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I See You

Chapter Text

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 death."

"Like a skeleton."

“Donner party.”

"A monster."

"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.

"I see…"

"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.

Chapter Text

After their initial talk on the beach, Toshinori greets Izuku the next day with a hug, because he couldn't return it the night before. He very seriously apologizes for ignoring Izuku’s questions about his appearance, promises to get better, and thanks him profusely for all his kind words. He makes sure there’s no ‘but’ at the end— no little self-depreciations or dismissal tacked on— he just says thank you, and Izuku notices. The grin he gives Toshinori could light up a room.

He remembers reading once that smiling was instinctual, so even people born blind did it, and Toshinori finds that it's very true. Izuku probably smiles more than anyone he’s ever met (excluding himself, of course). The same goes for other emotions; Izuku always has 100% of whatever he's feeling on his face, and Toshinori is glad for it.

He's a lot more tactile with Izuku as well, especially after realizing how much touching encompasses his world. Hair ruffles, pats on the back, hugs; he doles it out. It’s important, Toshinori knows.

The thing is, Izuku doesn't like to be touched. Not by anyone but Mom. Unwarranted touching is startling to him, and all-too reminiscent of getting shoved, hit, or tripped out of nowhere. He has no warning for it, especially if the person is already near him. As keen as he is with the location of things, there’s just no way to anticipate someone sneaking up and cold-cocking you in the back of the head during passing period. Izuku can’t help it; he’s been conditioned to dread it. Hands off. This is his personal rule.

Until All Might takes his hands that first time. Until All Might first pulls him into that hug. It's all downhill from there.

The more they're together, the more Izuku slowly begins to realize something; he's extremely touch starved. He still doesn't like unwarranted contact from classmates, teachers, or— anyone, really. Even Inko (as much as it guilts him to admit it) can be a little much for him on a bad day, but there's something about the way Toshinori does it.

He's so gentle. Izuku would have never thought that the same man who could derail a train with his bare hands could also brush the bangs out of his eyes with such care, or patiently help him get his arm into the other sleeve of his jacket.

He's slow, too, which is important. He doesn't just go in for a hug— he lets Izuku know beforehand. He asks . Not out loud, but with a smaller gesture— a less invasive one, like a touch on the arm, or a nudge. It's like a language only they know. Izuku never refuses, but it's still nice of Toshinori to ask. No matter how much Izuku consents; no matter how commonplace it gets, he never assumes.

It's harder for Izuku to ask. There are days when he really needs a hug, but aside from that night in the car, he can never fully bring himself to say anything. Every now and then he might start shuffling over to the seawall with his hands folded, but he always turns back. That changes when Izuku makes a discovery.

Toshinori is always first to the beach. Always. Anytime Izuku arrives, the man is already waiting to greet him with a smile he can hear from the parking lot. Izuku never really questions it; it's just something that is. Another thing he doesn't question is how Toshinori instructs him beforehand which sections of the sand to clear. He just vaguely assumes it has something to do with pacing himself.

He’s wrong. There’s a day when Izuku goes to put a not-completely-past-saving microwave oven in the back of Toshinori's truck for the scrapyard. The tailgate is already down, and there's one of those big hardware store buckets in his way. It’s much heavier than he expects— when he tries to shove it aside, it doesn't budge an inch. Izuku reaches inside, and draws his hand back with a wince.

It's overflowing with nails, screws, and other miscellaneous shards of metal. He slowly puts two and two together. He's never even thought about how the sand is suspiciously clear of debris despite the mountains of junk, or how Toshinori watches him like a hawk while he works. He thinks of every foot of beach he's cleared, and realizes that All Might has been doing it right alongside him; looking out for him. Izuku wonders how early he has to come to the beach every day to comb the sand for nails. Needless to say, he's extremely touched.

That's what it takes to get Izuku to hug Toshinori first. He isn't even shy about it; he just runs up and throws his arms around him, pressing his face into his shirt. Toshinori is pleasantly startled. He doesn't want to let go until Izuku does though, which causes a kind of silent stand off that has them both cracking up before long.

Izuku finally realizes what’s different about Toshinori’s affection that he couldn’t identify before. There's a world of difference between someone being gentle with you because they think you're fragile and being gentle with you because they love you. Between having an arm around you to keep you from straying too far versus using it to pull you closer. Holding you fast for no other reason than because they want you there. He can feel it. It makes Izuku feel whole.

Izuku has a cane he uses for walking in areas he's less-familiar with. He finds that Toshinori works much better. He never has to worry about tripping or bumping into something when his mentor is with him, commenting quietly; grate, crosswalk, man coming up on your left. They can be in the middle of a conversation and Toshinori will still notice a rise in the pavement soon enough to warn Izuku. If he doesn’t in time, he’s always there to pull him out of the way. Sometimes he forgets on purpose; taking Izuku’s hand instead and swinging him over a curb. The little surprised noises he gets always make him smile.

It's not uncommon for them to duck into a store or cafe; Toshinori calls it saving time; killing two birds with one stone. He's a busy man, after all. Better to eat or pick up groceries when they're already out. Izuku knows he's not concerned about time at all. If he was, they would part ways at the beach every day, but they don't.

There's a day when Toshinori steers him into a meat market or restaurant or something (Izuku doesn't remember what it was, to be honest). What he does remember is that there were some tables and chairs near the door. Izuku is trailing behind Toshinori to get in line when he suddenly stops cold. Toshinori sees it.

"Midoriya?" He asks. "What's wrong?" Izuku is standing ramrod straight with his fists balled up, eyes blown wide like he's been struck.

Toshinori doesn't get an answer. Not right away. Izuku suddenly turns, walking faster and more confidently than Toshinori's ever seen him. He makes a beeline for the tables, pushing aside empty chairs and shouldering people aside until he comes to a stop in front of two girls. They can’t be older than twenty, but they’re definitely older than Izuku. Toshinori can’t hear the low, clipped words from where he’s standing.

“Why would you say something like that.” It isn’t a question. The girls stare at him incredulously.

“Hey,” the one on the left snaps. “Quirk use in public is illegal. This is— this is an invasion of privacy!”

“I don’t have a quirk,” Izuku grinds out, glaring a hole through the wall above their heads. “You two are just having a stroke of bad luck.” They stare at him blankly still, looking more uncomfortable with each passing moment. Until one of them suddenly perks up and leans over to the other, whispering something in her ear.

“Yes I am,” Izuku snaps. “Please, say it a little louder.” Toshinori blinks; he never would have taken Izuku as the sarcastic type. He narrows his eyes, taking a few steps closer, but he doesn’t get far. One of the girls catches his eye and snaps back to her friend, cupping her ear this time. It’s evidently still not quiet enough, and Toshinori halts in surprise as Izuku launches into a tirade. He watches incredulously as the timid kid he’s known for months suddenly rips the girls up one side and down the other about— from what Toshinori can guess— a comment one of them made about him. He couldn’t imagine what else it would be. Izuku is raising hell.

Dammit, Toshinori thinks, gritting his teeth. Is he going to be jumping all over everyone who looks at me funny now?

“Ah— Midoriya,” he says, glancing around him. The noise in the store has lessened considerably, and there are more than a few people staring. Even the cashier is craning over the counter.

The girls are starting to look genuinely nervous. Izuku’s started gesticulating wildly like he does when he gets wound up, and Toshinori ends up having to sheepishly pull him out of the shop by the elbow. Izuku is still trying to berate them on the way out, but the girls seem to have run out of things to say. They just ogle at Izuku and Toshinori while they go out the door, both a little paler than when Izuku first walked over to them.

What a pair.

“Alright,” Toshinori says later, when they’re sitting down at a different hole-in-the wall. “If you’re going to be working with the public in the future, you’re going to have to get a handle on that temper.” He chuckles. “I think you put the fear of God into those girls. Wish you could’ve seen the looks on their faces there at the end.”

“I didn’t need to see their faces,” Izuku snaps, stabbing into his noodles. “I know. Only cowards would talk behind someone’s back like that.”

"Midoriya, what did they even say?" Toshinori sighs. Izuku's frown deepens.

"I'm not repeating it," he growls.

"Mm. That bad, huh?" There's a smile in Toshinori’s voice and the tapping of a napkin against Izuku's arm, which means he must have something on his face again. He squints and looks up, granting Toshinori permission.

"Irt wars awrful," he continues, muffled by the napkin which is now roughly wiping his cheek (why can't adults ever do that gently). "And it was gross. I couldn't believe someone would say something like that. It wasn't funny."

Toshinori snorts. “Kid, you’re going to have to get used to gross, going into this line of work.” Izuku doesn’t laugh; blinking at him with a despondent look on his face. Toshinori heaves a sigh, sobering.

"Midoriya, the world is swarming with horrible people,” he says. “Many of whom won't commit anything worse than traffic violations their whole lives." Izuku frowns again.

"I know that,” he grumbles. “I just wish you could take people to jail for being assholes."

"Language," Toshinori teases. "Unfortunately, being an asshole is not a punishable crime."

"Well it should be," Izuku grumbles back.

"Then I officially appoint you as my emotional bodyguard," Toshinori announces, dramatically knighting Izuku with a chopstick. That gets him to smile, at least. There's a beat where they both go back to picking at their food, and Toshinori chuckles absentmindedly to himself. “Who knew young Midoriya was such a spitfire,” he murmurs.

“I am when I want to be,” Izuku replies. “Just don’t sell yourself short. I meant every word I said to them, and I don’t take anything back. They deserved it.”

“I don’t doubt it for a minute,” Toshinori replies, smiling. One nice thing about being with Izuku is that he doesn’t have to keep his emotions in check. He fakes smiles for a living, and won’t deny that he’s a guarded man outside his career as well. Unlike Izuku, who wears his heart on his sleeve so freely. With him, it’s a little easier; there’s no fakeness around Izuku. The boy will never see half the fond looks Toshinori gives him in a day, but he hopes he conveys it well enough in other ways.

"I didn't say it before, but— thank you, Midoriya. For earlier," Toshinori says. "You're a good kid."

Izuku smiles again.

There's a similar occurrence one day, when Izuku is supposed to meet him at Dagobah. He's taking the train from school, so Toshinori decides to wait for him at the platform down the street from the beach. He's so glad he does.

Izuku is getting off the train when it happens, and it happens so fast that Toshinori almost doesn't catch it.

There's a young man within the crowd that pours out; well groomed, nice clothes. Looks like he's just gotten off work. Izuku is right behind him, mid-step off the train, poking his cane out to feel for the pavement. In one smooth movement, for no reason at all, the man slips a casual hand around the cane and yanks. Izuku has the wrist strap on, and can’t even make a noise before he wipes out on the concrete. Hard. For a moment, Toshinori can only stand there in shock, but then he sees red.

In two seconds he’s crossed the platform and hauled the man clear off the pavement by his shirt collar. The first dazed indication Izuku has that his mentor is even there is hearing him bellowing above him— asking the man what the fuck he thinks he’s doing to his kid.

The blood drains out of the man's face instantly, and he starts sputtering what are you talking abouts that quickly turn into apologies, that then become panicked pleading. Toshinori knows good and well how frightening he can be even when he isn't All Might, and he uses it to his full advantage. He's only dimly aware of what all he's yelling— most of his brain power right now is going into not transforming simply to watch the bastard die of shock.

The only thing that breaks Toshinori out of his tirade is the timid tug on his sleeve. He looks at Izuku, who's wide-eyed with shock beside him, and his gaze softens. The poor kid has blood dripping down his shirt from a busted chin, and he's keeping off of one ankle. It looks like his other hand is hurt too from the way he's cradling it to his chest. Toshinori turns to the man, who’s still squirming and whimpering in his grasp.

"I had better be seeing some motherfucking identification in the next three seconds," he growls, voice dangerously low. He wonders how much hell he and Naomasa can make a man's life for assaulting a blind child.

When obliged, Toshinori snaps a photo of the man's license and drops him, watching him scuttle away with only minimal satisfaction. He doesn't turn to Izuku until he’s fled around a corner.

"Can you walk?" he asks. Izuku shakes his head, still looking scared. Toshinori kneels down, gently taking his good hand. "It's okay," he says, bringing it to his face. "I'm not mad. I mean—" he sighs, "I am mad. I'm extremely mad. But not at you. Never." Izuku relaxes a little at that, feeling around Toshinori’s eyes and apparently finding nothing of concern. "Here," he says, fishing a wad of napkins out of his pocket. He puts it in Izuku's hand and helps him press it to his still-bleeding chin. "Keep that there,” he says. “We’re going."

Izuku's cane is lying a few feet away. When Toshinori goes to pick it up, he sees a few spots of red on the ground. The urge to chase the man down and beat him bloody is overpowering, but Toshinori pushes it aside. He has more urgent matters to attend to. Izuku doesn't object when he scoops him up and heads for the beach, shooting a cutting look at the few people still staring at them.

Show’s over, he wants to growl. Go the hell home.

Toshinori expects crying, but the kid is silent the entire way, face pressed into the crook of Toshinori's neck. He doesn't say anything when they arrive at the beach either, or the entire time Toshinori patches him up with the picked-over first aid kit in his truck. Izuku just sits quietly with his legs dangling off the tailgate while Toshinori flits around him, doing his job. There's a blood-soaked hole in Izuku's pants where he landed on his knee that he hadn't even noticed before. Izuku doesn't even flinch at the antiseptic. He just sits there with a blank look, eyes half closed. It isn't until Toshinori sticks the kit back under the driver's seat that he finally breaks the silence.

"I need you to listen to me," he says, leaning down. Izuku looks up dully.

“If anyone ever, ever lays their hands on you like that again, you turn around and you sock them in the mouth,” he growls. “And then you call me. Immediately. Do you understand? I don’t care if it’s four in the morning.” Izuku just stares at him. The reply Toshinori gets is nothing he expects.

"I don't think I should be a hero," Izuku says, flatly.

Toshinori reels back as if he's been struck. He didn't think it would be physically possible for the boy to say those words a minute prior. It's like a knife through his heart.

"And— and why the hell is that?" he retorts, perhaps too harshly. Izuku jumps, and his eerily calm mask slowly falls apart. Toshinori watches his eyes fill with tears, lip quivering, and immediately feels terrible.

"Oh—" he stammers. "No. Izuku, I didn't mean to— shit— I'm so sorry; I'm not mad. It's okay. Everything's fine." Two big tears roll into the gauze on Izuku’s chin, and Toshinori goes cold, pulling him in. "I promise I'm not mad," he whispers, holding his head. "It’s okay."

Dammit, how do I fix this? he thinks.

“It’s not okay,” Izuku wails in his ear. He’s full-on crying now. “I can- can’t even-en take the train by mysel-f! How am I supposed to—to…” he trails off, hiccuping miserably into Toshinori’s shoulder, who pats his back, gently shushing him. There’s an ache in his chest that has nothing to do with his injury. “It’s okay,” he murmurs, pulling him a little closer. Izuku's hands ball up the back of his shirt.

“Should—” he sobs. “Should I even be doing this? I mean the tr— the training. The exam. I just… I wouldn't…” He doesn’t finish, heaving a few more sobs. Toshinori can’t believe his ears. Izuku has been nothing but a barrel of enthusiasm the entire time he’s known him. This is his dream. His life. Giving up… talk about giving up was something that seemed to go against his very nature, and Toshinori decides he won't have it. A flame ignites in his chest that swallows up the pain, and without thinking he grabs Izuku’s hands.

I have to fix this.

“Midoriya Izuku,” Toshinori says with a finality that gets him to look up. “You need to be a hero more than anybody else.” Izuku blinks.


“Let me finish,” Toshinori chides. Izuku clams up. “Now listen to me. When I said the world is full of horrible people, that doesn't apply to just villains or the public. There are plenty of heroes out there who are just as corrupt. You’re going to be confronted with it, just as you’re going to be confronted with hard choices of your own. Choices that may not even have a right answer. I was confronted with a choice last Spring,” he says. “And I made the right one.”

Izuku’s lip wobbles again. There’s the slight feeling of fingers trying to curl around Toshinori’s.

"Being strong or fast or able to shoot fire out of your hands…” he continues. “It all means nothing if you're not kind first."  One of Izuku’s hands hits cold air, and there's a firm palm pushing into his chest, like it's trying to force the meaning into him.

"This is the only thing that makes a hero. Everything else— quirks, strength, wit— are just the tools you use for the job. Our work is helping people, Izuku. First and foremost. You don't need your eyes to do that, but you do need kindness. And you're kind to a fault." Toshinori allows a small smile to cross his face. "Do you understand? If you can keep this safe—” he pats Izuku’s chest, hand warm against his heart, before his other comes up to cup the side of his face. Izuku feels a light tapping at the corner of his eye. “Then this doesn’t matter.”

Izuku is completely still. There’s that creeping back-of-the-mind thought that he’s dreaming.

"Don't ever let this world harden your heart, Izuku," Toshinori continues, sobering a bit. "Because it's going to try. People will try. Even people you might trust. Don't let them. They've lost their way, but if you can go through hell and still come out kind… then you've already won."

Izuku's eyes are watering.

Toshinori sighs, shoulders slumping. "I guess I'm a bit of a hypocrite," he admits. "I…" A beat. When he speaks again, Toshinori's voice is low and trembling: "I wanted to kill that motherfucker, Izuku. If you hadn't been there, I might have."

Izuku stiffens. People he's known since grade school do things just like that to him almost every day— not that he's about to say anything about it. "All Might…" he mumbles.

"No," he snaps, voice thick with emotion. "Don't. Now you don't get to sell yourself short. Some asshole out there put their hands on my kid,” he hisses. “They're going to suffer."

Izuku shakes his head weakly, and Toshinori grabs his shoulders so hard it almost hurts. “No, he—" his breath hitches. "Suffer."  The whisper holds a ferocity Izuku's never heard from him. He feels Toshinori's forehead rest on his chest and hears him swallow a couple of times, breathing deep and slow. Izuku doesn’t know what to do, so he just leans forward and rests his cheek on top of his mentor’s (surprisingly soft) head.

"You too," he whispers. "You've won too, All Might." There’s a soft, watery chuckle.

"I meant what I said about you being a good kid.” Toshinori’s voice is wavering, but severely honest. “That’s why I chose you."

Toshinori sees the points racking up during the entrance exam. He isn’t supposed to play favorites, he knows, but his eyes are glued to Izuku almost the entire time, calculating. Analyzing his movements. As the clock starts ticking down further and further and Izuku’s score grows ever stagnant, Toshinori can’t help the crushing fear that he may very well not make it. There’s a moment, right before the zero-pointer, when it hits him that there’s no way Izuku can gain enough points in time, and in that moment, he’s flat out devastated for him. Until Izuku proves him wrong. He gets the rescue points. He makes the cut. Toshinori couldn’t be more elated.

He never considers that Izuku doesn’t know.

Toshinori wakes up a few days later to something that breaks his heart. A speech-to-text message from Izuku sent late the previous night:

all might i have gone over and over in my head how i could have passed the exam and theres just no way i did with my score theres no way i got enough i don’t know when I’ll see you again i don’t know how busy you will be teaching but thank you so so much for the chance I’m sorry i let you down

Toshinori hasn’t called into work in at least five years, but this is more important, he decides. He pounds out a quick meet me this afternoon in response, gag order be damned, and spends the first half of his day racing from UA to the craft store and back to his apartment. He spends the second half of his day holed up at the kitchen table, working. His back is killing him come evening, but he doesn’t care.

Izuku knows the way to Dagobah well enough, but he brings his cane because he doesn’t feel like using his brain as much today (and perhaps because his confidence is in the pits). Toshinori is sad to see him trudging across the lot, halfheartedly sweeping it in front of him. He never uses the wrist strap now.

Izuku doesn’t eagerly call out from the seawall like he usually does. Instead, he just slows and waits at the top of the stairs until Toshinori beckons. When he does, Izuku jumps, shuffling slowly over with his hands wringing in double time. Up close, Toshinori can see how red and puffy his eyes are, dark circles underneath. He looks uncharacteristically neutral; facing the ground with an empty, watery expression.

“Just get it over with,” he croaks, deadpan. Toshinori flinches at the pang in his chest.

Oh, kid… he thinks. He tries to come up with something to say, but can’t. Wordlessly, he just pushes a box into Izuku’s arms, hoping it’s enough.

Whatever it is, it’s big, Izuku thinks, but not that heavy. He’s unprepared for the flat, uneven weight, though, and sets it down on the sand before he can drop it. At his mentor's gentle encouragement, he sits on his knees and carefully works the lid off. Izuku is confused. He failed the exam. Maybe this is something to make him feel better? Or worse— he wants to cry just thinking about it— a parting gift.

Inside, his calloused fingers brush against plastic. It feels like a bag, stretched loosely over something soft beneath— fabric? It’s sturdy material, he can tell. Starched, probably, so it’s clothes. He screws up his eyes, thinking, hesitating to tear the plastic wrap. Izuku hears All Might kneel down in front of him, joints popping.

“Here,” he says. There’s something about All Might’s voice that’s different today. He doesn’t sound upset, at least. “There’s something else inside.” Izuku feels something brush his fingertips. Construction paper, if he's not mistaken. He picks it up and immediately drops it in shock.

It's his name. He almost thinks he imagined it, but he's certain he's just read his name .

The paper slides out of his hands for a moment as All Might turns it the right way, and a gentle hand takes his and moves it to the top of the page. Izuku sucks in a breath. He was right.

It’s Braille. And not the perfect, factory-produced kind that lines his textbooks and school hallways— it’s a kind he’s never felt before. An uneven, misspelled kind painstakingly made with the dull tip of a pencil and a block of craft foam. Izuku can’t move. Can’t breathe. His eyes are already watering.

There’s a warm, steadying hand on his shoulder that brings him back down to Earth, and he can hear the smile in All Might’s voice. “Go ahead.” Izuku blinks, swallows, and shakily brushes his fingertips over the first slightly crooked word.


And he’s crying.

My dear boy. Inside this box you will find the class uniform that was supposed to be mailed to your house next Wednesday. It is the same uniform that I'll be seeing you wearing on the following Monday, when you first attend my class. Consider this your acceptance letter, Izuku. I couldn't be more overjoyed to tell you that you did pass your entrance exam. You. There was no external influence; you did it on your own, and I'm so proud of you.

Izuku heaves a huge sob and loses his place before scrambling to find it again.

These past few months with you have been some of the happiest I've had in years; not just because I've loved seeing you progress, but because I love spending time with you. I need you to know that our relationship is not conditional. It doesn't end with One for All or UA or the beach. If all those things were to magically go away, it wouldn't matter. If you had decided not to take that exam at all that morning, it wouldn't matter. I love you, Izuku. That doesn't stem from any measure of your actions; you wormed your way into my heart just by being yourself, and nothing is going to undo that. Ever.

The 'you' is underlined and circled enough times for Izuku to feel it. Something between a laugh and a sob escapes him. He's shaking so hard he can barely read the last part:

You have a whole year ahead of you; make the most of it. I'll be here for you when you do.


People have written him notes before. Plenty of cards and letters over the years have been addressed to him. Referred to him. Izuku knows this because his mother has always been there to read them to him, whether it was school permission slips or birthday cards from relatives he didn't know; there had always been things written to him.

This is the first time Izuku can remember anyone writing something for him. And so painstakingly, too. A few of the letters are backwards. It makes sense; All Might would have had to write backwards to get the bumps on the correct side. He would have had to look up every character. It's such a monumental gesture, and it rocks Izuku to his core. Curling in on himself, he hugs the paper to his chest; gently, so it doesn't wrinkle. He's crying so hard his throat hurts, but it doesn't matter.

He's only dimly aware of the arms wrapping around him, pulling him into a hug. He wails pitifully, and there's a hand rubbing circles in his back. Up, down. Izuku gulps a breath and focuses on it. He wants to hug back. He needs to hug back. But his card…

“I am so, so proud of you.” There’s a tremor in All Might’s voice. "I'm sorry, I just— I knew if I tried to say all of that out loud, I would never get through it without breaking down," he laughs wetly. "I thought it would be better this way." Izuku nods furiously, a little sob escaping. There's a last squeeze and a pat on his back before the arms around him let go.

Gently, Izuku whimpers as All Might pushes him away, and he sways, boneless. Raw. He's still sobbing a little bit; though it's little more than shallow gasps as he cradles his gift to his chest. All Might touches his hand; a question. Izuku shakes his head at first, but reconsiders, weakly holding out the paper a little bit. He feels All Might touch it, but he doesn't take it yet: a silent are you sure? Izuku nods weakly, and the tender words slide out from under his thumbs.

He hears All Might slip it back in the box before taking his still-shaking hands. The man lets Izuku breathe for a moment, rubbing circles in the back of them with his thumbs. He's about to say something. Something important. Izuku always knows something important is coming when All Might holds both his hands like this.

"There was…” he begins, hoarsely. “There was supposed to be a letter delivered to your house. On Saturday. We weren't supposed to contact any of the applicants or their families until then keep it all under wraps. Legal stuff, you know. I guess I broke the rules a little bit— not off to a great start being a role model, heh.” All Might is quiet for a moment before drawing a huge breath. His hands tremble. "But I…" he whimpers. "This morning—" he clamps his mouth shut, and his breathing goes funny for a moment.

"Izuku," he continues, voice shaking. "My boy. I love you. I love you to death— " Izuku hiccups. "and it—" All Might's breath hitches. He squeezes Izuku's hands. Hard. "And it killed me to find out that… that you thought it was something that hinged on some stupid test." His voice breaks, and he goes quiet for a moment, breathing slowly and shakily through his nose.

“You…” Izuku croaks. He hasn’t spoken since he first arrived. A new wave of hot tears pour down his cheeks as he hunches, tucking his head in his shoulders. “You luh—” he chokes, hiccupping. His voice is little more than a squeak: “You love me...”

All Might almost drops Izuku’s hands. Something drips on Izuku's arm, and it suddenly dawns on him that he's crying.

All Might. Is crying. Over him.

Izuku breaks out of his grip, fumbling with shaking hands until he finds what he's looking for. Yes, he's crying. Izuku feels the tears on his palms. Hears the reedy weeping the man is trying and failing to hide. His face is just… so sad. And it’s been that way for longer than a few minutes, he notices. The skin under All Might’s eyes feels just as puffy and warm as Izuku's does after an especially bad day. His heart plummets.


The grief contorting All Might's face is only there for a moment before it changes, softening into something warm, if still sad. A couple more tears run into Izuku's palms, and he brushes them away. All Might's eyes close, and his much larger hand covers one of Izuku’s, twining their fingers together. The other settles on Izuku's cheek, doing the same to his tears. Very solemnly, he nods, giving Izuku a watery smile.

“I… of course I love you, Izuku,” he whimpers. “And I guess it— I guess it was just a shock this morning to… to find out you didn’t think that.” With a suffering sigh, he lets go of Izuku’s cheek and brushes roughly at his sunken eyes, making sure to move his hand out of the way first. His voice is strong and serious again when he next speaks, if a little choked still.

“You could never let me down, Izuku," he says. "Never. I was ecstatic just watching you go in. Anyone else in your situation wouldn't have even tried. But you didn’t just get out there, you passed." He pauses. "And even if you had failed, I still would have been proud. I can't imagine why your first impulse was that I would just… would have nothing to do with you anymore. I couldn’t wait around for Saturday to tell you that. I just couldn’t." He smiles sadly then, ruffling Izuku's hair. "You're stuck with me, kid. I don't know how to get that through your head." There’s a halfhearted chuckle. “I guess, unless through more terribly-written Braille.”

Izuku shakes his head fervently, scattering a fresh deluge of tears. “It wasn’t terrible,” he creaks. "It was perfect. And I—" Sniffling, he pauses. "You- you too, I…" Izuku has to choke it out, but a wide, ever-lopsided grin is on his face. "I love you too, All Might."

Toshinori is quiet; face blank, before slowly pulling Izuku in, tucking the boy’s head under his chin. Izuku nearly crushes him. Toshinori winces, but says nothing, just holds him tighter. The pain in his ribs is nothing compared to the warmth in his chest. He's happy. They both are.

“Oh, wait—” Izuku pipes up, pulling away a bit. “Wait. Who’s—” he sniffles. “Who’s Toshinori?”

Toshinori stares at him for a moment before he suddenly guffaws, startling the boy in his arms. He laughs for a while— big deep laughs— tears in his eyes, and pulls Izuku in again once they’ve faded.

“You’re something else, Izuku,” he murmurs fondly, resting his cheek on his head. “Something else.”

They hold each other until the sun is long gone.

The first day is a blur. A loud, exhilarating, overwhelming blur.

The campus is huge; Izuku feels like he never stops moving. He knows he'll know the way to his classes like the back of his hand in a week, but that doesn't make it any less stressful. He hasn't memorized yet how tall the stairs are exactly, or how not to trip over the rolling chairs; not straight-legged and easy to avoid like the ones at Aldera. It's crowded here. Unpredictably crowded. He can't put voices to names yet. There are extra limbs and such to dodge everywhere he turns. They're all things he can only stumble through with his wits and his cane until it becomes second-nature. He knows all of this; he's been learning how to navigate new places his whole life, but it's still stressful.

There are other things, though.

When Izuku uses his cane in the hallway, people step aside for him. If he bumps into his new classmates, they apologize. The air is bizarrely empty of the cloud of whispers and snickering that seem to follow him everywhere else; the things people never think he can hear, but can. People are nice. It's weird.

When Aizawa-sensei singles him out, one of the first things out of his mouth is that he won't be taking it easy on Izuku just because he's blind. Izuku can sense the collective wince his class gives, but it's music to his ears. There isn't a teacher Izuku can remember who hasn't handled him like a porcelain doll. Blind and quirkless. He must have been nothing more than a little child-shaped pile of lawsuits to them, because Izuku had been watched like a hawk since preschool; kept from doing anything that didn't mostly involve sitting still.

Recess? Forget about it. Come sit on the bench with your toys, Izuku. Can't have you getting a stick in the eye. Field trip? Stay with the aide, Izuku— can't have you wandering off. Simple class work? Go to the computer in the corner, Izuku; you can type your work there while we eliminate any chance of you actually socializing. They were relentless; he wasn't left alone for a second. But of course, anything off of school grounds was out of their hands. Or between classes, occasionally. If anything could be said about bullies, it was that they were dedicated.

But now here he is, at his dream school, learning how to do one of the most dangerous jobs a person can have. If there's any time for the kid gloves to come off, it's now, so Izuku is more than happy to let Aizawa hardball him.

That being said, it is hard, and this is just syllabus day. By the time his last class has come and gone, Izuku is worn out.

He has a lot of books to carry home. The halls are cleared out a bit by the time Izuku gets his locker open, trying to wrestle them all out and into his backpack. He can do it; it's just hard. He's a bit unsteady with his bag and cane hanging on the same arm; the other is trying to fumble his books into his bag. Izuku doesn't notice the footsteps approaching until the weight in his arms vanishes, and there's a steady hand ruffling his hair.

"Hey, kiddo. How was day one?"

His two voices are so different. Right now, the quiet burr that greets him— the voice that's been one of his greatest comforts for nearly a year now— is a massive relief. After a day where Izuku's been bombarded with the unfamiliar, hearing that voice is like coming home.

Izuku lets himself fall into Toshinori's chest with a little whine, feeling more than hearing the warm chuckle that rumbles through him. The man is drowning in his clothes.

"That bad, huh?" Toshinori says, running a gentler hand through his hair.

"No," Izuku murmurs. "It was wonderful."

There's a soft noise somewhere between a chuckle and a hum. The hand in his hair is gone, looping around Izuku's shoulders in a half-hug. "I'm glad," Toshinori says. Izuku sags into the sound and touch. He could fall asleep on his feet, he realizes. He's exhausted.

"Going home now?" he asks. Izuku nods.


"Let me help you then," he offers, shrugging off Izuku’s backpack. "I'll hand you the books and you can put them in your bag." This is one of the things Izuku loves about All Might; he doesn't just push him aside and do things for him. He helps, but he knows Izuku is capable. Even Inko doesn't let him use the stove without hovering over him, no matter how good he’s gotten at it.

"Ready to go?" Toshinori asks once everything is put away. Izuku cocks his head.

"Go where?"

"Well— home," he replies. "The beach is clean, kid. I mean, not that we can't go there, but…" he trails off, and Izuku feels a lightbulb switch on in his head.

"Did… did you drive here this morning?" He asks.




"How far away do you live?" Toshinori shrugs.

"I can jump over buildings. Does it matter?"

It hits Izuku that this is real; that Toshinori was telling the truth. The school year is underway. He's done what he needed to do; Izuku is in. He has a quirk. He’s being taught by others as well as All Might himself.

But he's still here, offering to walk Izuku home.

He still wants to be with me…

A gentle hand on his cheek brings Izuku back, thumb brushing away a tear that must have escaped. Izuku didn't realize how watery his eyes suddenly are, or how tight his throat feels.

"Hey," Toshinori chides. His voice is soft. "None of that, now. This is supposed to be a happy day." Izuku nods, and gently backs out from under Toshinori’s hand, wiping his eyes.

"Okay," he says, shouldering his backpack. He pats around the lockers for a moment. "Where's my cane?"

"Don't worry about it," there's a grin in Toshinori's reply. Izuku feels his cane gently tap the top of his head. "You don't need it right now."

They take their time walking to Izuku's house. It's no different from before; they still talk. They still duck into convenience stores. Toshinori still takes his hand every now and then and swings him off his feet when Izuku isn't expecting it. Just for fun. Halfway home, Izuku takes a gamble and doesn't let go. He can't see the huge grin on Toshinori's face, but he hears his voice change and knows.

Izuku gets excited talking about his day. He talks with his hands a lot; not really specific gestures, just a lot of flapping. Toshinori can get a word in every now and then.

"I could tell you knew it was me before I even said anything to the class," he says, not trying to hide his amusement. "I walked in and you just lit up." Izuku cringes.

"You have really loud footsteps…” he mutters. “I hope I wasn’t too obvious."

Toshinori smiles. "It was cute."

He walks Izuku home the next day, and the day after that, until it becomes just as concrete in his mind as the layout of the hallways. It's just their routine.

For the most part.

There are days when he gets a text from Toshinori about staff meetings and such, and Izuku just waits for him by the entrance. It isn't a big to-do.

Until one day, when Toshinori doesn't come back. It's an urgent meeting; something about the school being under threat, debates for increased security. Stuff like that. Phones are powered down and confiscated beforehand for security reasons, so Toshinori can't text Izuku to go on without him. He only half listens to the meeting, praying Izuku made it home okay. That he didn't forget his cane. That the assholes in the world don't cross his path. He shouldn’t be worried— he knows Izuku can take care of himself— but he does. Toshinori is worried sick the entire meeting, and it's slow going. There are arguments and mouthy feds and the whole thing ends up dragging on until well after six. When Toshinori finally ambles out of the room, willing his phone to turn on faster, Chiyo is waiting for him. He asks what on Earth she's still doing here; her shift should have ended hours ago, but she just beckons him to the clinic.

"Someone has been waiting very patiently for you," she says in a hushed, more-than-slightly bitter voice, pulling back a screen. Toshinori blinks, and softens. Izuku is curled up on a cot, asleep.

"He said he forgot his cane at home this morning," she says, an edge to her voice. "I don't believe that for a second." Toshinori doesn't know how to respond.

"I— I don't either," he says.

"Toshinori, mother him all you like, but for God's sake don't rot his brain while you're at it," she sighs. "And get him home safe."

She leaves him, and he kneels down by the cot, running a hand through Izuku's hair. He doesn't open his eyes, but Toshinori knows Izuku wakes up because of how his breathing hitches; face scrunching up a bit.

"Hi," Izuku murmurs, and Toshinori smiles. His kid knows him so well.

"Hey, kiddo," he replies. "Looks like you've had a long day." Izuku nods, curling a bit tighter around his bag, which is loosely in his arms.

"You came back," he mumbles. Toshinori smiles, albeit somewhat sadly, brushing a knuckle over Izuku's cheek.

"Of course I did."

"Is it night yet?"

Toshinori looks outside. "Almost. My boy, I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it back sooner." Izuku shrugs.

“S’okay. You came back.”

Izuku doesn't object when Toshinori takes his backpack and slings it over his own shoulder, or when he scoops Izuku off the cot while he tries to sit up. The boy blinks confusedly, but goes with it, clasping his arms around his mentor's neck and going limp. He's waited this long for him, Toshinori thinks. Now he can carry him the rest of the way.

Toshinori tries to thank Chiyo on the way out. She just shoos him off.

It's almost dark outside, and it looks like it's been raining. Toshinori is glad Izuku didn't try walking home in that. The walk seems so much shorter than it normally does. For once, Toshinori doesn't stall or meander on the way to his student's apartment complex. At some point, Izuku falls asleep. His head lolls against Toshinori’s, and his hands come unclasped.

It's a feat digging the spare key out of Izuku's bag and getting inside the apartment without waking him. His mother won't get off work for a few hours; he has time.

The apartment is dark as Toshinori shuffles down the hall and into Izuku's (thankfully marked) room.

There are no lamps, he notices. Nothing really on the walls either. But there’s an array of All Might stuff scattered around that brings a smile to his face. A handful of things don’t even seem like they'd be of any use to a blind person, but they’re still there. It's touching. There’s a cluttered desk piled high with a computer (Braille keys, he notices), a stereo, a police scanner, a broken-looking tape recorder, and stacks upon stacks of CDs and other disks.

You like music, Toshinori thinks, glancing fondly at Izuku.

There's a crowded bookshelf; almost all of the books are plain white, and true to his word there are an array of action figures and whatnot of— again— himself. Some of them are immaculate, but there are others that look more well-loved; like some of the paint has faded or worn off. There's a punching bag in the corner; a more recent addition, Toshinori reckons. The floor is almost totally empty.

Toshinori approaches his bed and smirks a bit. There's Izuku's cane, resting unobtrusively against the nightstand. He'll have to chastise him for leaving home without it, but not tonight. Tonight, Izuku just needs to rest.

There's something else on Izuku's nightstand that makes him stop. It's the letter he wrote to him after the entrance exam, slightly warped from being read so many times. Toshinori stares at it, remembering the half-inch sea of construction paper that had buried his kitchen table; the back pain from hunching over all day; going cross-eyed from staring at a thousand dots for hours on end. Toshinori would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Pulling back the covers (one of which is a weighted blanket), Toshinori lays Izuku down and gently works off his shoes and jacket, setting them where he won’t trip over them in the morning. He’s never tucked a child in before, but it feels oddly momentous. Izuku is out cold. He won't even remember this, but there's just this… feeling Toshinori can't name. Something that tells him this is important. So he does it well.

He pauses before leaving, just watching Izuku for a moment, before straightening. He can't stay here. He runs a last slow hand through Izuku's hair, silently  wishing him a good night, and freezes. Izuku’s eyes are open.

He’s clearly not lucid. The slow, deep breaths don’t change, and he doesn’t move. It probably doesn’t even register in his head that his eyes are open. Toshinori doesn’t know exactly what to do. He doesn’t know if there’s anything he should do.

“Izuku?” he whispers. There’s a pause. Toshinori’s hand is still in his hair. The murmur he gets is slow and heavy with sleep, and it hits him like thunder.


For a moment, it doesn’t fully register. Toshinori’s been shot a time or two before. It kind of feels like that, but instead of pain there’s an overwhelming rush of emotion that sends a shudder through him. Izuku’s face blurs, and he bites his lip.

He’s not even awake.

Toshinori kneels down.

He won’t remember this.

He drapes his arms over him, holds him close as he dares.

There’s no way he really sees you that way.

He smoothes back soft curls, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

He lets the tears fall, hand coming down to caress his cheek.


“Izuku…” he whispers. It’s just consonants. He can’t get anything else out.

My boy… Oh, my boy...

“I’m here,” he weeps. “I’m here.”

A small sound breaks him out of his stupor, and he realizes Izuku is stirring, face scrunched up. Toshinori stands as quietly as he can, pulling away with a hand over his mouth. I’m sorry , he thinks as he cautiously hurries out of the room, closing the door as quietly as possible.

Toshinori stands in the hall, hand still clamped over his mouth, taking deep breaths and scrubbing at his eyes. Did that just happen? He thinks. I hope it did. He feels hollow, exhausted, and so, so light. It’s agony to make himself leave.

There's a wall of photos by the front door, and Toshinori can’t help himself. Not one of the photos, he notices, has a man in it. It's all Izuku; Izuku's mother; the two of them together; what must be relatives all too young or old to be a husband, or couples themselves. Toshinori’s thoughts whirl with Izuku and dad and you came back, and he just wonders.

Izuku is never quite looking at the camera in any of them, Toshinori notices, and in any photos where he's maybe five or younger, his eyes are closed. There's one picture that makes him stop for a long time.

It’s a candid shot of Izuku— who can’t be more than three or four years old— sitting on the edge of a kitchen chair with his legs dangling. Toshinori can tell it was taken without Izuku knowing; he’s facing off to the side, eyes closed, looking almost thoughtful. He’s in an All Might onesie, Toshinori notices with a pang. One of his small hands is touching the fabric on his chest, while the other is pulling on one of the "ears" sewn into the hood. He looks happy.

It makes something stir in Toshinori's chest. Something warm and protective and undeniable. The picture in front of him blurs, and a sudden, deep well of grief opens up in his heart. There are no photos waiting for him on his walls of his apartment. No placid, grinning faces of family or friends to greet him when he walks through the door. No little ones either. All he has is a faded, well-worn photo of Nana in his wallet, and even that makes him feel more sadness than comfort to look at. What friends he has are work friends. What family that's left are mysteries.

It hits Toshinori like a semitruck that he may have missed out on something warm and wonderful; a luxury he’s only had fleeting brushes with in the past, or caught glimpses of like a stranger looking through a keyhole. Something precious and sacred. Something he knows he can never have.

A family.

A son, his heart wails.

He has to leave the Midoriyas’ apartment, then. It’s too much. It isn’t until he’s alone in the parking lot that he lets himself cry.

When the doctor tells him he's at risk of paralysis, Izuku has a panic attack. A bad one.

The rational part of his mind that knows it isn't final; that it can be avoided, shuts down. Paralysis is a possibility that's never even crossed his mind. He's fifteen. He's blind. A few months ago, he was quirkless. Who would even think about their hands? You always hear about paralyzed legs— hell, Iida's brother— but for some reason, losing his hands was a thing that Izuku never really considered. Not when he already couldn't see; it would be too cruel. Too unlucky.

Or maybe he'd just repressed it, because the heart-stopping terror that seizes him when he's first told— bluntly, undeniably, by someone he doesn't know— is so powerful that he throws up.

What happens next is a blur. All Izuku knows is that there's hands that feel like a barrage of needles, then shouting, and then more hands grabbing him, and Izuku just wants to get away or scream but he can't— and he's smacking the hands away but they just keep coming and he thinks he hears the word sedate which makes him fight even harder— until there's a holler that might be his or someone else's— and everything stops.

The hands vanish. The door shuts. But the skin-crawling wrongness is still there, and Izuku's face prickles with breathless cobwebs. He's too exposed, wherever he is— too open. Too vulnerable. There's nothing but blood pounding in his ears as he clambers off of the bed; only dully registers hitting the floor, and crawls away until he can't anymore. There, Izuku curls up and waits. For what, he doesn't know.

Toshinori is in the middle of a conference call with his agency when the door is thrown open. Aizawa is talking frantically into a phone, and that's the first red flag. He never talks fast. When the man beckons for him to follow, mouthing the word 'Midoriya' as he goes, Toshinori slams his laptop shut without even excusing himself.

The situation is explained on the drive to the hospital, and a tidal wave of dread hits Toshinori when he hears the reason for Izuku's fit. The thought of those small hands growing cold and atrophied, never to caress his face or shyly take his hand in the store again… it makes him want to cry. He knows he'll never truly comprehend the boy's world; how much of it is touch, or what it's like when it's dark and muddled beyond the radius of your arms. If Izuku were to lose that… Toshinori doesn't even want to think about it. His hands are wringing the entire ride to the hospital.

There's a male nurse whose nose is broken. Another with a sprained wrist. The doctor who initially warned him of the paralysis is bruised all up his jaw. Good, Toshinori thinks. He’s going to have a word with the man after this is over, but he can’t think about that now. Can’t listen to the idiot recount what he’s already been told in the car. All he can think about is his boy, alone in a room somewhere, and how he needs to see him now. Mercifully, Aizawa seems to take note of his pain and cuts the man's rambling short with a look. That's all it takes for a door to finally be presented to them.

When Toshinori first walks in the room, he doesn't even see Izuku at first. It isn't until he rounds the torn-apart hospital bed that he stops short.

Oh my boy…

Izuku is curled into a ball on the floor, back pressed into the corner so hard his elbows are nearly touching. Knuckles white in his hair, he shakes harder than Toshinori has witnessed during the worst of meltdowns, and he can just barely hear frantic, shallow panting. Other than that, Izuku is completely silent, and he doesn't look up. Both things are alarming. The boy has always been animated and aware of his surroundings with an acuteness that rivals Toshinori's— a seasoned pro. But now he doesn't even seem to notice him from five feet away.

For a moment, Toshinori can only stand there— hand over his mouth.


He wants to run to him. Scoop him off the floor like he has a few times before. Hold him close and make it all better. It's only a long career of witnessing attacks like this that keeps Toshinori still.

Familiar. Familiar. Start small. Don't startle him.

He comes forward; a bit louder than necessary, stopping short when Izuku curls tighter around himself.

“H-hey, kiddo,” Toshinori breathes, watching as Izuku jerks and stills, emerging from behind his knees. The shaking never ends.

“Oh my boy,” he sighs, kneeling down. “You’ve had.. a bad scare, haven’t you?”

Toshinori can see Izuku's face from this angle, and he winces. It's unlike any expression he can remember; as strongly as Izuku emotes, his eyes are always a little bit subdued in comparison. It makes sense, after all; he's never had to use them regularly, so the hair-fine muscles in and around them would naturally be weaker. In fact, Izuku's eyes tend to not move much at all; staying half-lidded most of the time.

But not now.

Izuku isn't crying, which isn't what Toshinori expects. Instead, his eyes are glazed and unfocused— blown wider than Toshinori thought possible. He bites his lip.

"Are you hurt anywhere?" he asks, keeping his voice low. "You don't have to speak if you don't want to." Izuku takes a moment to think before giving the slightest shake of his head.

"Good," Toshinori says. "That's good." A sad look crosses his face. "I heard you got sick earlier. How are you now? Are you feeling any better?" Another head shake. Toshinori's heart sinks. "Is.. what I meant was— is your stomach feeling any better, my boy?" This time, Izuku nods.

"Good… good." Toshinori sighs. There's a beat where he simply thinks, trying to decide what to do next. Eventually, he just picks the obvious.

"Izuku," he asks. "Do you want a hug?"

Izuku freezes before shaking his head with another massive tremor. Toshinori has to bite his tongue to keep a sob in. He knows it's just the panic attack talking. He knows Izuku just doesn't feel up to it right now. He knows it's not the end of the world. But it hurts anyway. Toshinori can't remember if Izuku's ever rejected a hug from him before. Surely not, or else it wouldn't sting so badly.

"Do… Do you want to hold my hand?" he whimpers.

Izuku doesn't answer, and Toshinori thinks maybe he'll have to repeat himself before the boy very slowly lets go of his head and reaches out with one trembling hand. Toshinori’s heart aches as he reaches out.

"Okay," he says. A tear drips onto his leg. "Okay."

Izuku's hand is like ice. He takes it as slow and gently as one would handle their newborn, and wraps both of his around it— tight, but not so that Izuku can’t get away. He rubs comforting circles in the back of his palm and squeezes until Izuku's hand is warm again. His shaking has calmed down a little. It isn't much, but it's something.

“Can I come a little closer?” he whispers. Izuku nods, and Toshinori scoots near enough so that he can gently bring Izuku’s hand to his face. He feels his fingers twitch against his skin, but there's no movement. No attempt to look at anything. It makes something cold and heavy settle in Toshinori's chest.

“I’m here, Izuku,” he says, moving Izuku's hand for him; pressing his palm to a hollow cheek. His eyes are full of tears. “Dad’s here.”

For a moment, Izuku stops shaking. Toshinori thinks he sees something flicker in his blank, pale eyes, but it's gone in in an instant when another violent tremor wracks his boy. Toshinori feels his hand tremble with it. There's a tiny, tiny whimper.

He plans next to ask if Izuku wants his hair smoothed back. He doesn't get that far. Izuku suddenly uncurls from the corner, patting one shaky hand over the floor, and Toshinori freezes, holding his breath as Izuku slowly, shakily, crawls the last two feet into his lap. He’s freezing from being on the floor so long. Toshinori can feel his cold skin through the papery scrubs.

No wonder you're shivering…

Toshinori cranes over Izuku's head to pull one of the blankets off of the ruined bed. He gingerly touches it to Izuku’s arm. A question. Izuku nods, and Toshinori gently lifts him, wrapping him in the blanket before cradling him to his chest. Finally, he can hug his boy. And he does. It’s better than any weighted blanket.

The dam breaks. The time bomb explodes. Life suddenly floods back into Izuku’s eyes, and he sucks in a gulp of air with the same desperation Toshinori sees in drowning victims. He twists in Toshinori's arms, patting around them frantically. He's panting.

“Breathe— breathe , Izuku,” Toshinori says, holding the sides of his head. “You’re in the hospital. You’ve had a panic attack. Everything’s okay. Shh.”

Izuku still gasps like a fish. Every breath is a little deeper, but they're rapid fire, and his face is quickly shifting from white to red. While there are tears, they seem more involuntary than anything.

"Breathe," Toshinori says, patting his back. "Izuku, you're hyperventilating. You have to calm down, my boy. I'll help you…"

Toshinori gently walks him through it, breathing slowly so Izuku can match him until finally, he does. Izuku is still in Toshinori's arms, sitting up a little after a few minutes of just resting. The first thing he does is grab the man's face, running his hands over it more frantically than he ever has before. The tidal wave of relief that hits Toshinori makes him well up again, but he smiles.

"There you are," he whispers, wiping a lingering tear from Izuku's face. His eyes fall shut for the first time since Toshinori walked in, and he sags bonelessly against his chest with the most long-suffering sigh he's ever heard.

“I’m here,” Toshinori murmurs again, smoothing Izuku’s hair back. “I’m not going anywhere.” Izuku tries to say something, but it’s too quiet for Toshinori to make out.

“What was that, my boy?”

"You said—" Izuku croaks. He’s more mouthing the words than anything. “If th— if they lay their hands on me, you said to h- hit them in the mouth.”

Toshinori stares at him. And stares. And all of a sudden he’s laughing. He's laughing and he doesn’t even know why, but he can’t stop. There’s tears running down his face. Izuku blinks, eyes wide and panicked. He looks like he's about to say something, but Toshinori just cups the face of his son and pulls him in, breaking.

“I guess I did,” he laugh-sobs, bringing their faces together. “I guess I did.” He pulls back and wipes his eyes, planting a kiss to Izuku’s forehead, and another. He hugs him again, and for a moment, things almost feel better.

Until fingers curl into the front of Toshinori’s shirt so tight the nails bite his skin.

“Izuku? Izuku, what’s wrong?” He tries to pry the boy off of him, but he won’t budge. “Izuku, talk to me.” His hands settle on his back. "Talk to me, my boy." The response he gets is so hollow, and yet there’s a quiet, underlying terror that makes Izuku's voice tremble.

“I can’t go blind, Toshinori.”

There's no mistaking what he means, and dread sinks like a stone in what used to be Toshinori's stomach. He wants to scream. Howl his anger at the universe for taking his boy's sight. At himself for being such a lousy teacher, useless to Izuku, whose only option so far is self-destruction. At the world, which is so cruel to him for no reason. Yes, Toshinori wants to scream, and he also wants to cry his eyes out; share some of his boy's pain. He'd trade places in an instant: give him everything he deserves and more. Toshinori doesn't need his eyes; he's seen the world already, but...

But Toshinori can’t do any of those things. So he leans back, takes a deep, shuddering breath, swallows the grapefruit-sized lump in his throat, and takes Izuku’s hands.

“Izuku,” he says, prying them off his shirt. “Look at me, my boy.” Izuku lets go and leans back with an empty, miserable expression. Toshinori softens, letting his hands go to cup his face. “Look at me, son,” he murmurs. Izuku finally complies, reaching up to touch Toshinori’s face with watery eyes. The man smiles weakly. “There you go,” he whispers, blinking his own tears away.

“Now you listen to me,” he says, steeling himself. “You will not be paralyzed. You will not go blind. Whatever you need; whatever we have to do, I swear I’ll never let your hands go. I’ll cut off my own for you before I let you get so much as carpal tunnel. We'll find a way for you to stop getting hurt," he swears. "I'll find a way.”

Toshinori pauses, brushing a thumb over Izuku’s cheek. “That doctor was an idiot,” he growls. “He should have known better than to tell you like that; when you were here by yourself. He should have told me or your mother first. And learn to read the damn room while he’s at it.” The smallest ghost of a smile crosses Izuku’s face.

"You can't cut off your hands," he mumbles. There's fragile mischief in his tone. "You'd go crazy if you couldn't mess with my hair all the time." Toshinori snorts.

"That's a low blow, kid. And besides—" he kisses him on the forehead once more. "You underestimate me. I'd find a way to do that, too."

They tentatively let Izuku go home with Toshinori that night, on the grounds that his mother is out of town, and while they want him under surveillance, they don't want to keep him penned up in another hospital room (they definitely will not be returning to the first).

For the first time in ages, Toshinori doesn’t feel a rising tide of loneliness drench him the second he crosses the threshold of his apartment. No— there’s nothing but tired relief this time, and a giddy sort of feeling about bringing his boy into his home. It actually feels a bit more like a home now— it just feels right. Is this how it's supposed to feel?

All that aside, their evening is still relatively quiet. Both of them are exhausted, especially Izuku. He makes them a somewhat humble breakfast-for-dinner, as he was unprepared for a guest, but Izuku doesn't complain. In fact, he's almost overly grateful. Toshinori turns on the audio-description on his TV and they get halfway through a movie before Izuku says he wants to go to bed.

Toshinori knows him. He knows if Izuku was feeling alright, he would stay right here, glued to his side until he lost the war with sleep. Especially after a rough day. Toshinori knows this because it's happened before, so Izuku's sudden retreat to the guest room leaves a bad taste in his mouth.

He still tucks Izuku in; he's had some experience now, after all. If the room was a little lighter, he might have caught how Izuku's smile is a little forced as he tells him goodnight.

Toshinori does not decide to defy fate on the battlefield. He knows he can't die that night, when Izuku shuffles into his room after midnight, trying to stifle his sniffling. He doesn't know Toshinori is awake. He shuffles the covers before saying anything, as not to startle him. When he does eventually whisper "Izuku? What's wrong?" Izuku bursts into tears.

It isn't until he's crawled onto Toshinori's bed and crushed him in a desperate hug that everything starts falling out at once. The bullying. The isolation. The low self-esteem. The mother who's terrified to let him out of the house. The long, dark hours at home while she works all day. And most of all, the man that walked out of their home ten years ago and never came back. It all comes flooding out in five minutes.

But the thing that rocks Toshinori to his core is when Izuku grabs his hands in his small ones and squeezes hard enough to make his fingers go numb. With tears going down his cheeks, he whispers slow and shaking that he can't remember his father at all. It's like time has erased any details of him from Izuku's brain. There's only Toshinori's face. Only Toshinori's voice. Only Toshinori's gentle touch.

Up until this point, he's done pretty good at being a rock for Izuku; mainly keeping calm and quiet except for the occasional comforting word. But Toshinori completely falls apart when Izuku tells him that. For a time, he sobs even harder than his boy on a bad day, thoughts exploding in succession like a rope of firecrackers; one after another; so loud and jarring they hurt.

I wish I could have been there for you, he wails internally. I wish I could have protected you from bullies. I wish I could have dropped you off on your first day of school. I wish I could have held you while you still fit in my arms. I wish I could have sang you to sleep. I wish I could have been your eyes when you needed it. I wish your pictures were on my wall. I wish I could have been there when you needed a dad. He sobs, choking on air.

I just wish you had been mine.

Coherent conversation is well out the window. Toshinori's meltdown makes a sort of sobbing feedback loop as he desperately tries to voice what he can scarcely handle thinking. It makes Izuku cry just as hard. Eventually they give up, settling for trying to suffocate each other in the messiest, loudest embrace either of them have ever shared. It doesn't last for long; though the night is still full of crying and confessions and hugging, they eventually calm down enough to talk again.

Toshinori opens up about his own woes, and he's eternally grateful for Izuku's hand gently squeezing his the whole time; he would have never gotten through it without that. He tells Izuku about Nana. About missing hearing her voice so much it hurts sometimes (to which Izuku nods furiously, scattering tears. If anyone knows about missing a voice, it’s him). He talks about the true depth of his loneliness, and about how much light Izuku has brought into his life.

Most importantly, he implores to Izuku that he'll always have a dad, because Toshinori sees him as his own. He tells him how much he loves him, though words can't do justice. Not really. He apologises, telling Izuku how sorry he is that he couldn't have been a part of his life sooner. It's eerily similar to his apology after Izuku first opened up about "seeing."

At this, Izuku frantically shakes his head, throwing his arms around Toshinori's neck. "No," he sobs, remembering the thousands on thousands of times the man had comforted him when he was small. His face (plastic). His voice (recorded). His touch (fleece). "You were always there for me."

Toshinori smiles through a new wave of tears, burying his face in Izuku's hair.

When did you turn me into such a crybaby?

There comes a point where they're both too worn out to go on. Even without being up all night, there's still the ordeal from the day before weighing on them.

So when they've both been quiet for a while, just holding each other, sniffling occasionally, Toshinori decides it's time to let go. He breaks away just long enough to turn off the bedside lamp before pulling Izuku underneath the covers with him, who worms his way into the crook of Toshinori's neck, wrapping his arms around him again. He kisses the top of Izuku's head, and Izuku balls up his shirt in his hands. That's all they need right now to say goodnight, I love you. They're too exhausted for anything else.

They fall asleep in the early hours of the morning, raw and emotionally spent, but close. Warm.

When Toshinori slowly wakes up the next morning, he finds Izuku still clinging to him like an octopus, head resting on his chest. Looking at him, one wouldn’t be able to connect the calm mask of sleep with the maelstrom of emotion the day and night before. Looking at him, Toshinori knows death is not an option. He no longer even wants it to be; he hasn't for a long time. Izuku needs him here; now. And Toshinori is not about to walk out on his boy. Not again. Heaven would be terribly boring without Izuku in it anyway.

Sleepily carding a hand through his son’s bed-head, Toshinori also knows he can’t go on mourning what never was; what he missed out on. All he can do is make the best of now. The wonderful, warm now.

Besides, he thinks, sleepily pulling Izuku closer. I should be grateful. I’ve already caught a glimpse of what I missed out on. The image of little Izuku in his onesie flashes in his mind. Eyes closed. There are… so many who can’t say the same. Feeling the small arms around him tighten, Toshinori knows it’s more than he could ever ask for.

I’m too blessed…