The first words Midoriya Inko said to Toshinori when she opened the door to see him were, “How is he?”
No pleasantries were exchanged. No small talk. Simply, how is he?
As Toshinori stepped in, taking his shoes off at the door and looking into Inko’s face, he understood. Here was a woman who loved fiercely. Here was a woman who’d wept when Midoriya left, but let her son go.
“Doing well,” Toshinori answered. “We check in with him constantly. You know I can’t tell you much, but we do have places for him to stay that are relatively safe. Chasing your boy around is a bit of work.”
Inko smiled. She’d insisted he call her by her given name after his third visit. No point in formalities when they cared and worried together.
“I can imagine,” she said. “Did you know, when he was around four or so, he used to want to fly. Like All Might. So he’d jump off things trying—not very high, of course—but I had a heart attack the first time I saw him climb on a chair about to jump to the floor.”
And now, Toshinori thought while smiling to himself, young Midoriya’s childhood dream had come true. Did he remember? Toshinori would ask, the next time they met.
“He was lucky to have you watching over him.”
The fond smile faded. Inko chewed on her lip. “Sometimes. I tried my best.”
Toshinori wanted to clasp her hand, or her shoulder, and tell her she’d done a wonderful job. She couldn’t have been perfect; certainly she must have been better than Toshinori, but only a strong and loving mother would have raised a son the way Midoriya turned out.
Instead, he said, “I’m sure he knows.”
They stood in the middle of the apartment entryway for a while, reflecting. Then Inko shook herself out of memory.
“Was there something you wanted? Besides to bring me news.”
Toshinori cleared his throat. “Erm… actually, yes.”
Inko watched expectantly, but her gaze only made him blush. He didn’t know how to say this.
How to humble himself this way. But he’d already learned his lesson, over and over again, about how human he was, about the person that was under All Might’s smile and shield.
“I want you to teach me,” Toshinori said. “Please, Inko. Teach me to cook.”
Inko’s mouth opened, then shut. For a moment she simply stared at him.
It all came out in a rush.
He explained to her seeing Midoriya return, costume dirty and boy tired, sitting heavily on the couch. Late evenings and nights. Toshinori sometimes prepared simple foods, stored in the fridge, the few dishes he knew how to make. Frozen meals he could buy, too.
A lot of the time Midoriya frequented convenience stores. Onigiri or sandwiches were his meals, something he could eat on the go. He’d even saved one of the owners of the small, family-run konbini once, and in exchange they liked to give him leftovers from the day’s sales. It made Toshinori feel guilty, that a small store owner could do that and he himself couldn’t.
“You don’t know how?”
Toshinori shrugged. “Small things. I order things. With U.A., of course, we’re lucky to have Lunch Rush. And with my injury, well, there’s restrictions…”
Inko led him to the kitchen. From the fridge door she took down a magnetized notepad and began to write; Toshinori followed, feeling awkward and far too tall for the space.
“Pork belly,” she was muttering, “and maybe salmon. Izuku likes peppers. And, oh! Tonkatsu will be easier…”
She started writing down ingredients, glancing apologetically at Toshinori.
“Some of these measurements are rough,” she added as he watched. “So you can just put what you feel is right.”
“Isn’t cooking… supposed to be measured? How am I supposed to feel what’s right?”
Inko raised a brow. “What mother has time to measure?”
Toshinori swallowed. “Right.”
Soon she was pulling out more pans than Toshinori knew existed and tossing instructions over her shoulder. They washed vegetables together—Toshinori hadn’t known Midoriya liked shisitou peppers, though Inko told him they weren’t that hot and anything remotely spicy was a Bakugou influence. Toshinori thought back to seeing Bakugou have soup that was so red it was unrecognizable, and it seemed to make sense.
They walked through different recipes and ingredients. Sauces and spices lined the counter on one side; nearby, Toshinori chopped what he was given; and still, in the background, a pot boiled away with water and another with hot oil.
“How do you manage?” he asked at some point, the heat of the small kitchen pressing in. Toshinori wiped at his brow.
Inko seemed perfectly calm, setting down the plate of breaded pork—egg, Toshinori remembered, then panko—while she took the peppers off the heat and tested the frying oil. There was still a pan for carrots that was still going, and a rectangular pan heating up.
“I suppose you get used to it,” Inko said. Oil sizzled as she dropped the first piece of pork in. “You want to hear that sound.”
“Got it,” Toshinori said, though he wasn’t sure he had. “But you don’t burn anything?”
Inko shrugged. “Rarely. Sometimes, but as long as you remember everything you’re doing and pay attention, it’s okay.”
It was a lot.
“Wrangling students is one thing,” Toshinori admitted. “Cooking is another.”
“Maybe not so different.”
She must have had years of experience, being a mother. Toshinori pictured her in this same kitchen, cooking meals for a delighted child. The only thing missing was him.
The rice cooker beeped.
“Unplug it, will you?” Inko asked. “And take the pot out. The rice needs to cool.”
Toshinori turned around, doing as he was told. Steam billowed up from the open rice cooker; he pulled at the pot then yelped, dropping it again.
“What?” Inko called, hurrying over.
Toshinori winced, waving his hand. He blew on his fingers. “Just hot.”
“Grab it like this.”
She didn’t do it that differently, just hooked her fingers lightly under the edge of the pot and set it on the counter. Toshinori sighed.
“Come on,” Inko said. “Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it all.”
“Villains are easier,” Toshinori grumbled, and was pleased to see her laugh.
At some point Toshinori felt too slow and clumsy to be helpful, and stood behind the counter instead to observe. Inko puttered about, humming.
“He used to help me when he had time,” Inko told him. Tonkatsu, cooked and golden-brown, was deposited on a rack. Toshinori didn’t need to ask who. “I loved it. He’d… ask about my day, and sometimes we’d listen to music together and sing.”
Back to him, Toshinori couldn’t see Inko’s face, only her shoulders slumping.
“When he was younger, I got him a step stool so he could reach.” Her hand snapped the burner knob to low. “My little helper…”
Toshinori looked to the side. There was a small, blue step stool resting in the corner. On it was a vase of dying flowers. He supposed it wasn’t used as much as it had been.
When he looked back, the small kitchen expanded with its emptiness. The spot next to her where Toshinori had just been—yes, that spot had been made for someone else.
Inko sniffled. It was a more human sound than anything else, the soft boil of water or the pop of oil, the scrape of Inko’s chopsticks in a bowl. Toshinori lost his words.
What could he say? What could he do?
He’d seen the way Midoriya looked, too, the times he thought Toshinori wasn’t. He’d bury his head in his hands, or clench his fists tight in the fabric of his costume. He looked at his phone a lot—not to send messages since it wasn’t safe, though Toshinori had seen him rereading old ones—but to look at pictures. Toshinori tried not to watch, then.
The light in Midoriya’s eyes was dying slowly. Toshinori didn’t know what to do about it. When he visited the boy’s mother he saw the same thing in her face. Even now.
Why did the right thing have to hurt so much?
“Here,” Inko said. “Help me pack this.”
Into All Might-themed bento boxes, Toshinori and Inko put rice. Cabbage, carrots, peppers; salmon, pork belly, katsudon. Different sauces and toppings.
When they were done, Toshinori rested his elbows on the counter and leaned forward.
“I don’t know if I can do this.”
The water ran. Inko washed her hands, dried them, then came to stand next to him.
“What part of it? I’ll make sure you have everything you need—”
“Not…” Toshinori ran his fingers through his hair. “I can barely cook. I wanted to try for him, because I can’t… Inko, I can’t do anything else.”
“Don’t call me that,” he said bitterly. “Toshinori. Please.”
He couldn’t bear to hear it. Suddenly couldn’t bear to think about it.
Had Inko seen the news? The Symbol of Peace, reduced to nothing while the foundation of hero society was crumbling. People blamed him. Toshinori was sure some of them were right.
“I can’t protect him like I promised you,” he began, and the scab that had formed over everything Toshinori held back peeled away to bleed again. “I can’t help him fight villains. I have none of my Quirk left. I can’t be out there… I have to watch, and wait, and hope.”
He looked at the kitchen. “This—this is the best I can offer. And even then it’s not enough.”
“Watching, waiting, and hoping. That’s all I did for years.” Inko laughed, and put a bento into his hands. Salmon. “Try it.”
He blinked. Inko nodded and repeated, “Try it.”
Toshinori, too stunned to do anything else, did. The fish gave under his chopsticks, soft, sauce clinging to its top. A bit of rice. It was still warm, sweet and salty, and in the simplest of words, good.
It wasn’t, technically, better than the meals he had at U.A. Or what he could order.
But he’d watched it being made. He’d helped make it. Flipped it in the pan, coated it with sauce, smelled it cooking in this kitchen with its pale cabinets and warm light.
“I couldn’t fix everything,” Inko said. “When—when he said he wanted to be a hero, and I didn’t know how to make it happen. I couldn’t. When he came home and never invited anyone over and never talked about school… I couldn’t fix that, either. But I could do this.”
Toshinori looked down at the food.
“Even a small thing can bring comfort.” She reached over. Squeezed his arm. “You can do this.”
“There’s so much.”
Danger. Midoriya still grappling with his Quirks, each one a blessing and a burden. Toshinori knew the strain it put on him. Nightmares. Loneliness. The dark circles under Midoriya’s eyes. Toshinori couldn’t make any of them go away.
“You can do things one at a time.” Inko took a pan and set it in the sink. Gestured at the stovetop. “You could try to do it all at once, but you can do it slowly. What you can. Doesn’t a little bit make a difference?”
Nana had been a mother, too. She had the same sort of wisdom, the same sort of grief.
Even a small act of kindness can make a difference, she liked to say, and tapped his cheek. And don’t forget to smile.
“Alright,” he said, and bowed deeply. “Thank you.”
The safehouse door clicked when Toshinori opened it. No one had answered when he knocked, so he stepped carefully in. There was a set of red sneakers by the door.
No answer. His heart sped up. If Midoriya was injured—
Down the hall, a closed door. Toshinori strode quickly to it and knocked.
“Young Midoriya? Are you alright?”
He opened the bedroom door, and spotted Midoriya curled up on the bed. The room was dark, so Midoriya’s face was lit only by the glow of his phone. He scrambled up when Toshinori entered.
Toshinori flicked the light on to see, and Midoriya winced. It illuminated a set of red-rimmed eyes. He was out of costume, instead in a large shirt and tucked under a blanket.
Smile now, Toshinori. Nana’s voice in his head. Toshinori pulled the chair from the desk to sit next to the bed.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
The phone clicked off. Toshinori caught a glimpse of Inko on the screen before it did.
“Not really.” A pause. “If that’s okay.”
“Of course it’s okay.” Toshinori scrambled for something to say. “I went to see your mother the other day.”
A shudder. “How was she?”
“She misses you.” Midoriya’s face crumpled. “But—she’s doing well. And…”
“Sorry,” Midoriya rasped. “Can, can we maybe talk later? I don’t really, I kind of want to be alone.”
“Okay, well,” Toshinori said, keeping his voice low. Don’t leave him like this. Don’t leave him like this. “Tell me if you need anything, okay? I’ll be here. And… and you’re not alone. Alright?”
He reached out and gently patted Midoriya’s knee. “You still have me.”
Midoriya dropped his head down and hid it. His shoulders shook, but he shrugged when Toshinori tried to put his hand there.
No—he did want to be alone. Toshinori retreated, closing the door quietly and sagging. Even here he couldn’t help.
When he passed by the kitchen he paused.
Maybe there was something he could do.
An hour later the space had filled with a wonderful aroma. It’d taken him longer than he’d liked, and even with the recipe he’d still texted Inko twice with questions.
As he was figuring out how to salvage the tamagoyaki, trying to flip it out onto a plate and mourning its less-than-beautiful shape, his phone pinged with a familiar alert sound. News. It meant Midoriya would be hurrying out soon, so Toshinori had to go faster.
He shoved rice into the box. Cut the tonkatsu, crunching under the knife; a bit of cabbage and mayo, and tonkatsu sauce the same brand Inko used. Don’t tell him I don’t make it myself, she’d whispered. Down the hall there were the sounds of Midoriya getting ready, and then the bedroom door.
Midoriya raced out, a blur of green. Toshinori fumbled, jamming the lid on and wrapping it all in fabric.
Midoriya skidded to a stop in front of the door, shoes half-on. “Yeah?”
Toshinori hurried from the kitchen, shoving the bento into Midoriya’s hands.
“It’s not much,” he said, heart fast, “but I thought you might need a good meal if you’re heading out. You’d better eat it quickly, though. At least try it before you go.”
Midoriya blinked down at the box, knotted messily in fabric. The set of chopsticks poked out the side.
“Oh,” he said finally. “You made this for me?”
Toshinori didn’t know what that meant. But Midoriya slowly took off his shoes and stood in his socks by the door, carefully undoing the fabric knot and opening the bento.
Like he could barely believe it.
“I’m not so good a cook,” Toshinori admitted. “Your mother helped. And it took me a while, but I hope I can do better next time.”
“Next time,” Midoriya murmured, taking off the lid and balancing the meal carefully in his hands. It was still a bit warm.
Toshinori rubbed the back of his neck as Midoriya took his first bite. Chewed. Swallowed. Then—teared up.
Had he done so horribly? It was true Midoriya often cried, but surely Toshinori hadn’t made a mistake when he’d approached each step with care.
Midoriya sniffled, reaching up and managing to wipe at his eyes with his sleeve. They were still watering when he looked up at Toshinori, putting the lid back on the box and setting it down on the nearby counter.
Then he ran forward and threw his arms around Toshinori.
“Thank you,” he whispered, pressed to Toshinori’s chest. Toshinori set his arms down, side aching from the force of the hug, and returned it. “Thank you.”
“Don’t be dramatic,” Toshinori said, but he was only teasing while he tried to find a response. He ruffled Midoriya’s hair, heart warm. “I’m glad you liked it.”
Midoriya pulled back, drawing into the role of hero again, though his eyes were soft with emotion. He tied everything up again and put it in his backpack.
“I’ll eat it when I can,” he promised, and gave Toshinori a wobbly smile.
“It was good?”
Midoriya opened the door, then looked back. Toshinori would treasure that look—there was light, a little faint but there, in his eyes again. “I felt like I was home.”