carrying on with the conversation of how he thought that day at school would go, Izuku swallowed a mouthful of rice and asked, "What are you going to do today mum?"
Inko's mouth curved into a smile, a gentle indulgent one and she said, "You're nervous about today, huh?"
Izuku started, wondering if he'd slipped up, let out more than he knew but his mum reached out to pat on his hand.
"Izu-kun," she said, "you are a young boy with the world ahead of you. Even if after your break you don't go to the school you want, or learn what you want to, there's always another chance."
"I," Izuku began, and remembered the sting of knowing he couldn't be a hero and still wanting to try anyway. "I just want to help people," he said instead, uselessly.
Inko's hand curled around his, fingers tucked under his palm, thumb rubbing gently back and forth across the back of his hand. Her face was so patient Izuku felt the burn of tears in his eyes.
"You already do, just as you are," Inko's voice was soft. "And it might not seem much right now, but you help me Izu-kun. And just like that you could help others too. It doesn't have to be flashy, or, or televised. You don't need a Quirk to be who you want. I want you to know that because you're worth more than your teachers and classmates seem to make you think you are."
Izuku didn't get the chance to help with the dishes that morning, instead letting himself be pulled into a soft warm hug as his mother murmured even softer words to him and let him hide his tears.
The teacher outed him again and his mind bitterly whispered, six times. Izuku was only able to wait, hopelessly, as Bakugou approached him, anger and callous humour twisting his face.
Something made that day different. Izuku didn't know what possessed him, but he picked his way to the school roof, the wind catching his hair and the scattered broken pages of his book, the one he had packed every single day despite knowing the final outcome, of Bakugou clapping his hands and ashes scattering.
It was very hard. He debated it for a very long time, even as the pain throbbed in his chest from harsh, bitten words, the image of Bakugou's sneering face on his thoughts. He wondered, briefly, if it was the way out.
He remembered, less brief, his mother's words that morning.
You are a young boy with the world ahead of you.
That stung, too, that he didn't have the world ahead of him. That he was stuck in the limbo, the hell that was reliving the day over and over and over, dying in the same way yet still so terrified of what was coming. That he couldn't even get home, to sit on the sofa with katsudon and cheesy movies.
There's always another chance.
Izuku let out a heavy breath as he stared down at the concrete so far below. Then he picked his bag back up and made his way back to the stairs. The angry thing in him wanted to try it anyway. The larger, frightened, loving, worried part was too scared, wondering if this would be the final one if he did.
He couldn't do that to his mum. Not now, not ever.
The dark, quiet staircase greeted him, his heavy footsteps echoing around him, bouncing off the closed in walls.
Izuku didn't know how many chances that his situation had given him, unfairly, but he would fight it. Would scratch and bite, use tooth and claw, desperation, until he could wake up and it would be the next day.
Inko Midoriya had done a lot of things in her life. She hadn't raised a quitter.
Izuku didn't want to take the shortcut home. He'd found out on the third try that the longer route was blocked by rubble, a wayward villain throwing a tantrum while Izuku was still in school, still learning, still dreading the day's end.
"Just my luck," Izuku muttered bitterly, staring down the entrance of the tunnel.
He hadn't taken two steps, hadn't even reached the sewer grate of nightmares when it was clattering open and Izuku paused at this new development. And then he nearly smacked himself, because the villain showed up at the same time everyday but today Izuku was the one who was late, because he'd had the choice.
As it turned out, the hurried backpedal away from the encroaching villain was what saved him. Those extra seconds, moments, pried desperately from the universe meant that instead of suffocating, clawing at his face, Izuku was taking in great, heaving breaths, hands on his knees.
And, looking up, there was All-Might.
"Never fear!" All-Might declared, smile stretching his face wide and cheerful. "For I am here!"
And, unable to help himself, Izuku had blurted, "Oh thank god."
All-Might's expression barely even wavered as he helped Izuku upright, Izuku still feeling loopy, loose, weak-kneed from oxygen deprivation but so wonderfully alive.
"Sorry you got caught up in that," All-Might sounded fairly contrite, even as he secured the bottle of villain into a pocket of his outfit.
Izuku was not surprised to see All-Might in casual clothes – it wasn't often that in demand heroes had the time to go to their agencies and dress up ready for the coming danger. A lot of them found trouble in the field. This trouble had just so happened to involve Izuku.
"It's alright," Izuku replied, wondering if it would be rude to just gather absolutely all of the saliva in his mouth and spit, to get rid of lingering foulness.
All-Might gave him a strange look then, and Izuku abruptly realised that, just perhaps, he should have been a tad more hysterical, a tad more concerned that he had just been snatched from the jaws of imminent death.
"I'm okay," Izuku added, as if it would make it any better. "He didn't have me for very long."
His previous gasping and heaving disproved that, and All-Might's expression of suspicion just deepened instead. But then he twisted his wrist, catching a glimpse of his watch and his suspicious face tightened into something unreadable before he was once again smiling.
"I'm glad you came out of this unharmed, my boy," All-Might responded, "but it's about time I got this villain to where he belonged."
As All-Might prepared to take off, Izuku had a moment of internal, silent panic. This was it. He'd met his childhood hero and now he had the chance to get more out of this situation than a sludgy, messy death.
So when All-Might made to leap, so did Izuku. What commenced from there on out, nearly hurt worse than dying.
It was painful. Nearly unbearably so, when Izuku had asked if he could become a hero, could help others as All-Might did and had been told a flat no. Just…not possible. Impossible. Not even unlikely, just not.
Izuku had run out of tears that afternoon already, when he'd stood on the edge of a building and looked down at what might have been his end, or just been another continuation of the same day, over and over.
Fear made him wonder if, even if he got home, greeted his mother, had his dinner, crawled under the covers – would the next morning be the same again? Was this what his life had been reduced to?
Reduced to death, or rejection, for infinity.
Izuku gripped his bag strap tightly and tried to shove the fear away, into the same part of his brain where Bakugou's cutting words were hidden, forgotten except for when Izuku was weak, and doubtful.
So, lost in his thoughts, he nearly missed the scream and bustling ahead of him, shouted words and louder voices, demanding answers. Over it all was a voice that Izuku had come to know intimately. A voice he thought, perhaps, he'd never hear again once All-Might had stuffed the owner into a plastic bottle, with Izuku watching and viciously hoping that he'd suffocate in that small prison.
Turning the corner, Izuku witnessed what fresh hell the day had sought fit to throw at him.
Nothing could quite compare to seeing Bakugou in a position Izuku knew as familiar, and the fear in Izuku's stomach seemed to curdle, intensify but, at the same time, harden into anger. Fury. Hatred.
Izuku was on the other side of that sort of suffering now. Knew how it felt, how it hurt.
It was thoughtless, to throw himself through the group of spectators and heroes, hands grasping at him and missing as he rushed forward to…
And abruptly, he thought, 'to do what?'
The answer, apparently, was to watch as a hand swung up, Bakugou's visible face twisted in horror.
Izuku woke up, still imagining he could taste the ash that had once been his face in his mouth. It had been quicker. A hot burst and then his bed.
But now Izuku knew how to get there. Knew the alternatives.
It was all worth it, when he had the number nine written on the skin of his wrist, and All-Might told him he could be a hero.
Izuku woke up. The alarm clock flashed numbers. A difference, small, of one number. He'd made it.
get rekt son. I love Izuku. Really