Hiraeth (pronounced hiraɪ̯θ) is a Welsh concept of longing for home. 'Hiraeth' is a word which cannot be completely translated, meaning more than solely "missing something" or "missing home." It implies the meaning of missing a time, an era, or a person - including homesickness for what may not exist any longer.
The first time Rei Todoroki left her husband, she was 19. Her son was two, and had just manifested his quirk. Quirk, singular. Her first failing.
The second failure was that Touya’s fire was hot, hotter than his father’s. It was a brilliant, crackling blue that Touya could endure for about three seconds before it turned on him. It was like lighting a fire on anyone’s skin, blistering and awful. Enji had been so furious, stalking around while Rei had put ice on his arm, trying to cool it down, wrapping him up in bandages while Enji had yelled.
The thing was, if you’d asked, Rei wouldn’t have said she had a bad marriage. She had gotten married at 17, with her parents’ blessing, and had Touya nine months later. Her husband was rich, and they had moved into his home—old, traditional, with a beautiful garden in the courtyard. One wing was entirely devoted to his training, and had been treated to resist the high heats it was subjected to, but Rei had been enchanted.
It had seemed so much like a fairytale, to be swept up out of the poverty of and neglect of her childhood and thrust into this life, where her in laws smiled and her husband held her close.
Rei had dedicated herself to being worthy of it—she wanted to make Enji happy, and he had taken her to events at the height of society.
When Touya had been born Enji had been…reserved. Rei had thought it was just the way he was brought up—for all his fiery temper, her husband was a more reserved person.
“We’ll see,” he’d murmured, holding Touya, but she’d forgotten about that quickly, in the haze of new motherhood and sleepless nights. Enji didn’t want to hire outside help, like his parents had. He had once bragged to his mother that Rei could keep a house, raise a child, keep her husband happy. He had smiled at her as he’d said it, and Rei had felt a warm rush at the rare praise.
But two years later, Touya had manifested his quirk and after the initial fury that she hadn’t really understood had subsided, Enji had found them out in the garden.
“What is this?” he asked, sitting beside her.
“He has your quirk,” she said, not sure what he was asking. She hated that—Enji hated it when she didn’t answer the question he was actually asking, but she wasn’t a mind-reader.
“But not yours,” he said. “What am I supposed to do with that? How is he supposed to be greater than All-Might if I can’t do it?”
Rei had stared at him, then down at her two-year-old, who was lighting his fingertip on fire and then putting it into the pond. It hadn’t—Enji had, of course, wanted to be a hero, he had gone to UA, but Rei had—well, she thought her quirk was probably close to as strong as his. But she hadn’t ever wanted to be a hero—she had wanted to be a doctor, before she’d gotten married, and then she’d wanted to be a mother.
“Two seems a little young to decide what to do with your life?” she said, searching. It was…not the right thing to say.
She didn’t actually register the pain at first. She actually felt the pain in her hip first, from hitting the ground wrong, and then in her shoulder, and then finally in her jaw; her lip. She pulled away her bloody hand from her mouth and stared up at Enji, who was on fire, his eyes shadowed.
She thought, wildly, that this must be what it was like to be a villain defeated by Endeavor: staring up at this giant of a man wreathed in flame like something out of a nightmare, wondering if the police would arrive in time. She wondered if they were relieved to go into police custody.
And then the flames were gone, and his face was softer, frustrated, and he crouched down. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That was—that was a stupid question, but I shouldn’t have lost my temper. Can you ice it?”
Rei put a frosted finger to her lip, watching him warily. She didn’t know what to do. She should…run? But Touya was still playing only twenty feet away, and Enji had never hit her before.
“Of course our children will be heroes,” he said, sitting down beside her and leaning against a wood post. “Between our quirks we’ll have the future #1 hero, greater than All Might. I’ll train him, teach him everything I know, and no villain will ever stand a chance. We’ll stop having these stupid federated hero clubs—he’ll lead them all, Rei. Our son will be the greatest hero in the world.”
Rei glanced at Touya, who startled when a butterfly took off and landed on his butt.
“Well, no, not Touya,” Enji dismissed. “I mean, I’ll train him, he’ll be a great sidekick. But it’s okay, maybe it was too much to expect you would be able to give me fire and ice immediately. Next time.”
He smiled at her, leaned over and kissed her, and said, “I’ve got to go to work.”
Rei had smiled back, and watched him leave.
And then she had packed a bag and taken a train to her parents’ house.
Her mother had stared at her on the doorstep. They had moved into a small, nice house, right on the beach. There was a dog bowl by the door, and a damp towel thrown over one of the chairs under the window. Her mother looked better: not so harried. Except now, when she looked aghast at the sight of her her only child.
“What were you thinking?” her mother demanded.
Touya wiggled to get down, and her father came out and said, “I’ll take him down to the ocean.”
“Kazumi!” Hidemi snapped, and then sucked her teeth and pulled Rei into the house.
“What are you thinking?” she demanded.
“He hit me, Mom,” she said. “He wants to turn Touya into some kind of soldier—the next baby into some kind of tyrant hero. I don’t—what am I going to do?”
“Go home to your husband,” Hidemi said flatly, as though it couldn’t be a question.
Rei stared at her.
“So he hit you one time, he has a very high-stress job. It is your job to take away his stress, not be another problem. Tch, Rei, you always were a problem child. I thought he would make you calmer, but you’re still wild.”
“Did you think I would be happy, though? Or did you see how rich he was?”
“They heard about your quirk. It’s not unusual, not in the older, best families. What future did you have here? Left to you you would have gone to college and ruined your life, probably had babies anyway, and expected me to take care of you. With what money? Your father doesn’t work, I have to pay bills somehow.
“And then you liked him, so fine! So we agreed. And now you come home to me, to this house your husband paid for, and you tell me that you’re unhappy. Ungrateful child, you would bankrupt us? You have no skills. He would take your son, and your father and I would have to repay the charity that a son-in-law owes his in-laws. So you are unhappy, and you would see us in the streets.”
Rei looked around her mother’s kitchen. It was clean, decorated in warm yellows and pinks. There was a bowl of shells that her father clearly collected, sand by the floorboards. Her parents had bought this life and all they’d had to give up was her.
She didn’t think it had even given them pause. She didn’t know why she had come back—except that family was supposed to help. She hadn’t ever asked for anything. She had had second-hand books, she had studied in the library, she had learned to sew to take care of her uniforms, she had cooked when her mother was too tired to. But she just wanted—she had this one memory of being sick. She thought she must have been very sick, and they hadn’t been able to afford a doctor, but her mother had sat with her all night, telling her stories and changing the damp cloth on her forehead, stroking her hair.
And even now, grown, married, with a child, Rei wanted that person. She wanted that mother to stroke her hair and tell her it would be okay.
But there wasn’t any compassion on Hidemi’s face. Just disappointment and exasperation.
“Don’t do this again, Rei. Give him what he wants, find happiness in the life you have. It is a good one, better than you could have ever hoped for.”
She never knew if Enji found out. They were back before he was—some villain up in the mountains that Endeavor had been called in to help handle. He was starting to be that kind of hero: the kind people called on. It pleased him, and when he was happy, everyone was happy.
Anyway, her mother was right: there was no way out, only through.
The second time Rei decided to leave, consequences be damned, was after Fuyumi manifested her quirk.
Enji had had hopes for Fuyumi, who had had bits of red in her hair, but as it became clear that her quirk was just temperature control, not even ice, he had been—incandescent with fury. Literally, he had burned so hot and so long that Rei had thought that that would be it—he would take them all down.
She had built up a wall of ice between him and them, and when he had seen it he had—Rei hadn’t used her quirk in years. Only in little ways, to soothe a burn, or to keep Enji’s flames from hurting too badly when they were in bed. She thought it was possible that he had forgotten that she was just as powerful as he was, that her quirk was just as much as his. Which was stupid, really, because he had married her for it. It was her quirk he had bought—that he’d liked her had been a happy coincidence for him.
But Touya had frost bite from being exposed to Fuyumi’s quirk, because he was hypersensitive to cold, and they needed a doctor more than Enji needed to have his temper tantrum, and it was the only time in their entire marriage that Rei ever—
Of course, despite her quirk being as strong as his, Rei wasn’t anywhere close to a match for him. Enji had been raining his quirk for decades, and he was huge, and she had made a mistake. So she had to be taught a lesson.
It was all terribly simple.
But later—after the family doctor had treated both her and Touya and she had apologized and let Enji take her to bed, Rei had started planning.
She would go to Gran Torino, or one of those newer ones—Present Mic or Midnight? She would ask for help.
She didn’t have money for anything, but Enji was so worried about appearances, and if she got a hero with some clout who would be willing to be her insurance policy, he wouldn’t be able to make her seem crazy. He wouldn’t be able to just lock her up somewhere and take her children.
So the next morning she packed up the kids, and she thought — a vacation. Their first vacation ever, she would take them to the ocean. Fuyumi had never seen the ocean.
And then she would go to Gran Torino.
She would never know how the villains had found them: if it had been a happy coincidence, or if she’d been stalked, but they had surrounded the cottage on the third night, when the kids were browned from the sun and already exhausted. They had had such a good couple of days, and Rei had been—so angry.
She had pulled them both into the bathroom, and told Fuyumi to keep Touya warm as she sat with them in the bath tub, already starting to create protective layers of ice on the walls. She had grabbed two duvets, and Touya wrapped them around himself and Fuyumi, and Rei couldn’t touch them because she would freeze him.
The men got the door open, and then seemed a little bemused by the foot of ice they were confronted with. Still, one—a greasy looking wretch with marbled blue skin and metal fingers that stretched horribly—started trying to break it down. Another, with a too-large mouth and lavender skin, just crouched and stared, smiling eerily at them, and then there was the third, sitting on the toilet and smiling at her.
“Boo,” he whispered, and Rei screamed, wrapping herself around the children, flinging her hand out. He looked stunned, to be stuck behind ice, but then he was gone, and then he was pulling at the duvet over her kids, and she hurled ice but—
“Teleportation,” he said. “Such a bitch, right?”
“Don’t touch them,” she begged, and he grinned.
And then the other two were in, and they were grabbing at her children and then there was blue fire, and surge of answering red, and Enji was—
He was terrible in his fury.
“I have this, Touya,” he said, and his voice seemed to crackle. Rei pulled Touya and Fuyumi in to her, pulling the covers back over their faces, ignoring Touya’s soft whimper.
“It’ll be okay,” she promised, and watched as Enji burned them to charcoal husks. She sang—she didn’t know what she was singing, some stupid pop song from when she was in high school, ducking her head and rocking them and singing, trying to cover the sound of popping fat, the roar of fire, snapping bones. The teleporter tried to get out but—well, half of him did. The other half was charred on the floor next to her.
It was a stunning display of control and power, and Rei half-expected to be next, staring up at him, still clutching their children, listening to the sirens get closer, almost choking on the smell of burnt people.
Enji’s face softened, the flames pulling back from his face, and he glanced out of the ruined half of the cottage at the red lights of the approaching police cars, and Rei waited. The closer they got, the less convincing it would be for him to claim they’d killed her, but he could still—the space between health and death was a wide canyon that even she could still be surprised by.
“I overreacted,” he said. Rei’s heart started to beat even faster—what was—what was he doing? Fuyumi made a small sound and Rei realized she was holding them too tightly and forced her fingers to relax, to listen to what Enji was saying over the sound of her pounding heart and shallow breath.
“Earlier. I understand why you wanted to get away for a day or two. I should have told you that there had been threats.”
“Threats?” Because she didn’t think pointing out that to most people overreacting didn’t really cover beating her so badly the doctor’s healing quirk had been exhausted and he’d had to come back twice.
“There are always threats,” he dismissed. “But these were credible.”
As though it was—conceivable that she would have gone on a vacation. Rei was surrounded by burnt corpses and had hysterical children and Enji was being…human.
“Oh,” she said, feeling the tears clawing at the back of her throat. “I didn’t—”
“I know,” he said, crouching beside them and lifting them all bodily out. “Here, Fuyumi, come to your father.”
He picked her up, and Touya’s hand snatched out and closed on air as Enji stood. Rei wiped her face and then unwrapped Touya from the singed blankets as the ambulances and the police pulled in, officers swarming as Enji went to handle it.
“Mom—“ he started, and then looked around before she covered his eyes again.
“We’ll be safe at home,” she said, and Touya, too old for five, clenched his jaw, a small spiderwebbing of blue flame licking across his neck before going out.
There were always threats, Enji had said. Of course there were. Some heroes, like All Might, fiercely protected their identities. Enji never had, and so of course every enemy he had ever made thought that going after his family was an excellent way to exact revenge.
That night, Enji let the children sleep in the same room as them, and he held her while she trembled and kissed her softly and said, “I’ll always be there, Rei. I’ll always come. I love you.”
And Rei had stared at the ceiling as tears slid silently down her face, and had known she was never going to get out.
And at least Enji would protect them, keep them safe. And if she was better, if she could model better behavior, it wouldn’t be so terrible. He had overreacted, but maybe this had put things in perspective.
And it wasn’t nothing that she had been—happy to see him? She thought she had been, in that moment, happy to see him. She must have been, because as terrible as his temper was he did—he always said it. That he loved her.
He could have had girlfriends, she thought that was what his parents had expected: that he marry for the quirk and then have a girlfriend to make him happy.
But he didn’t, as far as she knew. He cared about how it looked, and even when he was—even when she would have rather they didn’t, he still told her he loved how small she was, how beautiful she was. He’d just set his dreams on this idea of the perfect fire and ice child and he hated to be disappointed.
She had known she was provoking him earlier, when she’d used her quirk. It was just—it was like her mother had said, years ago. She just had to be a good wife. She knew how to keep him happy—and when Enji was happy, they were all happy.
Fine, Touya hated his drills and it did seem like it was a little much for a child, but maybe—maybe that was necessary, if there were monsters like that out there.
Three weeks later, Enji took her to some UA-sponsored event. It was important, he’d said, to show everyone that they wouldn’t be cowed.
That morning Rei had taken a test and had two lines to show for it, and Enji had been ferociously delighted.
The last few weeks had been—well. Touya still hated training, and Fuyumi hated it too, but they both seemed to remember—well. They understood why it might be necessary.
In any case, Rei actually liked UA events, of all the events they went to. The heroes were more relaxed at these, because they had gone to school together, and no one got drunk and handsy. Still, it was a lot to endure when all she wanted to do was sleep.
Reprieve came when the principal pulled Enji aside for some classified discussion, apologizing profusely. Rei smiled and gestured that she was going to go out into the gardens. Enji had paused, scanning them, and nodded once, pressing a kiss to her cheek and squeezing her hand before letting go. Rei smiled after him, and then headed out, as fast as she could without fleeing. Maybe there would be a nice bench for a very quick nap…
But no, of course not.
“Oh, excuse me!” All Might said, in what probably passed for a gentle and restrained tone from him. “Mrs. Todoroki, isn’t it?”
Rei had met All Might before, but always in the good, dutiful role of silent wife on Enji’s arm while he’d smoldered in All Might’s presence. Without Enji, All Might was even more overwhelming, with this bright blond hair and height and just—all of it.
“Rei,” she said. “Just—I’m Rei.”
“Rei,” he repeated, looking astonished at the liberty. “I—how are your children?”
“Well, thank you,” Rei said. Fuyumi was afraid to touch Touya, afraid her quirk would hurt him, and Touya was full of all the wrath of a five year old, recovering slowly, and she was terrified of what this child would have in store for them, but when people asked that question they never wanted a genuine response. And really, a truthful response would only cause trouble.
All Might shifted his weight. “And you?”
She felt—angry. It had been so long since she’d been genuinely angry that she almost didn’t recognize it, but there it was. She was furious—he was #1 Hero. Could All Might not see that all that was keeping her together was string and glue and that she waiting to be a tragic story some day. A terrible fall, an accident in the woods, a car crash. Once Enji had his perfect heir, she wouldn’t matter anymore. The other children wouldn’t matter anymore. And it didn’t matter that things had been better, recently—they were only better in Enji-adjusted terms. It was only “better” because she wasn’t getting hit or fucked constantly, now it was just merciless, unending belittling and rages, and then apologies and reproach—why did she provoke him? Didn’t she know he adored her? Didn’t she want to be the mother of the #1 hero?
And none of that did anything about the truth: someday their #2 hero was going to get rid of all of his sins and they would crowd around him and offer their apologies and grievances and he would ride that grief into a surge in public opinion on their corpses while raising his perfect child to be a tyrannical monster, who would probably end up being the greatest villain the world had ever seen, and that included One-For-All.
“Rei?” All Might said, so much more gently, a quiet rumble, and she realized the ground beneath her was frosting up.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, forcing it all down. She didn’t usually let herself think about all of that. “I’m just tired, please forgive me.”
He offered her a hand, and when she took it she saw Gran Torino and a red-eyed young man with dark shaggy hair were behind them. She wondered if he was a hero, or Gran Torino’s assistant, maybe? His dark eyes were very intent, and Rei instinctively dropped his gaze and turned to All Might.
“I should get back to my husband, in any case.”
There was a pause, and then Midnight stepped forward. “Let me walk with you,” she said. “I need to get away from this much testosterone, it’s stifling.”
She linked their arms, and Rei looked at her. Midnight was fierce, unabashedly sexual, and if a man ever hit her it was the last thing he did. Beside her Rei felt small, and weak, and tired.
“Where did you go to get your hair done?” Midnight asked. “Because I went to a new place and I feel like they made me look like I stuck my whole leg into a power socket or something. It’s fried and terrible.”
“It’s—“ Rei started, and then looked at it. She really…she couldn’t lie to Midnight, and it was…
“Terrible,” Midnight said. “And look, I’m an R-Rated hero, but that doesn’t mean that I’m into my hair being damaged. That is just unacceptable.”
“It’s frizzy,” Rei marveled. “Like you kinked it.”
“Kinky hair? Not my kink,” Midnight agreed.
Rei smothered a laugh, covering her mouth even as she blushed. Midnight was so free, so open and bracing, delighting in the shock.
“I’m glad you two are getting along,” Enji said, smiling at them both. Rei thought it would be easier, if it was all an act. If his smiles were facades, if he hated her, but this was exhausting, because he meant it. He meant all of it.
“Your wife found me outside with my terrible hair and was telling me where I could get professionals to take care of it,” Midnight told him. “She’s wonderful, Endeavor. You’re lucky.”
“She makes me proud,” Enji said, taking Rei’s hand. His palm felt like hot coals, and Rei looked down away, and saw the tired dark-haired man again. He was talking to All Might and Gran Torino and Present Mic, but watching Enji through narrowed eyes.
It was the first time she had ever seen anyone outwardly evince any kind of dislike for her husband.
Natsuo was born nine months later, an instant disappointment with his shock of white hair.
The family doctor told Enji in no uncertain terms that he needed to wait 6 months before she could get pregnant again or he would risk birth defect or miscarriage.
And so life went on.
Rei Todoroki met Inko Midoriya on the day she went into labor with her fourth child.
Once a month, Rei and the children were allowed to go out on some sort of field trip to a cultural heritage site or a shrine or a museum. Ever since the attack, Enji seemed to think that it was a good idea to get them out. It was as though he had completely rewritten the entire thing: like Rei had taken the children to the beach, and he hadn’t warned her of danger, and everything had gone sideways, and that had been all there was to it.
She didn’t argue. The freedom was nice, even if it was only an illusion. For the better part of a decade Rei had been stuck in the estate.
Rei let the children pick every month, even Natsuo, who mostly pointed to the map or came up with a place clearly coached by one of the older two. January was Fuyumi’s turn, and instead of picking something sensible like a hot spring or an indoor museum, Fuyumi’s heart’s desire was to go to Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine.
So, nine months pregnant and exhausted, Rei took her ten, seven, and three-year-old children to a shine at the base of Mount Fuji so her daughter could pray.
As all seven-year-olds are wont to do.
On the train, Rei had a moment of quiet panic worrying about what she was going to do with Natsuo, who was the human embodiment of a rubber ball thrown at great force: bouncing off of everything with reckless abandon and glee.
The shrine was beautiful, though, and after a while Touya, with the long-suffering air only a ten-year-old could muster, sighed and took Natsuo outside so he could run around freely in the cold. Fuyumi stared around her, rapt, and Rei felt that long-ago ache, staring at the shrine, hear heart beating: save me, help me, please intercede for me.
“Please sit down, you look like you’re going to fall down,” a soft voice said beside her, and Rei startled. The woman was probably her age, with green hair and large green eyes. Her expression was openly worried, and Rei thought that yes, most women nine months pregnant probably didn’t go visit shrines at the base of Mount Fuji. Some women wore pregnancy well, but Rei never had, and the expensive creams and makeup her mother-in-law sent her with thinly-veiled disdain couldn’t combat the fact that she lived in a state of fear. Dark circles were the least of her worries.
“I’m Inko Midoriya,” the woman said, smiling as she sat next to Rei. “Is that your daughter?”
“Rei Todoroki,” she said. “And yes, that’s Fuyumi. She’s…religious, lately.”
“Who can blame her?” Inko asked, smiling. “It’s beautiful here. And while I don’t know if she hears anyone anymore, but it can’t hurt to ask her to intercede?” She laughed softly, self-deprecating and easy, her cheeks tinged pink. “My husband calls me superstitious.”
That morning Rei’s husband had kissed her too hard and gone off to be a national hero.
She smiled. “What are you asking for?”
“I’m pregnant,” Inko said, her face breaking out in shy delight. “Due in July.”
“Congratulations, your first?”
“Yes,” Inko said, and then her face, impossibly, brightened even more. “You have to tell me everything. You’re a mother, it can’t be coincidence that we met today. All of my friends have children who are already in secondary school.”
She didn’t seem that old, but then, she probably hadn’t been married at seventeen.
“What do you do?” Rei asked instead. Inko seemed so—happy. It was nice, being around her. Like sitting in a pool of sunlight.
“I work for the city,” Inko said. “I work in the accessibility office. So many different quirks, you’d be amazed at all the ways we have to make sure that the city is a safe and welcoming place for all its citizens.”
“That must be interesting,” Rei said. It had never really occurred to her, but of course the government had to make sure that all its citizens could thrive.
“Oh, it’s wonderful! I love it. This week I met with a man and his son who were human on the bottom and fish on top—tuna, in fact, but they could speak and everything, and they didn’t need to be submerged in water, their scales sort of created secretions? The problem was that the secretions from their top half don’t interface with a lot of the touch-technology that’s been installed. So his fins worked perfectly well in terms of strength - he can open doors and everything, but when he tries to touch something it doesn’t recognize the contact.”
“So you work with engineers?” Rei had wanted to be a doctor, once. That was a long time ago, a dream long-since dead. Now her dreams were smaller: escape her husband with all of her children intact. Or even smaller still: get through a day without being hit or burned. Get each of the children through the day intact.
“When I had Touya—my oldest, I froze the entire bed at the hospital,” Rei confessed.
“And I bet all the monitors stopped working,” Inko said. “See, it’s a problem that spans all of our society, but we’re getting better, I think. The problem now is that people don’t like to say what their quirks are. I had one woman tell me she thought we were tracking people and putting them on a registry—for what, I don’t know, but she was convi—Rei?”
“Uh. Could your—“ Inko turned bright red. “Did your water break?”
“Oh, no,” Rei said in abject mortification, realizing the warmth did have a distinctly wet quality to it.
“Mama!” Fuyumi hissed.
“Fuyumi, go get your brothers—“
“I’ll call for an ambulance,” Inko said. “Don’t worry!”
Rei wasn’t worried.
Of course, that turned out to be a mistake, because as soon as Natsuo heard the word “hospital” he tumbled straight into a screaming meltdown, which panicked the hikers outside, and Touya was yelling at him to shut up, but that only made it worse, and Fuyumi yelled at Touya and Rei tried to calm all of them down while the contractions knocked the breath out of her.
Rei was trying to remember to breathe, and thinking that giving birth here couldn’t be worse than doing it at home with Dr. Shitori acting like every groan of pain was offensive and distasteful.
Which was when—
“Have no fear, I’m here!” A booming voice announced.
“All Might,” Inko breathed, looking up in awe.
“My mom is dying!!!” Natsuo shrieked.
“I’m not,” Rei said. “I—it’s just labor, I’m not due for another month, you see, and—”
“Are you—having the—” All Might blanched, and then visibly steeled himself, and Rei felt such a surge of fondness for him. The man saved hundreds, but a woman in labor with a coat over her lower half to hide the wetness made him falter.
“I would really appreciate a lift to the hospital, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”
“I’ll bring the kids,” Inko assured her. “Which hospital will you take her to?”
All Might looked at her helplessly. Rei tried to think. “I had Touya at Keiai Hospital, but that’s almost three hours away.”
“No,” he said. “It’s not. Is 30 minutes fast enough?”
“I don’t have your quirk, you’ll rip all my skin off if you go that fast,” she pointed out softly, not really expecting that to be taken into account, but of course this was All Might, not Enji, and so he considered it, and then pulled a blanket out of his utility belt. Rei averted her eyes, because when he shifted like that it was very—he was just very there, and she met Inko’s equally averted gaze and bit her lips not to laugh.
This was just all so—so silly.
“I can wrap you in this. It will protect you, and we can go,” he said.
“It’s really okay, if you just get me to the train, I can’t imagine this will be very different, which means we have eight hours before this little one arrives,” she told him, eyeing the blanket warily.
“I’ve heard last babies go much more quickly!” Inko interjected, looking nervous. All Might looked at her, and then bowed to Rei.
“Forgive me, but I think haste is of the essence!”
“Mom, go,” Touya said, his blue eyes fierce. “Mrs. Midoriya can help us to follow you.”
Rei looked at Inko, who nodded furiously. “I will get them safely to the hospital!” she swore. Rei was going to reassure her that she trusted her, of course—that wasn’t the issue but then Touya fell to the ground in a deep supplicating bow and shouted,
“Please save our mother!”
Fuyumi and Natsuo threw themselves onto the ground beside him, shouting, “Please, All Might!”
All Might’s eyebrows came down, and Rei avoided his gaze, fussing with the blanket over her lap. She knew All Might wasn’t as stupid as Enji thought he was. She also knew that he would be just another hero to fail her children.
He crouched and lifted Touya up. “By whatever means I can, I will keep your mother safe,” he swore earnestly.
Touya stared at him, desperation on his face. “Even fro—”
“You have only to call me, and I will be there to save the day,” All Might interrupted, his voice lower, more intense, and Touya swallowed convulsively.
“You have only to call,” All Might swore, and Touya’s chin jerked in a nod. All Might clapped him on the shoulder, and then lifted her easily with a murmured, “Excuse me.”
“Go with Inko,” Rei said as All Might gently lifted her up. “Be good.”
The trip was ghastly, but she supposed that was to be expected.
“You shouldn’t have said that to him,” Rei said wretchedly as they hurtled down to the hospital. “I—I appreciate what you were doing, but—.”
“Mrs. Todoroki—Rei,” he interrupted, his face twisted as he clearly worked out what to say. “Are you—Can I—“ he broke off, frustrated, and then said, “I have many bruises. I see the same bruises on you, and wonder if you would like help fighting your battles. Even the #1 hero relies on the assistance of his friends: we cannot fight our wars alone.”
Rei stared up at him and burst into tears. His big, strong arms cradled her close, and he didn’t say anything else as they landed and he escorted her in, but when he pulled away, his cell phone was in her pocket.
The nurses assumed her tears were from laboring, and as soon as they heard her name, even if she hadn’t been accompanied by #1 Hero, being #2 Hero’s wife carried a not insignificant amount of clout.
She couldn’t say why, but she was sure he stayed in the waiting area until the children arrived.
Rei had always sad that Touya was her most difficult birth: she hadn’t known what to do, for all that everyone insisted it was a natural act, she’d wanted to push and the doctors had told her she wasn’t ready, so she had, by the end of his fourteen hour labor, been an absolute wreck. The bed had been ice, but the room had looked like an ice storm had hit it.
The next two were better, because she knew what to expect. She’d given birth at home with both of them, the family doctor sneering at her, but she’d held her healthy, screaming babies after six and eight hours respectively, and so she thought that by the time Shouto was ready to come, she would be an old hand at this.
Inko, it turned out, hadn’t been wrong. Shouto came incredibly quickly, three hours of labor and eight minutes of pushing, but—well. Shouto almost killed her. Those entire eight minutes she could feel the doctors wrenching him around inside her, a nurse quietly saying to her, “His shoulder is stuck, they’re going to get it” and the stinging horror of a tear that she knew would require stitches.
“Get the NICU,” the doctor between her legs said, and Rei felt the railings of the hospital bed ice over before she could stop it.
“Mrs. Todoroki, I need you to try to control your quirk—“
But there was an answering rush of cold inside her, and then Shouto Todoroki popped out.
“Check Mrs. Todoroki for…frost bite,” the doctor told one of the nurses, sounding a little dubious. “Internally.”
“He’s not making any noise,” Rei said, ignoring that because it was too horrifying to think about, and because the baby was silent. “Is he okay? Did I kill him?”
The panic that was clawing up her throat was unlike any she’d ever known. Out of her mind with pain and exhaustion and hormones, all she could think was that she had killed one of Enji’s children while delivering him, and that Enji’s vengeance would be awful, and swift, and in that moment all she wanted to do was die, too.
“He’s fine, Mrs. Todoroki,” the doctor said, taking him away to be weighed, measured, and given his vitamin K shot. Finally he was placed on her chest, where he stared up at her with one gray eye and one blue eye.
Rei stared back at him.
And then, for the second time in six hours, she burst into tears. Because when she’d thought he was dead she’d been more afraid of Enji than she’d been afraid for her baby. Because Shouto looked, at least, like the perfect heir. Because right now she was facing her greatest triumph and all she could think was that as a mother she had failed so spectacularly.
Enji was delighted, when he came to the hospital. He didn’t even care that she had been brought by All Might, not when he saw Shouto’s coloring. He smiled at her, and if there had been anything left in her to be charmed she would have been.
She hated herself for feeling relieved, though. Because she’d bought this—this safety, this quiet, this peace, she had bought it with Shouto’s future. She wanted to caution Enji—even if he had both quirks didn’t mean they’d work the way Enji thought they would. He might not be able to handle them, the way Touya couldn’t sustain his without damaging himself. Enji spoke in a low, warm voice to his son about all the great things he would do one day.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered into Shouto’s small, soft head as she nursed him, trying not to cry. Her distress was bad for the children, she was supposed to—to keep it together. “I’ll fix it,” she promised. “I’ll—I’m sorry.”
Once home, Shouto was the apple of his siblings’ eyes. Touya, who had been dubious about Fuyumi and immediately skeptical of Natsuo, had taken one look at Shouto and clearly decided that yes, this was his baby.
Fuyumi, who had loved Natsuo (and still did), seemed extremely off-put by Shouto’s obvious disdain for the world. It was such a strange thing to accuse a baby of being, but Rei couldn’t help but think that her youngest was just bored by the world. Fuyumi was off-put about it until Enji walked into the room, cooed over him, and Shouto yawned in his face. It was probably too much to ascribe motivations to a three week old, but Fuyumi had been delighted from there on.
Natsuo loved him, but Natsuo loved everything. He had a crush on all the children he played with and enthusiastically told her, and his siblings that he loved them at least twice a day. He had stopped doing that to Enji by his second birthday.
Shouto, who seemed to love Touya and tolerate his other two siblings, was not pleased with his father. If he’d been any other baby, she thought he would have screamed when Enji picked him up, the way Fuyumi had, but he didn’t. He just stared at Enji intently.
Touya, though, held onto Shouto with a kind of desperation, and Rei came to the grim realization that if she didn’t figure out a way to fix everything before Shouto manifested both of his quirks, she would lose Touya, too.
He hated his father so much, and it would be so easy, she thought, to turn him. Some villain could walk up to her boy and promise the end of Endeavor and Touya would go. It wouldn’t even be hard. Someone would say, “I can save your mother, your siblings, all we have to do is kill Endeavor” and Touya—Touya wouldn’t even need the end of that sentence. Touya had an All Might keychain that he’d worn down to the metal, rubbing his thumb over it like a talisman.
And so Rei made a point of handing Shouto to Touya when he was fussing, saying things like, “He’ll only quiet for you, Touya, please.” One of the things she’d learned, as Enji’s wife, was how to manage people. It might have been the only skill she had anymore, and if it wasn’t fair, to entrust a ten-year-old to care for his infant brother…when she weighed that against him turning into a villain, she thought it was still the right call. Someday, when they had gotten out, and he’d graduated from college, he might tell her that it wasn’t fair of her to have entrusted Shouto’s care to him. But he would be whole, and have a bright future.
She just had to get them all there.
So one night, when Shouto was crying and Touya was rocking him and Enji was off being the #2 hero, Rei stole into the pocket of her pink coat, the one she’d worn the day Shouto was born, and she’d sent a text:
This is Rei. I think I need help.
It was difficult to keep up any kind of correspondence. She had to steal secret moments, and when Enji was gone, All Might was usually on similar calls, and so his responses came hours later.
Rei got in the habit of shutting the phone off whenever she wasn’t certain she could use it, but phone batteries wore down, and she had no way of charging it.
In March, she used the home phone to call Inko, to see if she wanted to join them on a trip to the aquarium. Inko had been delighted to, and she fussed over Shouto with the enthusiasm of a first time mother-to-be.
“He’s so sweet,” she gushed.
“He’s not,” Touya scoffed. “Mom, Mom—Mom. Are there sharks here?”
“Yes, Touya, I wouldn’t bring you to an aquarium without sharks,” Rei said, and caught Inko’s eye. A trial of motherhood was that by about eight, it seemed your children decided you were an idiot. Of course, her children saw her staying with their abusive father so maybe it was warranted.
They traipsed all around. Inko was more than happy to stay with Natsuo at the interactive children’s areas. “My feet are so swollen!” she’d laughed. “It’s nice to just sit!”
Rei took Fuyumi and Touya around, Shouto bound to her chest. Something prickled the back fo her neck: the feeling of being watched. She tried to find it, casually but eventually it wasn’t necessary. A man in a three-piece suit stopped and spoke to Touya, whose face started to darken. Blue flame started spiderwebbing up his arms, and Rei walked over, making her steps deliberate, refusing to show fear. She put a hand on Touya’s shoulder, her heart pounding in her chest.
“Can I help you, sir?” she asked.
“I was just saying he seemed a smart child, Mrs. Todoroki,” the man said in a harsh, rasping voice. “A child who should have many opportunities afforded him.”
“I agree,” she said. “His father and I will provide them.”
“Endeavor doesn’t provide anything but pain.”
“Leave my son alone.”
The man’s face split into a too-wide smile. “Or what?”
Rei smiled and made a polite bow, guiding Touya away with a touch on his shoulder.
The man lurched to follow, to grab, and then suddenly he was encased in ice.
“Mom!” Touya exclaimed in shock.
“…while I’d like to take credit…” Rei said slowly, staring at the man, who was blinking frantically, and then down at Shouto, who was gumming on his fist, which she was sure if she pulled out of his mouth would be icy, “that wasn’t me.”
Touya stared at Shouto. “Uh.”
“I’m so sorry,” Rei said as an employee ran up. “That man was threatening my son. I’m sure I overreacted, but there seem to be villains who think kidnapping Endeavor’s children is—”
“Endeavor’s children?” the manager repeated, staring at her and eyes widening in recognition. He made a short, sharp bow. “Thank you for your quick thinking!” he said. “We will call the police, and please accept our apologies.”
“Of course,” Rei said, and guided Touya firmly away, her other hand still firmly wrapped around Fuyumi’s.
“That was Shouto?” Fuyumi hissed. “He’s just a baby!”
“And yet,” Rei murmured. Shouto was asleep now, no doubt worn from his ostentatious display. “Your father doesn’t need to know it was Shouto.”
“Duh,” Touya muttered.
“Yeah,” Fuyumi agreed, rolling her eyes.
“Okay,” Rei agreed. “Let’s go find Inko and Natsuo and head home.”
“Can we get presents?” Fuyumi asked. Rei stared at her. Enji thought that silly things like toys would make his children lose their hard edge.
“Yes,” Rei said. If Enji got angry she would tell him about the villain talking to Touya. Or—or she would just take whatever rage he gave. She was so tired.
But it was worth it, watching them stare at the toys in the gift shop. Natsuo had the easiest time grabbing something for himself, and Fuyumi ended up with a stuffed dolphin, and Touya got a shark. Their fingers kept stroking over the soft material, and Rei’s heart hurt.
She took them up to pay, and then saw them: phone chargers.
Rei stared at them. She could just pay for all the toys and the charger and Enji wouldn’t know. It wasn’t like he would get an itemized receipt on the credit card statement.
“You have a mobile?” Inko asked. Rei was sure that she was asking very casually, because Rei had told her she only had a landline, that it was all perfectly innocent. Any normal person would ask.
“No,” Rei said, feeling a spike of absolute panic. “Oh—ah. One of the kids must have thought it was something else, I don’t—sir, I don’t need that, thank you.”
The clerk, who was probably seventeen if he was a day, looked at her with a dull sort of hatred and canceled it out of the order.
“Oh, of course,” Inko agreed readily. “Kids must just pick up everything. But you know, it’s not a bad idea, I’m always losing my phone charger. I bring them to work, and then I never bring them home again. I must have eight at my office.” She shook her head and smiled at the clerk. “Can I buy it please?”
They waited for the train together, and Inko talked about her husband’s new job in America while feeding Shouto.
“It’s so nice to get to practice a little!” she confided in Rei. “I never had siblings, or watched children. I watch a lot of videos online about things, but some of those are horrifying.”
Rei, who didn’t have internet access, just nodded. “I didn’t have any of that with Touya,” she admitted with a smile. “I think the nurse thought I was an alien or something.”
Inko laughed. “But by the second you were a pro?”
“I at least knew what to expect. I don’t know even with number four that I would say I’m a pro,” Rei said, thinking of Shouto’s glacier upstairs. “With the other three I had a respite before their quirks kicked in, but Shouto…”
“That so interesting, though,” Inko said. “Can you imagine if all babies were born with it? What if your quirk was invisibility! You’d be an invisible baby!” She paused. “Though I don’t know, physical quirks are often immediately manifested—” she gripped Rei’s arm in panic. “Rei. What if the baby is invisible? I’ll loose him for sure.”
“Neither of you have a physical quirk,” Rei pointed out. “The baby will probably not be invisible. And if he is, you can just put very colorful clothes on him.”
“What if he can turn the clothes invisible.”
Rei stared at her. “Um.”
“I’m not ready for any of this,” Inko said, her eyes welling up. “And Hisashi isn’t here, and he won’t be back by July, so I’m going to be doing this all alone and—” She covered her face with one hand, the other still cradling Shouto.
“You won’t be alone,” Rei promised, carefully, tentatively, wrapping an arm around her. “I’ll be here.”
Inko stared at her and then burst into full tears.
“Oh no,” Touya said reflexively. “Uh, should I...I’m just going to take Shouto.”
He carefully extracted his baby brother, making serious “Do something!!!!!!” eyes at Rei as he did. Rei made a face at him and pulled Inko into her arms, the whole awkward weight of her, now heading into her third trimester.
By the time the train arrived, Inko was calmer, and Rei promised to call to check in, and went home to find the TV on to the news, a sure sign that Enji had gone off to be a daring hero: he always left the TV on, as though he wanted them to watch him and be amazed.
Rei left it on, because it was a stupid thing to get hit over, and had the kids get washed up for dinner while she unpacked from the day, pulling juice boxes and a dirty diaper out of Shouto’s diaper bag.
And then, there, tucked between a diaper and the fold-out changing mat, was the phone charger. It was unwrapped, all of the packaging gone, no evidence to hide. Rei picked it up with trembling fingers. Maybe Touya? Or even Fuyumi—
But she knew it was Inko. That she hadn’t been anywhere close to convincing. She felt a dull flush of shame, that Inko, with her smiles and her good life, knew that Rei—it was shameful, that she’d allowed it to go this far. Enji never left bruises where anyone could see, not on her or the children, but Rei thought that maybe everyone could see them anyway. Anyone who cared to look.
She plugged in the phone and turned it on. In the three weeks since she’d last had access to it, he had sent three messages, roughly one a week:
I am here. For whatever you need.
I know it is difficult to correspond, but I am always here. Whatever you decide, Rei. Whenever you decide.
I heard there was an incident today at the aquarium? I hope you are all right.
Rei stared at it, her thumbs hovering over the keyboard. If she sent this text it wasn’t something she could take back. Things could get worse. Enji might kill her.
But then, Enji might kill her anyway, or lock her away, and there were days when she was only barely holding it together. There were days when she had to have Touya watch Shouto not because she wanted him anchored to the family, but because on the rare occasions he did scream, she just wanted to shake him. Or walk away and never come back. There were times when they wanted hugs, or comfort, and Rei wanted to shove them away, shuddering at the way they clung.
It felt like—like Enji’s touch. His constant touch, and she was never—
need a lawyer. A good one.
Nothing ever moved quickly, but suddenly a year had passed, and then six more months, and Shouto was eighteen months.
She was every day grateful to All Might for his patience. He had found her a very good lawyer—though how Rei was going to pay for that she didn’t know.
It was hard to think long-term when she was lurching from a minute-to-minute crisis. Touya was in full rebellion, and Rei was trying to be—distracting, for Enji.
And then when he was gone all of her energy went into making sure that the kids were as alright as they could be, and this was how the last decade had gone, too. So busy trying to just make it through the day that she couldn’t ever think long-term. She wondered if it was deliberate. She thought it probably was: Enji wasn’t stupid, and even if he’d never consciously thought it…well.
Inko and Izuku were bright spots. Once a month they went out to places where the babies could play together. Parks and playgrounds where Touya and Fuyumi and Natsuo would run around. Izuku looked so much like Inko it was unsettling: her same big eyes, her green hair. But instead of her smooth, straight hair, Izuku’s was a riot of curls on top of his head.
Shouto would stare at him and then very slowly poke a finger into his cheek. Every time. It was a very, very strange ritual, and Izuku always burbled a little laugh.
Shouto was proving to take after her in build, which made her nervous. Touya was like her, and he was vulnerable to his own quirk. But then, Shouto seemed to use the cold with no problem, so it might all be fine. At eighteen months he still hadn’t manifested any fire, but that was—not unexpected. Enji was impatient for it, but Enji was impatient about everything.
Still, his ice quirk surpassed hers: he could ice over the courtyard or make it snow inside when the mood struck—which it seemed to do frequently. Unlike her other children, Shouto expressed his quirk and used it frequently, and she couldn’t tell if it was because he was more powerful, so it came easier to him, or if it was because Shouto was…Shouto.
She also thought—well, Enji had been so obvious in his disdain for the other kids’ quirks, and that had mattered to them. Shouto…didn’t seem to care. Which was so strange, because Touya was the only one of the kids who’d grown up not understanding the weight of expectation bearing down on them. All the others had seen Enji training the older siblings, disgusted by their weakness, that they weren’t his ideal heir. They’d wanted to please him and no matter how Rei tried to protect them from that, she couldn’t. She couldn’t make her children not want their father to love them.
Shouto, though—he cared what she thought, and he cared what Touya thought. Enji was a distant fifth after Natsuo, whose opinion no one cared about.
Inko was always happy to meet up for what she called “Sanity Time”.
“Sometimes all I see is Izuku, and I love him, but I don’t know how you did it, because sometimes I feel like I’m losing brain cells,” Inko confessed, covering her face. “I am so grateful you and the kids come.”
“I am grateful to receive the invitation,” Rei told her, and Inko stared at her, and then gripped her in a tight hug, sniffing.
“You are my best friend, Rei,” she whispered fiercely. Rei, who had left friendship a long time ago, and who thought at best Inko had been humoring her, burst into tears.
“Oh no!” Inko said, rocking her slightly as she tightened her grip. “I’m sorry!! I thought you knew!”
“I’m so glad to have you,” Rei managed, burying her face in Inko’s shoulder.
“Oh, Shouto, seriously?” Fuyumi yelled. “I just wanted to see the baby! You can’t baby-hog.”
“Shouto thinks he’s an adult already, doesn’t he?” Inko asked, pulling back and wiping her eyes on her sleeve.
“Shouto thinks this is his world and we’re all just lucky he allows us to live in it,” Rei said, wiping her own eyes, laughing a little.
“I don’t think he even thinks we’ll be there,” Touya grumbled, Shouto slung over his shoulders, as he sat down next to her on the bench “He just jumps off of things.”
“Natsuo did the same thing,” Rei pointed out, smiling down at Shouto, who had squirmed free and was back on the blanket, sitting next to Izuku.
Touya slouched, stretching out his legs and narrowed his blue eyes at Shouto. Shouto, sensing the attention, stared back intently. “It’s different with him,” Touya decided. Inko shot Rei an amused look, as the other two children crashed into them, hungry for snacks.
“Maybe Shouto will fly!” Natsuo suggested, looking thrilled at the idea, grabbing a juice and slurping noisily.
“Fly,” Shouto agreed.
“No!” Touya replied with the weary irritation of the oldest brother.
“No flying,” Rei agreed. Shouto considered them both and narrowed his eyes.
“Yes fly,” he argued with enormous finality.
“If the twos are supposed to be terrible what the heck is this?” Touya demanded, glaring at her like somehow this was her fault.
“He’s almost two,” she said.
Touya groaned dramatically. Shouto patted his knee consolingly, and Rei tried not to laugh.
Rei didn’t know how much longer she would be able to endure. She felt sometimes, in the moments between going to see Inko, or having to be fully present with the children, that she was just…gone.
She hadn’t meant for a year and a half to pass, was the thing. She had been—determined to get out. But sometimes it felt like all she could do was muster the energy to get out of bed. Then there were good days, like today, when they were laughing, and she felt like a person, and her thoughts strayed to the phone in the pocket of her pink coat.
But then she would go weeks without thinking of it at all. Weeks of trying to make Enji see reason about training the children—Natsuo had thrown up from over-exertion the other day, and she’d had to convince him to call the doctor who had said something about hydration and electrolytes. The Todoroki doctor never said, “Stop trying to burn your children up.”
But no matter how hard he pushed Touya and Fuyumi and Natsuo, Enji always had half an eye on Shouto. He was just waiting, and there was a part of Rei who wanted to see it happen, because she was pretty sure the first time Enji did something to Shouto, all of his siblings would kill their father, and that would be the end of that.
And then she realized what she’d thought and would feel sick. The same sick feeling she got when she realized she wasn’t looking at Touya, because he reminded her of Enji, or that she kept favoring Shouto’s right side, trying to keep that in her line of sight.
It was getting worse. She was getting worse. She didn’t know what was wrong with her, but whatever it was—
She should text All Might again.
She would. After dinner.
The third time Rei left her husband was the last.
To no one’s greater shock than Rei’s, it was successful.
Touya watched Shouto like a hawk. He was his baby brother’s constant shadow, rivaled only by Enji. The two of them dogged Shouto’s every small step with a kind of intense ferocity that made her chest hurt. Enji seemed to recognize Touya was intervening in some way, and it made him—worse. Which only made Touya worse, and it was a vicious cycle, the two of them too alike in this one way—too proud.
“He’s going to turn him into a monster,” Touya said one night as she pressed a cool hand to his bruised face. “Father. He’s going to hurt Shouto.”
He would. There were already massive plans for the training schedule. Enji had been planning for twelve years how to create the greatest hero who ever lived.
“I—yes,” she said helplessly, feeling sick.
“He could be a villain,” Touya said.
“Shouto. I mean he’s just—you know Fuyumi calls him our tiny psychopath.”
She did. She was going to have to tell Fuyumi to stop when Shouto started evincing an understanding, but right now it just felt…appropriate.
“Sometimes I—what’s the point of heroes? I mean, Endeavor is the #2 Hero, and he hurts us. He’s a bad person. He shouldn’t get to call himself a hero. He’s nothing like All Might.”
Rei shushed him, eyes darting around. “Touya, please,” she begged.
“Mom. He has the fire quirk,” Touya whispered urgently, wrapping his hands around hers, his blue eyes burning as they bored into hers. “We’ve been teaching him never to use it, but he’s been lighting shit on fire for a year now. Endeavor’s going to figure it out sooner or letter, and then what? I mean, I don’t use it because it makes you—I mean. I don’t use it because I hate him, but Shouto is going to lose his shit soon and use it on Endeavor. And then what?”
“It’s a game,” he says. “I—after that time that the villains got us when we went to that cabin, Fuyumi and I have been practicing how to stop it. And then to protect Natsuo, but now to protect Shouto.”
Rei thought of all the times she had sat on the steps and watched them playing their games. It was a common game, all kids played heroes and villains, and it had made sense that the villain would have fire, because clearly the kids were working through—but they were drills.
Drills on how to protect Shouto. How to protect each other. And she hadn’t even noticed.
She saw it that evening. She was cooking, and they were doing what she had assumed was playing, but now she could see it for what it was: running a drill.
“Okay, ready?” Touya asked, his voice light. Rei’s throat closed up.
“He’s coming!!” Touya said, in exaggerated alarm, and then there was scrambling. She watched, horrified, as Natsuo set his jaw and made an ice wall while Fuyumi, who even Enji couldn’t catch when she really got moving, grabbed Shouto and ran to the back of the copse of trees. Touya’s hands weren’t on fire, but the air around him was shiny and agitated—like at any minute he would be.
Even when they played, her children weren’t children. Rei was glad she hadn’t eaten today. Had she eaten yesterday? And why hadn’t it occurred to her that Touya didn’t use his quirk because she was so obvious about being afraid of it? She’d dismissed it as him not wanting to hurt himself, but he used it in his training sessions, and as a baby he’d loved that little blue fire on his skin. It was only over-use that had been the problem—the kind of use Enji wanted him to do, where he constantly maintained fire as an accessory.
It has to happen now, she sent with shaking hands that night in the bathroom.
When he is on a call? May I bring other people or would that make you uncomfortable?
I will be uncomfortable, but please bring who you can trust.
The next attack his agency responds to that I am not required for I will be there, All Might promised. And if you need me sooner, I will be there.
She didn’t want a confrontation. None of them did.
Thank you, she sent, and shut the phone off and tucked it back behind the toilet paper.
Then she went into Touya’s room, where he was sitting against his bed, looking—too old, too hurt, too angry.
“I’m sorry,” she said, pulling him close. “I’m going to get us all out of here, Touya.”
“Mom,” he sighed, and she shook her head, holding on tightly.
“I promise,” she said. “I’ve been—Soon. Be ready to leave. Put a bag together, and help me get bags for the other two. Or make piles so we can get things quickly.”
He pulled back, staring at her, and then a low, hurt sound wrenched itself out of his chest and he started crying. She held on tight as he shuddered and sobbed, and thought: I will make this work, or I will die trying.
In the end, it as her fault that Enji found out.
He’d been in a horrible mood—All Might was still the #1 hero and Enji had decided that having four children who were heroes would be just as good as having one who was the #1 hero.
Except that Touya, maybe bolstered by the knowledge that there was an escape plan in place, decided that he was going to stand up to his father. The problem was that the stand-off was happening when Shouto was on Touya’s shoulders. Enji, lit up in hellfire, had taken a menacing step towards them and found himself answered with such a rush of ice that it was only the fact that he was a professional hero that kept him from being completely engulfed.
Enji acted predictably. He lit up on fire and turned to Shouto with a look Rei knew. Touya had pulled him off his shoulders, but he was still holding tightly, the air around him starting to shimmer.
Enji was looking at her baby like he was going to beat him until there was nothing left of him, and Touya recognized it too, lighting up blue, the ground beneath his feet browning and starting to crisp.
If Enji ran the fire at them both, the way he seemed to be gearing up to be, and Shouto only had the ice activated—it would kill him. He would kill Touya.
“Shouto!” she screamed, too far away. “Shouto, like Touya! Shouto, show your father how you can be like Touya!”
She was crying, she realized, and Touya shot a betrayed, furious look at her, but she couldn’t—he would burn himself up, if he was burning that hot and Shouto was covered in ice and Touya tried to protect him. Touya’s fire was dangerous to himself at the best of times, but if he touched an icy Shouto it might actually kill him, and they would both be dead, and for what?
This was so stupid, it had only been a week since she had asked All Might to get them, she was supposed to be able to just hold the center until they could get out but of course this was happening. Of course it was.
It happened so fast. Touya, burning hot and blue and terrible, wrapped himself around Shouto as the wave of hot red flames engulfed them. And when Enji pulled back, looking staggered even at himself, Touya carefully unfolded his arms from Shouto, who was also burning red hot, his face furrowed in concentration.
Rei’s knees buckled halfway across the courtyard and she fell hard, hands scrapping against the hard ground as she pushed herself up. She could only just reach them, her hands shaking, and Touya was checking Shouto’s right side for burns, his thin hands shaking, breathing so hard she thought he was going to pass out.
Shouto was looking at Enji though, with a furiously cold expression.
“That wasn’t nice,” he said, starting to ice over, and Touya hauled him in again, and Rei pushed off of his shoulder to put herself between Enji and her boys. Wherever Natsuo and Fuyumi were, she prayed they stayed there. It was going to be bad enough that two of her children were going to watch her die.
“How long have you known?” Enji demanded, gripping her arm and shaking her.
Ice flew past her neck and slammed into Enji’s face, staggering him back. His pupils dilated to pinpricks and he stared at her, so full of hate.
“Stop it!” Touya hissed, presumably to Shouto, who hurled another volley of ice. “Shouto, knock it off!”
“Touya, get him inside,” Rei said. “Enji, he’s a baby, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s scared—“
“You kept this from me!” he roared, hauling her in. “What were you, afraid now you’d finally done what you were for I’d get rid of you? Wanted me that badly? You and the three failures will get out, I don’t need you.”
“You’re not touching him,” Rei said, and then realized that up until this point Enji had been pulling his punches. She heard something crack, and her hearing went funny and the pain was just—big.
“Shouto, come here!” Fuyumi was screaming, trying so hard to be a big girl, not to cry in abject terror.
“No,” Shouto said, and Rei tried to clear her vision, to see, to get up.
When she had been young she’d gone swimming after a big storm. The ocean had seemed calm, but undertows lurked where the water seemed calmest, and she’d been sucked into one, rolled by a wave and hadn’t known what was up, down—none of it.
That was how she felt now, too disoriented to move, swimming in air that was liquid hot.
And if Rei was going to go down—if she was going down she was going to take him with her. The superheated air was suddenly frozen, and there was a booming clap of thunder as the world turned to ice, and when Rei turned her head, lifted up on top of it, she saw Enji below her, trapped under a solid foot of it, unconscious or dead. She knew which one she hoped it was, but her luck had never…well, her luck had never existed.
She closed her eyes and slowly turned her head in the other direction, choking back nausea and squinting at the kids, all of the sitting on the ice looking a little stunned.
“Okay?” she managed. The outer edges of her vision were going black.
“Mom?” Fuyumi said, kneeling beside her. Her voice was thick with tears, and Rei wanted to look at her, or at Touya, to see—
“In my pink coat,” she said carefully, “there is a phone. Press the one until it rings, and tell him that we need help now.”
Fuyumi took off, and Natsuo carefully touched her hip. “Who is on the phone?” he asked.
“All Might,” Touya said, so that she didn’t have to. “All Might is coming.”
“Hurt,” Shouto said. “You’re hurt.”
“I’m okay,” Touya said, but now that Shouto had said it Rei could hear the pain in his voice. She forced her eyes open and took in the burns on his skin—up his forearms, across his chest, the underside of his jaw.
“Please come,” Fuyumi was saying, her voice getting closer as she ran. “I think she’s dying!!”
All Might arrived with Gran Torino, Eraser Head, and Recovery Girl. Rei felt them in the way their feet hit the ground, the way it vibrated on the ice.
She had tried to get up—the second attempt had made her black out and she’d almost aspirated on her own vomit until Fuyumi had rolled her over. Now she was laying on the ice she’d made, the ice keeping Enji still, her fingers pressing against it. She could feel the air around her crackling, no moisture except what she was taking for the thin layers she was continuously adding.
“Rei,” All Might said softly, and under her eyelids she looked in his direction. There was a heavy sound, and then a gloved hand wrapping around her wrist. “I’m here. It’s going to be okay.”
“Oh, those are nasty burns,” Recovery Girl was saying, and the sound of hissed pain and then Touya’s baffled,
“He hit her in the head,” Fuyumi was telling someone, and Natsuo was crying, and Shouto—she didn’t know. He was quiet. She hadn’t heard him.
“I can’t,” she said through her teeth. The crystalline sound of another ice layer going down was loud in her ears. She wondered how high she was now.
“You have,” All Might insisted. “Eraser Head is here, and he can stop Endeavor from using his quirk. You’ve done it. Let me help you.” His voice gentled. “Let me help you fight this battle.”
She could feel tears leaking out of her eyes. She didn’t know what came after this. Someone took the children, and she stayed here, like some horrible fairytale ending: the princess who trapped the monster: the wife who died with her husband. Rei had spent most of her life—most of the years of her life she could remember—being Enji Todoroki’s wife. She had been bad at that. She had been worse at being a mother to his children.
But this she could do. She could lay here, and put down layers of ice until someone came and killed her, and by the time they got him free he’d be dead.
She could be the villain in this story. She could be good at that, at least.
“Please,” he said, his gloved hand moving down to lift one of hers, cradling it gently. “I know it’s hard. But you are stronger than this moment.”
Rei sucked in a shuddering breath, and opened her eyes.
They were almost seven feet up.
All Might was covered in frost, and she could see he was trying to keep his teeth from chattering. It was May, but it looked like January.
“I don’t know what to do,” she admitted in a rush, trying not to sob. She didn’t understand why she was so terrified now. But she felt choked with it, a clawing fear that made her shake and wipe angrily at tears that froze on her cheeks.
“That’s why we’re here,” he told her, wrapping her up in a blanket. It had sharks on it, and she looked past him, down at Touya.
“Mom?” he asked, his face screwed up in the same terror. No, it was different. Touya was terrified that she wasn’t coming.
“I’m coming,” she said, wiping at her eyes with the blanket and shifting so All Might could pick her up.
Recovery Girl smiled at her, cupped her cheek with gentle, soft fingers, and pressed a maternal kiss on her forehead. The ringing stopped, and she didn’t feel like she was going to keel over, but she still felt strangely hollow.
“It will be okay,” Recovery Girl said. She looked fierce, and she took Rei’s hands in hers, peering into her face. “It’s not going to be easy, Rei, but it will be okay. You did the right thing, and I am so proud of you.” Her voice cracked a little and she sniffed.
Rei blinked away tears and nodded silently.
“We will fix this,” Recovery Girl told her. “Or, I think honestly smash-a-lot is going to United States of Smash all over Endeavor and solve the problem permanently.”
Rei choked a laugh, and Recovery Girl squeezed her hands approvingly.
“Mom?” Touya asked, and Rei grabbed for him. It seemed suddenly like the most important thing in the world to hold him tight. Touya, her baby who had—she had failed him the most, and he had stood by her for every wretched moment. If Rei hadn’t been completely alone it was only ever because of Touya.
He clung to her, and then Fuyumi and Natsuo were there, and she looked around for Shouto—not frantically, because there were four heroes here and after this morning’s display she was half-convinced nothing was ever going to touch Shouto.
He was staring up at All Might in wonder, and All Might had crouched down to speak to him.
“Oh, well, I guess now he’ll probably be a hero,” Fuyumi said. “Which is good because honestly Shouto as the villain was really actually keeping me up at night, Mom.”
“He’s a sweet boy,” Rei argued reflexively.
Fuyumi narrowed her gray eyes at Rei, too well-behaved to outright accuse her mother of lying.
Touya flat-out refused to help defrost Endeavor, but he did pick Shouto up and shout, “Fire blast!!”
“Fire blast!!” Shouto echoed, and then everything was on fire.
“Touya I told you that was a bad one!!” Fuyumi yelled, while Natsuo burst into slightly hysterical laughter.
“I—” Eraser Head said. “Should I…stop that?”
“No,” Rei said, because once the hellfire subsided there was Enji: damp, thawed, and still breathing.
Touya looked slightly disappointed. Shouto blew on his fingers like he was a cowboy blowing the smoke off his gun, and Rei wondered exactly how many “tricks” her oldest three had taught her youngest.
“Oh,” Natsuo said into the silence, smiling brightly. “I called Mrs. Midoriya.”
“You—” Rei started, and they all turned to the gate to see Inko Midoriya standing there, Izuku braced on her hip, staring.
She stood there for a couple of seconds and then visibly shook herself and marched determinedly up to Rei, folder her into a tight, warm hung as she burst into tears.
“I’m so proud of you,” Inko sobbed into her ear. “I’ve gone back to that stupid shrine and prayed for you so many times. I kept trying to help and be a good friend but I was so scared and I’m so proud of you, did you kill him? Can we kill him?”
Rei laughed wetly.
“Oh no,” Inko sighed, letting her pull away just enough so they could look at Izuku, who had stopped and was staring at All Might as though stunned.
“A-A-A-All Might!” he stuttered.
All Might turned and beamed at him, and Izuku, clearly just too overwhelmed in the presence of his hero, burst into tears.
“Oh no,” Inko repeated.
Shouto kicked All Might in the shin and ran over to Izuku. All of her children surrounded the sobbing boy like they weren’t quite sure what to do with him, but they were going to fight whatever had made him sad.
“He’s very in touch with his emotions,” Inko sighed.
“Fuyumi thinks Shouto doesn’t have emotions,” Rei offered philosophically, still leaning against Inko. She was just so tired.
All Might, rubbing his shin a little bemusedly, came over, and, apparently used to toddlers wearing his merch, folded Izuku up into an enormous hug.
“Hey! No!” Shouto yelled up at him, glaring. “Give back!”
All Might raised his eyebrows, and gently put Izuku down, where Shouto wrapped a possessive hand around his arm. His eyes were narrowed.
“I would never hurt young Midoriya!” All Might assured him.
“Be nice,” Shouto warned him menacingly. Considering that had been the prelude to Enji being covered in ice this morning, Rei didn’t think it was out of line to say, warning,
“Shouto.” He turned and looked at her and then smiled, sweet and wide and utterly, utterly false. Rei narrowed her eyes at him.
“What the hell,” Eraser Head choked.
Rei sighed, leaning more fully into Inko. “I want to go,” she said.
“Okay,” Inko said, rubbing her back. “So,” she said briskly to Gran Torino, “what’s the plan?”
The day after Rei turned 28, after eleven years of marriage, her divorce to Enji Todoroki was finalized.
She was Rei Maki once again.
The thing about Enji that Rei hadn’t ever been to reconcile was that in his head he was the hero. He was strict and firm and he had a temper, but he thought of himself as a good man. He thought of himself as in love with her.
He also wasn’t stupid, but she had always known that, and so their divorce had been spun as amicable. The children had trust funds already set up for them that she hadn’t known about, and the support payments and alimony were—generous.
Touya and Inko and even All Might and Midnight had wanted her to fight harder, to somehow unmask him, but—For the majority of her life, Rei hadn’t just been the keeper of Enji’s tempers, she’d been the thing standing between him and destruction. Rei knew Enji better than herself, her children, she knew him so intimately because she had survived him.
Enji could have become a villain. It was in him to do that.
And so Rei gave him the amicable divorce. She told him gently that she wanted him to talk to someone, to do good, to redeem himself. Be kinder.
The court gave her full custody but she wasn’t going to to deprive him access—maybe he could be a real father, now that his dream of molding the #1 Hero was dead.
She knew that she was frustrating everyone. The heroes didn’t understand any nuance—their jobs meant that they saw things in harsh absolutes, and she didn’t argue with them. Maybe it would be better to fully deprive Enji. Maybe he didn’t deserve a second chance. But—but she was a daughter who had always wished her parents had been better. She wanted to give her children the opportunity for a better father.
Maybe it would go poorly and maybe he would lose interest, but Rei had failed a lot as a parent. She didn’t want the blame for Enji’s failures.
“If it’s not too much of a burden,” she said to Eraser Head, who had come to court with her. They were sitting in the car: he had his black hair messily tied back, and a bruise on his chin from whatever hero work he’d done the night before. “I would like to hire you to be present during Enji’s visits. You don’t even have to be in the room, you could bring a book or—or watch TV or—well, not nap, but. In case things…became unmanageable.”
Aizawa’s red-rimmed eyes were focused on the street, but he tilted his head towards her and said, “You don’t have to pay me.”
She made a soft sound, protest and confusion, and the corner of his mouth twisted up.
“I mean, there’s a roster already. We were just going to patrol the area.”
Rei stared at him. He yawned and closed his eyes.
In truth, Rei didn’t know what she was going to do next. The future stretched out in front of her, a huge expanse of white waiting for her to write on, and it felt so daunting, so exhausting. Living minute to minute, hour to hour, it was its own kind of exhausting, but there had been something…reassuring about it. Small goals easily accomplished: just get through the next five minutes, just get through tonight, just get through this week.
Now, though, there was no one else but her to dictate how things would go. It was terrifying, and that terror could swallow her up until she remembered that that same expanse of white now stretched out in front of each of her children, no longer written on in Enji’s firm handwriting. The breadth and scope of their futures was fully theirs to write, and the thought made her so eager for the future.
She wanted so desperately to see what kind of people her children were going to to be now.
And maybe—maybe a small part of her, just starting to come awake, was starting to wonder who she would be now, too.