Six friends have linked Toshinori to the same video in the space of ten minutes, and when the seventh identical notification pops up on his phone, he gives up on his grading and opens the link.
It’s a cellphone recording, auto-focusing through smoke and grit and waving clumsily when the person behind the phone coughs, but it clears after a moment and Toshinori can make out young Izuku in his bright green hero costume, his arms around a little boy.
Whatever he was expecting to see, it’s not the firsthand account of the villain attack earlier today that a handful of his students were responsible for resolving. He’s seen Izuku since then, when he made his rounds to make sure his students were still in one piece after their bout of hero work, and though the boy was a little battered he seemed no worse for wear, and nothing about the incident stood out.
But all of his close friends and several acquaintances forwarded this video to him specifically, and Izuku is known to omit details anyone else would find worth hearing. Toshinori turns up the volume, intrigued.
“…has been very scary, but you’re being so brave,” Izuku is saying kindly. He either forgot to put his mask back up or it’s been too ruined by battle to wear comfortably, because nothing gets in the way of his smile as he goes on, “You’ll be home soon, and your sister and your mom will be so proud of you!”
“I- I’m not brave,” the boy sobs, fists clenched in the front of Izuku’s costume, “I- I didn’t do anything, I didn’t help – I was too scared! All I did was cry!”
Three of Izuku’s fingers are broken, but he folds them around the boy’s hand anyway. His eyes are as soft as they are steely when he says, “It’s okay to cry. No one told me that when I was your age, but it’s true. Some days are going to be really hard, and really scary, and it’s going to feel like it’s all too much to handle. Of course you’re going to cry on days like those! Who wouldn’t?”
Sniffling, the boy says, “Do you cry?”
Izuku is surprised into laughter. “I cry more than anybody I know. Really.” He hesitates, and adds, “When I was little, I didn’t have a lot of friends. No one really believed in me, and sometimes that made me feel like I was all alone. I cried a lot back then, too.” Izuku grins, bright and brilliant and nothing at all like the silly impressions of All Might he practiced, nothing at all like the empty bravado he displays when he’s uncertain and can’t afford to be. “But it’s going to be different for you! You’ll never, ever be as alone as you feel! You know why?”
The boy looks up at Izuku with the whole world in his eyes. He’s still crying but he seems to have forgotten the tears as he asks, awed and wondering, “Why?”
And it’s not for a hundred thousand people watching on TV or any other grand audience, it’s not the landmark declaration Toshinori himself once made, years ago – it’s for one child and that child alone, when Izuku knocks their foreheads together gently and says, with the deep sincerity of someone sharing a wonderful secret, “Because I’m here.”
The video has gone viral, something like three million views and counting, and everyone is calling it “the hero Deku’s debut.” There’s a sting in Toshinori’s eyes that almost matches the pleasant pain in his chest, and although Izuku is nowhere nearby Toshinori can’t help but tell him, with immense satisfaction and humbling pride, “Yes, you are.”