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Heroes For Eternity

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“Young Iida, if I may, I’d like to speak with you before you leave.”

Iida turned at the voice and the pressure on his shoulder, surprised. Vague concern tugged at the back of his mind at the reason for his teacher’s request, but he quickly pushed it aside, politeness always taking priority above all else. “Of course, All Might, sir.”

With expert speed, he whipped out his phone, sending a quick message to let his family know he might be a bit late (he would always do this, but now, he felt even more of a need to prevent any needless worrying as much as possible, after…), and then turned back to his two friends who were still in the room, nodding at them to let them know they could go on without him. Both were smiling, albeit a bit worriedly, and Iida didn’t miss how Midoriya’s eyes shifted to All Might, as he seemed to communicate something with him nonverbally, before the two of them nodded back at him and bid him goodbye, leaving. Afterwards, he put his phone back in his pocket, turning around to face his teacher.

“What did you need of me? Is it about my perfor…mance…… today……?”

His question trailed off unceremoniously, his slightly-waving right arm immobilized, as Iida was suddenly enveloped in an overwhelmingly large embrace, one that perhaps should have been bone-crushing, but instead was simply snug, and soft… reassuring.

He could only feel his body and mind tensing, however, his voice high-pitched as he sputtered “S-Sir?!”

“I wanted to apologize for what happened to you in Hosu, my boy. …As well as finally express my sympathies for your brother’s situation.”

Instantly, Iida felt his heart drop to his stomach, his throat tightening as he made a weak attempt to try to break out of the hold, his hunch having been right after all. Beyond the fact that he hadn’t expected All Might to come right out and, without preamble, hug him (he knew it was in the man’s nature, warm and kind as he was, of course; that was what made him so beloved, but still, he wasn’t expecting this), there was also the fact that it sounded as if he felt guilty about not saying anything sooner. Iida hadn’t thought anyone outside of his family would try to comfort him about what had happened, at least not in such a forthright way. …But then of course, Midoriya and Uraraka had tried to help, and he had selfishly turned them away, hadn’t he?

Back then, it had been because he’d been so focused on revenge. But he knew, had always known, that that was hardly all of it.

…And being apologized to for Hosu was almost more than he could bear.

“A-Ah, t-thank you, All Might, sir, but i-it’s fine, really,” Iida heard himself stammering, inwardly screaming at how his voice sounded, at how much his composure that he always prided himself on having had been so badly shaken by a few words and a hug. “We weren’t hurt badly at all, thankfully. (liar) Endeavor saved us before things could get too ugly! (LIAR) R-Really, it was just a chance encounter, so truly, do not worry; no one was at fault for it! (THAT’S A LIE ALL OF IT IS LIES IT WAS ALL YOUR FAULT-)

(don’t apologize to me, don’t comfort me, blame me!, no matter what good we did in the end…!)

“Young Iida, I know the truth of what happened. You don’t have to hold anything back.”

Iida’s blood ran cold, the chill only increasing when All Might removed his arms from around him and stepped back, giving him some space again. It was what he had wanted, but somehow now that warmth being gone felt worse, and he swallowed, his fear growing even more: he couldn’t bear being pitied over a sob story that hardly anyone knew was entirely of his own making, and yet, like a coward, he was still afraid of what disappointment from his teacher lay ahead (did that mean Aizawa knew too? But then why hadn’t he admonished him to kingdom come that morning? And if he didn’t know, then why did only All Might know…?)… Surely that was why he’d wanted to talk to him about it? To reprimand him? But then, why the apology, the hug, with no hint of any anger……?

“…So… So t-then you know that I… that I-I was the rea—”

“I know that you, Young Midoriya, and Young Todoroki fought for your lives against the Hero Killer, and that all of you sustained significant injuries, the worst of which being permanent damage to your left hand. I know that you saved another hero’s life in the process of fighting the Hero Killer and allowing him to be arrested, and that you went after him in the first place because you felt a need to correct an injustice done to someone very dear to you, in order to fill that cruel, painful, gaping void inside of you that seems almost endless, a void that you feel as if you can only ever try to fill by taking such action. …A feeling that might not have been so hard on you, if we had only been paying more attention, as your teachers.”

Iida gasped, his eyes stinging with heat as breathing suddenly became difficult. Despite how fragile he felt, his gaze unwillingly slowly lifted, and on All Might’s face, there was still a smile, but a somewhat sadder one. It was almost unnerving, with how impossible it usually seemed for the man to not be smiling at one hundred percent at any given time, and seeing him like this now… and thinking about his words, which had been such a visceral, detailed, accurate description, as if…

as if spoken from experience

“…N-No, I didn’t… that’s n-not what…”

His voice trailed off unwillingly, as he blinked, trying to hold back his tears in vain, trying to lie again, terrified that someone had been able to pin him down so easily; Midoriya and Todoroki had understood his reasons, he had told them as much, sobbing, afterwards, and the former’s quiet apology then had been almost more than he could stand, but this, this, this complete solemnity over his pain, physical and emotional alike, and praise, and sorrow for what he had gone through, was going through, and apologies, and taking responsibility for what he was at fault for and worst of all, a disturbing amount of complete understanding at why he had done what he had… It was too much, too much to handle, too much to bear, too much than he deserved, he didn’t deserve any of it—

(and again he could see his brother in that hospital bed, barely alive, stripped entirely of that bright, energetic, eternal glow, life, that made him Tensei; so motionless, so tired, so weak, telling him that he couldn’t feel anything below his waist, telling him to take his name, as if he could ever do that, and seeing his parents crying, and crying with them; and then later, eventually, Tensei back at home and out of danger, but in that wheelchair, where he could remain for the rest of his days, and watching his sidekicks and other members of his agency come visit him, and hug him, and weep with relief that he was alive but mourn what he had lost, and Tensei reassuring each and every one of them, him comforting them, like a true hero, and only when he thought no one saw him, dropping his cheerful façade that anyone who truly knew him would know was only a shadow of what it once was, that weakened more with every single person who visited, and crying; and Iida couldn’t bear dwelling on it, not any of it, and being validated would be enough to break him—)

“…I-I had my friends there, willing to support me, wanting me to talk to them, worried about me, and yet still, Sir, I-I ignored their words, ignored what I truly should have done… B-because all I could think about was such selfish needs as revenge… and it’s because of that—!”

Iida felt himself being pulled into the strong, warm embrace once more, and he didn’t have the strength to fight it this time.

“You did the only thing you could think of to battle the pain, the grief, the anger, Young Iida. For the sake of that person you care for, and yourself. …I know the feeling very well.”

All Might’s voice was soft, and sad, and again, Iida felt breathless and chills down his spine as he tried to comprehend his teacher’s words. “…Y-You do?”

“Yes. …Even heroes have done things they’re not proud of, have had moments where we falter… we’re all still human. …Even myself.”

Swallowing, Iida wondered what All Might might have done in his past that was similar to his own experience. He had never been as huge a fan of the number one hero as Midoriya and others were in their childhoods, nor many other heroes for that matter (his brother had been the only one he had ever truly needed to look up to, after all… his hero), and he had no desire to disrespectfully look into their private histories, but still, Iida wouldn’t have considered the Symbol of Peace to have any such darkness in his private life. But perhaps it was a testament to his strength of character, then, that he continued to smile for them and warm their hearts, no matter what he might be dealing with beneath the surface.

He was a kind man, even kinder than he had thought before, Iida was realizing. …Perhaps, in a way, too kind.

“……I was… s-so upset… so angry… and I had to go home and my family had to learn that my left hand is so permanently injured, my brother had to mourn that too, on top of everything that h-happened to him, all because I had to go do something so recklessly unnecessary!! What if… W-What if I’d been hurt worse, what if I had died, or M-Midoriya or Todoroki; I w-would have destroyed my family even more, and their families too…! After… After Tensei told m-me to become a hero in his place, I could have disobeyed his wishes in the worst possible way! That’s not… not a hero at all!!

Everything was pouring out of him at once, and Iida couldn’t stop it. He hadn’t allowed himself to cry this much in front of his family, or in front of his friends after the fight in the alley… but somehow, here, he could no longer hold any of it back, could no longer ignore his pain, and shame, and fear, despite how hard he had tried.

“But none of that happened. Everyone is safe, my boy; you have such wonderful, caring friends. …It may not have been the right choice to make, what you did, but even so, understand what good came out of it. You saved a life, and countless others in the future. You are still a hero, Young Iida. …Know that I am still proud of you, of your strength.”

All Might squeezed him tighter, letting out a soft sigh.

“…But I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I’m so grateful you’re alive, and I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help. …I’m sorry you have to carry this burden. Ingenium has done so much for all of us.”

Sobbing, gasping, no trace of the normal composure he usually had remaining, Iida pressed himself even further into the broad, soft, reassuring warmth around him, his heart aching, broken, as the images played in his mind on loop, again and again and again like they truly had never really stopped.

“…..A-All Might… T-Tensei, he can’t walk anymore, he can’t even f-feel his legs… He… He’s not going to be able to be a hero again, can’t help people anymore, just like he always loved; that was his entire world…! And it’s all been taken f-from him, just like that! I’ll never be able to see him live his dream anymore… All I can do is become the next Ingenium, but I… h-how can I, like this…? Knowing… t-that I’ll never be him…? When Tensei, he… he d-dies a little more every day, because of what’s befallen him?!”

There was no answer from his teacher, only the feeling of a warm hand on his head, as Iida unceremoniously continued to cry, letting out weeks’ worth of built-up emotion, utterly exhausted. He hadn’t wanted to worry anyone, hadn’t wanted anyone to have to see him like this, hadn’t wanted to face everything, but even fighting the Hero Killer hadn’t been enough catharsis for him (well, of course), and All Might, for how little he had interacted with him alone in the past, had known exactly what to say, and Iida could no longer avoid acknowledging all of his choking, exhausting, and heart-shattering grief.

He was more devastated and shaken than he had ever truly realized. But even so, it was terribly relieving, if in a painful way, to have someone here to release it all to, to know that the number one hero, humble and generous as he was, knew and appreciated Ingenium so. Someone who, despite everything, somehow forgave him, and praised him, and could understand, empathize, even if he didn’t know exactly why.

Had no idea why, really.

“…It’s not fair, is it, my boy?”

“No,” Iida whispered hoarsely, as he pictured his brother’s smile from the past. “He d-didn’t deserve it. …He just wants to keep being a hero.”

“I know, my boy. I know. …It’s not fair at all.”

For some reason, even more so than before, All Might sounded so very, very sad.

 


 

Iida stood in the street, staring up at the TV screen high above him, unable to believe his eyes.

He was surrounded by hundreds of people, late at night in Kamino Ward, still running on adrenaline and his body still somewhat shaking from the intense fear the last few hours, but especially the last few minutes, had brought him. Relief had started to flood through him, however, at the knowledge that they had Bakugou with them, were all together and completely unscathed, and far from the deadly chaos and safe in a large crowd… until now, when something that he had never in a million years thought would ever happen, was unfolding right in front of them all.

When they had left the battlefield with Bakugou, All Might had been fighting the villain. Worrying about how things would turn out had never occurred to any of them even for a moment. And yet…

“Wait… who’s that skeleton?” “All Might seems… emaciated…?”

……with the figure onscreen now, worrying was the biggest understatement in the world.

“…All… All M-Might…?”

Iida heard himself croaking, despite the volume of the crowd, his eyes blinking desperately, as surely he couldn’t be seeing right, this couldn’t be real, as he tried to figure out how the last minute of fighting he had seen on the TV had slowly dwindled down into this. His mind felt heavy, as if in a fog, and his normally strong legs shook, as he numbly turned his head to look at the reactions of the people around him, as if they could somehow provide him answers. But of course, they were all as dumbfounded as he was, confused and shocked looks on their faces, and concerned mumbling coming from all of them. To his left, Bakugou looked as genuinely taken aback and caught off-guard as Iida had ever seen him, and Kirishima’s expression was much the same.

It was when he turned to Midoriya, however, that he knew for sure this was no lie.

His friend was as pale as a sheet, eyes wide and tears emerging from them, tiny gasps and whispered ‘no’s audible, to the point that the boy seemed on the verge of panicking, his hand coming up shakily to cover his mouth as his entire body seemed to tremble with it. He looked as if he was going to be sick, and that was all Iida needed to feel the same way, heavy, terrible, dread washing over him.

“…no… he c-can’t… not like that…… N-no one was supposed to know…

Everyone else around them was confused, but Midoriya was terrified. Because he knew.

Whatever was happening to All Might, he wasn’t coming back from it.

“M-Midoriya…?!”

Despite himself, he had reached out, grasping the other’s shoulder in both a need to support him and a desperate, selfish need for his own reassurance. The boy hardly reacted, turning to him and making eye contact fearfully, shaking his head slightly and unable to say anything. Iida swallowed, his heart in his throat as he turned back to the TV screen, helplessly watching.

All Might still stood there, only recognizable because of his suit, which now hung loosely and in tatters off his bony, yes, skeletal, frame, streaked with blood and dirt. His arms were impossibly thin, not at all the massive muscles of before, and his face was gaunt, harshly defined by sharp angles and his cheeks and eyes heavily sunken in. His normally pristine hair was now wild and untamed, the bangs drooping in front of him when they usually stood cheerfully upright, and he held himself in a low slouch, as if it took all of his energy to simply keep standing.

In a word, he looked exhausted. And if the enemy opposite him attacked right now, Iida knew it would take absolutely nothing for All Might to fall.

And nothing was more horrifying to think about.

Someone… someone needs to help him; he can’t fight like that! There’s no way he possibly could…!

(and yet, all this time… he must have, hadn’t he…? But… no, it wasn’t this, there was no way…!)

“All Might… If you can’t beat him, then who on earth can?!”

Iida jerked around, pulled out of the agonizingly drawn-out showdown onscreen at the sound of people starting to speak up around them once more. Midoriya too, reacted to it, looking about desperately as the heartbreaking and fearful protests became louder, his terror and panic painfully palpable. Iida could hardly breathe, watching the man he had always thought invincible sink further and further into himself in apparent despair from whatever was happening there miles away, as everyone surrounding him expressed all the fear and uncertainty he was feeling, so heavy that it threated to drown him.

Surely someone could do something…?! If other heroes didn’t act, then… then who would save them? Save All Might?

And if they didn’t have All Might… then what did that mean for them? When they all relied on him?

(when Tensei relied on him, now)

(when Iida relied on him, because—)

And then suddenly, unexpectedly, the mood of the crowd unbelievably changed.

“Wait a minute, forget how he looks, he’s still All Might, isn’t he?! His appearance doesn’t matter!”

Iida’s eyes widened, as the words reached his ears.

“He wouldn’t have made it so far all these years if this was a problem for him!”

“Yeah, he always saves the day in the end, no matter what! Nothing’s different here!”

“He was the same as always up until a little while ago! He’ll find a way, even like this!”

“He knows how much we need him; he would never let himself be defeated!”

“No matter what’s happening, he’s still the hero we always knew, who’s always saved us! We should never give up on him, ever! To even consider doing so is being ungrateful, and is wrong!”

“All Might, we believe in you! You can do it!”

Where before there had been panic, and confusion, and anxiety, and fear, now, all one could hear, as if brought about by some higher power, were endless, resounding, cheers.

Iida felt his breath catch in his throat as he listened, staring up at the frail-looking figure his eyes showed him, who seemed as if even a slight breeze would be enough to send him tumbling down.

Could he… really…?

“Win this, All Might, for me!!!”

Midoriya’s desperate, cracking voice suddenly rose above the rest and invaded his senses, tears flying as he held his hands together tightly against his chest… but his smile, shaky as it was, was unmistakable.

Iida closed his eyes, felt them burn, as images appeared in his mind… and took a deep breath.

“……All Might, you can win this!!! Win, and come back to us, as our teacher…!”

What a fool he was being, wasn’t he?

(what a terrible brother)

And those words, sure enough, had instantaneous, magical power.

All Might rose up, his quirk enlarging his right arm to its previous state, sparks and light and smoke emerging from it, the entire spectacle creating a strange, lopsided, mutated person, and yet, despite everything, despite how he had been just moments before, and how he still was, now, the number one hero’s eyes and smile shined somehow even brighter than it ever had before.

Despite what logic tried to tell him, in that moment, brief as it was, that smile reassured Iida more than he ever could have imagined.

He doesn’t need our sorrow, our pity; all he needs is our strength, our encouragement, our belief, just like he’s always given us…!

(just like he’s always given me)

In a flash, flames suddenly appeared on the screen, as the camera angle shifted to show Endeavor unexpectedly appearing at the battlefield. There were still no voices to be heard, but it was clear he was shouting, and it wasn’t long before other pro heroes had arrived as well, flying around All Might and the villain as well as off to the corners, the screen continuing to pan around to showcase them all. Backup had come, and Iida let out a breath he hadn’t known he had been holding, an unimaginable amount of relief pouring into him and lightening his chest, as he chuckled, wetly.

Around him, everyone was still cheering, with no sign of stopping, especially Midoriya, and even Bakugou. Iida continued as well, unable not to, his eyes transfixed above, determined to ride this out till the end.

The pro heroes, as it were, didn’t last long, as soon enough, the villain had blown them all away, high in the sky as he was. It seemed as if the moment of truth had finally come, the villain no longer wasting time, as Iida watched, trying desperately and quickly failing to hold onto his newfound hope, as the enemy’s right arm began to grow in size like All Might’s own. The end result, however, was much, much larger, bigger than even the man himself, a horribly grotesque, mutated, thing out of nightmares that was only a pale imitation of an arm, muscle and metal and shrapnel and wood protruding from it to create the most devastating punching weapon one could imagine. One that made the already so frail-looking number one hero appear even smaller, so, so small.

Iida didn’t have a chance to feel sick before suddenly they were both moving, another plume of wind filling the screen for a moment, and then, in the intense blur and flurry of movement and debris and blood, they could see the two of them together, fist-to-fist. Next to him, Midoriya cried out, his cheers momentarily broken, and without even thinking about it, Iida pulled his friend close, holding him tightly to his side, not caring in the slightest how much the boy was crying: his own face was wet with tears too, now.

If this had the worst possible outcome… no, even if it was a “moderately” severe outcome, and the villain didn’t die here and now, Iida would do anything to make sure the bastard suffered a slow, excruciating death in the very near future.

Not just for All Might, and Midoriya, and everyone else who loved the hero, but for all of the people who were so hurt, physically and emotionally, by monsters like this.

(Who would have thought he’d ever meet someone he’d hate more than Stain? And yet, here he was.

This, though… It was why he wanted to be a hero so badly. He understood that desire now, truly, watching this.)

It was hard to see clearly, down below and with how much was going on, (there was so much blood and no true indication of who it all belonged to, though he had a good guess) but All Might was still there, still fighting, even as he was being pushed back.

The rest of it happened so fast, over moments and yet over years.

In one decisive moment, there was a blur and a punch, from All Might’s other arm, and the villain was knocked back. Wind and blood flew outwards. Midoriya was folded in on himself, bawling, screaming, pleading, Iida holding him with his legs practically having given out. All Might’s muscles fizzled out once more, the power returning to his right arm yet again. Bakugou was screaming obscenities, the tone of his voice enough to tell that he was also crying. All Might swung again, right at the villain’s face once more, everyone cheering for him for miles and miles, Iida’s own voice hoarse…

……and then, there was an incredible explosion, and then silence.

Once the smoke finally cleared, and the cameras righted themselves, what remained of the area was a massive crater… and the two inside of it.

The villain was on the ground, seemingly unconscious. All Might was hunched over him, unmoving.

Iida didn’t dare breathe.

And then, slowly, painstakingly, but surely, All Might lifted his fragile, trembling arm, up, up, up… until he was standing, fist in the air in triumph, his entire body growing to its normal size, even as he somewhat stumbled.

But he stayed standing.

“The villain… the villain is no longer moving!!! All Might stands victorious yet again!”

The reporter’s voice was instantly drowned out by the overwhelming, contagious, overflowing joy that spread through the entire crowd.

Midoriya moved away from him a bit, burying his face in his hands and crying freely, despite the small smile that traced his lips. Iida kept a hand on his friend’s back, not having the energy to wipe away his own tears, continuing to stare at the screen in awe, as his chest squeezed tightly.

He had done it. Despite the odds, All Might had persevered, and won.

(despite the odds)

Iida smiled broadly, still crying, as the morning rays of dawn washed over them, elated cheers of the number one hero’s name ringing in his ears.

There was a bit of chaos over the next few minutes, as pro heroes, police, and others began pouring in to help, rescuing people who were still trapped or in danger, and directing others to assistance elsewhere if it was needed, with temporary first aid and evacuation stations being set up. The four of them hung back, as he tried to contact Todoroki, to no avail. All the while, Bakugou was almost painfully quiet, Kirishima clearly worried, and Midoriya was just as silent, still trying to pull himself together.

Iida was exhausted as well, to say the least. More emotionally drained than he could describe, and his mind reeling. But he was still the leader, he knew, and it was his responsibility to get them all home safe.

However, as they were walking through the crowd, something else happened.

“Next… it’s your turn.”

The voice wasn’t loud at all, but it was enough to shake Iida to his core.

He turned slowly to look back up at the TV yet again, his eyes widening. All Might’s finger took up nearly all of the screen, as he was pointing directly into the camera. They must have gotten a microphone closer to him since the battle, because his voice had come through clearly, deep and rough and raspy as it was.

Iida didn’t know what the words meant, but the rest of the crowd took it positively almost immediately, as cheers and excited shouting began anew. They were all hopeful, reassured, by All Might seemingly declaring that he could not be beaten, and Iida wanted to be as well, after such an inspirational, unbelievable win, that he hadn’t thought possible upon first seeing All Might’s worrisome, new frail appearance…

…an appearance that he had now returned to once more.

And once again, Midoriya’s reaction told him that his niggling fears were right.

Much like before, the other was staring up at the screen in shock, having stopped walking altogether. It wasn’t long, however, before he seemed to process the message from All Might, his face slowly morphing into an expression so, terribly sad, that Iida never, ever wanted to see on his friend.

He began to cry, again, sinking to the ground in a crouched ball as he wept, raw, painful, agonizing cries, and Iida felt his stomach twist, because he knew those cries, he’d seen it, felt it himself

…knew what they meant.

Everyone around them was happy, unaware, naïve, as Iida silently moved to his friend’s side, lowering to the ground and bringing his arms around to embrace him, Midoriya instinctively leaning into his body once more. Up on the screen, All Might trembled, stumbled, on the verge of falling, as two police officers suddenly appeared at his side to support him, holding his arms gently, one of them talking to him fervently with fondness and worry in his eyes, as All Might’s head lolled against him. The camera soon enough quickly cut away to another angle, showing the relief work, and Iida, as happy as he had been just a few minutes ago, now felt something inside of him shatter.

He held Midoriya close, listening to his soul-breaking sobs and breathless whispers of “I can’t, I can’t do it”, closed his eyes, and mourned, for the second time.

Neither can I.

 


 

When he arrived home late that day, uncharacteristically ready to sleep for eternity, Iida found his brother looking at the large, unavoidable newspaper headline, very quiet.

“It was quite a fight, wasn’t it?” he eventually asked, weakly, not quite sure what he could possibly say.

Tensei nodded, with an unreadable expression on his face that, somehow, years later, Iida would always remember.

“It was… a miracle.”

Before he could stop himself, Iida had reached out and hugged him, something he hadn’t done in what felt like forever, his eyes hot. Tensei inhaled, exhaled, shakily, but he returned the embrace, surprisingly tight, and warm.

 


 

“How may I help you, Young Iida? More questions about today’s lesson?”

All Might wore a crooked, amused smile, and Iida couldn’t help but smile in return, despite the tightness in his chest. “No, sir, I’m confident in that regard.”

It was weeks after Kamino Ward, and in the time since, everything had begun to settle down again, at least as well as it could. The former number one hero had returned to teaching a few days ago, and they had all welcomed him back, truly gratefully, sincerely; there was never any question how genuine it was. There had been concerns about the possibility of All Might not returning at all, not being able to, for multiple reasons, even if he still hung around the school, and the day that had confirmed that he would indeed be coming back had been enough to relieve all of them tremendously, Iida included.

…But still, try as they might to hide it, it was impossible not to notice the lingering tension, uncertainty (anxiety), that presided over the class now, that no amount of dorm room contests and other de-stressing activities could completely erase. Worst of all was the knowledge that the cause of it all wouldn’t miss it, which Iida loathed to think about, after everything.

It was for that very reason that he both desperately didn’t want and wanted to be here now, standing before his teacher.

But he had to say what was on his mind. Had to make things right, after everything he’d learned, been enlightened on.

(didn’t want to make the same mistakes, have the same ignorance, again)

“Alright, Midoriya, tell us the details.”

It was late at night, after Aizawa had told them earlier in the day that All Might would be returning to teach them the next, and all of the students were gathered in the commons area of their new dorms. Todoroki had followed Iida, Uraraka, and Midoriya out into the hall after classes, and had asked Midoriya if he could give them any extra information about All Might’s “new” condition. It was blindingly obvious that Midoriya had a connection to the Symbol of Peace that ran deeper than All Might’s relationships with the rest of them, even if no one was sure exactly why or what it was, so he of all people would be the one to know things that they could ask, if anyone at school did. But Iida was shocked to hear Todoroki, no less, come out and ask so forthrightly about it, when he wasn’t even sure how much Midoriya knew (he might know something, judging by his reactions that night, but Todoroki hadn’t even seen that), and as if it was so important for them to know everything… true, it was, would be, quite a change, but it wasn’t something he wanted to dwell on.

Not that he could keep himself from doing so, of course. Not that it was hard to miss how everyone was still shaken up by their teacher losing all of his strength and becoming so weakened, just like that.

Midoriya, seemingly having similar thoughts, had been startled by the inquiry, looking uncomfortable and almost a bit defensive, protective, until Todoroki had elaborated by saying that he only thought it might be wise for them all to have the largest pool of knowledge as possible, in order to avoid uncertainty, and questions, to make things as comfortable as possible for both All Might and themselves, going forward. And, he added, mirroring his thoughts, Midoriya would probably be the person who could tell them, if anyone could.

At this, Midoriya’s eyes had widened, and he had predictably begun to wipe away sudden tears, as he smiled and finally agreed. Seeing him so surprised at Todoroki’s reasons had left Iida’s gut churning yet again, for the hundredth time lately.

“…If I’m being honest, I don’t feel entirely comfortable sharing All Might’s personal information like this.” Midoriya now said quietly, his hands braced on his knees where he sat on the couch. “But… If I don’t explain now, it’ll probably come out later anyway. …All Might wouldn’t want to draw attention to himself by talking about it, but I’m certain he would want us to know if it meant we would worry less, so… I know how scary it is to see first, if you’re not prepared for it, after all; it sure scared me… heck, even now it still scares me…”

Midoriya trailed off, his trademark mumbling ending depressingly on its own for once, the boy no doubt thinking back to a few weeks ago. Iida grimaced, as Tsuyu put her hand on Midoriya’s arm comfortingly. “Just tell us what you can, what you think we should know. We’re not going to make a big deal out of it… we’re only asking for his sake.”

Todoroki nodded at her words, as did Uraraka, with more fervor, her eyes shining with concern. Iida forced a reassuring smile he did not entirely feel on his face. Midoriya smiled back weakly, taking a deep breath. “You’re right. …It’s a lot to take in, after all.

“…To make a long story short, I knew All Might before I came to UA… and I accidentally found out about… all this. He could only hold his quirk, his previous appearance, the one everyone knows… knew, about, for a certain amount of time, and I caught him as he ran out of time, one day. …So I’ve known about this for a while, and he told me all about it to keep me quiet, though knowing all this time hasn’t made it much easier to come to terms with.”

Elsewhere, Bakugou made a grunt of annoyance. Iida began thinking about all the signs, mostly at the tail end of classes, and especially the USJ incident, that suddenly were starting to make a lot more sense. Not to mention the most recent battle.

Again, Midoriya inhaled, his voice tentative and pained when he finally continued.

“…Basically… a while back, All Might said, he got into a big fight, one that was never made public, so I don’t know who it was. He got really injured… really seriously… on his lower left side. They had to remove his stomach, and could only salvage part of his lungs… and he went through a lot of surgeries because of what happened, which is why he… l-looks like that… He has a big scar, and doesn’t have a lot of stamina, and he’s always coughing blood… That’s the worst part, he says that it’s nothing to worry about, that it’s just normal for him now, but I-I still don’t like seeing it……”

The room was silent.

Meanwhile, in Iida’s mind, he could see his brother, fresh out of emergency surgery, barely alive.

He wanted to be sick.

He was going to be sick.

“…R-Really?”

Uraraka’s voice pulled him out of the haze. Midoriya lifted his head back up to gaze at her, wearily. “Really what?”

“All of it”, he knew Uraraka probably wanted to say, but instead, her voice choked, she stammered “He… He lost his stomach?! How… how can… How can he l-live like that?”

“I had to research it, but apparently it’s possible,” Midoriya continued, hoarse, “It’s a special procedure. People without their stomach don’t feel hunger, so they have to regulate their meals on a schedule so they don’t simply starve, eating a little bit throughout the day instead of big meals a few times a day like the rest of us do. And they can’t eat certain things, of course.”

“That’s… that’s just…”

All Might definitely did not eat during their classes with him. And judging by how thin he was now, Iida doubted that he ate enough outside of those times, either.

Swallowing back bile, he opened his mouth. “…Midoriya, how long ago did this happen?”

“…Five years, he said, well I guess it would be six now. Using his quirk and straining himself with it lessened the amount of time he had to use it, and after that last battle, well… now it’s… gone. It might be easier on him if he doesn’t have to use it and fight anymore, but at the same time, the fact that he’s weakened enough to no longer be able to…”

“…Five years… and all this time, even with those injuries, and complications, he… went on as a hero…”

Midoriya sucked in a breath, running his hands over his eyes, his voice weak as he replied to him. “…Yeah.”

Iida felt as if the floor underneath him had given way.

‘It’s not fair, is it?’ All Might had asked him, back then, on that day. He hadn’t understood why he had sounded so somber about it, beyond just simple sympathy.

Now it made sense.

In the worst way imaginable.

“…I can’t believe it, ribbit…”

“Are you serious, Midoriya?! All this time, he was hiding something like that?!”

“I can’t even imagine it… how awful, having to go on that way just because of who he was to everyone…”

“Mais non… it can’t be…”

“What will happen now? Will he be alright…?”

“How could it be like this? How could we all have been so ignorant, all this time, unable to help him?”

“How will he be able to teach now… Is it even safe for him to? We saw what happened the other day at the TDL…”

He barely felt Uraraka leaning against his shoulder, her hand over her face as she cried softly, soft gasps and pained murmurs slowly filling the room. He, too, covered his mouth, unable to speak, unable to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the implications, the horror and agony of having to fight through all that, to go on as if nothing was wrong, and then to lose it all—

(It was like—)

“…Are you idiots even listening to yourselves?! So this is the deal now, so what? We can’t do anything about it, so stop moping; All Might isn’t so damn frail enough to keel over just because his quirk is gone now, he’s stronger than that! He’s been dealing with this for six years, and didn’t you even see that fight?! Have more faith in him!!”

Bakugou’s voice, too, was rougher than usual, with less of his usual bite. Iida sucked in a breath, the words hitting him like a ton of bricks.

That night, everyone had been cheering: that miraculous period when nothing but pure, unbridled belief had united them all.

Belief in the person who needed it most.

That still hadn’t changed.

Never should change.

“…Bakugou’s right, essentially,” Todoroki finally murmured before he could, causing everyone to turn to him, sadly. The boy’s face didn’t give away much, but his eyes betrayed his sorrow, though also reassurance. He had come such a long way since the beginning, going from being so closed-off to now taking charge, a part of Iida’s mind supplied to him. “I don’t think there’s too much cause for concern, if All Might is able to continue teaching. It’s just good that we’re aware of this all, now; we can’t eradicate All Might’s problems, but if he ever needs something, we can help him out. This way we’re prepared for anything. We shouldn’t make him uncomfortable, or cross any boundaries, but I think it’ll be better for all of us in the long run all being on the same page.

“Thank you for telling us, Midoriya.”

Slowly, murmurs of assent followed, and nods, the others hesitantly encouraged, for the most part. Midoriya sniffled, wiping his eyes and pulling himself together, and braved a weak smile up at his friend.

“…O-Of course… Thank you, all of you… for being so kind, and accepting o-of him as he is now… so understanding and concerned.”

He paused for a moment, and when he finally continued, his voice was very sad, almost nostalgic.

“It’s a lot to process, up close, after everything the media shows us, and I know things will be very different from here on out, but… if you can, p-please be welcoming to him, let him know he’s still cared for… All Might doesn’t want people to feel sad about him, and doesn’t want to think about how much he might worry us, or burden us… he isn’t p-proud of being like this in front of people. So we need to let it be known that nothing has changed in our eyes, to reassure him that he’s still the same person to us he was before, no matter what, just as Kacchan said. …That’s… what anyone would want to hear.”

Those last words, too, had been haunting Iida like a sickness nonstop, for the last few days. True to his feeling, he had ended up in the bathroom as soon as that discussion had ended.

And now he was here, trying to figure out what he really wanted to say, and how.

Iida thought back for the hundredth time to the home meeting Aizawa and All Might had had with his family a week back, to convince them to let him start living in the dorms. His parents, to their credit, had been mostly understanding after Aizawa had given the entire explanation about why UA believed it would be safer this way, even if their thinly-veiled sadness was still apparent. Tensei had made a few good-natured jokes about “you’re taking my little brother away from me, seriously?!”, but it was obvious that the actual discussion wasn’t what he was truly focused on.

The entire time, he had been watching the near-silent All Might. Unable to take his eyes off him, utterly transfixed.

After the conversation had ended, All Might had moved to Tensei’s side, whispering something into his ear. His eyes had widened, his nod imperceptible, and then, surprisingly, he had led All Might into another room of their house, closing the door behind them, Aizawa not fazed in the slightest and waving the rest of them goodbye as he left.

The two of them were alone for what couldn’t have been longer than fifteen minutes. Iida hadn’t been able to hear them, and still didn’t know what they had talked about.

But he did know that when he had come out, despite his red eyes, Tensei had been smiling, and for the first time in a long time, it felt real.

And from then on, he had changed.

“All Might, sir, I just wanted to say that, well…”

(thank you, I’m so sorry, you are everything, there are no words, but thank you thankyouthankyou –)

Iida swallowed, staring at his teacher’s thin frame, noticeable slouch (as if he held the weight of the world on his shoulders), and broken arm held heavily in a sling, the other one tucked behind his back in a weak attempt to still look professional, hiding hands that he knew had to have flecks of blood on them, from the numerous times they had heard him coughing (now, he noticed the trash can under the desk filled to the brim with tissue wads; because of course he wouldn’t use them in front of them, to draw as little attention as possible). At his haggard face, which had an inviting smile and twinkling eyes, but were so very unnatural and tired looking, to say the least.

(How can such power, and strength, and optimism and kindness be held in such a fragile body? How could we have taken advantage of it all… for so long? Giving practically nothing in return?

Giving no appreciation, no encouragement… no love, in his struggles?)

Despite Midoriya and Todoroki’s intentions, and the entire class’ best efforts, it wasn’t enough. Not that he blamed any of themselves at all, no: they were trying so hard, and cared so deeply, and any shared look of unease at every cough, every ragged sigh, and every unsteady step, was only born from true, genuine, worry, and not pity or disappointment, never that (at least they could do that right).

But they needed to do more, in case All Might blamed himself for any of it (which he knew, they all knew, even if Midoriya hadn’t told them, that he did).

He couldn’t leave it like that, couldn’t leave him thinking things that weren’t true. Not as the class president… and not as his brother’s brother.

“…I wanted to express my humblest appreciation… for everything you have done for us… everything you still do. I… a lot has happened recently, to me… to us… but… But lately, I’ve realized a lot of things, thanks to you, sir, watching you and… thinking about what you said to me, that day, after Hosu…”

At the time, he hadn’t known how much meaning every single one of All Might’s comforting words to him had held, how human he truly was. How, inside that strong, confident, outside appearance, was a person who knew exactly why he cried, why he grieved, why he felt helpless, weak, lost, why he raged.

Why Tensei did.

Hadn’t known that the person holding him in his arms that day had been, in reality, so painfully familiar.

“…I’ve come to understand… how much I took for granted, about heroes, and becoming heroes… How n-naïve I was… and what I should have been trying to do, all this time, instead of wallowing in sorrow. …I realized that, although my feelings were, and are, acceptable – ” it could have been so much worse, his mind supplied to him, but no, that would be terribly cruel and selfish to say, for both parties involved “— I was missing something vital, something that was still holding me back despite how much I had resolved to move forward, something that you showed to me… a-as much as I wish you hadn’t had to…

“That is, that we should never lose hope despite what may happen, that as much as we may mourn, and lament… our heroes a-are still our heroes, no matter what… and we should never doubt their greatness, or let our faith in them waver.”

Iida thought back to how Midoriya had wept that morning, grief-stricken. But also, at how he had smiled through his tears while cheering All Might on… how he had cried with relief upon hearing Todoroki’s words.

“They are our heroes because of their hearts, most of all… and… we are theirs, because we look up to them. That… should never change.”

Instead of trying to get revenge, I should have been there for him. But I gave in to sorrow and anger… just like All Might must have. And I could have ended up like both of them for it.

From now on, I will focus on what I have, what we have, and move forward, like a real hero would!

And become a hero, for everyone!

“…And… what I’m truly trying to say, All Might… is to t-thank you for helping my brother.” The lump in his throat finally betrayed him, his voice cracking, and Iida let out a shaky exhale, squeezing his eyes shut tightly as they burned. “Tensei can handle himself, I have never doubted that, but he… he has had such a hard time dealing with this, feeling helpless and with nothing to occupy him, a-and he tries to hide it from us all as best he can, but we can tell how miserable he is… and we cannot hide our misery around him, which doesn’t help matters in the slightest.”

He bit his lip, the guilt nearly strangling him, unable to meet All Might’s eyes.

“But then… he saw your fight, that night, on TV, the one we all saw… and sir, it had such a profound impact on him that I cannot even begin to describe, imagine. It… It moved him… inspired him. …Just as it did for me. …And then you talked to him that day, at our home, and ever since then, he’s been h-happier… like the spark inside of him has returned… and I can’t even b-begin to th—”

A hand on his shoulder stopped him, one that was lighter and smaller than before, but still carried the same amount of warmth. Iida blinked rapidly, lifting his gaze up slowly to meet his teacher’s expression, the emotion he saw there enough to send his tears spilling over freely, his heart both hurting and loving at the same time.

“…My boy…”

All Might’s hand moved closer to his back, hesitant. It pulled on him, and he soon realized that his teacher wanted to hug him, seemingly silently asking for permission to do so.

The thought that he even felt like he felt like he needed to killed him.

Slowly, Iida stepped closer, crying silently, as he felt All Might bring his single arm around his back, cradling his head. His arm was sharp and bony, and although he was taller than Iida, he was so very, very small, at the same time. Far too small.

It made Iida feel even smaller.

“…My boy… You are giving me far t-too much credit, you know. As well as being far too hard on yourself.”

Iida let out a small sob, smiling and shaking his head, gently holding his teacher, half terribly afraid that he would hurt him.

“A-Absolutely not, All Might. Everything you have done for me, for Tensei… for Midoriya, for all of us… It can never be stated enough. We cannot thank you enough… please, sir, never forget that, for us.”

Like most of them, he had often wondered what kind of relationship Midoriya had with the number one hero, why they were so close, and why the other boy had such emotional, strong, fond admiration of him, that went beyond just normal fanboyism, that had always seemed so personal. Iida still didn’t know the reasons for it, and knew he may never, but even so, now, he realized that he finally felt like he understood how Midoryia could feel how he did.

All Might must have touched Midoriya’s life in some special way, too. Just like he had done for him.

“Young Iida…… Your brother, Ingenium, has come this far by his own merits; he is an incredibly strong-willed individual. And having you has done more for him than you know. You are kind, and caring, and selfless, no matter what you may think, my boy, and I promise that he is where he is now because he has had you by his side… because he knew you never gave up on him, no matter what you may believe. No amount of tears you shed will change how much admiration you will always have for him. ……And all I did was share a little bit of my experience with him, nothing more.”

(Experience, empathy, comfort, frustration, loss, hope… so much…!)

“……I will trust you, Sir, but… Without all due respect, allow me to ask you to compromise, and believe me as well when I say you did more than you think, more than you can e-ever imagine. …You did so much for my b-brother… just by living.”

Watching you do what you did, and come out triumphant… and seeing how everyone was inspired by it… it inspired him, for so many reasons!

(And to think, that they had almost lost this man, the one who deserved the title of “hero” most of all…?)

“…I… I-I’m so glad you are alright, All Might,” Iida whispered, hugging his teacher ever-so-tighter, and yet still ever-so-gently. “You don’t know how frightened we all were… how much we were praying for your safety, and victory… how much we were cheering you on. If you hadn’t… hadn’t returned… I-I don’t know what we would have done.

“You mean the world to us. Thank you… thank you for coming back to us, to continue guiding us.”

I couldn’t have lost you, not after nearly losing him.

All Might did not reply right away. Still, Iida could hear the way his shuddering breath changed, changed to match his own, as he felt a sharp but soft pressure atop his head.

“…I felt all of your words for me, that night, giving me strength, even if I could not hear them,” All Might rasped, and just the sound of it brought forth new tears to his eyes. “Just like you give your brother strength. You, Young Iida, are his strength; never forget that. Just… Just like you, and Young Midoriya, and everyone else, are my strength… always have been.

“You are all… my heroes.”

(“Knowing you admire me… helps me to be the best hero I can be!”)

Iida, to his surprise, laughed, half-sobbing, and feeling as if an incredible weight had lifted off his chest.

“…We are all each other’s heroes, then? I-If we’re worthy of it… then I am honored, All Might, Sir.”

All Might let out a breathless, watery chuckle as well, holding him in his frail, strong, warm embrace.

“You are all more than worthy, each and every one of you. T-Thank you, my little hero.

“…Thank you, for letting me feel like one again.”