Chapter 1: But these problems aside, I think I taught you well
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"Howling ghosts, they reappear,
In mountains that are stacked with fear,
But you're a king and I'm a lionheart,
— King and Lionheart, Of Monsters and Men
The first thing he noticed was the smell.
Blood was usually the first thing someone saw at a battle, but it was always the smell that hit Toshinori first. The metallic, coppery smell, not quite unpleasant on its own, but overwhelming him with foul memories. Memories of Nana, of his own fights, of watching Izuku break himself, over and over—
It stung his nose now as he knelt among the wreckage, the crumpled form of his protege in his arms.
He could feel the boy, still so small and fragile, shivering in his lap, one hand curled and grasping at the front of Toshinori’s shirt. The other was planted over his left side, as if to hide the gaping wound that had been torn through. His head was tucked under Toshinori’s sharp chin. With every breath, he wheezed, blood misting onto the white fabric. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, as if he’d failed in some way, as if he’d not lived up to and surpassed every dream Toshinori’d had for him, “I— I tried, but he’s— he’s too strong and I couldn’t, I couldn’t—“
Toshinori rocked his boy gently, running a hand through blood-matted hair, shushing him, trying vainly to comfort Izuku while he bled out in his arms. “Shhhh,” he whispered, “it’s alright, shhhhhh.”
“I know, I know.”
“You did everything right. This, this is my fault. I failed—“
He felt the grip on his shirt tighten, felt warm blood burst across his collarbone, felt his arms instinctively shift as Izuku tried to move. “No, no, don’t—“
“A-all Might, don’t, you didn’t... you wouldn’t...” Izuku’s voice started to fade, grip slackening. An icy fear plunged into Toshinori’s soul, and he moved, one hand covering Izuku’s in a last ditch attempt to staunch the flow. “No, Izuku, please, you have to stay awake, stay alive, cmon kid, don’t— you don’t—“
He couldn’t feel Izuku’s breath. The boy’s eyes were half open, staring and yet unseeing. As Toshinori started to shake him by the shoulders, as if it would bring him back.
“Izuku, please, don’t, you have to wake up, you—“
“Pathetic, isn’t it?”
Toshinori stilled, the tears slipping down his cheeks undisturbed. His hands were too paralyzed to stop them.
He felt a hand, calloused with age, weighted with self importance, and the most condescending thing he’d ever felt land on his shoulder.
“All Might, the Symbol Of Peace, unable to keep even one little boy alive. It stings, doesn’t it? Failing the ones you love, over and over again?”
Toshinori’s eyes widened at the meaning of those words sank into him like teeth. He managed to tear his eyes away from his student, gaze scanning the wreckage, searching, searching—
A length of tattered white cape, pooled next to a rock.
Something in his chest seized. The hand on his shoulder nudged him forward. Suddenly, he was at her side, hands scraping against broken concrete and twisted rebar to find a white cape and yellow gloves and black hair and god please no—
He was seventeen all over again, being dragged away by Gran Torino as Nana stood alone to face an impossible enemy.
Gripping the edge of her torn cape like a child with a security blanket, he turned to see the rest of the battlefield. He saw it now, the bodies scattered amidst broken buildings like dolls thrown by a particularly vengeful toddler. He saw Nighteye slumped against a wall, and young Mirio crumpled in front of him, a hand outstretched. David lying faceup on the ground, a mangled spear of rebar sprouting from his chest. Aizawa’s broken body hanging from his own scarf. Gran Torino, partially embedded in a wall, blood painting a waterfall down the brick. Young Bakugo, half buried under rubble. Iida, a knife through his back. Young Todoroki, barely identifiable by the ice surrounding his body— it was too burned otherwise. Uraraka, dangling from a ruined power line. Young Kirishima, the fragmented remains of his hardened body scattered across a slab of stone. Mic, speaker crushed around his throat. Recovery Girl, still clinging to her cane. Miss Inko, a fallen heap at the edge of the fight.
His knees buckled. He dropped to the ground, feeling the hand press against his shoulder once more. “You see?” All for One whispered. “Without your power, you’re useless. You could have prevented this, could you not? But now, you can’t even stop this.”
Before Toshinori could process the words, an immeasurable amount of pain bloomed through his left side. He looked down for a moment, registering the blow and the fact that half of his chest was gone, before he was spun around.
He watched a hand reach for his face, sparking and glowing with reddish black lightning—
And burst awake, chest heaving as he let out a guttural scream.
His shoulders curled inward, Toshinori gulping in deep breaths to stave off another panic attack. He hunched over, hands running over his chest as if to prove to himself that it wasn’t real, that he hadn’t had a good number of his remaining vital organs get ripped out.
One lung, one third of a stomach, part of a liver, three-four-five ribs, okay, okay.
Toshinori dove off his bed, throwing covers back and reaching for his phone, fingers already sliding to an oft dialed number. As the dial tone buzzed in his ear, he took a breath and the world around him finally sank in.
Outside his window, he could hear cicadas chirr, signaling for mates. The clock next to his bed blinked 2:52 AM in harsh red letters. As Toshinori flumped back into the pillows, he was suddenly aware of how his shirt clung to his limbs, sticky with sweat.
The absolute worst time of the year.
The time of the year where everything sought to remind him of how he’d failed.
He closed his eyes, the images of his dream flickering across the backs of his eyelids.
Nana’s crumpled form, her tattered cloak spilling across the ground.
Nighteye slumped against a wall, eyes unseeing.
His students scattered like ragdolls.
Izuku, in his arms, breathing slowing and pain in his eyes as he was fading, dying—
Toshinori sat up, pressing his phone closer to his ear as if it would bring the boy closer. “Young Midoriya!” He said, falsely cheerful.
“All Might?” Izuku’s voice was heavy, colored with sleep. “It’s three AM."
"Is it really? I didn't notice."
"Is everything alright?"
Something tight and knotted in Toshinori's chest loosened for a moment when he heard the concern in Izuku's voice.
His grin felt more genuine as he replied more jovially, “Better, now that I’m speaking to you, my boy.”
A silence lingered between them for a moment, before Toshinori asked, “so, uh, how is everything? Aizawa mentioned you started a new Hero Analysis journal?”
He settled back against his headboard as his
sonstudent began a long, rambling explanation of the newest journal. He closed his eyes, willing the memory of the dreams away as he focused on Izuku’s voice. Still, his heart hammered, mind moving at a jackrabbit pace. Once Izuku has finished his talk, Toshinori jumped in. “Are you free, any time this week?” He asked.
“Uh— I think Thursday? I should be free, mister Aizawa said something about Ground Beta being covered in lava? But yes. Why? Is something wrong? Is there something about One for All I need to know? Is there—“
Toshinori chuckled, shaking his head. “Once a prince of nonsense, always a prince of nonsense,” he said. “I just wanted to spend time with you, is all.”
“Oh— oh! Of course! Yeah sure.”
He stood, rolling onto the balls of his feet as he stretched. "Wonderful," he said, "I've been meaning to ask how everything's going with you."
"All Might, you teach me. You already know what's going on."
"Not necessarily. There are some things an old man like me doesn't notice."
"You're not old, All Might."
"That's what you think." Toshinori reached up one handed, unlocking the window and forcing it up with only some difficulty, listening to Izuku's chuckle. He felt the cool breeze of the night brush against his cheek like a long gone, yet familiar touch. The cold sweat of his dream began to dry against his skin as he closed his eyes.
The memories floated up again, unbidden, and his hand curled around the windowsill.
You've lost everyone else , that insidious voice in his mind whispered, why would that change now?
"All Might? Are you still there?"
He sucked in a deep breath. "Of course, my boy," he chuckled. "Just lost in my thoughts."
"Oh, okay. Sorry. I'm gonna... go, though. Aizawa has us up at seven for a run and he'll make me do extra laps if I start sleep running again."
"I understand. Sleep well."
The line went dead, and Toshinori stared at the empty screen. He let out a gush of breath, something in him relieved.
His boy was safe.
How long, the voice whispered, how long until you fail him?
He clenched his hands into weak, shaking, loose fists. Somewhere behind his sternum, the embers of One for All flared to life, warm, spiky, and irrational He nodded to himself, ignoring the blood welling in his throat.
This time, it'll be different, he thought, This time, I'll keep him safe, at my side .
Yeah this is just Chapter 1, so far. I do have a bit of a file saved up, and a general outline, but overall, this will be updated sporadically. Sorry. Still have to work on a lot of chunks.
Chapter title is from the same song as the one quoted.
(see if yall can get the sneaky reference I threw in)
Anyways if you wanna find me on the interwebs my tumblr is kateitron.tumblr.com and my twitter is @Kateinator. I also play in a DnD game that gets streamed every Saturday at 4pm EST at twitch.tv/dragonastra. Idk check us out and bully me for more chapters or something.
Chapter 2: So take me back when I believed, back when I was unafraid
Toshinori takes Izuku to meet someone.
Man I was all excited to finally publish a chapter on time in a schedule and I FORGOT FUCK.
Anyways uhhhh angst and pain of the more emotional kind.
Also!!! This might get edited and added to a bit more, there was a scene I wanted to add cuz this one felt a bit short. But it’s still uh gross to read so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
When the stars look down on me
What do they see?
—Thief, Imagine Dragons
It became what he assumed the kids these days called a thing between them, as the days began to progress. Toshinori, unable to escape the weight of the guilt and nightmares that the start of summer dropped onto his shoulders, would wake up in the middle of the night and fumble for his phone, usually already dialing by the time he fully opened his eyes and came back to himself.
And if he breathed a sigh of relief every time the line connected and Izuku murmured a half-awake greeting since his mentor called him at three in the morning, again , well. No one was around to notice him.
He knows it’s not healthy, nor is it rational by any means. But every time he shakes himself awake from the sight of the people he cares for lying dead at his feet, it’s all he can do to make sure that it's not true.
At least, not true for anyone that matters to him now.
And a small part of him, the fragile, irrational part of him tucked far away, is convinced that if he lets Izuku stray too far away, whatever curse that follows Toshinori and rears its head when the air turns hot and crickets serenade his nightmares, will get him too. And he refuses to let it happen.
So he calls Izuku. He invites him for lunch and coffee and extra training sessions that he can only supervise now and lessons in English to get a leg up on Hizashi and times where they simply walk through a park and Toshinori tells stories about his youth and time at college in America.
"Did you really?"
"Right into the bottom of the bridge?"
"Rammed my head straight through the wood. Dave couldn't stop laughing long enough to help me out."
"Yes way. And that is why you don't drink and use One for All."
When he's not spending time with Izuku, reassuring that small part of him that he's okay, he's not gone yet, he thinks. He thinks of Izuku’s growing powers and his connections to the previous users of One for All. He thinks of his own age and weakness, quite often more than he’d like to admit. He thinks, and he tells himself, maybe it’s time they met.
It takes him three weeks, just after Izuku's sixteenth birthday, to work up the courage and bring him along.
"Izuku, I want to introduce you to someone."
The pair stood on the stone pavilion, Toshinori gesturing a little awkwardly to the small monument before approaching it. Izuku followed him, a little unsure.
He trailed off. Toshinori knelt, settling the incense sticks he had bought in the holders on the grave. "This," he said softly, "is my mentor, Nana Shimura."
He heard a short intake of breath from behind him, and nodded. "You've met her before, my boy."
"You mean, this is—"
"The woman from your dreams, yes."
"... When did she—" Izuku stopped himself before he could finish, instead coming to kneel by Toshinori's side. Together, the pair cleaned the stone and lit the incense in silence.
After a moment, watching the smoke curl into the dreary clouds above, Toshinori spoke.
"I was... I think, eighteen. My last year at UA, in the beginning of July. All for One had challenged her— us — directly. At first, I was almost proud— the greatest villain of all time had challenged me directly; who else could claim that honor." He paused, shaking his head ruefully. "I was an imbecile back then."
"The fight went wrong, so quickly . Nana had transferred One for All to me three years before, and hadn’t realised I had been sapping it away from her the whole time. When we faced All for One, she was nowhere near her full strength, and I was too inexperienced to help. All for One separated us, distracted her, and used her weakness against her. In the end, she threw me to Gran Torino— told him she left my training to him— and she— she—"
He closed his eyes. He still remembered that night, being dragged away from the fight, practically clawing at Gran Torino's arms in the hope that he could break free. Seeing her surrounded by wreckage, the one beacon of light and order at the center of dark chaos. Reaching out and screaming for her to come back. Unable to look away, even as the battlefield went practically nuclear.
All Might, I leave the rest to you.
He felt a hand on his arm, callouses rough against his skin. His other hand reached over, laying on top of Izuku's and patting it gently. "All for One took her too early." He whispered. The words weren't enough, would never be enough, but he'd never find any that would be.
"What was she like?"
Toshinori opened his eyes, looking down to see Izuku's earnest expression. He forced a smile, shaking his head. "She was... kind, but stern. She'd throw me across the training room like it was nothing, but she'd always help me back up. Liked to tease me about my plans to become the Symbol of Peace, a lot. She had a strong sense of justice. She was strong enough to send her own son away, after her husband died. Somehow, whenever I was struggling, she always knew what to say to keep me going. I—"
He took a deep breath.
"I thought of her as my own mother."
The sentence hung in the air, clinging to the tension he had built. He could feel Izuku’s wide eyed gaze on him, as he leaned forward and gently poured a cupful of water over the stone. As he settled back, he stared down at the trembling hands clasped in his lap. White hot self loathing lanced through his chest, like a hot knife pressed against skin for a split second.
“Sometimes,” Toshinori murmured, eyes glued to the rivulets of water trailing over the stone, “I wonder if she can see me through your eyes.” He sighed, “What would she think of me now, the weak old man that I am?” He let out a broken chuckle, throat tightening.
Then a gasp as he felt arms encircle his waist, and a familiar head of hair smush against his back. “Well...” Izuku said, voice vibrating up his spine, “I think you're pretty great.”
Toshinori’s eyes widened, and he could feel them burn with tears. He closed them and lifted a trembling hand, gently patting Izuku’s arm. Warmth slipped down his cheeks and he thought to himself, when did I become the crybaby in this mentorship? , before shaking his head.
All he could say was, “thank you, my boy.”