Inko knew better than most how quickly life could change.
Admittedly, she thought as she took in the mannequin in front of her, this was a bit much even for her.
“What the hell is this?” Hisashi was saying to the designer. They hadn’t been able to send the costume job to R&D. Their production schedule was too far out to accommodate such a last minute project with a deadline before the UA Sports Festival, which happened fairly early in the school year. He was still taking charge of the costume situation and had introduced himself as her ‘manager.’ The distinction between ‘handler’ and ‘manager’ was academic at best so she let him do it. Now she was glad that she had.
The studio they’d commissioned the costume from was small and just starting out. Inko had liked that at first, but was now learning that there was a drawback to working with someone who didn’t have a reliable professional reputation.
“This isn’t the draft we signed off on!” Hisashi wasn’t shouting yet, but he’d noticed she was struggling and was doing his best to get the mannequin removed from the room.
She was glad he had the ability to entertain feelings in the current moment because hers had unexpectedly shut down as soon as they’d wheeled in the mannequin dressed up in the extreme beginning stages of a hero’s costume.
To be fair to the costume studio, the costume wasn’t actually a set of Jedi robes. It had been clearly influenced by traditional kimono design and it wasn’t the designers’ fault that there was a great deal of overlap between the two.
The costume was too flamboyant for a Jedi even though it was quite sedate in a brocade of muted shades of green and violet with dull gold detailing. It was fairly obvious that the obi was intended to double as a serious business girdle too and, while it would probably give her something like an hourglass figure, it would hamper her breathing and in turn her stamina.
That wasn’t the problem though.
The problem was that the design was close enough to her old robes to make her struggle for air.
“Well, I do have the toile from my initial idea…” The designer was a person of indeterminate gender and had offered no pronouns so Inko did not care to guess. They were a pale lavender individual with a slender build and four graceful arms. “...but it was a bit dull for a media appearance. People respond to color, not utility! You have to have a brand!”
“How is she supposed to work in a corset?” Hisashi hissed.
“Well, one assumes she already has a costume to work in.” The designer sniffed, looking skeptical. “You said she’s already licensed despite the fact that you can’t provide any earlier drafts of her costumes for me to work from.”
“That one is being retired.” Hisashi reigned himself in with difficulty. “We were commissioning a new one.”
“Well, I suppose…” The designer tapped their lips. “...honestly, I don’t think I can in good conscience accept the commission with that deadline if that’s what you’re using it for. I can whip up something nice for the cameras without trouble, but a combat ready suit can take up to a year for a studio of this size and that’s if I’m not working on anything else, I assure you, I am.”
“This shouldn’t be news to you.” Hisashi’s grip on his temper slipped. “We discussed all of this when I paid the deposit! The non-refundable deposit!”
“Well, I can’t be held responsible if you don’t like the design.” The person sniffed. A thin thread of self-satisfaction rippled through them, loud enough for Inko to catch it. It was sufficiently distracting to take her attention off the mannequin. She took a deeper look into the mind of the person who’d allegedly made that costume for her. The feelings were confusing, but the images and names floating in their mind were not.
“We don’t.” Inko stood up and patted her skirt back into place. She put a hand on Hisashi’s shoulder. “Just have the check cancelled. They never intended to make the costume and they aren’t out of any investment so no harm, no foul.”
“Excuse me!” The designer shrieked. “My time! My materials!”
“You were already paid by both for Miss Mystery and she didn’t like it either.” Inko replied without heat as she collected her bag. The Miss Mystery, affectionately called MissMys by the public, in the designer’s memory was a retired hero who’d been looking for something lighter than her old gear to wear to charity functions that would hold in her aging figure. She and Inko had similar dimensions and coloring.
The designer wasn’t lying about being overbooked, but also wasn’t averse to drumming up some quick cash with a bit of old stock to hold them over until someone was able to pay their tailoring bill. They would have finished the fitting if Inko had liked the costume. MissMys had been retired long enough that it wouldn’t cause any trouble if a new hero mimicked her style.
“If you are going to scam your clientele then pick your marks better in the future.” Inko concluded and pressed the designer’s mind just hard enough that they knew she was in there.
Inko tuned the upset person out as Hisashi took over to hustle them out. Her mind was already chewing over the problem. That designer hadn’t been lying. Their mind had shone with truth when they said ‘a combat ready suit can take up to a year.’ They really wouldn’t put a hero out on the streets in anything they couldn’t rely on, which was why Inko was willing to let bygones be bygones. They just hadn’t really believed Inko was a licensed hero.
Thinking on it though, Inko didn’t need a combat suit. She hadn’t bothered with armor even in the war.
Toshinori had insisted on bringing her craft things over to the penthouse since they didn’t know how long it would take the movers to obfuscate the trail their belongings would leave. He was more experienced with this sort of move and where Inko had prioritized clothes for a few weeks and precious mementoes, he’d encouraged her to bring things like the materials for her hobbies and any book with a bookmark in it.
“Clothes and toiletries are easy to replace.” He’d said. “In a week and a half you’re going to want your knitting project or your sewing kit. That’s harder.”
The little empty room that had once been Toshinori’s second guest room blossomed into a private sitting area and craft room almost overnight. It had a loft like Izuku’s room and just like that she had a quiet space to meditate; something she hadn’t had since giving birth.
The point was; she had a sewing machine and knew how to use it. Even if she went through a couple attempts it would still be cheaper, easier, and have less potential for unexpected trauma than this nonsense.
“I’m sorry about that.” Hisashi sulked as he buckled himself into the car. “I knew it sounded too good to be true.”
“It was an educational experience.” Inko agreed. “Do you still have time? I’d like to go to a fabric store.”
Hisashi turned around to look back at her. “Seriously?”
“The closest thing to armor I’ve ever worn is an EVA suit.” Inko shrugged one shoulder. “Why start now? All it has to do is look good.”
He barked out a laugh as he pulled out his phone and started searching for a fabric store. “Damn, I miss you.”
Inko cocked her head, confused. “I’m right here?”
Hisashi paused and shook his head. “Not what I meant.” He turned forward. “I miss this. The weird little adventures. Problem solving. Explaining who celebrities are. You’re the only friend I ever had who didn’t ask me to be someone else.”
“Who would you be?” Inko was pretty sure they were getting into emotional territory she was under equipped to navigate. Unfortunately there wasn’t a better person to throw at the problem.
“Anybody else, I guess.” He shrugged and handed the phone backwards to her. There was a business listing on it that advertised a heroics grade fabrics section.
“Yes, that looks fine.” Inko considered him for a moment. “I miss you too sometimes; not the sex, but the companionship.”
There was also the trust. She’d forgotten in her eagerness to keep her child safe that Hisashi was an exceptional partner when the bullets began to fly. He didn’t panic or question her. They both had similar stress responses and neither of them were inclined towards surprise at the lapses in each other’s behavior. This was not the foundation a romance could be built on, but they’d been good friends once.
“We probably shouldn’t have started hooking up.” Hisashi acknowledged with a sad twist to his mouth. “That fucked everything up.”
She’d been around teenagers and maybe Mitsuki for too long and automatically responded, “Literally.”
Hisashi barked another laugh and put the car into gear. “All right, let’s get this show on the road.”
The store wasn’t far and Hisashi turned out to be an ideal person to shop with. He cared about colors and how they functioned in an urban environment otherwise she would have bought a bunch of dark gray fabric and called it done. She found a pattern for a knee length coat that looked like it would accommodate a hood and a built in gaiter. She’d be able to throw it over whatever she was wearing and be done with it.
She was standing in the check out line when her phone booped. It was a forwarded text message from Toshinori.
Toshi: Should I be worried?
The attached picture was a screen grab of a snapchat of Inko frowning at a swatch of cloth clearly in a fabric store with the top part of Hisashi’s head in the shot. The attached comment read: in case you’re wondering how the fitting went.
Inko: When did you two start texting?
Toshi: I’m 48 this year. I have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than making a new adult friendship.
Toshi: I can’t afford to be picky, but he also isn’t what I expected. Why are you two in a fabric store?
Inko considered that and made a mental note to arrange another double date with Mitsuki and Masaru. If he was going to hang around Hiashi there needed to be some sort of quasi-sane counter balance.
Inko: The studio was a bust. I’ve decided to make something myself. I’ve never needed special clothes before now.
Toshinori responded with a picture of a television screen. Izuku and Katsuki were in a big sort of industrial building sitting on a pipe looking down at a frustrated looking kid underneath who Katsuki was getting ready to jump down on with a ferocious grin. Izuku, who would normally have been reining him in, was watching with riveted attention.
Toshi: We’re doing hide and seek in pairs. The boys are performing exceptionally well.
Inko: Pairing them up is hardly fair. What did that kid do to deserve that kind of punishment?
Toshi: I’d have expelled him by now if I were his homeroom teacher. This will have to do.
That was interesting.
Inko: Why can’t you? I thought all the heroics instructors had the right of summary dismissal.
Toshi: It’s my first year. It’s hardly fair.
Inko: Does that matter? Do you think he’ll make a good hero?
Toshinori was quiet for a while.
Toshi: I think he’ll become the kind of predator I hate most; the kind who hides his crimes behind a cape.
Toshi: Thank you, love. I may be home late tonight. I expect I’ll need to justify this decision.
“That’s a grim face.” Hisashi observed. He read the conversation when she showed it to him rather than try to explain. “Ah. That’s a tough call. He’s not wrong. There’s a lot of pro heroes who think no one is watching them. Sometimes they’re right. A lot of UA graduates are untouchable until they mess up enough times. Even then the media hates reporting on it. There’s a reason why the industry is okay with how few graduates they turn out. They can’t afford to be sentimental about it.”
Something was tugging at her attention and she wasn’t sure what until they were walking back to the car and passed by a seemingly nondescript five story building. She wouldn’t have realized what it was except she noticed a familiar man in a familiar gray suit just entering the building. The feeling intensified and Inko sighed from deep within her chest.
“Weird space thing?” Hisashi glanced at her over the top of his sunglasses and held out a hand for her bags when she nodded wearily. He’d heard her sigh like that before and the most notable occasion was that time when they’d mysteriously wandered past the secret entrance to Leviathan’s base in the Tokyo sewers while Hisashi was trying to explain the metro system to her. “Is this the sort of space thing where I need to call backup?”
“No.” Inko handed them over and felt bone tired. “I’ll either be building a bridge or burning it. I suppose we’ll find out which momentarily.”
Hisashi shrugged and said, “I’ve got a book on my phone.” He found a bench and sat down with the shopping bags, prepared to camp out for the duration.
That was the difference between him and Toshinori, really. Toshinori would have followed her in. Hisashi was less inclined to be underfoot.
There was no one inside when she entered the building. She could sense people moving around upstairs; three men and a woman. Passing through the blind spots in a group of people’s perception was an old skill she was pleased to see she hadn’t lost.
The members of Nighteye agency were calm and happy for the most part. They had a young man working there who had perhaps never been calm once in his life, but Inko found herself automatically warming to him. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. He was a smaller, younger Toshinori who had been treated a bit more kindly by life. The adults aside from Nighteye were a blue woman in a very brief cropped top and a man in a tuxedo with a… a bug? For a head? It was centipede-like and coiled atop his shoulders in a sort of head shape if you could ignore all the little legs.
That was perhaps the most outre quirk she’d seen yet.
She eventually came to a large office with a familiar name on the door. The inside was almost like setting foot into her son’s bedroom except Nighteye clearly had more budget and better connections than Izuku had enjoyed before now. She’d always expected Toshinori to be made uncomfortable by her son’s fandom collection, but he just seemed to enjoy it and found ways to slip ultra-rare collectibles in without the boy noticing.
It occurred to her to wonder if maybe Izuku reminded him of better times with Sir Nighteye.
‘I’m going to have to mend fences with this man.’ She realized with a sigh. He and Izuku would make such good friends if she could only figure out how to get him past the barrier of his disagreement with Toshinori. Moreover, Toshinori’s wistful statement about the difficulties making friends as an adult echoed in her mind. She didn’t want him to have to replace anything that had once been his --including his old friendships.
At its heart this divide had happened over the fact that they both believed Toshinori would die and what ought to be done with the time he had left. Inko couldn’t overlook the fact that Nighteye had been the one to advocate for Toshinori taking that time for himself after a career of selfless public service. She would have argued for the same and had no assurances Toshinori would have listened to her either. She hadn’t known him then and she suspected he was a very different person after.
She wasn’t happy with Nighteye’s behavior in the penthouse, but there was an old saying among Jedi about the proverbial ancient Master who had lived with their anger long enough to learn its true name was grief.
Didn’t she have first hand experience with what a stubborn asshole Toshinori could be when he decided it was time to dig his heels in? He’d freely admitted the break wasn’t any one person’s fault.
An illuminated screen caught her attention; Nighteye’s phone was sitting out on the desk and Inko tilted her head to look at his notifications. One was an automated text from the library letting him know his holds were ready for pickup and the other was from Instagram and announced the fact that HbleBble, LeMillionZillion, and Mamadoriya had recently added to their stories.
Curious, Inko opened up her own phone to see who’d last followed her account. There weren’t many to choose from. Her followers numbered in the double digits and only two people had followed her in the past week.
One of them was a sixty year old russian man with zero posts and no followers, but was following 1250 other accounts that seemed to belong exclusively to women. The other was TheSpectacle(s) who had about two hundred posts of All Might merchandise acquisitions, followed five accounts, and had three followers. He had gone through her posts to like every single superhero themed bento she’d done in the past two years.
The office door opened before she had to decide how she felt about that.
Sir Nighteye froze in the entrance. The young blonde man who’d been following him asked “Sir?”
“There is a guest.” Nighteye shrugged off his discomfort with enviable ease. “Lemillion, bring tea.” He casually blocked the boy’s line of sight when he tried to sneak a peek over the taller man’s shoulder. “Go.”
He waited until the boy was gone before asking, “To what do I owe this visit?”
“The meddling will of the universe.” Inko sighed, sotto voce. Louder she said, “I think you and I need to come to an understanding.”
Nighteye was quiet for a moment. He was far calmer than she recalled from their first encounter. He felt a lot of things in response to her statement, but it was mostly remorse and embarrassment so she was prepared to believe him when he said, “I apologize for my intrusion. I would not have done so if I had known anyone was staying in the penthouse.”
“A call might have ended better.” Inko agreed. He showed her to a chair and she allowed herself to be shown. “What did you hope to achieve with that stunt?”
To give him credit, Nighteye took her question seriously. “Which one?” His demeanor continued to be quite sober.
She cocked an eyebrow at him. She had a teenager. She supervised multiple teenagers. Flipping the question on her was not going to work.
“I intended to make a point.” He admitted, looking away, after the silence drew out a bit too long. “I have never had a report of discomfort from anyone I’ve used my quirk on. I apologize for that as well.”
Oh no. He was wholly sincere in his apologies.
Inko felt the last wisps of her irritation begin to fade and she released them rather than try to cling to that feeling. Those two had not been friends for no reason.
The bug man appeared then with a tray balanced elegantly on his fingertips. “Please excuse me.” He set a cup down in front of her and considered her. He wasn’t hostile, but he was tense and on the edges of afraid for his boss. “I don’t believe I saw you come in.”
Inko sat on her instinct to downplay what she’d done. In a few weeks she’d have to stand in front of a sea of cameras in a costume she’d made herself and convince the world that she was the sort of hero they were used to. She might as well start getting practice now.
“No.” She smiled. “You didn’t.”
She might have gone a bit too hard on the intimidation, she realized when both men stared at her in discomfited silence. That was something she’d have to work on.
“Do you need me?” The bug man asked Nighteye.
“No, Centipeder.” Nighteye shook his head. “Thank you. You may go.”
“My son has a similar sensitivity. Do not use your quirk on him either. I won’t be listening to apologies afterwards if you do.” Inko told him once Centipeder had both left and stopped listening at the door.
Nighteye was taking a sip of tea when she said that and she was gratified by the resulting spit take. “A son?” He wiped his mouth, a little wildeyed. An image flashed through his mind, strong enough for her to pick up on; Lemillion, who was certainly not Toshinori’s biological child or if he was neither of them had been alerted to it. “Whose…?”
She rolled her eyes. “Mine.” This probably would not be the last time she fielded that question. “Would it be helpful for me to tell you I’m aware of the succession issue?” She asked that question mostly to move the conversation away from Izuku.
Something about the man, who seemed to trend towards chilly by nature, cooled further. “Your son is the boy he chose, isn’t he.” His tone was flat and Lemillion flashed through his mind again accompanied by a wash of feelings that Inko couldn’t quite follow. She picked up on the high notes; frustration, fear, anger, and a sense that someone was being cheated. Nighteye wasn’t angry on his own behalf.
Things made more sense now. Inko would have had to be blind and deaf not to notice the paternal glow that surrounded Nighteye when his protege was in the room. It wasn’t even hard to understand why. Lemillion a smaller, peppier Toshinori who looked up to him. You didn’t have to look any further than the walls of his office to know Nighteye still adored All Might.
Though they might have started out that way, at some point Nighteye must have started to care about Lemillion for his own self. Nighteye reminded her of nothing so much as a Knight with their first Padawan. That was as close as you could get to having a nuclear family as a practicing Jedi.
From there she could extrapolate just how he’d feel about the son of his heart being robbed of a prize and sacred duty like One for All. Nighteye knew nothing of Izuku, but he didn’t need to. There was no one but Lemillion he’d accept as the next Pillar of Peace. That title and One for All were woven together inexorably in his mind.
“...and Lemillion was the candidate you favored.” She answered his question with her own. It was rapidly becoming clear to her that the only way to deal with Sir Nighteye was to mom-zone him; a technique she already employed to great effect with Katsuki-kun. She could not react to his provocations or then he’d control the trajectory of their interactions and it’d end in an argument. If it ended in an argument then Nighteye wouldn’t have to reconsider his own prejudices.
“Is.” Nighteye stood and adjusted his glasses so that they hid his eyes. “Mirio is the only worthy successor to One for All that I’ll recognize.”
“You know it’s not your decision.” She kept her voice kind. It wasn’t like she didn’t understand him. She was the same way about Izuku and Toshinori. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have been feeling sorry earlier.”
Love did make people irrational, Inko acknowledged. It was harder to be annoyed with Nighteye though, knowing that all his boneheaded contrariness came from a place of paternal care.
“I think it’s time for you to leave.” His voice could have flash frozen the tea in their cups.
“Hmm, perhaps.” She picked her handbag up off the floor. She couldn’t force him to interact with her, but she certainly understood him better than she had before. This would be a long project. She couldn’t expect instant success, but she was pleased to have learned that it would be worth the effort. “I’ll show myself out.”
Something did occur to her right then; something she’d noticed during her walkthrough that stood out amongst the usual, comfortable hubbub of day-to-day work in the agency. “By the way, I’m not sure what that table in the big room on the main floor is for, but it makes the young lady working here viscerally uncomfortable. I’m not sure exactly what is bothering her, but you might want to keep an eye on that.”
She started to leave, but was brought up short by Nighteye cutting her off by stopping the door with his hand.
“Explain.” He said shortly.
Inko frowned up at him. “I can’t write you a novel.” She replied tartly. “All I noticed is that she doesn’t like being around it. She’s instantly unhappy whenever she looks at it.” Inko tried on a few adjectives for size. “She didn’t associate the discomfort with any one particular person or I’d be more concerned.”
“She would have told me if there was a problem.” Nighteye stepped back, but his unshakable confidence was suddenly shaken. He was putting up a good front, but Inko surmised he had something to do with that table.
She sifted through his mind and was pleased to find there was nothing sexual going on. Inko wasn’t sure what she’d have done if it had been sexual misconduct. That did explain why the girl was so unhappy though. Anything even remotely sexual was a charged subject for women on this planet, but they were also passively discouraged from enforcing their own boundaries.
Nighteye was not a sexual or romantic person. The concepts were a little alien and boring to him. He was capable of connections, just not those types so that maybe explained why he hadn’t picked up on his employee’s discomfort by himself.
“Would she?” Inko asked. “She’s very young and you’re an older male authority figure that she likes and respects.”
That was a palpable hit. She could feel his anger subside again to give way to his concern. He was still a bit self centered, but Inko suspected he was younger than she’d originally thought. She’d originally guessed that he and Toshinori were about the same age, but Nighteye seemed to be about ten years younger or so; right in the middle of that annoying phase where you made all the mistakes in your life that would later mature into wisdom.
“Who are you?” Nighteye adjusted his glasses again so the reflection of light on the lenses hid his eyes and she decided that was a nervous tic he’d learned to weaponize. “You’re very comfortable with your illegal quirk use.”
It wasn’t an accusation, per se. She could tell just from his surface thoughts that, no matter how fraught his relationship with Toshinori became, he wasn’t about to turn the man’s significant other in to the police.
“Is it illegal?” That license was heavy in her purse, but she didn’t care to get it out just yet. She felt in her gut that it wasn’t for waving around. Shutting up Toshi’s managers was one thing. They’d needed to know. Maybe Nighteye did too, but she preferred to give him just enough of a hint to let him figure it out on his own.
“I’m familiar with all the professional heroes, active and retired, who live in the city and the surrounding areas.” Nighteye told her.
“I was never in the public eye and I retired sixteen years ago; well before your time, I suspect.” She found she didn’t actually want to lie to the man. There was more to him than his unpleasant surface and she was reluctantly beginning to empathize with him. Like Aizawa, he reminded her a bit of home. Yes, he was superficially obnoxious but redeemable if someone was willing to tell him so. “That will change now, I suppose.”
“Sixteen…?” he started to ask and then coughed as the math caught up to him. “I see.” He cleared his throat. “Then the two of you have chosen to go public.” He stepped and pulled out the guest chair in front of his desk in a mute apology and invitation to stay. She accepted the olive branch.
“Chosen is a strong word. It’s going a bit faster than we would have preferred.” Inko admitted as she sat down again. “Someone leaked my old code name online and I live in an open air apartment block. Toshinori is worried that the press will try to create a story if we don’t give them one.”
“He’s not wrong.” Nighteye’s tone was a little bitter. “They haven’t gotten a story out of him in decades. How did you two even meet?”
“Serendipity, really. My son dragged him home one day.” It had been such a packed year, but only a year since then. She could hardly believe it. “There had been a villain attack earlier in the day and they bonded over it.”
Her phone boop-booped with a text message and she checked it real quick.
Hisashi: Do I need to come in there?
Inko: No, I think we’re about finished.
Hisashi: Bodybags y/n?
Hisashi: Then hurry up. The big guy is texting his terrible opinions on utility belts at me and I’m running out of nice.
Hisashi: As your handler, I am vetoing all utility belts.
She snorted and made a mental note to add the ugliest fanny pack she could find to her kit. “I’m afraid I need to excuse myself.” She told Nighteye. “My ride is getting impatient.”
“I’ll walk you out.” Nighteye stood and did just that. His sidekicks whispered as they passed, but neither of them paid them any attention. He stopped a big shy of the front entrance and bowed. He didn’t look in her direction, but rather into the middle distance. “Don’t worry about going too fast.” He said quietly. “Seize every moment.” Then he bowed again, sharply, before turning on his heel and marching away at speed.
“I was not expecting you to walk out of there smiling.” Hisashi observed, looking up from his cellphone game as she approached.
She chuckled and admitted, “Neither did I.”
Later that evening, her phone dinged with a notification from Instagram. Inko checked the app and found that TheSpectacle(s) had posted a new picture.
It was one image -not nearly so lovingly lit or posed as his merch pics- of a table with restraints on it sitting in a dumpster, broken in half with no caption.
She tapped the little heart button and smiled to herself.