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The Reeducation of Midoriya Izuku

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***

To say that the last two hours have been filled with frantic, agitated energy is to elevate and belittle them simultaneously.

For Naomasa, finally learning the truth behind Midoriya Izuku’s circumstances should have brought closure to his investigation; instead, he is presented with a slew of new questions for every answer he has received. He burns to know more in the wake of this unexpected twist, this paradigm shift. He overflows with restless energy at the abrupt change, as what should have been a final conclusion metamorphoses into a new beginning.

And yet, for as much as Hedoro’s interview changes everything, aside from All-Might, Bakugou, and Naomasa himself, who will care? What does the fate of one quirkless boy matter? This is not baseless supposition; it took fifteen years for anyone to even notice Midoriya was missing.

Phone calls are made in haste, extending their time at the prison as Naomasa attempts to manage the fallout alone. Both of his companions retreat during this time, seeking solitude in separate interrogation rooms.

Following his initial upset, Bakugou had exploded a second time when informed of Midoriya’s possible connection to the Hero Killer. Now the young man sits alone in an empty room, scowling at the tiled floor as though he can burn a hole through it with nothing but his red-eyed, angry glare. It doesn’t take a detective to see that the young hero is thinking of the past. His moody stare is self-reflective, full of second guesses and regrets.

Naomasa’s mind works in overdrive, making connections at lightning speed: Bakugou had been the first one to mention Midoriya Inko’s death, though he’d been unaware of the sinister particulars. Bakugou’s mother and Midoriya Inko had likely been friends, just as Katsuki and Izuku had been, once. The boys had grown apart, reflected in the distance between their parents. The estate manager, Fujimoto Daiki, had admitted that only he and Izuku were present at Inko’s funeral. Bakugou’s mother had likely learned of Inko’s death sometime after that, too late to do anything except inform Katsuki that his “Auntie Inko” was no longer of this earth.

Without a word spoken Naomasa leaves the room, letting the door swing silently shut. He nods to the outside guard, then walks further down the hall to where a second guard stands.

This guard swipes a card key and punches a code into the door. Naomasa murmurs his thanks and steps inside.

Separated by time and distance and several walls, somehow All-Might has unknowingly managed to mirror Bakugou’s exact position. He sits like a statue, alone in the empty interrogation room.

In his hero-form, Toshinori’s presence usually dominates any room. He is larger than life, all bulging muscle and unyielding posture, gigantic smile and even bigger heart. Right now though, with his shoulders hunched forward and his head bowed low, he doesn’t much look like the Symbol of Peace. He looks lost and sad and unforgivably small.

Naomasa hasn’t seen an expression like that on the other man’s face since the loss of his teacher at Kamino Ward.

Toshinori doesn’t look up from his hands as Naomasa says quietly, “The board has agreed to allow the two of us to speak with Akaguro Chizome. Preparations to move him to an interrogation room are currently underway.” He hesitates, then adds, “It’s lucky you were with me today. Without your presence, I doubt they would have been half so accommodating.”

Even as he says the words aloud, Naomasa knows this to be an understatement. Acquiring permission to interview the Hero Killer Stain is a far greater undertaking than requesting to meet with someone like the Sludge Villain. Even after so many years, Akaguro continues to be a high profile figure; despite his horrific actions, his zealous fanbase remains strong. There are only two, maybe three criminals housed in Tartarus who receive equal amounts mail, favorable or otherwise.

Toshinori hums his acknowledgment, weak and noncommittal.

Then, silence.

There are different kinds of silence, Naomasa knows. There are comfortable silences, and echoing silences, and silences fraught with heavy tension. This particular silence is thin, weary, exhaustion like a bone-deep ache.

“I have made many mistakes in my lifetime,” Toshinori confesses into the quiet. “But this one... this one grieves me more than most.”

“You can’t save the whole world,” Naomasa protests, a common argument between them.

Toshinori huffs a self-deprecating laugh. “No, not the whole world. But I cannot help but think it was fate that set the boy in my path that day, a mirrored reflection of my own past. And instead of lifting him up like my master did me, I stepped on top of him just like everyone else. If I had chosen differently, where might he be today?”

Silence descends upon them once more, fragile and desolate.

Naomasa shifts his weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other. Finally, he says, “I understand your feelings, All-Might, but I must be frank with you. As we continue to move forward with this investigation, I feel I must warn you, I have... concerns.”

Toshinori finally lifts his head. As he meets Naomasa’s eyes, he repeats, “Concerns?”

“I have encountered many villains who have less turbulent histories than Midoriya Izuku. Men and women who have snapped at society with far less provocation.” Naomasa hesitates briefly before continuing, “In light of the boy’s potential connection to the Hero Killer Stain, I think it wise that you brace yourself for the very real possibility that if Midoriya-kun is, in fact, alive - ”

“You think the boy turned down a dark path,” Toshinori concludes, voice tightening with slow fury. “You think he became a villain.”

“I don’t know what to think,” Naomasa argues vehemently. “I only know that you’re invested in this boy, that you have been for years. You have a tremendous heart, my friend, and I have no desire to witness it break again.”

The hero lets out a slow, controlled breath. He is visibly calmer as he says, “I... understand that you are troubled for my well-being, and I appreciate your consideration.” Toshinori pauses. “You wouldn’t have brought up your concerns based solely on a connection which we haven’t even yet confirmed. What are you thinking, Tsukauchi-kun?”

Naomasa taps his foot on the floor once, twice and again, fidgeting. He begins to pace. “Successful investigation deals in fact, All-Might. Interviews and witness testimony and any number of unreliable narration which is ultimately put it into context with cold, hard fact.”

“We know that Midoriya-kun was diagnosed quirkless at the age of four. We know he was bullied and abused, that he suffered both physically and emotionally, and that his mother was his only source of support. Shot down by his idol, bereaved of the one person who loved him unconditionally, and forced to defend himself from a villain, it’s very likely that Midoriya-kun was in a state of extreme emotional distress that day.”

“With valid reason!” Toshinori defends passionately. “You cannot possibly find fault in the boy’s actions against the Sludge Villain. Those were extreme circumstances. Actions taken in defense of his own life!”

“You’re right,” Naomasa agrees. “Despite his unorthodox methods, I certainly can’t fault the boy for his first attack on the Sludge Villain, nor can I argue what was likely his only method of removing the villain from his mother’s body.”

Toshinori’s posture loosens, his shoulders relaxing. He says, “Good. That’s... good.”

“However, I do take issue with this: according to that same testimony, Midoriya-kun kept the villain who murdered his mother in a fish tank for a week like some sort of pet.”

This part of Hedoro’s interview had evidently not sent up the same red flags to Toshinori as it had to Naomasa himself. The hero opens his mouth, closes it. His expression shifts between thoughtful and perplexed.

Naomasa continues, pressing his point. “And so, if the boy is indeed still alive, I do have some rather serious concerns over his mental health, and the potential impression someone like the Hero Killer might have left on him.”

“The Sludge Villain did say that,” Toshinori mutters, more to himself than Naomasa. “Why would young Midoriya keep him prisoner for so long?”

Relieved that his friend is at least willing to listen, Naomasa relents slightly. “Please don’t misunderstand, I am entirely sympathetic. Midoriya Izuku had been neglected his whole life. It’s entirely possible every choice he made was with the certainty that no one would help him, because authority figures had always turned a blind-eye to his suffering.”

Toshinori closes his eyes as he adds, “Because there was no one there to save him, he saved himself.”

“He protected his own life and preserved his mother’s body from further indignity with the only tools he had at his disposal.” Naomasa continues, soft-spoken and intense, “But the man we’ve just interviewed? He’s a serial killer with questionable mental stability, and he is obsessed with a boy he met fifteen years ago. Consider his plea bargain. He was willing to trade away the rest of his life to give Midoriya-kun ‘a gift.’”

“I’m no expert on psychological responses, but don’t you think that’s strange? He was held captive, dependent on the whims of a thirteen-year-old boy for at least a week. Hedoro should have been swearing vengeance for the indignities he suffered during that time, not using his one piece of leverage to barter for a more recent photo.”

Toshinori shakes his head. “Isn’t it possible the Sludge Villian desires a more recent photo for some sort of nefarious purpose?”

Naomasa stops pacing abruptly. He fixes the other man with a pointed look. “You were there, All-Might. Did he really look like he was plotting revenge?”

“No,” Toshinori replies softly. “He was honest in his admiration. Fond, even.”

“So tell me again that I shouldn’t be concerned,” Naomasa states. “Explain to me what kind of off-the-charts charisma Midoriya Izuku possesses that a serial killer like Hedoro Viran looks back on their time together with that sort of tender affection?”

Again, silence. Dark and thick and rich.

The tension is interrupted by a sharp knock on the door, and the guard peeks in and says, “All-Might? Detective? They’re ready for you.”

***

Interviewer: Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa
Interviewee: Akaguro Chizome
Witnesses: No. 1, All-Might
Time, Date and Location: 11:35 PM, September 14th, Tartarus 2nd Floor, Interrogation Room 17

Begin Transcription.

TN: I am obligated by law to inform you that this conversation is being recorded as part of an on-going investigation.

AC: [metal clanking, a single clap] All-Might. It’s an honor and a pleasure. It is also most unexpected. [more metal clanking] I’m only sorry that we meet again under these circumstances.

No. 1: It has been many years.

AC: A man of your age, a hero for over half a century, and still you stand at your prime. That sort of responsibility, it must weigh upon you terribly.

No. 1: Thank you for your concerns, but I am [pause] well.

AC: Do I applaud your selflessness, or do I condemn you for perjury? [pause] But I’m certain you haven’t pulled me from my cell at this hour simply to discuss the toll a lifetime in the heroics industry can take upon even a man so great as you.

TN: For the record, please state your name.

AC: Akaguro Chizome, known better as the Hero Killer, Stain.

TN: Are you familiar with the name Midoriya Izuku?

AC: Midoriya, Midoriya. [pause] No, can’t say that I am.

TN: You’ve never heard the name before?

AC: I cannot say “never” with absolute certainty, but I don’t recognize it.

TN: [paper rustling] Do you recognize the boy in this photo?

AC: Oh, Detective. [short laugh] Oh, I see.

TN: [pause] Do you know him?

AC: I do.

TN: What is his name?

AC: [short laugh] Not Midoriya Izuku, that’s for certain.

TN: Then you know him by another name?

AC: I do.

TN: [long pause] By what name do you know this boy?

AC: That would be telling. [laughing] Oh, don’t make that face. I’m afraid you’re not asking the right questions, Detective.

TN: For the purpose of this conversation, I will refer to the boy in this photo as Midoriya Izuku. Putting aside the question of what you called him, how did the two of you meet?

AC: It was fifteen years ago, give or take. The sun had just set, illuminating the rooftops with that hazy, twilight glow. I had plans to hunt that night, though I was not yet well known for my efforts to cull the pretenders, and I spotted the boy from my vantage.

TN: What was it about him that attracted your attention?

AC: [pause] There is a certain look people get, when the world has stepped on them time and time again. A whisper of something broken, something jagged and miserable, something fragile and forgotten.

TN: And Midoriya-kun had this look?

AC: The boy had a touch of something. Something in the curve of his shoulders, something heavy, something strange. [pause] I was curious, Detective. I made my way down from the rooftop and followed him at a distance, observing.

TN: What did you observe?

AC: He was a small boy, shoulders hunched beneath his All-Might hoodie. He kept his head down, moved slowly but with purpose. His hands were trembling, and he carried a soda bottle under his arm that looked like it was full of mud. I’d been following him for a few minutes when he stopped to look around. “Who’s there?” he asked. Squeaked really, that little quiver in his voice.

TN: While I don’t know the full extent of your abilities, I do believe you are a highly-skilled individual. I find it difficult to believe a boy in middle school was able to sense your presence while you were shadowing him.

AC: And yet, he noticed something. A whisper of sound? The feeling of being watched? However he managed it, I was impressed enough that I stepped into the light and let him see me. He squeaked again like some sort of frightened animal. He was terrified, and as he flinched away, he dropped his soda bottle. It bounced once or twice on the pavement, then rolled by my feet.

AC: The boy instantly panicked, blindly stumbling forward despite his obvious fear, trying to grab the bottle. I didn’t understand, so I picked up the bottle and looked into the mud. [laughing] Imagine my surprise when I saw something looking back.

TN: I have reason to believe the bottle you are describing contained Hedoro Viran, the Sludge Villain who was arrested later that same day.

AC: You would be correct. I didn’t know his name then, but I can recognize the eyes of a killer when I see them.

TN: What happened next?

AC: I asked the boy what he was doing with the man in the bottle. He replied that he intended to turn him in for arrest, just as you described, Detective. [short laugh] I might have teased the boy, just a little. He made such tiny, terrified sounds. Ultimately, I returned the bottle to him and let him go, intending to follow him from the rooftops to make sure he reached his destination.

TN: Were you in the habit of protecting children who walked alone at night?

AC: I’m no hero, Detective, but even a monster can have a moment of weakness.

TN: Was that the extent of your interaction?

AC: Before he left, I asked him what crime the man in the bottle had committed. The boy stopped in his tracks. He didn’t turn to look at me, and so I couldn’t see his expression. He replied quietly, “He killed my mom.” And without another word, he hurried on his way.

TN: Did you ever encounter Midoriya-kun again?

AC: Many times, Detective, over the course of the next three years. That child [pause] there was something about him that made me curious, right from the start.

TN: How would you describe the nature of your relationship?

AC: I wouldn’t.

TN: You’ve just admitted that you met with Midoriya-kun many times over the course of several years. Surely the regularity of those encounters is worth describing as a relationship of some sort. Was he your student?

AC: You misunderstand, Detective. I’m not denying my connection to the boy. I’m simply refusing to explain it to you.

TN: Aside from the boy’s name, you’ve seemed willing to answer my questions until this point. What’s changed?

AC: You’ve followed the white rabbit through the forest, Detective, only to lose sight of him in the end. Now you’re poised at the top of the rabbit hole, staring into the darkness and wondering what you may find if only you dare to blindly reach in. You’re right to be wary; even an innocent bunny has teeth.

AC: By what name did I know him? What is the nature of our acquaintance? You’re asking all the wrong questions. I’m afraid I can’t help you.

No. 1: Young Midoriya is [pause] important to me. Please reconsider.

AC: At the behest of a true hero, I suppose I can at least point you in the right direction. First, that photo you have? That photo is of a boy who died fifteen years ago. You won’t find anyone who recognizes him, not like that.

AC: Have your artists sketch up a new image. A boy in an over-sized, black hoodie. The hood should be pulled up, shadowing his face. His bangs will still be visible, still green, still unkempt. They fall over his eyes, hiding his expression in plain sight. His posture is poor, shoulders slouched, and he keeps his hands stuffed into the pockets of the hoodie.

TN: That’s your description? A boy in a hoodie?

AC: A boy who learned how to protect himself by blending in. [pause] A boy who looks like everyone else, and therefore looks like no one at all.

TN: You said “first.” “First, that photo.”

AC: Astute, Detective. You’d be surprised how many people hold the pieces of this particular puzzle. [laughing] Second, once you have that picture drawn up, talk to the wayward Todoroki. I think his account is a fine place to start.

End Transcription.

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