They visit the doctor in the spring, a few months before Izuku turns five. Inko walks in with a smile on her face and her son swinging their hands together. She walks out with her child in her arms, her face frozen in shock and a little bit of fury.
She has always been determined to protect Izuku. From villains with grudges, from her own grief, from the ever-looming threat of publicity and the media. And now, it seems, she has to protect him from the callous words of a pediatrician, of all things.
How dare he?
Izuku is still and silent in her arms. She hopes that he isn’t asleep when she whispers to him.
“Don’t listen to him,” she says fiercely. “Do you hear me, Izuku? Don’t even listen to anyone who tells you to give up and stop trying.” Close by her ear, he sniffles.
“Can I still be like him?” he asks that very night, sobbing after they've given the news to Nighteye. “Can I still be like Dad, without a quirk?”
Inko’s heart twists up in knots as she holds him close. A thousand apologies crowd onto her tongue, but before she can give them voice—
“You already are,” Nighteye says simply.
Inko almost chokes out a sob herself. Of course. Of course. How could she have forgotten? He’s never shown one spark of a quirk, and that hasn’t stopped her from seeing a little bit of Toshi everytime she looks into his bright blue eyes and sees him smile.
“You always have been,” she says.
She wishes that words alone could fix everything.
It’s a normal day. A nice day. Two days of spring sunshine have dried up all of last week’s rain. After Izuku’s recent bout of sniffles kept him cooped up inside, it’s the perfect day to take him to the park.
“No.” Izuku doesn’t shout—not yet. But there’s an edge in his voice and a challenge in his eyes that tells Inko that he will very soon if she presses him.
She tries not to sigh or otherwise let her frustration show on her face. Izuku is five years old now, soon to be six. Temper tantrums decrease by the age of four, and rarely happen after that, or so she’s read. It’s only natural; tantrums happen because young children get upset or overstimulated so easily, and at that age they don’t know enough words to explain why.
But you’re never too old to feel overwhelmed, and you’re never too old to not know why.
Inko thinks back through the day. It’s been restful so far; the most exciting thing that’s happened since he woke up this morning was a news report on some villain fight far away in Fukushima. As best as she can tell, Izuku has been fine.
“Come on now, Izuku,” she says, gently cajoling. “Mitsuki called, did you know that? She says Kacchan is at the park, too. Don’t you want to see your friends?”
“No!” Izuku tugs his hand out of her grasp, and she lets him. “I don’t want to see Kacchan!”
Inko purses her lips worriedly. “Why not?” she asks, kneeling beside him. “Is Kacchan being mean? Do I need to talk to Mitsuki again?”
“No!” Izuku repeats, starting to tear up. “I don’t want to, Mom. Can’t I stay home? Please, Mom?”
“Okay, okay,” she says, reaching for tissues. His cold is gone, and already he’s dribbling again. “You don’t have to go out, okay, Izuku?” He sniffles, barely appeased. “Izuku, what’s wrong? Why are you sad, sweetheart?”
“‘M not sad,” he says, voice wobbling through more tears. “I don’t want to play with Kacchan anymore?”
That sets off more than a few alarm bells. “Why not, Izuku?” she asks.
“They only want to play heroes,” Izuku answers. “They always play heroes and they always make me the villain or the person they have to save and I don’t want to, Mom!”
“Well,” Inko says, heart twisting as she dries his tears. “It sounds to me like they don’t know how to take turns, do they? How about this—why don’t we play heroes together? I promise you can be the hero if you want.”
It’s the wrong thing to say. Rather than being consoled, Izuku stamps his foot. He hasn’t done that since he was three.
“I don’t want to be the hero either!” he says. “I don’t want to play heroes! I hate heroes!”
Inko gapes, speechless.
She wishes she knew what to say to that, but she doesn’t. She’s too afraid she’ll make it worse by accident. So instead, she finishes mopping up his wet, reddened face, and gives him a pudding cup for a snack. Between the treat and the promise that he won’t have to go to the park today, he calms down. Inko keeps the news off for the rest of the day, just to be safe, and very soon she’s busy preparing food for the evening.
She makes enough for three, plus extra. Nighteye is coming over for dinner, because of course he is; he eats more meals out of Inko’s kitchen than not. On top of it, he’s had a difficult week and she doesn’t quite like the thought of him being alone for too long, yet.
Bad days or weeks happen, for both of them. They’re both capable of soldiering through them alone, but Inko won’t let him and he won’t let her, so it’s a moot point. The third yearly tribute to All-Might kicked one off for both of them, but sometimes they’ll be triggered by certain reminders, or for no reason at all.
He does look better when he comes for dinner, much to her relief. Nighteye has never been a man who smiled often even on the best of days, but she can see the signs of his contentment, especially when he leans over to listen attentively as Izuku rambles about something that happened in kindergarten.
It’s for that reason that she doesn’t tell him about Izuku’s earlier outburst. The last thing she wants is to bring him down again.
Unfortunately, she can’t keep it from him forever.
Nighteye means well. He means the best; he has their best interests at heart at all times, and once in a while he’ll come through with something absolutely glorious.
“I wanted to speak with the both of you about something,” he says one evening after dinner, still up to his elbows in dishwater. Inko learned long ago that trying to bully him out of doing the washing-up is a futile effort. “I have some good news.”
“Oh?” Inko says as she finished wiping the table.
Izuku perks up over his drawings. Nighteye drains the sink, dries his hands, and goes to join them.
“So, this year my agency came to enough prominence to receive invitations to the UA Sports Festival,” he says, and Inko’s smile falters. “Something wrong?”
Inko glances at Izuku. Her son isn’t smiling, but he also isn’t frowning—yet. “No, sorry, what were you saying?”
“The invitations allow for me to bring others—sidekicks and management team members, that sort of thing. It wouldn’t be hard for me to secure tickets for you, so I was wondering if you two might want to attend the festival in person, rather than watching it on TV.”
“Well…” She looks to Izuku, trying not to wince. Her son looks worried. “What do you think, Izuku?”
“Do we have to?” Izuku asks, so softly that she almost doesn’t hear him.
“Well, no.” Nighteye looks taken aback. “It’s an invitation, not a requirement.”
“I don’t want to go,” Izuku says, a little desperately. “Mom, please? I don’t want to go.”
Nighteye’s face falls, almost imperceptibly. Inko recognizes that frown. He had a similar one when she went to him in a fury and told him how bluntly and cruelly the pediatrician had told her son that he was quirkless, that he should give up on everything he loved.
Inko wishes that her son’s quirklessness were the only obstacle now.
“Of course you don’t have to,” Nighteye assures him. “May I ask why?” When Izuku doesn’t answer right away, he says, “If this is about what Dr. Tsubasa said last year, he was wrong. You know that, don’t you? It was a terrible thing to say to anyone, and he shouldn’t have said it to you.”
“No!” Izuku shakes his head vigorously, his voice rising in distress. “I just don’t wanna go. I—” He trips over his own words, and to Inko’s alarm he’s already starting to cry again.
“It’s all right, Izuku,” Nighteye says. “I didn’t mean to upset you. Of course you don’t have to come.”
“I don’t want to,” Izuku repeats. “I don’t like heroes.”
Inko shoots a quick glance at Nighteye, but if he reacts at all to this announcement, she doesn’t see it. “Izuku,” she says patiently, sitting down beside her son. “Nighteye is a hero.”
“I wish he wasn’t,” Izuku says tearfully, as if her closest friend isn’t standing right there listening.
“Why not?” she asks.
“I don’t want him to die!” Izuku sobs. “I don’t want everybody to be happy if he dies!”
She must look ridiculous when he says that, her mouth dropping open and gaping like a codfish. Quickly she closes her mouth and looks to Nighteye, who, for once, looks every bit as taken aback as she feels.
Izuku doesn’t protest when she lifts him into her arms, takes him out to the living room, and sits him down own the comfier couch, with Nighteye following uncertainly. “Izuku,” she says solemnly, taking the box of tissues Nighteye hands her. “Why do you think everyone will be happy if Nighteye dies?
“Because,” Izuku says. “Because, that’s what everybody says about Dad.”
“What do you mean?” Nighteye asks, sharply enough to make him jump. He sees his mistake immediately and lowers himself to sit next to Izuku, speaking more softly. “Who is ‘everybody’?”
“Everybody!” Izuku wipes at his streaming eyes. “Heroes on TV, and other people, and Teacher said—she said it in class! Kacchan asked her why All-Might was a great hero, and she said it was because he was brave and he died! That’s what everybody says, and they’re always smiling when they say it, and—and—”
“Oh, Izuku,” Inko sighs, wiping gently at his tears. “That’s not what they’re saying at all, I promise.”
“Yes it is, I heard them!” he argues. “And I wanna tell them they’re wrong, but I can’t, because you said I can’t tell people who dad was, and—and that means I can’t tell them it makes you sad! And I can’t tell them Nighteye was sad last week!” Beside him, Nighteye shuts his eyes briefly. “I hate it! I don’t want people to smile about something that hurts you!” He’s looking at Inko when he says this, but with one hand he clings to Nighteye’s sleeve.
Inko has never liked feeling helpless, especially where her son is concerned. She felt helpless at the doctor’s office last year, when the pediatrician told her with a thoughtless shrug that her son should be resigned to a life of crushed dreams. She hates not being able to protect his smile, but she can’t stop the careless words of strangers any more than she can turn back his quirklessness.
But then, like he always does, Nighteye comes through. He clears his throat quietly, gently works his sleeve free of Izuku’s grasp, and takes a tissue to dry Izuku’s face.
“You’re not entirely wrong,” he says. “It does hurt. And it is sad.”
Izuku sniffles, but submits to the ministrations.
Nighteye puts the tissue aside and gently taps on Izuku’s chin to make him look up. “But sometimes, when I think of him, I still smile. Do you know why?”
“Because he was your friend?” Izuku’s voice wobbles.
Nighteye smiles. He’s never been one for broad, ear-to-ear grins, even before Toshi died. His smiles are small, soft, fragile-looking things. “That’s right,” he says. “He was my good friend, and I cared about him very much. And being his friend, knowing him for as long as I did... well. It made me very happy.”
“I know, but—” Izuku shakes his head. “But Teacher—and everybody, they’re not talking about knowing him. They’re talking about him dying.” His voice cracks.
The tiny smile fades away, like dew drying up in the sun. “Izuku,” he says after a moment. “Would you like to know one of the things that I… admired, about your father?
On its own, it's a good way to distract him. Few things can turn Izuku’s head like stories about Toshi. Izuku’s reddened eyes widen, and he nods.
“No matter how bad things got, no matter how frightened he was or how hopeless it seemed,” Nighteye says, “he could always smile in the face of it. Even in his darkest hour, he still smiled. Do you know why?” Izuku shakes his head. “It wasn’t because he was happy that bad things were happening. It was so that the people who saw him—scared people, hurt people, anyone in trouble who needed his help—it was so that they could see that he was smiling, and feel hope.”
He pauses. Inko holds her breath.
“You know, there was a time that even I—I was very frightened.” When he speaks again, his voice almost wavers and cracks, but he continues anyway. Inko presses her lips together; she has heard this only once before, not so very long after Toshi died. “I felt very alone. I felt as if all hope had been lost. And even though he was even more frightened and in... in trouble than I was… he still had a smile for me, Izuku.” The corners of his lips turn up again. “And when he smiled at me, just for an instant, the world seemed just a little less dark and cold.”
Izuku stares up at him, rapt.
“It’s a powerful thing, to smile,” Nighteye tells him. “Sometimes smiling is the bravest act of defiance you can perform, because it shows everyone who can see you, friend and foe alike, that you can be hurt and frightened, but you cannot be beaten.”
She’s not sure her son understands. Sometimes Inko isn’t quite sure she understands, either. “Izuku?" she says. "Do you want to know why I think people say things like… like that? What you heard?”
Izuku has to blink the wonder out of his eyes before answering her. “Why, Mom?”
Inko leans closer to him. “I think they say it because it’s sad. Because it’s very, very sad, and they want to make it hurt less.” Old grief rises within her, but she swallows it back down before it can strangle her voice. “So they talk about the good things he did, and how brave he was. They talk about how he loved saving people so much that he kept doing it even—even when it hurt him.” She shuts her eyes for a moment. “And I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I just know that he kept protecting people and saving people, as many as he could for as long as he could. Even on his last day, he was still saving lives.”
Izuku’s tears are gone, and now he just looks thoughtful.
“So, it’s to celebrate him,” Inko says. “Because even though he died, he lived first. Because even if they didn’t know him like we did, they still loved him very much.”
“They loved Dad?” Izuku asks softly.
Inko smiles through the hurt. “The whole world loved Dad.”
“He made it easy,” Nighteye adds.
“Izuku?” Inko goes on. “You don’t have to go to the Sports Festival if you don’t want to. We can stay at home and watch it, or we don’t have to watch it at all. But I just want you to know—the world misses him, just like we do.”
“Okay,” Izuku whispers.
“Feel a little better?” Inko asks. He nods.
“I still don’t wanna go,” he says, almost embarrassed. “Is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay, sweetheart.”
“It won’t be your last chance,” Nighteye assures him. “If you change your mind, or not.”
Izuku turns and wraps his small arms around Nighteye, squeezing as tight as he is able. “Thank you, Nighteye.”
The smile that spreads across Nighteye’s face is wider this time. He even keeps it on long enough for Izuku to look up and see it.
“You’re very welcome, Izuku.”