Inko got back into the livingroom in time to overhear the following:
“...out of your mind?” Nighteye had gone from vague discontent to active anger.
“It’s not up for discussion, Mirai.” Toshinori didn’t sound as firm as he could have. He was upset and hid it badly.
“Really? Have you told her anything?” Nighteye asked. “Does she know…”
“Enough!” Toshinori cut him off. He was getting angry and that was a new look for him. Inko wasn’t sure she liked it. “You left. That was your decision, but this is my life. It’s my future and it’s my quirk. Whether you agree or not, my decisions are mine.”
“You’re still the same as you were then. You won’t listen.” The tall man shifted his weight back on one foot and adjusted his glasses. “Do you not care who gets hurt?” He noticed her then over Toshinori’s shoulder and something happened; one of his eyes took on a deep violet hue.
It was like bearing the weight of the Force. She’d shouldered that mountain once before during the battle of Malachor V. Every Jedi and Force sensitive in the field felt it. Their actions that day had been so pivotal that every eye, seen and unseen, was on them. It wasn’t quite the same now. It had that same pressure, but it was more like standing underneath a giant invisible eye while her skin peeled back to reveal the inner workings of her most private self.
She reacted and not especially well.
Nighteye’s head snapped back as she hit him with the psychic equivalent of a backhanded slap. One hand flew up to cover his nose and mouth. When he regained his equilibrium and pulled it away he was bleeding freely from the nose.
Inko’s voice, when she found it, was just shy of physically freezing. “I’m going to choose to believe that you have no idea what that’s like for someone who can feel it.” She kept herself tightly contained within her body as she came to stand next to Toshinori who was watching her with the same alarm she’d felt when he’d started to raise his voice at Nighteye. “Young man, you have just used the only free pass you will ever get from me. If you attempt to do that again to anyone in this household without their explicit consent then you will find yourself suddenly outside with no memory of how you got there.”
Inko did not believe he actually meant to do it again. Nighteye was still reeling and disoriented from the slapdown she’d just given him and Quirks weren’t like Force techniques. They could be a reflex, but she found she did not much care about that when she felt the crushing regard of his Quirk fall on her a second time.
“I warned you.” She snapped her fingers and shut his consciousness down. He didn’t pass out, but he did become for all intents and purposes a life-sized doll.
Anger was harder to deal with when she was still smarting from what her instincts insisted on classifying as an attack even though she knew better. She held him there until she trusted herself not to hurt the man.
Still, her voice had the eerie tranquility of a Jedi Master and not the ordinary woman she’d rebuilt herself into when she spoke again, “Liberty, when I put him in the elevator could you please let him out somewhere the reporters won’t mob him?”
“Consider it done, ma’am.” Liberty replied and there was a tone of immediate respect and trust there that she hadn’t picked up on before. The AI suddenly sounded like a soldier. The elevator doors slid open. “Ready for the package.”
The man lurched around and marched inside.
Inko had to keep her attention on Nighteye even once the doors closed behind him. Toshinori tried to say something and she had to hold up a hand to forestall him. “Forgive me. I need to concentrate.”
“He’s left the elevator.” Liberty told her kindly and Inko released her grip on the ‘pause’ button in Nighteye’s brain with a sigh of relief. Good riddance. If she never saw that self important little Hutt slug again it would be too soon.
“Thank you, Liberty.” Inko massaged the back of her neck, trying to chase away the lingering feeling of being squashed under a giant’s thumb.
“My pleasure, ma’am. Permission to blacklist Sir Nighteye?” She’d reverted back to her original sunshine tones.
Inko paused and frowned. She looked to Toshinori who was still pale and unhappy looking. “Do I even have the right to do that?”
“You do now. I’m writing you into the administrator’s list.” Liberty replied tartly. All right, so she was very advanced for an Earthborn AI. “All Might lets that boy get away with murder. His quirk is foresight. He was looking into your future without permission.”
“Libby!” Toshinori glared at the ceiling at the same time Inko said, “Then yes, absolutely.”
The power of prophecy wasn’t as shocking for her as it might have been for a regular person. Every Jedi received visions every so often. Once she attained her mastery they’d lost their glamor as she came to understand the true nature of causality.
“Ban confirmed! I’m going to go chat with Izu and D5 now.” Liberty sniffed. “Don’t bother me unless it’s an emergency, All Might.”
“Well, at least she’s paying attention to this location now-- I suppose it’s my fault for not reviewing the security list. I forgot he has automatic open access to my properties when I’m in residence. He hasn’t visited in years.” Toshinori came over to check on her. “Are you all right? I’ve never heard of anyone feeling his quirk in use before. Are you hurt?”
“Not hurt, exactly.” Inko tried to suss out exactly how she was feeling. The sensation faded fast. Now she was mostly annoyed about being seen in her kitten shorts by a stranger. “It was very invasive. I wouldn’t have hit him except it was such a nasty surprise. Are you?”
Toshinori shook his head, picked her up, and sat her on the counter so they were eye to eye. “It’s my fault. I never had a problem with him using his quirk on me. He… he meant well.”
“Toshi, sweetheart.” She cupped his face to make him look at her. “Permission before isn’t permission later.” She let her thumb drift back and forth across his cheekbone. “What are you so scared of right now?”
“Am I being that loud about it?” He closed his eyes and leaned into the touch.
“A bit. I’m also worried and not minding my business as well as I normally do.” Inko confessed. “Who was he?”
“My former sidekick.” Toshinori sighed. “We split up about six years ago and he has his own agency now. We were collaborating again for a little while when I returned to Japan to look for my successor, but ended up disagreeing on the final candidate. I couldn’t persuade him and he couldn’t persuade me so we ended up going our separate ways again. He may seem stern, but his heart is good. The media hasn’t tried to get into my personal life in years. It’s a worrying trend and he hasn’t always reacted well when he’s been frightened or if someone in his inner circle is threatened.”
Maybe. Inko reluctantly admitted she hadn’t reacted well either. In hindsight Nighteye’s mental presence was eerily like that of another Jedi and it had made her defensive.
“That didn’t quite answer my question.” Inko set her own behavior aside to meditate upon later. “You were frightened of him or something he might do. What?”
“I ---was afraid of something he might tell you.” Toshinori fingers tightened on her hips. “I should have told you at the beginning, but at first I wanted to keep it to myself and then later I was afraid you might leave.”
Fat chance of that. She was too selfish to leave, but she made herself stay quiet and listen.
“Nighteye looked into my future when I was first injured.” He explained quietly. “He did his best to convince me to retire afterwards so I knew that whatever he saw was bad, but I wasn’t ready to listen. He ended up telling me what he saw. I don’t… have a lot of time left. In a few months or a year I’ll fight someone and lose. His predictions have never been wrong. I’ve seen him try to change them. It’s never worked.”
“Well, no, it wouldn’t have.” Inko mulled it over. Prophets who weren’t also Force adepts were rare, but not unheard of. Nighteye’s abilities probably followed the same rules. “It’s his quirk after all.”
Toshinori blinked rapidly in surprise. “I beg your pardon?”
Normally Inko would have been a little more careful about how she answered a question like that, but she was preoccupied by the puzzle of a prophetic quirk and still rattled a bit so she just answered without thought as though she were talking to a padawan or a younger Jedi. “Prophecy is organic predictive modelling. His quirk would take into account everything he is and everything he knows. He couldn’t change his own predictions nor would anyone he knows very well.” Inko mulled it over, trying to remember what little she’d been taught on the matter.
Jedi were inherently disruptive to prophecy since prophets did utilize the Force a little bit in their process -no organic brain possessed that much processing power- and the Force had a hard time predicting the actions of a Force sensitive person. Force Adepts could feel the flow and ebb of the Force so they could not be observed without in turn being affected by it. Jedi could do their own version of foresight, but it wasn’t the same. In some ways though it was more helpful.
“Even then...” She continued absently. “...there’s no such thing as predestination. Prophecy is just the most likely outcome of many. That’s in the short term. Long term prophecy is little better than a shot in the dark. The predictions are incredibly fragile. How long ago was… what?” She realized he was staring at her.
Two big arms closed around her and, while yes she did enjoy his hugs, that was not the reaction she’d expected from him. “What?” She asked again.
“I wish you would marry me.” He murmured almost muffled by her hair.
Inko pushed him back. “When did you ask?!” She cried out in alarm. As dense as she could be sometimes she knew she wouldn’t have missed that.
Toshinori clapped a hand over his mouth and went violently red. A year ago he would have puked blood on the spot. “I didn’t!” He hastened to assure her. “I know it’s too soon and… that I don’t have the right. I just…” He swallowed. “...would really like it if you never went home and just stayed with me forever, but I can’t offer you any kind of future with me in it. I still want to ask.”
She was going to leave.
The silence between them was deafening. She hadn’t pulled any further away. Instead she was looking for something in his face and if he knew what he’d have shown it to her.
Asking had been equal parts desperation and the fact that he just couldn’t hold it back anymore. He loved all of her all the time, but he liked her best when she wasn’t paying attention. That was when she displayed this intellectual dry wit and breadth of lived experience that he didn’t think anyone ever got to see except him and young Izuku. He wanted everything even though he knew it wasn’t going to happen.
No one had ever stayed with Toshinori before --whether they meant to leave or not. He’d known on some level that he’d never get to keep her, either of them, but had been determined to keep his eyes shut and enjoy the ride while it was still going.
Only now he was getting greedy. He knew that asking what he was asking for was the least fair thing he could do.
Inko reached up and cupped his face with her soft little hands. He closed his eyes and braced for it.
“Do you mind if I take a look?” She asked.
Toshinori’s eyes snapped right back open and the first thing he saw was the guilty little face Inko always made whenever she was about to cop to having yet another magical space power. It was getting ridiculous. “You’re joking.” He said flatly.
“It’s not the same as what your friend can do.” She admitted and continued to pet his face with no indication that she ever wanted to stop. “I can look at your options, but none of them will be for certain so long as Izuku and I are around. Then again, neither will Sir Nighteye’s prophecy, but I can at least predict a general trend or actions to avoid.”
“What difference are you or young Izuku making?” He didn’t necessarily disagree. That echoed a feeling he’d had for a while. Young Izuku had entered his life like a happy little breeze in a closed room and had changed… everything, really. Life was suddenly interesting again and that was before the boy dragged him home.
If he hadn’t met the boy then he’d likely have accepted whichever candidate Nedzu and Mirai liked best whether he felt it or not. It had been a long five years and he’d lost his stubborn head of steam. He’d been so tired. It had taken everything he had just to keep the illusion of All Might going. Part of him had almost welcomed his impending end because it meant that he’d finally be done soon.
“That prophecy was probably diverted when you met Izuku.” She smiled with a little bit of chagrin. “Our existence interferes with the… network, I suppose you could say, that prophets use to ‘see’. We’re corrupting data in that analogy. People like us are very hard to predict.”
That was for damn sure.
Hope was growing in his chest and it hurt. “All right.” He wet his lips and felt a bit like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland; ready to believe six impossible things before breakfast because the other option was too bleak to consider. “Look.”
She scooted a little closer so she could lean up against him and close her eyes. To his surprise, he could sort of feel something going on. The air took on a solemn weight like something was pressing in on him from every angle including up and from within. It was just shy of uncomfortable and he realized this was what Inko had felt earlier, except she’d felt it more.
No wonder she’d smacked Mirai into orbit. It didn’t hurt, per se, but ‘intrusive’ was a real good word for it and his brain tried hard to interpret the sensation as pain.
“Huh.” She said after a while, sounding faint and bemused as she pulled back. The pressure eased and then vanished leaving him struggling to remember what it had felt like.
“What?” Toshinori asked in alarm.
Inko looked up at him again. “Ask me.” She said. Her cheeks went a light shade of pink.
He didn’t follow right away, but when he realized what she meant the bottom fell out of the universe.
“I don’t have a ring!” He hissed because apparently that was his primary concern. What.
“Get one later.” She put one hand on his chest right over his heart, which was doing its damnedest to beat right out of his ribcage. “Ask me.”
Oh, jeeze. He was about to ask the most important question of his life and he didn’t even have a real shirt on. They were going to need a do-over once he found a good ring. People did that, right? Do a soft proposal and then ask again later for real? “Will you marry me?” He breathed.
She smiled like the sun cresting over the horizon. “Yes.”
Izuku walked in followed by D5 right as Toshinori swept her backwards into a kiss.
“Oh my! And in the kitchen! How shameful!” The droid wailed and Toshinori could feel his fiancee smile against his mouth. “Young Master, avert your eyes!”
“Um, Toshinori-san…” Young Izuku let the droid shield him from the scene they were making, but did pitch his voice to carry. “...the T3s want permission to give Basil a Japanese lexicon. Can I tell them yes?”
“Yes, anything it wants.” Toshinori let his forehead rest against Inko’s. Oh lord, he was about to be a father.
They’d developed something like an informal version of that relationship, but this would be for real.
“Within reason!” Inko, the veteran parent, told them. She kissed him again once the sound of footsteps faded. “They’re gone.”
“Did you know that was going to happen?” He asked once he’d taken the edge off his need to memorize the way she tasted.
“It was a strong possibility.” She winked.
“What else did you see?” He almost didn’t want to know.
“You’re not going to die.” She pushed his unruly bangs out of his face and sobered a little. “Not unless you give up, but you’re not going to give up because you just made me a promise. Do you understand?” She pulled him down to eye level by the front of his shirt. “Your job from now on is to come home so you do whatever is necessary. Swear it.”
She was maybe not aware of what he was willing to do if it meant having even just a little more time with a family of his own. He took her hand and turned his face into it.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just a matter of settling down to plan a wedding, but it was a good day for everyone to be accidentally housebound.
Izuku took the news like someone had just given him a million dollars, the Nobel Peace Prize, and a lifetime VIP pass to Hero Con in one awkward package who spent way too long explaining that Izuku didn’t have to call him dad, but it would be okay if he wanted to call him dad, but he didn’t have to, but if he wanted to then Toshinori would really like that a lot.
Inko spent the morning more or less in constant contact with Toshinori while he looked at jewelers on his phone and tried to pretend like he wasn’t. She was happy to let him take point on that front. There were apparently a lot of arcane rules about engagement rings and she was occupied with reading the articles Liberty kept sending her about the wives of prominent heroes who were all either constantly in the spotlight or never seen at all.
She’d known, sort of, that the women associated with desirable bachelors lived under a microscope one way or the other. There were already some pretty nasty analyses of that picture Nighteye had brought to their attention online. No one had caught a snap of her face, but they had plenty to say about her body.
It was annoying, but nothing she hadn’t heard before whispered by younger women at the grocery store. She’d actually lost some weight in recent years just keeping up with Izuku and that American Dream Plan had led her to packing on some of her old muscle tone even though she’d been shamelessly cheating using the Force, but her body was never going to be the same shape as it had been before she gave birth. Her stomach and hips were permanently round and she had persistent fat clinging to her tricep area. The women who the media were most likely to ‘approve’ of by publishing fewer scurrilous articles about had a very specific silhouette she wouldn’t even have fit into forty years ago.
Still, she got the warning Liberty was trying to slip her; they’d have to go public before long and it was going to be a media blitz when it did. She had to decide now how she was going to handle it.
That flew in the face of everything she’d built her life to be, but it hadn’t escaped her notice that she and Izuku featured prominently in every permutation of Toshinori’s future where he grew old and passed away as a peaceful old man. Nothing was certain. There still was no such thing as destiny, but she could identify patterns with the best of them and Inko had felt the will of the Force when she peered into those possibilities.
Inko wasn’t the only person who wanted him to have a happy life. All Might was so universally adored on Earth that it echoed within the Force and became a driving energy all its own, but if she wanted one of those futures to come about then she was going to have to take a chance and step into the light after decades of sticking to the shadows.
She loved him enough to try.
That was a revelation all on its own; that feeling, which had started small and built incrementally over time into something that took up as much space in her body as she did, was love . Having felt it now twice, she could understand why the Council over the years had decided to weed it out of the Jedi. It was overwhelming to say the least.
It occurred to her to wonder where Toshinori’s management team was during all this. As she did, Liberty dinged the speakers and said, “Heads up, lovebirds. It’s about to hit 9 o’clock.”
“Shoot.” Toshinori muttered and put his phone away. “I forgot. They aren’t allowed to call me before 9 AM. You might want to change, love. We’re about to drown in video calls.” He wet his lips. “I can run interference for you if you want to stay private for a bit longer. I’m probably going to have to give a public statement acknowledging that I’m seeing someone. No one is going to really expect me to give out your name until we’re really ready to go public on our own terms, but that might be inviting the paparazzi to try and identify you ahead of time.”
“I’ll meet with your managers for now.” She’d been mulling it over and had come to the conclusion that a professional opinion would be very welcome. “Should Izuku be involved?”
“That’s the best plan.” Toshinori thought about it. “I think it might be best to tell them about Izuku, but he’s a bit easier to handle. He’s an up and coming UA student. They’ll want to get a head start on licensing his image --and probably workshopping merch if I’m going to be honest, but I don’t think they’ll want him in front of a camera until after the Sports Festival. That’s the traditional debut for legacy heroes. You and I are a different category of news.”
Annoyingly, Inko heard her phone start to ring in the other room. She recognized the ring tone.
“Is that the theme song from Lupin the Third?” Toshinori asked.
“It’s Hisashi.” She sighed.
Toshinori started to say something, but his phone began to ring the second the clock ticked over to nine. “Come to the media room when you’re ready.” He kissed her cheek and took off.
The first thing out of Hisashi’s mouth when she answered was; “It wasn’t me!”
“What wasn’t you?” Inko reminded herself that this was going to be one of the happiest days in her future memories.
“...right. You don’t follow the news.” He sighed. “Do you know you got spotted last night with the big guy?”
“One of his friends came by to yell at him over it, yes.” Inko closed her eyes and courted serenity. “From your tone I’m guessing there’s been a new development.”
Hisashi was quiet for a moment. “Some anonymous internet rando identified you as Vortex.” He said at last. “I repeat, it wasn’t me.”
She hadn’t had the name for more than a few days and it was already causing her trouble. “Toshinori is already meeting with his management and PR team. I’m meant to join them as soon as I’m off this call.”
“Oof, that’s going to be rough.” Hisashi made a thoughtful noise. “Alright, I know I said I didn’t do it, but… I don’t know if they do this out in space or whatever, but sometimes when a parent on Earth wants to teach their kid to swim they throw them into a lake. There are four people who knew the name Vortex before this morning; you, me, the Director, and the Emperor. If I had to guess, and it’s just a guess, then I would say someone who is not me decided you need to learn to swim. I’m not the only person who knows about you and the big guy. This may be how they’re showing their approval.”
“By forcing me to go public?” She closed her eyes and counted to ten in every language she knew to count in. It wasn’t hard to guess who was responsible. She was below the Emperor’s sight line. Asking for forgiveness rather than permission was the Y.U.R.E.I. way. Her money was on the Director. She’d never met the man personally. Few ever had aside from Hisashi, who regularly wished he hadn’t, but he had a way of making his will known.
“I mean… yeah?” He coughed. “I kinda agree with them. I know you’re worried about someone coming after you, but you’re underestimating how difficult we’re prepared to make it on them. Even if you’re not confident in the nation’s ability to keep you on Earth then consider this; the darkest place in the world is directly under the lamp. There’s no lamp bigger or brighter than the guy you’re seeing right now.”
“Engaged.” Inko almost kicked herself, but it was too late. She was falling back into old patterns. Hisashi had been her primary contact, confidant, and reference when it came to integrating into Japanese society; the one person she didn’t have to hide from or put up a front for. She had more people now, but he’d been the first. Of anyone else in the world she could have told, Hisashi would best understand the precipice she’d just jumped off. “He asked. I said yes.”
“Oh my god.” Hisashi wheezed and then jumped up and started swearing. She heard a swatting sound followed by the squeak of his chair as he fell back into it. “I just set my desk on fire. Thanks for that. How did the kiddo take the news?”
“Like all his Christmases and Birthdays arrived at the same time, twice.” Inko replied wryly.
“Well, yeah.” Hisashi chuckled with a fondness that surprised her given his terror at the mere prospect of being asked to parent. “Who wouldn’t?” He sobered. “You know you’re gonna catch some hell, right? Are you ready for this?”
“Not really.” She couldn’t find it in herself to lie. “I’m going to do it anyway.”
“Well, for now if anyone on the big guy’s management team gives you attitude then tell them you’re a black card and text me their name. I’ll scare ‘em later --or I’ll make Kobayashi do it. Kid’s been getting the stick a lot recently. It’s about time for a carrot.” She heard him start typing in the background. “In the meantime I’ll get the tech division to start workshopping a costume. They deserve a fun project. We can pretend you had a suit the whole time.”
“Do I need one?” She didn’t want a costume. Pro Heroes served a vital social function. She didn’t dispute that, but the outfits made her cringe.
“It’ll probably make your engagement announcement easier if you do it in costume. All Might getting hitched to a fellow pro hero in his own age bracket is an easier story for the public to swallow.” Hisashi replied, distracted. “That way you don’t have to apologize for not being a hot twenty-something supermodel later.”
“I am not that, no.” It was a more elegant solution than anything she’d considered, which was not much at all.
“Don’t say that. You’re the one who just bagged the bachelor of the century.” He snapped at somebody in the background. “I’ll be in contact later with the costume stuff. Go terrify some office monkeys. You’ll feel better.”
Inko let the call end and took a moment to go consider herself in the mirror. She did brush her hair and exchange her shorts for yesterday’s skirt, but didn’t do much else aside from her usual amount of makeup. Whatever face she showed those people on the call was the one she’d be stuck with.
The woman in the mirror was soft, round, and harmless looking. She looked comfortable and friendly. It was probably not the person the people responsible for the horrible acrylic chairs and floor-to-ceiling murals would be expecting.
‘Screw it.’ She thought. This was the face her boys liked best. It was the self she’d built for herself; pleasing in every aspect.
They’d just have to make their peace with her.