When the long press conference was finally over, Rumi walked off the stage with her head held high, the steady clunk of her false leg echoing as she disappeared behind the curtains.
She'd barely made it down the wooden stairs backstage before Izuku was there, his arm slipping neatly into hers, steadying her. Rumi finally let her facade slip a little, now that she was back in a place she'd come to know was safe; she let out a bone-deep sigh and sagged wearily against Izuku's shoulder, grateful for the rock-solid support he gave her.
She grumbled, "I fucking hate doing that."
Izuku's smile was wide and bright as he chuckled, "I couldn't have guessed."
Rumi glared up at him, wondering all the while just why she liked this view so much. "Aren't you the funny one," she cracked as she pulled herself upright again, her good arm clutching Izuku's shoulder while her false one hung limply at her side.
"I try," Izuku replied smoothly as he guided her first, wobbly steps into a steady gait.
They walked like that for a minute or two, slowly but surely making their way through the winding halls. Rumi felt light, lighter than she'd ever felt in long, painful weeks of healing; maybe it was the weight that was gone from her chest that did it, the vanished worry of whether or not the world even cared that she was gone.
Now, Rumi knew that it didn't matter if the world cared, if people thought she could come back or not, because she had one person who believed, and that was enough.
Turning her head slightly, Rumi said quietly, "Izuku, I don't think I've ever thanked you for everything you did."
Without faltering, Izuku smiled back, still supporting her, still guiding her effortlessly. "You were a little busy snapping at me and making me relive traumatic memories," he told her, his voice free of bitterness or judgement, his eyes twinkling with amusement.
Rumi snorted a little and agreed, "I probably was. But I just wanted to say it, because it's true. Without you, I'd probably still be lying uselessly in bed, giving up. Now, I've got a chance ; I've got hope again. So...thank you, Izuku. For everything."
Izuku nodded, his expression gentle and kind. "You're welcome, Rumi," he replied, "but I didn't do this just for the thanks."
Rumi tilted her head curiously. "Why did you do it, then?" she asked, remembering the last time she'd asked this question, when they were both harsher, less forgiving and understanding with their words.
Izuku's grin shifted a tiny bit as he answered, "Bragging rights, obviously. Being the doctor who healed Miruko definitely gets you some recognition."
Rumi held his gaze steadily, her eyebrows raised, fighting to keep the corner of her mouth from twitching upwards. After a few seconds, Izuku knew she'd seen through him, and grinned again.
He admitted, "Okay, yeah, not really. Honestly, my answer is the same as it was before: I know what it's like to be hopeless, to know your life as you knew it is over, and then refuse to stay down. But more than that...I've gotten a gift here, this chance to use everything I've got to make myself a new path. Why should I be the only one to get it? I've got skills that so many people could benefit from. I feel like…I've got these skills for a reason, and not using them would be a tragedy."
As he spoke, Izuku raised his artificial hand, flexing and turning it as if admiring the way the bumpy surface mimicked his skin, hiding his deepest loss from the world. Rumi watched the sun dancing through his metal fingertips, and his words rang in her mind.
"I feel like…I've got these skills for a reason, and not using them would be a tragedy."
"Are you sure you're not a hero?" Rumi asked suddenly, not even sure why she had spoken.
"Pretty sure, yeah," Izuku laughed, "why do you ask?"
"I-I'm not sure," she admitted, a little embarrassed, "that just…it sounds like the kind of thing a real hero would say."
"Like you, you mean?" Izuku countered. Rumi felt her cheeks turn red, though she wasn't sure why. Maybe it was the admiration in Izuku's voice when he spoke, or the shining belief in his eyes when he looked at her, or the fact that nobody had ever called her a true hero to her face before.
For a second, she was tempted to disagree, to protest that all she'd ever wanted to do was fight, not be altruistic or save others. But then she looked into Izuku's eyes a little longer, and she held her tongue.
Those were doubts for another day, it seemed. Instead, Rumi mused, "We make one hell of a pair, don't we? A hero who forgot how to be strong, and a one-armed quirkless doctor with strength to spare."
"Don't forget about the one working set of arms between us," Izuku joked, gesturing at Rumi's false arm with his own.
Rumi chuckled, and agreed, "That too."
Still grinning happily, the two finally reached Rumi's door, slipping inside with slow, steady steps, always getting stronger and more certain.
And far away, Rumi's words brought hope she once didn't know how to reach.
A few minutes later, as Izuku helped Rumi ease off her prosthetics and massage her aching stumps, there was a series of loud, aggressive knocks on her door, refusing to go away. Izuku and Rumi exchanged confused looks, equally mystified.
"Were you expecting somebody?" Izuku asked. Rumi shook her head.
"Maybe it's the Commission?" she offered, though she doubted it. They were probably still off doing damage control, hoping that the world would see how far she'd come and not how far she still had to go.
As the knocking continued, Izuku shrugged and went to open the door. His prosthetic fingers closed around the handle, and he pulled the door open, already beginning to say, "Okay, who the fu-"
Suddenly, the door exploded forward again, knocking Izuku back with a grunt as the person on the other side blitzed into the room, a blur of black and silver. Rumi was barely able to follow the action as the small but quick intruder ran into a staggering Izuku. There was a flash of blue, and then Izuku stopped moving, seemingly frozen in time. His form wobbled, off balance from the impact of the door, but stayed rigidly upright, not a muscle moving. A faint but steady glow surrounded the edges of his body, like a cocoon totally enveloping him.
Rumi's battle-hardened instincts drove her to try to jump out of bed as soon as the door was forced open, but she moved too slowly for the blur, who slammed into her with a cry, knocking her flat on her back. Rumi's eyes widened as she stared into a familiar set of silver eyes.
"Hitomi?" she gasped, short on air thanks to the girl's weight on her stomach.
"I'mreallysorry, butIsawtheTVandwhydidn'tyoutellmeyouwereMiruko, you'remyfavoriteheroandIcan'tbelieveItalkedtoyouwithoutevenknowing-" Hitomi babbled, her mouth moving a mile a minute, leaving absolutely no chance to draw breath or for Rumi to understand a word she said.
Rumi panted, "Whoa, kiddo, slow down a bit!"
Surprisingly, Hitomi did, cutting herself off mid-sentence and taking a deep breath. When she'd gotten enough air in her lungs, she began again, still speaking quickly but intelligibly.
"I saw the TV broadcast," she said, her voice eager and happy, "I didn't even realize you were Miruko when I talked to you! You look just like her...I mean, you are her, so why wouldn't you, but-"
Seeing that the girl was going to start babbling again, Rumi interrupted, "Yeah, kid, I'm Miruko."
Hitomi's eyes were so bright, they looked like reflective moons, shimmering and dancing with excitement. She cried, "I can't believe I'm actually getting to meet you!"
Rumi kept waiting for her typical irritation and impatience with fans to bubble up inside her, but it wasn't coming. Instead, something like guilt and fear filled her gut; Rumi was worried about why Hitomi had come, what Rumi was supposed to say. This girl had seen Rumi at her lowest; how could she still look up to her?
Before Rumi found out any of that, though, she did kinda need to breathe. In a strangled voice, she grunted, "It's nice to meet you properly too, kid, but do you mind getting off of me?"
Hitomi turned beet red as she realized she was still sitting on Rumi, and she scrambled off, babbling apologies that Rumi waved off with her good hand as she sat up.
At last, Rumi met Hitomi's silver eyes, and her heart trembled at the confusion and excitement there.
Her voice barely above a whisper, Hitomi asked, "Why didn't you tell me who you were?"
Rumi hesitated; the look in Hitomi's eyes threatened to spill over into hurt, and something in Rumi was terrified of the thought of this one little girl losing the admiration in her eyes. Rumi wondered for a second why she cared so much about what Hitomi thought of her, but she couldn't come up with a good answer, except that she was afraid of losing one of the few people who had never stopped believing in her.
After all, Rumi had stopped believing in herself, and other people had saved her. What right did Rumi have to see hero-worship in a child's eyes, when she'd broken?
The fear made it hard to tell Hitomi the truth, even though Rumi knew she couldn't hide it; she worried about what Hitomi would think, if Rumi would shatter the image of herself in the girl's mind.
In the end, though, Rumi had been conquering fear all her life, and this was just another kind to face and defeat. Softly, she admitted, "I was too scared. I didn't want people to know about what happened to me."
"Why?" Hitomi asked, her high, rock-steady voice cutting through every layer of confusion and conflict straight to the heart of the problem, the way children have a gift for doing.
Rumi took a deep breath and replied, "Because…I'm supposed to be invincible, right? You looked up to me, and I didn't want to destroy that belief that I always win."
"But you did win, didn't you?" Hitomi pointed out. She looked pensive, worried, concerned. And yet, her eyes still shimmered with that admiration, the awe that children have for their heroes.
Rumi nodded slowly, but added, "Yeah, but sometimes it doesn't feel like I did. I've spent almost every day since then being afraid."
" Afraid of what?" Hitomi asked.
"A lot of things," Rumi admitted, "but disappointing people especially. I'm supposed to be strong, and here I am, lying uselessly in a hospital bed."
There was a pause, as Hitomi sat quietly, and Rumi waited for the truth, the harsh words that hurt all the more when they come from a child.
But instead, those silver eyes blazed with conviction, and Hitomi declared, "You're still my hero, Miruko!"
"Why?" Rumi demanded, her voice cracking, barely above a whisper, "what have I done to deserve it?"
Hitomi smiled, then, but she didn't respond. She just looked at Rumi, who immediately began to feel self-conscious, as if she'd asked an incredibly stupid question with an obvious answer.
Hitomi said, "You never quit. That's why."
Rumi opened her mouth, ready to protest that she had quit, that she'd failed, but she found that she couldn't say it. Hitomi's words rang in her head, and at last, Rumi realized that this silver-eyed girl was right. Rumi hadn't quit, not in the end.
She may have given up, but she'd found her fire again, in the end. That was all that mattered. Strength wasn't defined by flying over challenges with ease, but by if you could pick up all your pieces when you fell and struggle onwards.
Rumi let her head tip back, staring at the ceiling as an amused smile danced across her lips.
"Getting life lessons from a nine-year-old," she thought to herself, "I really did hit rock bottom, huh?"
She would come back from it, though; she always did.
Rumi leveled her gaze at Hitomi again, and told her, "Kid, you are something else. You still want to be a hero?"
Hitomi nodded, her hesitancy at being so close to her idol disappearing, replaced by pure, bullheaded stubbornness. Rumi was liking this girl more and more.
She grinned, not even realizing how much it looked like her old smiles, the ones that revealed the unstoppable force lurking in her heart. "Good," Rumi said, "with a spirit like that, you're gonna be a great one."
Suddenly, Hitomi hesitated, her eyes falling down towards the empty space where her lost arm should have been. In a slow, soft voice, she admitted, "Sometimes, I don't think I can."
"Why not?" Rumi asked gently.
Hitomi replied, "I…as much as I want to, as much as I want to be like you, it feels like I'll never reach that level. You're so strong, and my quirk is-"
Rumi, realizing where this was going, quickly interrupted, "Quirks aren't everything, kid. Like I said, you gotta have the heart first, and you already do."
Rumi thought about Izuku as she spoke, how he was the most selfless and heroic person she'd ever met. "Thank you," she thought, "for showing me the truth, and giving me the words I needed."
Hitomi still didn't look convinced. She protested, "But still-"
Rumi decided to stop holding back. One way or another, she needed this girl to understand her own strength. She interrupted, "Hitomi, when I first met you, I was about to give up completely, and quit being a hero. I didn't think I could come back, not with everything I'd lost."
Hitomi fell silent, her eyes going wide again; she looked shocked, like she'd never even seriously considered the possibility of Miruko quitting.
Her voice as strong and steady as it had been when she'd announced her return to the world, Rumi continued, "I thought my life was over, that everything I'd worked for was gone…until I met you. Seeing how strong your spirit was, how determined you were that not even losing an arm would slow you down…it inspired me. That was what helped me make the decision to come back, Hitomi. Not my own determination, yours. So don't ever think that you aren't a hero, Hitomi. To me, you already are."
Hitomi's eyes went wide at that, at such a certain statement from her idol. "Y-you really think so?" she breathed, something in her expression suggesting a hole in her heart filling in.
Rumi nodded gravely. "I know so," she confirmed, "after all, you saved me, didn't you?"
Hitomi's smile was so broad and bright, it was blinding. Without warning, she surged forwards, wrapping her arms around Rumi's torso in a tight hug. Rumi grunted as the impact drove air from her lungs yet again, but she couldn't help the smile that filled her own face as she hugged the girl back.
"Thank you," Hitomi mumbled into Rumi's shirt. The words brought memories to Rumi's mind, of all the thousands of people who had thanked her over the years, of how she had smiled and given them some bland response and moved on with her life, back to the parts of the job she loved.
Somehow, this felt different; it felt like it mattered.
Suddenly, Rumi had another idea, an impulsive stroke of genius-or maybe premature celebration of something she would never achieve. She decided to go with the first one.
When Hitomi pulled away from Rumi again, Rumi told her, "Hey, kid, when you get outta here, come find me, alright? I'll help you become a hero; it's the least I can do, seeing as you helped me decide to try and be one again."
Hitomi stared at Rumi like she'd hung the stars. "Do you really mean that?" she asked, her eyes filled with light.
Rumi grinned. "Of course I do," she replied, "since when does Miruko break her word?"
As Hitomi stared at her hero in shock and wonder, Rumi simply held out her fist; after a second, Hitomi responded in kind, bumping Rumi's good hand with her own.
When the moment passed, Rumi took the opportunity to look around the room for a second. When her eyes fell on Izuku, who was still apparently frozen solid, she got very confused.
"Um…did you do that?" Rumi asked Hitomi, pointing at the static doctor with a slightly sheepish expression, due to her embarrassment over missing him entirely.
Hitomi nodded, but she looked a little embarrassed, too, probably over using her quirk (at least, Rumi assumed it was her quirk) on a doctor of all people.
With effort, Rumi stood up, pulling on her prosthetic leg with much more dexterity than she had two days ago. She walked over to Izuku, and poked him experimentally. The blue energy around him shimmered a little, but he remained completely rigid, not even his eyes moving.
"Huh," Rumi mused, turning back to Hitomi, "this is a pretty neat quirk. What exactly did you do?"
Sitting on the side of Rumi's bed, her legs swinging lazily, Hitomi explained, "My quirk is called Stasis Touch. I can put anyone I touch with my hand into a kind of…the doctor called it sus...suspen…"
"Suspended animation?" Rumi guessed, seeing Hitomi struggling with the word.
Hitomi nodded as she continued, "Yeah, that's it! Anyway, I can freeze them in place, and keep them like that for a while. The thing is, I kind of…"
Rumi's eyes fell on Hitomi's one hand, rubbing over the stump of her other arm as she stared at the ground. The pieces fell into place.
"That's why you're worried about whether you can be a hero," Rumi realized, "your quirk only works through your hands, and you…only have one left."
Hitomi nodded wordlessly, and if Rumi hadn't sympathized with the kid before, she sure as hell did now. To lose such a fundamental piece of who you were, of what you needed to be what you wanted to be, leaving you less than you had been before…it was a lot like Rumi losing her leg (or a doctor losing his hand.)
Rumi told her, "You'll be fine, Hitomi. If I can still be a hero with one good leg, you can be a hero with one good arm."
Hitomi perked up a little at that, a hopeful smile spreading across her features. To herself, Rumi wondered if a quirk like the girl's could ever be channeled through a prosthetic, or if some other solution could be found. Maybe she should ask Izuku about doing a bit of non-hero work.
Speaking of Izuku, Rumi was having more fun that she probably should be poking his statue-like form and waving her hands across his unresponsive face. She asked, "Is he awake in there?"
"Yes?" Hitomi replied uncertainly, "He doesn't have to breathe or anything, but I think he knows what's going on."
Well, that just made the look of mild irritation still fixed on Izuku's face even funnier to Rumi. Although… "This is temporary, right?" Rumi asked.
Hitomi confirmed, "Yeah. The longest I can hold it right now is…fifteen minutes? I can end it at any time by touching him again, though. Should I do that?"
"Nah," Rumi replied, a grin forming on her face, "Let him stew in there for a while. He deserves it."
Hitomi gave her a strange look, but wasn't about to argue with her hero. Rumi went to go back over to the girl, but suddenly, an old friend decided to appear.
"Hey, Miruko, anything interesting going on in here?" Hawks asked as he stuck his head into the open doorway, wearing his trademark grin.
Rumi's head instantly swiveled towards him, her ears pricking as she snapped, "What are you doing here?"
"Come on, can't a guy come say hi to his fellow casualties?" Hawks replied, walking into the room. Rumi didn't try to stop him, but she did roll her eyes, huffing in exasperation at the Number Two Hero's antics.
As Hawks strode towards Rumi's bed, Hitomi asked, "Who are you?"
Hawks stopped just long enough to look down at the small, skinny girl, with the expression of someone who wasn't quite sure how to deal with children. He replied, "Who are you?"
Before Hitomi could respond, Rumi did instead, saying, "This is Hitomi. She's a friend."
"Since when do you make friends with children?" Hawks asked with a grin that showed he wasn't serious.
Instead of responding, Rumi repeated, "What are you doing here?"
"What, are you worried that the good doctor will tie me down again?" Hawks retorted.
"Nope," Rumi cracked, wearing a wide grin as she gestured with her thumb at the motionless figure in the corner.
Hawks followed her gesture to Izuku, then immediately raced over to him, poking and prodding just like Rumi had. Craning his neck to look back at Rumi and Hitomi, he asked, "Who did this?"
Rumi pointed at Hitomi, who looked a little confused about the whole thing. Hawks happily announced, "Well, she's my friend too now. This is great."
As Hawks finally abandoned the scowling statue of Izuku, Hitomi asked, "Miruko, who is the funny man?"
Rumi couldn't help the snort that escaped her, while Hawks gasped exaggeratedly, seemingly horrified by the fact that Hitomi didn't recognize him.
While Rumi muttered "the funny man" under her breath, Hawks replied, "Don't you recognize me? I'm Hawks, the number two hero!"
Hitomi tilted her head curiously at Hawks. "Really?" she asked, "doesn't Hawks have wings?"
Instantly, Rumi winced, worried that Hitomi's innocent question would kill the mood instantly. But instead, Hawks smiled, looking so excited that he began hopping from one foot to the other.
"He does!" the blonde man announced, whirling around to reveal a section of his back that was bandage-free, with a hole in the back of his shirt. Rumi's eyes went wide as she saw the tuft of blood-red feathers there, small and scraggly, but undeniably there.
"They're growing back?" she breathed, shock and excitement and happiness and a little bit of jealousy mixing inside her. If only her losses could grow back.
Hawks turned back around, and Rumi felt her hope turn to confusion. She knew the look he was wearing, filled with hope and crystallized loss all at once, a smile that was a bandage for sorrow at all the things that you would never get back.
"One of them is," the man who had once soared above Japan corrected, his eyes filled with grief and hope, "the other one…"
Hawks shook his head, so slightly it was almost imperceptible. Rumi saw it, though, and let her head hang down, her ears suddenly flopping against her head.
"I see," she said quietly, imagining how cheated Hawks must feel. His wildest hopes of recovery, granted to him along with his worst nightmares, all at once.
"Yeah," Hawks agreed, his voice shaky and quiet, "yeah, it's…it is what it is. I mean, I didn't expect…well, I don't know what I was expecting, but still. The one I've got is going to come back as strong as ever, apparently, but I don't know how I'm going to do…well, anything."
Rumi asked, "What's next? I know you didn't know what you were going to do before, but…"
Hawks looked at her, and Rumi saw something new burning in his eyes, some idea, some conviction she hadn't seen there before.
He admitted, "I think I was…putting myself in an unwinnable position before, mentally. I kept thinking, "If they come back, I come back, and if they don't, that's it." Now…now I'm in limbo. I have my quirk, just…just not all of it."
"So what are you going to do?" Rumi prompted softly. To herself, she swore that if Hawks tried to run away from this, tried to give up, she wouldn't let him. If she could fight her way back to hope, he could do it, too. Rumi was willing to drag Hawks with her, if that's what it took.
"Is this what Izuku feels, when he swears to give his patients hope?" Rumi wondered.
"I don't know how I'm going to do it," Hawks replied, "but I'm going to use everything I have to come back. I…I've got a second chance here, I think, and I'm going to use everything I've got to keep fighting. That may not be as much as I used to have…but it's something. I've still got one wing; that'll have to be enough."
Rumi smiled, then, and put her hand on Hawks's shoulder. She told him, "That's the spirit. We wouldn't be heroes if we didn't keep fighting no matter what."
Hawks returned her grin. "Look at you. You sound like your old self again,' he teased.
Rumi bared her teeth and corrected, "I'm my new self, stronger than I ever was before."
"I can believe that," Hawks decided.
For a second, their eyes met, and the two heroes understood each other.
Then, Hitomi declared, "I know you two will do it! You're both strong and awesome!"
Hawks turned to look at Hitomi, then back to Rumi. "Is she always like this?" he asked.
Rumi nodded. "She convinced me to become a hero again by telling me that she believed in me," she added.
Hawks blinked. At last, he said, "Alright then, so she's a literal ray of sunshine all the time. Cool."
It wasn't even that funny, but Rumi couldn't control the laughter that bubbled up in her chest, like a volcano blowing its top. She started giggling, then cackling, until finally, she was clutching her sides in howling mirth. It proved to be infectious; soon, Hawks and Hitomi were both laughing as well.
It felt like a release, a venting of all the pain and darkness and fear that had plagued Rumi ever since that damned mission; at last, the weight on her chest was lifting, and she could breathe again. It was the first time she'd been happy enough to laugh freely in…a long time.
Unfortunately, the three of them were so distracted by their laughter that they didn't notice the blue energy shell around Izuku fizzling, sputtering, and finally dying entirely. They also didn't notice the doctor stumble, regain his feet, and turn towards the laughing trio with murder on his face.
What they did notice was when Izuku clapped his hands sharply, making all three amputees freeze in sudden shock and terror. They swiveled as one, identical expressions of fear on their faces.
Crossing his arms over his chest and scowling, Izuku demanded, "So, let me get this straight. Your first response to seeing a man frozen in place by an unknown quirk is to poke him, your second response is to laugh at him, and your third response is to keep laughing?"
Guiltily, Hawks, Rumi, and Hitomi nodded.
"I see," Izuku grumbled, "I hate all of you."
"What can I say, Doc?" Rumi cracked, "it was nice to have some peace and quiet for once!"
That set the three of them off again, and Izuku could only look on as they howled and chortled at his misery and suffering.
"Fucking heroes," he muttered, but nobody listened to him.
"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, "I used everything You gave me."
Yep, I figured I needed to do something to honor the man, so, here you go.