For a long time, Izuku thinks that his soulmate is dead.
Of course he does. The scar covering half his torso tells the story. It isn't the full story--there are too many details that remain mysterious, lost in the great unknown--but the final chapter is etched into his skin, impossible to misunderstand. A horrific injury, one that tore through flesh and bone, destroying organs and spilling blood into the earth.
Izuku felt the agony, just for a second. It had been unspeakable, indescribable. He's suffered many soulmate injuries over the years, far too many, almost literally from birth; they number easily into the hundreds, of which several dozen had been truly terrifying. But this one--he'd known instantly, right then and there, that this one was different. He'd gone to bed clutching his side, and when he'd woken up in the morning, he'd pressed a hand to his chest and felt the scar tissue and realized, with a kind of sickening lack of disbelief, that it was permanent.
He tried to deny it. He'd told himself that maybe he was mistaken. He'd listened when his parents speculated that there was maybe another explanation. He agreed to go to the soulmate scar specialist to see if there was hope. But all along, deep down, he knew. Even then, he'd known all along.
He accepts it, now. His soulmate is dead, and nothing will bring them back.
If the scar itself weren't proof enough, there's one other piece of evidence: Izuku doesn't get any new soulmate injuries, either.
His mother had been hopeful, at first. "Well, if your soulmate was that badly hurt, it makes sense that you wouldn't get any new soulmate scars for a while," she said, dredging up a feeble ray of hope from some unknown pit of optimism. Izuku would have wept tears of happiness to have even a shred of that optimism turned toward his dream of being a hero. "If your soulmate is hospitalized, they're not going to be out getting hurt."
There was a certain kind of logic to it, even Izuku had to admit. If his soulmate was in a medically-induced coma in the hospital, it stood to reason that they weren't out getting hurt in whatever other ways those injuries usually happened. But Izuku knew better than to hope. The horrible soulmate injuries that had plagued him for so many years were one thing, but they weren't the only thing, and never had been; Izuku experienced his soulmate's minor, insubstantial wounds, too, the ones that came from boring, day-to-day life. But in the wake of that disastrous injury, even those stopped.
The days dragged out into weeks and spread into months, and nothing changed. Even now, nothing has changed. Izuku isn't receiving any soulmate injuries.
At least, he doesn't think he is.
He tries to crush those thoughts the very instant they appear in his mind. Hope is dead and buried, and he doesn't need it trying to worm its way back into his life. His soulmate is dead. His soulmate scar is never going away. He'll never receive another soulmate injury. His soulmate is dead.
He knows this, with as much certainty and conviction as he knows that the Earth is round and the sun is a star. But some part of his heart still clings to a ragged shred of hope, the infinitely obscure possibility of what if, and no matter how he tries to beat it into submission, he never wins.
Because see, every once in a while, something gives Izuku a flicker of hope.
He steps normally, but there's a twinge in his ankle nevertheless, and when he takes off his shoes and socks later on he sees that there's a bruise.
He's writing in his notebook, scribbling down every last thought as he avidly watches a video of another hero battle, flipping pages with gusto, and then he winces on a paper cut, but he'd only been writing, not turning pages. (At least it doesn't bleed.)
He wakes up and there's a mark on his arm, except he doesn't recall hitting himself on anything during the night.
For other people, these might be soulmate injuries. They happen all the time--small injuries, the ones that come with everyday life, arriving without concern and vanishing without notice. They're not even worth thinking about, they're so common. Every once in a while, Izuku thinks that maybe, maybe this is a soulmate injury, maybe his soulmate isn't dead after all--
But these sorts of injuries happen to yourself, too. You bump your elbow on the doorjamb and only realize after the fact that you hit it hard enough to bruise; you nick yourself while shaving and only realize you cut yourself when you rinse the shaving cream away. Life is a series of wounds, some large, most tiny. Izuku has spent so much of his life concerned with his soulmate's terrible injuries that he never really learned to notice his own. That's all it is. That's all.
After all, his soulmate is dead.
Izuku subsumes himself in his study of heroes. His soulmate is dead, and nothing will change that. It's too late for him to save his soulmate. But he can save other people, if he can only become a hero. He can save people who need help, people who need rescue, people like his soulmate. He can help ensure that no one else ever has to experience what he's experienced.
No one will give any credence to his wild flights of fancy; his homeroom teacher actually laughed in his face when he said he wanted to be a hero. But Izuku won't give up, refuses to give up. He follows pro heroes near-obsessively--watching them on the news, of course, but also interviews, and articles in the tabloids, and official hero fanclub mailing lists, and online fan forums. He scours the internet for rumored snippets of long-lost videos and wades through years-old arguments between anonymous internet trolls. He fills one hero notebook, two, five. For the future, he writes on the cover of each one.
Sometimes, he wonders what his soulmate would think of this. Would his soulmate admire his determination and drive? Feel guilty for being the cause? Or would they snort in exasperation like his teachers, taunt and jeer like his classmates, gaze at him with broken-hearted pity like his mother?
In the dead of night, he lies in bed tracing the outline of the scar with gentle fingers, wondering what his soulmate would think. I'm sorry I couldn't save you, he thinks, sending his silent words out into the universe like a prayer. I'm sorry I couldn't save you, but you'd be proud of me for trying to save everyone else... right?
He thinks they would be. It's enough of a thing to cling to, most of the time.
He just wishes it were enough to kill the hope. It's exhausting, hope.
One night, or perhaps so early it's the morning, Izuku jolts awake. He blinks several times, disoriented.
A dream, he thinks muzzily, but he can't remember the dream itself. Then again, he rarely does, and it's probably for the best that he doesn't; he has too many nightmares to want to remember them. This was probably a nightmare, too. He can't recall the details, but he knows he felt a pain in his arm, a sudden slash of fire. It had been enough to wake him up.
Groggily, Izuku pushes himself upright in bed. He smacks his lips a few times; his mouth is dry and unpleasant. He drags himself out of bed and trudges to the kitchen, scratching his head sleepily. The only light comes when he opens the refrigerator door to get the water pitcher. He pours himself a cup of water and returns the pitcher to the fridge, and that's when he sees it.
There's a mark on his arm.
Wide-eyed and suddenly awake, Izuku stares at the mark.
It's a mark on the upper side of his forearm, stretching from his elbow halfway down to his wrist. It's a slender line, just a bit paler than the skin around it. Barely noticeable, really. He might have just slept on it funny, a crease in the blanket leaving an indentation in his skin.
But it looks like a scar.
Izuku squeezes his eyes shut. My soulmate is dead, he tells himself, and he puts the pitcher back in the fridge and shuts the door before chugging his glass of water. The empty glass goes in the sink, and he goes back to his bedroom and closes the door quietly behind him.
He crawls back into bed, pulls the blankets over his head, and curls in on himself. In the dark, he can't see anything clearly. My soulmate is dead, he reminds himself, and he rolls over and forcibly shuts his eyes, determined to get back to sleep. But he lies awake for a long, long time before he finally dozes off.
In the morning, the mark is gone, utterly without a trace, and Izuku realizes that it was all just a dream.
Halfway across Japan, a hero fights a villain who sprouts blades from his joints like scimitars and scythes. One blade catches him on the arm, slashing a line through his skin. It isn't deep, and it bleeds only sluggishly, but it's enough to make the hero cluck his tongue at his own carelessness. He descends upon the villain like divine retribution, and after the villain has been arrested and taken away to jail, the hero wipes the blood away so that no one can see and stands for the requisite post-battle interview with a broad, unflinching smile on his face.
Once the crowds have dispersed and the news vans have packed up and left, the hero pays a visit to a healer he knows and trusts well, and he shows her his injured arm. The injury is hardly a serious one, but it's enough that he asks, "Can you take care of this, please?"
She eyes him critically. "This will heal well enough on its own," she says, which isn't a refusal, perhaps, but also isn't a promise.
"I know," he replies. "But please."
She presses a kiss to the back of his hand, and the cut tissue knits itself back together, leaving nothing but unblemished skin in its wake. "It's been a while since you last got hurt," she comments.
The hero covers the newly-healed skin with one hand. "I've been hurt too many times already," he says quietly, subdued. "I just don't want to make my soulmate suffer any more than I already have."