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     “He’s awake,” the nurse says, leading Toshinori to a door. “But he’s—” her lips quirk up in a half-smile. “He’s still a little loopy from the Tramadol. He probably won’t even remember you were here, but just talk to him for a minute. He’s been asking for you.”

     Toshinori nods grimly, wishing he could share her amusement. The diagnosis relays in his head: kneecap and femur shattered; fractured hip and shin. No doubt it's one of Izuku's nastier injuries, but at least it's due to a training accident this time, rather than a villain attack or further complications with his quirk.

     He remembers getting the call. Evidently, a cement column had come loose and crushed the poor boy’s leg during a search and rescue exercise. Toshinori hadn’t been there when it happened, but he did ride in the ambulance. The ten minutes it took to get to the emergency room felt like an eternity.

     Toshinori mutters his thanks to the nurse before entering the room, and to his relief, Izuku doesn’t appear to be in any immediate pain. They have him propped up on a small mountain of pillows, and when he sees Toshinori, a big dopey grin spreads on his face. That alone is enough to ease the man’s spirits a bit. It's a far cry from the numb mask of shock he wore on the ride to the hospital.

     Pulling up a chair, Toshinori smiles back, keeping his voice low.

     “Hello, my boy.”

     Izuku just stares at him, eyes dilated, and Toshinori sighs, already gearing up for a very one-sided conversation. “Well,” he continues. “Recovery Girl will be back from Shibuya tomorrow, but I’m afraid you’ll be roughing it like everyone else till then.”

     Crickets. Still, Izuku’s unwavering, slack-jawed stare manages get a chuckle out of Toshinori. “But I have to say—” he teases. “It looks like they already have you covered, my boy.”

     There's another beat before Izuku blinks, smile widening, and promptly bursts into a fit of giggles. Toshinori’s eyebrows shoot up, and he lets out a startled laugh of his own.

     “What is it?” he laughs, leaning closer. Guffawing, Izuku flops back into the pillows—face quickly turning red while he desperately tries to wrap his arms around his stomach. It isn’t working very well. This ordeal stretches on for the next several moments, and Toshinori discovers that the laughter is contagious when he has to press a hand over his mouth to stifle an outburst of his own.

     Finally, Izuku seems to tire himself out, gulping deep breaths with a grin still plastered on his equally plastered face, and neither of them say anything while they catch their breath. Then it happens, and it happens slowly. Dewy with tears, Izuku's gaze mischievously slides back over to Toshinori. And his breath hitches.

     "Ah—hey now," the man warns, playfully raising a hand. "Don't you dare—"

     He doesn’t finish before Izuku explodes again. Though this time, the laughter is replaced with one long, drawn-out wheeze. Izuku is laughing so hard it looks like he’s in pain, quaking with silent guffaws while tears run down the sides of his face. Toshinori lets his head drop melodramatically into his palm—massages his temples while his shoulders shake with mirth. This is better than seeing Izuku in pain, at least.

     “Kid,” he gasps through his own laughter. “Kid, you’re gonna kill me.”

     Soon enough, Izuku wears himself out again, sagging back into the bed with a few hearty gulps of air while he calms down. Before something else can set him off, Toshinori stands and settles beside him on the edge of the mattress. Izuku thankfully falls silent, staring at his mentor with the same dopey grin as before. But this time, he also looks so blissfully confused, cheeks still flushed from laughing. Toshinori shakes his head, smiling.

     “What am I going to do with you?” he says, brushing the bangs out of Izuku’s eyes where they've stuck to his forehead. The kid almost melts, and his eyes close as he leans into the touch. Huffing a quiet laugh, Toshinori changes tactics, combing a hand through his hair. Maybe he can get him to fall asleep this way.

     “Are you hurting anywhere?” he asks a minute later, when Izuku's eyes blink open again (so much for that). The answer is most assuredly no, but Toshinori can’t help but say something. The memory of the ambulance ride flashes in his mind; of his poor boy shaking so hard that a tech had to hold him down on the gurney so they could get an IV in. Toshinori held his hand all the way to the hospital. Back in the present, Izuku looks down, deliberating the question, before shaking his head.

     “Good,” Toshinori hums, resuming the gentle combing. "That’s good." It looks like it’s working; Izuku’s eyelids droop as he sinks deeper into the pillows, and for a minute or two they just sit like that, wrapped in comfortable silence. It doesn’t last.

     “All Might,” Izuku mumbles, eyes cracking open. Toshinori perks up.

     “Hm? What is it, my boy?” Izuku is looking at him funny.

     “I…” he whimpers, significantly unhappier than before. Toshinori’s brow furrows.

     That's not right.

     Izuku doesn’t speak up, and Toshinori feels a tug of unease in his gut as the silence stretches on. It only strengthens when, slowly, Izuku’s dazed expression begins to crumble; lips pressing into a quivering line while the glassyness of his eyes turns into tears. Toshinori’s unease ramps into alarm, and he pulls one leg onto the bed to face Izuku.

     “Hey—hey,” he croons frantically, cupping Izuku’s face in his hands. “Look at me—What’s wrong? Do I need to call a nurse?” Izuku shakes his head, screwing his eyes up with a whimper, which forces two huge tears out. Toshinori’s heart clenches. “Oh, my boy, don’t cry…” He moves to catch them with his thumb before they can fall. In return, Izuku hacks weak sobs and devolves into a full meltdown.

     Toshinori heaves a weary sigh and closes his eyes. He was afraid of this. In fact, he'd had doubts ever since the doctor came to him an hour ago, asking for permission to put Izuku on Tramadol. For his sake, Toshinori had relented, having seen how dire the situation was, but in the end his suspicions were true. It's hitting Izuku hard.

     “Okay,” Toshinori says. “Okay, come here. Come here…” Izuku is mostly limp as he gently pulls him off the bed into his arms, holding his head steady against his shoulder. Izuku just trembles and lets out breathy, pitiful sobs that make Toshinori's heart sink. He doesn't let it show, though. He just rubs slow circles into the poor boy’s back, murmuring comfort.

     “I know what you’re dealing with," he whispers. "Painkillers this strong… they mess with your head. One minute everything is hilarious, and the next, the world is ending.” Izuku whimpers something that vaguely sounds like agreement.

     And you feel all numb and gross, Toshinori continues mentally, remembering his own less-than-pleasant stays. And your head won’t stop spinning, and you don’t know what’s happening, but everything feels like too much.

     "I—" A small voice breaks through Toshinori’s thoughts. "I nn— I—" it squeaks.

     “Shh… Breathe, my boy,” Toshinori hushes. “For now, just breathe. It’ll pass.” Izuku hiccups, falling quiet again, and for a very long two minutes, it’s just Toshinori holding him. Comforting him. "I'm here, my boy," he murmurs, patting Izuku's back. "I'm right here." Izuku just cries, and Toshinori doesn't blame him in the slightest. It is a little scary— waking up in a place you don't recognize, knowing you're hurt without any details. And adding drugs into the mix can make it even worse; Toshinori knows from experience.

     For another minute or two after the meltdown, he thinks Izuku has fallen asleep. That is, until the boy squirms weakly in his arms. Toshinori lets him go with more than a little bit of hesitation, laying him down carefully on the pillows.

     He winces at what he sees.

     You poor thing...

     “Here,” Toshinori says, passing him a tissue box. Izuku is at least lucid enough to blow his nose, but his face scrunches up when he can’t seem to do it very easily. Toshinori wipes his tears for him. When Izuku finally settles, Toshinori tries again.

     “Now,” he coaxes. “What were you going to tell me?”

     Izuku blinks slowly, thinking long and hard about it.

     “I’m…” he begins, sitting up as much as he can. His voice is thick and hoarse from crying. “I never came… t’see you.” Izuku blinks again and glowers; seemingly dissatisfied with his answer. Toshinori frowns too, but his is from confusion.

     “See me?” he asks patiently. “You visit me all the time. You talked to me during lunch just a few days ago, remember?”

     Izuku’s face contorts, and he fervently shakes his head. Toshinori steadies him before he can fall over.

     “No, that’s not—I didn’t—” Izuku continues, slinging an arm up in a vague gesture. “—Come see you." Toshinori cocks his head, frown deepening as he gently goads him into laying back down.

     “When didn’t you come see me?” he asks, laying a hand on Izuku’s arm. He’s cold.

     “Here,” Izuku whimpers, eyes wide and pleading. Toshinori’s lips twitch up in a small, dumbfounded smile.

     “My boy, you’re— what are you talking about? You weren’t even awake until a few minutes ago— not to mention you can’t walk. How could you have found me?” Izuku makes a guttural, irritated sound, sits up, and immediately flops back down on the pillows— too fast for Toshinori to catch him.

     “But you’re here,” he whimpers pitifully as the tears well up again. Toshinori shakes his head, officially at a loss.

     “Izuku…” he says sadly, dealing away with formality. “My boy… I just don’t understand…” He squeezes Izuku’s hand, wary of the IV taped to it. “I’m so sorry, I don’t understand.”

     “Should’ve come…” Izuku weeps, oblivious to Toshinori’s words. “Should’ve been there… ‘m sorry…” He hiccups, sending a few tears rolling down the sides of his face into his hair. Toshinori’s heart constricts.

     “Oh my boy…” he coos, smoothing Izuku’s hair back. The action does nothing to quell the boy’s distressed rambling, but Toshinori just relents and lets him talk, giving his best shot at a sympathetic, understanding expression. It probably looks closer to pity. Izuku is clearly not lucid; Toshinori begins to think the boy is so out of it that he's genuinely talking nonsense, but that doesn't mean he won't listen. It doesn't mean he won't try.

     Gently, Toshinori turns Izuku's hand around and massages the skin around his IV with his thumb. Izuku probably can’t feel the itchy soreness right now, but Toshinori knows it's there, under the haze of drugs. All the while, Izuku doesn’t stop going on about Toshinori being there for him (or at least that’s what it sounds like).

     “Of course I am,” Toshinori whispers, leaning closer. “I'll always be here for you, my boy.” He clamps down on the as long as I can that almost slips out of his mouth; no need to add fuel to the fire.

     “That’s the problem,” Izuku keens, voice breaking. "You're always h—h-here… to make me feel better," he croaks. "And I'm not."

     “Yes you are,” Toshinori says, patting his hand. A small, sad smile plays on his lips. “I feel better just by being around you.” He expects that to cheer Izuku up at least slightly, but instead the poor boy just looks crushed. More tears creep down his face, and Toshinori's smile falls with a small, sympathetic noise in the back of his throat.

     "Izuku…" he whispers, wiping the tears away. "My boy, what’s it going to take to make you feel better? I promise, whatever you need me to do, I'll do it." Toshinori entertains the fact that maybe there is no way; that Izuku is so out of it that he can't be reasoned with. Maybe he's upset over nothing in particular, but that's almost worse. It means there's no real solution.

     Toshinori reaches for him again, but Izuku pushes his arms away. Instead, he sits up and jabs a finger into Toshinori's chest, startling him.

     "And who makes you feel better?" Izuku hisses drunkenly. "Who gives you hugs? Who holds y—your hand and tells you it's going to be okay when you get hurt?" Just like that, the anger burns out, and Izuku is weeping again.

     Toshinori balks at him, sternum aching from the crooked finger still stabbing into it, and something clicks into place. It's taken an embarrassingly long time, but finally he understands.

     "The hospital…" Toshinori breathes. "Who comes to see me… in the hospital. That's what you mean, isn't it?” He rests a cautious hand on Izuku’s shoulder. “That’s what all of this is about."

     Izuku nods so fast he makes himself dizzy, swaying a bit before slumping against the pillows again. The tears haven’t stopped coming.

     "You're always h-here when I wake up," Izuku croaks; so quietly that Toshinori has to strain to hear him. "And I should have been here too—there. All for One," he sniffles. "I had the whole day to come f-find you… should have ignored M-Mr. Aizawa—Should've snuck out and found where you were, but… I should have c-come, but…" Izuku hiccups, curling in on himself in shame. "But I didn't…" he weeps. "I'm sorry. I'm s-so sorry…"

     Covering his eyes, Izuku succumbs to a peal of far-louder sobs that don’t stop. Not even when Toshinori pulls him into his arms a second time, wrapping his small frame in a tight, trembling hold.

     “Kamino?” he whispers, bony grip curling in Izuku's hair. “That’s what you’re worried about?” That was months ago now. Months. Heaving a pitiful sob, Izuku nods into Toshinori's shoulder.

     "H-had to t- tell me to- to meet you…" he chokes. "That night. The beach. Had to wake up b—" he sobs. "By yours- self . Al- lone. Should have been there for you, should have—should have…" Izuku trails off, hiccuping. "Must have been sca—" sob. "awful t— lose it," he whispers. "Just s-slept all day. Didn't do—" he hiccups. "Anything."

     There’s the faint smell of hospital shampoo and rubbing alcohol as Toshinori pulls Izuku closer, burying his face in the boy’s hair to hide his forming tears. Even if he knew what to say, he isn’t sure if he could get it out right now. Not without breaking down.

     I don’t deserve you.

     “Oh my boy…” Toshinori whispers, throat closing up. "Izuku, why? Why wouldn’t you come to me about this sooner?”

     Because he’s probably never had anything this strong loosening his tongue, Toshinori thinks, feeling one or two tears fall into Izuku’s hair. The medicine they gave him wasn’t even supposed to be prescribed to minors, but they had been having such a hard time sedating him that they got special clearance for it.

     Is that what it takes? Miserably, Toshinori pulls his boy closer; nuzzles him. Is that what it comes to for you to open up to me? Where did I go so wrong?

     “Izuku,” Toshinori finally whispers, pulling back a bit. “Please look at me.” He eases a hand under Izuku's chin, tilting it up. Sniffling, Izuku lets him, peering up at Toshinori with huge, sad eyes. The sight hurts his heart; he wants nothing more than to keep holding him.

     But I have to make this right first.

     “I want you to listen to me,” Toshinori begins, steadying his poor student with a firm hold on his shoulders. “I wasn’t alone that day. Not at all.”

     Izuku blinks at him, confused.

     “I wasn’t,” Toshinori reiterates. “I was fine. From the moment I woke up, Gran and Tsukauchi were with me, and we were all talking, and even without them, there were so many others.” That part is completely true; between the press and the authorities, Toshinori hadn’t had a moment to himself.

     Izuku is stuck in a thoughtful quiet, mulling Toshinori’s words over with still-misty eyes boring into him. Toshinori lets him think for a moment before speaking again.

     “Not to mention I was only in the hospital for a few hours—and I definitely wasn’t as banged up as you usually are.” Toshinori’s eyes soften. “Troublemaker,” he teases gently, giving Izuku’s hair a ruffle.

     That part is a bit less true; Toshinori had been in the hospital the entire day, and he’d had to practically claw his way out from under a dozen or so doctors begging him to stay overnight, but he couldn’t. He’d had somewhere to be.

     Surely I can stretch the truth a bit, though, he thinks, watching Izuku closely. The boy’s glossy eyes still haven’t left him for all his pondering.

     “But…” Izuku suddenly whimpers, breaking the spell. “But it… it’s not the same.”

     And once again—just when Toshinori thinks he might have gotten through to him—the tears return. Heavily, he sighs, letting go of Izuku’s shoulders as the boy starts weeping again.

     It’s over. Even though he’s finally gotten to the bottom of Izuku’s turmoil, Toshinori knows that it doesn’t matter. The poor kid is just out of it enough that he can’t be reasoned with.

     I’m so, so sorry, my boy.

     “Well…” Toshinori says, heart leaden. All he can do is look Izuku in the eyes and hope something breaks through. “Thank you. Thank you so much for telling me.” His voice wavers with emotion as he pulls Izuku a bit closer. “I know it was hard.”

     Izuku just looks at him with those big streaming eyes and nods, all the emotion in the world shining in their depths. Toshinori gives a weak smile in return.

     “And thank you for… for caring about me,” he whispers. If he spoke any louder, his voice would break. “But Izuku—” Toshinori squeezes his shoulders as tight as he dares. “My boy. Listen to me. If you remember nothing else, I at least want you to hear this.” He pulls him even closer so that their foreheads are almost touching, willing his boy to listen. “There is nothing to forgive. You hear me? Nothing. You were right where you were supposed to be that day—at home. Safe. Resting. And I was doing the same thing.” Toshinori lays one hand on Izuku’s cheek, eyes warm. “Do you understand?” he murmurs. "It's okay. Everything is okay."

     Izuku just stares at him, glassy-eyed as ever. When he finally tries to nod, Toshinori is just in time to steady him before his eyes flicker shut and his head lolls.

     "Whoa there.” Toshinori can’t smother the chuckle that bubbles up in his throat when Izuku snaps awake, blinking. “Alright, my boy,” he chides gently. “Enough of this. All you need to be doing now is resting.” Reaching behind Izuku, he pulls a few of the pillows off the bed and sets them aside.

     “I don’t know about you,” he murmurs, ever-mindful of Izuku’s leg while he carefully lays him down. “But I can never sleep sitting up. You can imagine the coughing fits I get...”

     Izuku stares at him with some kind of emotion as Toshinori tucks the bedclothes over his shoulders, but he can’t place it.

     “Come on,” he coaxes, once he’s returned to the bedside chair. “Close your eyes.” Then softer: “I know you’re tired.”

     It takes a minute before Izuku finally surrenders, letting his eyes fall shut, and he seems to deflate under the covers. Toshinori heaves a sigh of relief. 

     That's the end of it, he thinks.

     Until Izuku’s IV-taped hand flops out from under the covers, and his eyes open—fixing Toshinori in a sleep-heavy gaze.

     “Does it hurt?” Toshinori asks in a hush, face pinched in concern.

     Izuku blinks ever-so slowly at him, pupils still blown so wide Toshinori can almost see his head swimming. Finally, the boy shakes his head as best he can with half his face smushed in the pillow. He stretches his hand out further, crooked fingers splayed, and Toshinori understands.

     “Oh,” he says quietly, taking Izuku’s hand in his. “Oh…”

     Izuku sighs into the comforter, eyes slipping shut again. The sight brings a fond smile to Toshinori’s face, and he weaves his fingers through his boy’s much colder ones, squeezing.

     “It’s okay,” he whispers, running a thumb over scarred knuckles. “I’ve got you… I’ve got you.”

     Toshinori knows there will likely be groaning instead of giggling when Izuku next wakes up—after the meds have run their course—but he’ll still be here to help him through it. He always will. Every single time.

     Toshinori feels the smallest squeeze around his own hand, and a pang runs through his heart.

     Is it okay to… surely it is… he thinks, patchwork stomach flipping at the words stuck in the back of his throat. She did say he wouldn’t remember…

     But even so, it’s not until Izuku’s grip has slackened in his; breathing even and slow with sleep, that Toshinori can speak.

     “Izuku,” he whispers, looking at the rapidly blurring floor. “My boy… I don’t tell you this enough, but… well— I don’t think I’ve ever told you before.” Toshinori squeezes Izuku’s hand again. “I’m sorry for that,” he whimpers, closing his eyes. “So sorry.” He takes a deep breath.

     “I love you, Izuku,” Toshinori whispers. “And sometimes it just… it just hits me—how lucky I am to know you.” His voice breaks. “And every time you come eat lunch with me, or fuss over me, or make me smile, I just think… I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve you.”

     Two huge tears manage to get loose, and Toshinori scrubs his face with one arm. He knows he’s talking to an empty room right now; Izuku fell asleep minutes ago, and under the fog of the medicine, it doesn’t look like anything could wake him. Let alone the gentle hand that settles on his cheek.

     “You’re the light of my life,” Toshinori croaks. “And I don’t know why I—I’m s-so scared to tell you that.”

     It’s a lie. It’s a complete lie, and Toshinori feels a sickle of guilt curl in his gut the instant he says it.

     He knows exactly why. It’s the rejection; the possibility—no matter how small—that he could be vastly overestimating Izuku’s feelings about him. The fear of losing what closeness they already have by pushing too hard. Toshinori thinks of the long, lonely years before he met Izuku (God, it already feels like forever ago) and shudders at the thought of going back there again.

     He never quite realized the scope of his self-isolation until Kamino. Before, it had been something almost ignorable; something he could push down and out of mind during the day when he was flying a hundred feet above the skyline, or more recently—teaching his class. It was something he could manage; only rearing its head late in the evening, when he’d amble into his dark apartment, drained.

     Toshinori still likes to pretend his workaholic lifestyle was due to the actual work; to the act of saving people—and it was, for the most part. But he can’t deny that there was always a small, shameful part of himself that always just wanted to delay that long walk home. To wring out every last good deed; every last drop of time he could possibly spare until he was strung out and aching at night; too tired to do much else than collapse on the couch.

     All Might didn’t live in that empty shell of an apartment; Yagi Toshinori did. Yagi Toshinori. That sick old man next door. The man who lived alone and never had any company.

     After Kamino, Yagi Toshinori was all that remained.

     He told Izuku he’d been fine in the hospital that day, but the truth was, Toshinori had been spiraling. He zoned through all those conversations, speaking on autopilot the way only a long career in the field could enable him to. He hadn't been fine. Not really. Not until hours later, when he left the hospital.

     In reality, Toshinori had been unnerved by every disbelieving look the investigators, journalists, and government suits sent his way when they thought he wasn’t paying attention. Scratch that; he'd been afraid. Because now, there was nowhere to run from that. No escape from the shock and pity that was normally reserved for Yagi Toshinori. That husk of a man was all that survived Kamino Ward, and that was frightening.

     He couldn't run. He couldn't fight. All Might was dead, and now it was just Toshinori. The same broken body, 24 hours a day. 365 days a year. If all that wasn't enough, people knew who he was.

     So, no. Toshinori hadn't been fine that day. He had been terrified.

     But talking was still better than being alone with his thoughts, so no matter how tired he got, Toshinori let the people come. At least until visiting hours ended—when even Gran and Tsukauchi started packing up. Then, he’d panicked (Nana always said people made stupid decisions when they panicked).

     In the end, it was only Toshinori's status that got him out of that hospital that night, as much as he hated to leverage that against the doctors who were only trying to help him. But he couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t lie awake in that empty room all night. Toshinori left for the beach, typing frantically on his phone while shame ate him alive.

     There was still one more person he could talk to.

     Hugs were something Toshinori rarely thought about. He gave them sometimes in the course of his career; mostly to disaster victims, or to his own students after the Sports Festival, but they were mainly a formality. It was like any other part of his job. Something to be given—not received.

     Seeing Izuku that night (alive, so blessedly alive) had already set his emotions spiraling, but feeling those stocky little arms latch onto him so desperately had driven Toshinori to tears. That hug hadn’t been for All Might—it was his. And he regretted only having one arm to pull Izuku closer. Suddenly, Toshinori hadn't wanted to hide. He didn't need to; he was safe.

     With Izuku, he was safe. He was held.

     He was wanted.

     It was the first time Toshinori could remember almost saying it; wanting so badly to say it, but he couldn’t. Just like he couldn’t a few minutes ago; when Izuku might have heard him. But it had still been there, burning in his chest as bright and warm as a signal flare.

     He loved him. He loved him so much it hurt.

     And the thing is, Toshinori knows Izuku loves him too. He’s known this since the day he met the boy; and really, is it so surprising? There are scores of people who love him—everyone loves All Might. But there’s a line between loving someone and loving them—a fine line, but a line nonetheless. Toshinori doesn’t want to cross it; not while there’s the slightest chance he could be wrong. A chance that Izuku loves All Might, and not Yagi Toshinori.

     Listen to yourself, a snide voice in his head chimes in. That child looks at you like you hung the stars, no matter what form you take. No matter how many times he sees how fucked up you are. He still wants to hold your hand. You have no excuse but cowardice.

     An uglier voice; one that sounds more like Toshinori’s own, interjects. Then where the hell was everyone else for twenty years?! Why the fuck should anyone forget what it feels like to be hugged?! There’s a pressure building in the back of his throat that he knows is a sob. Where was my love when I needed it?

     Besides Gran (who he all-but pushed away), Toshinori can't think of anyone alive who knows him fully. The last person who loved Toshinori before he became All Might was Nana.

     And would you have done the same? A third voice almost weeps as Toshinori squeezes his dear boy’s hand. Would you have stayed with me if you didn’t know who I was? Would you have loved me too?

     Despite his worst doubts, that tiny flame in Toshinori’s heart tells him yes.

     “Why?” he whisper-croaks, vision blurring as he tugs Izuku’s hand closer to his heart. “Why can I never tell you how I feel when you can hear me?” He hacks a quiet sob. “Why is being close to people so hard?”

     Izuku doesn’t answer; his sleep-softened expression still reads dead to the world. Dejectedly, Toshinori sighs, leaning back in his chair.

     Someday, he thinks. Someday, but not yet… I’m not strong enough yet.

     Of course you’re not, the ugly voice retorts. You’ll never be strong enough. You let yourself get too attached. Losing him now would be an amputation, and you know it—you pathetic bleeding-heart.

     Toshinori gulps, wiping away more tears. It’s true. All of it.

     But…

     He heaves a shuddering sigh, and looks at his boy. Izuku’s face is almost blissful now, small hand still cradled in Toshinori’s, and his eyelids have begun to twitch every now and then. He would think the drugs would be strong enough to keep him from dreaming, but apparently not. Warmth chases away the dread in Toshinori’s chest, and a soft smile grows on his face as he runs a hand through Izuku’s hair.

     What are you dreaming about? He wonders. At the touch, Izuku’s expression relaxes, and Toshinori feels that familiar rush of affection. For now, it’s enough to drive the dark thoughts back into the furthest corners of his mind.

     Sleep well, my son.

     Maybe someday soon, a day will come when Toshinori can open up in full; tell Izuku just how precious he is to him. How much he loves him. How he’s come to see him as his own.

     But for now, while Izuku needs him, Toshinori is content to just be here.

Chapter Text

     Toshinori wakes up three weeks later with a nagging pain in his chest.

     This, of course, is nothing unusual, but he notices that the ache is in a different place than it normally is. Not his stomach (what remains), and not his scar, but higher. More centered.

     Toshinori shakes it off, naturally. Every other week it feels like his body finds some new way to rebel against him; he figures it should be gone by nightfall at the latest. Maybe he slept wrong, or maybe he strained himself somehow the day before.

     Either way, Toshinori heaves himself out of bed and gets ready for the day, thinking nothing of it.




     At eleven a.m., Toshinori jolts in his office chair, hand flying to his chest. Over the CPU towers separating them, he sees Yamada craning with a confused look on his face. Toshinori clears his throat.

     "I…" he mutters. "Sorry—I don't know what that was…"

     "What 'what' was?" Nemuri pipes up, bespectacled face appearing over her own monitor.

     "Some twinge in my chest," Toshinori replies, massaging his sternum with a frown. "It's been going on since this morning…"

     It felt like a lighting bolt had shot from his heart down his spine and back again. Even now, the ache is still there. At the familiar itch burning his throat, Toshinori grabs a tissue and coughs into it, giving the spots of red a withering look.

     "Damnit," he groans, pinching his brow. "I had better not be having a heart attack."

     Nemuri snorts, clapping a hand over her mouth when Toshinori and Yamada raise an eyebrow.

     "Sorry," she blurts, sheepishly waving a hand. "I'm sorry. It's just—you say that like you're complaining about the weather, or something."

     Toshinori sighs.

     "Well, it's not like I'd be surprised—It would fit the trend." He tosses the kleenex in the wastebasket and gestures bitterly to the browning speckles on his collar from earlier that morning.

     "Y'know, now that you mention it, you are looking a little pale," Yamada says, peering over the frames of his glasses. "You don't have class for another couple hours, yeah? Why don't you go downstairs and get checked out?"

     "It couldn't hurt," Nemuri agrees. Toshinori lets out a sigh.

     "Fine," he relents, pushing out of his chair with only a mild headrush. "But only so you nannies quit worrying."




     "I'm not hearing anything unusual…" Chiyo mutters, moving the stethoscope to the left. "At least—not for you."

     "Ha," Toshinori replies flatly.

     "And you said you've been feeling this since you woke up?”

     "Yes."

     Behind Toshinori, rain patters on the infirmary windows.

     “Well,” Chiyo sighs, looping the stethoscope back around her neck. “I think that rules out a heart attack. Despite you even being lucid at this point, there would definitely be some kind of abnormality in your heart rate, but both that and your blood pressure read normal.”

     Toshinori scoffs and glowers at the tile floor. “'Normal' for me is a litany of problems for anybody else,” he mutters, massaging his chest. Among the questions Chiyo had rattled off to him, about half were things that plagued Toshinori daily. “How long before something is actually wrong with me and I just blow it off?” he snaps. The eyeroll he gets in return doesn’t go unnoticed.

     “Well let’s not hope for today, shall we?” Chiyo quips, thwapping the clipboard she holds against Toshinori’s legs as she passes. “Drama queen.”

     Toshinori just scowls after her, but deep down, he knows she’s probably right. After everything he’s lived through, he can’t envision something like a heart attack being what finally does it.

     But you never know. Maybe the villain in Nighteye’s omen was really just strain and old age, coming to claim him at last. His own mortality: the most frightening and undefeatable of any adversary. Then again, Toshinori doubts that his late colleague’s clairvoyance was that deep.

     “Listen,” Chiyo says, jarring him out of his thoughts. “It’s been a few weeks, and the weather is—” she gestures to the window, striped with flowing rainwater. “—well, it’s less than ideal. Do you think it’s entirely out of the realm of possibility that you just have a flare-up coming on?”

     Toshinori heaves a sigh that sends prickles through his chest.

     “… No,” he mutters. “No, I don’t. But I guess… I’d just rather have a heart attack at this point.” He smiles vaguely at the floor, equal parts dismal and bitter. "Shake things up a bit.”

     That makes Chiyo pause. Toshinori sees it out of the corner of his eye, but other than a somber sigh, she says nothing more. When she sends Toshinori on his way a few minutes later, she isn’t as brash as usual.

     “If you feel like it's getting worse, I’d advise letting Aizawa cover your class today so you can rest.” At that, Toshinori laughs, and there’s only a hint of cynicism to it.

     “When does that ever work?” he says, smiling.

     “The resting?” she shoots back. “Or me trying to get you to?” Toshinori shrugs, turning down the hall to the sound of rolling thunder. He doesn't answer.




     The niggling throb doesn’t let up by the time class starts, but it doesn’t worsen either, so Toshinori passes on having Aizawa substitute.

     As much of a shock it was to lose his quirk, he has to admit that he doesn’t miss having to hold his muscular form for the duration of the class period. Toshinori wonders how much of his subpar teaching from before had to do with the discomfort. The snagging pain in his side was always easier to push through when he was still on the job, but standing around giving lackluster combat advice to his students is a considerably less distracting task—as much as it guilts Toshinori to admit it.

     Now, though, he doesn’t have to worry about all that. The pain may never really go away, but without the added strain, Toshinori feels clearheaded enough most days to make a genuine effort at teaching.

     Excluding the odd exception, he thinks sardonically, rubbing his stinging chest. The rattling coughs that follow make him miss Izuku’s finish through the obstacle course, and he swears colorfully as he pulls a handkerchief from his back pocket. It's already littered with stains from earlier today.

     Toshinori’s slightly shaking hand hovers over the blank for the part he missed as raindrops hammer the ceiling far above, eventually, determining that the cheers from Izuku’s classmates are enough. He pens in a ‘1,’ choosing for the moment to ignore the ruddy smudges his knuckles leave on the score sheet. It isn’t the first time that's happened, after all—and it probably won’t be the last.

     Hopefully, Toshinori’s pessimist brain adds.

     Nearby, Izuku lands with a clang and deposits his training dummy with the others. They’re all rigged with sensors to calculate simulated damage, and the goal is to get them through the obstacle course as fast as possible without 'injuring' the dummies further. Izuku’s data loads onto Toshinori’s laptop; a mere seven percent. Well within passing.

     Good, Toshinori notes, marking it in. The highest damage margin so far is young Bakugo’s (thirty-seven percent), but that isn’t surprising, given the boy’s track record with search and rescue. No one has killed their dummy yet, at least.

     “How’d I do?” an out-of-breath voice puffs, and Toshinori looks up to meet his successor’s eyes. Before he can answer, Izuku’s flushed face pinches in a frown.

     “Are you okay?” he asks bluntly, eyes flicking over him. Toshinori gives a reedy chuckle.

     “I really look that bad?” he teases, raising a hand for silence at Izuku’s first mortified babble. “I’m fine, my boy,” he continues. “Just having a bit of an off day is all.” Izuku says nothing, giving him an uncertain once-over, but eventually he nods.

     “So?” he asks, turning the topic back to the exercise. Toshinori gives an exaggerated scoff and pulls the clipboard to his chest.

     “You want me to divulge your grade before anyone else’s,” he teases, feigning exasperation. “That's not very fair, young Midoriya. Keep that up and they'll accuse me of playing favorites.”

     Izuku blinks at him for a moment before a wry little smile spreads on his face.

     “I did good, then.”

     Toshinori lets the clipboard down, surrendering with a sidelong smile of his own. It’s all the answer Izuku needs.

     "Yes," he hisses under his breath, and Toshinori can't help the fond smile that grows on his face as he turns away.

     As his boy walks off to join his friends, Toshinori glances back down at the scoresheet and jolts, spitting curses under his breath. From belt to collar, bright, angry blots of red paint his shirt; most likely from his coughing fit a minute ago.

     Fuck, he thinks acidly. No wonder Izuku was staring at me like that.

     Fuming, Toshinori snatches his overcoat off the back of his chair and shoulders it on with far more force than necessary. It can only cover up so much of the blood, but it’s better than nothing. The movement sends more pangs through his sternum, and Toshinori just barely manages to avoid ruining his clothes further as more coughs wrack him.

     It’s only then that he allows himself to feel nervous.




     Class lets out for the day, and Toshinori goes straight to the dorms afterwards, newly intent on following Chiyo's instruction. All afternoon he rests, and all afternoon his chest aches.

     Irritating. Unchanging.

     He can't sleep because of it, but the pain isn't sharp enough to keep him from hovering infuriatingly close to the edge. At eight-thirty, when the world outside is a dusky indigo, Toshinori finally decides he's had enough.

     Domestic sounds of life filter upstairs from the common room, and his stinging heart lifts a bit. No matter how his traitorous body has decided to act out today, it can't dampen Toshinori's affection for his students. A few of them wave as he trundles in, and he just manages a tempered wave back.

     Not all of 1-A are downstairs, but a good chunk are gabbing around the television or grouped around the tables among notebooks and laptops. The smell of food hangs in the air; someone must have made something earlier.

     Jeez, it's cold down here, Toshinori realizes with a chill. I really am getting old… 

     Rubbing his arms, he scans the room. At first he thinks Izuku must be upstairs, but then his eyes catch sight of a familiar mop of hair in the kitchen, and he smiles. His boy is exactly where Toshinori would expect: dutifully doing the dishes and swaying along to whatever is playing in his earbuds.

     Toshinori intends to get Izuku's attention by ruffling his hair or something, surely, but another racketing cough gives him away long before he’s even crossed the kitchen. Thankfully, he catches the blood with a paper towel this time.

     Out of the corner of his eye, Izuku perks up and blinks blithely at Toshinori.

     “All Might?” he asks, removing his earbuds. “I thought you were sick.”

     Toshinori shakes his head as he closes the distance between them.

     “Oh no, not quite,” he rasps, clearing his throat roughly. “Just have a bit of a flare-up coming on, I'm afraid. No doubt 'cause of this mess.” He swings a thumb up at the almost-black window above the sink, where fat raindrops clatter against the pane. Izuku frowns.

     "Shouldn't you be resting, then?"

     Toshinori shrugs.

     "I tried that—didn't work,”  he sighs. "It never does. When these things happen… they just happen.”

     He takes the rag Izuku is holding—much to the boy's quiet confusion—and gingerly falls in beside him, muttering a quiet 'scooch over,' as he turns the faucet back on.

     "I feel like it's better to do what you can while you can, rather than lay there dreading the moment it comes. I've done both, believe me, and it makes no difference. In the end, you're still stuck in bed the next day."

     Running water fills the silence that follows.

     "Just like…" Izuku murmurs, handing Toshinori a plate. He glances cautiously over his shoulder at his classmates before holding up a fist. Toshinori cocks his head confusedly, and Izuku raises his eyebrows a bit, making a twisting motion.

     "Ah," Toshinori says, understanding hitting him. He gives Izuku a knowing, bittersweet smile. "Yeah," he murmurs. "Like that."

     Izuku smiles back sadly, averting Toshinori's eyes. There's a not-quite uncomfortable pause after that where they fall into a rhythm; Izuku scrubbing the dishes clean before handing them over to be dried. Eventually, Toshinori works up the nerve to break the silence.

     "How's the leg?"

     Izuku shrugs. "Kind of sore," he replies honestly, shifting his weight off said leg for emphasis. Toshinori eyes the new compression sleeve on his knee with vague guilt.

     "It's not bad though," Izuku continues. "I went for a run today."

     Toshinori smiles faintly. "That's good."

     They don't say much after that; washing the dishes side-by-side in comfortable silence. It's so… homey. At some point, Izuku scoots surreptitiously closer, arm brushing against his mentor's, and Toshinori smiles.

     Home… he thinks, wrapping one arm around his boy's shoulders. I'm home. Something warm bubbles up in his chest.

     Say it.

     Something very warm.

     "Izuku…"

     And hot. Dense—like a hard fist clenched right in the center of his ribcage. Toshinori's breath catches in his throat, and the background noise fades as the world comes to a halt.

     Then, at 8:49 sharp, something in Toshinori's chest pops. The cup he’d been wiping clatters into the sink.

     Flare-ups ache. They ache deep and hard enough to make you feel like you're dying on the worst days, but this isn't an ache. Toshinori feels like he's been shot—to the point that he reels back to check. But there's nothing staining his shirt. No visible wound.

     Toshinori barely hears Izuku's alarmed voice as the world tilts on its axis. Sweat beads on his brow and the sink doubles before his eyes.

     Can’t breathe.

     Spasming, he grasps at his chest. His neck. His side. Toshinori can't pinpoint it, but it doesn't matter. The pain is everywhere. And then, burning like acid, it pushes up his throat and out with a ratcheting spasm.

     Relief.

     It only lasts for a moment before white fire erupts in Toshinori’s chest, stronger than before. His eyes roll back, and Izuku screams.

     Toshinori’s eyes snap open (when did they close?), and everything flickers. Somehow, he’s on the floor now—sagging against a cabinet. His head pounds like a drum, and everything is far too bright. Izuku is still frozen by the sink, shaking and silent; a look of unbridled horror on his pale face. Toshinori tries to call out—to tell him everything is fine—but his lung caves on what feels like broken glass, and his eyes finally trail down…

     He blinks.

     That's a lot of blood.

     That is. A lot of blood.

     Then Toshinori's eyes cross, and more splatters the tile with another head-splitting convulsion. The lights carve orange trails in his retinas, and he dimly recognizes his clothes; soaked black-red down the front.

     Oh, shit, he thinks dimly. Oh…

     Another spasm sends pins and needles through the parts of Toshinori's body that aren’t on fire, and he knows right then that he’s about to go under. Probably for good.

     For some reason, all he can think of are those moments of cowardice; of bullshit ‘professionalism’ disguising fear. Of held hands and bandaged little arms clutching him like a lifeline.

     Sorry, Toshinori thinks, gasping for air that doesn’t come. His eyes roll back again. I’m sorry.

     Izuku’s horrified face flashes in Toshinori's mind as he drops off, and the ache in his chest finally fades.



     Izuku hates the waiting game.

     An hour ago, the common room had just begun to clear out after supper, but no longer. Almost every student in 1-A is crowded into the sitting area, and those who aren’t are close by. Considering the size of the group, there should be quite the babble going on, but all Izuku hears is nervous chatter. Present Mic and Midnight look no less tense, milling about and checking their phones every other minute. None of them could care less about curfew right now.

     Kacchan keeps shooting him looks from where he’s hunched on the staircase, jaw ticking. He hadn’t been downstairs at the time. Izuku knows he must be dying to ask about what happened, but that would entail asking something of him, which both of them know is not about to happen.

     Izuku wrings his hands again, staring a hole in the table. The solid thunk of All Might's head hitting the counter as he'd fainted loops in his mind, coupled with awful, guttural choking. He shudders.

     It’s a bit grim to say Izuku is used to his mentor’s cough by now, but this was nothing like that. This was like a horror movie. It was only after he'd passed out for the second time that Izuku was able to make himself move.

     Blood had still been running out of All Might's mouth as Izuku pressed a dish rag to the swollen gash at the base of his skull. That brief time before help came—fabric growing warm and clammy against his fingers—was one of the most terrifying moments of Izuku’s life.

     Help had come not from Aizawa-sensei, but from Present Mic—who had already been on the first floor. It was easy to forget that the boisterous man was a trained professional sometimes, but when he’d commanded Izuku to help turn All Might on his stomach, there was nothing but steel urgency in his voice.

     “I can’t start CPR until his airway is clear,” he’d explained.

     With his teacher’s instruction, Izuku kept pressure on the back of All Might’s head for one agonizing minute, watching in horror as a dinner plate-sized pool of crimson spread under his mentor's face.

     It didn’t slow by the time Aizawa-sensei pulled Izuku away and took his place, calmly ordering him to go upstairs and change. Ms. Midnight had been keeping his classmates back, blocking their view of what lay behind the kitchen island. Izuku hadn’t even looked at them as he ran past, but he'd heard their cries of alarm at the red that painted his sweatpants. He heard the same shock from those he passed in the stairwell; all of them rushing down to see what had happened.

     After pulling on a clean pair of shorts and washing his hands twice over, Izuku had sat on the floor of his bathroom for thirty minutes, trying not to throw up. For once, he couldn't cry.

     When he was sure he wasn’t going to be sick, Izuku went back downstairs with shaking knees. Someone must have ordered his friends not to mob him, because everyone just stared as he quietly sat down at one of the tables. All Might and Aizawa-sensei were gone by then. If the mess by the sink was as well, Izuku wouldn’t know. He was sure if he looked over there now, he really would vomit.

     Iida and Uraraka sat with him for a while; mostly to tell him that a campus transit van had taken All Might to the emergency room, but after a minute of tense exchange, they left him alone. Izuku felt guilty and grateful at the same time—talking felt too exhausting right now. Thankfully, everyone else gave him just as wide of a berth.

     Which leads him to now: sitting by himself, trying to fight down the seismic breakdown just barely hovering in range of his control. Izuku wishes it wasn’t raining so he could go for a run, but he doubts the teachers would let him anyway.

     The clock on the wall reads 11:07. Over an hour since All Might… Izuku doesn’t even know the word for it.

     Died, a spastic thought interjects. Izuku just groans, pushing it down with a stab of fear. He picks at his nails; still half-expecting to see red underneath them, and the minute hand on the clock jerks forward as the second hand laps it. Izuku shoots out of his chair.

     I can’t take this.

     Ms. Midnight and Mic-sensei are talking amongst themselves by the television, both looking a bit disheveled in their civvies. He’s too spun up to care about being polite as he taps the latter on the arm.

     “Anything?” he mumbles, quieter than he means to. The last update they gave rings in his head; nothing more than that All Might was going into emergency surgery. Izuku wonders how many of those his mentor has lived through before, and then he wonders if this is the last.

     His teachers both give him this pitying look that makes something twist in his gut.

     “‘Fraid not, little listener,” Mic says somberly, holding up his phone. “You’ll know as soon as we hear something—I promise.” Beside him, Midnight nods with more severity than Izuku thinks he’s seen from her before. The ball of nerves in his chest tightens.

     On the way back to his spot at the table, Izuku is followed. He doesn’t even notice until he sits down, blinking at the two-toned eyes staring evenly back. Todoroki takes a seat next to him, silent as ever, and Izuku glances back at him, already dreading this conversation.

     To his pleasant surprise, Todoroki doesn’t speak. Not at first. But he is the first to look away, eyes falling shut with a sigh.

     “What?” Izuku says quietly. Todoroki blinks.

     “I didn’t say anything.”

     “No, wh—” Izuku huffs. “I know. Just—I meant what are you doing here?” He mumbles that last part, and guilt stings him in the gut. Todoroki is a friend. Izuku shouldn't be talking to him this way.

     But Todoroki hardly seems to notice the sharpness in his voice—or if he does, he's good at hiding it.

     "You care a lot about him, don't you?" He asks, steamrolling over Izuku's question.

     Izuku sighs. "I swear, if you're here to make any wild accusations—"

     "I'm here because you look scared."

     Izuku looks at him fully for the first time, scanning his expression for any offense, but there's none. More guilt.

     "M'sorry," he mumbles. Todoroki just shrugs.

     "You don't have to say anything," he says. "But when I would shut down like this, Fuyumi never left me alone. I don't know if that's what you're supposed to do, but—"

     "No," Izuku sighs, laying his head on the table. "No, it's… You're fine. Thank you."

     Neither of them say much after that. True to his word, Todoroki doesn't try to make Izuku talk, but the company is nice. The group in the sitting area is a bit quieter now; it sounds like someone's put on a movie.

     “Were you down here?” Izuku murmurs, not lifting his head. “I mean—when it happened?”

     “No.”

     "It was…" Izuku trails off.

     Outside, he can hear rain plopping into puddles trenched from the eaves of the building.

     "Todoroki,” he whispers. “What if he dies?" He clasps his hands overhead to keep them from shaking. It doesn’t work very well. “W-What if All Might dies and the last thing he saw was me just—just standing there? What if he dies because I didn't catch him?”

     Izuku sniffles, and against his will, a few tears escape. It’s hard to picture the man succumbing to something so… domestic. But perfectly healthy people die every single day because they fall off step ladders or choke on their breakfast. He shudders.

     “I’m sure he’s used to this,” Todoroki intercepts, dragging Izuku back down to Earth. “His cough is already bad enough, and I bet he has worse days than—”

     "No," Izuku snaps, shaking his head. "No, I’ve seen the worse days, and you—you weren't there. It wasn't like n-normal. He…" Izuku shudders, hands dragging down his face. "I-it just wouldn’t stop…"

     To his credit, Todoroki looks offset by that; face pinched in the barest definition of a grimace.

     “And he didn’t look used to it, he looked terrified. It wasn’t just a flare-up—this…”

     Izuku realizes maybe he’s letting a bit too much fly out of his mouth, but panic is loosening his tongue. He clams up before anything more incriminating can escape, laying his head back down on the table and closing his eyes.




     A black void greets him, endless and cushioned with silence. Izuku blinks, opening his mouth, but his mouth is gone, as it always is. And yet, he always tries calling out to the others.

     The others.

     Where are they?

     Izuku cranes as best he can, rooted to the spot with legs he can’t feel. Other vague, familiar shapes stand behind him, but unlike before, none of them are paying attention to him. Izuku follows every shadowed gaze to some horizon he cannot see, and the dark burns his eyes. Then ahead, something flickers. And Izuku stares, because that’s all he can do.

     It’s too far to see, but it must be one of the holders. He squints as his vision doubles, staring across the void at the dim mote of light as it tries to take shape. Behind him, someone—one of the others—cries out. Izuku would flinch, but he’s too transfixed by the distant point. Too hypnotized.

     It’s so far away… Why is it—

     “Midoriya.”

     Something shakes him by the arm, and Izuku jolts, blanching. The void vanishes behind his eyelids.

     “Midoriya, wake up.”

     “Gah—Wha… ?” Izuku snaps, blinking. It’s Iida standing over him now, not Todoroki. And definitely not one of the holders.

     The chair beside Izuku is empty, but there’s a quilt draped over his shoulders that slides to the floor when he sits up. The common room is abuzz again, but the TV is off, and everyone looks groggy as they mill about. There are fewer of them down here now.

     “What’s happening?” Izuku asks, shooting to his feet. “What time is it?”

     “Almost one,” Iida says. “Aizawa-sensei is on his way back.” Izuku’s heart jumps to his throat.

     “Is All Might okay?” he blurts, dream forgotten.

     Iida frowns. “I don’t know.” he admits. “No one does. He said he would talk to everyone once he got here.”

     Izuku’s heart plummets right back down, crashing through his stomach like a meteor. That's not good. That’s never good. People don’t show up on your doorstep in the middle of the night because they have good news.

     "O-Okay," Izuku mutters. Behind Iida, Mina and Sero thump up the stairs; probably on their way to wake the others. By the time they all return, tense silence has settled over the room—a stark contrast to the rolling murmur from before.

     Izuku takes to pacing rather than muttering; wearing a line in the hardwood with his arms folded over his head. For every footfall, his heart thumps in double-time, thoughts whirling.

     He isn’t facing the door, but he knows exactly when Aizawa-sensei walks in based on the cacophony of chairs screeching and people shouting. Izuku is with them in an instant.

     The man looks… rough. And not his normal brand of rough, either, but well and truly beaten down. Even his binding cloth is slung around his elbow, like its weight is too much for his hunched shoulders to bear right now. All it takes is a raised hand to silence the class, apprehension hanging thick as fog in place of the racket.

     "Is everyone here?" he mutters, side-eyeing his colleagues. Midnight nods, and Aizawa-sensei lets out a sigh.

     "Alright," he drones, fixing them all in a bereaved gaze. "It's late, and I've never been the type to mince words, so I'm going to make this brief." He pauses, rubs his eyes, and sighs again.

     "Before I tell you anything, I want you all to keep in mind that All Might has been stabilized. Not out of the woods, mind you, but getting there. Hopefully."

     Izuku blinks. Something that isn't quite relief loosens the knot of anxiety in his gut—until Aizawa continues.

     "Your teacher suffered a pulmonary hemorrhage tonight. It's tricky nailing down the cause once it happens, but the doctors are ruling it due to extended strain. Causation aside, the fact is that there is a two-centimeter long tear in the lining of his lung."

     Izuku goes cold. Around the room, gasps and pale faces abound. Aizawa doesn’t stop for them.

     “Like I said, he’s stable for now. They’re waiting till morning to decide on further treatment, but…” He sighs, pinching his brow. “Listen. The man is in bad shape. Very bad. If the right people with the right quirks hadn’t been in that operating room, he would have drowned in minutes. He’s already had two blood transfusions. And…” Aizawa-sensei trails off, leaving mortified silence in his wake.

     Unsure isn’t an expression Izuku is accustomed to seeing on his teacher’s face, but the man wavers nonetheless, shifting his weight as he glowers at the hardwood.

     “He… flatlined twice,” he says quietly. “Once for one minute, and then again for three and a half more. Lucky doesn't begin to cover it. Especially for someone in his condition. Keep him in your thoughts tonight.” Aizawa-sensei pauses.

     “And if any of you have to see Recovery Girl in the near future—” his eyes briefly flick to Izuku. “Be nice to her. Do what she says. She is… not taking this well.” A little bit of weight looks like it leaves Aizawa’s body with that. “That’s all. I’ll give updates as they come in. Talk to one of us if you need anything. You’re dismissed.”

     No one moves. It doesn’t sound like anyone even breathes. Izuku's head is full of static.

     Dead.

     For four minutes, All Might was dead. It doesn’t feel real. A stone lodges in Izuku’s throat, and the pane-glass doors behind Aizawa-sensei blur. For four minutes… his mentor wasn’t on this Earth with him. Something in his chest splinters.

     A high, thin keen breaks the silence, but it’s not Izuku. He dazedly glances around the common room before his eyes land on Hagakure; or at least, the tears trailing down the empty space where her cheeks are. Only a few others turn their heads.

     And just like that, the spell breaks, and most of the class is joining in; sagging onto the couches with a spectrum of emotions. Most of the girls crowd around Hagakure, sniffling, while a few—Kacchan included—hang their heads and make for the stairwell. But most sit hunched on the couches or perched on armrests; all wearing the same shell-shocked expression. Some eyes are mistier than others, but Izuku’s aren’t among them.

     A door shutting jolts him out of his stupor, and Izuku catches a glimpse of Aizawa-sensei's back leaving the dim haze of light from inside the doors. Heart skipping a beat, Izuku takes after him without thinking.

     The cold rain that smacks his face feels like a volley of coins, but Izuku barely feels the chill. All that matters is the retreating form of his teacher down the footpath.

     "Wait!" Izuku cries. "Sensei—Wait!"

     Aizawa freezes, turning. It isn’t until Izuku catches up that he speaks.

     “Midoriya, it’s pouring.”

     “I don’t care about that!” Izuku cries, neglecting to point out that Aizawa-sensei doesn’t have an umbrella either. His eyes feel molten in comparison to the rain; he already knows he’s crying.

     “Kid… ” Aizawa says, only marginally softer as he takes a step closer. “Are you alright?”

     Hiccuping, Izuku shakes his head frantically, scattering rain and bitter tears.

     “No, I’m—” he stutters. “No!”

     “Midoriya—”

     “I have to know he’s okay!”

     The white noise of rain feels even louder in the silence that follows.

     “… All Might,” Aizawa says bluntly.

     Izuku nods, biting his lip to keep a sob in.

     “I have to know,” he whimpers. “I can’t just—” a hiccup. “Wait around for him. Not again. Not when he could still…” Izuku covers his eyes, sniffling. “I can’t,” he whimpers. “I can’t…”

     A hand resting on his shoulder startles Izuku out of his meltdown. Aizawa-sensei is just barely visible, but he doesn’t look angry.

     Why did you leave him there alone? Izuku wants to scream.

     “Can’t wait,” the man says, “or something else?” The question isn’t condescending; there’s an almost gentle coaxing underneath it that loosens some of the anxiety in Izuku’s chest.

     “I can’t,” he hedges, “I can’t… leave him.” Aizawa quirks an eyebrow. Explain, the motion says.

     Izuku stands a bit straighter.

     “I can’t leave him because—because he has no one to stay there with him,” he says, gripping one wrist. “A-and Tsukauchi-san doesn’t count. Or the doctors—I mean…” Izuku huffs, risking a glance at his teacher, who nods for him to continue. “When I’m in the hospital, it’s like… everything feels worse until my mom gets there.” Or All Might, he thinks. “And All Might doesn’t have that. Not that I’ve seen, so…”

     Izuku trails off, shuffling in place. His shoes feel like sponges.

     “And you know this because…” Aizawa-sensei mutters. And Izuku vaporlocks, because he has no idea how to go into all that. The water rushing at the edge of the grass suddenly looks way more interesting. After a time, a heavy exhale breaks the silence.

     “Damn it...” his teacher mutters. “Listen. Tomorrow is a Saturday.” Izuku’s eyes widen, hope bursting like a firecracker in his chest. “If you are downstairs by 7:30, I cannot promise you I’ll be able to get you in before he goes in for surgery again. Understand?”

     Izuku looks up, gaping. “Y-yes,” he murmurs. “Yes sir. Thank you so—”

     “Don’t thank me yet, problem child,” Aizawa-sensei interjects. “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, just like you. But we’ll try.” There is quite the somber pause after that. “Get inside and take a shower before you catch cold. Don’t want to have to throw you in there with him.”

     And that’s all he has to say about it. As Izuku watches Aizawa-sensei retreat, he hears an exasperated "go on, Midoriya," but somehow, it sounds more like that coaxing tone again.

     The walk back feels longer, and Izuku doesn’t realize how soaked he is until he steps under the awning and water rolls off his clothes enough to puddle around his shoes. The common room is nearly empty now. Just before he opens the door, Izuku stops.

     … Please, he thinks, unsure of who or what he’s praying to, exactly. The vestiges flash in his mind, and the lingering dregs of a dream he can’t remember. Please don’t take Toshinori from me.

     Please don’t take my dad.

Chapter Text

     Izuku sets two alarms and is in the common room ten minutes early, just to be safe.

     The clock on the wall runs agonizingly slow; every time Izuku glances at it, the minute hand barely seems to have moved. The only sound to be heard is from his leg; bouncing in time with the ticking.

     I should have just waited, he thinks, crossing his arms on the table with a sigh. His eyes keep drifting over to the kitchen sink, and every time, his stomach turns. He jerks forward with a deafening creak of his chair.

     It's only 7:19.

     "I thought you would be up already."

     Izuku jumps in his chair, turning just in time to see his teacher melt out of the shadows in the hallway. He's on his feet before his brain can catch up, calling a 'yes sir' that echoes faintly in the deserted room. Aizawa-sensei winces.

     "Volume," he grumbles, massaging one temple. "We are not in class, and it's far too early for an in-class kind of response."

     "Yes sir," Izuku repeats, quieter this time. Aizawa-sensei mutters something unintelligible, trudging toward the entrance of 1-A’s dorm building. Izuku follows close behind, still half-anticipating some other shoe to drop—some cruel ploy from his homeroom teacher, but no such thing happens.

     Aizawa-sensei leads Izuku out past the main building to the staff parking lot, where an obscenely boring car is waiting for them. Izuku hadn’t ever really considered what kind of car his teacher might drive before, but he supposes this is fitting. The gray sedan is perfect for going unnoticed.

     The door shuts, and suddenly this feels real in a way that it hadn’t before. All Might is gravely injured, in the hospital, and Izuku is going to see him. In whatever state that entails.

     He swallows—hard, and Aizawa-sensei takes notice.

     “Having second thoughts, problem child?” he asks flatly, turning onto the main road. The sun is red in the rearview mirror. Red as blood. Izuku gulps again, wringing his hands in his lap.

     “Just nervous,” he mutters. It comes out quieter than he wants it to.

     Aizawa-sensei gives a contemplative grunt. Izuku hopes he’ll leave it at that, but of course that would be too easy.

     “Why are you nervous?” Aizawa-sensei needles, deadpan. Izuku flinches.

     “I’m worried about… walking in there, I guess. Not that I’m not glad you’re taking me! But…” Izuku thinks of his beloved mentor, lying still and pale in a hospital bed with God-knows what hooked up to him, and goes cold. “I guess it just hasn’t sunk in yet… I’m worried about the moment it hits me. The moment I see him.”

     The car is silent for at least a minute after that. Aizawa-sensei merges onto the highway, and Izuku wishes that time would slow down.

     “You said Recovery Girl isn’t taking this well,” he says, eager to think about something else. “Why?”

     Aizawa-sensei sighs long and harshly through his nose, changing lanes just barely too sharp to be necessary.

     "All Might went to see her yesterday," he says. "About an ache in his chest.”

     Izuku’s heart skips a beat.

     “I’m sure you can infer what happened, given last night, but she didn’t think it was anything to worry about. She is… extremely upset. Said she might even consider retirement, but I don't think that's going to happen.”

     Izuku’s mouth falls open.

     Poor Recovery Girl…

     "How did All Might not…" Izuku murmurs, tasting bile at the coming words. "You know… bleed out?" He barely hears himself over the dashboard vents.

     “Like I said last night, if it weren’t for those with the right quirks, he would be dead in minutes.” Izuku flinches at his matter-of-fact words. “There was a paramedic with a blood manipulation quirk—not very strong or precise, but it worked. She was able to keep pulling blood away from the wound, but I’ll give you fair warning—the bruises aren’t pretty. A lot of capillaries broke from having wells of blood pulled through too quickly. It looks worse than it is.”

     Izuku shudders, stomach flipping as Aizawa-sensei turns into a large parking lot. He hadn’t even noticed they’d left the highway.

     He spaces out all through the walk inside, the stop at the desk, and the long elevator ride down to the high-security level of the hospital. There are no windows in the hallways here. It looks like the snaking passageways of a tomb.

     They come to a sizable door with no window. Yagi Toshinori, the nameplate reads.

     Izuku feels like he’s going to be sick. He hasn’t even realized it until this moment, but his shirt clings cold to his back like a second skin with sweat, and his throat feels swollen shut.

     “Midoriya,” Aizawa-sensei says, breaking through the icy fog in his brain, “Nobody is forcing you to do this. I’m not going to punish you for turning back—he’s not even lucid.”

     Izuku processes the words. He can leave right now if he wants; no questions asked. He doesn’t have to see this, but part of him argues that yes—he does.

     A misty memory, like a scene through frosted glass, surfaces in his mind—All Might at his bedside, running a large hand through his hair. All Might declaring that he would dedicate his life to him raising him—and later declaring that he would strive for a reality in which he survived long enough to do so.

     “No,” Izuku says. “I have to do this.”

     Just once, I have to do this.

     Aizawa-sensei looks at him, shrugs, and swipes his ID in the card reader above the deadbolt. With a metallic click, the door unlocks, and Izuku’s breath catches in his throat as his teacher shoulders it open.

     It’s quiet. Quieter than most hospital rooms Izuku can remember—including his own. A heart monitor undulates against the far wall, but it’s been muted. Izuku stares at the regiment of other machines beside it, unprepared to look at the bed in his periphery.

     The door shuts.

     Vaguely, he’s aware of his own legs carrying him forward. Aizawa-sensei isn’t with him—he must still be standing outside. Izuku’s not sure if he would want him there or not, but he can’t think about that now.

     The whirr and hiss of an oxygen machine. A pouch of red-black hanging on the IV stand catches Izuku's eye, and he quickly looks away, feeling ill.

     “H–Hi, All Might,” he squeaks, staring at the pain chart tacked up across the room. The crude row of smiley faces pout back at him apathetically. He notes that the red crying one labeled WORST PAIN POSSIBLE is circled in dry erase marker, and that alone nearly makes him break down.

     Of course, there's no answer. Nothing but another mechanical whirr from whatever machine is keeping his mentor alive at that moment. The pull to look at him is magnetic; powerful as the force that raises the tides, but what Izuku sees out of the corner of his eye doesn’t look like All Might. It doesn’t even look like Yagi. And that scares him.

     He is scared. It’s like he’s a little kid again. Maybe that’s what finally makes Izuku look.

     At first, he isn’t entirely sure what he’s looking at, but the first thing that strikes him is the thick tube jutting out of All Might’s mouth. Another sticks out of a mass of medical tape and other wrappings on his chest. Even his face is so mummified it makes Izuku’s hair stand on end.

     Purple bruises, true to Aizawa-sensei’s word, cover every visible inch of All Might’s torso below his neck. One part near his shoulder even has lines where fingers pulled blood away from his wound. It only makes him look even more pale; barely distinguishable from the thin sheet over his legs.

     His face, somehow, is the worst part.

     Between the medical tape holding the breathing tube in place and the thick bandages wrapped around his head, All Might’s face is a mask of death.

     The dark circles under his eyes, palor, and lack of bangs make his head look even more like a skull. Izuku suddenly understands why he hasn’t cut them yet; he hadn’t realized how much they help hide how emaciated he is.

     They haven’t even bothered with a nasal cannula—and why would they? All Might clearly can’t breathe on his own. Izuku thinks of Sir Nighteye; tubes and leads pouring out of ports in his chest while dying in the hospital. But even he had still been awake—talking.

     The grisly sight in front of him blurs, and only then does Izuku notice the colossal lump in his throat. Tears flood in rivers down his cheeks, hands covering his mouth as he hunches over.

     “So-rry,” Izuku sobs, covering his eyes. He feels like he’s going to be sick “I’m so— sorry…”

     His cries echo slightly in the empty room, and Izuku covers his eyes, as if that's going to stall his meltdown. Would All Might be awake if he'd done better? Would he be in any less pain?

     He doesn’t know how, but somehow Izuku hears something above his crying: the near-imperceptible sound of shifting fabric. He’s almost certain he imagines it, or that it’s something outside, but he peeks through his fingers anyway.

     All Might is looking at him.

     Izuku freezes, diaphragm icing over. Even when he lowers his hands, the scene doesn’t change. All Might’s eyes are open, pupils so dilated from whatever drugs he’s on they almost drown in shadow, but open—and looking right at him.

     For some reason, Izuku bursts into tears again.

     “All—Migh-ight!” he wails, closing the distance to the bed. He doesn’t know what to do, so he grabs onto the railing, seismic sobs wracking his body. For a minute, sobbing is all he can do, gasping and hiccuping until his face prickles with invisible cobwebs.

     “I’m sorry,” he blubbers. “I’m so—so, sorry, All Might—I—“ he chokes, coughing on a sob. “I didn’t c—catch you, I didn’t h—I—I…” Izuku gulps, hunching over and wailing, “I froze!”

     All the while, All Might’s expression never changes. There’s not even any indication that he’s hearing Izuku. If not for the mechanical rise and fall of his chest, he would look frozen in time.

     Izuku cries harder, covering his eyes again. He can’t look his mentor in the eyes like this—not when he’s failed so miserably. 

     Again and again, a feedback loop of things he could have done better flash in his mind: Izuku could have caught All Might before his head hit the countertop. He could have sat him up, rushed him to the infirmary, put more pressure on his head wound—anything.

     Anything except standing there like a child, watching his mentor bleed out for untold amounts of time before help came.

     The miniscule hush of fabric shifting catches Izuku’s attention. He doesn’t know how he manages to notice it with all the noise his sobbing is making, but it’s there nonetheless. He blinks, squinting through his tears at the only other person in the room who could have made a sound.

     All Might is still looking at him, foggy, half-lidded eyes damp. His face hasn’t lost its narcotic paralysis, but something around his eyes has tightened. It looks like he’s in pain.

     The soft rustle Izuku heard before was All Might’s right hand, which has since moved from his side to his chest.

     Izuku watches, rapt, as the man lifts one shaking finger and taps on a bandage there, not far from a port. Two taps, purposeful and frail. Then, the IV in his bony hand bobs as All Might points directly at Izuku.

     “Huh?” Izuku breathes.

     All Might repeats the motion—more forcefully this time, although forcefully is hardly something he’s capable of right now. It’s still meek; sluggish with drugs, but it’s urgent.

     “Ah—!” Izuku exclaims, brows knitting together in worry. “Does it hurt? Do you need a nurse, All Might?”

     Rapid, rhythmic hissing fills the room as fog fills the breathing tube in All Might’s mouth—fighting it. Izuku’s stomach drops as tears begin to roll down his mentor’s sunken cheeks.

     “A-All Might!” Izuku yelps, daring to lay a hand on the man’s left shoulder. “L-Look at me—you can’t try to breathe, okay? I don’t know what’ll happen, but I’m sure it’s not good…”

     Izuku pictures All Might inhaling at the same time the compressor pumps more oxygen into his lung—All Might unable to exhale at the same time—air backing up inside of him until his wound reopens—

     Ice-cold fingers wrap around Izuku’s wrist where he’s touching All Might, and the spiral his imagination is sending him down halts. The man's streaming blue eyes are wild, swirling with an intense cocktail of emotions—fear, grief, confusion. He can’t move his head at all, but the steam inside the tube is coming faster and faster—as are the tears.

     For a moment, Izuku vaporlocks. Then he remembers last night, and the turbulence in his head clears as if by a strong wind.

     No, he thinks. I’m not freezing a second time!

     “I’m c-calling a nurse,” Izuku stammers flatly.

     He sounds like Present Mic did, instructing him to stave the bleeding the night before. Hands itchy with cold sweat, he grabs the remote attached to the bed and mashes the call button.

     All Might loses his grip on Izuku’s wrist, and if the button he just pushed doesn’t signal someone, the shrill tone the heart monitor suddenly emits definitely will.

     Izuku starts at the door swinging open behind him. Then at All Might’s hand, which is desperately grazing Izuku’s arm for the second time, limp and desperate. His eyes are squeezed shut now, tears still running onto the pillow beneath him.

     “Midoriya,” Aizawa-sensei snaps, taking him by the shoulder and pulling him back from the bedside. A team of nurses follows, huddling around the bed with only cursory words between themselves. It’s like Izuku and Aizawa aren’t even there.

     “Kid,” his teacher says, turning Izuku by the shoulders. “What happened? Did he wake up?”

     Izuku nods absently, floating somewhere above his body. He can feel tears gathering at the corners of his eyes again, and he can’t tear them away from the hospital bed.

     All Might’s eyes are open again, looking around frantically at the people bustling around him. One nurse uncaps a second IV hub in his elbow, inserting a syringe of what must be anesthetic. A moment later, All Might stops gasping and stills—eyes glazing over.

     Izuku doesn’t remember being dragged into the hallway after that. All he knows is that he blinks, and suddenly he’s walking past a row of vending machines behind Aizawa-sensei.

     “… Shouldn’t have done...” the man is muttering, cursing under his breath. “Should have known it was too soon to…”

     Izuku is aware of the hiccup that escapes him, but he doesn’t really feel it.

     The elevator ride takes an age-and-a-half, and Izuku floats above himself all the way to the ground floor. He floats across the parking lot to the car, too, until a firm hand settles on his shoulder.

     “You did nothing wrong,” Aizawa-sensei says in his firm, no-nonsense way. “You did very well, Midoriya. Both tonight and last night.”

     The words cut through the fog in Izuku’s head like a beacon. He blinks.

     “But—I…”

     “Hey.”

     Izuku flinches at his tone, but his teacher’s next words are a touch softer:

     “There has never been a hero in this world—not even All Might—who hasn’t locked up. Who hasn’t...” he pauses, thinking. His eyes grow distant. “... Who hasn’t looked back on themself and thought ‘if only.’ Who hasn’t felt regret, every day, that they couldn’t have been just a bit faster. Just a little less panicked.

     “That doesn’t put you at fault,” Aizawa-sensei’s dark eyes bore into Izuku. “That makes you human.”

     He slides into the driver’s seat. Slams the door. Izuku stares at the pillowy clouds towards the coast, feeling everything and nothing.

     “Let’s get out of here.” Aizawa-sensei says from inside. “I don’t like hospitals.”

 

 

     Izuku spaces through the next week. He doesn’t see All Might again, and only gets perfunctory updates from his teachers. They’re infuriatingly vague most of the time. Why that is, Izuku doesn’t know. Maybe they’re trying to protect him from some terrible news.

     He wonders if All Might misses him—doesn’t miss him—hates his guts. Every scenario feels likely. Every morning he feels heavy with dread.

     Sleep evades him like it never has before. If Izuku isn’t lying awake worrying, Izuku gets into the habit of refreshing news websites, stomach in knots as he repeatedly confirms that, no; All Might hasn’t died sometime in the night. It would be an awful way to find out, but even worse is his fear that the worst has happened and he doesn’t know it.

     A knock on his door startles Izuku out of a doze he wasn’t aware he’d fallen into. It’s Sunday—no class.

     “Deku? Uraraka’s voice filters through the door. “I’m sorry if I woke you up, but some of us are going to the new outlet mall by the coast later if you wanted to come…”

     Izuku blinks under the covers, groggy from the night before. Outlet mall? Coast?

     He sits up on his elbow, decline already forming on his tongue, when something stops him.

     I guess it would be better than sitting here all day…

     “Uh, sure,” he calls back. “I’ll get in the shower.”

     Stunned silence meets him before Uraraka crows, “O-Oh—that’s great! I’ll be waiting downstairs with the others!”

     The others turn out to be Yaoyurozu, Mina, Tsuyu, Sero, and Todoroki. Izuku tries to focus on their inane chatter on the way to the train station, but all he really gathers is that Sero is going for some kind of restaurant.

     The outlet mall is nice; it’s a pleasant day for being outside, and the crowds aren’t bad for a Sunday. 

     Sunday, Izuku thinks. All Might’s been in the hospital for more than a week now.

     This time last week, Izuku had been barricading himself in his room, still raw after his visit to the hospital with Aizawa-sensei. He looks around the bright shopping center full of happier people and feels suddenly isolated.

     Izuku wonders what All Might is doing right now. Lots of laying around, most likely. Exhaling into beakers with little plastic balls to build his lung strength back up. Mom had to do that once, when she got pneumonia. Izuku had never seen her so sick—before or since. She’d been bored out of her mind.

     I hope he isn’t upset that I haven't been back to see him yet…

     They come to an intersection in the walkway, and Izuku catches sight of the sign for a high-end department store through the spray of a fountain. It isn’t the kind of place he usually frequents, but it does give him an idea.

     “Hey, um, I think I’m going to break off for a sec,” Izuku says, pointing at the store. “I want to look at something.”

     “Oh?” Sero teases. “Finally graduating from novelty tees, Midoriya?”

     “Oh, no. Just—just curious about something. It shouldn’t take long.”

     “Okay, we’ll text you!” Uraraka pipes up.

     They split up, and Izuku wanders into the store without really knowing what to look for. The idea of getting All Might something hadn’t entered into his mind until thirty seconds prior, but just visiting again doesn’t feel momentous enough. Maybe having something to deliver will sway Aizawa more easily, too. He isn’t sure that the nurses would let him in without permission.

     Okay, focus, Izuku thinks, turning in a circle at a junction in the aisles. What would All Might like in here? Looks like clothes are all I have to work with…

     He catches sight of a rack of neckties and stops.

     That could work…

     Izuku makes a beeline for them, surprised to see Tsuyu appearing from the other side.

     “Oh,” he says. “Hey—I didn’t see you come in.”

     “I didn’t say,”  she replies matter-of-factly. “But I did say I wanted to come here on the train.”

     Izuku chuckles sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck.

     “Sorry, I’ve been spacing out a lot lately. Weird week.”

     Tsuyu nods, ribbiting solemnly. Izuku sidles up to the rack, skimming the options.

     “So uh, what are you here for?” he says.

     Tsuyu shrugs. “My dad’s birthday is next week.”

     “Oh. That’s nice.”

     Izuku’s gaze lingers on some of the more fun-looking ties towards the bottom of the shelf. There’s one that looks like simple polka dots from afar, but the dots are actually tiny American flags. Another tie next to it is adorned with small prints of multicolored ties. Izuku’s mouth quirks into a half-smile.

     He might like that one…

     Izuku picks it up, inspecting it closer, only to cringe at the price. How can something so cheesy be this expensive?

     “Midoriya,” Tsuyu pipes up, “Why are you looking at neckties?”

     “Huh? Is there a reason I wouldn’t be?”

     “I thought you hated ties, ribbit.”

     Izuku blinks at her, baffled.

     “Um,” he says, smiling crookedly. “No…? Where did you hear that?”

     Tsuyu cuts her eyes hard to the side.

     “Nevermind.”

     Eventually she drifts off to some other part of the store, and Izuku browses more. Eventually, he sighs in defeat. Nothing in this store is affordable enough to justify buying—especially for the occasion. Izuku isn’t sure how All Might would react if his consolation gift for a grievous injury is a tacky tie. He supposes no gift is better than an impersonal one.

     He’s about to head for the door when Tsuyu reappears from the front, toting a shopping bag and holding her phone out.

     “Did you see Ochako’s text?” she says, wide-eyed.

     “Huh?”

     Izuku pulls his own phone out, opening the new message in the group chat. 

     It’s a picture of Sero, giving a thumbs up in front of a sign for a drink stand advertising a colossal 1.5 liter milk tea.

     Tornado Boba Challenge, the sign says. Finish in 12 minutes, win free 12 oz tea for 12 months!

     “Oh my God,” Izuku says. Tsuyu nods.

     “He has a death wish, ribbit.”

     “I have to see it.”

     “Don’t you have to check out first?”

     “Huh?” Izuku says. “Oh, no—I’m not getting anything.”

 

     They arrive at the food court just in time to behold Sero retching into a bush, and the others are quick to recount his meteoric defeat as they all cluster around a cement table overlooking the water.

     The shopping center is built onto a seawall, and the food court is right on the edge. Izuku eyes the narrow strip of sand below them with vague melancholy.

     I hope All Might’s doing okay…

     “Don’t worry, o great Cellophane,” Mina crows, animatedly clapping a pale Sero on the back. “You’ll be back and up on that wall one of these days!”

     Sero gulps, shaking his head the best he can with his cheek on the table.

     “I hope I never taste milk tea again…”

     The conversation carries on with contagious levity, but like before, Izuku feels more like a spectator than a participant.

     Unable to resist the opportunity, he opens the news app on his phone where his last search result for All Might is still there. Izuku refreshes it, sighing when there are no new updates. Still, the tight feeling in his chest doesn’t leave.

     Izuku is about to put his phone away when it suddenly pings in his hand. He nearly drops it.

All Might (1)

Hey kiddo

     Izuku slams the notification before it can retreat to the top of the screen, staring at the text in disbelief. All Might hasn’t messaged him all week. Izuku didn’t even think he had his phone—an assumption which sounds a bit silly now.

     A thousand potential responses fill his brain; chief among them being some variation of are you alright? But he doesn’t move to type. He just stares, heart jumping when the typing bubble appears. Disappears. Appears again.

All Might

Just checked out of the hospital… meet me at the beach this evening?

     Izuku’s stomach does a somersault.

     What?

     Checked out?

     He rereads the text, feeling himself break into a cold sweat. Was All Might mad at him? Annoyed? He used ellipses a lot, but they look especially dubious right now, and he didn’t leave much room for Izuku to refuse meeting him. What if he’s in for a talking-to at Dagobah tonight?

     This is Kamino all over again! Izuku despairs silently. And I didn’t even visit him once! Standing there for five minutes while he was doped up and hurting doesn’t count…

     “Deku?”

     Izuku nearly knocks Momo’s chai over the way he jumps. He realizes everyone at the table has stopped talking, and are staring at him with varying degrees of confusion and concern. Even Sero has managed to pick his head up off the table.

     “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Mina remarks.

     “Is something the matter?”

     “Who are you texting?”

     Izuku vaporlocks. It feels like he’s being garroted by all the eyes on him.

     “All—All Might’s out of the hospital,” he manages to eke out. The table erupts into smiles and cheers.

     “That’s great!” Uraraka exclaims, sobering when she sees Izuku’s face hasn’t changed. “Isn’t it?”

     Izuku exhales shakily.

     “Well… I…” he hedges. “Of course. Of course it is, but I really wanted to see him in the hospital again before he left…” Izuku stirs his melting sorbet glumly. “I never went to visit him after he got hurt during Kamino Ward, and I guess I’ve always felt bad about that.”

     “Well, you did see him last Saturday,” Momo offers. “Even if he doesn’t remember it well, I’m sure someone told him.”

     “I know…”

     “And besides, he was barely in the hospital for a day after Kamino, ribbit.”

     “I know. That—that’s not the point.”

     They fall quiet.

     Izuku doesn’t expect them to know the magnitude of that fight—beyond the impact of culture and career. They could never know what really transpired that night. What his predecessor lost.

     “I was actually thinking of getting him something today,” Izuku continues, ending the silence. “That’s why I went in that store earlier; I was looking for a gift to bring him.”

     “Hm,” Todoroki intones, and Izuku can feel his eyes piercing him from behind his aviators. Uraraka leans across the table to swat him on the shoulder.

     “Ow! What was that for?”

     Giggling ripples throughout the table, and Izuku can’t help smiling, too. Sometimes, he still can’t believe he has a real friend group now.

     “Anyway,” he sighs, smile falling again. “Now he wants to meet up later, and I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s because he’s upset with me…”

     “Why?” Sero pipes up, chin in palm, no longer green.

     “Huh?”

     “Why do you think he’s upset with you? If he was here right now, what do you think he would get onto you for? Act it out.”

     Izuku blinks. He doesn’t hang out with Sero very often; they don’t even talk very much outside of class, so he’s a bit surprised at his forwardness.

     “Um,” Izuku says, looking skyward and flushing as he deepens his voice to mimic All Might. “‘Young Midoriya, I’m very—uh… Disappointed? With your lack of communication.’”

     Mina snorts.

     “‘And furthermore,’” Izuku continues, mimicry breaking up. “‘I’m upset… that you don’t—ugh. This is pointless… I don’t know what he would say to me. That’s part of what makes it so nerve-wracking!”

     “Okay, try this,” Tsuyu cuts in. “What would you say to him?”

     Izuku pauses, thinking.

     “I would say… that I’m sorry, first of all. That I really did want to visit him, and that I care, but that I was,” his voice plunges in volume. “—Scared. After seeing him like that. Both when it happened and afterward, and that I’m sorry for that, too. That I never meant to be inconsiderate. Or distant. I was just worried.” A beat. “And sad.”

     The others stare at him for a long while, a palette of emotions on their faces.

     “And you think he would argue with that?” Todoroki says, pushing his sunglasses up to look at Izuku. “Because I wouldn’t.”

     “Me neither.”

     “For sure.”

     “I wouldn’t.”

     A chorus of agreement circles the table, and Izuku feels a lump rise in his throat.

     I don’t deserve you guys…

     “Thanks,” he manages to choke out. “All of you—thanks.”

     They smile at him, and there’s not a trace of deception there. How did he ever wind up with such good friends?

     Opening his phone again, Izuku types, I’ll be there.

 

 

     Dagobah is deserted; no sign of All Might yet. Izuku can’t possibly imagine that he would be driving after being released from the hospital so soon—especially given that the need for the truck expired with the clearing of the shoreline.

     That being said, the train station is a good few blocks away, and Izuku doesn’t know if All Might will be able to walk that far.

     Long shadows stretch across the beach in front of Izuku as he descends the seawall, shoes crunching on sandy cement. It won’t be long until the sun is gone completely, but for now the fading light stains the sea gray and amber.

     Izuku takes his time walking the strand. He can’t remember the last time he came here just to walk. Little white crabs watch him pass, tensing when he gets too close. He glances back at the seawall. Still no sign of All Might.

     The sea looks so inviting right now. It’s a warm afternoon—and muggy after the rain this week. Spring is ebbing into summer.

     Izuku remembers when he was training for the entrance exam; how in the hottest months, All Might would sometimes throw him in the surf when the day’s work was done, or wade with him onto the sandbar at the north end of the shore.

     There’s something about those moments of quiet, watching fish pass around their legs, that Izuku holds so close to his heart.

     The sound of a vehicle approaching startles Izuku out of his reverie, and at last he sees All Might’s truck appear over the edge of the seawall. A monstrous wave of anxiety suddenly hits him. What’s All Might going to say?

     Izuku runs for the stairs regardless, stomach tying itself in knots as he kicks up arcs of sand. The anxiety doesn't stop his throat from closing up in relief when the door opens.

     "All Might!" Izuku bellows. "All Might!"

     One for All buzzes under his skin as he flies up the stairs, only to stop in his tracks when he finally sees him—back turned to Izuku as he slings what looks like a bulky handbag over his shoulder. Other than that, he looks completely fine—if tired.

     It hits Izuku like a bolt of lightning that this moment is real. All Might is real. He’s real, and he’s alive, and Izuku didn’t kill him, and he’s alive—

     The truck door slams, and All Might turns around. He’s still got the paper wristband from the hospital on, as well as a nasal cannula which is connected to the bag-thing at his hip.

     When All Might sees Izuku, his eyes cloud over. For a moment, it almost looks like he’s about to cry.

     As quickly as it comes, however, it’s gone.

     “Izuku…” he gasps.

     Izuku’s eyes widen, and a jolt runs through him. All Might’s never called him that before. He doesn’t know what to say—even if he had something lined up, it’s gone. He may as well have swallowed his tongue.

     All Might seems to catch his slip-up too, because he stiffens, reaching for his face as if to cover his mouth. It’s odd seeing his mentor this sheepish. Izuku waits for him to take it back—to correct himself—but he doesn’t.

     He just bites his lip, looking at Izuku with some unfathomable expression on his face. Fear? Disappointment? Sadness? Izuku isn’t sure.

     They stay in this stalemate on the blacktop for what feels like decades, soft crashing of the ocean the only reminder that time is still flowing. The sun turns the color of dying embers as it reaches for the skyline.

     Izuku’s eyes blur, and only then does he feel the crushing vacuum that’s been building in his chest. He feels one hot tear—then another, run down the furrows where his cheeks meet the sides of his nose. He wants to say something. He can’t.

     “Oh my boy…”

     Izuku hears footsteps on the pavement, and suddenly All Might is in front of him. Izuku stares up at his mentor, shaky and silent as more tears flood down his face. He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out.

     All Might smiles fondly, huffing something close to a laugh. He digs around in his pocket before drawing out a new pack of tissues.

     “I came prepared this time,” he says, voice softer and a bit more reedy than it was a week ago. Izuku numbly takes the tissues, eyes never leaving All Might.

     “I,” he finally croaks. “I promise I was going to come see you, but—” his voice splinters like fiberglass. “But I didn’t know…”

     All Might clicks his tongue with a sigh, smiling and shaking his head the way adults do when a child says something ridiculous. It’s not mean-spirited, though. It’s a warm sound, and it makes Izuku want to cry even harder.

     “You really are the prince of nonsense,” All Might says. “And besides, the nurses tell me that you came to see me before anybody else.”

     Izuku cringes, remembering that fiasco.

     “That doesn’t count…”

     “It does.” All Might pats his shoulder. “It really does.”

     Izuku drags a wrist across his face before he can start crying again—then breaks open the pack of tissues when he remembers they’re still in his hand. He blows his nose, dimly aware that All Might is steering him by the shoulder toward the stairs.

     There are no benches on the strand or in the parking lot, so they sit where they always did during Izuku’s beach cleaning days: the second-to-last step at the bottom of the seawall.

     “So you,” Izuku says meekly, eyeing All Might’s mystery-bag and the nasal cannula attached to it. “You’re really okay? I mean…”

     All Might nods, chuckling.

     “Well, they’ve got me on what feels like fifteen prescriptions, but yes. I have to avoid excessive strain for a while, but the doctors said I’m healing up very well.”

     Izuku’s eyes watered. There was still part of him that couldn’t believe his mentor was alive.

     “Did they ever find out what happened?” he asked, swallowing thickly. “Why did they keep you for so long?”

     All Might sighed through his teeth, folding his arms.

     “Well, they said it could have been anything, but given my, ah—extensive medical history, they think I had a persisting embolism from the strain on my lung, and repeated coughing made it more and more agitated until it just… couldn’t take it anymore.”

     Izuku gulped, feeling his own chest tingle uncomfortably.

     “At first, they didn’t get Recovery Girl because—well, her quirk would have killed me. Then, when I wasn’t on the knife edge anymore, it was more about the doctors wanting to avoid creating a big mess of scar tissue in there. Lungs are a lot more complicated than something like a stomach; it’s more like a sponge than a bag of air. Just patching it up isn’t… much of an option. Not to mention all the blood.”

     “So what did they do?” Izuku asks quietly.

     All Might laughs nervously (it sounds more like a wheeze) and rubs the back of his neck.

     “Well, as if I wasn’t missing enough…” he says, tugging down the collar of his shirt. Izuku’s stomach turns, and he feels the blood drain out of his face.

     Slicing down the center of All Might’s sternum is a new and formidable scar, stitches still covered with clear surgical dressings. Izuku can’t see how far it reaches under his shirt, but the width and thickness of the stitches clearly convey how serious the procedure was.

     “Your lungs are separated into sections—lobes,” All Might explains smile hollow. “And they decided that, at this point… It was less risky to do a lobectomy while they still could. They never even found the rupture till a quarter of my lung was lying in a tray.”

     Izuku shudders, feeling sick. He has no idea how All Might can speak so casually about this.

     The man must finally catch the ashen look on his face, because he grabs Izuku’s hands with wide eyes.

     “B—But I’m alright! I promise, Midoriya, I’m recovering very well. They even said with a few months of physical therapy, I might be off the oxygen condenser for good. Th-The surgery even fixed my cough—no more blood! And I’d personally rather be stuck with these things in my nose than dead, wouldn’t you?” His smile is more than a little strained—bordering on manic as he jokes.

     Izuku doesn’t laugh. He’s actually struggling very hard to not start bawling again.

     This close, he can see where they buzzed All Might’s hair to the skin at the base of his skull. To suture the wound Izuku could have prevented.

     “A-All Might…” he whimpers.

     The man’s smile falls, and he looks more tired than ever. He lets go of Izuku and sighs, staring at the sand between his feet.

     “I’m so sorry, my boy,” All Might whispers, quieter than even the receding tide. “I can’t… imagine how scary that night must have been, and I know I’m just making it worse. To be honest, I… I’m scared, too. I’m terrified.”

     “I should have caught you,” Izuku blurts. He doesn’t even mean to—it just happens. But once it’s out of his mouth, he feels like he could collapse in a heap on the sand.

     “What?” All Might says, blinking at Izuku.

     “In the kitchen. You fell, and you hit your head, and I could have caught you—I could have helped you, or called someone, or taken you to the infirmary, but,” Izuku swallows the lump in his throat, voice breaking. “But I didn’t.”

     All Might stares at him, dumbfounded.

     “Midoriya,” he says. “My boy, I only had a mild concuss—”

     “That’s not the point!” Izuku shrieks. “I should have helped you— you of all people—when I had the chance, but instead I just stood there like an idiot—”

     “Hey!” All Might barks. “You are not an idiot. I won’t have you calling yourself that!”

     Izuku flinches. There’s no denying the slight change in his voice. It’s still loud, yes, but the fullness—the deep baritone that could shake mountainsis weaker now. The absence isn't all that noticeable, but to Izuku, it's a devastating shock.

     “I just wanted to help you,” he whimpers, eyes burning. “Wanted to do better… Be better… Even when you were in the hospital, I still…”

     He sniffles, shutting his eyes to keep the tears from falling. There’s so many things he wishes he could say, but except for one moment of weakness—that night in the rain—Izuku doesn’t even have the words.

     He jumps at the cold fingers that slide under his chin and gently tip his head up to meet All Might’s eyes.

     He’s crying.

     Izuku is so arrested by this that the lump in his throat vanishes. Transfixed, he watches as All Might covers his mouth and hunches over with his eyes shut tight. His shoulders shake with silent sobs, and tears run into his hand despite his efforts.

     He stands suddenly, taking an aimless and slightly unbalanced few steps towards the water to compose himself.

     “Do you know why I wanted to meet you here, Izuku?” All Might says, voice wavering as he faces the ocean. Again, his given name hits him like cold water.

     He doesn’t.

     “I’m a coward,” All Might says, tears still streaming down his face as he turns to look at Izuku. “I’ve been such a coward, and I almost—you almost paid for it. Never again. I’m never leaving anything unsaid again.”

     All Might suddenly walks up to Izuku and grabs his hands, pulling him to his feet. At Izuku’s stunned silence, his frantic crying softens into something much more tender.

     “You know,” he says, smiling as he cups Izuku’s cheek. “Everyone always acted like it was the best thing in the world—having kids.”

     Izuku’s heart skips a beat. What..?

     “I think I know,” All Might blubbers, breaking to catch his breath, “I think I know—what they meant—now…”

     Izuku squeaks as he’s suddenly pulled into a crushing hug.

     “’Be better?’” he echoes. “Izuku, you’re perfect.”

     Izuku’s breath hitches, and in an instant he’s crying too, burying his face in the crook of All Might’s neck. A steady hand holds his head there, carding gently through his hair.

     “I love you,” Toshinori sobs. “I love you so much, sometimes I can’t breathe. And I'm so sorry that it—that it took me almost dying to tell you that...”

     “A-All—Might!” Izuku sobs. “I was—so s-scared! I thought I was—I thought you were—and that the last thing I ever saw—that you ever saw—!“ Izuku hiccoughed, gulping a huge breath of air. “I’m not ready to lose—you. I’ll never be ready to lose you—and I—I—“ Izuku breaks down into sobs, too overwhelmed to finish.

     “Shh,” Toshinori croons, smoothing his hair back. At some point they must have sunk onto the sand; they’re both on their knees now. Toshinori smooths his hair back again, murmuring something in English. Izuku may not understand, but he feels the tenderness in the words.

     “I’m not going anywhere,” Toshinori whispers after. "I hate when you’re so hard on yourself—it breaks my heart. I don't blame you for anything. I love you..."

     Izuku sniffles, balling his hands in his mentor's shirt.

     "I—me too," he hiccups, leaning back to look him in the eyes. Whether his cheeks are burning from crying or embarrassment, he doesn't know. His voice drops several levels in volume, and he tucks his chin sheepishly. "I—I love you, too…"

     Toshinori chuckles warmly, pressing a kiss to the crown of Izuku's head before pulling him in again.

     "I wanted to get you something—for tonight," Izuku mumbles into his chest. "I'm sorry I never found anything good…"

     "Don't be ridiculous," Toshinori says, squeezing him slightly. "I already have the best gift I could ask for."

     Izuku feels his face heat up again against the fabric of his shirt.

     The last of the day’s light is fading fast, turning the sky a brilliant violet as the sun finally sinks behind the buildings. Over the water, the first distorted edge of the moon pools over the horizon.

     “Do you want to go for a walk?” Izuku says.

     They leave their shoes by the seawall. The sand is still warm underfoot, but the water is as cool as it’s ever been. Shorebirds wheel overhead as they walk through the surf, looking for anything interesting. It’s harder to see at dusk, but Izuku doesn’t care. He’s not really looking that hard anyway.

     “It’s funny,” Toshinori says, taking Izuku’s hand. “I’ve always kind of wanted a son.”

     Izuku smiles, looking the other way.

     “I’ve always wanted a dad,” he says, blushing.

     Toshinori chuckles; a warm, rich sound that rumbles in Izuku’s chest, and he thinks that maybe things won’t be so different now after all.

     “We can certainly make that happen.”

     Izuku nods—choked up and happier than he's been in a long time.

     Hand in hand, they walk until the stars come out.