Izuku's smiles never lasted long, nor were they as full as before.
It was like something was pulling his lips back into that hard line that was so close to a frown.
Mei tilted her head as she watched Izuku and new-friend-Ochako talk for a few moments about something that only put a smile on Izuku's face for a moment. There was something in there besides sadness, besides depression, that was keeping him from enjoying this moment with them. But what? What was it? Was it her and Ochako being here? That didn't make sense.
She needed more data. Depression was volatile; she needed more data. More data in a safe and meaningful way. If she prodded too much, there was a chance that she could make things worse.
Izuku wasn't one of her babies. He was as precious, if not more so than any of her babies, but if he were to explode, that would make things difficult.
Very very difficult.
"Oh!" She snapped her fingers and walked over to stand between Izuku and Ochako, her latest baby for Izuku coiled around her wrist. It was probably one of her most unique and amazing devices, taking inspiration from and then enhancing one of the numerous aspects of Izuku's quirk. It could be used for so many different purposes that her head was spinning with possibilities! "Are you ready to test this baby? I really want to see if it'll work how I think it should work! Which it should! But I wanna see how you use it!"
"Mei," Ochako made a very not-friend-like noise and rolled her eyes. Weren't they pass that already? "Is now really the best time for that?"
"Of course! Progress is always important!" She flailed her arms and grabbed onto Ochako's hands. "Anyday where I don't make progress on something I feel like I'm, well, it doesn't feel good! At all! The opposite, in fact! Besides! Just think about how much this new device will help you, Izuku."
She let go of Ochako and spun towards Izuku, placing the coiled up baby into his hand. "Besides, I really want to know if you like it so I can make more! I think that four would be most useful. I can even add an attachment to your gloves later if you want to make them easier to use."
Izuku let out a light laugh and placed his hand on top of hers.
That felt different.
"Thank you Mei, I did say we'd test it." His smile lasted for a moment, then he looked away, and that fleeting smile plummeted. A long cast off look took over Izuku's face as he looked at nothing, his eyes glazed over.
"Izuku?" Ochako asked.
Izuku took a breath and shook his head like his reset button had just been hit. "Right, it should be safe to test in the yard, right Mei?"
"Ten thousand percent safe! It's pretty much the most nonlethal thing I could make! Well, I mean, you could use it in a lethal way, but you wouldn't do that! But it's safe! Yep!" she placed her hands on her hips and nodded, a wide, proud smile on her face. Even if Izuku wasn't feeling up to smiling, she'd smile enough for both of them. She saw Ochako frowning. She'd smile enough for all three of them!
"Alright," Izuku nodded and grabbed onto the coiled rope segments of her baby and held it up.
They walked out to Izuku's modest backyard, and Izuku unrolled her baby with the flick of his wrist. Like it was designed to, her baby curled back up to its natural curled state.
"It's like a yo-yo?" Ochako asked, hands on her hips and a single eyebrow raised. She sounded like her middle school teacher just then! Didn't they have a talk to stop all of this? They were on the same side! They needed to fix the broken parts in Izuku's brain to get the happy numbers to go up and the sad numbers to go down.
"More like one of those snap-on bracelets." Izuku smiled and snapped out her baby again. At least he was having fun with it. "Just in reverse."
"No-no-no!" she flailed her arm and pointed towards the tree. "You need to use it with your Black-energy-thingy! The grabby thing! What's it called again?"
"Yeah!" Mei snapped her fingers. "Remember those gloves I made you when you first found out you could do that? Well, I was curious about it, and I finally, after like, years and years, managed to figure out how to use that in part of one of my babies! And this one is amazing! So hurry! I wanna see it in action!"
"Alright, alright, normally you just throw the device at me, run away and show back up to throw the instruction manual at me." Izuku laughed.
Mei scoffed, hands on her hips as she let out a light pout. "That's just because sometimes I normally have like other stuff to do."
"And you don't today?"
She shook her head and smiled up at him. "Right now, the only important thing I have to do is to help you."
"Should be testing! Test test go go!"
Izuku let out another genuine laugh and then held onto her baby. He let out a breath. And then aimed his hand at the tree.
The black whip traveled through her device, forcing it to elongate and then some. The material between each of the metallic bands expanding and twitching like a large snake with its head cut off.
"Woah!" Izuku exclaimed. "This is harder to control than you made it sound, Mei!"
The metallic black powered whip slammed into the ground with enough force to leave a deep cut.
"Also noted! Look at it this way! You have a decent mid-ranged weapon now! But! Now! Target the tree like you're going to grab onto it!"
Izuku nodded and thrust his arm forward. The unusual properties of Black Whip shot out from his hand, traveling along her metallic whip and then pulling it with it. The end result was exactly what it would have been had Izuku been using Black Whip on its own but with the added pieces of her baby along the majority of the whip.
"Now, let go!"
Normally with Black Whip, it was maintained for as long as Izuku focused on it. But, the point of her baby was to extend the duration of Black Whip. Still charged with Izuku's energy, her Black Coil-ooh, that's a good name for it-snapped and wrapped around the base of the tree and held firm. Neither sliding nor crushing the tree.
"Woah, that's pretty good Mei!" Izuku cheered. "With that, I'll be able to capture villains quickly while on the go! How long does it last? You said a few minutes? Is there anything I should know about it? Is there a quick release?"
Mei couldn't help but smile at Izuku. He was smiling again This time it was an unburdened smile as though the weights had finally been cut free. But. It could only last for a moment. This wasn't the fix. This was just the start.
"Oh, we can adjust stuff like that later." She stuck her hands behind her back and nodded towards Ochako. "You know, this is kind of nostalgic."
"Really?" Izuku walked over towards the Black Coil and tugged on it. "I guess in a way it is."
Mei bit her lip. She could bury this now. Or she could continue down this path. Both options had more bad than good. If she were to try and get Izuku to talk now, he might force her away, but if she didn't then progress would be slow. Slower than normal.
It was like ripping off a band-aid. Pull it off too soon, and the wound might re-open. Wait, was that the right analogy? There was a reason why she never bothered with those things.
She was also bad at sympathy, but she was certain that Izuku was hurting, and that she needed to help fix him.
"Do you remember back during our first year? How I accidentally found you in the woods?" She asked, taking a step towards Izuku. There was a slight need on her part to be close to him. Hugs made people feel better. She was going to hug him.
"Yeah," Izuku replied with a soft smile on his face as he looked up along the tree. "It was really convenient. You even managed to convert one of your other babies into a glove in like a night. Did you even sleep during that week?"
Mei shrugged. "A bit. I made sure to make time for your glove, though even if it took longer than I thought it would."
"Thanks for making the time for me then." Izuku let out a laugh. "It came in handy before the week was even over, but why'd you go out of your way? You made it sound that it wasn't much of a big deal."
"Hmm, if it was anybody else, I probably would have had them wait. But, ever since the sports festival, you've been my favorite hero and my most valuable customer, so it made sense to give your requests extra attention." She stood right beside him and kept her smile growing strong. "So that's why it hurts me to see you like this, Izuku."
"Mei," Izuku took a step away from her, his lip trembling. "I know. But. I. I can't."
Ochako bounced up to stand beside them. "Izuku! I've known you for years, and you've never let something like this beat you! You always struggled, but you always stood back up! And like Mei, I've been your fan and your friend for years now! So, please, can we please talk about this? About why you've shut down because..."
Ochako went silent for a moment and then looked towards Mei.
Oh, so she was the one that had to say it. Was she going to have to fix Ochako too? She didn't know Ochako like she knew Izuku. But, it might help. Apparently broken people were easier to fix in tight groups, unlike her babies where that was just more work, and/or scrap.
"Since All Might's death," she said with a firm voice that was almost too chipper for the subject matter.
Anger flashed across Izuku's face for a second. Then it faded, giving way to a pure emotion Mei couldn't quite understand. Tears swelled up in Izuku's eyes as he braced his back against the tree, his arms limp, and his breath came in short sharp gasps. But. He was laughing. "I thought I was ready."
His voice cracked, and he stared at them before wiping his eyes with his wrist. "I knew for longer than anyone that All Might was going to die. I thought I was prepared for it. I had so much time. So much time to get ready to move on without him. But. Now he's gone, and I don't even know what to do with myself—the number one hero. Just gone. And it's my fault."
She had read that people experiencing grief, depression, and despair would blame themselves, but she didn't think that it would look like this. That seeing Izuku like this would make her start shaking. She needed to say something! But what? Why was it now that her mouth couldn't make any noise! It was like the words were just gone. She couldn't even say his name.
"Izuku," Ochako stepped forward, her eyes tearful. "We all knew that All Might didn't have long. But, you shouldn't blame yourself for this. It's not your fault."
Izuku let out a laugh that chilled Mei to the bone. There was no humor in it, but it was loud and forceful, and closer to that of a sob.
He slumped against the tree and stared at them. He pulled a strand of his hair out and looked at it for a moment before dropping it to the ground with another wet sobbing chuckle. "You don't understand Ochako. I'm why All Might died. You see. I'm quirkless."
"What?" Mei asked, "No you're not, you have more quirks than I know what to do with sometimes!"
"Yep, and none of them are mine." Izuku placed his hands on his scars. "These are proof of it. I inherited something greater than myself. I met All Might by chance one day. I'm honestly not sure what he saw in me, or if that something is even there anymore. But, All Might chose me. He trained me, he trained me for a year, but I was still too weak. But. On the morning of the entrance exam." Izuku chuckled and grabbed a few blades of grass. "He looked at me and grabbed some of his hair, and said 'Eat this' and then, that was that. He gave me his quirk."
Izuku let the grass fall to the ground. "After that, his condition got worse. He could spend less and less time as All Might. His strength was transferring into me. If he still had One for All then he'd still be alive, the world would still have All Might."
"But it wouldn't have Deku." Mei stepped forward and placed her hand on Izuku's shoulder. "I've seen the news, people look up to you. They say you're the next All Might. And I think that All Might thought the same way. That's why he chose you. He believed in you."
"Maybe, but," He licked his lips again and let out a long stable breath. "But, I think he regretted it too. Especially after what he told me the day he died."
"What?" Ochako asked, her tears had already stopped.
"He told me who my dad really was."
AN: Sorry for the delay, this story is... complicated to write.