When All Might opens his eyes, everything's a pained, morphine-induced blur. He blinks a few times, slow and bleary, and when his vision finally clears, it's to see the crinkly, stern face of Recovery Girl.
She looks down on him, her expression set in a scowl. "Well, All Might," she says at last, "you really did a number on yourself this time."
He opens his mouth to speak, but instead of words, spittles of blood emerge. He realizes, belatedly, that he's wearing an oxygen mask; the plastic is speckled with crimson. "Oh, don't talk," Recovery Girl says crossly, and she pulls down his mask and dabs at his mouth with a clean cloth. "Just lie back and relax, you great big oaf."
That's a bit much, All Might thinks, but he really can't speak; his tongue is thick and uncooperative, and his mouth is full of the taste of iron. He can't think straight, either; his head is heavy, his thoughts laggard and blurred, his mind full of cotton and cobwebs. He tries to whip his sluggish memories into some semblance of order, but it's all fuzzy and indistinct.
His entire body hurts, aches, like he's never experienced before. It's deeper than flesh and bone; he feels it in his organs, in his very core. He groans and pats at his own body with awkward, jerky motions, or at least he tries, but his hands only flop weakly. His limbs won't obey him, won't move properly.
Recovery Girl reaches out and drags his arms back to his sides. She does it with shocking ease; All Might doesn't have the strength to resist, and that's terrifying in its own right. "You're hurt, All Might," she says, too frank. "Badly. You need to rest and relax and recuperate. You nearly died."
The idea is laughable. Die? Him? Surely not. He's the strongest person in the world. He's All Might. He knows he can die, yes, but surely--
And then the memories begin to filter through, fragments coming together, and though it creates nothing but an outline, a faint shadow merely hinting at a cohesive picture, it's enough. He remembers darkness and agony and that arrogant sneer and that cold, bloodless stare--
All For One.
The memory is a bucket of cold water. All Might inhales sharply. He tries to speak again and only gets a mouthful of blood.
"Spit it out," Recovery Girl says wearily, holding a cup beside his face, and All Might weakly turns his head to the side and spits the blood out. She takes the cup away and returns with a water bottle. "Drink," she orders, and he sips at the water, cool and clean and refreshing on his bloodied throat. She takes the water away too soon. "A little at a time," she says severely, replacing the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. "You'll vomit again otherwise."
He has no memory of vomiting in the first place.
He stares at her beseechingly, wordlessly begging for answers. Recovery Girl sighs. "This is the work of a villain more powerful than I've ever seen before," she says at last. She moves to sit in a chair beside the bed. She moves gingerly, slowly, her steps small; when she settles into the chair, it's with a grimace. "Do you remember?"
All Might remembers, barely. Snippets, snapshots, shards of memory. It does not form a coherent whole.
"He tore you up," Recovery Girl says. "He pulverized your organs, All Might. You don't have a stomach anymore. You barely have a single lung. We've done what we can--I've done what I can--but not everything can be healed." She pauses, as though choosing her next words. "You're lucky to be alive."
Surely it's not that bad. He's suffered injuries before, too many to even remember. Recovery Girl has always been able to heal them, make them vanish without a trace. Surely this will heal, too. Surely--
But he coughs, weak and pitiful, and more blood trickles from between his pursed lips. And he's been injured before, but never like this, never so badly that he's been confined to bed, unable to stand, unable to sit up, unable to do anything but cough up blood--
He closes his eyes and refuses to think about that. He swallows down the blood, works his throat, and breaths out a few guttural, incomprehensible sounds. He swallows again, tries again. "What about him?" he gets out at last.
"The villain?" Recover Girl asks.
All Might nods, just a tiny movement of his head. The fight itself is nothing but splinters in his memory. He remembers the punch, the crunch of skull beneath his fist, the spray of blood, but--
Recovery Girl doesn't answer for a long, long time. "We think he's dead," she says at last. "We couldn't find a body. We think you smashed him to smithereens."
That's a good thing, right?
"It's over, All Might," Recovery Girl says. "I don't just mean this villain. You, too. You can't do this anymore, All Might. Your injuries are too bad. Your career is over."
He stares at her. "No," he whispers. His voice is shredded.
She doesn't respond, at least not with words. Instead she reaches over, tugs the blanket down off his body, peels back the layers of bandage of gauze swathing his torso.
All Might looks down at himself and blanches.
On the left side of his chest, the size of a fist, is a gaping, oozing hole. The skin around it is shredded, pustulent and ugly and mutilated. It looks like tenderized raw meat, not human flesh. It's the kind of gruesome wound he rarely sees even in disaster zones.
"I meant what I said, All Might." Recovery Girl's voice is a lash, sharp and unforgiving. "Your stomach is gone. Your left lung is gone. Every single rib on your left side was crushed to shards of bone. It's a miracle your heart wasn't punctured. We'll need to perform more surgery on you, once you've recovered enough to survive it--and that's just to try to ensure that you'll still be able to eat solid food. I can make sure you survive this, but I can't fix this. No one can. Your body cannot recover from this."
Unthinkable. Unforgivable. Unacceptable. "I can't stop being a hero," All Might croaks. "The world still needs me. The world needs All Might."
Recovery Girl carefully returns the bandage to its proper place. All Might inhales sharply and clenches his jaw, wincing at the unexpected pain. "You'll be hospitalized for a while," she says at last. "This entire fight is being kept secret from the public--a decision made far above my pay grade, let me tell you. Officially, you're taking a vacation. We'll figure out your retirement after you've recovered enough."
"I'm not retiring."
Recovery Girl exhales, slowly, a silent sigh. "All Might," she says, and then she looks at him.
All Might glares back at her. "I can't," he says, with every last ounce of power in him. "Not yet. I can't."
Not until I have a successor.
Recovery Girl holds his gaze, steady and unwavering. Then, at last, she closes her eyes. "You still need to recover first," she says. She sounds suddenly exhausted. "And you cannot get injured like this again. Do you understand me? You have to start being careful with yourself. And I don't just mean injuries like this--I mean any sort of injury. You've been reckless you entire career. That needs to stop, and it needs to stop right now. The next time you suffer an injury even remotely near this bad, it will be the last." She pauses, as though debating whether to say more. She visibly steels herself. "And if there's someone else suffering these injuries with you," she says at last, "for once in your life, think of them."
All Might flinches.
His soulmate. His soulmate. A child. Only nine years old. Suffering this.
The thought hadn't even crossed his mind.
Recovery Girl nods, as though finally satisfied. What expression is he wearing? What has his face betrayed? He doesn't know, and Recovery Girl doesn't enlighten him. "No more injuries, All Might," she says. "For your sake, and for everyone else's. You're the strongest hero; you should be capable of saving other people without getting yourself hurt. Now act like it."
She bustles away. All Might stares at the ceiling, overwhelmed. The ache lingers throughout his entire body; the wound throbs painfully. Perhaps it is a blessing that he cannot remember the moment of the injury itself; he can only imagine the sheer agony.
Someone else did not have to imagine it.
All Might cannot give up on being a hero; All For One might be eliminated, but there are other threats facing the world, threats that only All Might can neutralize. But he can be more careful. He can avoid injuring himself further. He can protect himself, and his soulmate, from further pain. No more injuries. No more wounds. None. He can fight villains and rescue the innocent without jeopardizing himself any further. He isn't sure how, yet, but he can. He must.
Never again, he vows in the sanctity of his own mind. He lays a hand gently on the swath of bandages covering his body and closes his eyes, listening to the gentle whisper of oxygen. I swear, this is the last time I will hurt you.
His soulmate will not experience another soulmate injury for over five years.