The metal door slams shut with finality, and something inside of Izuku dies.
It is quiet, on the roof where All Might… that ghost of him, left him behind. It is quiet, and sunny, and warm, yet all Izuku can see is never-ending darkness, his body cold cold cold, the wind in his ears utterly deafening between his jumbled, chaotic thoughts, like static in his brain, pulling him under, under the weight of it all.
All Might… isn’t really All Might. At least not his, everyone’s All Might.
All Might is hurt, has been severely hurt and sick for years now. He has a massive, gruesome scar, and a skeletal body, to prove it.
All Might’s smile isn’t real, not anymore. It’s all fake, his smile and his personality.
All Might isn’t happy. He’s broken, and exhausted, and afraid.
The number one hero, the strongest in the world, his idol, is afraid.
Even with all his strength… he got wounded so badly.
Even All Might.
If even All Might couldn’t beat that villain, couldn’t fight enough to protect himself, with all his overwhelming power, if even he struggled and struggled and struggled to be happy, then there’s no way that he could—
“No, I don’t think you can become a hero without a quirk.”
The words echo in his mind over and over and over again, all of it repeating on loop like a demonic broken record, and Izuku can’t breathe.
His hero himself had said it. The reality he’s always known, but was so determined, so foolishly stubborn, to not believe.
It was easier to try to ignore it, from everyone else. They simply don’t have any faith in him, from watching strong heroes fight every day with the most eye-catching and awe-inspiring quirks there are, or flat-out hate him because they see him as weak, in the face of their own powerful abilities.
Kacchan’s still a good person, deep down. He’s just voicing more violently what everyone else already feels. It’s not his fault he received an awesome quirk, and Izuku got nothing. Even if it hurts, what he says… it’s still right.
(that’s what he’s always told himself, at least, about his friend—)
But All Might…
All Might knows better than anyone. It wasn’t simply out of malice, or pity, or disappointment, what he said… It’s just the truth.
Trying to be a hero without a quirk is impossible. Will get him killed.
Just like All Might was nearly killed.
(All Might… killed……?)
Izuku’s legs feel weak; breathing is suddenly even unfathomably harder. It feels like he’s trapped in a dream, a nightmare, miles and miles away from his own body, as it collapses to the concrete, his arms trembling violently to hold him upright.
All Might… All Might can barely be a hero anymore. Everything he had believed in, had clung to, was a lie.
All Might is sick, and tired, and in pain, and unhappy, and… and……
“…he’s… is he dying…?”
It can’t be. It can’t be. All Might is the strongest, no matter what he faces… he overcomes everything with a smile. For him to be brought down by something like this… brought down at all…
“I smile to hide the fear inside.”
…none of that is true. He can’t fight, can’t smile, isn’t invincible; he’s now skinny and frail and gaunt and hollow-eyed, and he’s missing a lung and missing a stomach, and he coughs up blood, and seems so tired and weak and bitter and broken and dying, and Izuku never ever thought All Might could die, but no All Might can’t die because Izuku now knows without a shadow of a doubt that he can never be a hero, of course he can’t be, but All Might has to be because All Might is strong and brave and kind and inspiring and gives hope, and as long as he has All Might Izuku can have a reason to keep going, a reason to push through the pain and the loneliness and the hatred and the feeling of uselessness, can have someone to love and
pretend believe loves him, someone to protect and comfort him, with his bright, beautiful colors and reassuring, golden grin, but instead he’s ill and hurting and looks like he’s dying and Izuku held him up and exposed his secret and caused him undue stress and worry and frustrated him with his foolish question of can he be a hero without a quirk, when All Might can hardly even be one anymore with one, and now everyone in the world including his dearest hero imaginary father figure hates him and his mother is sad and guilty and Kacchan wants him gone and he’ll never amount to anything and never achieve his dream and never be anyone special or loved by anyone and his hero is dying and Izuku feels like he’s dying and howcanheliveinaworldwithout—
The roof is hard, cold, and unkind, as his face crashes against it, tears drowning him, his heart aching so much he wants to s c r e a m.
“Sorry kid, it’s not gonna happen. Might as well give it up.”
He doesn’t have a quirk, and he never will.
“You’re even worse than those other rejects, you quirkless wannabe!”
He’s nobody, the lowest of the low. No one believes in him, no one wants him.
“I’m so… so sorry, Izuku…!”
His mother blames herself, for something she could not and cannot control. His misery only makes her suffer more.
“I don’t think you can become a hero without a quirk.” “Make sure your dreams are attainable… realistic.”
And even to All Might… his hero…… he’s not salvageable. He’s hopeless.
Everything is hopeless.
I have no quirk… no friends… Kacchan will continue to hurt me and hate me…. Mom will continue to cry…
…and A-All Might, he…
Really, what does he have left?
(without his hero alive and safe and still here, could there ever be anything else?)
The sun is gone, and the wind is bitingly cold. Izuku’s body is numb, as if underwater. He can barely hear himself think, and everything around him still seems so, so incredibly far away.
Kacchan’s words from earlier in the day echo in his ears.
“Why don’t you take a swan dive off the roof, and hope you’ll get a quirk in your next life?”
Izuku looks up.
(everything is over)
His tears are blinding, choking him silently, and freezing on his face.
(there is nothing left)
But he can see the railing directly in front of him, just a few steps away.
(he’d die anyway sooner or later, from heartbreak, or burns)
Izuku feels himself moving, though everything is so, so heavy.
(he should have died from the villain earlier, instead of inconveniencing All Might)
Something about this is wrong, his mind supplies to him. But the thought is too faint and weak to stop him from crawling, onto his feet, and forwards, until he reaches the railing.
Izuku grasps it, looking upwards.
The sky looks so freeing.
“……I’m s-sorry… M-Mom……”
(no, he should have died five years ago in place of All Might)
(if only dying now could take all his pain back and save his lif—)
Toshinori sighed heavily as he shuffled down the stairs, his entire body aching with every step. It’d been a while since he had been forced to push himself over his limit, and he already hadn’t been feeling well that morning before even getting started. Today’s events had been pretty standard fare, even with the most recent incident, but quite a few of them had cropped up, more than he had anticipated, and he had had to push himself quite a bit, needless to say (though, isn’t that how it always went?).
He would be lying if he said he hadn’t been feeling worse than usual the last few days… perhaps weeks… (it all ran together). His worsening mood didn’t help matters, as much as he was loathe to admit it.
And the fiasco that had just occurred certainly wasn’t helping that.
Damn… Why couldn’t the kid have just let me go before it got ugly?
Toshinori was glad to have reached him in the nick of time to save him from the villain, relieved. Of course he was. Happy to provide an autograph as well; the boy was clearly overjoyed... albeit quite frenetic. This was so much his daily routine he could practically do it with his eyes closed, even now. All of that was fine.
…If only he hadn’t clung on like that afterward, wanting more.
Sure, he had had some crazy fans before… but none of them had ever been insane enough to hold onto him while he took off. Was the kid really that stupidly desperate enough to talk to him more… to ask him a question with such an obvious answer?
(“I want to make a world where everybody smiles and lives together happily.”)
He suddenly slowed to a stop.
(“…be the pillar that gives people hope….”)
The distant, faint voice from his memory blurred into the one from just a few minutes before.
(“I want people to see my fearless smile and feel safe… just like you…!”)
A lump formed in his throat, even more uncomfortable than the blood that was eternally there, and Toshinori unconsciously leaned a hand against the wall, biting his lip as his chest grew even tighter.
“…so…… so stupid.”
He stood there for a long while, contemplating.
Then, after another moment more, he suddenly turned around to face the stairs again, huffing sharply.
Whose fault was that whole thing, really?
(the child who just wanted encouragement from the hero he believed in more than anyone, or the man who was so pathetic and weak that he couldn’t even hide his true, bleak secret identity from him?)
I shouldn’t have taken my frustrations out on him. He had no idea… Why would he? I was too harsh, and too careless to let him find out.
The boy deserved better than such bitterness, even if everything he’d said had been the truth.
(just look at him, the “Symbol of Peace”: saving people with a smile? No, scaring them with his disgusting life story, and shooting down their dreams)
Coughing, Toshinori began the arduous journey back up the stairs, every muscle and lung protesting, but his mind steeled.
He had to do this; had to make things right. He couldn’t change the truth, but he could at least apologize for everything, and perhaps make the boy worry less about his abilities as All Might… Showing him his true form again was not preferable, but he would have to reassure him even so. And he could reaffirm that the kid wouldn’t spill his secret to anyone, although Toshinori doubted he would. Such notions seemed to be the last thing on his mind when he had first left him.
The boy hadn’t seemed to be thinking much of anything, really, in his shock.
…God, he really was terrible.
Never should have let this happen. If I didn’t have such a pathetically short time limit anymore, it wouldn’t have.
Gritting his teeth, guilt clawing at his heart, he forced himself upward, gaining speed as he went. At the top of the stairs at the door once more, Toshinori resolved what he was going to say, taking a moment to catch his breath, before pushing open the door, cold wind whipping into his face almost immediately.
Upon stepping outside, he could see the boy at the far edge of the building, as his eyes squinted through the rough wind.
“Hey kid, I just wanted… to……”
His words died away.
Time seemed to stop.
The dark shape, and Toshinori’s heart, d
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING—?!”
It all happened in a second. Smoke flared around him as he grew in size, his cries deafening him, and Toshinori shot across the short distance faster than he had ever moved in his life (at least, that’s what it felt like).
Falling felt so easy; the world felt upside down. So close and yet too far away at the same time, the boy’s thin, tiny arm hung like a thread from his massive hand, his body limp in the air, miles and miles away from the dark, fatal pavement far below.
His eyes were dull and lifeless.
Then, slowly, painfully, his head raised up, to meet his desperate, panicked gaze.
“……huh……? A-All… Mi…?”
Their eyes held each other’s for a split second. Toshinori’s heart in his ears was all he could hear, burning, pounding, screaming.
With all his strength, he pulled, not caring how rough it was, until he had finally managed to yank the boy back up onto the roof, his small frame skidding unceremoniously onto the hard surface.
As soon as he’d done so, Toshinori collapsed backwards, exploding into smoke once again, as coughs racked his body, blood spattering the concrete beneath him.
“A-All M-Might…!! Are you oka—?!”
“K-Kid,” he finally managed to sputter, choking between coughs, crouching heavily as he struggled to get his breath back. “Wha… What the… W-What the hell happened?!”
He didn’t know why he asked.
He knew the answer. Of course he did.
(but god damn if he was able to acknowledge it—)
His gut churned heavily, roiling.
“Uh, I… I-I-I… ah……”
The hand that had nervously been touching his shoulder suddenly stiffened, and lifted. At the sound of the voice, Toshinori turned sharply, distracted from his momentary thought spiral, peering through watery, blurry vision.
The boy was hunched over on the ground just as he was, his eyes wide and his arms wrapped around himself. He shook violently, terribly, short gasps escaping from his lips as his expression became more and more distressed, the full impact of what had just (nearly) happened clearly hitting him, all at once.
It sent a chill through his body, left him haunted.
Feeling sick, almost faint, he weakly reached out, gingerly laying an arm atop the trembling back. As soon as he did so, the boy tensed, and then began to shake even more. Even so, Toshinori shuffled closer, still holding on, his own body numb, and cold.
“A-Ah… ah… I d-didn’t… o-oh my god, I j-just… I didn’t k-know what… what else to do, I-I… j-j-just d-did it w-without t-thinking… I d-didn’t think… couldn’t feel… I couldn’t—!!”
And there it was.
And Toshinori tore himself away, emptying out what little remained from his insides onto the roof, nausea and pain and tears burning his body, his mind screaming, drowning, crying—
What have I done.
What did I do.
What did I ALMOST do.
(how the fuck could he even call himself a hero; he was a monster , a disgrace, none other than a villain; “everything is fine because he is here”? How laughably wrong, HE caused this, it’s HIS fault; if he wasn’t so fucking useless and despicable as to let his weak emotions bleed into his job, this never would have happened; if only he’d been paying ATTENTION, or even THINKING, but he didn’t because he’s a wretched and stupid and horrible excuse for a “symbol of peace”, and he can’t breathe he can’t breathe he should just die because he nearly made a child he was supposed to be helping di —)
“A-A-All M-Mi’gh… I-I’m s-s-sorry… I-I……”
Somehow, the weak, gasping voice reached his ears, through the darkness. Toshinori pulled his head upwards, willing himself back from what felt like death’s doorstep.
The other was hyperventilating; panicking. And he didn’t seem to know how to stop it.
“…K-Kid…… hey… b-breathe…”
…Right now he needs you. At least do this much.
Gritting his teeth, Toshinori scooted closer again, roughly wrapping his bony arms around the boy. Vomit and blood stained his chin, the latter still on his shirt, but he couldn’t spare the energy to care, blocking out everything in order to channel all of his adrenaline into helping him breathe.
“You g-gotta — ugh — you gotta b-breathe for me kid. Calm down… take… t-take some deep breaths… it’s g-gonna… it’s gonna be o-okay… you’re okay…… everything’s fine……”
(…because I am here)
His traitorous mind spoke the thought automatically, and he bit his lip as hard as he could, enraged.
(it wasn’t true; nothing at all was fine, because of HIM)
“Hah… ah… A-All… Might……”
Every moment was agonizing, as he whispered soft, reassuring words to the boy, trying desperately to bring him back down to Earth, convincing him that he was still alive. Eventually, after what felt like years, he began to recover. The short heaving gasps gave way to slower, deeper inhales, and his trembling eased ever-so-slightly, as he leaned further into his arms for support. It had to have been uncomfortable, with how sharp his bones were, and how dirty his clothes, but he didn’t seem to notice at all; if Toshinori had been of a better mind, he would have saved him the disgust of having to be so close to him, but right now it was the least of his concerns, too exhausted to care.
Right now, he could only notice how small the child was. Small, and shaking, and utterly terrified.
Like you have any right to be touching him, after what you did?
(but what else could he do?
He at least owed him this much, even if it would never be near enough)
“I’m… I-I’m so s-sorry, All M-Might, I never m-meant… I never meant for y-you to—!”
With his breath back, the boy now broke off into sobs, loud and heartbreaking, as he buried his face in his hands. Swallowing, still feeling sick, shaky, and weak, Toshinori rubbed his back again gently, trying to force his voice to speak, his throat raw and burning. “Y-You have nothing to be sorry for… you don’t. This is… this is all my fault.”
His voice gained strength, as his anger, hatred, coursed through it. He thought of all the children he had saved, the smiles on their faces, the happiness he had brought them, just by his very presence, his comforting warmth, that he always strived to bring, no matter what. Never had there been a child he had disappointed, whose heart he had failed to save, despite all of his other failures (of which there were too many to count)…… Yes, at the very least, none of them… none of them had been children.
Until now. Until today.
Not with his actions, or lack thereof… but with his words. His cruelty, his selfishness, his heartlessness.
He had pushed all of his emotions onto this young boy, and let it affect him. Let him see him like this, and let his bitterness taint his answer to such a simple, innocent question… one that had no kind answer, for sure, but one that deserved a miles more compassionate answer than that.
(what would Nana think about him now? The one who had believed in him back then, when he had had such similar dreams and aspirations and hope? She would be so disgusted with him, without a doubt… to see how far he had fallen, to become this.
Someone who killed people, pushed them into doing the unthinkable, with nothing more than a few careless words)
Toshinori was certain he had never hated himself more
(and that was saying something).
All Might saves people, but Toshinori… Toshinori Yagi only destroys them.
“N-No!! Not it’s not y-your fault…!”
The boy shook him slightly, his voice breaking, as he continued to protest. “I-It’s all me, I-I-I had promised to myself that I’d never g-give up, never…! But in that moment, I just… j-just… I felt so helpless… W-Without a quirk, I’ll never be able to prove anyone wrong; K-Kacchan will always h-hate me, and everyone else will too, and they’ll keep bullying me, and Mom… M-Mom… Mom loves me but all I ever do is make her upset that she c-can’t help me achieve my dreams, that she didn’t give me a quirk!! And I always believed I c-could make it through even so, could do it, no matter h-how impossible it was, how much everyone tried to tell me I couldn’t, but then I s-saw you and I-I just got so scared and it all hit me all at once All Might a-a-and I j-just—”
Breathless, trembling, his heart shattered, Toshinori coughed out a sob, dragging the boy close to him once more in a mindless act of desperation, hugging him as tightly as his exhaustion allowed him to.
Please no, stop… I can’t bear to hear it. Anything but this, for such an innocent kid…!
(wasn’t this his punishment, though? He needed to hear every damn bit of it, to know just who he had nearly driven to suicide)
“I’m s-so… so sorry, my boy,” he choked out, feeling foolishly helpless, monstrous, at what must have been horrible attempts at sounding comforting, in this form (truly, he couldn’t remember the last time he had spoken like this outside of his hero persona… He never did, because nothing about this body was comforting). “I have no words… Nothing I could p-possibly say could make up for… for what I put you through… so cruelly… without caring… I am so powerless to help you, and this… all of this, this me… was even more terrible suffering you didn’t deserve.”
Quirklessness discrimination… bullying… it was the worst possible outcome, for a child so positive, so determined, so full of hope.
How could I not have seen it?
The boy had been so desperate to follow him, so desperate to talk to him, and ask him if there was any bit of a chance… because… because it was all he had left.
My answer was his last resort… from his hero, the person he looked up to! And I… I did this to him…!
He bowed his head, feeling more distraught than ever, his breaths wheezing and sobbing.
I’m so worthless.
But the other wasn’t done.
“P-Please don’t apologize, A-All Might please,” the boy in his embrace pleaded, suddenly but gently pushing him back, until they could meet each other’s gazes. His face was pale and covered in tears that continued to fall, his eyes bloodshot and so incredibly mournful, and devastated, so much so that Toshinori could hardly stand it. “Everything y-you said was right… you didn’t… you d-didn’t do anything wrong; please don’t think you did…!!”
“But—!” But because of me, you…!
“You don’t know how much you have done for me, my entire life, All M-Might! It’s b-because of that that I… I-I… I couldn’t stand the thought of you being gone!”
Small hands slowly left his shoulders, pulling back to clasp one another, his expression sad, and uncertain, and begging him to understand. Toshinori inhaled shakily, his heart squeezing in his chest, as he let the words wash over him, processing them slowly.
I haven’t done anything for you, though… I’ve done nothing at all. In the first fifteen minutes I ever knew you, I broke you enough to make you want to… want to……
Another sob tore from his throat once more, as he forced himself to speak, his voice hoarse and weary.
“…G-Gone? Kid, what… what do you mean…?”
(why should he care even if he was)
“Well, I-I… I jumped to conclusions a bit, I k-know, but I just… After you told me everything about your injury, and… and your health p-problems, and I saw you, saw what had h-happened to you, I just… got scared… s-scared that soon I’d never……
“I’d never see you again.”
His voice choked up once more, breaking into cries, interrupted by more I’m sorry’s and I was so stupid to overreact but I was just so afraid, and Toshinori stared at the trembling, green curls, the truth hitting him like a train.
He’s afraid I’m going to die.
That… was what pushed him over the edge?
Even with all his burdens… how much he suffers… what frightened him the most was…...
“You… Y-You’ve always been there f-for me, All Might,” the boy sniffled softly, wiping his hands on his face. “A-All my life… every time I was hurt, every time people told me I couldn’t b-become a hero… I turned to you, and you comforted me… And it hurts knowing I c-can’t be one, it does… but… but as long as I have you… as long as you’re here, All Might…”
He looked up again, sobbing, before he crashed his face against Toshinori’s chest once more, his next words muffled into his shirt.
“…I think I’ll be o-okay… j-just as long as you are. So please… p-please tell me you will be.”
As long as you’re here.
He had always loved him, even though he hadn’t done a single thing for him… and that meant more to the boy than anything else.
Just him living.
(even now, even as he was, even with all his pain, even after this…)
And again, Toshinori broke.
“…I am so… so… so sorry…!”
It hurt to cry so hard, so hard that he couldn’t breathe, as he held the child tight, sobbing, apologizing, prostrating himself before him, so many emotions swarming him that he hadn’t even known he could still feel. Guilt, sorrow, loathing, despair… and yet… in the midst of it all, there was something else, too, something that was by far the most unfamiliar of all.
The feeling of being cared for.
(when had someone ever told him they were afraid to lose him?)
I don’t deserve it; I’m the least in the world deserving of it, and least of all from him.
“……I’m so s-sorry, for scaring you, my child… For shattering you…… You’ve been trying so hard, haven’t y-you? And then I came along and…… P-Please… Please don’t worry about me… E-Everything will be okay…. I promise.”
I will still be here.
(he didn’t know if he would be. Hadn’t cared whether he would be… after everything had become so meaningless)
(And this child had asked him for hope, after being in hell, and he had given him nothing but despair… He should never want to see his face again)
(But… if he still wanted him… if his mere existence was enough to drive him forwards, then…)
…then I will protect him with everything I have, if it’s the last thing I do.
The boy squeezed tighter, and Toshinori held back, with all of his fragile, helpless, selfish strength.
“It’s okay, k-kid… I’m here.”
It was wrong to want him. Wrong to want to help him, after he knew his sickening truth, after what he had done to him, after how he had failed him… Wrong to make promises. But now more than ever, Toshinori realized just how complacent he had become… how far he had fallen, what he needed to do… and finally, it felt like his eyes had been wrenched open, to see the truth:
He had to do better, had to go beyond, like he had once known he true meaning of. He was All Might, and All Might did not let weakness stop him.
He was there for them: for the children, for their hearts. And for the first time in forever, he would start by saving this one, right here, who needed him.
(and if a small, traitorous, selfish part of him yearned for more of that care, that concern, from the child… well, he would force himself to never acknowledge it)
Though… quirklessness… More tears pricked Toshinori’s eyes, as warm, pulsating embers burned inside of him.
“I can transfer my power to you, Toshi. It is called One For All… all that I have will belong to you”.
It couldn’t happen. He knew it couldn’t. It was worth so much more than that, and a hard life alone didn’t deserve it, as much as it pained him. Not everyone could be as lucky as he had been. Only the one with the right qualities deserved it… someone who had the heart and strength and courage and bravery to become a hero.
His eyes trailed down to the boy in his arms, thinking of everything he had said, and his breath caught in his chest, as he was unable to look away.
……But… maybe… Maybe one day…… Not now, though.
There was still time. Time to decide… Time to look, and wait, and choose, before his power fully trickled away.
Until then, he could do other things, with his influence. Stop the bullying. Look out for the boy. Make certain he had support, was cared for… stayed alive.
Toshinori hadn’t fully thought this through, he knew. It was foolish of him, rash of him, arrogant.
But he didn’t care.
This has to be made right… It’s what All Might would do.
(and quirk or not, he would make sure this child knew that he was already a hero, just like she had done for him, so long ago)
“You’ll… You’ll r-really be okay?”
“…I will,” Toshinori murmured softly into green, willing it to not be a lie, and for the first time in ages feeling truly determined, and alive.
“Okay… I-I’m s-sorry.”
“Don’t be. Just… Just breathe. Everything… will be all right.”
With everything he had, until his very last breath, he would watch over the boy. For as long as he still needed him by his side.
That was what it meant to ‘be here.’