It’s eerie, how quiet it is.
That’s the trouble with battles that go on too long, too loud. After a while the noise settles into your ears, sinks into the marrow of your bones, until the percussive beat of explosions and crashing rubble and cracking foundations becomes as humdrum as the sound of traffic or the hum of electricity. And then, when it’s over, the world feels empty and cold. In the minutes that follow the end, it’s impossible to say whether the silence means safety, or death.
Nighteye counts the seconds as they pass, losing count several times before he finally lets himself uncurl from the protective ball he’s made around the child in his arms. They’re alone; the other heroes evacuated the area and cleared out long ago. The only reason Nighteye didn’t follow was that the boy refused to leave, and this is one child that Nighteye won’t risk moving by force.
But finally he shifts, and a small, spidery hand latches onto his arm before its owner lets go and draws back sharply. The brush of fabric and dust on his arm makes Nighteye look down, just in time to see the sleeve of his suit, woven synthetic fibers designed to stop blades and most low-to-mid-caliber bullets, fall away in crumbling pieces.
“Ah,” he says softly, but the boy cries out and pulls away. He doesn’t have far to go; the space where they took cover is small, and Nighteye is too close to the only escape route. So instead he tucks himself back into the far corner and stays there, trembling, watching Nighteye with dull eyes. He looks like a lamb that knows it’s about to be slaughtered.
That won’t do at all.
“Don’t worry,” he says, lifting his now bare forearm for the child to see. “Look. No harm done. It was only a sleeve—only a piece of the sleeve, in fact.” Dimly he remembers the coroner’s reports with photos attached, detailing the deaths of a couple with a son left orphaned, of a man who really shouldn’t have gotten that foster care certification—limbs and body parts crumbling and decayed and gone. “You have a good handle on your quirk. I know first-year heroes who only wish they had that kind of control. Hotheads, all of them. Wouldn’t know restraint if it jumped up and bit them.”
He tries for a smile, wishing All-Might were here—no, can’t think about that now, not yet. The child doesn’t smile back, but he also doesn’t look quite as convinced that he’s going to be struck. His thin fingers curl and uncurl, never quite making fists.
“Does your quirk work on yourself?” he asks.
The boy blinks. His hands fall still, and he nods once.
“Oh, dear. Don’t worry, I’ve got just the thing.” He reaches into one of his many hidden pockets, slowing his movements when the boy flinches. “It’s all right. See?” He holds up the roll of cellophane tape, before tearing off a strip. “It won’t hurt, I promise. Actually—here, you do it. One finger on each hand, that’s it.”
He offers the two strips, holding them out like a peace offering. The boy hesitates, watching him as if waiting for Nighteye to take them back and slap him instead. Finally, he takes the strips of tape and shakily wraps them around his index fingers. When Nighteye tries approaching him again, the boy doesn’t flinch away.
He keeps up the chatter in a soft, continuous stream, speaking gently as he guides the boy out of cover. “My coworkers tease me awfully,” he says. “It’s silly for a hero to keep office supplies in his costume, they all say. Leave the rubber bands and pack some smoke pellets, they say. Well, I say you can do dozens of different things with a rubber band, and only one thing with a smoke pellet, so who’s better prepared, hm? I shudder at the thought of getting caught anywhere without tape, or whiteout, or heaven forbid, a pen—”
They emerge out into the open, and it’s… not worse than what Nighteye expected, but certainly not better. Several city blocks have been flattened, and now they walk through a wasteland of broken glass and concrete and twisted rebar.
The boy stumbles. Nighteye catches him before he falls, lifts him up as gently as he can, and keeps walking. The boy wriggles in his arms, and he stops until the boy locks his arms around his neck and falls still.
He loses track of how much time passes before he finally sees another living face. It’s a young police officer, probably some hapless rookie sent out to do the job nobody else wants. He’s scared witless; he’s a cat from the neck up, and his pointed ears are flat against his head.
“Sir Nighteye!” the rookie officer blurts out. “Is that—is it over?”
“Best as I can tell,” Nighteye answers. “For now, at least.” The officer’s name comes to him. “Tamakawa, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right, Sir.”
“I’ve a new job for you.” Carefully, Nighteye passes the silent boy into Tamakawa’s fumbling arms. The boy hesitates to let him go, but eventually lets himself be handed over. “Don’t take the tape off his fingers; he has a five-point touch-based disintegration quirk. Take him somewhere safe. Don’t let anyone remove him from your sight; if the paramedics take him, you go with them. Watch him until I get back. And I will be back.” His hand brushes Tamakawa’s arm as he pulls back, and he allows himself a quick peek into both of their immediate futures. There’s nothing to fear; Tamakawa is young and nervous, but dutiful.
Shimura Tenko will be safe, and Nighteye knows exactly where he’ll be in the next few hours.
As soon as his hands are free, he turns and rushes back into the ruins.
Other heroes are moving in, searching for civilians that were missed, heroes that didn’t make it out in time, and the two titans responsible for swath of destruction.
They won’t find them. Not before Nighteye does.
There’s a pattern to it, he’s found. It’s similar for most hero fights, but All-Might’s pattern of destruction is as intricate and unique as a thumb print. And after years of working with him, observing him near and far from every possible angle, Nighteye can follow the loops and whorls to the epicenter as easily as reading a map.
(If he’d been faster, he could have done this so much earlier. If he’d been smarter, or stronger, if he’d been a better hero, he could have gotten the boy to safety and followed the path so much earlier. He could have helped, instead of cowering like an ant while the elephants fought.)
But he finds it. As always, he finds it. A towering office building, mercifully abandoned before its destruction, is now a pile of rubble with a vast pit where it caved down to its foundations. It’s deep enough that Nighteye has to climb down, as cautiously as he can lest he bring more debris tumbling down on top of himself.
A half-voiced plea tumbles from his numb lips with every step.
When he finds All For One, it’s almost an accident. He’s so focused on clambering over a precarious pile of shattered concrete that he doesn’t notice until he looks for the next safe path and—there he is. No one is around to see him stumble back with a cry of alarm, terrified out of his wits of—
If he couldn’t trust his eyes, he can tell by the smell. The twisted, bloodied, broken thing lying draped over the remains of a concrete pillar has many grievous and terrible wounds. One of them ripped through his lower stomach—it’s an awful mess.
But it’s no less than he deserved, and despite the revulsion that sends bile bubbling up his throat, Nighteye can only feel relieved. The darkest monster the world has ever seen now lies lifeless in the ruin of his final battle, staring up at the sky with one sightless eye and a caved-in skull.
Nighteye would spit, if he could gather the moisture in his mouth. But he has more important things to do.
He turns his back on the corpse reluctantly—part of him isn’t quite sure it won’t get up to attack again.
“All-Might?” he calls.
He waits. Listens.
A breeze sweeps through the blood-strewn pit. A voice rides upon it like a leaf caught in the wind.
Careless steps jar and twist his ankles. He barks his shin on his way up and over a mound of debris, scrapes his hands and the arm left bare as he claws his way past every obstacle in his way, until finally—
Finally he collapses to the stained, wrecked ground on his hands and knees and crawls the rest of the way. He’s scraped, bruised and filthy by the time he lays hands on All-Might.
The Symbol of Peace lies in a bed of concrete shards and warped steel. He looks better than All For One’s corpse, but only just. His costume is tattered and caked with blood and dust, his hair undone from its usual style and hanging in limp, matted tangles. His face, his costume, the ground beneath him and all around, are soaked and sticky with blood.
With trembling hands, Nighteye activates the device on his suit, sending a signal out to the nearest medics. He tries not to think about how much blood is on the ground instead of in All-Might’s body.
Glassy blue eyes find his face. All-Might shifts, and a pained noise bubbles wetly from his throat. Nighteye rests a gentle hand on his chest, on a spot that he’s reasonably certain isn’t injured.
“I’ve sent for help,” he says. “Try not to move.”
All-Might wheezes his assent. “Tenko?” he rasps out.
“And—All For One?” Toshinori struggles to focus on him.
“Passed him on my way in,” Nighteye says, smiling bleakly. “He won’t be hurting anyone ever again.”
“Good.” The word leaves him in a sigh; his bleary eyes flutter shut.
“All-Might—” Nighteye crawls closer. He slips one hand beneath All-Might’s head, shielding it from the cold, unforgiving ground. “Keep your eyes open. Stay awake. Help is on the way, it won’t be long now.”
“No.” His eyelids seem to drag themselves up. “No, it won’t be long at all.”
“All-Might.” His voice cracks. “This isn’t the time for jokes.”
“If I can’t joke while I’m dying, then what’s the point?”
“You are not—” His throat closes, and his eyes burn. “You aren’t going to die. I’m here now. I found you, and you won, and All For One will never darken this world again. You won. You defeated him. It’s okay now.”
“I never said it wasn’t,” All-Might replies. “I think it’s a fair trade, all things considered.”
“Don’t talk like that!” He doesn’t mean to shout, doesn’t even realizes he’s raised his voice until he hears the echo against the surrounding ruin. “Don’t—it’s not—it wouldn’t be a fair trade. It wouldn’t be fair at all, you just won, you deserve to rest and be happy, you deserve—”
He’s stopped by a light touch to his cheek. All-Might’s hand brushes the side of his face, and Nighteye catches it and squeezes. All-Might squeezes back, and the hand that once could have pulled down skyscrapers is ice-cold and painfully gentle.
“I’m glad it was you,” Toshinori says. “Out of everyone who could have found me, I’m glad it was you.”
“I’m sorry.” He chokes on a sob. “I’m sorry I wasn’t faster.”
Toshinori blinks up at him. His eyes look wet. “Me, too.”
He’s not strong enough to pull the Symbol of Peace into his lap; all he can do is crawl closer and lift as much as he can, offering the crook of his arm as a better pillow than dirty asphalt and broken glass. Toshinori’s head lolls to the side, coming to rest against Nighteye’s chest. His next breath rattles in and out.
“You’ll take care of them, won’t you?”
“Keep them safe, make sure they have what they need—”
“Tell them,” Toshinori says, a little desperately. “I—I did something, I tried to—please just tell them I—”
“Tell them yourself!” Nighteye breaks in. “Tell her yourself, when you’re healed. Please, Toshi, don’t give up. Don’t give up. You have to stay alive, there’s—” Another sob chokes him, and his eyes run blurry with tears. “There’s so much left to fix. We need you. Your family needs you, the world needs you, I—” He grits his teeth, biting down on the words before they can escape. “It won’t be all right, if you aren’t here.”
“Please don’t leave.” Nighteye sobs, too desperate to be ashamed. “Please, Toshi. Think of your wife. Think of your son.”
Toshinori takes another shuddering breath. It’s growing shallower with each passing second. “Thank you,” he murmurs into the lapel of Nighteye’s suit.
It’s like a cruel joke, being thanked when he feels so useless. “What for?” he chokes out.
“Loving me,” Toshinori answers. “Couldn’t have been easy.”
“It was,” Nighteye rasps. His head hangs low, until his forehead rests in tangled golden hair. “It was the best and easiest thing I ever did.”
The breath leaves him. The smile does not.
He knows that Shimura Tenko is safe, knows that he’ll be asleep in a hospital bed by the time he gets there, but he still goes. He has to make sure. He has to see with his own ordinary eyes that that he hasn’t failed at this too, that he hasn’t failed so utterly that he’s done the impossible and changed the future for the worst.
The boy looks softer in sleep, the hard edges of fear and mistrust smoothed over and wrapped in clean hospital sheets. He’s cleaner, too, hair soft and feathery instead of ragged knots. The nurses say they didn’t give him anything besides a bath, a clean hospital gown, and orange juice; he fell asleep shortly after he touched the pillow.
Nighteye steps out into the hallway to make a call.
It’s not an easy conversation to have with an old man he barely knows. It won’t be any easier face-to-face with a friend. But it has to be done. The death of the Symbol of Peace has yet to slip past him and the medics who gently coaxed his friend’s cooling body from his arms. Nighteye doubts he has more than an hour to beat the media. Some people deserve to hear about it face to face, not in a news report.
He changes into the clean set of clothes at the agency office, and takes his suit down to the support department to drop it in the bin for the incinerator. Several people approach to try to talk, to ask him questions, but they see the look on his face and back away.
A company car takes him to the house, and he realizes only when stepping out a block away that he isn’t ready for this. His clothes are clean, but only on the outside--the undershirt is the same, still sweat-damp and filthy. He’s washed his hands but not his face. His hair is a mess, his glasses cracked and crooked, all smeared with dust.
There’s no need to knock; Toshinori gave him a key years ago. As he shuts the door behind him, he can hear her voice inside; she’s in the kitchen, on the phone. He can’t quite hear what she’s saying, but he can hear her voice shake. He can hear the quiet fear, and it burns him inside out to know that he’s about to bring her fears to life.
Maybe she knows he will. Maybe that’s why she’s called someone else, and not him.
Nighteye stands in the threshold of the kitchen when he hears her hang up. She’s by the sink, leaning up against the counter as she covers her face with both hands and breathes. When he steps inside, she raises her head. Her eyes meet his.
He doesn’t have to say a word. Midoriya Inko looks at him, at his face and his eyes and his shaking hands, and she knows.
A heartrending cry tears itself from her throat. It’s the cry of the dying—terror and pain and desperate denial. He catches her as she buckles like a puppet with its strings cut, and holds her up while she clutches at him and muffles her cries into his chest, so that the little one down the hall won’t wake up to his mother’s tears.
He wants to break, too. He’s been wanting to break since Toshinori breathed his last, since he stumbled upon his best friend lying in a pool of too much blood, since All-Might left his side to face the man who would be his killer.
But he can’t. Not yet. Not while he’s still needed.
Shimura Tenko is going to be all right, he thinks. He has a chance now—a chance to live a normal life, to heal from whatever poison All For One tried to feed him in the weeks turned months he had him.
The problem is this: it will only be possible with safety, with stability, with the kind of attention that Nighteye doubts he can offer, between his work as a hero and what he already owes to Toshinori’s wife and son.
(He’ll do it, of course. Toshinori died for this and so help him he will carry it on, even if it means sacrificing pieces of himself to do it. It’s what the child needs, what Toshinori would have wanted—s)
It’s with mixed feelings that he arrives at the hospital room and finds Gran Torino seated in an uncomfortable plastic hospital chair, keeping vigil over the child.
Toshinori rarely spoke of him without the utmost respect, but then, he rarely spoke of him at all. Nighteye can count each separate occasion on a single hand, and on only one of them did he go into detail. But no matter how Toshinori might have praised his abilities, he never reached out to his old teacher until until they found Shimura Tenko’s whereabouts.
It’s hard to have a relationship with someone when the mere sound of their name causes visceral stress reactions. Nighteye doesn’t like him on principle.
Nevertheless, when he sees Gran Torino, he merely sighs and nudges over a chair to sit beside him. And for a while they sit in silence, watching the sleeping boy. The tape on his fingers has been replaced with small cloth sleeves; five-point touch-based quirks are fairly common, and most medical centers have simple measures in place to keep them from activating in their patients. No muss, no fuss. It’s another reminder that the world needn’t be as harsh to an orphan with a destructive quirk as Nighteye often fears.
Eventually, Gran Torino shoves himself off the chair and leaves the room with barely a glance at Nighteye. There’s no signal to follow, but the intent is still clear.
Out in the hallway, the first thing Gran Torino says to him is, “I’ve been talking with some contacts. Once the kid’s cleared, I can take him on.”
Nighteye looks at him sharply. Uncomfortable heat rises in his chest, gripping him with an irrational protective fury. The old man glares up at him.
“Don’t get high and mighty with me, boy. You’ve got too much on your plate already, handling affairs for the agency and keeping his family’s heads above water. You do your bit, I’ll do mine.”
“What makes you say it’s yours?” Nighteye keeps his voice quiet, but he can’t keep the bite out of it.
“Least I can do,” the old man says, refusing to rise to the bait. “The other options are: spread you so thin you’re no use to anyone you’re supposed to be helping, or drop him back in the foster system, when the foster system stuck him with a deadbeat guardian so worthless he practically gift-wrapped the kid for All For One.”
“Besides, it’s my own damn fault.” Torino is already shrunken with age, but he sinks even further into himself. “Nana only wanted her boy safe, and we lost him over a promise I never should’ve made. I ain’t letting the same thing happen to the last of her blood.”
“Which lost boy are you referring to?” Nighteye asks. “The one she gave up, or the one she chose?”
Torino bridles, but after a moment his shoulders sink down again.
“I have misgivings,” Nighteye says. “I’m sure you understand why.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“The last child you raised for her sake could hardly say your name without fear. And this one actually is a child--”
“I ain’t here to fight you on that,” Torino cuts him off. “What’s done is done. Did I hurt him? Yes. Was it necessary? I damn well thought so. Has it kept me up wondering if I did more harm than good in the end?” The old man’s voice breaks. “Every goddamn night.”
Nighteye clenches his teeth around an impulsive retort. The last thing they need is to start a shouting match in a hospital.
“Everything I did to Toshinori, every bruise and scrape and broken bone was to make sure he lived to see twenty. Was it right? I don’t know. And maybe that’s my punishment; I’m never gonna know and I was never gonna know, ‘cause that fool boy turned around and forgave me for it, and I never asked him to, but he did it.”
Nighteye’s teeth clench so tightly that his temples ache.
“I didn’t want his damn forgiveness,” Torino says shortly. “I wanted him to survive. I wanted him to outlive her, but that damned fool boy could never do as he was told.”
This is grief, Nighteye realizes distantly. It’s grief turned sour and angry, but it’s still grief, and grief can’t exist without some shape of love behind it. Because Toshinori was so easy to love, even for a man like Gran Torino, turned lonely and bitter by the death of a friend.
“I didn’t help,” Gran Torino says. “Can’t even say I couldn’t help, because I could have. There’s a lot I could’ve done, and I didn’t. That ship’s sailed, and I’m not like you. I’ve got no place in the family he left behind, so this is all that’s left.”
It’s as close to a plea as Nighteye is going to get; maybe it’s as close to a plea as Gran Torino is capable of. Please let me help. Please let me do something.
He says, “Sorahiko.”
Gran Torino stiffens.
“I know how you raised him,” Nighteye says. “So, I’ll stay in touch. Toshinori died for that boy—not so he could survive. So he could live, and grow up, and be free and happy. If you’re anything less than kind, I’ll know. And I will bring hell right to your doorstep.”
A grunt; that’s all he gets. From what Toshinori told him about the man, it’s as good as a signature in blood.
It seems as if the whole world mourns. Vigils are held. Tributes are given. Flags fly at half-mast, as if All-Might were a world leader instead of a pro hero whose career was cut short, of which there are too many to count.
The official memorial is held in Musutafu, where Toshinori was born and raised, and where he came into his own at UA. Nighteye attends because he has to, because it’s expected of the people closest to All-Might during his life, and they are few and far between. Other notable attendees are the other top ten—or at least, what’s left of them. All For One’s warpath claimed many lives. Yoroi Musha’s place stands empty, among others. Crimson Riot is absent, still hanging on by threads in the hospital.
(Shimura Tenko doesn’t attend, even though, as the boy for whom All-Might laid down his life, he’s invited as a guest of honor. But if there’s one thing a traumatized child doesn’t need, it’s publicity. Gran Torino keeps him well away.)
From his own place of honor, Nighteye can’t help but look out to a single spot in the crowd as public officials make their speeches. Lost in the sea of people, Inko stands tall and proud, almost defiant with her chin held high. No place of honor was offered to her or to the round-faced child in her arms, because no one knows that All-Might’s wife and son exist. No surnames were taken one way or the other, and Nighteye was the only witness to their wedding.
He imagines touching her shoulder and seeing an alternate future, in which she was Yagi Inko or All-Might was Midoriya Toshinori. She and Izuku would be celebrities themselves now. They would receives gifts and condolences from all over the world. Izuku would have his pick of schools, from UA upward, all the best and brightest institutions squabbling for the chance to have All-Might’s son walk their halls. Their sacrifice would be honored alongside All-Might’s: the tragedy of a mother raising her child without her husband, of a child growing up without his father.
A tragically beautiful story. That is all her pain would ever be to them.
They would carry the burden forever—not just the death of husband and father, but the weight of the world’s grief pushed onto their shoulders. They would never know a moment’s peace.
Nighteye looks out at Inko again, and it takes a moment to find her again. She’s just another face in the crowd, free to walk among the rest in the privacy of her own thoughts, free to go home unhindered and grieve.
This is better.
He cautiously says as much to her that evening. She’s only just finished cleaning the dishes in the sink—too few of them to bother with the dishwasher—while Izuku dozes over a picture book on the couch, and Nighteye looks over the collage of forms on the coffee table.
There’s so much damned paperwork involved in death.
She hums quietly as she sits beside him. “His idea, in the end,” she says. Her son leaves off looking at pictures to crawl into her lap. “He said it was for my protection. I told him I wasn’t afraid. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that he was talking about the media as much as villains.”
Nighteye sneaks a glance at her face, trying to gauge where her head is. She vacillates wildly sometimes, from uncontrollable tears to a cool, almost regal composure. Her eyes are dry now, the set of her face as vulnerable as a brick wall as she signs a few lines that he marked for her benefit.
The only shame of their situation is that, while the world praises All-Might’s courage, no one will ever know of the courage of the woman sitting before him with her son falling asleep in her lap, hands steady as the greatest loss of her life is reduced to legal jargon on paper.
“I was lucky, you know,” Inko says, claiming the silence. “I was—very lucky.”
Nighteye doesn’t answer. There’s no good way to answer that. He can’t ask her how without sounding like he thinks she’s wrong. And if he agrees… no. He has no right to agree. He, of all people, has no right to think that it could have been worse for her.
“I saw him off, before he left that morning,” she says. “I got a hug and a kiss and an ‘I love you’. That was the last thing he said to me. ‘I love you.’ And that was the last thing I said to him, too.” She won’t cry, not with her son curled up fast asleep in her lap, but he can tell by the tremor in her voice that it’s a close thing. “So many people regret the last things they say to people. But I don’t. I got an I-love-you, and so did he. There’s nothing to regret about that.”
It comes to him in an instant, so cruelly abrupt that he wonders how he could have forgotten.
Tell them, Toshinori had said. Tell them I—
He doesn’t know what Toshinori had been about to say. He’d cut him off, told him to stop talking, and now he doesn’t know what Toshinori had wanted his last message to be.
Somehow, Nighteye keeps his composure even as he sits next to Inko and wonders if this doesn’t make him just as guilty as the man who killed her husband.
Phone calls are stressful, and Inko has to make a lot of them.
The world may not know that All-Might left a wife and child behind, but a small part of it does know that Midoriya Inko is without a husband. The name “Midoriya Hisashi” was already a bad joke when it was first conceived, but now it’s a bad joke in the midst of pain and loss. Nighteye feels bad for being the one to suggest it, for all that Toshinori was alive and well and deliriously happy when he did, but Inko simply gives him a wry smile when he winces at it now. It’s a lesson that everyone in Toshinori’s life learned: smiling in the face of darkness is the best way to defeat it. So in some way it feels fitting, that a bad pun now fills the legal gap left by the husband Inko wasn’t supposed to have.
Still, leaving aside the trouble of making arrangements for the death of a man who only exists on paper, there is still the humdrum of dealing with accounts now under one name instead of two. There’s money involved, and quite a bit of it, that is now Inko’s alone. She and her son will never want for anything—at least, once the endless phone calls with banks and lawyers are over and done with.
She’s on the phone now, clinging to the threads of her patience and composure, when the two-year-old down the hall wakes up from his nap and, finding himself alone, sets up a piteous wail.
Nighteye is in the living room, triple-checking the completed paperwork. He hears her stumble over her words. Her voice cracks. She’s been on the phone three hours, half that time on hold, and she’s nearly done, nearly done—
He isn’t quite thinking when he sets aside his task and walks down the hallway himself.
It’s not fear that grips him as he steps into the child’s bedroom. He’s faced thugs and villains of all types, and he has nothing to fear from a little boy, for all that he has an impressive set of lungs.
But something drags at him. Something makes him want to hesitate, to shut his ears and let someone else handle this, even as he crosses the room and lifts Izuku out of the crib.
The child squirms in his arms until Nighteye settles him against his shoulder, murmuring soft, meaningless words until his ear-splitting wailing quiets to softer cries and sniffling.
He’s fine. He’ll be fine. He’s not hurt or sick, just fussy after a nap and hungry for a comforting touch. Sometimes Nighteye wonders if he fully understands what he’s lost. He’s only just turned two; will he remember his father at all, when he’s older?
It doesn’t matter, Nighteye reminds himself. It doesn’t matter what happens when he’s older, because right now he’s a child crying for a parent, and Nighteye’s not sure if stepping in to comfort him makes him more guilty or less, but what else can he do?
Tiny fingers curl into the sleeve of his jacket. The hiccups and sniffling stop, and Nighteye sighs with relief. Crisis averted; hopefully Inko can finish that call soon.
Izuku wriggles in his arms again, and Nighteye loosens his hold to let him pull back and look around. The miniature hand on Nighteye’s sleeve lets go and hooks a finger into the corner of Izuku’s mouth. The child’s head, fluffy with dark green curls, tilts back so that its owner can look up at Nighteye’s face. Not for the first time, he stutters over a breath.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe this tiny little creature shares blood with All-Might. Everything about him is small and soft and round, from his face and his stubby limbs to the loose gentle curls in his hair. With his face and hair alone, he’s the spitting image of his mother: even his spray of freckles are supposedly from his grandfather on her side.
But his eyes.
The eyes are the one thing he doesn’t share with his mother, because they’re bright, crystal-clear blue.
The one thing he has from his father is something so blinding and unmistakable. Had he a touch of yellow in his hair, Nighteye might have been worried for his safety, and there’s plenty to worry about already.
“You’re going to be trouble,” he says quietly. He grabs a tissue from the box on the dresser so he can mop up Izuku’s dribbling nose. “I can see it now. Blow.” Izuku obeys, and Nighteye finishes wiping his flinching face and tosses the crumpled tissue in the trash.
Izuku rubs his nose on his arm and blinks up at Nighteye’s face. He frowns, less upset than merely thoughtful.
“Daddy?” he tries.
The first thing that hits him is panic. It rises from chest to throat, choking him as he looks down into wide, innocent eyes.
It doesn’t mean anything, he tells himself. Young children always get labels mixed up—everything round is a ball, everything with four legs is a cat, everything green is a tree. It doesn’t mean anything.
“No, no,” he says gently, and maybe Izuku doesn’t understand yet, but he will. Nighteye just has to make sure he never has the chance to misunderstand. “No, Izuku, I’m Nighteye. Just Nighteye.”
Izuku answers with a noise that’s a close approximation, closer to his name than the first forbidden title. Nighteye lets himself relax.
“That’s it,” he whispers. “Good. Just Nighteye. Don’t forget that.”
By the time Inko finishes her phone call, Izuku is napping in the crib again. She offers a tired, grateful smile, and Nighteye smiles back and hopes she doesn’t see the guilt in his eyes.
“Nighteye,” Inko says gently.
She shouldn’t, Nighteye thinks vaguely. It’s on his worst days that he remembers she’s the last person in the world who should treat him gently.
All-Might has been dead for four weeks, just under a month. There are still affairs to get in order, but the end is in sight. Not quite near, but in sight.
“You’re tired,” she says. “You know that. I know that. You’ve been a wonderful help, but you need to rest.”
Rest? He can’t rest. There’s property to manage that’s under All-Might’s name, and Nighteye’s the one who has to do the managing. There’s so much to take care of, and while Inko makes the decisions, Nighteye acts as middleman in most of them. If Inko does it herself then that will look suspicious, word will get out, people will know—
And then there’s the agency that was technically theirs but truly All-Might’s and All-Might’s alone, and it’s Nighteye’s responsibility now but he can’t just—he can’t just take it. It’s All-Might’s. It will always be All-Might’s, and if he takes over then he’ll be ripped apart by faceless strangers who think he needs to be reminded of what he’s not.
“You have to take care of yourself,” Inko says, breaking through his thoughts. “You can’t just worry about us all the time—we’re fine.” They’re not. “We’ll be fine.” They will be, but not yet.
“I’m managing my own affairs,” he tells her. “Actually, it’s mostly in the hands of the management team, now. They’re converting the agency into a charitable organization. It’s for the best; it’s impossible to separate the agency from his name.”
“And from there, it’s simply a matter of starting my own office. I have plenty to work with; I still have the support contracts, and most of the sidekicks have decided to follow me—”
It’s the edge of annoyance in her voice that shuts him up. With a tone like that, it’s no wonder she never had any problem bossing around the Symbol of Peace.
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it,” Inko says firmly. “For heaven’s sake, when is the last time you slept?”
“Last night, of course.” He collapsed into bed at around midnight, before his alarm woke him three hours later for a video conference with the American support company Toshinori always favored, renegotiating terms of the contract—damn international time zones.
He does prefer it that way, though. Work keeps his mind off of other things, and he’s always too exhausted to dream.
She doesn’t press him on it. Not with words, at least.
But twenty minutes later she brings him a cup of tea that turns out to be chamomile, and he hears her loud and clear. He wishes it would stop there, but of course it doesn’t. Of course Toshinori would fall in love with a woman who can’t leave well enough alone.
“Nighteye,” she tells him one day. “Could you watch Izuku for a couple hours? I have to go to the bank.”
He doesn’t mean to sleep, but the thought of keeping Izuku out of trouble drags him away from the rest of his work, and… Izuku has always been a well-behaved child. Inko is already back when he wakes up on the couch, having dozed off in front of some hypnotically simple children’s cartoon. (He wonders if she truly left at all.)
Whenever work and responsibilities lead him to her home, he finds himself gently bullied into simple tasks that make falling asleep easy, the paperwork eased out of his hands, a two year old bundled into his lap to keep him sitting down, food set in front of him—real food, not just convenience store meals and protein bars and gel pouches.
He isn’t stupid. He knows what she’s doing, and he almost hates himself for it. She’s taking care of him when she ought to be focusing on herself and her son. He’s causing her stress—he’s giving her more work—
He works from his own home, whenever he can. It’s better that way, when the guilt can’t reach him through the haze of exhaustion. If he doesn’t see her face, then he doesn’t remember what he took from her, what he let her lose.
Maybe this is cowardly, but so be it. Cowardice is hardly the worst thing he’s guilty of.
Of course, it can’t last.
It’s unsustainable. On some level he knows this, but he’s forced to confront it when it’s already too late to take anything back.
He opens his eyes to see the ceiling of Inko’s living room, and sits upright with a start. It’s a mistake; the world spins as if he’s the axis, and he sits back against the couch cushions until the room rights itself again.
Somewhere nearby, Inko sighs. “Oh, Nighteye,” she says. “What am I going to do with you?”
“I’m terribly sorry,” he says. His mouth feels like someone else’s. His voice sounds so very far away. “Must’ve dozed off. I apologize—”
“You didn’t.” His hazy vision clears, and the blur in front of him settles into Inko’s tired, disapproving face. “You collapsed, actually. It’s a good thing Izuku’s already asleep, or you would have scared him.”
“Sorry.” His head aches awfully, but at least it’s not spinning anymore. A headache won’t stop him from standing up. “It’s late, isn’t it. I’d better head out, there are a few more things I have to—”
He manages two steps away from the couch before Inko collars him by the back of the jacket. He’s a pro hero, and he’s taken down opponents twice his size, but it’s criminally easy for her to force him back down onto the couch. Shocked, he opens his mouth to protest. Inko silences him with one look.
“You are not Toshinori.”
He knows. He knows this, and still it’s like a knife to the heart. He’ll never be Toshinori. He’ll never be what the world needs, what his fellow heroes need, what his best friend’s family needs—
“You know that,” Inko says. “And I know that. He’s gone, I’ve lost him, and so help me, Kataichi Mirai, I’m not losing you too.”
He stares at her, speechless.
“Maybe this is my fault. Maybe I only have myself to blame, for—for filling my life with heroes and self-sacrificing fools, but I won’t lose anyone else, do you hear me? I won’t. I refuse. Especially not to something I can actually fight.”
“What do you think will happen?” Inko’s eyes bore into his, dark green and shining with held-back tears. “Do you think I’ll flounder without you? Do you think I’ll collapse under the weight of it all if you’re not there to prop me up? Do you really think that little of me?”
“No—no, of course not!”
“Then why do you think this is helping?” Inko doesn’t raise her voice. Somehow this feels worse than the dressing-downs he got in training. “It’s like you think you don’t deserve the chance to grieve like the rest of us! Is that it? Because you’re wrong! You miss him and you’re hurting, and you haven’t said a word but I know you are, so—please. You’ve done so much to help us. Let me help you, too.”
“I can’t,” he whispers.
“You’re not the only one who wants to do right by him.” The couch dips as Inko sits next to him. Nighteye can feel the traitorous burn in his eyes, but she takes his face in her hands and won’t let him look away. “One day, hopefully not for a long time, I’m going to see him again. How will I look him in the eye and tell him I left you alone with your pain?”
“It’s part of the job,” he tells her, clinging to the shreds of dignity he has left. “It’s—I’m not a civilian, this is the life I chose—”
“I chose this, too,” Inko said. “I may not be a hero, but I chose to be a part of his life. And that means, right now, I know pain. I know loss. And I know it’ll only rot inside of you if you let it.”
He shakes his head, too gently to escape her grasp.
“And,” she says, “I know what you felt for him.”
He freezes, dead-still between her hands.
“Don’t look so shocked,” she says. “I think I would know better than most, what being in love with Toshi looks like.”
“Do you think I’d resent you for loving him? Me, of all people? That wouldn’t be fair of me, would it? He made it easy. I know that. I can’t blame you for loving him, any more than I blame you for feeling like the world is ending with him gone.”
“You should,” slips out before he can think. “You—you shouldn’t be…” His throat feels to thick to speak. Does she know about the part of him that was determined to hate her, when Toshinori first told him? Does she know about the first months he refused to meet her, too busy wrestling with all the heartbreak and jealousy until he could lock it away and starve it until only a scab was left on his heart?
Does she know what he did, without even meaning to, in her husband’s last moments?
“Nighteye,” she says gently, as if he deserves kindness from her. “I can’t know everything that’s wrong if you don’t tell me.”
“He tried—” Two words, and the dam around his heart cracks and falls away. He curls in on himself, his face slipping from her grasp. “He tried to tell me something, Inko. He wanted me to pass on a message, and I—I told him not to talk.” He shuts his eyes. It does nothing against the tears. “He wanted to tell you something, and I told him not to talk.”
He’s not sure what he expects, but he doesn’t expect the arms wrapping around him, pulling him into a hug. How? How can she forgive him? How can she not hate him?
“I didn’t mean to,” he says, uselessly. “I wanted—I wanted to save him, I wanted him to live and tell you himself, but he didn’t and I don’t know what he wanted to say. I stole his last words from you, I—”
She hushes him.
“What was the first thing he said, when you found him?” she asks. It’s the first time she’s ever asked him about Toshinori’s death. He didn’t tell her, before, that he found him still alive.
“He asked me about the boy we saved,” he whispers, his tears soaking her shoulder. “I was supposed to get him out, and—he asked me if—”
“Then that was the most important thing in the world to him,” she says. “And that means—that means he wasn’t going to tell you anything I don’t already know. I told you, remember? I got that last ‘I love you’. Those were all the last words I ever could have asked for. There was never going to be anything better than that.”
“He loved you.” He hasn’t wept like this—hasn’t wept at all—since he knelt in blood and dust and ruin, cradling Toshinori as the life left him. “He loved you more than life itself.”
“I know that. I won’t ever forget that. So—don’t forget that he loved you, too.”
In the little bedroom down the hall, Izuku sleeps. His room is lit by the nightlight by his bed, but he dreams in darkness.
It doesn’t frighten him. There’s a light in the distance, a shining beacon to chase, closer and closer with each second. It’s pretty and bright, so blinding that he has to squint when he gets close.
He reaches for the light, and the shadow of a hand falls over it. It dims but does not disappear; instead of a dazzling blaze it’s a soft, comforting glow. A spark, held just out of reach.
Not yet. He laughs, because he knows that voice. That voice is home, and comfort, and love and strength and courage and many other things that he doesn’t have words for yet.
Not yet, my boy. You’re not ready.
Other voices join the first. He laughs again. He’s not so alone in the dark after all.
Thank you for trusting us .
We know it was a risk.
It wouldn’t have worked without your blood in his veins.
H e’ll be all right.
He’ll grow into it.
He’ll be the best of us.
It won’t be long now.
The voice of home comes back. Another hand reaches for him, warm and familiar as it lifts him up and cradles him in the darkness of the dream.
Hush now, and be good to your mother. You’ll see me again one day—when you’re ready.
The dream fades.
The next morning, the sun rises.