Midoriya Izuku is born blind.
It isn't a massive difference from canon (at least for the sake of this)— his determination is no worse for wear, and Toshinori still has full confidence in him as a successor.
He's been training for almost nine months at this point, and in that time Toshinori has only gotten closer to him, mainly because there's nothing else to do but talk when he's watching Izuku haul garbage. By this time, they know each other pretty well.
Izuku is curious to a fault, and tends to ask a lot of questions; piping up "hey, All Might," multiple times a day, while he shoves some something-or-other to the seawall. He's never short of something to say, no matter how winded he gets. And Toshinori is always happy to talk; finding he enjoys Izuku's company after a long day of not talking to anyone; not in the way that matters. There's only one question he dreads, though thankfully it isn't one that gets asked very often.
"What do you look like? Like, really? I know you must look a lot different if people can’t even recognize you," Izuku would say, and Toshinori would cringe, fighting the telltale itch in his throat before laughing it off.
"Like a skeleton."
"You don't want to know, kid."
Then he'd ruffle Izuku's hair and move on. Toshinori has a whole arsenal of jokes and analogies he could make, and Izuku always laughs at them— if a little more forced and half-heartedly than usual. Toshinori chalks it up to discomfort. The questions eventually stop, and he thinks nothing of it.
Until late one afternoon after they're done for the day (the beach is almost cleared out to the shoreline by now), sitting on a low wall that wraps around the corner of the parking lot. There's no real reason for staying, but the sunset is nice even if only one of them can see it, and they just enjoy one another’s company either way.
Toshinori notices Izuku fidgeting, opening and closing his mouth every now and again like he wants to say something. Before he can ask what's on his mind, the boy takes a deep breath.
"All Might," he mumbles, wringing his hands. It's a nervous tic Toshinori's picked up on. He keeps talking, growing quieter with each word. "It's okay if you don't want to—” he mumbles. “I'd never want to intrude. And it's— and it's kind of weird, really, a-and I know how you feel about your appearance, and…"
"Midoriya," Toshinori interrupts, smiling fondly. "You know you can ask me anything." Izuku cringes, wringing his hands faster. Toshinori's face falls.
"Okay," he says, almost too quiet for the man to hear. Even though he can't see Toshinori, Izuku is facing away from him. "I was wondering," he says. "Um, I was wondering if.. you would let me look at you." He curls in on himself; bracing for impact.
And Toshinori doesn't really know what to say to that. It would be cruel to point out the obvious. Izuku can't possibly mean it in the way he's thinking. "My boy, I— I'm afraid I don't understand…" He cringes at the shudder that passes through Izuku and quickly tries to recover.
"But— but talk to me," he coaxes, inching closer. "Help me understand. I want to understand." Izuku remains quiet, shoulders drawn up, eyes wide like a deer in the headlights. He still doesn't speak. Gently, Toshinori lays a hand on his shoulder. "Go on, Midoriya," he says softly, and gives a little squeeze for emphasis. Izuku finally seems to relax a bit at that and turns to him, taking a deep breath.
"Well, I— I obviously can't actually see you," he mutters. Toshinori winces again. "But it… sounds better than saying 'hey, can I feel your face.'" Izuku buries his head in his hands— ears red— and understanding hits Toshinori.
"For me," Izuku continues, reappearing from behind his hands. "It— it is like seeing.” He gestures to himself. “I can feel the features on people's faces, and what shape they are and things like that. And I can put together a— a picture of them, I think? It's kind of like Braille. Like it's saying 'hey; you know that voice? This is them. This is who they are. It's—'" he mumbles, tucking his head slightly. "It's who everyone else sees.
"To me, people are mainly made of sounds; I don't get close enough a lot of the time for smell or touch. But when I have those things, it—it's like a void gets filled— or a puzzle piece gets put in place... I guess. It's probably the closest I can get to actually looking at someone," Izuku explains. All the talking has loosened him up a bit; it almost looks like he's having fun explaining, gesturing wildly. Toshinori wonders idly if he's ever thought about being a teacher.
Then Izuku's face falls.
"But that's not something you can just ask people," he grumbles, downcast again. He slumps a bit, looking embarrassed and sad. "I don't… have many friends, and any other adults I've asked always seemed uncomfortable with it, so…" he swings his legs. "One day, I just.. kind of stopped asking…"
Before Toshinori can stop him, Izuku stands up, shaking his head as he walks backwards towards the shoreline. "Actually, you know what? Just— I—" he stammers. "Just forget I— I asked, uh… This is stupid..."
"Midoriya Izuku, get back here." Toshinori says, a little harsher than he means to. Izuku jumps half a mile, slouches, and shuffles back to the wall, looking somehow more flustered and upset than before. He looks almost ashamed, and jumps at the warm hand that settles on his shoulder for the second time.
"I'm sorry I snapped," Toshinori says, soft but firm. "I'm not mad; not in the slightest. Never at you.” Izuku relaxes a little bit. “But you listen to me." Toshinori continues. His grip tightens. "It is not stupid. Don't you ever call it stupid. And if anyone else does call it stupid, they should be ashamed of themselves, and you have your teacher’s full permission to kick their rotten heads in." Izuku can't suppress a giggle at that, and Toshinori smiles (though he isn't completely kidding).
"Midoriya," he says. "When was the last time you— you looked at someone?" Izuku's smile falls.
"Well, my mom lets me do it whenever." He's fiddling with his hands again. "But that doesn't really count… Um, my seventh grade algebra teacher, I think. She was always nice to me, so I asked her after class once." He hangs his head, frustration warring with the glum look on his face. "She probably thought just because I couldn't see her that I wouldn't catch the look on her face, but I did. I always do. I know she thought it was weird. I just… I didn’t even finish. I just left." There's a pause. Izuku is squeezing one of his wrists so hard his fingers are white.
"Seventh grade?" Toshinori asks quietly, trying not to let any pity show in his voice. Izuku wouldn't like that. He also wouldn't like hearing how Toshinori was itching to give his past teachers a piece of his mind. The boy nods, looking sadder somehow.
"I don't… I don't remember what she looked like at all now," Izuku says miserably. “I don’t remember what a lot of people look like.”
Toshinori is quiet for a moment before he sighs, heart heavy for the kid. Of course, of course he'll let Izuku look to his heart's content. It isn't even a question.
But he can't stop the fear that crawls up his throat like blood. Fear that Izuku will pull away with the same mortified expression he sees on young children at the supermarket. Or worse, the looks of pity their parents give him while they hiss at their little ones to stop staring. Most of the time, people just avoid looking at him altogether, and Toshinori can never decide if that makes him feel worse.
I am not invisible, he wants to howl sometimes, when he turns onto a street and people’s heads snap the other way— like he’s some kind of ghoul. If it hurts when random strangers do it, he can't imagine what he’ll feel if Izuku is horrified by what he finds. Not Izuku. Anyone but Izuku.
But this isn't about me , he thinks, so Toshinori swallows his pride and tries one more time; no jokes or dancing around it.
"Midoriya, I— I don't want to… to scare you," he begins. "I'm a sick, starved man, and I look like it. Are you sure you don't want to see the real All Might instead of.. me? Like this?" He's surprised when Izuku laughs.
"Are you kidding?" He barks. "I've had action figures of you since I was five. I probably know your hero face better than my mom's." And Toshinori grits his teeth. So much for that.
"And don't say that," Izuku continues. "You are the real All Might, and you could never disappoint me."
Toshinori can't say anything to that, though his breathing does hitch, and maybe his throat is a little tighter than before. What's left of his stomach is tying itself in knots.
"Midoriya I… thank you," he says, quieter than he meant to. He takes a deep breath. "But you—” He sighs. “It'll probably be easier if you stand in front of me."
The boy lights up like a Christmas tree, fighting a crooked grin as he all but skips to Toshinori, who still has him by nearly a head sitting down. The man fights to keep the fond look on his own face. No matter how nervous he might be, he won't dare let it show. Thankfully, he's a master at faking smiles.
Izuku reaches out, and suddenly hesitates. The tint comes back to his cheeks and his smile falls, leaving only nervous uncertainty. He flinches when Toshinori takes his small, calloused hands in his and guides them.
"Izuku," he says. "It's okay."
Izuku's eyes fill with tears when his fingers first brush gaunt cheekbones. Toshinori's heart pounds. He doesn't let it show, though, keeping his expression complacent. He isn't going to make Izuku regret this.
At first the boy is stiff as a board, barely moving his hands from where Toshinori put them, but as he feels bit by bit, an odd calm starts to take Izuku over. His hands are impossibly gentle, roving over Toshinori's bony features like he's something fragile and precious. He expects muttering, but Izuku is dead quiet. It's like he's fallen into a trance, eyes half-lidded and still watery. Toshinori can almost see the gears turning in his head.
He's thorough. There isn't a crow's foot that goes undiscovered. Several times, Toshinori feels him stop and retrace something for a bit before continuing on, or pause to investigate a specific line or scar. He flinches when a breeze makes Toshinori's bangs brush his arm, and neither of them say anything when the man takes his hand and moves it to his hair (though he doesn't miss how Izuku's lip wobbles, or how his breath catches for a moment).
Izuku explores the rest of his head like he does his face; shy and slow at first, and then more openly. He's also just as gentle; running a hand through his hair or flitting over split ends like Toshinori was going to break. He wants to say that Izuku doesn't have to be so careful; that he isn't made of glass, but it doesn't feel right to break the silence. He just leans into the touch and waits until Izuku works his way back to his face. This time his hands ghost less meticulously, slowing down a little bit each time he makes a slow pass from Toshinori's chin to his hairline.
Finally Izuku stops, hands still on his cheeks, and sniffles. The first tears finally fall, and Toshinori deflates. It's over. Everything he's been trying to keep from the boy is laid bare. He can't hide the severity of his condition anymore. And now here comes the disappointment. The worry. Maybe the fear. Everything he's terrified of seeing on Izuku's face.
But none of that happens.
Instead Izuku looks up with the biggest lopsided grin, tears pouring down his face, and whispers an awestruck, overjoyed little "hi."
There's no disgust. No pity. Just complete adoration and relief on Izuku's face. It hits Toshinori like a bolt of lightning.
Seventh grade, Izuku had said. How lonely must he have been since then? How lonely— to be living life in a dark sea of voices with no face or form to put them to. And Toshinori has been blowing him off all this time— not noticing that what seemed like passing curiosity was actually a deeply personal need. He's overwhelmed with guilt, but also with a rush of love for this boy, who doesn't see him as a shell of a man even when the evidence is literally at his fingertips.
Even when most people turn away from him in public, Izuku had wanted nothing more than to see him in his own special way. It's ironic, and it's too much for Toshinori. He wants to respond— to say hi back— but he can't because of the massive lump in his throat.
There's a long pause where Toshinori is thinking all of this. Too long, apparently. Izuku suddenly blushes again, pulling his hands in and mumbling an apology.
He yelps when his mentor grabs them and pulls them back. It's not an All Might smile, not even close, but when Toshinori presses those small hands to his face again, he gives Izuku the widest smile he can manage. It's a little wobbly, but it’s there. Toshinori sees realization flood the boy's wide, cloudy eyes, and the meltdown that follows is no surprise.
Izuku is bawling, and Toshinori makes sure one hand stays pressed to his face when he pulls him into a crushing hug. The breakdown isn’t as loud and anguished as the day they met, but he's still sobbing hard enough to make Toshinori wince.
"Are you okay?" He asks softly. Izuku laugh-sobs, nodding against Toshinori's shoulder.
"Happy," he chokes. "Just happy." The short arm that wraps around him is a little less timid, and Toshinori moves him so they're both sitting back on the wall. Toshinori holds him close, rubbing circles in the back of his hand with his thumb until Izuku calms down. Not once does he stop smiling for him.
"Thank you," he croaks after they're quiet for a while. “Thank you so much.”
"You don't need to thank me for this."
"I want to."
Toshinori chuckles warmly. "Okay, kid," he murmurs. “Okay.” A beat. “And listen; anytime you need this again, you come to me. You don’t even have to ask.” Izuku trembles and holds on tighter, nodding against Toshinori’s chest. He combs a hand through the boy’s hair, staring at the red horizon with a smile on his face.
The sun is gone by the time they leave. Toshinori drives Izuku home (despite his protests), and he mumbles his thanks again before leaving the truck.
Izuku makes it about ten steps across the apartment parking lot before he stops, thinks, turns. He’s pulling the driver’s side door open before Toshinori can open it himself, throwing his arms around his mentor’s neck and almost choking him to death. Toshinori feels Izuku’s fingers digging into the fabric of his jacket with all the ferocity he had been too timid to show before, and he’s just moved to hug him back when Izuku says something that freezes him still.
“You are not a monster,” the boy hisses, slightly shaky, but so gravely final. “You are not a monster. You don’t look like a monster. So stop saying that .”
Toshinori is glad Izuku can’t see him right now. He knows he must look like an idiot; mouth hanging open, arms hovering by Izuku's sides. The pressure around his neck loosens as Izuku moves, gently touching their foreheads together. His eyes are squeezed shut, hands clamped firm on Toshinori’s shoulders.
“You have the kindest face I’ve ever seen,” he murmurs. “Anyone should be able to see that; you should be able to see it.” Then quieter, tearfully, he whispers; “I would— I would give anything to see it.”
Toshinori sucks in a breath.
Oh my God.
“So don’t take it for granted. And don't listen to the bad thoughts. Any of them. Whether it’s others or you talking, they’re wrong.” His voice breaks.
Oh my God.
Izuku pulls back before Toshinori can move. Speak. There isn’t a trace of red in his cheeks when he steps away from the truck. Not an inkling of embarrassment, though his eyes are bright with tears. He bowes up, squares his shoulders, and fixes Toshinori with a look so sharp it’s almost as if— for one moment— he can see him. Toshinori still hasn’t moved when Izuku gives a single curt nod— seemingly satisfied with himself, and takes off towards the stairs, weaving through parked cars with practiced ease. Toshinori lunges for him; tries to cry out, but Izuku is too quick and he’s too choked up to get anything out but a small, broken sound. Izuku is long gone before Toshinori can even leave the parking lot.
The truck is still running, but he stands in the dark with tears streaming down his face, staring at the door Izuku disappeared into. Toshinori doesn’t even know which emotion he’s feeling, but there’s a lot of them, and it’s overwhelming. It’s like the thousand tiny cuts his self-esteem has suffered over the years have closed, and all that’s left is the lingering feeling of gentle hands caressing his face and the incredible warmth in his heart. Even with hiccups rattling his hunched frame, Toshinori touches his face reverently, and he smiles through the tears.
The next time he’s out and about, he stands a little straighter. Smiles a little easier. And joking or otherwise, Toshinori never insults his appearance again.