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under my skin

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When Izuku opened his eyes, he knew he was not truly awake.

He was not at home, nor at the League's base. He was nowhere. As far as his eyes could see, there was a white nothingness stretching endlessly. It wrapped all around him, at every corner of the world, even the ground beneath him where he lay. But it felt solid enough, supportive enough, and comfortable enough, so he merely shut his eyes again without a care.

Calm was a feeling he had quickly forgotten amidst all the chaos. The past few months had been nothing but one disaster after another. He'd known for a long time now that he was standing at the precipice of change, that things would never be the same anymore. That was a comforting thought once, but now the uncertainty haunted him. Even his sleep had been restless at best and filled with terrors at worse. But here, in the endless expanse of this void, he felt at ease, as though he was finally allowed a moment of rest.

"Excuse me," a voice called out from above him.

He opened his eyes once again to see a woman, wearing what looked to be a Hero costume; a dark bodysuit, with a hooded white cape held in place around her shoulders with a golden clasp.

She looked familiar, but he couldn't quite place why. Maybe it was her smile. Or the dark beauty mark just at the corner of her lip. He knew he'd never met this woman, but something about her presence felt like visiting an old friend after decades of being apart. He gave her a wave in greeting.

She waved back. "Mind if I join you?" She asked.

He gestured to the spot beside him. She gave a nod of her head in thanks. Before she lay beside him, she unclasped her cape, letting it fall to the ground. The metal chain rattled pleasantly as it fell.

"You're the woman from my dream last night," he said. He remembered only few snatches of it, but her voice was one of the few things he recalled with perfect clarity.

"I am," she confirmed.

"Am I dreaming again?"

"You're asleep," she said, "but no. You're not dreaming."

Her statement, logically, didn't make very much sense, but he understood nonetheless.

"Why did you show me those things?"

"I didn't mean to," she said, her smile faltering for a moment. "The memories came flooding in, and I couldn't stop them. I'm sorry. It must have been overwhelming."

"You don't have to apologize," he said. "I imagine it was more overwhelming for you to live through them."

It brought a knowing smile back to her face. "You've always been an empathetic one, Izuku."

"How do you know my name?" He asked.

"Same reason that you know mine."

Izuku blinked, caught off guard by the odd statement, but he quickly realized that it was indeed true. "You're Nana Shimura," he said. The seventh holder of One for All.

Suddenly, the world around them felt much more solid as the pieces fell into place in his mind.

"It's nice to properly meet you after all this time, Deku," she said. A smile tugged at her lips, but it looked weary, like she was smiling more out of habit than anything. "Watching you has been interesting, to say the least." She made no effort to hide her glance down to his scarred up arms.

Izuku pouted at the gentle teasing, but even he couldn't help but chuckle inwardly at himself. "I can't tell if you mean that as an insult or a compliment."

"It's nostalgia more than anything," she said. "We were all a little too reckless as rookies. Maybe we never really stop—just get good enough at the job that people think we know what we're doing, even when we make stupid, risky decisions."

Izuku found it hard to believe that All Might and his own predecessor didn't know what they were doing, but maybe that only goes to show how far along he's got to go.

"Can I ask," he began, fighting back the uncertainty in his tone, "those memories, meeting me here… why is it only happening now?"

"The connection was always there," she said. "You've always felt it, deep down, but we've all chosen to keep our distance for some time. Let you grow into your own hero before we interfere in any way."

But he was not there yet and he knew that. He still had leagues to go before he could consider himself worthy of being called a real hero. "What's changed, then?"

"Can I give you the long version?"

She asked the question out of politeness, but Izuku knew that she needed to say it, and she knew that he needed to hear it.

He nodded his head.

"When I found out I was pregnant," she said, "I didn't want to keep the baby."

It was, without a doubt, the last thing he would have expected. His shock must have shown on his face, judging by the chuckle she gave. It was a bittersweet sound.

"I never made him or anyone ever feel that way, but it's true. I spoke with my agent and tried everything in my power to keep it under wraps until I could get the abortion. But word got out, and once it did, it wasn't a personal decision anymore—it was a PR decision, and too much rested on my shoulders. I could either be known as a superhero mom, or I could be the hero who killed her own baby." She spoke with little emotion in her tone, as though time has numbed her to the harshness of it.

Izuku wanted to interject—say that it wasn't her fault, that she was not a bad person, that her choice should be respected—but he stopped himself. No matter how awful it was, it happened, and it was over. There was nothing he could do to change that reality. Nothing but listen to her now.

"So I had him," she went on. "And don't get me wrong; I loved him with everything I had. But I still regretted it. Not because he wasn't perfect, but because he was, and I wasn't. I couldn't commit nearly as much to my work as before, and all the villains in my city knew that. I forced too much on Toshinori too early in his training because I couldn't juggle it all. And I couldn't keep Kotaro safe. I needed to be a great hero, a great mentor, and a great mother, and I ended up terrible at all three."

Izuku knew that to be untrue. The way All Might sang her praises like she held up the world with one hand was a testament to that. Under her circumstances, anyone would crumble. But she carried on with a grace and resilience that Izuku dreamed to have.

Something told him that she didn't need to hear that, though.

"After his father was killed, I couldn't handle it anymore. He'd already lost his childhood because of me, and then he lost his dad. I couldn't risk him losing any more. So I put him up for adoption and moved to a whole other city. Cut off all ties with him and asked all my hero friends to do the same. Anything to keep heroism out of his life.

"And it worked out. He'd moved on to lead a totally different life. I did everything in my power to make sure he would be untraceable by any villain trying to get at me. And that was the last of it. I never saw my son since he was thirteen.

"But I cheated, a little. Asked a close friend to keep an eye on him from a distance. They would check in every few years, at least for as long as I was alive. He had a good job, a nice house, a loving wife. And he had…"

Her voice trailed on, then, as she bit her lip and took a shaky breath. "He had a son," she said. "Named him Tenko. But that's not the name you know him by."

In that moment, it became abundantly clear why she looked so familiar. It wasn't that he saw her face on a piece of vintage hero merch, or an old photograph at Gran Torino's house.

"You're Tomura's grandmother." It was not a question so much as an attempt to let the information process in his mind.

"I'm sorry to dump it all on you so soon," she said. "You're still so young. God, the most you should be doing right now is chasing after a purse snatcher."

Izuku shook his head. He didn't need an apology—knew this was crucial for him to know, and keeping secrets would do him no good. What he needed was answers. "What happened to him?" How could so much change so quickly?

"I don't know," she answered, like the words hurt to say.

"What can I do?" He asked, and it sounded far too much like a cry for help. "How can I fix this?"

And much to his dismay, she could only shrug her shoulders and sigh in defeat. "I don't know," she repeated. "I don't know even what I'm asking of you. He's gone down a path that neither of us have ever had to face, and I'm terrified that he's gone too far to ever come back. All I know is that the kind of hero I tried to be wasn't enough to reach him. Maybe what I'm asking you is to be a different kind of hero."

A different kind of hero?

Izuku had never considered there to be such a thing. There were Villains, and there were Heroes, and there were the civilians they saved. But suddenly the lines blurred, and all he's left with was a sinking feeling in his chest and the lingering fear that, no matter what he choose to do, someone will be hurt in the process.

"I'm sorry, Izuku," she said, again, and Izuku understood all the weight behind those words.

Try as he did, he couldn't force out any words in response. The words were stuck in his throat as he tried to force down the sob that tried to force its way out.

"Izuku?" She tried again, sounding more concerned with each passing moment.

The emptiness of the void in which they lay was no longer comforting. It felt like a prison. Not the kind that cages one in a confined space, but the kind that he could run through for the rest of his life and still never escape.

"Izuku?"


"Izuku?"

When he finally managed to pry his eyes open, he found himself no longer in the endless white void, but rather in a dimly lit, clustered room, with the figure of Toga kneeling beside his bed. In the dark, he couldn't make out the look on her face, but he could tell from her hushed voice that she was concerned for him. It made him feel safe as he reached his hand up to grasp hers where it rested on his shoulder as she shook him awake.

She re-positioned her hand to entangle her own fingers with his and gave a small squeeze. She didn't ask him if he was alright or anything of the sort—just offered him a gentle, caring presence without judgement. With her free hand, she grasped the hem of her cardigan and dabbed away at the tears he didn't realize he'd been shedding.

They stayed there for a long while as Izuku got his bearings back together. He wondered if her knees were beginning to ache on the rough floor, but she didn't complain.

"Could I get some water?" he asked, voice scratchy and throat dry.

"Of course." She stood up and pulled him along with her. They walked out the room, through the halls, and she never let go of his hand. He couldn't tell if it was to help guide him through the dark of the unfamiliar space or to provide an emotional support, but he was grateful either way.

When they got to the kitchen, she was sure to turn on the lights, and Izuku squinted his tired eyes in as the fluorescent rays attacked them.

There was an odd sense of deja vu as he sat at the table, taking slow sips from a tall glass, across from a known villain. The calmness and the serenity felt both out of place and, oddly enough, perfectly natural. He tried to rationalize it away, remind himself that this girl was no doubt just as morally dubious as any of the others, but the calmness never swayed. Underlying it was a sense of unease and confusion, but he felt safe around her nonetheless.

Eventually, he spoke up, if only to interrupt the spiral his mind was quickly going down. "Hey, Toga?"

She gave him a bright smile and a hum as he caught her attention.

"Why are you here?"

"I wasn't here long, and it's not a really fun story," she answered nonchalantly. "I met this old guy named Giran who said he'd heard of me and said he knew a place where my "talents" would be appreciated. He said it'd be a chance for me to be just like Mr. Stainy, and so I agreed. Honestly, I don't think Tomura really cares about Stainy at all, but Magne and Jin are fun, so I stuck around."

"I meant before all of that," Izuku clarified.

Toga looked as though she was deep in thought as she mulled the question over. "Well, when a man and a woman love each other—"

"No, not that far back." Izuku couldn't help but laugh. "Somewhere between that and now. You must have had a home, a family. What happened?"

She didn't look mad at the intrusive question, but she didn't wear her usual cheerful expression either. "A word of advice," she said, "no Villain actually likes talking about their origin story."

"Are you saying all those cartoons lied to me?"

She gave a solemn nod of her head. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way."

The two shared a laugh at that before once again falling into a comfortable silence. Izuku was in the middle of debating with himself whether he should ask again when she spoke up.

"I didn't really have a rough childhood, by most people's standards," she started. It was strange hearing her usual cheery self so vulnerable. "I had a roof over my head, and a nice school, and lots of friends. Everyone around me seemed happy about it all, and I guess I was supposed to be too, but…"

She crossed her arms over the table and rested her chin atop them, making her cheeks puff up as she pouted at the memories. "Most of the time, I was just pretending to be, just to satisfy everyone else. Because if I didn't, then they'd get mad and they'd do anything to make me go back to pretending. But I never understood why they were so mad, or why they didn't like it when I was being myself, and it's really hard pretending when you're not even sure who you're supposed to be. Eventually, I got tired of it, and I stopped pretending altogether. The nice thing about the League is that no one is mad about that."

The answer wasn't nearly enough to sate Izuku's curiosity. He wasn't sure how far he could push, so he cautiously spoke, "Can I ask why you had to pretend for them?"

The flat tone of her voice didn't change as she spoke, but there was a flash of anger in her eyes. "They said it was my quirk. That it's not "proper" for a young lady, or it's creepy, or villainous. But it was so much more than that. They made it feel like everything about me was wrong. The way I loved, the things that excited me, everything I wanted to do or be—it just wasn't right for them, and I never even knew why."

Izuku hummed in understanding. "It couldn't have been easy living like that."

"It wasn't. That's why I don't regret leaving. I was on my own for a long while, and it was really lonely, but it was still better than lying all the time."

"What about now?" Izuku asked.

Her smile returned then. "Honestly, everyone here's made me feel more accepted than any of my family or classmates ever did."

It was a strange thought to process, but it made perfect sense in his mind. He'd seen how they treated each other and how close she was with the entire League despite knowing them for such a short period. Contrary to all his expectations, the Villains were almost like a tight-knit family. He still didn't know what to do with that newfound information, but he knew he wouldn't be able to look at them the same way again.

Rather than linger on that, he asked, "What exactly is your quirk anyway?"

The change in topic quickly brightened her mood as she explained, "If I drink someone's blood, I can turn into them. One cup of blood is enough to hold the form for a full day. I can even copy their clothes and mimic their voice."

Izuku's eyes widened at that. It was morbid, certainly, but he still found himself saying, "Honestly, that's one of the coolest quirks I've ever heard of."

"Right?" Toga exclaimed. "I wasted so many years hating myself for it, and for what? My quirk gives me the chance to take walking in someone's shoes to another level. Not just understand someone, but become them—be closer to them than anyone else ever could be. Isn't that romantic?"

It wasn't quite the word Izuku would use, but he couldn't help but smile at how excitedly she spoke about it. "That's… actually a really lovely way to think about it. You're right to be proud of it," he said. "I'm sorry people made it so hard to realize that."

Her smile never faltered, but hearing the words brought a melancholy look to her eyes. "You know, Izuku," she spoke, voice barely above a whisper, "I wish I'd met you earlier. I think we would've been really good friends. Could've saved me a lot of pain."

Could he, really? Was that enough to change the course of one's life so drastically? Was the line between the scared schoolgirl and the Villain before him just one act of kindness?

His mind spiralled with questions, each one adding a weight onto his chest until it ached. But the one question he found himself able to voice was, "Do you think there's a still chance we could be friends now?"

"Why couldn't we?"

There were approximately a million reasons for that, but she spoke with such conviction that he couldn't even bring himself to list even one.

Taking his silence as agreement, she held up a pinky to him. "Let's make up for lost time, then. Friends?"

He smiled and allowed her carefree attitude to draw him in as he hooked his own pinky to hers. "Friends," he said.


Time flew by faster than they had expected, and soon it was too early in the morning for anyone else to be awake, but too late to justify going back to bed. So, instead, they opted to just chat and goof off in the kitchen. Eventually, they landed on a classic game of Fuck, Marry, Kill: Hero/Villain Edition.

Izuku didn't really have much of a say in it, as Toga jumped into the game and forced him to play along against his will. But, after a few rounds, he quickly learned she had a great sense of humor, and soon he was laughing too hard to deny how fun it was.

"Come on, stop lying to yourself," Toga said between bouts of laughter. "There's no way you've never thought about it even once."

"She's my teacher," Izuku argued, trying to sound firm despite the clear amusement in his tone.

It only backfired on him, as Toga waggled her eyebrows and said, "And doesn't that just open up so many possibilities?"

"Stop," Izuku exclaimed loudly to drown out her voice. "New ground rule: no mentioning my teachers in this. I'd like to still be able to look them in the eye after this."

Toga eloquently expressed her disagreement by blowing a raspberry right in his face, but she conceded regardless. "Fine. But, just for the record, I would personally fuck Midnight without hesitation, because I know for a fact that her strap game is unmatched."

Izuku couldn't make any argument against that, but he didn't want to linger on the subject for any longer lest he accidentally scar himself. "Noted. Can you just pick someone else now?"

"Okay, okay. Uhm—" Toga's eyes wandered as she thought long and hard about a different option for the round.

He could see the exact moment her face lit up when the idea popped in her head, and he felt a sense of dread upon seeing the mischievous look she gave him.

"Okay, I got it. Pandora, Kamui Woods, or Tomura."

God, how is that even worse?

Before Izuku could complain, she piped up, "No take backs! I already switched it once so stop pushing your luck."

Despite his pout and pleading eyes, she didn't budge, and after a few seconds, he accepted his defeat. "Fine. Uh, kill Pandora, I guess." It was the easiest option. She was a known villain that had been causing all sorts of trouble in the last few years. The real hard part, though…

"For Tomura," he mused, "I guess he's universe approved for me, so marriage should the right choice. Right?" He said the words with some uncertainty, but the more thought he gave it, the more it made sense.

"Besides," he continued, "he is admittedly really fun to hang out with, even when he's being mean. He teases me all the time and it should be annoying, but I kind of like it. He gets this obnoxious smile whenever he does it, and it's honestly too contagious to be hate. But he still manages to be really sweet when it matters, whether he'd admit it or not, and he's easier to talk to than I ever would've expected. Weirdly enough, it feels safe being with him. And it'd be nice getting to know him better."

Izuku blinked as he caught himself rambling. He hadn't even realized how many reasons he had to want to spend more time with Tomura.

Toga seemed equally as surprised, albeit much more happy, about it. "I didn't know you two were that close."

He wanted to deny it, because they definitely weren't that close. But he couldn't bring himself to do so, because he wanted them to be that close. The realization hit him harder than any villain he'd ever fought.

Rather than face the mountain of emotions that brought up, he simply shrugged and said, "Not like it matters one way or the other."

She nodded in agreement, despite not looking too happy about it. "Fair enough. That's why I honestly expected you to chose to sleep with him, no strings attached. Sounds like a lot less work."

Before he could stop the words from coming out, Izuku said, "Well, that does sound nice, too."

His hand flew up to cover his mouth, and he dropped his forehead to the surface of the table to avoid making eye contact with Toga as she laughed her heart out at his accidental confession.

While Izuku was spiralling with questions about the nature of his relationship with his soulmate—and what he wanted the nature of their relationship to be—Toga seemed all too proud of herself for pushing the answer out of him.

"I'm so glad you've finally stopped denying it! You're so clearly into him."

"This conversation stays between us," Izuku demanded, despite the nervous tremor in his voice. "I don't think I could handle the embarrassment if he knew."

"You can't stifle true love, Izuku," she teased.

His head shot up at that word. His face already felt hot, but now he was on the verge of spontaneous combustion. "No one said anything about love! It's a maybe-crush at best. It's probably Stockholm Syndrome or something, right?"

"I'm pretty sure that's not how it works."

Okay, so maybe he was grasping at straws, but why did she feel the need to point it out?

Luckily, she decided to take some mercy on him, even if she was clearly enjoying every second of his panic. "Okay, okay, stop freaking out. I promise, I won't tell Tomura that you want him to absolutely w—"

Izuku slammed his hand across her mouth, because it takes about one full day of knowing Toga to know that she didn't have any sort of filter, and he didn't want to know what sort of image she was going to paint there.

"Don't," he pleaded.

"Oh, no, please do."

Izuku's head spun around so quickly it was a miracle he didn't break his neck right then. Sure enough, there was Tomura standing at the door frame. His hair was disheveled and his voice still gruff from waking at such an early hour.

"Tomura! Good morning!" Izuku said in a perfectly normal voice, at exactly his perfectly normal pitch that he uses in any perfectly normal scenario.

Or, at least, he tried to, but the look both Tomura and Toga shot him were enough to know that he did nothing to throw off suspicion. If anything, he only fanned the flames.

"What the hell were you two talking about?"

Toga pried Izuku's hand off her mouth and answered, "Depends on how long you've been standing there."

"Long enough." It was too vague of an answer to give them much to work with, but it was plenty to convey how frustrated he was getting with the conversation.

Izuku decided to take the plunge. "We were talking about how it would be really great if you were to maybe w—" he spoke slowly and stretched out the last syllable as he tried to find the right words— "wear some lip balm?"

What?

"What?" Tomura's words echoed Izuku's own thoughts at the unconvincing lie.

Regardless, he raised a hand to press against his lips, feeling the rough texture. He shook his head and muttered a dismissive, "Whatever." Izuku couldn't say with any amount of certainty whether he got away with it, but Tomura seemed content with leaving him be. He simply made his way to the cupboards to grab a glass and fill it with water. "We're meeting at the bar in three hours," he announced and began to make his way out of the room. "Try to act less weird by then."

Izuku gave him a thumbs up and, in a wobbly voice, answered, "Yes, sir."

It, once again, earned him a bemused look, but Tomura must have reached his limit, because all he did was roll his eyes and walk out without saying a word.

A few seconds passed as his footsteps faded, and once he was out of earshot, Toga stopped holding back the fit of laughter she'd been containing.

"That could've gone worse, right?" Izuku asked, despite knowing the answer.

Rather than answer, Toga simply mimicked his voice, nervous wobbling and all. ""Yes, sir?""

If she was as good at impressions as her quirk would suggest, then Izuku definitely made an even bigger fool of himself than he'd thought.

He sunk his head onto the table, letting the embarrassment eat him alive while Toga patted his hair. The gesture would've been a lot more comforting if she wasn't still giggling at the whole interaction.

"So," she started, her voice cheery as ever, "are you ever gonna tell him?"

Izuku lifted his face, resting his chin on the table as she continued to play with his hair. "Obviously not."

She pouted at that, clearly disappointed with the answer, but still nodded. "Okay, fine. Baby steps."

"No!" Izuku was quick to argue. "No baby steps. There's no steps ahead of me to take. It's just the edge of a cliff, and if I keep walking, I'm gonna die."

Maybe he was being a little melodramatic, but it's been a long week, and it's not exactly an easy situation, and he doesn't have a blueprint for how to respond to all of it. So, sue him, he was going to be a little melodramatic.

Toga was kind enough to not chew him out for acting as such, but not so kind that she'd let him wallow in his own denial. "So your plan is just to be miserable and deny yourself any chance of being with your soulmate?"

"Yes," he answered, without hesitation.

She swore under her breath, sighed, and then tried another approach. "And you're totally okay with knowing that your plan is going to make him miserable and deny him the chance to be with his soulmate?"

This time, he couldn't bring himself to answer her directly. "He wouldn't be miserable."

"Maybe not," she agreed. "But it's lonely, knowing that the one person who's meant to love you unconditionally isn't willing to make that leap for you. I may not have met my soulmate yet, but I know how it feels, and it's not great."

Izuku sunk deeper into his seat as he let the words sink in. She was right, and he had no retort against it.

When he said nothing, she went on to fill the silence. "I know we're all just Villains in your eyes, but I don't see how the right thing to do is just give up on someone. Are you really going to call yourself a Hero when you're so willing to hurt another person?"

"No," he answered, the word spilling from his lips before he could stop it. "I don't want to do that to him. I just didn't think it'd hurt him as much as it would hurt me." His own well-being was optional at best, but he'd never want to do anything like that to another person.

"Why would you think that?" Toga asked with a tilt of her head, like it was the most unusual thing in the world.

And honestly, Izuku didn't have an answer. He'd just assumed, right from the beginning, that Tomura saw their soulmate bond as a means to an end. That it meant Izuku could possibly be a spy for them among the Heroes, or that he might be another Villain to help their achieve their goals of… well, whatever Villains were interested in.

He never entertained the thought that Tomura wanted what every other person wanted in a soulmate—love, belonging, and stability. He'd taken it for granted, but the moment that his assumption was called into question, he couldn't find any rational way to defend it.

It struck him that the only real reason he could have for jumping to that conclusion is that he simply saw the Villains as a little less human than he was. His own soulmate included.

Suddenly, he had an answer for Toga's question. "Because I'm a terrible person, apparently."

Toga cooed and continued to pat his head soothingly. "Awh, don't say that. You're just a little stupid."

He snorted a laugh at that and shrugged, accepting her assessment. "Fair enough."

He found himself thinking back to the dream he'd had earlier in the night. In Toga's company, he'd managed to stop thinking about it, but the memory of it was crystal clear in his mind.

The questions muddled his thoughts, still unanswered and still weighing on his chest. He didn't know what kind of Hero he needed to be or even if it was possible to fix the mess they'd found themselves in. But, at the very least, he knew what the next step was, and he was willing to take it.