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the courage to dream

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“There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

 



A boy, no older than fifteen, walks by the sidewalk with his head hanging low.

The sun is merciless this afternoon. A searing heat bares down on his exposed neck, singing the ends of his hairs. All around him, people whisper in low tones, looking at their sides and holding each other tight.

These days, villainy and criminality are rampant. Casualties and collateral damages are also important, as there isn’t a way to help the civilians get through the villain attacks or the aftermaths. 

The boy, a teenager really, thinks of the helplessness society wears like a cursed cloak, of the thought of justice that will never be served no matter how high the people’s cries soar.

His blue eyes dimmer, his shoulders slump and he’s feeling so much weight over nothing, nothing he can make a change of. Nothing he can lend a helping hand to.

Yagi Toshinori is tired of seeing people run for their lives every time a villain approaches. He is tired of watching the heroes be unable to save people. He is tired of living in a society without hope.

He wants to live in a world where someone is always there to protect the civilians from the villains. Where people don’t have to cower in fear each time the news flashes.

Of course, he knows that it isn’t possible, but the simple action of hoping, of fervently believing in it… Toshinori has a feeling it can change everything.

He walks on the crosswalk and enters the shopping mall he uses as a shortcut to get home. Taking off his hat, Toshinori wipes his brow with the back of his hand. He squints and cranes his head up to look at the spotless blue sky. Directly overhead, a single wispy cloud wafts lazily. Just a little farther to the left, and it will blot out the sun and give him a momentary reprieve. Just a little more…

A cacophony of screams and stampeding footsteps startles Toshinori from his train of thought. Immediately, he swivels around to see civilians abandoning stores and fleeing towards crowded exits. Shouts, hostile and aggressive, echo throughout his ears, the words too distant to comprehend but convey meaning all the same.

Villains.

Toshinori holds on to his hat, as he makes sure to weave in between civilians, darting from store fronts and stalls to avoid the terrified civilians. After all, the last thing he needs is to create even more panic.

A shriek causes Toshinori to snap his head to his left.

There is no mistaking it. That is a civilian. That scream was from someone who needs help.

Toshinori looks over to the entrance of the mall one more time. Just a few seconds of running, of working his way around the mass of people and he’ll be out of the mall. Away from the trouble. Besides, most days he can barely lift the jug of water, he isn’t strong enough to make a stand and he doesn’t know if it can handle whatever made the person terrified— 

He looks at the direction where the scream came from. It’s not even a choice, really.

Toshinori runs through the mall, he turns the corner, heart shuddering in his chest and—

There.

A woman is on her hands and knees, tremors raking her entire body. She’s holding a young child in her arms, in an attempt to shield them from the danger. Tears are tailing her cheeks as stifled, hoarse sobs escape her lips. “No,” she whispers, pleadingly. “No, please! Not my daughter!”

The villain laughs and Toshinori’s heart stops. There is no one coming. No hero to stand in the way of the villain.

But they need help! Whoever they are, they are in danger!

Without a second thought, Toshinori takes off running. It’s a reckless decision. An abrupt reaction. An instinct to do what’s right, to help that mother and her daughter. It’s a sense of rightfulness, of bravery and determination. The sole strength of will that used to curse through the veins of medieval knights. Of the defenders and protectors of long ago.

Toshinori doesn’t think, he just runs.

He leaps at the villain just as the man is about to hurt the mother and her daughter. He wraps his arms around his torso and tackles him to the ground.

Nowadays people focus all their attention towards quirks and their applications, and tend to forget that civilization was created in an era when the thought of strange abilities and fantastical powers was just that, a fantasy.

Yagi Toshinori was born in a society where adults constantly underestimated him, where they thought that because he can’t read minds or doesn’t throw lighting from his fingertips, then he was supposed to stay on the sidelines. Watching. Staring. Seeing as society’s spirit dims with each soul that loses hope.

It’s no surprise that the villain didn’t expect him. It’s just another tool to use against the evils of this world.

Said villain wrenches himself from Toshinori’s arms with a viciousness and strength that matches Toshinori’s feelings when he hears someone criticizing hero comics. Both get to their feet. The villain raises his eyebrows, with incredulity and frustration. Not unexpected, as Toshinori looks like someone who is about to keel over with the next breeze.

“Kid,” the man growls, voice going low and threatening, “get out of my way.”

The villain is glaring at him; its burning hatred and sweat and pain and its own brittleness. Toshinori doesn’t want to hurt him. Never. He never wants to hurt anyone and does everything he can to avoid it.

But sometimes, like now, it’s unavoidable.

“I won’t let you hurt them!” Toshinori’s heart is hammering in his chest. He fists his hands and falls into what he thinks is a fighting stance. “I won’t let you take away their happiness!”

The sound of roaring laughter causes Toshinori’s heart to sink.

“You think you can save them, little hero?” The villain mocks. “You think you can make everything alright just by being here? You think you are strong enough to stand against me?”

...He is going to ignore that extremely valid point, because it does nothing to negate his own extremely valid point.

Toshinori raises his fists higher.

He hopes they don’t notice him shaking.

The villain keeps staring down. Toshinori keeps glaring up, somehow managing to feel more defiant with every moment that passes. It is little things: the way his shoulders tense more and more, the way his spine straightens, the way his legs shift in order to prepare to leap to his feet if it proves necessary. Like many teenagers from his age, Toshinori does not know when to back down.

“You’re too stubborn for your own good, little hero,” says the villain, smiling. It’s a vicious smile that makes Toshinori curl up his lips in response. “Such a shame this will have to end this way, I was starting to like your idiotic personality.”

The villain radies his stance and raises his arm, directly in Toshinori’s direction. A contained purple tentacle dances on his fingers, not unlike the ones from unwanted deep water octopuses.

Toshinori’s eyes widen as he stares at the sharp, pointy tentacle.

His heart is beating so hard in his chest that he’s afraid his ribs won’t be able to handle the repeated shocks for too long. Toshinori tries to bury the wave of pure fear passing through him, but it’s too strong. It feels like a wave crashing against him, dragging him under and under and under until he can’t reach for the surface.

Until he can’t breathe again.

I’m going to die, Toshinori thinks faintly.

Nonetheless, he doesn’t move. He shuts his eyes tightly, bracing for the moment the tentacles price his skin.

It takes the sound of trash cans hitting the ground for him to open his eyes.

And it’s only been a moment where Toshinori hadn’t seen anything, but it’s long enough for his lungs to seize in momentary panic as he’s blinded and consumed. It’s only a moment before it clears revealing the dingy, dirty side-alley of the mall, with the villain, who looks like he’d give Frankenstein’s Creature a run for his money, is swearing and laying on the ground, surrounded by litter that used to be in the trash cans.

And a young teen.

A young teen, no older than Toshinori himself, is standing between the villain and Toshinori.

The sun’s rays filter through green locks, the rest highlighting the outline of his body. Toshinori can’t help but gape at the sight of greens and whites in the young teen’s costume. Awe passes over his features. There is so much warmth in the teenager’s smile.

 It reminds him of the heroes in the comics.

There is an openly stunned look on the villain’s face, as if he can’t believe his attack isn’t going through as he had planned it. Toshinori feels a pang of sympathy. Teenagers are a group to have caution around, not fearing the law or taking time to foresee the consequences of their actions. They’re rash and impulsive, the best and brightest of them all.

After all, children are the future of society.

“I suggest you stand down, sir.”

That seems to infuriate the villain even more.

“Is that a threat?” He snarls. The stunned look fades, replaced with a serious glare. It strikes Toshinori that the teen just lost the element of surprise. It doesn’t seem like the boy cares, though.

“No, sir,” the hero answers, readying his body for another go. “A warning.”

The purple tentacles grow in intensity. Toshinori flinches back a few meters and ends right beside the civilians he was trying to protect.

“Just who do you think you are?” The villain raps.

“A hero,” the teen says and immediately green lightning surrounds him.

But he isn’t looking at the villain.

The eye he can see through the green curls crinkles like he’s smiling at him. “Get to safety,” the stranger immediately says. “And once you’re okay to do so, call the authorities.”

This is obviously a request for support on the matter but Toshinori can’t speak. He feels as though he is underwater, plunging deeper and deeper into the frigid depths of his memory. Water clogs his ears and seizes hold of his throat. He can vaguely make out the villain’s voice as they say something but the words are muffled in his ears.

Come on, Toshinori, pull yourself together!

Except he can’t. Not with his heart stammering and fluttering in his chest like a wounded bird. Tremors wrack his body. He swallows, actively trying to suppress the surge of panic that is welling up in his chest like a volcano.

I have to help him! He can’t face the villain alone!

He doesn’t have much of a choice when the cries of the girl intensify.

The mother shoots him a look; it’s dull and hopeless and filled with the uncertainty coming from desperate situations. Toshinori draws closer, offering his arm to help pull the mother up because there’s nothing else he can do. Nothing else he can do to let the young hero know he’s not alone.

At the end of the side-alley, the villain takes a step forward and a feverish sort of determination overtakes the teen’s features. His stance speaks of military or martial arts training, and there’s a confidence rarely found outside the profesional heroes and government officials.

Nonetheless, this could all be conjecture. Toshinori isn’t a professional analyst after all.

Sharp tentacles spread across the area. The man’s feet shift. The young hero’s eyes narrow. As he lifts for takeoff, Toshinori does the same. Before the villain can react Toshinori grabs the woman holding onto her child and breaks off into a sprint.

He counts the seconds as they run through the mall. One. Two. Three.

BOOM!

Toshinori’s grip on the mother’s arm tightens. He doesn’t risk looking back at the side-alley, but he’d bet all his collective hero comics that the explosion was caused by the teen and not the villain.

Still, that doesn’t reassure him.

“C’mon, we have to get to safety,” he tells the mother and her daughter. “The authorities should be on their way, if not already here, and they’ll be able to help us, you’ll see.”

“Boy.” It’s gritted, forced out through a cough as Toshinori makes them hobble towards the sound of police sirens.

“Yeah?”

“Why did you help us?” She asks. “You were just putting yourself in danger.”

“Because it’s the right thing to do.” Toshinori swallows, and gives the woman a small, tremulous smile. “I couldn’t live with myself if I just stood by.”

She doesn’t answer, her arms tightening around her daughter. Toshinori keeps moving.

But a progressive panic begins to eat at his common sense like corrosive acid. He knows he shouldn’t doubt the teenager’s abilities, especially since that villain was probably an amateur at best. But his thoughts insist on playing a constant game of ping-pong in his brain.

What if the boy is hurt? But then again, how could he be? He seemed smart and strong and capable and probably fine. Toshinori is worrying about nothing. The young hero will surely will defeat the villain. He’s always thinking of living in a world where people won’t live in fear. Where they are free to do whatever they want without having to constantly look behind them. A world where they feel safe.

But what if he needs help?

Toshinori grits his teeth and focuses on taking one step in front of the other. It is almost eerie seeing the mall so empty, his every footstep seeming to echo throughout the space. He desperately struggles to suppress the well of panic that is rising in his chest.

The boy is fine, he tells himself. He’s fine. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.

It doesn’t take long for them to reach the barricade the police force has built at the entrance of the mall. A group of first aid workers assault them as soon as they manage to get through, checking their vitals and giving them sweet reassurances.

The police arrive not long after, asking questions and thanking them for their cooperation. Toshinori bites his lips as he answers numerous frantic texts from his friends and classmates and explains how everything is fine and that he will make it home soon enough.

Eventually, what feels like an indeterminable amount of time passes before a blur of green reappears.

“There you go!” The young teen says just as he lands right next to the police force, breathing hard but otherwise looking no worse for wear. The same can not be said for the dazed looking villain laying on the pavement.

The teen gives the stunned police officer a bright smile and proceeds to give her a quick report of the situation while Toshinori stands by the side, staring wide eyed at the crazy teenager who managed to take control of the situation in a matter of seconds.

“Thanks again for your help,” the police officer says with a warm smile. The green-haired teen nods. “We’ll take the villain from here.”

“Alrighty!”

There’s a long, agonizing moment where the green-haired teen meets his eyes across the mall, and then he’s walking towards him.

Toshinori’s shoulders tighten as he continues to approach, until he’s standing just a couple of meters from him. The hero teenager regards him once more. Then he sits down next to him and offers him a water bottle. Toshinori takes it.

“Hey.” They sit on a small bench in a deserted wing of the mall, far away from the crime scene and the police investigation. “The villain’s apprehended. He should be in custody right now.”

“Oh.” Toshinori forces his lips to contort into a smile. “That’s good.”

It earns an eyebrow raise. Toshinori tamps down the instinctual flinch, clenching his fingers together and consciously using his feet to play with a rock laying on the ground.

“You’re still here,” the young hero notes.

“I couldn’t leave until I knew everyone was alright.”

He blinks at Toshinori, shifting his position on the bench. A gentle smile is dancing on his lips. It’s a quiet affair, small enough to pass unperceived, but Toshinori sees the silent nostalgia swimming in his green eyes, the distinctive tainting of hope as it clashes with the sadness in his eyes.  

“Yeah, well,” the teenager finally says. “Not many people think the way you do, less take action against the unjust situations in life.”

“I can’t. I can’t stay still when people need help. Never. Not about this.”

The boy hmphs, before he nods with his head. “Why?”

“I’m sorry?”

The young hero stares at him, before he tilts his head in Toshinori’s direction. “Yeah. Why? What do you get out of saving them?”

“It’s not about getting something out of it. It never is.”

Green eyes look up from beneath a mess of green curls. He is rather plain-looking. Nice, but nothing that would make him stand out against the crowd. In fact, he looks more like some average middle school student than the courageous hero Toshinori had seen in the side-alley.

The young hero falls silent, staring at Toshinori in silent consideration. One hand fiddles with the white gloves on his hands, twirling and stretching them.

The silence thickens between them as the teenager keeps thinking.

“Do you want to be a hero?”

A peach blush starts to warm the Toshinori’s cheeks. He slightly turns away from the teen, both of his hands on his drink. “Is there something wrong with having a dream?”

“No there isn’t.” He gives Toshinori a small smile, before his brow furrows again. “It’s not as easy as it sounds though.”

“I’m aware of the risks that come with the profession, believe me, I do.” He starts playing with his water bottle as he’s lost in thoughts. “It isn’t a matter of whether I’m aware or not, it’s… the country we live in… here villains hold no fear towards heroes. There is always constant chaos and destruction raging through the streets, no matter how much the pro heroes fight them, danger continues to spread in our society.” Toshinori puts the water bottle on the bench, before he squeezes it to death. Instead, he grips the edge of the bench in a white knuckle grip. “I think there is a need for a pillar, a symbol of some sorts, to keep the villains at bay and…”

“…and give hope to society,” the teen finishes.

Toshinori’s fingers still, and he forces himself to swallow when he realizes they are trembling.

“I know what you are going to say, a symbol to give hope? A society living without fear? It’s just a childish dream.” It’s not as vehement as before, as full of determination and defiance and hope. This is quiet. Resigned. A lost cause.

As the silence passes, Toshinori turns his head and looks at the young hero again. The green of his eyes is thoughtful and almost wistful. Toshinori waits for judgment to come. He’s never felt so small.

“It will be hard,” the boy eventually responds. “It’ll take dedication, tenuous work, and determination.” He scratches the back of his head, eyes wistful. “I don’t think your dreams are impossible, but I believe that if you truly plan on following them you’ll have to never give up, even when the odds are against you.” The teen throws Toshinori a nervous smile, fingers drumming along the top of the bench. “It’s kind of exciting, you know? The idea of living in a world where justice always wins.”

Toshinori just stares, his eyes wide as his breath rattles in his chest. The boy beside him smiles a bit, more gentle than shy, as Toshinori feels something inside him click.

It’s like he’s found the final piece of a puzzle, one that he’s been looking for a long time.

“Still,” the boy continues, like he hasn’t just flipped Toshinori’s entire world on its axis. “It’d be a slow process, but I think that eventually your dream will come true and the people will learn what it means to live in a peaceful society.”

Toshinori drags a hand through his face, before he takes a long, deep breath to steady himself. Those words are like watching the dawn crest, like the first time he’d felt full in that empty cavernous thing that had once been his hollowed out heart. It’s consuming and powerful like a lightning strike, awesome and ever present as it sinks down into his soul.

And it is breathtaking. Shattering.

A new resolve burns inside him, one that has been brewing and bubbling up inside him for years. It is overpowering and all consuming, like the first moment he'd seen a hero in action. Like the first moment put a name to his dream, an indomitable and barely restrained idea, but undeniably his.

Just who is this kid?

Green eyes lock with blue as he waits for the teenager to speak. Said teenager lets out a tiny laugh and shakes his head. “Fair enough,” he says, and offers his arm.

Toshinori takes it, after a moment and the teenager helps to pull him up.

The young teen adjusts both their grips, so they are clasping arm to arm. They shake, for whatever such things are worth. Any deal is only as good as the word of the men behind it.

“I look forward to seeing you try. I have a feeling you are too stubborn for your own good.”

“I promise, I’ll give it my best!”

The young teen cracks a terrible, off-kilter smile. “I know.” He lays a hand on Toshinori’s shoulder. “I’ll keep an eye out for you.” He winks at him. “Can’t wait to see you on the tabloids.”

And as he walks away, Toshinori can’t help but think that this isn’t the end. He doubts the teenager is able to recognize the impact his words had on him; the hope and peace that came with them. This is the beginning of All Might, of the path of a hero. It’s going to be filled with tense and messy and difficult circumstances. There is going to be second-guessing and doubts and uncertainty. There are going to be set-backs and fear of what will happen next. That’s how change works, after all.

But this day has been a step in the right direction.

A direction a complete stranger had directed him towards. A stranger that is getting farther and farther away, as Toshinori keeps getting lost in his thoughts.

It takes less than a second for him to move.

“Wait! Stop!” Toshinori shouts, running after the teenager. “Who are you? What is your name?”

The young hero stops and Toshinori does as well, just a couple of meters away.

The silence stretches for a moment, and just when he thinks he’ll have to speak up again, the teenager—the sole reason Toshinori is still alive—turns around and locks eyes with him. Electric blue meets forest green. There is something in those eyes that Toshinori can’t explain. Some sort of aura, of familiarity, of understanding that takes his breath away. The boy studies him for some time, clearly searching for something.

An emotion crosses over the teenager’s face, a certain fondness that warms the desolated mall. He must find whatever he is searching for, because he nods at himself and takes a few breaths.

And smiles, bright as the colors of the sunset.

“Deku,” he tells him. “You can call me Deku.”