Yagi Toshinori does not have a soulmate.
He comes to this realization when he's five or six. He's playing tag with a group of boys when one of them, Kentarou, suddenly stops running and tumbles to the ground with a scream. Everyone else freezes, and Kentarou clutches his knee and howls, tears streaming down his face.
There's an ugly scar on the side of his knee, the skin tissue gone knotted and luridly red, and it isn't the first soulmate scar Toshinori has ever seen, but it's definitely the ugliest.
After a few seconds of bawling, Kentarou-kun sniffs and falls silent. His eyes are bloodshot, and snot dangles from his nose. He wipes his face on the hem of his t-shirt. "I'm okay," he mumbles. His face has gone scarlet. "I'm okay."
All the boys cluster around him, staring at his soulmate scar. "Wow," Shou says, his eyes as wide as rice bowls. "I've never seen one that big!"
"My sister has one that big," Masato says. "We think her soulmate had heart surgery."
"You're a liar," Shou shoots back. "Your sister doesn't have a soulmate scar like that."
"She does, too! I'm not lying!"
"Yeah, well, have you seen it?"
Masato blushes. "It's on her chest," he protests. "But she says it's big! She says it's this big!" And he draws a line on his own chest, from just below his neck all the way down to his belly. Toshinori thinks he's exaggerating, but he hasn't seen Masato's sister's chest, either, so he can't say anything one way or another.
Masato and Shou keep squabbling. Junsuke takes the opportunity to crouch down next to Kentarou. "That's a big one," he says quietly.
Kentarou nods, his lower lip trembling. "I've gotten little scars before," he says, "like this one," and he bends his arm and points at his elbow. Toshinori squints and leans closer. There's a tiny mark, almost like a divot. It's almost impossible to see. "But I've never had one like this." He stares at his knee, at the new soulmate scar formed there. "I wonder if it'll stay."
"I have soulmate scars, too," Masato brags. He jabs at his forehead, near his temple. There's a tiny notch at the very outer tip of his eyebrow. "See? See? We think my soulmate almost poked their eye out!"
"I don't have any soulmate scars," Junsuke says. "I've never even had a soulmate injury. My parents say my soulmate hasn't been born yet."
I've never had a soulmate injury, either, Toshinori thinks, and then, for the first time, the connection forms in his mind. Oh, he thinks, simple as two plus two. I don't have a soulmate.
"I don't have a soulmate, either," he says aloud.
"It's because your soulmate hasn't been born yet," Junsuke says.
"You're lucky," Shou grouses. "It hurts."
"I don't have a soulmate," Toshinori repeats, awed by this revelation. It feels a bit like discovering he doesn't have a quirk--a sudden gaping abyss, an aching sense of loneliness--except this time, there's a happy ending waiting in his future. He doesn't have a soulmate, yet. His soulmate just hasn't been born yet.
He'll never have a quirk, but he'll have a soulmate, one day.
He meets Shimura Nana when he is fourteen years old.
He's walking home when a shrill scream splits the quiet of the idyllic summer twilight. "Miho!" It's a woman's voice, cracking with terror. "Stop, that's my daughter--help! Someone, help, please--"
And Toshinori's moving before he can think, sprinting down the street, skidding around the corner, and then he freezes. Running his way is a man, average height, wearing jeans and a plain shirt, completely nondescript except for the fact that he's got a shrieking, flailing little girl tucked under one arm.
Toshinori doesn't stop to think, doesn't even hesitate, just acts--sticks his leg out, trips the man, grabs him by the shoulder as he goes down and slams him face-first into the concrete. The girl goes tumbling, rolling out of reach, and Toshinori pounces, leaping atop the man before he can get up. It's over in half a second.
"Miho!" A woman comes running--the girl's mother, presumably--and Miho scrambles to her feet and pelts toward her, bawling. The would-be kidnapper twists and writhes, glaring with eyes full of utter loathing. The man's in a spitting rage, quite literally--he spits glob after glob of mud in Toshinori's face. It's possibly the most disgusting quirk Toshinori has ever seen. But he keeps the man pinned, even as mud drips down his face, while the mother clings to Miho and sobs into the little girl's shoulder.
"Let me go," the man snarls, more globules of mud flying, and Toshinori cringes and recoils but doesn't let the man go. "Let me go, I said, let me go--"
"Well, I see you've got this under control."
Both of them freeze and look up, Toshinori and the would-be kidnapper alike. Standing there is a woman, buxom and beautiful, her dark hair just brushing her shoulders, her expression fixed in a bright smile. She wears a black bodysuit with an enormous, flowing white cape, and she stands there tall and proud with her hands on her hips and looks down on them with gleaming eyes.
The villain pales. "Stormsaber!" he yelps.
Toshinori blinks mud out of his eyes. "Stormsaber?" he echoes. "The Lightning Storm Hero?"
"The one and only," the woman cheerfully replies. "The police are on their way. Can you keep holding him?"
"Of course," Toshinori says, answering on autopilot. He can't stop staring. The Lightning Storm Hero, Stormsaber. He knows her, or at least knows of her. She can manipulate the weather and strike as swift and powerful as a bolt of lightning. Most people never see her; the sky darkens, the clouds black out the sun, and she swoops in with a powerful fist and is gone in a heartbeat. And she's here, right here, standing in front of Toshinori. He's never been so close to a real hero before. And not just any hero. Stormsaber.
"Good. Keep him from going anywhere. I'm going to make sure the girl is okay." She strides off to the mother and the girl, speaking to them in a low, gentle voice. Toshinori can't quite hear what she's saying, and he can't focus on eavesdropping because the villain starts struggling, trying to get free. Toshinori tightens his grip and wrestles the man down until the villain goes limp, spitting mud onto the sidewalk.
The police arrive on the scene a few minutes later, and they relieve Toshinori of his charge. Toshinori takes the opportunity to wipe the mud off his face, finally. The villain gets put into handcuffs; he spits a mouthful of mud at one officer and is promptly gagged for his troubles before they whisk him away. Two cops talk with Miho's mother, who still clutches her daughter as though afraid of having her ripped away. Stormsaber stands nearby, acting as intermediary, answering the occasional question. Toshinori shifts awkwardly, wondering if he should leave. The mother and daughter get in the other patrol car--to give a statement at the police station, Toshinori guesses--and the cops bow to Stormsaber before getting in and driving away. Toshinori and Stormsaber are left alone on the sidewalk, beneath the encroaching dusk.
Toshinori clears his throat. "Well," he says awkwardly. He wants to talk to Stormsaber--Stormsaber! A real hero! There are a million things he could ask her!--but he also knows that she has better things to do.
Stormsaber returns her gaze to Toshinori. "You saved that little girl," she says. "Good job."
Toshinori dies a little bit on the inside. This is it. He's died and gone to heaven. Or maybe he's dreaming, except he doesn't wake up. Either way, this might be the best moment of his life. He got complimented by a hero. A real pro hero.
He expects the moment to end, for Stormsaber to dash away the way she normally does. Instead, she turns to him. "What's your name?" she asks.
Toshinori stares at her, stunned into silence. Stormsaber is still here. Stormsaber is talking to him. "Yagi," he finally replies, his voice a croak. "Yagi Toshinori."
"Yagi-kun," Stormsaber says. "Toshinori-kun? Toshinori." She nods firmly. "Tell me, how'd you catch him?"
Toshinori blinks. "I was just standing here," he says. "He was running in my direction, carrying that little girl. So I, uh, I tripped him. And held him down."
"You were just coincidentally standing in the right place to take him down? Pure dumb luck?" she asks, skeptical.
He can feel his face go hot. "No," he admits. "I heard the mother scream, so I came running here to see what was going on. But it was a coincidence that he came running in my direction."
"And lucky for us that he did," she replies. "Still, it was impressive, the way you took him down. Did you use your quirk?"
Toshinori winces. She doesn't know it, but she's struck his sore spot. "No," he says shortly.
Her eyebrows go up. "Not an offensive quirk?" she asks.
He looks away, down, anywhere but her eyes. "No quirk," he mumbles.
She doesn't respond. Toshinori had half been expecting an immediate dismissal, or an awkward change of subject, or pity. But the silence stretches out, second by agonizing second, and at last, he chances a glance up.
Stormsaber is staring at him. She isn't smiling anymore. Instead, she wears a serious, thoughtful expression. "So let me get this straight," she says at last. "You're minding your own business, just walking down the street, when you hear someone scream for help. You don't know who it is. You don't know what's happened. You don't have a quirk you can use to stop a villain or to protect yourself. So you go running... toward the danger."
"Someone needed help," Toshinori says, feeling helpless himself. "I couldn't just do nothing."
Stormsaber still looks at him, her eyes narrowed slightly. It's as though she's studying him, disassembling him into his constituent pieces and turning each one upside down and inside out to see exactly what he's made of. "That's very brave of you," she says at last. "Leaping to someone's rescue when you don't have a quirk? That's quite the strong sense of justice you have there. Are you thinking of becoming a police officer? Lawyer? Judge?"
Toshinori clenches his jaw. "Hero," he says.
Even he knows the futility and the absurdity of that dream. Saying it to an actual, living, breathing hero is even more absurd. But he can't help it. He won't lie; he refuses to pretend he's something he's not. And this is who he is: a quirkless boy who wants to be a hero. With the same intensity as he needs water or oxygen, he wants to be a hero.
But Stormsaber doesn't laugh or sneer or ask if he's joking. Her expression doesn't even twitch. "You?" she says. "You're quirkless. Why do you want to become a hero? What can you offer that someone else can't?"
It isn't an accusation or a taunt; if anything, it's a challenge. Toshinori opens his mouth, but then he hesitates. It sounds ridiculous even in the privacy of his own mind. But Stormsaber just looks at him, patient, expectant almost, like her question is genuine, like she really wants to know. Like she believes Toshinori has an answer worth hearing.
"People need someone to look up to," he finally says. "Someone they can believe in. Someone who will protect them. They need a symbol of peace--a pillar of strength and harmony, someone who makes them believe in a world where we can all live happily together." He swallows. "I want to be that person."
And it sounds so arrogant, so egotistical, audacious even, for someone like him to take on such a larger-than-life role. Surely he is the last person who could become such a symbol. Surely someone else would be much more suitable--someone smarter, and stronger, and braver, and with a much more impressive quirk. Someone who can be a hero in real life, not only in dreams.
But if Stormsaber shares that critical assessment, she doesn't show it. Her expression remains placid. "That's quite admirable," she says. "Not many people have that kind of mindset, you know. Not even heroes."
"But isn't that what it means, to be a hero?" Toshinori asks.
Stormsaber doesn't answer. Instead, she abruptly changes the subject. "How old are you?" she asks.
"Fourteen," he replies.
Her eyebrows go up at that. She looks him up and down. "Fourteen," she says, musing. "You certainly don't look it."
He hunches down on himself. He's tall--too tall, he feels sometimes--and he just keeps on growing.
"Stand tall," Stormsaber says sharply. "You should never try to make yourself small, never. There's something special about you. You realize that, right?"
He stands there, miserable, torn between the urge to shrink on himself even further and the fear of defying her. "There's nothing special about me," he mumbles.
Stormsaber's expression softens, just a tad. "Toshinori," she says, and now there's a thread of gentleness in her voice. "How many people have told you that you can't be a hero?"
He stares at the concrete. He doesn't answer.
The answer, of course, is too many people. Sometimes, it seems like the entire world has laughed at his dream, like the universe itself is determined to crush him underfoot. You can never be a hero, Yagi Toshinori, it sneers at him. You have no quirk, and you can never be a hero.
Stormsaber sighs. "Toshinori," she says, so quietly he can barely hear her. "Look at me."
Reluctantly, he lifts his eyes.
Her gaze is blazing. She stands with her hands on her hips, her shoulders broad and her chin lifted. She's the very picture of confidence, of power--of a hero. "Toshinori," she says, "listen to me when I tell you this. It takes more than a quirk to become a hero. You need to have the right mindset, and you need to do it for the right reasons. A true hero is not decided by your quirk; a true hero is made by what's in your heart and soul. And I don't care what anyone else has to say, Toshinori. You can become a hero."
He stares at her. She's shorter than him, but she has more steel in her spine than Toshinori has in his entire body, and he feels like he's looking up at her, up to some enormous pedestal, up to the peak of some sky-scraping mountain. There isn't an iota of hesitation in her.
"You can be a hero," she repeats. "If you're willing to work hard and put the effort in, you can be a hero. I really believe that, Toshinori. The question is, do you believe that?"
Toshinori stares at her, unable to believe his own ears. He can feel his heart clenching, feel the bottom dropping out of his stomach. It doesn't seem real. It doesn't seem possible. He's wanted it for so long, yearning, begging the universe--
"You mean it?" he asks, his voice a hoarse whisper. "You really think I can be a hero?"
Stormsaber nods. "I can't offer any guarantees," she says. "But I think you have the potential in you. You can be a hero. Maybe even the greatest hero ever."
He presses a hand to his mouth to muffle a sob. She just smiles at him, and slowly, he realizes that she's serious. She means it.
She really thinks he can become a hero.
Toshinori squeezes his eyes shut. "I want to be a hero," he says, and it's like a prayer and a confession all in one. It's like a dam breaking, a swell of emotion that pours unstoppably out of him--he gazes at her and says, more forcefully this time, "I want to be a hero."
Stormsaber doesn't miss a beat. "Then come with me, Toshinori," she says, and she offers him a broad grin and a wink. "And we'll see if we can make a hero out of you."
She extends a hand, and after a long, long moment, Toshinori takes it. She shakes it firmly. "I look forward to working with you," she says, "and I look forward to seeing you become a hero," and she speaks with all the confidence in the world, and for the first time in a long time--perhaps the first time ever--Toshinori believes.
Stormsaber's real name is Shimura Nana. He calls her Master, and she changes Toshinori's life in ways he hadn't even dared dream.
The next four years are some of the best of Toshinori's life.
Nana takes him under her wing. She introduces him to Gran Torino, who becomes a second mentor. She gets him into UA. And above all--most incredibly, most unbelievably--she gives him a quirk.
"Understand, Toshinori," she says, dead serious, "this quirk is an inheritance. It is not yours to keep; it is only yours to use. You, too, will pass it on one day. Until that day comes, use it well, according to its name. It is One For All--to be used by one for the good of all. Never forget that."
"I won't," he vows, and he swears it with every fiber of his being.
"And you must tell no one the truth behind it, not if you can avoid it," she presses. "There will come a day when you will have to tell someone, but the more people who know, the sooner the truth will come out. That means you must never tell anyone unless they absolutely must know. Understand me? You do not tell your best friend. You do not tell your family. You do not tell your soulmate. No one, Toshinori. No one can know."
He hesitates. "Not even my soulmate?"
Nana's expression turns sympathetic. Gran Torino, on the other hand, only scowls. "Who is your soulmate?" he asks, his voice brusque.
It's still a bit nerve-wracking to be subject to such direct interrogation--asking prying questions about someone's soulmate is quite rude, after all--but Toshinori has rapidly learned that Gran Torino does not understand the definition of sugarcoating. "I don't know," Toshinori admits. "My soulmate hasn't been born yet."
It's an explanation he's given before, on the occasion when someone is as rude as Gran Torino (which admittedly does not happen terribly often). But this is the first time Toshinori receives this kind of response.
Gran Torino harrumphs.
"Sorahiko," Nana says, her tone a warning.
Toshinori looks back and forth between them, bewildered. "What?" he demands.
Gran Torino ignores her. "I don't know, kid," he says, his shrug too calculated in its casualness. "The longer you go without any signs of a soulmate, the more likely it is you don't have one."
Toshinori stares at him, his brain refusing to compute the words. "Everyone has a soulmate," he argues, baffled by Gran Torino's reaction. This isn't something that should require any sort of argument. Of course everyone has a soulmate. That's just how it works.
"Everyone has someone who's meant to be their soulmate," Gran Torino replies. "But not everyone has a soulmate. People die, kid. Sometimes they even die before their soulmate is born."
Toshinori's mind screeches to a halt. "What," he says blankly.
"Maybe it isn't that your soulmate hasn't been born yet," Gran Torino says, harsh and unflinching. "Maybe your soulmate is already dead."
Nana fixes Gran Torino with a reproachful stare. "You're awful," she informs him. "Ignore him, Toshinori. You shouldn't be cynical like him, it's unbecoming of the man who will become the Symbol of Peace." She offers Toshinori that tender, encouraging smile. "Don't listen to that old man."
"Hey," Gran Torino protests.
Nana ignores him. "The day will come when you'll meet your soulmate, Toshinori," she says. "And when you do, it will all be worth it."
They never discuss it again, but Toshinori clings to those words, to that abiding faith, to that smile. The universe gave me a quirk, he thinks, and one day it will give me a soulmate, too. But then Nana loses her soulmate, and then her son, and then her life, and he realizes that nothing--nothing--is guaranteed. His world cracks apart, unraveling at the seams, and too late, he realizes bleakly that Gran Torino was right. He doesn't have a soulmate. He never had a soulmate at all.
For a split second, Toshinori reaches out to her, tears streaming down his cheeks, his throat rending on a scream. But it's only for a fraction of a second, barely a heartbeat, and then they're gone. Gran Torino grabs him and runs, runs, runs, running away from Nana, running away from certain death and abandoning her to her doom.
That one millisecond will remain seared into Toshinori's memory for the rest of his days. Nana's bruised and bloodied body, her tremble as she fights to raise her head, that agonized smile, those eyes full of regret, and then All For One--
But Gran Torino runs, tearing Toshinori away, and neither of them witness that final moment.
Gran Torino doesn't stop until they're safely away, far, far away. Toshinori's sobs have long since turned to breathless, soul-crushing silence. Gran Torino gnashes his teeth and buries his head in his hands. Neither of them speak.
Toshinori stares at the dark sky overhead, tears still dripping from the corners of his eyes. "Gran Torino," he says at last. His voice sounds unnatural in his own ears. "Who is your soulmate?"
At first, the chirping of cicadas is his only response. Then Gran Torino raises his head, slowly. His eyes are red. "Why are you asking that now?" he asks, his voice hoarse.
"She lost everything," Toshinori replies. He speaks dully; he barely has the strength to even breathe. "Her soulmate, her son, her quirk, her life. Everything."
Toshinori swallows. "That's what it means to be a hero." His hands curl into quivering fists. "It isn't just about risking your life. It's about being prepared to have everything torn away from you. Being a hero means sacrificing everything. Doesn't it?"
Gran Torino doesn't respond. He simply sags, powerless, hopeless.
"I will destroy him," Toshinori says. "I swear I will. I will put an end to him, even if it's the last thing I do."
Gran Torino simply gazes at him, gazes with the jaded eyes of a man who has seen and suffered far too much. "Maybe it's a good thing you don't have a soulmate," he says at last, weary and worn-down, the voice of a man who speaks from experience. "It's less you have to lose."
For a long time--for most of his childhood--Toshinori knew that he would never have a quirk. He was quirkless Yagi Toshinori, always had been, always would be. But when the other kids teased or taunted him, when he felt lost and alone, when he felt lesser than, he closed his eyes and fought back with a single thought: I might not ever have a quirk, but I'll have a soulmate someday. It was a comforting thought, one that kept him going through many a dark hour in his youth.
But now, eighteen years old and bereft in a way he's never been before, he begins to realize that perhaps he was wrong. It is a desolate realization, sliding inexorably into desperation--a hollow in the pit of his stomach, cracking open like an abyss within him--a realization that sickens him to his core. I might not ever have a quirk, but I'll have a soulmate someday, he'd told himself, time and time again, but perhaps he's had it the wrong way around all along.
Maybe that's the sacrifice I made, he thinks. He has a quirk when he was never meant to have one; in inheriting One For All, he had sneered at fate and spit in the eye of a universe that had made him quirkless. Did fate take his soulmate as compensation? Did the universe exact its revenge by denying him a soulmate?
Logically, he knows that can't be true. His soulmate wasn't taken away from him; he simply never had a soulmate to begin with. But it doesn't feel that way. It feels like a loss, tangible and real. Now, with his master's coffin sitting before him, Toshinori blinks past the stinging in his eyes, feels One For All coursing through his veins, and stares into the gaping maw of emptiness and solitude that stretches out into eternity before him, and he wonders if this is the price he has paid to become All Might.
What Nana never told him--what no one ever told him--was that inheriting One For All, becoming All Might, becoming the Symbol of Peace, would destine him to a life of isolation.
Years pass, so many years. All Might climbs the hero ranks, becomes the Number One Hero, saves people, fells villains, brings peace and hope and joy to the world with an omnipresent smile. He laughs loudly, strides in boldly, and announces to the world at large, "I am here!" He becomes a beacon, a message, a symbol.
All Might is beloved by all. Admiring fans cheer him and weep at his feet. Heroes-in-training gaze at him like he's a demigod. But only a handful of people even know his name.
Nana never told him what his future held. But how could she have known? She had a soulmate, a child, a family. She knew what it was to be alone as a hero, alone with her secret, alone in the fight against All For One. But she never knew what it was like to be alone, truly alone.
Yagi Toshinori knows.
All Might has spent so many years alone, and Toshinori even more, that he almost doesn't recognize it when it happens.
He's at home. It's late afternoon. He's just come back from taping an interview live on a daytime talk show. It had been a typical fluff interview, one or two obligatory questions about his quirk that he cheerfully evaded, then lots of discussion about the newest adjustment to his hero costume, a recent flashy rescue, and his favorite soft drink. He signed autographs for the cameramen and backstage crew after filming was over. Then he went home and changed out of his suit and garish tie, shedding All Might and becoming Toshinori.
He's just opened the refrigerator door to consider his dinner options when it happens. A vague, strange sensation on his palm, one that vanishes within a heartbeat. His brain belatedly registers it a moment later. Pain, he realizes. Just a flicker, a blip, so tiny and insignificant that he wouldn't have even noticed it in a fight. The only reason he notices it now is because it came out of nowhere, no cause, no source.
Toshinori blinks and opens his hand, staring down at it. His palm is marred by a few faint scars. It's nothing terrible; it just looks like he fell and scraped it against gravel and neglected to have it cleaned properly. He'd scraped himself up plenty of times just like this as a kid--and maybe when he was a bit older, too--and if any of them had left scars, they might have looked something like this.
Except he has no idea where this one came from. He stares at it, his brow furrowed. His brain churns, the gears turning over, but there's no explanation whatsoever. He rubs the marks on his palm with the thumb of his other hand. Nothing happens.
"What's this from?" he mumbles, talking to himself. "I didn't do that--"
And then his brain grinds to a halt.
I didn't do that.
He stares at the scars on his palm. The scars he shouldn't have received. An injury he didn't suffer.
Toshinori sinks to the floor, slowly, clutching his own hand. "Oh," he whispers, "oh," and he squeezes his eyes shut and bows over, curling in on himself. It doesn't seem real, it can't be real, but it is, it is, and--
"A soulmate," he breathes, "I have a soulmate," and the sobs finally come, silent and tearless and overwhelming, as he presses his clasped hands to his own forehead, cradling the scar like the most precious crystal.
In an hour, Toshinori will panic, because his soulmate is a child, just a child, too young to love an old man like him. In a day, Toshinori will fight a villain who shoots spikes from her palms and successfully skewers him through the thigh before he takes her down, and he'll realize, for the first time, that every time he gets hurt in the name of fighting evil, he's hurting someone else, too. In nine years, All For One will almost kill him, will crush his spirit and transform him into a man who is scarred and beaten down and almost broken. In fifteen years, he will meet a boy, a quirkless boy with green eyes full of desperation and determination in equal measure, a boy who makes his heart clench and lurch and soar. In fifteen years, Toshinori will meet his soulmate, and he will think, oh, it's you, you are the one I've been waiting for.
Over the next fifteen years, Toshinori will ache and hurt and regret and fight and curse the fates for their cruelties and weep his apologies to a deaf and heartless universe. But today, he whispers prayers full of thanks, because somewhere in this world, a miracle he has long since given up on bursts into existence, and there is light, there is light, there is light. Toshinori drowns in it, his heart threatening to explode, lifted up by a rising swell of hope as blinding and dazzling as the stars, and all he can think is, You're here. You're here. You're finally here.
You are here.