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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.

***

Chapter Text

***

Despite overwhelming physical exhaustion, Naomasa is unable to find peace. He manages to sleep for a handful of hours, but his rest is plagued with dreams he cannot recall. He jolts awake, feeling inexplicably unsettled. A glance through his curtained window reveals the sun has not yet risen, and he finds himself sitting at his kitchen table, sipping coffee as he transcribes the Hero Killer’s interview by hand.

Naomasa arrives at the police station at 8 a.m sharp, freshly showered and shaved. He is no longer a young man however, and his fitful rest makes itself known throughout the day. He moves slower, his mind touched with fog, and the hands of the overhead wall-clock tick forward with glacial indolence.

Both Toshinori and Bakugou text him, eager for updates. The dull ache behind Naomasa’s eyes uncharitably urges him to ignore these messages, but ultimately he gives in and replies. Left Midoriya’s updated description and his old yearbook photo with the sketch artists. Will be visiting the Hisame residence as soon as the resulting composite reaches my desk.

His phone vibrates twice in quick succession.

Toshinori’s text reads: I have not spoken with young Hisame informally in many months. May I join you while you conduct your interview?

In contrast, Bakugou’s says: half n half or scarface? whatever fuck ill be there

These men are pros, Naomasa laments internally. He fetches himself a fresh cup of coffee.

As he waits at his desk, he gives into impulse and does a quick online search of the Todoroki name. He is instantly bombarded with decade-old articles detailing Todoroki Enji’s infamous fall from grace. There are captions of classic tabloid headlines: NO. 2 IS NO. 1 ABUSER and HERO FIRST? FATHER NEVER. One of the more respectable papers still archives a series of controversial essays including “Quirk Marriage, the Shackles of Entitlement and Neglect” and “Breaking a Legacy: Todoroki no More.”

The tops three video clips boast viewer hits in the millions: a candid shot of the entire Todoroki family huddled together, vacant expressions morphing to shock as Enji receives his sentence. A camera pans over the crowd of spectators outside the courthouse as Enji is escorted away in handcuffs, his face twisted with fire and fury. A short video of Enji when he was still Endeavor, physically assaulting a particularly vocal reporter.

Naomasa types “Hisame Shouto” into the search bar. The articles retrieved are much more favorable, punctuated with fansites and open message boards. A banner on the side of the screen pops up, proclaiming: No. 6 Hero, Shouto! Makes Hitobito Magazine’s Top 5 Most Eligible Heroes, Five Years Running!

“Detective Tsukauchi?” The junior officer who interrupts his musings bows once. “Atisuto-san asked me to bring this to you. He said to tell you the description was awful, but the reference photo was greatly appreciated.”

“Thank you,” Naomasa replies, accepting the composite.

Then he spends several minutes staring down at the image. He is plagued by an uncomfortable impression of familiarity as he stares at the face of a boy who looks like anyone else, and therefore no one at all.

***

All-Might arrives not long after, and he comically squishes himself into the passenger seat of the police car. It takes all of Naomasa’s willpower not to smile as he pulls up the directions via GPS. The Hisame residence is located in one of the nicer residential areas of Yoyogi, and is a forty-five minute drive from the police station.

Naomasa and Toshinori make pleasant small talk for the duration of the ride. They do not broach the subject of the Hero Killer’s interview; they say nothing of Midoriya Izuku.

Bakugou is already waiting on the sidewalk when they arrive, evidently familiar with his former classmate’s home. Naomasa tucks his folder under his arm as he rings the doorbell, and a woman’s voice calls out, “Just a moment!”

Hisame Rei answers the door. Her long, silver hair is pulled back in a messy bun, and several loose strands frame her heart-shaped face. She smiles, delighted as she sees All-Might. Then her gaze travels past him, to Bakugou’s perpetually scowling face and Naomasa’s professionally blank visage, and her voices shakes as she asks, “My son?”

Toshinori is quick to reassure her. “No, no, Ms. Hisame. Nothing like that.” The massive hero gestures to Naomasa and says, “Detective Tsukauchi is leading an investigation concerning a boy who disappeared many years ago; it was indicated to us that one of your sons might be familiar with this boy, and we hoped to ask him a few questions?”

The tension instantly falls from her shoulders and she replies, “Oh, thank God. I apologize, but when two pros and an officer ring my doorbell, I can’t help but think ‘not again.’ Please, come in.” She ushers them through the front door, and as they are removing their shoes, she adds, “Which of my sons did you need to speak to? Shouto-kun is already here, and Touya-kun should be home shortly.”

Bakugou scoffs and mutters, “Fucked if we know.”

Naomasa elaborates, “We’re actually not sure, ma’am. We were told to speak to ‘the wayward Todoroki,’ and our source indicated a male pronoun. I have a composite sketch that hopefully one of your boys will recognize.”

“Wayward Todoroki,” Rei muses. “What a strange turn of phrase. Are you sure they weren’t referring to my ex-husband?”

All-Might frowns. “If neither young Shouto or young Touya recognize the image...” He pauses. “Well, I suppose we shall cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Under his breath, Bakugou adds, “Cross it, burn it, blow it the fuck up.” Then, louder, “Where’s that half-and-half bastard?”

Toshinori chides gently, “That’s no way for a hero to speak, my boy.”

Bakugou’s mouth compresses to a thin line, and he bristles like an angry cat. He looks at Ms. Hisame and repeats deliberately, “Where’s that half-and-half bastard, ma’am?”

The older woman lets out an undignified snort, either because she’s already familiar with Bakugou’s particular eccentricities, or because the nickname amuses her, Naomasa can’t quite tell. She gestures for them to follow her down the hall; toward a room where Naomasa can just make out the muted sounds of a formal broadcast.

As they walk, she explains, “We were watching the news. Natsuo, Shouto’s older brother, was asked to take part in a public debate on a proposed legislation regarding hospital welfare. I’m so proud!”

Shouto is perched on the edge of the couch, watching the television intently. He glances up briefly as they enter the room, only to do an immediate double take and shoot to his feet. His voice isn’t quite level as he demands, “Is Touya - ”

Rei extends her hands, placating. “Your brother is fine, Shouto-kun.” She hastily explains, “These men are looking into a missing person, and apparently you might know the boy in question?”

Shouto lets out a short, relieved breath. He moves to greet them each in turn. “All-Might. Detective Tsukauchi.” He eyes Bakugou and says flatly, “Blasty.”

“Fuck off,” Bakugou replies without any real heat.

“I have a sketch here,” Naomasa interjects, stepping forward. He has no desire to see this banter escalate if either hero takes offense. He flips his folder open, extending Midoriya’s image. Before he can ask any questions, Shouto has already grabbed the proffered paper in an uncharacteristically rude move.

Shouto stares at the picture. Naomasa takes a moment to study the young man’s face, the slight softness at the edges of the eyes, the tiny uptick at the corners of the mouth, the brief parting of the lips. The resultant expression is so out of place on Shouto’s usually somber face that it makes him look like someone else completely, erasing the burden of a decade in the blink of an eye.

By Shouto’s side, Rei sucks in a sharp breath. She too stares at Midoriya’s visage as though it holds some universal secret. “Oh,” she says faintly. “Oh, my.”

There is no question of recognition. Out of the corner of his eye, Naomasa can see Bakugou’s hands ball into fists.

Naomasa sends up a silent prayer for strength as he gestures to the couch and surrounding chairs. “If we can sit, I have some questions I’d like to ask you.” He reaches into his pocket and retrieves his recorder, then sets it gently on the small, decorative end table. He says, “This conversation is being recorded as part of an on-going investigation. I am grateful for any information you - either of you - can share with me.”

***

Interviewer: Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa
Interviewee: Hisame Shouto, Hisame Rei
Witnesses: No. 1, All-Might; No. 3, Ground Zero
Time, Date and Location: 1: 20 PM, September 15th, Hisame Residence

Begin Transcription.

TN: This conversation is being recorded as part of an on-going investigation. I am grateful for any information you - either of you - can share with me. [pause] For the record, please state your names.

HR: Hisame Rei.

[long pause, indistinct chatter plays from the television]

HS: Hisame Shouto.

TN: And were those the names you used fifteen years ago?

HR: No. I was still married, then. I went by the name Todoroki. It wasn’t until after my divorce that I decided to restore my maiden name, and each of my children chose to renounce their father’s name in turn.

TN: You both recognize the boy in that image?

HR: Yes.

HS: [pause, paper rustling] He was my friend.

TN: What was his name?

HS: He called himself Deku.

No. 3: [quietly] The fuck.

TN: Do you know why he used that name? Any reason he might have chosen it in favor of the name that he was born with?

HS: I asked him, once. He said that it wasn’t the name his mother had given him, but that it fit him much better. He didn’t explain what he meant by that, and I didn’t pry.

TN: Deku was a nickname given to him by a childhood acquaintance. It was an alternate reading of his actual name; it meant useless.

HR: [quietly] How cruel.

HS: That’s doesn’t make any sense.

TN: Children are often cruel, ma’am. But if I may, what doesn’t make sense?

HS: I could describe Deku as many things; useless wasn’t among them.

TN: How would you describe him, then?

HS: He was timid usually; he always kept his hood up and his head down. I used to think that was because he was hiding, a scar on his face or something. [quiet laugh] I suppose I might have been projecting. But he was passionate about certain subjects, and he came alive when he started talking about something that really mattered to him.

TN: And what would you say really mattered to him?

HS: Quirks. He was very knowledgeable. But also [pause] I don’t know how to explain it. He understood people better than anyone I’ve ever met, their motivations and their desires. He had so much empathy, felt so much, so deeply. I wasn’t [pause] I didn’t understand, back then. I had two emotional settings: angry or numb. He [pause] humbled me.

TN: Would you agree with that assessment, Ms. Hisame?

HR: It’s difficult to say. I only knew Deku-kun briefly, our acquaintance lasting perhaps a week. In the time that I knew him, he was focused. Driven.

TN: How did you meet?

HR: Shouto-kun knew him long before I did. Perhaps you should start there.

HS: I used to [pause] There was a park near my house. I’d go there to clear my head sometimes. It was an escape, a safe place. The first time I met Deku, he was sitting alone on the swings. I sat on a swing near him. We didn’t speak.

TN: When was this?

HS: A few months before I started U.A. He was there sometimes, at the park. I don’t remember how we started talking; it was a slow and gradual thing. By the end of it, we were meeting there at least once or twice a week.

TN: And when you started U.A.? Did your friendship continue?

HS: Yes, though not as frequently. I was not a [pause] well-socialized child. His advice and his insight were invaluable to me; if not for him, I don’t know that I would have been capable of befriending my classmates.

No. 3: Tch.

TN: Can you describe him to me? In the time that you spent together, did you notice anything strange or unusual about him?

HS: He always wore the same thing, black hoodie and track pants. Back then, I wasn’t aware of many things that might be considered strange or abnormal, but as I got older [pause] I don’t know when I first realized it, but he was probably homeless. The same clothes, usually scuffed with grime, worn and eventually patched.

TN: What else?

HS: On the days we agreed to meet, he was always there, waiting for me. Sometimes I wasn’t able to sneak away until much later at night, but it didn’t make any difference. [pause] He didn’t have anyone waiting for him.

TN: You say the two of you met primarily at the park near your childhood home, but I believe it was sometime during your first year at U.A. that living at the dorms became mandatory. What happened then?

HS: There was a park a few blocks from U.A. We met there instead. Nothing changed save the location, and perhaps the frequency. My studies kept me busy, but.

TN: But?

HS: He was my first real friend. No matter how busy my schedule, I always made time.

TN: When was the last time you saw him?

HS: It was the day before the scandal with my father broke. He told me that we might not see each other again for a long time, but that he would always be my friend.

[long pause, indistinct chatter plays from the television]

No. 1: I’m sorry, my boy, but are you saying that young Midoriya had something to do with your father’s trial?

HS: Young who?

TN: Midoriya Izuku. Deku.

HR: I believe that’s where I come in. You know of my history, Detective?

TN: I don’t believe there is a detective on the force who isn’t familiar with your story, Ms. Hisame.

HR: Then you know I was trapped in a loveless marriage, that I suffered certain abuses at the hands of my then-husband, and that I watched my children suffer those same abuses for years. That boy, the one in the picture [two quiet taps] he came to me while I was in the hospital.

TN: When was this?

HR: Sometime near the middle of Shouto-kun’s third year at U.A. I don’t remember the exact date, but you can check the hospital records. [pause] I didn’t get many visitors.

TN: And what was the purpose of his visit?

HR: When Deku-kun introduced himself to me, he did so as a friend of my son. He was determined to bring the truth of my ex-husband’s crimes to light. He said that society had failed me, that it had failed my children, that it continued to fail us, complacent in the face of Enji’s fame. He wanted my testimony.

TN: And you simply gave it to him? Forgive me if I’m wrong, but you don’t strike me as the sort of woman who is willing to hand out highly sensitive information about your family affairs to a complete stranger.

HR: You’re not wrong, Detective. I didn’t - couldn’t - admit to my ex-husband’s abuses. I was [pause] shaken, and I denied everything and asked him to leave. Before he did, he apologized for upsetting me and placed a thick folder on my bedside table. He asked me to look it over, and promised to return the following day.

TN: What was in the folder?

HR: Information. Eye witness accounts of my ex-husband’s violent and uncompromising behavior on the field, coupled with public records that had clearly been altered to cover up his actions and make them appear more favorable. There were clips from newspapers and magazines, misinformation about the reason for my mental breakdown, and.

TN: And?

HR: And my children’s testimonies. Interviews with Natsuo-kun and Fuyumi-chan and Shouto-kun, their accounts of the kind of household that my ex-husband had kept. The pressures they’d lived under their whole lives.

HR: I was [pause] not well. I was struggling, coming to grips with my failures as a mother -

HS: That man hurt you. He’s the failure. I don’t blame you, not for [pause] for this.

HR: Shouta-kun, I have long since accepted my culpability in giving you that scar. But I was unable to stop him when he hurt you and your brothers and sister. I am your mother; I should have been stronger.

TN: [pause, single cough] About Deku?

HR: My apologies, Detective. To see it laid out like that, in cold, hard fact. I could no longer deny it. But when Deku-kun returned the following day, I was distraught. “You’re a child playing at being an adult,” I told him. “In the face of the Number 2 hero and the blind foundation upon which the heroic system is built, what can someone like you possibly do?”

TN: How did he reply?

HR: He looked down. I felt badly for a moment, for raising my voice to him. Then he looked up at me, eyes blazing from beneath his hood, and when he spoke I felt something I hadn’t felt in a very long time. It was such a small, fragile thing, but I felt hope. “What can I do? I can try.”

HR: I gave him my testimony after that. It took days, but he returned dutifully, so thorough in his pursuit of the truth. When we were finally done, I felt completely drained, but also [pause] lighter. Free. He bowed to me, and thanked me for my time and cooperation. Then he warned me that in bringing down a man like Enji, my family was certainly going to be caught in the fallout. He told me [pause] that my children needed me. They needed me to be there for them. They needed me to be strong.

HR: I told him that I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror most day; how could my children possibly forgive me for what I’d done? [pause] He laughed. It wasn’t a very kind sound. He said, “If my mother appeared before me at this moment, I wouldn’t care about sins or failures or forgiveness. My mother is my mother, and that’s all that matters.”

HS: You never [pause] you never told me that part of the story.

TN: To be clear, Midoriya Izuku, the boy you know as Deku, was the one who originally collected the information later used in Todoroki Enji’s trial? How is that possible? By your own account, he was homeless.

HS: He made use of the public library. I don’t know how he lived back then, but Deku was brilliant. Being homeless had nothing to do with it.

TN: But you’re certain? He’s the one responsible for the Endeavor Scandal?

HR: I’d argue that my ex-husband was entirely responsible for his own scandal, but Deku-kun was the [pause] catalyst. He cared enough about me, about my son, to spend months researching his information. When he had irrefutable proof of Enji’s crimes, and the heroic industries part in covering them up, he brought them to Mr. Bengoshi, and the rest [pause] well, the rest is history.

End Transcription.

***

There is a noise at the front door. A man’s voice calls out, “I’m home!”

“Welcome home!” Rei replies, her voice light and pleased.

Naomasa tracks the heavy footsteps through the hallway. Hisame Touya pauses at the entrance of the living room, eyes narrow as looks over the scene. “Mother, are these pros bothering you?”

“Everything’s fine, Touya-kun,” Rei is quick to reassure. “The police are looking into a boy who your brother and I both met years ago; they simply wanted to collect our statements.”

“Oh?” Touya’s shoulders relax slightly. He shifts his weight, leaning back on the balls of his heels.

“Tch,” Bakugou spits from where he leans against the wall, arms crossed defensively. “Fuckin’ try it, Scarface.”

“Nice to see you too, Timebomb,” Touya replies, expression blank.

“Brother,” Shouto interjects calmly, “We both agreed to never fight in mother’s house.” He stands, moving to his older brother’s side. They are nearly the same height, and Shouto takes advantage of this to bump their shoulders together in solidarity.

Touya sighs, sounding put out, but he takes a half step back as though physically distancing himself from the confrontation. Bakugou, in a rare display of diplomacy and restraint, says nothing.

“Thank you for your time.” Toshinori stands, bowing deeply to Rei. “You’ve given us much to consider.”

Naomasa moves to stop his recorder, and to retrieve Midoriya’s composite from where it sits on the living room table. As he does, he finds Touya at his side, looking down at the image curiously.

“That’s the kid?” Touya asks. There’s something in his tone that gives the detective pause.

“It is,” Naomasa replies slowly. “Why do you ask?”

Hisame Touya, known better in some circles by the alias Dabi, cocks his head to the side, frowning. “Mostly I’m just wondering under what circumstances my mother and my baby brother met the boy who took down Shigaraki.”

***

Chapter Text

***

There are many kinds of silences, Naomasa knows. There are comfortable silences, and echoing silences, and silences fraught with tension. But this silence? This silence holds weight. It presses him from all sides, thickens the air, steals the breath from his lungs. It is intangible, yet fills the room like it has physical being.

The boy who took down Shigaraki.

The words hang untouched, a quiet and unassuming accusation.

Bakugou chokes, “What.”

It is not a question.

All at once, everyone speaks out. Bakugou in anger, All-Might in confusion, Shouto in denial: a cacophony of chaos. Touya stands at the epicenter of this whirlwind discord, and Naomasa can see the slight twist of his lips, the faint glint in his eye. His mind translates: a twist of enjoyment, a glint of amusement.

It seems that for all that he is reformed, the man once known as Dabi revels in this strife.

“Gentlemen,” Naomasa begins but his voice is drowned out.

“ - think it’s funny,” Bakugou raves. “I don’t know what the fuck you’re tryin’ to pull here, Scarface - ”

“ - sure?” All-Might asks. “Young Midoriya was an untrained child - ”

“ - brother!” Shouto exclaims, wide-eyed and almost desperate. “I know I’ve spoken of Deku to you before - ”

“GENTLEMEN,” Naomasa repeats, loud enough to make Present Mic proud, tone as firm as Eraserhead on a bad day. Three mouths snap shut audibly, as if they are spring-loaded. It is into this sudden void that he quickly says, “Hisame-kun, if you’re amenable, I would like to ask you a few questions. Just the two of us,” he add when he sees Bakugou open his mouth, followed in quick succession by Shouto.

“You can’t fuckin’ keep me out!” Bakugou protests, his earlier fury switching targets with quicksilver swiftness.

“I can and I will,” Naomasa replies, channeling a calm that he doesn’t quite feel. “Especially given your history with League, and with the animosity you’ve already expressed five minutes into Hisame Touya’s company.”

Bakugou’s spine goes ramrod straight at the reprimand, but before he can say anything, Naomasa continues, “You are still a part of this investigation. But in this instance, your presence will hurt more than it will help. If you truly want to find Midoriya-kun, then I implore you - let me do my job.”

There is a twist of mulishness determination on Bakugou’s face, but the young man bites down hard, clamping his teeth together. He nods once, jerky, stilted. Every line of his body vibrates with furious tension, but he steps back despite himself.

This is the man Naomasa has grown to respect throughout the years. It does not happen often, but Bakugou Katsuki is capable of swallowing his pride.

One bomb diffused, Naomasa turns his attention to Shouto and says, “Despite your connection to the boy in question, this is still an active investigation. I am certain your brother will be happy to discuss the particulars with you after we have left.” And turning to Ms. Hisame, he continues, “My apologies for any upset or insult I and my associates may have given you, ma’am. I fear I must ask you to extend your hospitality to us for just a bit longer, as I would greatly appreciate the use one of your rooms for a private conversation with your son.”

Ms. Hisame bites her lip, her eyes searching Shouto’s expression. She scrutinizes Touya in turn, and whatever she sees there gives her resolve. She nods and replies, “Of course, Detective.”

At a glance, Shouto doesn’t hold himself as visibly rigid as Bakugou. His expression is quietly troubled, and he is clearly haunted by unanswered questions. Naomasa stamps down on an unwelcome twinge of sympathy. Shouto has waited twelve years for news of his first friend, he reasons. What is one more hour?

There is a shuffle of feet as Naomasa’s requests are met and accommodated.

Toshinori falls into step beside him as they walk. He leans in close and murmurs, “Should I ask what convenient line you have prepared to keep me out of this interview as well?”

“You make it sound as though I’m orchestrating some sort of nefarious plot,” Naomasa scoffs.

Toshinori responds flatly, “Aren’t you?”

The accusation isn’t entirely unfounded, given Naomasa’s suspicions of Midoriya and Toshinori’s guilty sense of responsibility. In fact, it is an entirely reasonable question to ask given Dabi’s position in the League of Villains.

It still stings.

“My friend,” Naomasa replies quietly, letting none of these feelings reflect in his voice, “if you join me in this interview, you will be leaving two highly frustrated, extremely volatile pro-heroes who barely tolerate each other on a good day in the same room together. One of whom is Bakugou Katsuki. Take a moment to think about that.”

Ms. Hisame guides them to a dinning room with table and chairs enough to seat a full family. Even in the short distance it takes to traverse a handful of household rooms, the tension is palpable, from Bakugou’s jittery self-restraint to Shouto’s naked desperation.

“Ah.” Toshinori swallows. “I see your point.”

“I thought you might,” Naomasa replies pleasantly, and proceeds to herd everyone save Touya out of the dining room.

***

Interviewer: Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa
Interviewee: Hisame Touya
Time, Date and Location: 3: 23 PM, September 15th, Hisame Residence

Begin Transcription.

TN: I am obligated by law to inform you that this conversation is being recorded -

HT: [drumming fingers on table] What happens if I say no?

TN: [pause] Pardon?

HT: [drumming fingers on table] If I tell you that I don’t want to be recorded. I mean, technically I’m doing you the favor here. There’s certainly no benefit in it for me. So if I tell you no, turn that shit off, do we go “off the record” so to speak?

TN: To be clear, are you refusing to give your consent for this recording?

HT: [drumming fingers on table, drumming stops] No. [short laugh] Just curious.

TN: If you ask me to stop recording, then I will turn this device off right now. I need access to the information you can provide far more than I need a transcript of it. However, if the only objection you wish to voice is a hypothetical one, might I continue?

HT: You’re no fun, Detective.

TN: For the record, please state your name.

HT: Hisame Touya, written “light” and “arrow.”

TN: And was this the name you went by approximately fourteen years ago?

HT: You know all this shit already, but if you insist. Formerly Todoroki Touya. Better known in some circles by my chosen alias, Dabi.

TN: [paper rustling] You recognize the boy depicted here.

HT: Yeah. Hard to forget a budding psychopath like him.

TN: [pause] When you first saw this composite, you attributed him with a particular accomplishment. Would you please repeat that now?

HT: Accomplishment? [pause] Oh, that. The boy who took down Shigaraki.

TN: Before we begin, I’d like to establish a timeline and some basic facts. Approximately fourteen years ago, you joined the League of Villains, led by Shigaraki Tomura.

HT: In part. Led in part by that ignorant asshat, Shigaraki.

TN: In part. The true mastermind behind the League is the villain known as All For One, a criminal who, thanks to a longevity quirk, has threatened Japan’s peace from the shadows for nearly two hundred years.

HT: Not much of a threat now, locked up in Tartarus.

TN: Is all of this information true to the best of your knowledge?

HT: Was I a member of the League of Villains? Yeah. Was Shigaraki in charge then? Yeah. Well, if you ignore the fact that he went everywhere with his babysitter, Kurogiri.

TN: And All For One?

HT: Did I know the old man was really running the show? No.

TN: Tell me how you met Midoriya Izuku.

HT: Who?

TN: The boy in this sketch.

HT: Never caught his name, I guess. It sounds so [pause] normal.

TN: A moment ago, you referred to him as a “budding psychopath.” Would you care to elaborate?

HT: Fuck no. That kid was [pause] I mean, he was [pause] Shit, where do I even start?

TN: At the beginning is usually best.

HT: Heh. And I said you have no sense of humor. Okay, I mean, I only saw the kid once, but once was enough. You know the bar you lot found Shigaraki at? That’s where I met him. You’d think someone who goes around chopping people’s fingers off would look a little more unhinged, but he was basically unremarkable.

TN: [pause] It has been many years, but from what I remember, Shigaraki Tomura was discovered when several pros raided one of All For One’s hideaways, acting on intel from an anonymous tip. He was found bound in the middle of an otherwise empty bar, screaming obscenities and demanding a new game with a different origin story. At the time of his discovery, the medic on site noted that he was essentially uninjured, save for his two pinky fingers which had been removed and cauterized, rendering his quirk effectively useless.

HT: Yeah. That was the kid. I only stumbled in towards the end of it.

TN: Are you saying Midoriya-kun was responsible for [pause] cutting off and cauterizing Shigaraki’s pinky fingers?

HT: I imagine he was also the one who tied him up? Like I said, I wasn’t there for that bit.

TN: [pause] Could you backtrack a bit? Tell me the story starting from, say, ten minutes before you arrived in the bar.

HT: I don’t know. I tried to call Himiko but I couldn’t reach her. There was supposed to be some big celebration at the bar, so I figured she might have fallen asleep there. I remember it was late because it was pitch black outside, and the bar was in a shitty part of town, so there weren’t any streetlights.

HT: When I got to the bar, I had this [pause] feeling. It was too dark. Too quiet. It set my teeth on edge. I knew something was up, so I snuck in through the back door. There were a couple of people there, but they were all passed out drunk. I heard something from the front room, and when I took a peek ‘round the door, that’s when I saw him.

TN: Shigaraki?

HT: Bound and gagged in a chair by one of the tables. He kept trying to clutch at his bindings with his hands, and I figured he’d disintegrate them with his quirk but. It took me a minute to see it, those two bloody little stumps where his pinky fingers should have been.

TN: And what of Midoriya-kun?

HT: The kid was sitting across from Shigaraki. There was a knife on the table, and one of those portable clothes irons. He was the kind of kid you’d walk by on the street and forget about two seconds later, y’know? Hood up, head down, shoulders hunched.

TN: Setting aside the why and the how, if the deed was already done, and Shigaraki was essentially rendered harmless, then what was Mirdoriya-kun still doing there?

HT: Talking.

TN: [pause] To a man who was gagged?

HT: I’m just telling you what I saw, Detective. The kid was speaking, too soft for me to really hear, but he was passionate about it. Intense. And Shigaraki wasn’t trying to scream or anything. He was just - staring. Focused and listening. It was sort of like watching a snake charmer at work, because whatever this kid was saying, Shigaraki was fucking mesmerized, okay?

TN: At this point, you were an active member of the League of Villains. Why didn’t you attempt to intervene, either to attack this unknown boy or to rescue Shigaraki himself?

HT: I didn’t have any great love of the League, and I certainly didn’t give a shit about Shigaraki personally, but even I’ll admit, the man was dangerous. If this kid had a strong enough quirk to take him down, and the cruel disposition to make him essentially quirkless instead of outright killing him...? Well, I wasn’t going to blindly rush in, is all I’m saying.

TN: What happened next?

HT: Next? Next the kid puts his hand flat on the table, picks up the knife, and snips off his own pinky like he’s chopping a carrot.

TN: [pause] What.

HT: On my life, Detective, I am not bullshitting you here. He didn’t make a fucking peep when he cut off his own finger and used the iron to cauterize the wound. There was some blood, and that smell, you know? Burning flesh, seared like barbecue. And he and Shigaraki were having this silent stare down, and then the kid said - loud enough for me to hear - “That’s a promise.”

TN: What did he promise?

HT: I don’t know. I couldn’t really hear a thing before all that, I was too far away. But after all was said and done, the kid pulled something out of his pocket and sprayed it all over the blood on the table.

TN: “Something out of his pocket.” Can you elaborate?

HT: Some kind of little spray bottle. Again, don’t know anything more than that.

TN: What happened next?

HT: He pulled a backpack from underneath the table, stuffed all of his supplies into it - the knife, the iron, the spray bottle. Hell, I’m pretty sure he had a plastic baggie with his pinky finger in it, too.

TN: As far as I’m aware, there were no unattached body parts found at the scene of the arrest.

HT: Are you asking if I saw him take Shigaraki’s fingers as trophies? Fuck, Detective. I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past him.

TN: Please, continue. He’d gathered up all evidence he was at the bar and stored it away. Did he do anything else before he left?

HT: Just one thing, really. Before the kid left, he raised his voice loud enough for me to hear again. He said, [pause] “You know, before trying to change the world, maybe you should first save your own family, Todoroki-kun.” Then he left, and I never saw that fucking creepy ass sonofabitch again. Well... until today, anyway.

TN: From what I understand, you hadn’t said or done anything to draw attention to yourself.

HT: Yeah, well... he knew I was there. More than that, he knew who I was. And those words, they fucked with me. I couldn’t get them out of my head, this little, nagging whisper that condemned me because I never put my own house in order.

TN: That’s when you turned yourself in?

HT: Yeah. Maybe two weeks later, I guess? Fucking turned on the League and sold out every lowlife scumbag I’d run across for a reduced prison sentence and early parole. I did four years, plus an additional two on monitored probation.

TN: You could have gone to your family without all of that. You would have been a fugitive, but it would have been much easier in the short-term.

HT: My family? My mother was in a psyche-ward, and my siblings were still struggling to survive under Todoroki Enji’s thumb. Before I could do anything, I needed a way to take that man out of the picture, and I couldn’t just kill because he would have died a fucking hero. I wasn’t looking for a quick fix, Detective, and that meant turning myself in and establishing myself as a repentant member of society. I needed someone to listen.

TN: You... sent petitions. I remember.

HT: Not that it did a whole lot of good. During the first two years of my arrest, I was alone. It wasn’t until the Endeavor Scandal that I reached out to my family, and you know what? They reached back. I might be a criminal, but I’ve always tried to do what I thought was right. And my family got that. They forgave me.

TN: You weren’t interested in the short-term. You were always looking at the long-term.

HT: Endeavor disgraced. My family reunited. And me, free to look after them. To be there for them the way I should have been back then.

TN: It occurs to me [pause] you said when you left the building, Shigaraki was still tied to the chair and gagged?

HT: Yeah, he was.

TN: When the pros found him, I’ll assume the following day, he had no gag and he was screaming obscenities. If there were other people in the building, drunk and passed out from a celebration, why didn’t they free him when they awoke?

HT: Dunno. Don’t know who took the gag off him either, and when I left, he wasn’t screaming. He was so zen I figured the kid must have drugged him.

TN: The general consensus in the face of Shigaraki’s perceived insanity was that All For One had discarded his protégé in favor of a more stable, less deranged replacement. However, in the following months, no one stepped forward as the new leader of the League of Villains, and all raids and battles that occurred during this time appeared to be the handiwork of All For One himself.

HT: Shit, Detective. I can’t tell you if the kid was some sort of secret student of the old man’s or not, because at that time, I didn’t even know All For One existed. But I can tell you, I never saw the kid once before that night.

TN: And yet, he appears to have known you. He was a friend to your brother, Shouto. He spoke to your mother, and interviewed both of your other siblings. More to the point, he recognized you on sight in the bar that night, and was familiar enough with your psychological profile that a single off-handed comment made you rethink your choices and turn yourself into the police.

HT: [long pause] Are you trying to creep me out? Because it’s fucking working.

TN: If I was trying to creep you out, I’d have mentioned that apparently, he was also the catalyst for the Endeavor Scandal.

HT: [short laugh] Yeah, okay, you have a sense of humor, Detective. I get it. I’m sorry I said otherwise, okay? [pause] You’re not serious. You’re not. [pause] You are. What the actual fuck?

End Transcription.

***

Chapter Text

***

In the days that follow, Naomasa throws himself into his work with unparalleled fervor. His mind is torn between two versions of Midoriya Izuku: the quiet, passionate boy who befriended Hisame Shouto and the calculating, budding psychopath who cut off two of Shigaraki’s fingers before apparently lopping off one of his own.

These two visions war with one another, contradictory to the very core, and the detective doesn’t know what to think. His thoughts spiral in unending circles, and he finds himself staring up at his cluttered whiteboard more often than not. His eyes drift across pictures of Bakugou Katsuki, All-Might, and Hedoro Viran, before finally settling on the composite sketch next to Midoriya Izuku’s old yearbook photo.

Face obscured by his hood, eyes hidden by a curl of dark green hair, Midoriya is an enigma. Is he uncertain and afraid, or is he patiently waiting to strike? Does he keep his head down to protect himself, or does he have something to hide? Is he simply a boy lost, or is there something more sinister at work here?

Who are you? Naomasa thinks wildly, helplessly. From the Sludge Villain to the Hero Killer, from Shouto to Shigaraki... what were you doing back then? Hell, if you’re still alive today, what are you doing now?

Midoriya’s shadowed eyes offer him no reply.

Of course, on top of dealing with his own internal crisis, Naomasa also has to weather the fallout from both Toshinori and Bakugou, both of whom had reacted unfavorably after listening to this most recent interview. There are several scorch marks marring the side of the police building, HR has fielded multiple requests for time-off from distraught junior officers, and another interview table has been destroyed. As it is the second table they have lost this week, the insurance company is unwilling to pay for a replacement without first launching an in-depth investigation.

That is was All-Might who broke this one and not Ground Zero is beside the point. Really, Naomasa doesn’t know if he should laugh or cry.

Several days have passed since then, and both heroes have avoided visiting Naomasa in person. On one hand he is grateful for the reprieve, but on the other he finds it supremely difficult to conduct his investigation when the pair continually interrupt him with texts for updates. Even worse, Hisame Shouto has somehow managed to acquire his phone number and has also asked to be kept in the loop.

Under ordinary circumstances, no information should be casually shared during an open investigation; however, two factors offer a bit of leeway. First, this is technically a cold case. Second, Shouto is a pro-hero. The real question it whether or not Naomasa is mentally equipped to deal with a third person who is clearly biased in favor of a boy who may or may not have turned to villainy.

Ultimately, the deciding factor strikes Naomasa in a moment of mental clarity. There is no doubt in the detective’s mind that Shouto will go to extreme lengths for any news of his first friend, up to and including being actively assigned to the case. It is this thought that chills him, Ground Zero and Shouto in same room during a crucial interview, and the resulting explosions that follow.

A packet of paperwork later, filed with the proper channels, and Shouto is listed as a consultant to the investigation. He adds the pro-hero to his contact list, and includes him in his round of daily updates.

Not that Naomasa currently has any useful updates to impart. He put in one request to interview Shigaraki Tomura, but he was immediately denied. His second request met with similar resistance, and it was only through some string pulling by his supervisor that his third request wasn’t dismissed out of hand. Now he can only wait to hear back from Tartarus’ Board of Administration, but he is certain they will deny him again.

Shigaraki is certifiably insane, and the Board is very careful with who is granted access to the madman. Naomasa understands their reasoning, even as it makes him want to pull out his own hair. The real problem is this: there is no reason for a detective investigating a quirkless cold case to need to talk to such a high-profile criminal.

There is a simple solution to this quandary, but Naomasa finds himself hesitant to ask for All-Might’s assistance. It’s true the man could easily use his political clout to push this request through, but something in Naomasa’s gut holds him back. Perhaps because it seems dangerous to use All-Might’s fame so brazenly, having already gained access to the Hero Killer on short notice.

Political clout is like any other currency, and Naomasa has no desire to ask his friend to spend more than he can afford.

With a sigh, Naomasa attempts to focus on his current leads. He looks over the paperwork on his desk, exploring all avenues of Midoriya’s homelessness, and narrowing down how the boy was able to survive on the streets. There is the holy trinity of basics that must be addressed: food, shelter, clothing. There is also the question of how he collected the research used in the Endeavor trial.

The matter of clothing is easy enough to settle. It’s likely the boy packed a bag before he left from home, including his infamous hoodies, as well as track pants and shoes. There is no way to confirm this for certain, but as Midoriya left his home under his own willpower, it would only make sense for him to bring a few basic necessities. Also, according to Shouto’s interview, Midoriya always wore the same thing. There was no mention of ill-fitting clothing, only a comment that they were dirty and worn with use.

Attempting to tracking down where Midoriya spent his nights is a dead end. It’s possible the boy squatted in abandoned buildings, but many of those have since been knocked down or renovated entirely. Naomasa could attempt to canvas the homeless currently living in rundown areas of the city, but the chances of successfully locating someone who recognizes Midoriya over a decade later are slim at best.

There are sanctuaries for the homeless, of course, but such places don’t usually keep records. And he can’t even discount the possibility the boy may have slept on the streets, in the nooks and crannies of an alleyway, or even on park benches.

However, while shelter could come in many forms, the number of places that might provide a hot meal are thankfully limited. There are several established food shelters scattered throughout the city, many of which were active during the timeframe Midoriya disappeared. Naomasa has already reached out and contacted those in charge, asking to meet with any current employees who had also been there fifteen years ago. He is cautiously optimistic that at least one of them may remember the boy.

And finally, there are a slew of public libraries. In the interest of keeping Bakugou involved in the case, he has requested that the young pro-hero run through the lot of them, check cardholder records, cross-referencing the names “Midoriya Izuku” and “Deku.”

There is one last lead that may be of use, though Naomasa cannot currently follow it. He has reached out to Mr. Bengoshi, the lawyer who prosecuted the Endeavor trial; however, the man is retired and currently vacationing out of the country. His son had taken a message and offered assurances that it would be passed along posthaste, but without a timeframe on the former lawyer’s return, there is little that can be done.

So many avenues to explore, and yet time has taught him that most of them will yield no result. Naomasa breathes in deeply, gives one last lingering look at Midoriya’s haunting eyes, and gathers up his folders for what promises to be a day of relentless tedium.

***

Two food shelters later, Naomasa meets with a volunteer in her seventies. The paper-thin skin around her mouth and at the corners of her eyes crinkles as she smiles fondly down at Midoriya’s image.

“Oh,” she says slowly, “I remember him well. Deku, yes?”

“Yes,” Naomasa replies, stunned. “I realize it’s been many years, but I would appreciate anything you could tell me about him.”

“He came here often,” she muses, fondly reminiscent. “Such a good boy, always willing to help. Almost every day for years until one day, he just... stopped. I always worried that something had happened to him, but putting out a missing person’s report on a runaway is like sticking a fork into an electrical socket.”

“Pardon?” Naomasa asks, confused.

“A lot of unpleasant trouble for no discernable reason,” she explains. “Oh! But maybe you can ask that one girl he used to meet with? I remember they were quite close, she might know more.”

“Girl?” Naomasa presses. “Can you describe her?”

“Oh, what is her name...?” The woman purses her lips, brow furrowed intently. “I’m sorry, Detective, my mind just isn’t what it used to be. Her name is on the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t place it.” She pauses, shakes her head, and continues, “That girl, the bubbly pink one. You know her, I’m sure. She’s a pro-hero now, after all.”

It takes Naomasa a moment, but “bubbly pink pro-hero girl” can only mean Iida Ochako, the Number 5 Hero, Uravity. That she graduated from the same U.A. class as Bakugou Katsuki and Hisame Shouto is simply par for the course at this point.

He bows politely, thanking the woman for her help. As he turns, he pulls out his phone, hitting 1 on his speed dial. The phone is answered on the first ring.

“Toshi-kun,” he says, “how long would it take you to locate a former student?”

***

Interviewer: Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa
Interviewee: Iida Ochako
Time, Date and Location: 03: 41 PM, September 20th, Hosu General Hospital

Begin Transcription.

TN: Before we begin, do you take any issue with my recording this interview?

IO: Nope, it’s fine with me! That little gizmo isn’t going to interfere with any of the monitoring equipment here, is it?

TN: No, it’s just a standard recorder.

IO: Okay, good, good! Not that I actually need to be hooked up to any of this stuff, but the nurses here are intense. [laughing] They even intimidate Tenya-kun!

TN: It’s true, people in healthcare tend to have strong personalities. They have to, I think, given what they face in a hospital daily. At any rate, first I’d like to thank you for agreeing to meet with me on such short notice, Mrs. Iida. Especially given your circumstances.

IO: Circumstances? I’m pregnant, not dying, Detective! And I’m going stir crazy in here, you know? Tenya-kun keeps telling me to take it easy, like giving birth is something scary. I mean, there has literally never been a time that women didn’t do this, I don’t understand why he’s so high-strung.

TN: Ah. Um.

IO: Oh, sorry! Don’t mind me, I’ve been told I’m a bit blunt.

TN: [single cough] Well, I believe congratulations are in order. You and your husband must be thrilled.

IO: Tenya-kun is over the moon, actually. He’s always wanted a family, but I just wasn’t ready until recently. Having a career as a hero and being a mother are sort of mutually exclusive, and I really don’t want to give up the spot I’ve worked so hard to earn. Did you know, out of the top ten heroes, only three are woman? I’ve been trying to beat out Gale Force for the Number 4 spot for two years. I’m the highest ranked female hero, and I’m only halfway up the list. It’s so frustrating!

TN: That’s [pause] Um. Well, you’re an excellent hero. Being a woman has nothing to do with it.

IO: Exactly, Detective! Which is why I only agreed to start a family now if Tenya-kun was the one to retire from the industry to raise our child full-time. Mark my words, by this time next year, Yoarashi-kun will being eating my dust.

TN: Your... dedication is admirable.

IO: I’m so sorry! I’ve been trapped in this hospital for two days, and I’ve just got so much energy. [laughing] If you let me, I’ll talk your ear off! Anyway, All-Might said you were looking into an older case?

TN: I am. [paper rustling] Do you recognize this boy?

IO: Oh, oh! Yes, of course! [paper rustling] That’s Deku! I haven’t seen his face in years. Your artists are really talented, but you’re missing the scar on his face.

TN: I wasn’t aware he had any scars. Could you describe it to me?

IO: Well, to be fair, it was really hard to see because he always kept his hood up. I only caught sight of it a few times on accident. It was a thin scar, like from a knife, I guess? It cut across his cheek, right under his eye.

TN: Was this scar on the left or right side of his face?

IO: The right, I think? Sorry, it’s hard to recall. But he had a lot of scars, you know. He kept them covered, but sometimes I’d see them on hot days when he pushed up his sleeves. Old burn marks, and little scabbed over cuts. And - well, I think he might have been missing a finger?

TN: How did the two of you meet?

IO: I came from a poor household. It was a struggle, growing up, and my family made use of the local food shelter. I’d been going there for years, so I was familiar with the regulars. And Deku was... well, he was someone new.

TN: Do you remember when you met him, approximately?

IO: I think it was the year before I started U.A. July or maybe August? I’m pretty sure it was summer vacation.

TN: When you say he was “someone new,” do you simply mean that you’d never seen him at the shelter before?

IO: Hm. Well, sort of? He was new in that sense as well, but what I really mean is that he wasn’t used to having to fend for himself. You could just sort of tell, he hadn’t been born into poverty. He didn’t know any of the etiquette about the shelter lines or going for a second helping or anything like that. He was a quick learner, though.

TN: Did he ever talk to you about his life? About his family?

IO: No, he didn’t talk about himself at all. I always figured his parents must have lost their jobs or something like that. I guess he was trying his best to not be a burden. [pause] It’s actually kind of weird to think back on it, but that was the original reason I wanted to be a hero, you know? I wanted to earn enough money to give my parents a comfortable life.

TN: Aside from the hoodie he always wore, and the scars you’ve already mentioned, did he have any other distinguishing features?

IO: Oh, his shoes! They always jumped out at me whenever I saw him, that bright splash of color. Dark green hair, black hoodie, dark track pants, then BAM! Red shoes!

TN: I was originally directed to you by an older woman who has been volunteering at the shelter for many years -

IO: [laughing] Ms. Chujitsuna? She’s practically a national monument, she’s been involved with the shelter for so long.

TN: She said the two of you could often be found in each other’s company. What exactly was the nature of your relationship?

IO: He was my best friend. He inspired me to be better. And... he helped me become the hero I am today. I’ll never be able to repay him for that.

TN: And how often did the two of you meet?

IO: We ran into each other a couple of times a week in the beginning. Once I started going to U.A., we usually only saw each other on the weekends, really. It was pretty tough; Deku didn’t have a phone.

TN: Could you tell me about his personality?

IO: Deku was super shy. He always kept his head down, you know? But he was super smart, too. He used to quiz me for exams, and he knew more about quirks than anyone I’d ever met. You remember the Sports Festival?

TN: Your first year at U.A.? I remember you placed third. You surprised a lot of people with that, if I recall.

IO: Deku helped me train my quirk, and he gave me a ton of suggestions about the quirks of my classmates. I actually [pause] Well, I didn’t want him to help me. I had this idea in my head that all of my classmates were fighting their way to the top, and I wanted to do that too - to do it by myself.

TN: What changed your mind?

IO: I remember trying to explain it to him, and [pause] he laughed at me. Deku was usually so understanding, but this time [pause] well, it wasn’t a very nice laugh. He said, “You’re okay with the support items that help to suppress your nausea when you use your quirk, but you’ll refuse to take the support advice? Maybe you should ask yourself what kind of industry you’re trying to be a part of, if it encourages you to refuse support in the areas you need most?”

TN: Did Deku often put down the heroics industry?

IO: It wasn’t like that. He didn’t put heroes down, exactly... more like, he just had so many ideas on how we could improve. And it woke me up, you know? Because Deku’s analysis of my classmates’ quirks was really just another form of support. I didn’t have to feel bad for asking for his help, because you can’t be the best by willfully ignoring the abilities of the people around you - if you have a resource, you use it.

TN: It seems as though he was extremely knowledgeable. Could you give me an example of how his analytical abilities worked?

IO: I don’t really know. I always figured it was just a part of his quirk? I mean, I’d give him a rough description of what I’d seen my classmates do, and he could just - break them down in a heartbeat. He could rattle off fifteen alternative uses for their quirk, five exercises to strengthen their abilities, and ten ways to counteract them using my quirk. It was really amazing.

TN: When was the last time you saw Deku?

IO: Twelve years ago, I guess? It was near the end of my final year at U.A He told me that he had some things to take care of, and that I probably wasn’t going to see him again for a very long time. And.

TN: And?

IO: And when he hugged me goodbye, he told me that I was going to be an amazing hero. [pause] I’m working on it, you know. I’m almost there. And once I reach that point, once I’m an amazing hero, well... I guess I hope that’s when I’ll see Deku again. So I can tell him he was right.

End Transcription.

***

Iida Tenya, better known as the pro-hero Ingenius, and part of the prestigious Iida family, knocks sharply on the door, twice in quick succession to announce his presence. He is accompanied by one of the women Naomasa had spotted earlier at the nurse’s station.

“Tenya-kun!” Ochako exclaims, clearly pleased by her husband’s presence. “You’ve been gone forever. I thought you were just going down to the cafeteria for something to eat?”

“Forgive me!” Iida replies, bowing deeply at the waist. It’s a rigid movement that folds him almost in half, leaving his torso parallel to the floor. “I had some questions for the doctors, and lost track of the time!” As he straightens, he focuses his complete, infamously intense attention on Naomasa. “Detective,” he asks, “is there a problem I should be aware of?”

The young nurse bustles about the room, unbothered. She brushes past Naomasa, retrieving a thermometer from one of the rolling carts. After a moment of prompting, she sticks it under Ochako’s tongue and watches the clock.

“Not at all,” Naomasa replies, distracted. He shakes his head, focusing beyond Iida’s glasses to meet the man’s eyes. He offers a polite bow of his own. “I’ve been looking into a old case and discovered that your wife actually knew the boy I’m looking for. She was kind enough to see me on short notice and answer a few of my questions.”

“I see,” Tenya replies thoughtfully, moving to stand beside the hospital bed. He lays a hand on Ochako’s shoulder and frets, “Are you well? Have you overexerted yourself?”

There is a pause wherein the woman in question rolls her eyes and says nothing. Finally, the nurse removes the thermometer.

“Ppft,” Ochako sticks out her tongue. “You’re such a worrywart. Overexerted myself by talking? It’s like you don’t even know me.”

Iida flushes bright red, spluttering unintelligibly at Ochako’s gentle teasing.

After a moment, the young woman takes pity on her husband. With a fond grin, she reaches up to where his hand rests on her shoulder, tangling their fingers together. “Actually, Detective, would it be all right if Tenya-kun took a look at that sketch of yours? He should at least see the face of the boy I plan on naming our child after, you know!”

Naomasa takes a moment to digest that bit of information, then sighs and relents, “Actually, considering my luck with this case so far, that’s not a bad idea.” He extends the folder with Midoriya’s composite and asks, “Would you mind telling me if you’ve ever seen this boy?”

Iida takes a moment to thoroughly examine the sketch before he shakes his head and hands it back. “No, I can say with certainty that I do not know him.”

The nurse next to him glances over from where she’s checking Ochako’s vitals, red eyes narrowing slightly as she interjects, “I apologize for cutting in, but if you don’t mind, why are you asking questions about Deku-nii?”

Ochako blinks up at the young woman, startled.

Naomasa, for his part, is simply... numb. He refuses to be surprised anymore, not by the number of people who just happen to be at the right place at the right time to recognize Midoriya-kun’s picture. Instead of giving into his baser urges and banging his head against the wall, he calmly replies, “And how do you know Deku-kun, Miss...?”

“Izumi,” the nurse replies with a hesitant smile. She brushes a stray lock of white-blue hair behind her ear, a nervous habit. “Izumi Eri.”

***

Chapter Text

***

After sketching a bow of gratitude to the Iidas, Naomasa politely requests an hour or two of Ms. Izumi’s time. The young woman agrees, first gaining authorization from her supervisor, then dividing all of her patients up amongst the other nurses currently on duty.

Ms. Izumi checks with the nurse manning the station to find a suitable unused room - 518 has just been cleaned, apparently - and informs a coworker to collect her in case of emergency. As they walk through the busy corridors, several nurses greet her by name, and a few more offer a smile or a wave. When they reach their destination, Naomasa closes the door behind them for privacy, and Ms. Izumi takes a seat on one of the plush visitor’s chairs by the window, folding her hands primly in her lap.

Naomasa takes a moment to study the woman. She’s objectively pretty, quite young, and in possession of a calm grace that sharply contrasts her age and beauty both.

Her eyes are a vivid shade of red, and there is a small horn that protrudes from the right side of her forehead. Naomasa suspects both of these unique, physical characteristics stem from her quirk, though neither gives a clear indication of what that quirk might be. Her long, white hair is touched by the softest shade of blue, and is pulled back into a high ponytail that bounces cheerfully every time she moves her head. A few strands have escaped this prison and frame her heart-shaped face.

His gut puts her in her early twenties, which is unusual because even a freshly graduated nurse tends to be mid-to-late twenties. At the same time, it's highly doubtful that Ms. Izumi has just graduated, based on her familiarity with this hospital, and the esteem her coworkers seem to hold for her. It’s possibly she’s a medical prodigy, but that would be a curiosity in and of itself, as most prodigies choose to become doctors.

Something tugs instantly at the corner of his mind, a nagging feeling that he can’t quite place. Something about her appearance bothers him, and it takes him another moment of scrutiny to find it. Her sleeves, he realizes. Every nurse he has seen in this hospital wears a traditional, short-sleeved uniform. Ms. Izumi wears the same uniform, but she sports a cream-colored, long-sleeved shirt beneath it, covering her arms neatly down to her wrists.

Naomasa tucks these observations away as he hands Ms. Izumi the folder with Midoriya’s image. He pulls up a chair beside her, watching her expression light up as she traces a finger along the boy’s hooded face.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, Ms. Izumi,” he says. He places his recorder between them, touching a button as he states, “I’d like to record this interview unless you have any objections?”

The young woman shakes her head, a small, self-contained movement. Her eyes never leave the composite sketech as she quietly replies, “No. No objections.”

***

Interviewer: Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa
Interviewee: Izumi Eri
Time, Date and Location: 05: 13 PM, September 20th, Hosu General Hospital

Begin Transcription.

TN: I’d like to record this interview, unless you have any objections?

IE: No. No objections.

TN: Please state your name for the record.

IE: Izumi Eri, spelled with the kanji “break” and “reason.”

TN: Forgive me if I jump right in, but how do you know Deku-kun?

IE: He saved us. [quiet laugh] It sounds so simple, so small, to say it like that. Three little words. But it wasn’t small or simple. He saved us, and it changed our world.

TN: “Us.” Who is “us?”

IE: Kouta-kun and myself.

TN: And who is Kouta-kun?

IE: Izumi Kouta. My best friend, and my boyfriend.

TN: Izumi Kouta. Why does that name sound familiar to me? [pause] Also, if you don’t mind my asking, your last name is Izumi as well, isn’t it?

IE: When I was younger, my last name was taken from me. Long before he and I began to date, Kouta-kun offered to share his name with me, so I went through the legal process to change my name. I still have the paperwork, if that’s important to you?

TN: I don’t believe it has any bearing on this investigation, but thank you for explaining. If it’s not too personal, may I ask how you lost your original last name?

IE: My grandfather was part of the Yakuza. Do you recognize the name Chisaki Kai?

TN: That sounds quite familiar as well, but I can’t quite... wait. Chisaki Kai. I do remember him. He went by the name Overhaul, didn’t he?

IE: Yes. He was [pause] a very, very bad man.

TN: It has been many years and my memory is somewhat hazy. I believe Overhaul was the leader of the Eight Precepts of Death. If I recall correctly, his entire organization had their quirks neutralized in an accident wherein he attempted to create a quirk-destroying drug, after which they were easily defeated by a rival gang?

IE: I believe that was the conclusion of the heroes who investigated the scene. However, Chisaki-san had already successfully created his drug, and the event that wiped out his organization was no accident. Back then Kouta-kun and I were just... children. I don’t [pause] I don’t know how much you know. I don’t know how much I should tell you.

TN: [quietly] Izumi Kouta. Izumi Kouta. It’s so familiar, and yet I can’t seem to place it. [louder] My apologies, Ms. Izumi. My original intent was simply to ask you a few questions about Deku-kun, but it seems like there’s a good deal I need to understand about your situation first. You said your grandfather was part of the Yakuza?

IE: He was the Boss of the Eight Precepts of Death, until he disagreed with Chisaki-san’s methods. Chisaki-san placed him into an inanimate state using his quirk.

TN: [pause] Overhaul lost the use of his quirk approximately thirteen years ago.

IE: He did. It was a very peculiar, very powerful quirk. There are no reported cases of another quirk quite like it. And unfortunately, despite attempts by multiple doctors and quirk experts, no one has ever been able to wake my grandfather from his forced stasis. He currently resides in the long-term care ward of this hospital.

TN: I’m extremely sorry for your loss.

IE: Thank you for the sentiment, but I’m afraid it tells me how little you know about Chisaki-san. As awful as it is to admit, that man inflicted far worse grievances upon me as a child than the loss of my grandfather to a relatively peaceful state of stasis. [pause] He actually cared about my grandfather. I had no such protection.

TN: I regret that I have to drag up such awful memories, but could you explain that statement?

IE: He locked me up in a tiny room, and he tore me apart with his quirk, over and over, only to piece me back together so he could do it again. I don’t remember a time in his care where I didn’t hurt. I don’t remember a time I didn’t feel afraid.

TN: That’s [pause] I’m so sorry, Ms. Izumi.

IE: It’s in the past. It took me years of therapy, and to be honest, I’m don’t know that I’ll ever be completely free of what happened. But I can talk about my experiences. They are a part of me, but they don’t own me.

TN: To be clear, you came into Overhaul’s custody immediately after he put your grandfather in stasis. How long were you under his control?

IE: Three years. I was seven when Deku-nii saved us.

TN: You and [pause] Izumi Kota. [pause] The Water Horse!

IE: Kouta-kun’s parents.

TN: That’s why I recognize the name. Izumi Kouta was kidnapped alongside Bakugou Katsuki, from a U.A. summer camp. Bakugou-kun was rescued a week later at Kamino Ward, but Izumi Kouta was presumed dead at the time. It wasn’t until months later that the boy was discovered -

IE: - at the headquarters of the Eight Precepts of Death, at the same time that Chisaki-san was arrested.

TN: I was part of the investigation after Kamino Ward. There were many injuries that day, many losses, but I remember thinking that Izumi-kun’s death was perhaps the most devastating.

IE: That honestly surprises me, Detective. To put him above what happened to Gran Torino.

TN: [pause] The world lost a good man that day, make no mistake. But Gran Torino was an adult who made a choice to protect, to fight as a hero. Izumi Kouta was a child, an innocent who I believed had died before he could make any choice at all.

IE: [pause] That was unforgivable rude of me, to presume. I apologize.

TN: Accepted. I’m a bit surprised myself. There aren’t many people who remember Gran Torino’s sacrifice. [pause] If we might continue?

IE: Of course. At the time, I’m certain that no one in your investigation knew of the tentative connection between the Precepts and the League of Villains. Their leader - I don’t remember his name, I’m sorry - the one with all the hands? He saw me, back when he and Chisaki-san first made their alliance. I suppose he thought it a fitting gift, to give me a playmate.

TN: Why? Why were you so important, that Shigaraki Tomura would want to give you a gift? Why were you a part of Overhaul’s operation? He tortured you for the better part of your childhood, clearly you had no desire to stay with him.

IE: [long pause] Because of my quirk.

TN: And what is your quirk?

IE: On paper, my quirk is called “Sixty Seconds.” It’s described as the ability to reverse exactly one minute of damage or injury to a person’s body, with the timer starting when I touch them.

TN: A very useful quirk, especially given your line of work. [pause] “On paper,” you say?

IE: I have spent years protecting myself, and there are only a handful of people who know the truth. Please, Detective, give me your word that you’ll keep my secret.

TN: There will be a few people in the investigation who may need to know, but they are all upstanding members of the heroics community. If it’s truly important to you, and has no baring on my current investigation, you have my word that I will redact this part of our conversation from the transcripts. I shall also erase it from the audio recording.

IE: My quirk is called “Rewind.” It works very similarly to what I described to you a moment ago. The energy I use is stored in my horn, which takes some time to replenish; however, I have no time limit, and my ability is not restricted to reversing only damage.

TN: That’s. [pause] With that caliber of ability, you could be either the most sought-after healer or the most horrifying serial killer this country has ever seen.

IE: The quirk-destroying drug that was so important to Chisaki-san? He created it using biological material that he took from me. He killed me, harvested what he needed from my corpse, and put me back together again. That’s why I was important. That’s why he would never have let me go.

TN: And there was no one who could have helped you?

IE: Only Kouta-kun, who was also a child. And Kouta-kun himself was only with the Precepts for perhaps six months before we were rescued. Before that, I had no one.

TN: Tell me about the day you were rescued.

IE: We rarely saw the sky outside, so I couldn’t have known if it was day or night. It happened at a time just like any other, when Kouta-kun and I were locked in our room. Early on, he’d managed to get a deck of playing cards from one of the gang members, and we often played games to pass the time. I think we were in the middle of a game of Oicho-Kabu when we heard the yelling.

TN: Can you describe it? Was is a single voice, or many voices?

IE: Many voices. All of them raised and drowning each other out. Kouta-kun grabbed my hand and pulled me to the corner of the room. There wasn’t any place for us to hide, with just the mattresses on the floor and the blankets and the rickety, wooden desk. He urged me to stand beside him, flat against the wall near the door.

TN: So that if someone was to look inside, they might not see you at first glance. Izumi-kun sounds like he was a clever little boy.

IE: [quiet laugh] He still is. Sometimes I think he’s too smart for his own good, but I wouldn’t change him for the world. [pause] We stayed like that, pressed up against the wall. I couldn’t tell you how long it took, because it felt like forever, holding my breath, afraid to make a sound. There was so much yelling and maybe screaming, and sounds of banging and crashing and more. And just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. One moment I couldn’t hear myself think, and the next all I could hear was the sound of my madly pounding heartbeat.

TN: What happened then?

IE: We waited. Kouta-kun held my hand so tightly, and I could feel him shaking, but he never took his eyes off the door. And just when I’d started to relax, when my heartbeat had slowed to a dull thud inside my chest, I heard it. The telltale thump of footsteps coming down the hall. Then, the click of our door unlocking, and the creak of it swinging open. And then I saw him.

TN: Deku-kun.

IE: I didn’t know him, then. I didn’t know that the black hoodie and the bright, red sneakers were as much a part of him as his green hair or his eyes. He saw us, but he didn’t reach out or try to grab us. He just stood there for a moment, and he finally said, “You’re free, now. Overhaul and his people, they won’t be able to touch you anymore.”

TN: By all accounts, Deku-kun was an untrained, quirkless child. How could he have taken out a group of Yakuza who were strong enough to attract the attention of the League of Villains?

IE: I don’t know much about the specifics, because I never asked him how he did it. I can only tell you that the day Deku-nii took Kouta-kun and I out of that place, every member of the Eight Precepts of Death lost the use of their quirk. Many of them were injured and bleeding, and all of them had been restrained in some manner.

TN: Having been abused for most of your life, I can’t see you trusting a complete stranger, not even one offering to take you away from that horror. Why did you go with him?

IE: We didn’t, not immediately. Kouta-kun didn’t trust him, and I trusted Kouta-kun implicitly. But when he found us, Deku-nii didn’t try to force us to go with him. He asked a few questions about our general well-being - if we had any injuries that needed tending, if we were cold or hungry. When we left the building with him, it was to walk down the street to get something to eat from one of the local vendors.

TN: What happened next?

IE: While we were eating, Deku-nii told Kouta-kun for how long he’d been missing. He told him that his cousin and the rest of the world thought he was dead, and that they’d held a funeral for him. He said that he intended to tip off the police to Chisaki-san’s operation, and that if Kouta-kun wanted to go home to his remaining family, all he needed to do was wait there, near the warehouse until the heroes arrived.

TN: I remember the story of Izumi-kun’s discovery very well. I’m more curious as to why you weren’t found with him?

IE: Because I was terrified. I thought they would want to abuse my ability, the same way Chisaki-san had. In the end, Deku-nii offered to take me with him, to help me find a place where my ability and my history with the Precepts didn’t matter.

TN: That offer most certainly split you up from Izumi-kun.

IE: Kouta-kun wanted me to come with him, until I told him I was afraid that someone would try to use me again. Then, he glared at Deku-nii and told him he wanted to come with us. Deku-nii told him that if Kouta-kun was truly willing to give up his remaining family, he could come.

TN: Izumi-kun decided against it, then?

IE: Kouta-kun wanted two things: to see his family, and to keep me safe and stay by my side. Deku-nii said that Kouta-kun was looking at those two things as a choice, that he thought he could only have one or the other. But Deku-nii swore that he could have both, if he was willing to listen, and to be patient.[pause] The argument was a lot longer, and there was some crying, but that was the gist.

TN: And did Deku-kun help you as he promised?

IE: He did. Absolutely, he did. In the beginning, I stayed with him. He moved around a lot, squatting in abandoned buildings. Sometimes, on nice nights, we’d sleep under the stars on the beach. He was always apologizing to me, telling me how sorry he was he couldn’t give me something better.

TN: Do you remember specifics about any of the places you stayed? Could you point them out on a map?

IE: It’s been many years, and I never paid much mind to directions. I can certainly try, if you think it’s important. [pause] Eventually, he found me a home with a kind gentleman who was older and very lonely. Otosan raised me, provided me a private education to catch me up on the many years I’d missed in Chisaki-san’s care, and enrolled me in bi-weekly therapy to help me with my trauma. Best of all, once I had a home, Kouta-kun and I were able to meet regularly.

TN: At the beginning of this interview, you said that Izumi-kun offered to share his name with you because you lost yours. With your adoption, wouldn’t it have made more sense to take on the name of your father?

IE: It probably would have, but my placement wasn’t through legal means. For all that my otosan would have given me the world, taking his name would have proven problematic. He’d been denied the ability to adopt through the system before, you see, for reasons that were mostly petty and had no baring on his ability to be a father.

TN: I see.

IE: My otosan is a great man. He’s kind, intelligent, and loyal. He encouraged me to pursue a career in medicine, and he helped to pay my way through school. Deku-nii gave me a family; that’s the sort of thing you can’t ever repay.

TN: And that was the last you saw of Deku-kun? When he brought you to your new home?

IE: Yes.

TN: [pause] That’s a lie.

IE: Pardon me?

TN: As you’ve already entrusted me with your quirk, I feel it’s only fair that I share mine. My quirk is called “Human Lie Detector.” You can likely infer my ability from the name alone. And while you have been entirely truthful to this point, what you just told me, Ms. Izumi, was a bald-faced lie.

IE: [pause] Your word, Detective. Earlier, you gave me your word, that you would keep my secret. No one can know what I’m about to tell you. Please.

TN: I’m just looking for the truth about what happened to Midoriya Izuku, to Deku-kun. I promise you, I have no desire to spill your secrets to the world.

IE: [long pause] I didn’t have control of my quirk as a child. In fact, when my ability first manifested, I rewound my father out of existence. [pause] Because of that, I was always afraid. I was afraid of my past, and I was afraid of my power, and most of all, I was afraid that I was a monster because only a monster would deserve to be treated the way Chisaki-san treated me.

TN: No child should ever be held accountable for the damage they might do when they first manifest their quirk. You were responsible, but you were not at fault.

IE: Thank you, Detective, but I don’t tell you this because I’m looking for pity. What I mean to say is that I spent my whole childhood afraid of the damage that my quirk could do, but that changed when I met Deku-nii. He was brilliant when it came to understanding quirks, and he spent months helping me learn how to control my ability. And in all the time that I knew him, he only ever asked me for one favor.

TN: With an ability like yours [pause] what did he ask you to do?

IE: We took a bus ride one day, a long trip, over two hours. We spent the day at the beach, and in the middle of the night, he brought me to a hospital. He knew the building well, knew just where he was going and how to get there. We crept into the room of a man who looked more dead than alive, gaunt like a skeleton, wrapped in bandages like a mummy.

TN: [quietly] It was you. You’re All-Might’s miracle.

IE: Deku-nii woke him up. At least, he tried to, but the man was barely conscious, and I don’t know if he was actually aware of us. Deku-nii asked him softly, “It’s your body, [REDACTED]. Do you want to be saved?” and the man mumbled something unintelligible. Then, he nodded and said, “Yes. Please, yes.” So I used my ability and rewound him by almost a decade until he was no longer the ghost of a man. Before he could fully wake up, we left, and we took a return bus the following morning.

TN: You’ve answered a mystery that has plagued both doctors and heroes alike, so thank you for that. But... why would Deku-kun risk waking him up like that, just to ask a question he must have already known the answer to?

IE: [pause] Because consent is vital, Detective. And I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

TN: I meant no offense. You’ve given me a lot to think on, Ms. Izumi, and I’m very grateful for your time. I do have one more question, though it has nothing to do with my investigation. I understand why you’ve taken such care to hide your quirk, but isn’t it frustrating to not use your ability to its fullest? You could save so many people.

IE: Detective, [long pause] what makes you think I need a quirk to save anyone?

End Transcription.

***

Chapter Text

***

Naomasa has been a detective for many years, and he is not blind to certain developing patterns in his investigation. Even the most skeptical observer would have difficulty denying that for every question that is answered, at least two new questions are brought to light. Furthermore, for every person accessible for interview, there is another key witness just beyond reach.

Contacting Hisame Shouto? A simple matter. However, contact with Todoroki Enji remains an exercise in futility.

Hisame Touya? Instantly available for questioning. However, the most vital lead of that interview is currently imprisoned in the bowels of Tartarus, and any access to Shigaraki Tomura is strictly prohibited. To that end, there is an impressive stack of rejection letters from the Board of Administration on his desk at the station, the most recent of which he opened just this morning.

Izumi Eri couldn’t have been found more easily if she’d fallen directly into Naomasa’s lap. Chisaki Kai, on the other hand, is also housed in Tartarus, and while he isn’t buried quite as deeply as Shigaraki, the Board has already denied a request to speak with him on the grounds of insufficient urgency.

It’s exasperating, to say the least. Every viable lead he finds is compounded by a dead end.

Even the few new leads he has been able to follow haven’t yielded satisfactory results. Overhaul’s men, for example, were deemed minimal threats without the use of their quirks and incarcerated in prisons with low security. Naomasa frowns as he looks over the list, checking each of them off in turn.

First, Kurono Hari, once known as Chronostasis. The man had listened to Naomasa speak, but refused to answer any questions. When asked to provide a reason for his silence, he’d simply stated that he would never volunteer any information about the Eight Precepts of Death unless given explicit orders from Overhaul himself. Irinaka Joi, also called Mimic, gave an identical ultimatum two days later.

Thinking about it turns Naomasa’s stomach. That stark juxtaposition: the sort of loyalty that over a decade in prison cannot touch, and the sort of monster to whom it is dedicated.

Moving down the list, Sakaki Deidoro is a permanent resident of Hosu General Hospital’s long-term care ward. He is nearly catatonic, and wholly incapable of forming articulate words. The removal of his quirk, Sloshed, had actually impacted him on a neurological level. It left him with an irreversible chemical imbalance, and he’d never fully recovered.

Katsukame Rikiya and Hojo Yu both refused to speak to anyone in law enforcement. Setsuno Toya had committed suicide two years into his sentence. Tabe Soramitsu died in prison due to complications from eating several items that his teeth and stomach could no longer accommodate. Rappa Kendo picked one too many fights with the wrong inmate; his quest to constantly push the limitations of his now-quirkless body landing him in a coma from which his doctors are unsure if he will ever awake.

That left Tengai Hekiji and Nemoto Shin, both conveniently located in the same prison. Tengai had brushed the questions aside with the same fierce loyalty as the rest of Overhaul’s men. Nemoto, on the other hand, had simply laughed and said: “I can’t tell you what I don’t know, Detective. The lights went out, and by the time they came back on, the world was remade.” He’d refused to elaborate, but at least it gave Naomasa his first clue on how Midoriya-kun might have single-handedly taken down an entire faction of yakuza.

Blindness, after all, is an excellent equalizer.

It barely scratches the surface of what Naomasa wants to know, but he clings to this fledgling theory with narrow-minded deliberation as he reads Izumi Eri’s interview for the tenth time.

Staring at his stack of paperwork, his evidence and his interviews, Naomasa sees it clearly, this pattern of dead ends. What he really needs, he realizes, is perspective. He needs someone who isn’t personally inside Midoriya Izuku’s sphere of influence to look at this information with a fresh, unbiased set of eyes. He mulls over the precincts list of outside, approved consultants, and makes the call.

***

Interviewer: Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa
Interviewee: Principal Nedzu
Witnesses: No. 1, All-Might
Time, Date and Location: 12: 45 PM, October 15th, U.A.

Begin Transcription.

TN: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me. With the number of twists we’ve encountered, I thought our investigation might benefit from your insight. Were you able to read through all of the attachments I e-mailed you earlier?

Ne: I was indeed! Oh, Detective, I’m quite intrigued, I must say. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. You’ll be recording this interview, I assume?

TN: [single cough] Ah. Yes, I will. As this is an on-going investigation -

Ne: Yes, yes. You have my consent, of course. And hello, [REDACTED]. It’s a pleasure as always.

No. 1: Likewise, Principal.

TN: May I please request you address All-Might by his hero name for the duration of this interview?

Ne: Oh, silly me. Never know who might get their paws on the transcripts, is it? My apologies, Detective. And speaking of apologies, Bakugou-kun won’t be joining us?

TN: He wasn’t against coming to U.A. per say -

Ne: It’s quite all right, Detective. I imagine he excused himself when he realized you were coming here specifically to speak to me.

No. 1: [quiet laugh] To the tune of: “I wouldn’t subject myself to that sadist if my own mother was the one missing.”

Ne: You’re short at least two expletives. Also, Bakugou-kun refers to his mother as “that hag,” and myself as “that rodent.”

TN: [single cough] To clarify, then: “I wouldn’t fuckin’ subject myself to that sadistic rodent if my hag mom was the one missing, asshole. Text me any new leads.”

Ne: Now that I can believe. [laughing] Well, let’s get right to it, shall we? If I may direct your attention to the screen here, I’ve put together a rough timeline of pertinent events for future reference.

TN: This is [pause] quite extensive. I only sent you the paperwork just this morning.

Ne: The hazards of an overactive mind, I’m afraid. It’s all really quite fascinating, and so little offers me a challenge these days. Oh, where to start, there’s just so much!

TN: I see you’ve referenced several reports that I didn’t send? In this one year alone, there’s the U.S.J. Incident, the Summer Camp Incident, and Kamino Ward. Midoriya-kun didn’t have anything to do with these events, as far as I’m aware.

Ne: Following that train of thought, no one knew he had anything to do with Shigaraki’s arrest or the fall of the Eight Precepts of Death, either.

No. 1: Forgive me, Principal, but are you saying that you believe young Midoriya to be connected to all of these incidents?

Ne: [laughing] No, no, of course not. I simply believe it’s important to have proper context, you see?

TN: I’m not sure I do.

Ne: Hm, how best to explain? Ah! One example is that we know Midoriya-kun has some sort of connection to the Hero Killer Stain, confirmed in an interview with the man himself. However, as of yet we don’t understand the full extent of their relationship.

TN: I see. And to that end, you’ve noted a few of the villains Stain killed from the time that he first met Midoriya-kun to the time he was arrested.

Ne: I only included the ones I happened to have files on, specifically those who were involved in the League. When you have the chance, I’d highly recommend you add notes on all of Stain’s known victims from that time, heroes and villains alike.

No. 1: You believe that young Midoriya [pause] assisted the Hero Killer in his crimes?

Ne: Not necessarily. I have no evidence to make such a case, All-Might. But I do know that Midoriya-kun and Stain are connected, yes? Take a look here. [three quick taps] Using Hedoro Viran’s arrest to match up the correct day, we can see that Midoriya-kun first met Stain in the beginning of June, Year X00.

TN: He met Iida Ochako soon after, and Hisame Shouto nearly a year later. That’s [pause] concerning. Iida-san’s interview tells us that Midoriya-kun spent some time at the food shelter every week, but doesn’t give any indication of where he might have been living or what else he might have been doing.

Ne: A lot can happen in a year, certainly, however that’s not actually what I’m trying to point out. You see, in Stain’s interview he admitted that he knew Midoriya-kun for something like three years, yes? That should have them parting ways around June, Year X03.

TN: Approximately.

Ne: And yet, Stain was not arrested until January of Year X04! Does this mean that Midoriya-kun and Stain separated before his arrest, or was Stain’s estimate off by a few months? If so, it’s possible the two of them were in contact up until the time of his incarceration. [pause] A question I’d suggest you ask the man at the next given opportunity.

TN: I see. You’re correct, having these dates in a timeline does offer some additional insight. Thank you for putting all of this together. [pause] Oh, I see. By that same reasoning, because we know that Midoriya-kun has some sort of connection to the League of Villains, you’ve listed pertinent dates for context. We don’t know for certain that he is connected, but by that same logic we’ve not yet ruled it out.

Ne: Exactly so.

No. 1: I feel I must state for the record, at the time of his disappearance, young Midoriya was an untrained, quirkless child. I’ll not say that he is [pause] incapable of these strange feats - electrocuting the Sludge Villain, cutting off Shigaraki’s fingers, crippling the Eight Precepts of Death - but surely the two of you must hold some reservations?

Ne: Reservations? About what? Not one of those accomplishments requires a quirk.

No. 1: Surely you must see, Principal -

Ne: All I see, All-Might, is that Midoriya Izuku was extraordinary. Electrocuting the Sludge Villain? Absolute genius, and a surefire way to attack the enemy inside of his mother’s body without having to desecrate her corpse. Shigaraki’s fingers? In removing them, he attained checkmate against a superior foe with an ease I find enviable.

TN: [pause] I believe All-Might is trying to express his concerns over the boy’s mental health.

Ne: Is he? Calling Midoriya-kun an “untrained, quirkless child” in light of what we already know seems ridiculous. He might have started out that way, but some time between his initial disappearance and his encounter with Shigaraki, he did receive training of some sort.

TN: What gives you that impression?

Ne: Hisame Touya’s interview, to start. Midoriya-kun managed to locate and infiltrate one of the League’s hideaways. He was able to isolate a single, key member from the other members present, and he came prepared with a way to render Shigaraki - an exceptionally dangerous criminal - completely harmless. These actions were not done on a whim. They require a keen mind, in-depth research and planning, and arguably a very strong stomach.

TN: “Came prepared.” You mean his supplies - the knife and the iron used to inflict and then cauterize the wounds.

Ne: There’s also the question of the little bottle he sprayed on his own blood. I’ve referenced the incident report, and one forensic analyst notes that several blood samples taken from the building weren’t viable due to the presence of ammonia.

TN: Which means that from the start, he intended to [pause] cut off his own finger?

Ne: Or perhaps he originally intended to commit and conceal Shigaraki’s murder. Who knows, really? We can only look at the actions that were taken, and from them extrapolate that Midoriya-kun is intelligent, ruthless, and well-prepared to complete his mission, whatever that mission may be.

TN: If that’s the case, what is your take on his role in dismantling the Eight Precepts of Death?

Ne: To me, it’s another clear indicator that he received training, and it points to the likelihood that he had at least one partner, possibly more.

No. 1: A partner?

Ne: There were eleven highly capable yakuza with exceptionally dangerous quirks in the building when the incident occurred. Even if Midoriya-kun cut the electricity - and therefor the lights - it’s unlikely he would have been able to neutralize all of them by himself in such a short period of time.

TN: Do you have any suspects?

Ne: I’d put my money on the Hero Killer, to be honest. Looking back through the reports, several of Overhaul’s men sported injuries from a bladed weapon. It’s only a theory, but coupling Stain’s ability to paralyze his enemies and Midoriya-kun’s intelligence, I think it likely that the pair used Overhaul’s own quirk-destroying drug against him.

TN: Is that why you have the date of Sir Nighteye’s [pause] incident listed here as well?

Ne: It seems only logical. Overhaul and his men lost their quirks in what was thought to be an experiment gone wrong, and so Sasaki-kun’s loss was ruled as a test run of said experiment. However, thanks to Ms. Izumi’s interview, we now have confirmation that Overhaul had already perfected his drug at the time Sasaki-kun lost his quirk.

TN: And so we can conclude that the Eight Precepts intentionally sought to destroy Sir Nighteye’s quirk, likely to remove the possibility of his interference as they moved forward with their plans.

Ne: Grim plans indeed, considering Overhaul’s ability to destroy quirks and his utter lack of empathy. [laughing] How delightful, that a complete unknown was able to derail such a sinister operation!

No. 1: [quietly] The boy idolized heroes.

Ne: [humming] He did at one point in his life, certainly.

No. 1: I simply cannot accept [pause] What I mean to say is... he desired to do good above all else.

Ne: All-Might, despite the distinct flavor of vigilantism, I’d argue that his actions that day were him doing good above all else. Looking back, Overhaul could have destroyed this city with his drug, and certainly would have dismantled heroic society as we know it. That’s not even accounting for the two children Midoriya-kun rescued.

TN: Principal, in regards to Ms. Izumi -

Ne: Ah, say no more! She has every right to privacy, though I will admit a certain thrill, to be one of the privileged few who know the truth of - ah - certain events, back then.

No. 1: [quietly] I thought I dreamt them. Dreamt him.

Ne: Will you be seeking her out, All-Might? You were most [pause] affected by the event to which we’re alluding.

TN: The event to which none of us know anything about and are not going to continue dancing around while I’m recording, if you don’t mind, Principal.

Ne: [laughing] My apologies, Detective. The events that shape history have always been somewhat of a passion of mine. It’s truly fascinating, how a single moment can completely alter the course of a life. [pause] And speaking of life altering moments, I must admit that I was stunned to find this boy should be accredited as the catalyst of the Endeavor Scandal.

TN: A bizarre twist, for sure. The way you say it, though [pause] is there more to the story than I’m aware of?

Ne: Not precisely. [pause] That was the beginning, you see. That one trial was a defining moment in the history of heroics, where the public rallied to the cause, demanding that the men and women who claimed the title of “hero” held themselves to a higher standard. Oh, the heroic industry itself always sold the glitz and the glamour, but this trial demanded substance in place of mindless platitudes.

TN: How so?

Ne: This trial set a new precedent, that a hero by very definition of their occupation, needed to exemplify qualities of goodness and decency in all areas of their life. Simply having a flashy quirk and some fancy support items no longer cut it.

No. 1: There was a complete overhaul of the system, after that. It didn’t matter if you were a sidekick two days on the job, or the Number 1 Hero himself. [quiet laugh]

Ne: Mandatory meetings with therapists, quarterly physicals with certified doctors, and additional remedial classes which covered everything from basic first aid to building infrastructure to criminal psychology. The implementation of a single, central governing board who reviewed property damage and civilian casualties, and dealt with accusations brought against heroes with trials and transparency.

TN: I do recall some of this, actually. At the time, I remember thinking, “It’s about time.” Police officers were already required to meet with the occasional doctor or therapist. It didn’t seem like much of a stretch to me, that heroes should have to do the same.

Ne: “Sustainable Heroics,” is what the world at large decided to coin these changes. Japan was put in the spotlight with Endeavor’s trial, and instead of buckling under the pressure of one of our top heroes failures, instead we spent the next several years overhauling the system in such a way that the rest of the world had no choice but to follow.

TN: I doubt Midoriya-kun knew that his research would have such far-reaching consequences.

Ne: You’re probably right. Although, I must say, reading through these interviews is absolutely riveting. Your Midoriya-kun is quite the chameleon.

TN: You mean how everyone seems to describe him as unremarkable? “A boy who looked like everyone and therefore no one at all.”

No. 1: “His hood up and his head down.” A nearly identical phrase uttered by everyone who has spoken of him.

Ne: A running theme, certainly. But what’s most curious is how the people who interacted with him saw themselves reflected in him.

TN: How so?

Ne: [papers rustling] Here, take Hisame Shouto’s account: “I used to think that was because he was hiding, a scar on his face or something.” [papers rustling] Or Iida Ochaka’s description: “I always figured his parents must have lost their jobs or something like that. I guess he was trying his best to not be a burden.”

TN: Hisame-kun, with a prominent scar on his own face that he wanted to hide. Iida-san, who originally got into the heroics industry so that she wouldn’t be a burden on her own family. [pause] Dabi, who looked at Midoriya-kun and recognized a “budding psychopath.”

Ne: Exactly so. The boy was a mirror, if you will. Being seen was dangerous, so he hid in plain sight with his hood up and his head down. And when people like Hisame-kun and Iida-chan wouldn’t let him hide, he showed them something they expected to see - a reflection of themselves.

TN: That’s a bit chilling, to be honest.

Ne: Fascinating, chilling. Semantics!

TN: Do you have any other insights you’d care to share?

Ne: Hm. Well, I’d be most interested in a more in-depth interview with Hedoro Viran, the Sludge Villain. Specifically about the time he spent in Midoriya Izuku’s fishtank, and what the two of them spoke about. And if you’re truly short on leads, I’d suggest showing that composite sketch to the rest of Class X01, 1-A.

No. 1: You believe young Midoriya was in contact with other children from that class in particular?

Ne: There were twenty children in the class, and three out of the four that you’ve already spoken to do have a connection to him. I can’t imagine that’s a coincidence.

TN: What about Todoroki Enji? I don’t know if Midoriya-kun had any contact with him, but given how thorough the boy’s investigation, I thought it might be possible.

Ne: Definitely an avenue to explore, if you think you can manage to track him down.

No. 1: I’d offer to contact him, but I’ve no doubt my assistance would be more of a hindrance than a help. He’s somewhere in America, is he not?

Ne: I believe so, yes. He left Japan shortly after he was released from prison a few years ago. As far as I know, he’s attempting to rebuild his reputation there. I know that he tends to avoid the press, but perhaps there is enough of him that still remembers his calling as a hero to grant a video call to the police?

TN: Is there anyone else you can think of who we might benefit from interviewing?

Ne: I’ll assume you’ve already reached out and requested meeting with both Shigaraki and Overhaul?

TN: I have. However, I’ve been denied, repeatedly. A fifteen-year-old missing person’s case isn’t exactly going to get me through the front door.

No. 1: You didn’t ask for my assistance, Tsukauchi-kun. I’m certain I can be of some service in this matter.

TN: No, I can’t ask you to abuse your position again, and certainly not so soon after our interview with the Hero Killer.

Ne: If I might make a small suggestion, All-Might? [pause] Save every scrap of your political leverage for the right moment, as I am quite certain you will need it when the good detective here puts in a request to speak with All For One.

No. 1: WHAT?

Ne: Oh, my poor eardrums.

TN: For what possible reason would we need to talk to... to that man?

Ne: Patience, Detective. As you said to Touya-kun yourself, when Shigaraki was arrested, nearly everyone involved in that incident believed that All For One had discarded his protégé in favor of another, yes?

TN: Yes. Most notably, right after All For One’s defeat, when All-Might was critically injured and hospitalized? That would have been the perfect time for the League’s “new” leader to step forward, but no one ever did.

Ne: The League was rather thoroughly dismantled in the preceding months, if you’ll recall. Toga Himiko, Sako Atsuhiro, and Bubaigawara Jin were captured and arrested in several separate, bloody conflicts.

TN: I remember Toga Himiko. I don’t recognize the other two.

Ne: You might be more familiar with them as Mr. Compress and Twice.

TN: Ah, yes. And there were several other villains from the League who were discovered dead, and their murders were attributed to [pause] Akaguro Chizome.

Ne: Those assumptions were later validated at Stain’s trial, where he admitted to fighting and killing each of them save one, who he denied knowing entirely.

TN: Muscular, yes? I believe he was charged with that crime, despite his protests. If I may ask, Principal, what does any of this have to do with All For One?

Ne: I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked, but according to Touya-kun’s interview, there were several members of the League passed out in the bar at the time Midoriya-kun and Shigaraki’s confrontation took place.

TN: That is correct. However, when Shigaraki was discovered the following day, no one else was in the building. The other discrepancy stems from Touya-kun swearing that Shigaraki was gagged, but when he was discovered there was no gag present and he was screaming obscenities.

Ne: I believe that All For One was aware of this altercation. I also believe that he must have approved of Midoriya-kun’s actions.

TN: On what basis?

Ne: Shigaraki Tomura was always accompanied by the villain known as Kurogiri, and yet, Touya-kun made no mention of the man’s presence in his interview. And yet, who else could have removed those members who were passed out with ease, perhaps without even waking them?

TN: If Kurogiri left Shigaraki there for the police to find [pause] it would have only been done on All For One’s orders.

Ne: Exactly! Consider the missing gag, as well. If All For One spoke with Shigaraki after Midoriya-kun left, but before the police arrived, that would explain why the gag was removed. Knowing what we do of Shigaraki’s beginnings, don’t you think it’s possible that if All For One abandoned him, that might leave him, “screaming obscenities,” as it were? Perhaps even asking for “a new game with a different origin story?”

No. 1: No. No, I refuse to believe that young Midoriya was in league with All For One. It’s simply not possible.

Ne: In league with the League. [short laugh] But no, that isn’t quite what I’m saying. Once again, I’m don’t know how Midoriya-kun and All For One are connected. I’m simply certain that there is a connection.

TN: So you suggest we go to the source and find out. An interview with All For One. [pause] Fuck.

End Transcription.

Reference Document: Nedzu’s Timeline attached.

***

Chapter Text

***

Tsukauchi Naomasa is so familiar with the nuance of silence, he feels he could write a solid report on the subject. He can detail comfortable silence, or echoing silence, or silence heavy with tense expectation. He can tell you where these silences stem from, and even offer an opinion on the appropriate ways to break them.

But for all his experience, he doesn’t quite know what to make of this silence. He falls into step beside All-Might as they travel the empty halls of UA, and he cannot speak into the void that creeps between them. He opens his mouth, hesitates, closes it.

What is this? What is happening? Because this silence isn’t tense, not exactly, but it certainly isn’t comfortable. There is heaviness in the air, a deliberately oppressive weight, but he would hesitate to call it thoughtful.

The detective in him replays Nedzu’s interview, mulling briefly over the role All-Might played in Midoriya’s disappearance. He side-eyes his companion, calculates the slope of those broad shoulders. Fifteen years is a long time, and the breaking of a child’s dream is not an easy burden to carry. Each and every new development in their investigation has only added to Toshinori’s guilt.

With these thoughts in mind, Naomasa spares a moment to wonder if this is the calm before the storm.

His gut says no.

No, this is something else entirely.

The silence remains unbroken until they have cleared the building. All-Might climbs into the passenger seat and fastens his seatbelt with a click. Naomasa shifts the car into gear and pulls out onto the road. The engine is a quiet hum, white static in the background.

When Toshinori speaks, it is without hesitation. “Nedzu is one of this countries most brilliant minds. His speculations and opinions are logical, and for the most part, I understand and accept his reasoning.” A pause. “But there is one thing - one thing in particular - to which I must object.”

In the face of such absolute conviction, Naomasa can only ask, “And on record, which thing in particular might that be?”

“According to the principal, young Midoriya... reflects people. To protect himself.”

“A defense mechanism,” Naomasa agrees cautiously. “Like a chameleon.”

“By that logic, what I saw in the boy back then - selflessness to the point of his own detriment, inspiring others to greatness by example, and that bright and unwavering dedication to justice - that would be a reflection of myself.”

The words are spoken evenly, almost clinical despite the subject matter. Naomasa’s fingers tighten imperceptibly on the steering wheel. His eyes never leave the road as he replies, “Based on what we know, one could certainly make the argument.”

“I object.” Another moment of silence, and Toshinori repeats, “I object most vehemently.”

Naomasa breathes, steady in, steady out.

He could bring up personal bias, because Toshinori is clearly still invested in the boy he once desired as his successor. He could say that objections waste time because while Nedzu is brilliant, many of the theories discussed in his office were purely speculative. He could even point out that ultimately, none of this matters because they are still no closer to actually finding Midoriya than they were when the investigation first opened.

He doesn’t.

Instead he breathes again, steady in, steady out. His tone is mild as he entreats, “Okay, Toshi-kun. Convince me.”

“Young Hisame’s scars and Mrs. Iida’s desire to not burden her family... both of these observations are personal projections, certainly. And in both cases, they attempt to apply reason, to make an educated guess at why something was done. Why might a young boy cover his face, even at night? Why might that same boy frequent a food shelter without the company of his family?”

Out of the corner of Naomasa’s eye, he sees Toshinori’s shoulders droop. “Please do not misunderstand. My objection is not because I believe myself immune to such rationalization. I am willing to conceded it is entirely possible that I projected my own experiences on young Midoriya.” Here the hero pauses, posture straightening. “But even so, that doesn’t negate what he did in the slightest.”

“You’re talking about what Nedzu said,” Naomasa postulates. “How, if we ignore the dubious morality of Midoriya-kun’s actions, we can take his measure from the end result, in the lives he saved.”

Toshinori nods eagerly. “Suspend moral judgement, just for a moment. Focus solely on result.” He raises one hand, ticking down each point a finger at a time. “Saving Bakugou Katsuki from the Sludge Villain. Capturing Shigaraki Tomura. Capturing the Eight Precepts of Death. Bringing Izumi Eri to my deathbed.”

“From the very beginning, Midoriya-kun stepped up when no one else would,” Naomasa concedes easily, because it’s true. “I get what you’re trying to say, I do. But as an officer of the law, I also know that the best intention cannot excuse every action.”

“Perhaps not. But I find myself inclined to at least give young Midoriya the benefit of the doubt.” Toshinori sighs, a long and gusty exhale that comes from deep within. He murmurs, “I... there were moments where I lost my faith in him. Where the acts of cruelty he committed blinded me to place of kindness from where I believe his decisions stem.”

Naomasa makes a face and points out, “Hedoro Viran’s fish tank. Shigaraki Tomura’s fingers. Chisaki Kai’s quirk.”

Without hesitation, Toshinori counters, “Bakugou Katsuki’s life.”

The detective blinks, taken aback by the emphasis. The importance his friend places on the name.

Toshinori continues, quiet and somber and merciless: “Young Bakugou’s very existence must have been the epicenter of injustice in young Midoriya’s unforgiving world. Gifted with a flashy quirk, lauded by teachers, admired by students. What must young Midoriya have thought, bullied and belittled by the very boy who society itself celebrated as the pinnacle of a future hero?”

The picture painted is starkly compelling. Midoriya’s yearbook photo flashes briefly through Naomasa’s mind. The too-old expression on a child’s face. The dark circles beneath his eyes. The scars, easily dismissed, and a nurse’s note that quoted several such injuries as “boys being boys.”

“I can only imagine that the vestiges of their friendship did nothing to alleviate his suffering. If anything, that shared history only served as a wedge to further divide them. I cannot think of a single reason that young Midoriya should have risked his life to protect Bakugou Katsuki save this – when he looked at his childhood bully, he only saw someone who needed his help. In that moment, he did not dwell on what was fair. In that moment, he simply acted upon what was right.”

Incredulous, Naomasa laughs. “You can’t measure a single action and ignore the rest, Toshi-kun. You want to say what he did to Shigaraki Tomura was right?”

“What he did to Shigaraki Tomura was torture,” Toshinori replies quietly. “But part of me must also acknowledge that so too was it a way to permanently disarm a criminal who had no qualms about civilian collateral damage. To this day, Shigaraki Tomura lives.”

Grudgingly, Naomasa agrees, “As far as we know, none of his endeavors have ended in murder, so I suppose there is that.”

“And despite his history with me. Despite the sorrow and the heartbreak that I must have caused him. Despite the dream I so thoughtlessly crushed beneath my heel without ever once realizing what a fragile thing I tread upon... he saved my life, Tsukauchi-kun.”

Naomasa sighs. “Technically, it was Izumi Eri who saved your life.”

Toshinori dismisses the statement with a casual wave of his hand. “Semantics, my friend.”

This is the harsh truth. A truth that hasn’t been fully acknowledged by either of them until this moment. Simply put, without Midoriya Izuku’s direct interference, All-Might would be dead right now.

How many civilians has All-Might saved in the last decade? How many villains has he defeated? And aside from these numbers, which can be counted and quantified, how can anyone gauge the hope that All-Might has given? How can anyone possibly put price on the feelings of inspiration and reassurance and safety that are as much his signature as his very smile?

And therein lie the problem, Naomasa thinks to himself.

Because a good kid can do bad things for all the right reasons.

And a bad kid can do good things for all the wrong ones.

He just doesn’t know where Midoriya Izuku fits.

And the worst part, Naomasa finds, is not the confusion he feels when examining the shades of gray that shadow every action the boy has ever taken. No, the worst part is how, even knowing what he does of severed fingers and destroyed quirks, Naomasa cannot find it within himself to be anything but grateful, because these actions ultimately saved the life of his dearest friend.

***

When they arrive at the police station, Naomasa pulls into the garage, descends two levels, and parks in his usual spot. The key turns, the engine dies. Neither man moves.

Finally, All-Might reaches out. The hand he places on Naomasa’s shoulder is a grounding weight. The curl of his fingers is both gentle and warm. “You may not hear from me for a few days. Please rest assured, I will convince the Board to grant us an interview with All For One.”

The detective thinks of the letters of rejection that pile his desk, and he warns quietly, “Be careful.”

“Of course.” All-Might hesitates. “As we will already be in Tartarus, and I will be using my position to force this point anyway... I must ask, is there anyone else with whom you’d like to speak?”

Naomasa’s knee-jerk response is Shigaraki Tomura. That response immediately wars with Chisaki Kai.

His gut twists abruptly. Two names on his lips, but neither feels right. And yet, he is certain there is one criminal housed in Tartarus who holds the key to this investigation.

This moment of hesitation does not go unnoticed. All-Might’s tone touches on concern as he prompts, “Tsukauchi-kun?

“Akagura Chizome,” Naomasa spits the name from his mouth like a bad taste. “If you’re really okay with asking for a second interview, I want to talk to the Hero Killer one more time.”

***

As promised, Naomasa doesn’t hear from All-Might at all in the days that follow. Still, he keeps an ear to the ground, listening for rumors, braced for any hint of public backlash when it becomes known that All-Might is seeking an audience with Japan’s very own bogeyman.

The gossip rags are the first to throw down, speculating on All For One’s replacement protégé, a child who must have been hidden away all those years ago. The more conservative media outlets cite sources showing that All-Might is simply assisting the police with a cold case. And of course, there are conspiracy theorists who postulate the hero has uncovered some massive plot within the government.

Midoriya Izuku’s name is thankfully absent from these rumors.

Naomasa remains diligent. With Bakugou’s willing assistance, he pours his time and energy into contacting 1-A’s graduating class of X01. Together, they divide the remaining list of sixteen heroes into two columns: heroes who Bakugou can contact directly, and heroes who must be reached through their agencies.

Armed with his half of the list, Naomasa gets to work, composing e-mails and attaching a high-resolution scan of Midoriya’s composite image. He estimates he will not see a turnaround response for at least a week.

This isn’t a criticism of the individual agencies; it is the reality of investigating a cold case. His business is official, which allows him to use police channels; however, his investigation isn’t urgent, and his e-mails have been flagged as the lowest priority. Taking into account the number of missives these agencies face on any given day, and the relative busyness of the heroes under their purview, getting a reply within the week is actually naively hopeful.

Naomasa is pleasantly surprised to receive a personal response from the Martial Arts Hero, Tailman, the following day. While the speed of the reply surprises him, the lack of recognition of the boy in question does not. He is in the middle of composing a thank-you note when he hears a commotion near the front desk.

Ground Zero is in fine form, spitting and snarling as he storms through the building. Naomasa makes a mental note to talk to the junior officer he spots diving underneath his desk in the chaos. It’s not the first time it’s happened.

Bakugou’s presence is so disruptively overwhelming, Naomasa almost doesn’t see the second man who follows sedately, a few steps behind. His eyebrows shoot up, and he tilts his head in consideration.

When the pair arrive at his desk, he ignores the heavy speculation of his co-worker’s stares with practiced ease.

“ - motherfucking bullshit, can’t fucking believe the nerd had the goddamned audacity, gonna’ wring his scrawny bitchtwig neck when I find him - ”

“Can I assume you’re here to give a statement?” Naomasa asks calmly, tuning out Bakugou’s fury. He will revisit it later, analyze its source, and examine any cause for concern. But for now, his eyes take in the familiar wild hair, the pale skin, and the dead-eyed stare of Bakugou’s unexpected guest.

Shinsou Hitoshi raises a hand in greeting and says, “Yo.”

***

Interviewer: Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa
Interviewee: Shinsou Hitoshi
Witnesses: No. 3, Ground Zero
Time, Date and Location: 2:31 PM, October 18th, NPA District 13

Begin Transcription.

TN: I realize you’re already intimately familiar with these proceedings, but I’m obligated by law to inform you that this conversation is being recorded.

SH: Haven’t grown a callus in my ear yet, Detective.

TN: For the record, please state your name.

SH: Shinsou Hitoshi, written with the kanji for “mind” and “manipulate.”

TN: And your occupation?

SH: Underground hero, code-name Point Blank.

No. 3: Fuck this introductory bullshit. Tell him about Deku.

SH: I don’t know why the media says you’re vulgar. You’re delightful, really.

TN: On the record, both of those statements register as lies. [pause, single cough] Despite my colleague’s rough phrasing, I must ask you to answer his question. When did you first encounter Midoriya Izuku?

SH: Midoriya Izuku? That’s his real name?

TN: Yes, though we’ve found he went exclusively by the name Deku for at least four years, having adopted the moniker immediately following the death of his mother.

SH: ... because he blamed himself. Yeah, shit, I can see it. [pause] I met him the day after the Sports Festival, my first year at U.A. Not sure if you know much about my early career, but I was originally a member of General Studies, class 1-C.

TN: For a gen-ed student, you placed very well in the festival, if I recall correctly?

No. 3: Fourth place.

SH: I’m shocked you remember, Ground Zero. I didn’t think you paid much attention to us “extras” back then.

No. 3: Fuck off. [pause] It was a good fight, you and round-face.

SH: Thanks. [pause] Anyway, I was kind of a wreck at the time. Because I’d done so well in the Sports Festival, I’d been offered the chance to transfer into 1-A, to replace a student who’d been expelled early in the year.

No. 3: [quietly] Perverted little shitstain.

TN: Shouldn’t you have been excited for the opportunity? When you say you were “a wreck,” what exactly do you mean?

SH: I’ve always struggled with anxiety, and my head definitely wasn’t in the right place that day. I was on the precipice of taking a tangible step toward my dream. But the thing is, during the festival, I’d said some pretty unforgivable things to get a rise out of my opponents to force them to respond. I wasn’t proud of it, but I considered it a necessary evil. I was stuck in a loop; I wanted to be a hero so badly it burned, but my success depended on saying the sorts of things only a villain would take advantage of.

TN: It sounds like you were dealing with a lot back then.

SH: I was upset, and I felt like I was going to shake out of my own skin. I took a walk off campus and ended up at a nearby park. Found myself a quiet bench, did some breathing exercises. [pause] That’s when he found me.

TN: How would you describe him?

SH: He was... skittish. Have you ever seen an abused animal? The way they sort of shrink in on themselves? That’s what he reminded me of, the way his shoulders hunched forward like he was afraid of – of everything, I guess.

TN: What was he wearing? Did anything stand out to you?

SH: To be clear, I met him more than once, and he never changed. Summer, winter, it didn’t matter. Dark hoodie, dark pants, red shoes. He kept his hood up, and usually had his hands stuffed in his pockets.

TN: Do you know why he approached you in the park that day?

SH: To congratulate me. [quiet laugh] But he said what really impressed him was my ability to restrain myself; he thought it would serve me well, especially if I was looking to become an underground hero.

No. 3: The fuck does that mean?

SH: I asked him pretty much exactly that. [pause] He was adamant I could have won the whole event, so he thought I’d held myself back to maintain a low profile. The Sports Festival is a highly publicized event, after all. The top three winners have their names and faces plastered everywhere by the media for at least a month after, if not longer.

TN: By coming in fourth, you’d achieved the highest place that didn’t compromise your future as an underground hero.

SH: Exactly. But what Deku saw as a stroke of brilliant subterfuge on my part was nothing more than a stroke of blind, dumb luck.

TN: How did he react when he realized your actions weren’t intentional?

SH: He lowered his head, abashed, and said that while it wasn’t reliable, a moment of blind, dumb luck could be equally as useful to a hero as any well-laid plan.

TN: Did anything else happen that day?

SH: In the grand scheme of things, not really.

TN: How about on a smaller scale? Something more personal?

SH: I have been called a villain my entire life, Detective. Every person who learned about my quirk was instantly afraid of me and what I could make them do. I cannot stress that enough. Every. Single. One. [long pause] Deku knew about my ability before he ever decided to approach me, but he spoke to me without hesitation. He took a seat on the bench next to me and the first thing he said was that my quirk was perfect for hero work.

TN: You became friends.

SH: Eventually. People had tried to use my quirk before, so I was understandably leery. That first day? He engaged me in a conversation about my experience in the Sports Festival, offered me an in-depth analysis of all of my fights, and gave me about a dozen new ideas to experiment with my quirk.

TN: You met up with him again, though.

SH: Once or twice a month, maybe. I’d have a bad day, get overwhelmed or anxious or depressed, and my feet would take me back to that park bench. It was never planned or premeditated, but somehow, Deku was usually there. Not every time, but... often enough, that I suspected that maybe he lived there, or somewhere close to there.

TN: And what did the two of you discuss on days such as those?

SH: Anything. Everything. Deku was the kind of scary smart you see in movies. He could debate loopholes in quirk law as easily as he could predict the political climate’s effect on upcoming legislature. And quirk theory? I’m not exaggerating when I tell you, he was a monster.

TN: Can you give me an example of what you mean?

SH: You know I have a special license to use my quirk for interrogations, yeah?

TN: Of course. I can think of over a dozen cases where your particular services have been invaluable.

No. 3: Recap for the layfucker in the room?

SH: Simply put? Transcribed conversations without the use of a recording device. My greatest success is approximately a decade old. It took me five years to provide the scientific studies and data required to prove that my ability is able to tap into a person’s subconscious, but with my quirk, I can ask a person to repeat any conversation that they have had or have heard verbatim. With their permission, of course.

TN: Your study has been published in numerous quirk journals, and you’ve been lauded as a pioneer for such a revolutionary use of your talent.

No. 3: So what does this have to do with the nerd?

SH: Deku gave me the idea within thirty minutes of meeting me. [pause] I wasn’t the only one he helped out, either. I occasionally saw him with Todoroki - I mean, Hisame - Shouto. And once or twice with Uraraka Ochako.

TN: When did you see them together? And where?

SH: I don’t know. In passing, I guess, around U.A. or at the park. I thought it was pretty funny at the time. Hisame, he took second place at the Sports Festival, and Uraraka beat me out for third. It almost seemed like he was collecting the winners. Then I realized, with how his mind worked on overdrive with quirk theory, maybe they’d succeeded at the Sports Festival because he’d given them advice.

TN: Did you ever ask him?

SH: He admitted to helping out Uraraka - support advice, he called it. But he said that Todoroki - shit, sorry, Hisame - had prevailed in spite of his advice, not because of it. I think I made a joke about him collecting 1-A’s winners, and I asked him if he had any plans of becoming friends with [pause] Bakugou Katsuki, who’d won first place.

TN: What was his response?

SH: He said no. No, he didn’t think Bakugou was the sort of person who’d value a friendship like his.

No. 3: Say it.

SH: Deku was viciously loyal, recklessly fearless, and so scary smart that he made me look like an idiot in comparison. And I told him that. I told him even someone as conceited as Bakugou Katsuki could see the value of having a friend like that. [pause] He laughed. Laughed until he cried.

No. 3: Fucking say it.

SH: You want verbatim? I can do that. [pause] “Bakugou Katsuki values followers, not friends, and he’s only interested in using those extras as stepping stones to further his own selfish ambitions. Maybe he does have the potential to be a great hero, but until he grows up, all he’s ever going to be is a school yard bully. And maybe I’m wrong about that, but I can guarantee you I lack the one thing that would put me anywhere on his radar.”

No. 3: [quietly] Say it.

SH: I asked him, “Oh, and what’s that?”

SH: He laughed again and showed me his teeth as he replied, “A quirk.”

TN: Tell me about the last time you saw him.

SH: It was right before graduation. It wasn’t a drawn out farewell, but he told me he was leaving for a while. He told me he knew I was going to do great things for the hero community. Oh, and he asked me to put him under my control.

TN: You mean, he asked you to use your quirk on him? To what end?

SH: I have no idea. He’d requested it of me a handful of times before, usually when he was trying to learn more about my quirk. The first time he asked me, believe me, I freaked out. But at that point? I just did it. Reached out with my quirk to take control of him, just for a moment.

TN: What happened?

SH: It didn’t work. The most accurate description of my quirk is that it’s like being able to see a person’s strings, like they’re a puppet. That when they respond to me, it’s the easiest thing in the world to reach out and give those strings a little tug. I reached out, but he didn’t have any strings. There was nothing there for me to pull.

TN: How is that possible?

SH: Honestly, I still don’t know. Back then, I demanded to know what he’d done, why my quirk didn’t work on him. He just grinned at me, laughed and dared me, “Figure it out.”

TN: Do you have anything else to add?

SH: I haven’t heard from him since that day, but I still think of him from time to time. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know what I was expecting when Ground Zero here shoved that picture in Cellophane’s face. [quiet laugh] Then again, the stupid look on your face when I recognized Deku is probably one I’m going cherish for life.

No. 3: I’ll show you stupid, you sanctimonious fu-

SH: Stop talking.

[inarticulate, muffled grumbling]

SH: I never liked you in class. I still don’t. Deku’s assessment of your character was spot on. Someone that smart, that loyal, that fearless? He was right; without a quirk, you’d have treated him like the shit on the bottom of your shoe. [pause] If you need me for any further questions, Detective, you know where to find me.

End Transcription.

***

Naomasa thanks Shinsou for his time. When the underground hero has left, he turns to where Bakugou stands beside the interrogation table, white-knuckled fists clenched tightly by his side.

The detective says quietly, “Do you need a moment?”

Bakugou’s lips flatten, a thin, angry line. He doesn’t reply.

“I don’t know which part of that upset you most,” Naomasa admits.

The thunderous expression on Bakugou’s face falters, revealing a touch of disbelief. Finally he says, “You think I’m pissed about some trash talk that happened fifteen fucking years ago? That purple clown and I have never gotten along, so fucking what?”

“Then what...?”

“Seriously?” Bakugou snarls, “I’ve read all the reports and interviews. Every goddamn one, including what that fucking rodent said a couple days ago. I’m not some fucking incompetent asshat, alright? I can connect the fucking dots.”

Naomasa hesitates, then prompts, “Perhaps you’re seeing something I don’t, because I can’t imagine what in those reports upset you to this degree.”

Bakugou sneers, lips peeled back to bare his teeth as he hisses, “All-Might looked at the nerd and saw a hero who was capable of inspiring him. All-Might. You know what I saw? I saw someone looking down on me. Some conceited, arrogant prick.”

“There are only two scenarios here. Either this mirror-bullshit is something Nedzu pulled out of his furry little ass, and the greatest hero this world has ever known still saw something in Midoriya Izuku that inspired him.” He pauses, eyes burning. “Or my reflection was someone I hated so much that my response was to punch it in the face so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.”

Bakugou’s eyes narrow to slits, and he spits, “So forgive me if it’s taking me a couple of fuckin' days to readjust my goddamned world view.”

He stalks from the room, every step radiating the uncontrollable fury he was famed for in his youth.

But when he crosses the threshold of the room, he does not slam the door. He shuts it behind him so gently, Naomasa doesn’t even hear it close.

***

Chapter Text

***

Naomasa stares blankly at the ceiling. He has tossed and turned in bed for hours, unable to manage more than short intermissions of rest. Every time exhaustion pulls him under, he is plagued by unsettling dreams, indistinct whispers and obscure faces. Every time he jolts awake, heart pounding, he feels the sticky dampness of his sweat-soaked nightshirt clinging to his skin.

He sits up, frustrated, tugging the curtain away from the window. He stares out into the darkness that blankets the neighborhood. The streets are empty of people, and the lamps illuminate brilliant red and gold leaves that crown the carefully tended trees lining the sidewalks. There are only a handful of windows that stand out from the strip of identical houses, lit up by the gentle static light of a television, early risers or chronic insomniacs.

He glances at the clock. The digital numbers blink cheerfully; two hours until his alarm is set to go off.

With a sigh, he stretches, spine popping in protest as he swings his feet over the side of the bed. He runs a hand over his grimy sheets and proceeds to strip the bed. Prepping the laundry will kill fifteen minutes, a shower should stretch out twenty, and breakfast another thirty. He debates the merits of a raw egg with a bowl of rice; he has a feeling he will need the energy today.

But first, coffee.

***

Naomasa arrives at the police station a few minutes before his shift. He clocks in, situates himself at his desk, flips absently through his files. He takes a sip of coffee from his travel mug, and taps out a message to Toshinori with his free hand.

You’ll be here by 9?

His phone vibrates immediately.

Yes.

Naomasa breathes in deeply, looks to the ceiling, and considers the facts.

He first printed and distributed Midoriya Izuku’s missing person flyer in July. His first break in the case was an interview with Suzuki Niko in August. He has been actively trying to get the Board’s approval to meet with Shigaraki Tomura since the beginning of September, and has a pile of rejection letters on his desk to show for his trouble.

If being repeatedly denied access to Shigaraki, and later Chisaki Kai, wasn’t problematic enough, there has also been some pushback from a few disgruntled higher ups. Several officials have found time to harass him solely because of the brief - but unprecedented - access he’d been granted to the Hero Killer, Stain.

Naomasa has given four months of his life to this investigation. He has conquered mountains of paperwork, countless forms and petitions painstakingly filed in triplicate. He has followed the trail of breadcrumbs unerringly, from social workers to government officials, top-ranking heroes and career villains.

It chafes, just a little. If All-Might hadn’t taken a personal interest in this case, Naomasa would have been forced to throw in the towel. He knows, with certainty that defies logic, that he could have spent the rest of his life requesting an audience with All For One without seeing results.

Results that All-Might has delivered in the span of ten days.

It is solely because of All-Might’s insistence that Naomasa has been given special permission to join this interview. Ironically, this permission does not extend to Ground Zero. More surprisingly is Katsuki’s uncharacteristic response - or rather, lack of - when informed of the Board’s decision on the matter.

Perhaps this is why the straightforward simplicity of Toshinori’s text perturbs him. For All-Might, there could be no other outcome reached than the one they arrive at today. But for Naomasa? For any other detective, officer, or even high-ranking hero, things would have played out very differently.

The government has improved exponentially over the last decade. Firsthand knowledge of these developments only makes it all the more horrifying when confronted with how tightly his hands are bound, strangled by lingering remnants of bureaucratic red tape.

Naomasa gives himself a little shake, exhaling sharply. There is no point in dwelling. He is grateful for All-Might’s assistance, and when the older hero arrives at the station an hour later, the detective greets him with a smile.

They leave the police station just after nine. The drive to Tartarus takes approximately two hours, and they keep conversation between them casual and upbeat for the duration of the trip. There is a moment where Toshinori forgets himself and sings along to the radio, one of the trendy new pop songs that is topping the charts. Naomasa smothers a grin and covertly records a clip on his phone.

It isn’t until they reach the bridge that separates Tartarus from the outside world that the mood abruptly shifts. There is an invisible weight that finds them, oppressive, ominous, insidious. As the prison looms ahead, Naomasa feels nauseous, a sickness that has nothing to do with the motion of the car. He struggles to keep his expression as neutral as possible.

They are greeted with the usual checks before crossing the bridge. One guard searches their vehicle, while another gives them a perfunctory pat down. They gain an escort who leads them through several more security checkpoints, and once inside the high walls of the prison, Naomasa is treated to what he imagines will be the most vigorous screening procedure he will endure in his lifetime.

He isn’t wrong.

Multiple searches, paperwork for miles, and to his utter bemusement, a conversation that turns into a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. He is allowed nothing but his clothes, and so his paperwork, tape recorder, phone, wallet, and keys are all temporarily confiscated. When he is finally cleared to proceed, nearly two hours have passed. He finds All-Might already waiting for him, alongside a platoon of five heavily armed guards.

The detective swears softly under his breath, eyeing their escort. “They’re certainly not playing around,” he comments.

All-Might smiles tightly and says nothing.

They are ushered down a long hallway and somehow all of them manage to pile into the elevator. During his last visit to Tartarus Prison, Naomasa recalls being taken to a set of interview rooms located on the second floor. This time, the guards do not even allow him to see which floor button has been pressed. There is a moment of weightlessness as the elevator begins to move, and he isn’t entirely sure if they are going up or down.

One of the guards turns to him and says, “Before we arrive, there are a few things you should know. There is only one prisoner housed on this floor, the criminal known as All For One. Please be aware, it is impossible to administer a functional quirk suppressant to someone with his unique abilities, but there are multiple security measures in place to prevent him from escaping. The entire level has been specifically designed to contain and control him, which is why you’ll be talking to him in his cell; escorting him to an interview room would needlessly endanger the lives of everyone involved.”

Naomasa blinks, taken aback. “Without the use of a quirk suppressant, how can you guarantee the safety of visitors?”

A muffled snort from a second guard catches his attention. Before he can ask, a third guard elbows the offending party in the ribs, effectively silencing her.

“Ah,” the first guard, the spokesman, hesitates. “All For One doesn’t... get visitors.” A moment of awkward silence ensues, and the guard continues, “The walls of this floor are reinforced, taking into account the prisoner’s strength and speed. There are also effective deterrents in place against elemental quirks involving water and fire. The prisoner is monitored 24/7, and aside from visual and auditory recordings, we keep track of his physical vitals, his brainwaves, and any shifts in temperature, humidity, or general air quality.”

Beside him, All-Might remains silent. Naomasa assumes none of this information is new to him. The detective takes a moment to parse through everything. Finally, he asks, “Assuming there is a drastic change in... say, temperature, what happens?”

“The prisoner will be sedated,” the guard replies.

Naomasa frowns. “A shift in the humidity? A spike in his vitals? An unexpected sound?”

“The prisoner will be sedated,” the guard repeats without hesitation.

The elevator slows to a halt, putting a stop to any further questions. If nothing else, Naomasa is relieved to step out of the overcrowded space.

They pass two more guards standing duty on either side of the elevator, and are marched through a set of heavy metal doors and down yet another long hallway. When they reach the end of the hall, there is a single, reinforced steel door, with a complicated looking console on one side. One of the guards swipes a keycard, and part of the panel lights up. A second guard reaches forward and punches in a lengthy code.

Quietly, All-Might asks, “Are you ready?”

Naomasa nods, not fully trusting his voice. He is certain that today, he will finally get the answers he has been seeking. He feels many things, but ready is not among them.

The door swings open, revealing a large room with a Spartan interior. There is a bed in one corner, a toilet and sink in the other. Each piece of furniture is bolted securely to the ground. There are metal bars that stretch from the ceiling to the floor, neatly enclosing these accommodations.

Finally, there are two chairs in the center of the room, facing one another, divided only by the prison bars. One is empty, the other occupied. Behind the bars, calmly poised, this is where All For One sits.

The villain is surprisingly fit, for a two-hundred-year-old man who has spent the last decade rotting in prison. The orange fabric of the prison jumpsuit stretches across his broad shoulders. His legs are crossed, and his fingers laced, resting lightly on one knee.

There is a hose that runs from a nozzle in the corner of the room, crossing through the bars, and leading to the clear, plastic mask that covers the villain’s mouth. Naomasa would hazard that there is precisely enough tubing to allow All For One to reach his bed or his toilet, and not an inch more.

All For One’s teeth are white, sharp as he grins. This does nothing to detract from the horror of his face. From his upper lip, where his nose should be, and the fleeting indents that might have been his eyes, he is a patchwork of scars. His skin is shiny and pink, twisted into gruesome knots of flesh, and unnatural, textured ripples.

Two guards remain outside of the room, positioning themselves on either side of the door as they seal it shut for the duration of the interview. The other three form a line against the wall, weapons in hand, aimed unerringly at the prisoner who shows no sign of fear or worry.

Naomasa’s stomach twists. There is something utterly terrifying about this villain, about the wickedness he exudes, ten years later and still surrounded by reinforced walls and steel doors and loaded guns. Leashed by his own life support, scarred beyond recognition, buried in a coffin deep beneath these prison walls, and still he sits, every inch a nightmare.

As lead investigator in this case, Naomasa is committed to following this trail, wherever it may lead. He swallows the sick feeling in his gut and takes the other seat. The metal bites into his back, his posture stiff.

All-Might shifts to stand behind him, rests a hand on his shoulder. The hero squeezes gently. It is a gesture of comfort, support, solidarity. It is assurance, that he is not alone.

It is a reminder that together, they face a monster.

***

Interviewer: Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa
Interviewee: All For One
Witnesses: No. 1, All-Might
Time, Date and Location: 2:15 PM, October 25th, Tartarus Undisclosed Floor, Undisclosed Room

Begin Transcription.

No. 1: All For One.

AFO: All-Might.

TN: Before we begin, I’m obligated by law to inform you that this conversation is being recorded.

AFO: Who - ah, my dear detective, what an unexpected twist. [pause] That’s hardly anything new; I am always watched. Every moment of every day, cursory and invasive, the idea of privacy is laughable.

No. 1: We have some questions pertaining to an investigation.

AFO: Curiouser and curiouser. According to the rules and regulations of this place, I am to be given no news of the outside world. What help could I possibly be to your investigation?

TN: The investigation in question deals with events that occurred fifteen years ago. As you were arrested approximately twelve years ago, it has been suggested that you may have significant insight into this case. [pause] I wasn’t allowed to bring my composite image, but I suppose even if I had, I wouldn’t be able to ask you if you “recognize this boy.”

AFO: [quiet laugh] How dreadfully insensitive of you.

TN: Would you recognize someone from a physical description? I don’t know how well you’re able to perceive the world around you, though there is a lot of speculation on the combination of quirks you use to “see.”

AFO: To be fair, listening to your so-called quirk analysts fumble for theories is one of my only sources of entertainment these days. You may fish to your hearts content, Detective. I have no desire to make things easier on you.

TN: Very well. A boy, approximately 160 centimeters tall. Possibly as young as thirteen or as old as sixteen, with messy green hair and dark green eyes. He most often wore something with a hood that he could pull up to obscure his face. His name is Midoriya Izuku but if you knew him, it’s likely he introduced himself as -

AFO: Deku.

No. 1: [sharp inhale] You do know him.

AFO: I have always wondered when the day might come, that someone should ask about him. It’s a little game I play - counting days to weeks, weeks to months, months to years. Fifteen years, to be exact. Magnificent.

TN: When did you first meet him?

AFO: Dangling the temptation of an actual conversation in front of me is almost as cruel as it is welcome. Very well, I’ll bite. Two months after the incident at Kamino Ward.

TN: You were the mastermind behind a dangerous criminal organization. He was a homeless child. Your paths couldn’t have been further apart, so why would you seek him out?

AFO: You assume I was the one to initiate contact? Oh, Detective, haven’t you yet learned to give credit where credit is due? He found me.

No. 1: Explain.

AFO: It isn’t as impossible a task as you might imagine. A few enterprising souls have managed to sniff me out over the years, chasing fantastical rumors, whispers in alleyways, breadcrumbs on the darkened path. Criminals are the worst sort of gossips, really.

TN: You’re saying that Deku became aware of your existence because of the media coverage at Kamino Ward, and he successfully tracked you down in the span of two months? [pause] Why? For what purpose?

AFO: All in due time. He crept into my home, a thief in the night, and knocked ever so politely on my study door. He let himself into the room and stood before me. Oh, what a reckless fool, my favorite kind.

No. 1: You tried to take his quirk.

AFO: What else could I do but punish him for such brazen daring? Like Icarus before him, a forgone conclusion.

TN: He was already quirkless, though.

AFO: Indeed! There he stood, unashamed to be the punch line of the world’s saddest joke. He could have made no greater bid for my attention. And so, we talked. Introductions, vague pleasantries, the thin and brittle veneer of civility.

TN: Give me details. What did the two of you talk about?

AFO: So impatient, Detective. How long have you been chasing his shadow?

No. 1: Answer the question.

AFO: If you insist. I asked him what he hoped to accomplish. After all, he knew just what sort of monster he’d been tracking, knew enough, certainly, that he should drown in his own stinking terror at the very sight of me. And yet, his first act was to put himself within arm’s reach. [pause] Instead of answering me directly, he spoke of goals. Specifically, about his perception of my goals. It was in turn flattering, alarming, and impressive.

TN: Which goals? The destruction of the government, the death of the Pillar of Peace at your hands, or perhaps your desire to become the modern day bogeyman?

AFO: Are they not ultimately the same thing? [pause] My goals are a product of my environment. At one time, I was simply a man who disagreed with the status quo.

TN: I think it’s fair to say you passed that point long before you indoctrinated Shigaraki Tomura.

AFO: Ah, Tomura-kun, perfect in almost every way - loyal, motivated, deranged. Deku knew about my protegee, even then, and my purpose in gathering the League of Villains. Over the course of the next hour, he deconstructed my masterpiece, a design that I had spent decades crafting. It was exquisite. A mind like a blade, thin and needlepoint sharp, and he used it with vicious precision.

TN: You’re telling me that the boy tracked you down for the sole purpose of first, revealing that he had put together your future plans, and second, pointing out your design flaws?

AFO: Not solely. My motivation, stripped bare, spoken without judgement or condemnation. In that moment of complete and perfect understanding, he posed a hypothetical question. If he was able to bring me to checkmate, would I be willing to entertain a different game?

TN: He was a fourteen-years-old child. He had nothing.

AFO: Which is precisely why I let events play out without my influence. I spent years maneuvering my pieces into place, shifting them onto the playing fields with the greatest advantage, arming them with quirks and weapons and finances. If my army couldn’t survive the machinations of one clever boy, I deserved to lose.

TN: Two months after you met him, he took out Shigaraki Tomura. Two months after that, he destroyed the Eight Precepts of Death.

AFO: With whom Tomura-kun had made a tentative alliance, yes. And in the subsequent six months that followed, he effectively dismantled every key player involved in the League itself.

TN: The string of League arrests. The Hero Killers’ villain murders.

AFO: Without a quirk. Without funding. Without the government even aware of his involvement. Checkmate.

No. 1: You said... he wanted you to play a different game.

AFO: Not so much a new game as a return to my roots. When I first set foot on this path, I had [pause] an alternate agenda. Perhaps I was concerned with the overflowing prisons, or the lack of funding to social programs. Perhaps I abhorred the brutality of heroics disguising themselves as action figures with which children should play. For years, I swallowed government failure, betrayed by a society that should have revered me. As I said before, my goals are a product of my environment. Reshaping the world lost its luster; instead all I wanted was to watch it burn.

TN: Is that the motivation behind your final stand? You never did give the police a satisfactory answer as to why you launched your last attack on Tartarus Prison itself. There was some speculation that you were looking to free several members of the League who had been imprisoned.

AFO: Ridiculous. I gave you permission to fish, Detective, not to insult me.

TN: My apologies. If you were willing to sacrifice those villains when testing Deku’s resolve, there’s no reason you would have wasted your time breaking them free. But you did attack Tartarus Prison with a purpose.

AFO: Much better. I have no intention of answering you, of course, but I appreciate your dedication to deductive reasoning.

TN: Tell me about Deku. What did he want from you?

AFO: What does anyone want from me?

No. 1: No.

TN: He asked you for a quirk?

AFO: [laughing] In case you missed the trail of utter chaos and destruction, he didn’t need me for anything so boring. He came to me for a trade, but it wasn’t anything so common as a quirk on the table. He offered me a new design, everything I never knew I needed. In exchange, he asked me [pause] for time.

TN: Time?

AFO: I am so old, Detective. You cannot possibly understand the weight of a century until you have carried it. In the end, he asked me for a decade or two. A drop in the bucket.

TN: And in exchange, you get “everything you never knew you needed.” [pause] You’ve been incarcerated for over a decade, with no news of the world outside these walls. Even if I suspend my disbelief at the sheer absurdity of what you’ve just told me, how can you possibly be sure that Deku is following through on... his end of the deal?

AFO: Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, I put my fist through the side of the Symbol of Peace, and I almost killed him. Years later, I did it again, only this time there wasn’t enough of him left to pull off a second miraculous recovery. I was captured and imprisoned, but I put him in the hospital and left him for dead. As you already know, he did not die.

AFO: Instead, he was given a second chance to play hero to his adoring masses. He seized the opportunity with his massive hands, and he refused to let go. I can only imagine how that must have felt; the liberating freedom as the weakness I carved into his flesh was finally healed. His existence no longer leashed by crippling pain, he was a new man reveling in the gift he had been given. A gift of time.

AFO: Now, consider this. When I was arrested, I was an entirely new breed of villain, and so I needed an entirely new kind of policing. They created a set of laws just for me, the Laws of Give and Take. They’re a fascinating read, and I recommend paying special attention to the part concerning giving a quirk to someone with the knowledge that it will harm them. It was originally created to deal with the inception of my Nomu.

AFO: How might that translate for someone whose quirk is so powerful that accessing only a fraction of it could result in obliterated limbs, I wonder? A quirk that only grows stronger with every year that passes. A certain Symbol of Peace might have been able to get away with appointing a successor fifteen years ago, passing on his legacy before those laws came into full effect.

AFO: But now? Regardless of the outcome, I win.

No. 1: I don’t -

AFO: - understand? I’m happy to explain. [pause] You see, you only have two options. You can find yourself a starry-eyed child, drunk on your legend. You can train them up and infuse them with the power of One For All, and you can watch them destroy themselves as they attempt to master it. Secrets only keep for so long. No matter what steps you take, eventually your actions will be discovered. Anyone who encourages this madness will be charged alongside you, equally guilty in their complacency. Your name will be dragged through the mud - a fall from grace unlike anything this world has ever seen, ultimately calling into question and invalidating every action you have ever taken.

AFO: Or... you will retire. Eventually, you will die. And my brother’s quirk? [softly] It dies with you.

TN: [softly] Everything you never knew you needed.

AFO: Tell me something, Detective. If I were to tell you that I had no control over Deku, that every decision he made, every action he took, was of a design of his own making… would that reassure you, or would it fill you with dread? [laughing] He really is such a precocious child.

End Transcription.

***

Chapter Text

***

The overhead lights are so bright, they blind him. Naomasa closes his eyes briefly, but it doesn’t soften the unforgiving heartbeat relentlessly throbbing just under the ridge of his left brow.

He isn’t entirely sure how long he’s been sitting in silence. He is only just beginning to get his bearings, to fully process the events of the last hour. He tries to make sense of it, but there is a very clear divide of before and after, of recollection and confusion.

Before is All For One’s voice, baritone smooth, and that laugh, rich and dark like the overturned soil of a fresh grave. Before is the chill that sinks into Naomasa’s bones, and the bite of the metal chair into his back. Before is the rasp from All For One’s breathing tube, the chemical smell of artificial sterilization, the taste of bile that crawls up his throat no matter how many times he swallows it down.

Before is immortalized with absolute and perfect clarity, which is why he finds it so jarring to think about after.

After is stumbling vertigo. After is an endless hallway, blank walls and closed doors and the loud-quiet echo of footsteps. After is creeping blackness on the edge of his vision, a narrow tunnel through which his dull shoe top reflects the overhead light, the shine sliding back and forth, back and forth, forgotten and remembered with every step he takes.

After is sitting beside All-Might in an otherwise empty interrogation room on the 2nd floor of Tartarus and not knowing how he got there.

His awareness - of where he is, of who sits beside him, of what they have just learned - returns gradually. The overhead light makes his head ache, but it’s easier to ignore if he focuses on other things. He listens to the slow, steady inhale and exhale of his friend’s breath. They are side by side, so close that their arms almost touch. Naomasa lists slightly, and the distance between them closes. He leans against the hero, soaks in the faint touch of warmth in an otherwise frigid room, and uses the pressure to ground him a little further in reality.

“It has been almost seven years since Nedzu last questioned me about a successor.” All-Might’s voice is distant, somber. “You remember, I think? Back then, not a week went by without he or Mirai-kun cornering me. Until that day, when he told me that he would not ask me again.”

“I remember,” Naomasa replies slowly. There is a ringing in his ears that he is only just noticing, and his own voice sounds muted, as though he is under water. “You were... very vocal.”

“I was relieved,” the hero agrees softly. A pause, and he muses, “It takes years to iron out the kinks in a new law, does it not?”

It takes Naomasa a moment to understand what All-Might is very pointedly not saying out loud. If Nedzu stopped pushing for All-Might to pick and train a successor at that point, it was likely because the Laws of Give and Take - All For One’s laws - had been finalized.

“Would you have... chosen differently?” Naomasa fights through his internal haze to ask the question, forcing himself to focus. This is important. It doesn’t matter that this investigation has pulled the rug from beneath his feet yet again. He has a job to do here.

All-Might ponders silently a moment, giving the question serious consideration. “It would be hypocritical of me.”

“That’s not a no.”

“I have never truly considered passing this burden to anyone, but the option has always been there.” All-Might sighs. “Now that the choice has been taken away from me - no, that’s not quite right. Now that I am aware that I have no choice, I know I shouldn’t feel any differently. And yet...”

All-Might leans back in his chair, shoulders slumped. “It doesn’t matter. All For One is a master of manipulation. I don’t doubt he was telling the truth about his laws; their existence is too easily verified, and what he said lines up too neatly with Nedzu’s actions.” The hero shakes his head. “I know you didn’t register anything he said as a lie, but I’ll need to go over his interview again. He lies by omission, and only tells the truth when it has the potential to hurt most. He leaves you feeling hollow, unsure of where you stand, but in truth, nothing is ever what it seems with him.”

Naomasa can do nothing but laugh, his ears still ringing. He doesn’t laugh because he thinks it’s funny; he laughs because it’s true.

All-Might looks over at him, the concern on his face clear. “My friend, are you well enough to conduct the Hero Killer’s interview?”

The detective straightens, pulling away from All-Might’s side. He misses the feeling of warmth and stability instantly. His head throbs, his mouth is dry, and his shoulders ache with the strain of his own exhaustion. All For One’s presence coupled with the unerring precision of his words has left Naomasa exactly as All-Might said, hollow and unsure. He takes a moment to wonder, is this what it’s like to carry the weight of a century?

Not for the first time, Naomasa feels small, standing in the shadow of his friend and hero.

The detective meets All-Might’s gaze directly, bolsters himself with all of the inspiration and conviction and greatness he can see there. He finds the strength to nod. This isn’t the time for headaches and fatigue, for ringing ears and upset stomachs. Cagey shadow monsters and lying boogeymen are mentally marked as secondary concerns.

This is where his investigation has led him. He has questions.

And until he gets answers, he’s not going anywhere.

***

Interviewer: Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa
Interviewee: Akaguro Chizome
Witnesses: No. 1, All-Might
Time, Date and Location: 5:23 PM, October 25th, 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: All-Might! That you would grace me with a second visit, I -

TN: Akaguro Chizome, you taught Deku. You trained him. [pause] But he was never truly your student.

AC: Oho?

TN: From the very beginning, he had a brilliant mind. He was smart. Better yet, he was clever. But it was more then that, wasn’t it?

AC: Mm. His intuition was like nothing I have ever seen.

TN: No matter how complex or unique, he could see a quirk in action and analyze it in minutes.

AC: That boy could look at a person and do just the same. [pause] I don’t think I ever fully appreciated his development, then. He surprised me at every turn, destroyed my expectations regularly, and I was as likely to stab him as I was to pat him on the head, but... looking back, those feelings I had. I suppose that strange, impetuous excitement must have been pride.

TN: For what, exactly? His propensity to chop off fingers?

AC: So quick to judge. A piece of advice, Detective, he never did anything without reason.

TN: The things he did, with or without reason. Let’s talk about those, shall we?

AC: That depends, Detective. Are you finally ready to ask the right sort of questions?

TN: You met Deku at the very beginning of it all, a chance encounter that absolutely no one could have foreseen. His demeanor was enough to catch your attention, but it was his behavior toward the Sludge Villain that kept it.

AC: Give me a hero in name, a hundred or even a thousand of those fakes, and let me murder their mother as they watch. I dare you to find even one who would turn me over to the police if they had me at their mercy. [short laugh] Present company excluded, of course.

TN: When the two of you met, he was newly homeless, without purpose or direction -

AC: He was never without purpose.

TN: - but he needed help. Where to sleep and what to eat and how to live on the streets. Guidance. That’s how it started.

AC: You seem to be under the impression that I took a flightless bird under my wing. My actions were not born of kindness, Detective. I was simply... curious.

TN: You said that, the last time we spoke. That something about him made you curious, from the very start.

AC: Mm. The sad slump of his shoulders, how small he could make himself as he cowered. Those soft, frightened sounds that tripped from him when startled, and how he would bite his lip bloody to keep his silence. The way he would flinch from an outstretched hand, as if a single touch might reveal all of his fragile, broken edges.

No. 1: [quietly] How pitiful.

AC: The streets are full of wretched souls; I have forgotten more faces than I can remember. I already told you though, that for all his weakness, there was something about that boy which caught my attention.

TN: “The boy had a touch of something... there was something about him that made me curious, right from the start... there was something about that boy which caught my attention.” I can only conclude that you are being purposefully vague.

AC: How could a body that weak have captured a villain with the eyes of a killer? How could a boy who lost his mother hold true to the conviction of fair and just punishment for her murderer? How could a single child notice my presence where even fully trained heroes often failed? [pause] There are no words equal to the sum of the feelings these impossible contradictions evoke, and so I am left with something.

[long pause, metal clanking]

No. 1: A moment ago, you said your actions were not kind. If I may, to what actions are you referring?

AC: I didn’t guide the boy, not in the way the good Detective here insinuated. I simply kept an eye on him. I waited, quite patiently, as he stumbled deeper into the seedy underbelly of the city, until he tripped and fell and found himself alone at rock bottom.

No. 1: Why would you -?

AC: I had to know, All-Might. I had to know what he would do. [pause] But that’s a story for a different day, I think. Suffice it to say that the boy kept my interest, but he was so physically weak that I felt compelled to step in. Once he recognized his own weakness, he went about rectifying it with the same mindful singularity he approached everything he considered a problem.

TN: [pause] You taught him how to fight.

AC: I taught him how to kill. What he chose to do with that knowledge, well now. [pause] I’m afraid that was beyond my influence.

TN: I’ve spoken to several people who knew him during that time. They mentioned cuts and bruises. You gave him those.

AC: Gave him? I never gave him anything. [quiet laugh] Everything he had from me, he earned.

No. 1: He was talented?

AC: He was devoted. He practiced until his fingers cramped and his knuckles bled. Within a year, he was passable. But it wasn’t his skill with fists or a blade that made him an enemy people learned not to cross.

TN: Tell me about the Eight Precepts of Death.

AC: They were exactly as pathetic as a name so pretentious might indicate. I found them wholly repulsive.

TN: Your views on heroes are self-evident, but you’ve killed your fair share of villains as well. Most notably, Iguchi Shuichi and Hikiishi Kenji, from the League of Villains.

AC: For all of their many flaws, at least the League never pretended to be something they were not. And when they tortured children, they did so honestly.

TN: I was unaware you harbored such animosity towards the Eight Precepts.

AC: They were fakes. They played at being humanitarians, tried to disguise their petty desires for destruction as some sort of greater plan. They elevated their leader like he was a prophet, incapable of sin, and yet that same man repeatedly mutilated a child he claimed as his own with a smile that said it was his due.

TN: You sound very familiar with their operation.

AC: I have yet to hear a question, Detective.

TN: Are you responsible for the destruction of the Eight Precepts of Death?

AC: How could I dare? Do you blame the sword when it draws blood, or do you look to the one who wields it?

TN: You mean to say you were nothing but a blade that night.

AC: I owed the boy a favor.

TN: So... Deku chose the target, gathered the intelligence, and executed his plan. Tell me about the operation.

AC: To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember much. It’s been years, after all. [pause] He was well-prepared. I recall he had blueprints of the building itself, and he was familiar with the routines of the criminals inside. He insisted I don a set of night-vision goggles, and several low-ranking members were already completely incapacitated by the time I arrived.

TN: Incapacitated? What do you mean?

AC: Even then, he had a talent for poison. I believe he drugged their food delivery that day.

No. 1: Poison? Where could he have learned such a thing?

AC: The brat had acquaintances. [metal clanking] One of them was a capable chemist.

TN: A capable chemist... or more accurately, a drug dealer? [pause] Do you recall any of his other acquaintances? Was he in touch with arms dealers? Thugs, thieves, or information brokers?

AC: Perhaps. I don’t remember them all. He was quite gifted at making acquaintances.

TN: Tell me more about the members of the League you murdered. Specifically, why did you attack them?

AC: Because I could. Specifically, because it made that boy feel helpless, and the faces he made in his despair amused me.

TN: At your trial, you denied responsibility for the death of the villain known as Muscular.

AC: I did.

TN: You were charged with the man’s death regardless, because he was killed with a bladed weapon, and the pattern of injury resembled your usual M.O. [pause] But no one knew about Deku; he’d been learning from you for years at that point.

AC: Detective, it amazes me. Even now, how can you know so much and so little.

TN: Deku killed Muscular. Why? What possible reason could he have –

AC: I’d argue it was in self-defense, but to be blunt, if it had just been his own life on the line, the brat might have honestly rolled over and died. Muscular was hunting different prey that day, seeking information on the child of a pair of heroes he’d previously slaughtered, to complete the set.

TN: [softly] Izumi Kouta.

AC: Mm. I assume the boy’s connection to that child was discovered, and the villain hoped to somehow exploit it. I don’t claim to understand the mindset of the truly depraved, but I imagine Muscular wanted to use the girl as bait.

TN: You’re telling me that Deku killed Muscular for Izumi Kouta and Izumi Eri?

AC: I’m telling you that an idiotic villain with far more muscle than brain tried to kill that boy, and likely would have succeeded if he hadn’t chosen to threatened those two children. After that, the boy decided to be proactive in removing the Leagues major players, and made plans to defeat them and hand them over to the law.

TN: While Deku was actively plotting to dismantle the League of Villains by trapping key members and turning them over to the police, you were hunting them down and murdering them?

AC: It was all in good fun, Detective.

TN: All in good fun. Because it made him feel “helpless”. Because you liked seeing his face of “despair.”

AC: He cried, you know. Every time. Without fail.

TN: The last time we spoke, you said you encountered Deku regularly over the span of three years. Tell me about the last time you saw him.

AC: Why, on the day I was arrested, of course. I’m sure you’ve read the report.

TN: [pause] I have, but there is no mention of Midoriya Izuku. From what I recall, the police received an anonymous tip-off to your location. You were already heavily injured from a previous fight, the key factor instrumental to your successful arrest.

AC: I wasn’t injured. I was poisoned.

TN: [pause] You said he had a talent for poisons.

AC: I think you have all the pieces. You just need to be a little more creative in putting them together.

TN: I think it’s fairly self-explanatory. If Deku was familiar with you, he must have used the opportunity to poison you, alerting the police to your location. The timing is suspicious, though. If this was truly his response to your habit of killing the criminals he was allegedly trying to -

AC: The boy didn’t poison me. He poisoned himself.

No. 1: What.

AC: [quiet laugh] I don’t think you truly understand the danger contained in that boy’s mind. Connect the dots, Detective - if he could analyze a quirk, he could counteract it. Similarly, if he could understand a person’s heart, he could control it. [pause] The day I was captured, he challenged me to a fight. You’re familiar with my quirk?

TN: Bloodcurdle, which allows you to temporarily paralyze anyone whose blood you ingest.

AC: He fought well, and he fought cleverly. It took my best to defeat him, and I blinded him when I cut his face. I believed I won when I tasted his blood, leaving him helplessly immobile as I weighed my decision, to allow him to live, or to snuff him out completely.

TN: He poisoned himself. He poisoned his own blood.

AC: Imagine my surprise when I was the one incapable of moving. He’d been building up an immunity to a specific paralytic poison for years, and he’d taken an exceptionally large dose just before we fought. In hindsight, of course I can appreciate the poetry of that moment.

TN: With your roles reversed, what did Deku do?

AC: He spared a moment to staunch the blood of his worst injury, the slash that blinded his right eye. Then he injected me with something that knocked me out completely. When I awoke, my injuries had been treated, and I was already in police custody.

TN: You’ve been incarcerated for over a decade, and you’ve never once mentioned any of this to anyone. Why go to such lengths to protect Midoriya Izuku? To protect Deku?

AC: [single metallic bang] Because he was MINE. [pause, a single audible exhale] That boy was mine, Detective. I taught him. I trained him. From the very beginning, I watched him. The choices he made and what he became? I have never felt such satisfaction.

TN: What did he become, Mr. Akaguro?

AC: If only I could call him a true hero and leave it at that. Everything would be simpler if that were the case. From our very first encounter he had such potential, and yet he struggled constantly. He was at war with himself and he was always afraid, and that weakness infuriated me... but only because I knew he was capable of such strength.

AC: All of those interviews, the stories you must have heard. [pause] Who he was becoming, that glorious unknown - you’ve caught the scent of it yourself. But you’re still lost in the forest, trailing after the elusive white rabbit. As such, you’re still armed with snares to trap small game. Haven’t you realized, you’re hunting a much greater beast?

AC: When we first met he called himself Deku, because he was useless. On the day we parted, he proved his worth, but claimed he was still undeserving of the name his mother gave him. So... he redefined himself. He redefined what it meant to be a hero.

AC: I can’t wait. [high-pitched laugh] Our final confrontation, the sweetest reward, the end of our story. On that day, he’ll come for my life. [metal clang] Because he knows exactly what kind of monster I am. [metal clang] Because no one else is worthy. [metal clang] Because he promised.

End Transcription.

***

A week later finds Naomasa leaning back in his chair at the station. He takes a sip of coffee, looks over the nearby whiteboard with unfocused eyes. Months of effort, curious questions and impossible answers, a veritable mountain of paperwork, all just waiting for him to swallow the sting of not-quite failure. He has a simple task, to tuck these things neatly away into the empty cardboard box currently sitting atop the middle of his desk.

He zeroes in on the image in the middle of the board, the unassuming yearbook photo - messy green hair and too-old eyes, and the small burn scar that peeks out, just barely visible from beneath the boy’s collar. Three months of investigation has turned up all manor of interviews and timelines and old case files, a careful reconstruction of Midoriya Izuku and the puzzles pieces surrounding him, and Naomasa can’t do a damned thing about it anymore.

Life isn’t fair, he tells himself sternly, and tries to suppress the sliver of impotent rage that turns his stomach sick.

The police station has been busy these last few days. Multiple government representatives have scheduled appointments with the chief, an explosive chain reaction left in the wake of Naomasa’s visit to Tartarus. Shortly after the first appointment concluded, Naomasa had been pulled into the chief’s office and told in no uncertain terms that he was being taken off the case. Furthermore, he was expressly forbidden from pursuing any leads he might find before the paperwork involving his removal was finalized.

If he’s being honest, Naomasa isn’t surprised. All For One is miles above his pay grade. The moment the villain verbally acknowledged Midoriya Izuku, the government was forced to reevaluate the boy and everything connected to him. His very existence became untouchable, a precious secret to be hidden from the public eye.

This isn’t Naomasa’s first bureaucratic cover-up. He sighs quietly, sips his coffee, swishes the bitter taste in his mouth for a moment before swallowing.

In the end, nothing has been resolved. This is what bothers him most.

Naomasa can give a detailed report on the factors that led to Midoriya’s disappearance. He can outline the path the boy followed for nearly four years after the death of his mother. He can draw connections to the heroes of U.A. High School, the vigilante known as Stain, as well as the key members of both the League of Villains and the Eight Precepts of Death.

But for everything he knows, he is no closer to answering the one question that spawned the entirety of his investigation so many months ago: where is Midoriya Izuku now?

The sum of his findings is a single dead end. The night before the Endeavor scandal broke, the boy who called himself Deku said goodbye to his friend of three years and disappeared. Both Iida Ochako and Shinsou Hitoshi said their own farewells took place in the previous week, meaning Hisame Shouto is the last person to have seen Midoriya Izuku alive and well.

Eleven years have passed since that day. Given what Midoriya was able to accomplish in three, Naomasa believes the level of concern he feels when considering what may have happened between then and now is entirely justified.

All-Might is still dealing with the fallout from All For One’s interview. His friend has promised to appeal the decision, to allow Naomasa to join the team that will be assigned to Midoriya’s case. Whether or not those appeals will be heard, Naomasa supposes only time will tell.

Of course, All-Might is not the only hero invested in these events. Naomasa recalls Ground Zero’s face, slack with disbelief, reading over the two most recent interviews. A childhood friend turned bullying victim turned unnamed vigilante, now recognized as the spiritual successor of the world’s greatest villain. If that wasn’t enough, the Hero Killer Stain also acknowledged Midoriya as someone worthy to take his life, a “honor” previously held only by All-Might himself.

How jarring it must be, to juxtapose these truths with the face of a boy who once called Bakugou Katsuki “Kacchan.”

Naomasa takes another sip of coffee.

This is no longer his investigation. He shouldn’t be sitting here speculating.

He steels his resolve, then reaches forward and pulls down the first piece of paper that comes to hand - the missing person’s notice he published what feels like a lifetime ago. He sets it aside, then goes to work removing the magnetic pins that hold everything else in place. Once the board is empty, he gathers up the files from his desk and stacks everything into the box. That haunting photo is the last thing he packs away, accusing eyes stare up at him blankly as he slides the lid of the box in place.

“Detective Tsukauchi!”

Naomasa glances up, surprised.

Hisame Shouto strides through the precinct with confidence, still in his hero attire, and raises a hand in greeting. Naomasa doesn’t immediately recognize the white-haired man who walks by his side, but readily notes the familial resemblance.

“My apologies, Detective,” Shouto says, stopping directly in front of Naomasa’s desk. His voice is flat, but somehow manages to convey the slightest semblance of regret. “I was in the area and had a few questions about Deku’s case, if you have a moment to spare?”

Naomasa winces. He hastily rises, scratching the back of his head uncomfortably. “You haven’t heard from Ground Zero or All-Might, I take it?”

Shouto shakes his head, a negative.

“The case is out of my hands,” Naomasa admits quietly. “Temporarily suspended. And before you ask, I have no idea who is going to take point in the future.”

Heterochromatic eyes narrow. “That they would remove the primary investigator from the case without already having someone in mind for it, that’s... unusual.”

Naomasa swallows reflexively, averts his gaze.

Shouto continues, relentless. “Your investigation must have turned up something big, if they had to take you off the case immediately. However, if no one has replaced you yet, there must be infighting between the agencies involved.”

Naomasa hesitates, then replies, “Perhaps if I was a hero, I might have been able to assist you today. As a simple detective, I really can’t comment.” He waits patiently, spots the exact moment Shouto understands what it is he isn’t saying.

There are two heroes involved in this case. Shouto is already familiar with both of them.

With his message received, Naomasa continues, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful, especially as you’ve gone out of your way to stop by.”

“It wasn’t any trouble.” Shouto gestures to his companion, “I was already in the area visiting my brother.”

The white-haired man steps forward, bows slightly, a respectful incline. He introduces himself, “Hisame Natsuo. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”

Naomasa returns the bow. “Detective Tsukauchi Naomasa. I’ve known your brother for many years.” He recalls Shouto’s interview from the previous month. “You were on television? Taking part in a debate, I believe?”

Natsuo grins bashfully, clearly pleased by the recognition. His pale complexion flushes a rosy pink. “I was just lucky, really. My participation in the debate got me a bit of notice, and I’ve been invited to join my hospital’s committee.”

“Congratulations. Your family must be quite proud.”

“We are,” Shouto adds. “Mother was especially thrilled.”

Natsuo laughs. “I’ve always wanted to be a positive change in the community, but even as a doctor, there’s only so much I could accomplish. Now, though? I have a voice on a committee in charge of amending Inko’s Law. It’s like a dream.”

Naomasa stops abruptly. He blinks, rewinds and replays that last part in his head. It doesn’t compute.

“Detective?” The brothers cock their heads, twin tilts of concern.

“Inko’s Law,” Naomasa repeats. “Inko’s Law?”

Natsuo hesitates, aware that something has changed, even if he’s not sure what or why or how. He carefully explains, “Japan’s... National Comprehensive Oath? It’s been years in the making. As a detective, I’m sure you must know of it?”

The National Comprehensive Oath, a series of laws lauded as the most impressive and sweeping change in social reform in the last two hundred years. They are responsible for the complete overhaul of government policies, with reforms in adoption and fostering, education, heroic and quirk law, hospital and clinic policy, as well as the prison system. Of course Naomasa knows of them.

“I do. I...” Naomasa shakes his head. “Why do you call them Inko’s Law?”

“I don’t know,” Natsuo shrugs helplessly. “The whole document is divided up into a bunch of subsections, but they’ve always just referred to the whole thing like that. I suppose because it’s catchy?”

He snags a pen and blank piece of paper from Naomasa’s desk and writes: I. National Comprehensive Oath. Then he circles the Roman numeral I, followed by the first letter of each word, N, C, O.

“Pronounced Inko, you see?”

Shouto, silent until this moment, asks, “Is... this important?”

Naomasa stares are the circled letters and remembers a mother with green hair and eyes just like her son, murdered partly due to the negligence of a hero who should have known better.

The detective stumbles standing still, bumps into his desk, knocks over his coffee cup. The dark liquid spills everywhere, splattering the side of the evidence box and staining the bottom. He makes no move to clean the mess, even as Shouto freezes the liquid to keep it from ruining anything else.

Natsuo waves a cautious hand in front of Naomasa’s face, says something that Naomasa can’t hear over the pounding of his own heartbeat. The doctor’s expression of confusion and concern is completely wasted on him.

This is no longer his case. It’s just a stupid abbreviation. It shouldn’t matter.

Inko’s Law.

It changes everything, and nothing at all.

***

Chapter Text

***

Today is awful. It’s so utterly awful, Benjiro wouldn’t be able to find the right words to explain it, even if he had someone else to explain it to.

Which he doesn’t.

The people he loves are all dead, and it’s not like he could say anything without choking on a mouthful of blood, anyway.

But if they weren’t or if he could, if he did have someone, he could maybe say that today is a culminated backlog of awful that has been steadily building for months. Today is the shit-stained cherry on top of the sticky, toilet bowl sundae that is his year. His vocabulary is lacking, but if someone was listening, he thinks he’d probably try to explain that everything has been terrible for a while now, but today is somehow objectively more terrible.

For example, he has been tired, cold, and hungry for weeks. But today, he is tired, cold, and hungry, and there are three thugs dogging his every step as he sprints down a secluded back alley, haphazardly overturning trashcans to block their path as he tries - and fails - to slow their pursuit.

None of the terrible things that happened yesterday are gone. But today, there are new terrible things to worry about. And it’s awful. It’s impossible and awful and so damned unfair.

He gasps for air, legs aching, chest burning. He has no breath to cry out for help. Soon they will catch him, unforgiving hands outstretched to snag the back of his shirt. They will throw him to the ground and beat him until they are satisfied, and he knows they will not be satisfied quickly or easily and how did it even come to this?

Only, no.

No, he knows exactly how it came to this.

People don’t like his face.

It sounds so very stupid, but seriously, if anyone cared to listen, Benjiro would try to impress upon them that he understands, okay? He has always been big for his age, starting when he was born half a kan heavier than the other chubbiest newborn in the hospital. He has always towered over the children of his neighborhood as he was growing up, and while they might have been willing to overlook his build, all of them still ran away at the first glimpse of his scary face, crooked nose and angry eyebrows.

It certainly didn’t help that once upon a time he’d fallen out of a tree and cut his cheek on a rock when he hit the ground, and the long, wicked scar it left looks more like it came from a knife fight than a childhood mishap. And at five years old, the kids at his school already avoided him due to his appearance, but when his quirk came in?

Shark teeth sound really cool in theory. However, Benjiro will be the first to attest that being unable to talk without slicing his lips and tongue is less than ideal. When the blood drips down his chin and even the teachers look at him like he is something to be shunned, to be feared -

Well, it wasn’t as though he talked much before his quirk presented.

The school’s quirk councilor told his dad to buy him a pair of blunters for his teeth and hope for the best. He had been given the choice to either slur his words around the big, bulky rubber protectors in his mouth or talk without them and bleed.

It’s a hell of a lesson to teach a kid, really, that sometimes choices are only choices in name.

So yes, Benjiro gets it. He understands the root of the problem with apathy born from helplessness, and he continues to exist with the miserable self-awareness that there is nothing he can actually do about it. It started in childhood, when he had no choice but to let his scary face do the talking for him, and people don’t like his face.

To be fair, no one liked his father’s face, either.

Benjiro can’t understand it himself. It has been so long that he barely remembers what his father looked like, his memory a jumble of hazy impressions - a face carved from jagged rocks, weathered and scarred, a hand so big it covered Benjiro’s entire head as it ruffled his hair, and dark, stormy eyes that were always warm, even if his dad’s mouth didn’t actually do much smiling.

Between the two of them and their scary faces, not many people were willing to get close. Elementary school years were particularly hellish. No one wanted to talk to Benjiro, no one wanted to play with him. Being lonely was awful, but it was less awful than having his classmates and even sometimes his teachers turn away from him or threaten to expel him because he was bullying the new kid.

And for the record, it hadn’t been anything like that, okay? The shiny mint-condition All-Might action figure fell out of the new kid’s backpack, and Benjiro had picked it up to try and return it. But he’d smiled, and that was stupid, smiling with teeth like his. The new kid took a single look at his sharp, shark teeth and burst into tears, and the teacher didn’t even listen to his side of things before scolding him.

His dad listened that night, silent and solemn. His dad hugged him with one arm and pressed a kiss to the crown of his hair and told him that he had done nothing wrong.

His dad died in a car crash when he was ten years old.

Benjiro remembers the wake vividly. Standing in an empty room, head bowed, he hadn’t been able to meet the eyes of his father’s unsmiling portrait. He remembers crying. He had cried so heavily and with such abandon that he hadn’t even noticed the elderly woman who’d materialized by his side as though summoned by his sorrow.

Her hand had been warm on his shoulder, through the thick layers of his shirt and the only respectable jacket he owned. Benjiro remembers staring up at her through the blur of tears and recognizing her face from the family album, though he’d never met her before that day. His last remaining relative, his maternal grandmother. She never talked about the rift between herself and his father, but she had mourned at the funeral with him just the same.

His grandmother had been tough but fair. Like his father, she lived simply, without dramatics or other nonsense. The transition from his apartment to hers had been surprisingly easy. She helped him pack his things and filed all of the confusing paperwork. The little bit of money leftover from his father’s accounts was put into a trust fund, to be given to Benjiro when he reached legal adulthood.

She never looked at him like she was afraid. She loved him and his face and stupid teeth, and that was all he ever really needed from anyone.

Only, she had been older than his father, and very frail, and as Benjiro learned to love her, he couldn’t help but worry about disappointing her. They had been poor, and her income was just enough to pay rent on their tiny apartment. He’d wanted to help her, then, but she’d ruffled his hair gently, hand shaking with the tremors of age, and told him not to worry and to focus his energy on his friends and his schooling.

The idea of friendship in high school was laughable. The kids in his class avoided him constantly. No one troubled him or tried to bully him, but no one talked to him, either. Teachers didn’t call on him for answers, so he handed in his homework every day and did okay with his grades, and it was fine.

And if Benjiro perhaps overheard the prettiest girl in the school telling her friend that she thought he was scary - she is terrified in class, it’s hard to concentrate with him in the room, and wouldn’t it be such a relief if he stop coming to school? - well, whatever, he was used to that sort of thing. It hadn’t been as though he liked her or anything.

With his grandmother’s health in mind, he opted to skip trying for university. He had been marginally hopeful that he would be able to find a job and help her with rent, but he struggled because on top of everything else, he was awful at talking to people.

Even when he managed to keep the stupid blunters on his teeth - bleeding all over a prospective new boss was to be avoided at all cost - they still rejected him. The blunters made every word that came from his mouth practically worthless, unintelligible and slurred. It had been so bad at one point that an interviewer even accused him of coming to the interview drunk.

He had been frantic - he wasn’t, he wouldn’t, he’d be happy to take any test to prove it, it’s just the blunters, please, just give him a chance! - and the woman with the doe mutation behind the desk had gone pale. Her large, curved ears had flattened against the side of her head at his raised voice and bared teeth and she’d stuttered an excuse about him being a poor fit for the company. She side-eyed the scar on his face, lips pursed, adding that perhaps he might do well in a more physically demanding environment?

He had stiffened a little at the implication. He swallowed the sting - everyone he meets thinks he is some sort of thug, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter - and bowed his head and taken his leave.

Benjiro’s grandmother died when he was nineteen, and he had yet to hold a steady job. On the rare occasion he was able to find work at a convenience store, usually taking the night shift, he had been fired due to petty complaints. Without anyone willing to give him a chance, he had known he wouldn’t be able to make rent on the small apartment he had called home for almost a decade.

He remembers shifting his father’s portrait, just a little to the left, to make room for his grandmother. He had knelt on the ground, forehead touching the floor, and given into the fear and confusion and sadness. Every tear he’d held back at her funeral came pouring out of him, body wracked with violent sobs, punctuated by helpless hiccups.

He doesn’t remember how long he stayed there. He wept until he was empty, until the floor beneath him was slick with tears and blood that dripped from where he’d carelessly cut his mouth. When he was spent, he picked himself up from the ground, cleaned his face of tears and snot, and took a short walk to the nearest dark alleyway.

The local yakuza had been offered him cash to run errands for years. He never thought he would find himself desperate enough to accept.

But his family was dead. Between his grandmother’s meager savings and the small trust fund left for him by his father, he would have been able to cover maybe three months of rent. He had been waiting nineteen years for someone to give him a chance, and he just wanted to pay his bills, okay?

He didn’t ask for shark teeth. He hates how often he cuts his lips and tongue, even when he’s not saying anything at all. But the clunky feel of the blunters in his mouth, the way they don’t fit right no matter how many new sets of teeth he grows, he hates that even more.

He’s not a bad guy. He’s not, he’s not. It’s just him against the world, and he’s had to learn to throw a punch over the years, to stand there and look mean and threatening. He’s never really hurt anyone, okay? He just doesn’t have it in him.

The problem, with a face like his, is that the people he worked for hired him with certain expectations.

Benjiro can only admit his quiet shame, complacent in his ignorance.

A week went by, a month, then two, and he got used to looming in the background like a particularly intimidating statue. He participated in the occasional scuffle, where he’d be ordered to rough someone up a little, a motley of bruises and the intermittent busted nose. It was all small and petty and almost innocent.

Then his boss handed him a lead pipe and told him to break a kid’s arm. And Benjiro? Benjiro stood frozen, mind empty, staring blankly at the rusted pipe in his hands.

At his feet, the kid in question. Dark hair and a rabbit mutation, with those sad little ears that flopped forward over liquid bright eyes as he cowered. Pinned to the ground like prey, struggling weakly and flanked by two thugs who hold his arms straight and taut. Probably still in junior high school, crying big, fat, ugly sobs, begging them - he’ll get the money for his dad, he promises, he promises, just give him a chance.

Benjiro doesn’t remember much about what happened after that. He doesn’t know what words were spoken, or how long he stood there.

He does know how it ended, with his boss on the ground, clutching his busted nose. One of the thugs reached for the boss, the other reached for Benjiro, both of them wearing twin expressions of utter bafflement. Then the metal pipe was clattering to the ground and the kid was over Benjiro’s shoulder and his boss, blood streaming from between his fingers, was screaming, “You’re dead, you’re fucking dead, you hear me you little shit, DEAD.”

The kid must have given him directions at some point, because when awareness filtered back slowly, like the setting sun through half-closed blinders, Benjiro found himself in a living room he didn’t recognize. The kid thanked him, and the kid’s dad thanked him, and Benjiro was unable to tell if the anxiety in his chest stemmed from worrying about the inevitable fallout of his actions or being smothered by an uncomfortable amount of floppy-eared, teary-eyed gratitude.

The next day, both the kid and the father were nowhere to be found, off to stay with relatives in the country. Their gratitude couldn’t pay his bills, and the local yakuza knew where he lived anyway. By the time he made it home, ducking at least half a dozen neighborhood lowlifes out for his blood, he found his grandmother’s apartment had been thoroughly trashed.

Benjiro wished he could skip town too, but where would he even go? He started to pick through the overturned furniture and broken glass, but a nearby voice yelled “Where is he?” and he bolted instead.

Which brings him to today.

He’s poking through the trash behind a strip of restaurants when three of his old coworkers spot him. He gets in a couple of good punches, puts some distance between him and his pursuers, and sprints for all he is worth.

They catch him, because of course they do. They haven’t slept on a park bench for the last month. They don’t have to pick through the trash to find something to eat. They haven’t been running on tension and spite, hunted like some kind of animal, hypervigilant and perpetually paranoid.

He cowers on the ground, covers his head, and takes the beating.

Seconds pass, or maybe minutes, and one of them laughs from somewhere above him. “Keep walkin’, salary man.”

“Hey, what the - ”

“Fucking shit, he’s got - ”

There is inarticulate yelling and a couple of thumps and yet more yelling. There is the telltale echo of a metal pipe as it hits the ground, and Benjiro slowly comes to a certain awareness. No one is hitting him.

“Oh, wow, they really got you good, didn’t they?”

The question is entirely unexpected. The words come from somewhere above him.

The man’s voice is pleasant, not particularly deep but not high pitched or squeaky, either. It falls somewhere in the middle, soft and soothing, and Benjiro slowly uncurls his arms and lifts his head.

Traditional salary man, like the ones he always sees board the trains. The man wears a nice suit and holds a briefcase, and his hair is black and a little wild. Honestly, in a lineup of other stiffs in suits, Benjiro would be hard pressed to pick him out.

“How are you feeling?” the man asks. “Are you okay to stand, or should I call for an ambulance?”

“Can’t afford it,” Benjiro admits, cautiously poking his ribs. There is a throb of protest, but he is fairly certain that nothing is broken. He’s about to say so when he hears a pathetic groan, and he spots all three of the yakuza who had been beating on him in various states of unconsciousness, sprawled on the ground like discarded tissues.

“The fuck kind of quirk you got?” he asks before he can stop himself, and he feels his lips catch on his stupid sharp teeth and split open, and the blood dribbles down his chin and drips to the ground.

The man has glanced behind him, looking at the men with raised eyebrows and a placid expression. Like he wasn’t the one who somehow incapacitated all of them without even breaking a sweat. “It’s registered as One Week Recall,” comes the cheerful reply. “A passive memorization quirk which I usually brag makes completing paperwork easier.”

When the man looks back, his eyes widen. He’s on his knees in a heartbeat, uncaring of the dirty ground, pulling an actual handkerchief out of his pocket and offering it to Benjiro. “You’re bleeding, are you sure - ”

“It’s my stupid fucking quirk,” Benjiro spits out, harsher than he means to. He’s just so sick of today, of this month, of his life.

“Your teeth are incredible,” the man says, smiling slightly. He’s still extending the handkerchief, patiently waiting. He doesn’t seem even remotely phased by Benjiro’s scary face or the fact that he’s bleeding. “That’s a double set, isn’t it? Like a shark. Do you lose them often? Can you regrow them infinitely? How sensitive are they, to touch and temperature? Oh, they’re amazingly sharp, aren’t they?”

The man rambles on pleasantly, seemingly content to kneel there for as long as is needed. His plain, brown eyes are bright with enthusiasm, and he looks directly at Benjiro’s face without any fear. In fact, he seems hyperfocused on his stupid shark teeth, leaning forward intently to get a better look, without any disgust for the blood that’s still warm and dripping from Benjiro’s lips.

And Benjiro just. He just can’t, okay? He’s exhausted and on edge and in pain, and this absolute stranger who should be running at the sight of him but for some reason isn’t is the last straw. He feels the tears well up in his eyes, and he is completely helpless to stop them.

“Oh, heck, I’m sorry,” the man says, instantly contrite, and still so very kind. “I love quirks, you see, but I’ve been told that I’m... a lot, when I get going. I didn’t mean to overwhelm you when you’ve clearly already had a very stressful day. Can I help you up, please?”

Benjiro can’t bring himself to speak. He nods once, ashamed, and tries to get a hold of himself.

The man extends a hand, and Benjiro notices he’s wearing a nicely tailored set of gloves. This strikes him as strange, but is quickly forgotten as the man carefully helps him to his feet. Benjiro has at least half a meter on the guy, but the man pulls him up so easily, bracing an arm around his waist and steadying him without a word.

Fuck, he’s strong, a solid wall of muscle beneath the deceptive button down shirt. Muscles like that, and probably trained to use them, if he’s able to stop three gangsters by himself.

“Here, I’m sorry,” the man says, angling close and gently touching the white handkerchief to Benjiro’s lips, dabbing at the blood there. “Let’s go across the street to that café. I know the owner and I’m sure she won’t mind if we use her backroom to get you cleaned up a little. We can call the police to deal with these three and I’ll buy you a cup of hot tea and a sandwich if you think you can stomach it?”

And just like that, Benjiro is swept away in the man’s steady pace. Together, they gingerly step around the semiconscious bodies and cross the street. The owner of the café seems more than happy to lend her backroom to them, despite the fact he looks like the worst kind of criminal. She’s clearly terrified, but she must trust the man who’s helping him without reservation because she doesn’t even hesitate.

What does that kind of blind faith feels like? Benjiro can’t imagine.

The tea is hot and sweet and it soothes his throat as he drinks it. The sandwich is crisp and fresh, and it tastes so good, and it’s been so long since he’s had a meal he didn’t salvage from the dumpsters, and he starts to tear up all over again.

All the while, the man talks to him, asking questions in that calming tone, something about his cadence almost hypnotizing: who were those men and why were they after him and where does he live and is there anyone who he’d like to contact?

It should be harder than this, telling his story to someone else. It’s such a strange feeling, having someone genuinely interested in his words. Maybe it’s the kindness that undoes him, because Benjiro couldn’t pick this guy out of a lineup of other suits and yet he gives him the whole sob story without hesitation. His father and his grandmother and his grandmother’s apartment, the only places he has ever felt safe and how they are inevitably torn from his too-weak hands.

He says more to this man with his gentle probing than he has spoken to anyone since his grandmother died. He answers slowly, with as much care as he can, but he can’t help the involuntary cuts inside his mouth and on his tongue. It must be disgusting, the blood and spit drooling from his lips, but the man’s earnest expression doesn’t once falter.

After the tea is done and the meal is paid for, the man offers him a hand and says, “You know, I have a friend who has a spare room he lends out from time to time, for people who are trying to get back on their feet. Would you like to take a look?”

And like that, they’re taking a taxi to somewhere Benjiro has never been, to look at some room in some house, and fuck, if this guy is going to steal his organs, at least he’s been really nice about it?

***

The house is comfortable, a decent size and well maintained, and in a relatively safe part of the city. The man knocks twice, quick and sharp, and the door swings open a moment later to reveal a creature who is even taller than Benjiro, whose visible face and hands are formed of thick black and purple smoke. Benjiro stills, wary of those piercing, electric yellow eyes.

Certain worries are eased. Between the intimidating height and inhuman appearance, well... if this is the aforementioned friend, it’s not a surprise that Benjiro’s face didn’t even phase his savior.

“I wasn’t expecting you today.” The voice is definitely that of a man, deep and somewhat static, and the door opens wider to allow them entry. “How may I be of assistance?”

“This is Nishikawa Benjiro-kun,” his savior introduces warmly, still smiling. “He’s had a really bad day, and I was wondering if I could trouble you to lend him a spare room for a couple of weeks?”

“As you wish,” the shadowy man replies without hesitation. “Will he require anything else?”

Benjiro opens his mouth to protest, but can’t even make a sound before his savior says, “A couple of changes of clothes in his size, I think. And three decent meals a day until he gets himself sorted. Oh!” The man nods to the owner of the house, a belated introduction. “This is Kurogiri. He’s really nowhere near as scary as he looks, and he’s super dependable. Please let him know if you need help with anything.”

“I don’t - what - how can you just - ” Benjiro splutters, incoherent. The blood bubbles to his lips and he struggles to swallow it back down.

“There are a couple of basic house rules, but it’s nothing too difficult, I promise!” the man says. “Just, you know, be respectful to anyone here, and expect them to treat you with that same respect. And if you’re worried about finding a job, I have a friend who could use some help in her warehouse. I’ll check with her, but it’d be a decent, steady paycheck, and you wouldn’t need to do much talking, if that sounds okay?”

Honestly, all of it sounds too good to be true, but Benjiro can’t actually say that because he’s too busy choking on his own blood.

Everything happens quickly after that. All at once, he has a place to stay and he’s not hungry and there is the tentative promise of a paycheck and none of the people he meets seem to be afraid of his face. He stares at the ceiling, trying and failing to find a comfortable position to sleep when he realizes, he never asked the man for his name.

***

The next morning is uncomfortable. The awkward reality of the situation crashes down on Benjiro with all the subtlety of All-Might’s signature Smash. He has a bed to sleep in, and the promise of food and work, but how much can he actually trust these people? Surely this kindness has a price.

Break his arm, comes the insidious whisper, and for a moment he’s back in that room, faced with the terrified reality of what a paycheck is actually worth.

He tries to put it out of his mind, but he finds three changes of clothes in the closet, and they fit him exactly. His anxiety skyrockets.

Benjiro has been on edge for weeks, and the floorboards are certainly creaky enough to wake him from a dead slumber. The clothes weren’t there when he’d checked the previous night. He sits on the corner of the bed and forces himself to breathe, one, two, in, out.

As the air stutters in his chest, he finds himself wondering if he should just run. His internal debate is interrupted by the delectable scent of something spicy and rich. It lures him unwittingly out of the bedroom and into the nearby kitchen.

Kurogiri-san stands silently by the stove, stirring a large pot with single-minded focus. Without even bothering to look up, the man - stranger, really - asks, “Are you hungry?”

“Um,” Benjiro replies intelligently. His heartbeat, which had calmed to a hard, dull thud, instantly explodes. Kurogiri-san’s lack of expressive emotions makes him difficult to read; it’s nerve-wracking.

The man has given him sanctuary based solely on the word of someone else - someone who has known Benjiro for less than a day. And even if they weren’t complete strangers, Benjiro is well aware that his face doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Shouldn’t Kurogiri-san exhibit some sort of leeriness?

Instead, Benjiro is greeted with placid pot-stirring and a polite inquiry of satiety.

This isn’t normal.

Kurogiri-san plates a generous serving of white rice and tops it with freshly made chicken curry, sliding the dish onto the counter directly in front of Benjiro. A paper towel and utensils follow shortly.

A tiny curl of steam rises from the plate, and Benjiro reflexively takes a deep breath in, tantalized by the warm spices. The brown sauce is laden with neatly diced potatoes, carrots, and onions. He reaches for his chopsticks, the quiet rumble of his stomach temporarily outweighing his suspicions, and takes a single bite.

The gentle heat of it burns his mouth in the best way. The chicken is tender, and the vegetables are cooked just right, soft but not mushy. The sauce of the curry mixes with the rice, the perfect blend of taste and texture. His mouth waters the instant he swallows.

Benjiro inhales the first helping with a speed honed in passing starvation and is rewarded with a second plate. Knowing he will make himself sick, he forcibly slows his pace.

“The clothing in the closet is yours,” Kurogiri-san says tonelessly as he moves to clean the kitchen.

“It.” Benjiro stops, swallows reflexively. His heartbeat quickens, and his stomach goes tight. He is acutely aware of his dirty clothes and the fact that he hasn’t taken a shower for almost two weeks. “It wasn’t there last night.”

“Ah.” The sound conveys quiet realization. “I possess a warp quirk. I did not wish to disturb your rest and placed the clothing directly into your closet. It was not my intention to make you uncomfortable, but I believe that was... poorly done of me. I will not use my quirk to access your room in future.”

Okay, Benjiro thinks, and slowly lets out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He can understand a man not thinking twice about using a quirk in his own house. He nods his head, accepts the apology, and shovels another bite of curry into his mouth. His heartbeat slows as he counts each inhale and exhale in his head, one, two, in, out, and steadily chews his food.

Kurogiri-san continues, “There is a bathroom across the hall from the room in which you are staying. It is one of three, so feel free to make use of the facilities at any time. Though I will provide you three meals a day, I keep an abundance of food in the house, which you are welcome to eat at any time.”

“Are you for real?” Benjiro blurts out.

“I have been directed to assist you,” the man replies, matter of fact. “I can do no less than what I have been tasked.”

Benjiro is dizzy, yo-yoing between unexpected surprise and artificial calm. He has so many questions.

Is Benjiro’s savior a CEO or something? This behavior isn’t friendship, it’s subservience. The abject deference Kurogiri-san shows in the face of his orders is almost feudal in its loyalty. What is their relationship? Master and butler? Lord and vassal?

A place to sleep and food to eat, the comforts of clean clothes and access to hot, running water. Who just gives these precious things away without asking for anything in return? What the fuck? he thinks. Who does this?

Benjiro opens his mouth to ask, but Kurogiri-san adds, “If you have any questions, the young master will return later tonight.”

Okay, sure, why not? Benjiro thinks as Kurogiri-san fills his plate for the third time. He knows when he’s being told to shut up and eats his curry.

He can’t even be mad about it. It’s fucking delicious.

***

Following the delectable meal, Benjiro lowers himself into a frankly luxurious bath. He soaks his aching muscles for at least thirty minutes, nearly pruning himself in the process. He helps himself to the soaps and shampoo, and drags a palm against side of his face, scowling at the patchy smattering of slowly growing facial hair.

He finds a packet of disposable plastic razors beneath the sink, alongside a half-empty can of shaving cream. Later, when he puts on the clean clothes that Kurogiri-san left in his closet, he feels closer to human than he has in weeks.

He is balancing on the edge of the bed, drying his hair with a fluffy towel, when someone knocks softly on the door.

Benjiro is across the room in an instant. He flings the door open and demands, “What’s your name?”

The man in the suit blinks once, startled. His cheeks flush faintly, pale and pink. “I didn’t introduce myself yesterday, did I?” He lowers his hand. “Kurosu Hide, at your service.”

“Kurosu-san, then. I didn’t. I mean. Fuck.” Benjiro bows his head. “Thank you. For yesterday. And all of this.”

“It’s fine, Benjiro-kun. Oh, that’s rather forward of me, I think.” His savior - Kurosu-san - sounds abashed. “Would you prefer it if I call you Nishikawa-san?”

It’s Benjiro’s turn to blush, and he glances up while awkwardly scratching the back of his head. Yesterday, he’d been so distraught that the intimacy hadn’t even registered. In hindsight, having someone treat him so familiarly had actually lessened the sting of a stranger seeing him at his most vulnerable. Kurosu-san is somewhere in his late twenties, so it almost felt like the affections of an older brother.

None of which he can admit to, not without sounding like a desperately needy child. But he finds himself responding, “Benjiro is - it’s fine, like that. You saved my life, you can use my given name.”

“In that case, would you care to join me in the kitchen for a cup of coffee, Benjiro-kun?” The man smiles warmly, completely at ease. “I have a few things I’d like to discuss with you.”

Kurogiri-san is nowhere to be seen as Kurosu-san moves about the kitchen with practiced familiarity, pulling a French press from one of the cabinets with gloved hands. He fills an electric kettle on the counter with water, adding ground coffee from the freezer into the French press as he waits for the kettle to boil.

“Are you settling in well?” Kurosu-san asks, sliding a small container of sugar across the counter to where Benjiro sits.

Instinctively, Benjiro’s hands wrap around the sugar bowl. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. Um.” He fiddles with it absently, feeling a little desperate as he scours his brain for small talk. “Kurogiri-san’s a really good cook.”

“He likes to pretend he doesn’t care, but I think it would make him happy that you think so,” Kurosu-san replies. He pauses. “I spoke to my friend at the warehouse. She’d love to meet you.”

Benjiro’s grip tightens imperceptibly. The lid of the sugar bowl becomes skewed, and he takes a moment to straighten it before pushing the whole thing away. “Are you sure? I mean, did you tell her.” He is so careful as he speaks. He hasn’t cut his mouth once during this conversation. “Did you tell her about me?”

“Don’t fret too much about the interview,” Kurosu-san says in lieu of a reply. “The job is yours, if you want it.”

How can someone make that kind of promise, Benjiro wonders.

When he realizes that the man is patiently waiting for a response, he chokes, “I want it.”

Kurosu-san nods once, as if that’s that. “I happen to have the day off tomorrow, so I can drive you over to meet the boss, and to negotiate your schedule and pay. It’s not terribly far, so you can commute using the bus, but it’s close enough to reach by bike, if you prefer. It depends on if you’d feel more comfortable borrowing the bike, or borrowing the bus fare until you get your first paycheck.”

Benjiro hesitates. “I don’t have a bike?”

“I’ve got an old one tucked away in storage.” Kurosu-san hums thoughtfully. “We can get that for you tomorrow as well. Now, about your teeth - ”

The electric kettle whistles, and Benjiro feels as though someone has kicked him in the face. Why did he let his guard down? He knew it, he knew this was all too good to be true. What’s it to be, then? Probably blunters, or a warning to not display them casually. It’s not quite betrayal, but the sting is similar. It hits Benjiro harder than expected, the sick feeling in his stomach twisting like an actual, physical pain. And then -

“ - if you’re willing to put up with a terrible taste until I have a chance to make something better, anyway.”

Benjiro blanks out. He’s sure he misheard something. He swallows, throat dry, and says, “What?”

Kurosu-san flicks the power off the teakettle, effectively silencing the high-pitched whine. He carefully pours the boiling water into the French press, unperturbed as he relays the information for a second time. “Your blunters. From what you’ve told me, they seem uncomfortable and ineffective. Chemistry is something of a hobby of mine, and I have a project that I think will suit your needs, but it tastes awful. I can fix that with enough time.”

“What do you...?” Benjiro trails off, uncomprehending. He repeats blankly, “Project? Needs?”

Kurosu-san fixes the lid on the French press, then pushes down on the plunger in the middle, slowly screening the coffee grounds from the resulting dark liquid. He seems wholly devoted to his task, and he absentmindedly replies, “Your teeth are truly incredible, but they damage your lips and tongue unless you speak slowly, with the utmost caution. When we were in the café the other day, you mentioned how useless the mass produced blunters are, so I thought something like my project might better suit you.”

The man sets the French press aside. He pulls a pot from one of the lower cabinets and places it on the stove.

“It’s a temporary coating originally meant to blunt sharp weaponry. It’s specifically meant to work on hard surfaces like metal and bone, and it’s a liquid so you can apply it by using it as a mouthwash. Because it doesn’t adhere to flesh, your gums and tongue will remain unaffected. It’s safe to ingest, though I wouldn’t recommend drinking it, and it tastes absolutely awful. I think I can fix that, though. I’ll just need a bit of time.”

Without pausing for breath, the man continues his explanation, even as he opens the refrigerator and pulls out a gallon of milk. He measures a little over a cup, pouring it into the pot on the stove and turning up the heat.

“I’ll need to do some trial runs, and I’m sure we’ll have to tweak the formula a bit, but I’ve already got the bulk of the work done. I don’t know if you’re interested in talking to people, but I’d like to at least give you the option. Quirks are amazing, you know? No one should be hurt by their own - oh, heck, are you okay?”

Benjiro doesn’t know when the tears started. He knows he feels like the biggest baby in the world at the moment; how many times will this man reduce him to a snotty, sobbing mess?

It’s just. All of his problems. All of the things he’s learned to accept, no matter how unfair they are. His homelessness, his joblessness, his stupid face, and now even his stupid teeth. Is this the magic of being an adult? It seems almost effortless.

Kurosu-san offers him a wry smile and a clean handkerchief from one of his magic pockets. Benjiro gratefully blows his nose, then watches the man simultaneously pour equal parts of coffee and scalded milk into two dainty cups. The cups are placed onto the counter in front of Benjiro with a little flourish, and a spoonful of sugar is added to each.

It can’t be the magic of adulthood, Benjiro thinks, because he knows that both his dad and his grandmother would have helped him if they could. That means this specific brand of crazy is unique to Kurosu-san himself. In which case, Benjiro wants to know -

“What the fuck do you even do?”

“Hm? Oh, nothing particularly impressive,” Kurosu-san replies with a noncommittal wave of his hand. “I occupy a minor position in government management, interdivisional communication and excessive paperwork.” He smiles blandly and sips his coffee. “Just another suit, you know?”

***

The following day, Kurosu-san introduces him to Seiyaku Nemu, a tiny, vibrant woman half his size, a sprig of bluebells in the shadow of a pine tree. It clearly doesn’t phase her because she takes one look at his arms and grins. She invades his personal bubble, blatantly patting him down like a prized beast, and he can do nothing but blush and stutter out a greeting.

“Nemu-hime, we’ve talked about boundaries,” Kurosu-san admonishes gently.

You’ve talked,” Seiyaku-san - Seiyaku-hime? - replies, but she does take a step back as she bounces on the balls of her feet. “Look at those muscles! I need a heavy lifter, De-kun!”

The nickname throws Benjiro off for a moment until he remembers Kurosu-san’s first name. Hide to De-kun, he muses. They must be quite close.

As it turns out, Seiyaku-hime runs the primary warehouse for a local pharmaceutical company. Apparently she’s been meaning to hire a helper for months but never quite found the time. She tilts her head back to meet his eyes directly, fearless as she invades his space, and nods sharply. “You’re hired, Togatta-kun.”

Benjiro splutters at the unexpected nickname, and Kurosu-san gives him an encouraging smile before making himself scarce. They speak frankly of hours - every weekday, seven to three - and pay, which is more than generous and promised to him on a bi-monthly basis. She wants him to start immediately.

It’s so easy.

It’s too easy.

Benjiro breathes and counts, one, two, in, out.

After that, the days blur together. It’s uncomplicated and good in a way that Benjiro never believed he could attain, having a place to sleep and attending a job that suits him and consuming three delicious meals that he isn’t even paying for. Kurogiri-san is a ghost, unseen but omniscient. When Benjiro accidentally tears one of his shirts at the warehouse, he finds an undamaged replacement outside his door the next day, neatly folded, smelling faintly of fresh linen and lemons.

There is a sharp double knock on Benjiro’s door twice daily, once for breakfast and once for dinner, and there is always a place set for him at the counter. His lunch waits for him by the front door, neatly packed in a small, portable cooler. And when he damages the frame of his borrowed bicycle in a minor accident, he finds it repaired without notice the following day, still hooked to the bike rack in the front of the house.

Honestly, it’s like being attended by the world’s most frighteningly competent butler. Benjiro feels intimidated just looking at Kurogiri-san’s profile, and not for the first time, he wonders about his mysterious host and his mysterious savior.

He has so many questions, but it’s impossible to ask. It’s all fresh and new, and he is hesitant to cause waves when they have given him so much and asked for nothing in return.

It has been a little over a week, and Benjiro is currently melting into the kitchen counter. The shrimp and vegetable tempura is golden, crispy perfection. He can’t help but savor the sweetness of the vegetables and the saltiness of the dipping sauce. He takes a bite of white rice to cleanse his pallet, then sneaks a tender shumai from one of the side plates.

There is a knock at the front door, three bangs in quick succession. Kurogiri-san’s warp portal opens, and he is gone from the kitchen. Benjiro hears Kurosu-san’s familiar voice a moment later, and the two men enter the room, not quite together. Kurosu-san is a step ahead, and Kurogiri-san seems content to follow.

“That smells fantastic,” Kurosu-san says, and makes a beeline for one of the cabinets. He snags a dish with one gloved hand, waving amicably to Benjiro with the other. “Good evening, Benjiro-kun. Sorry I haven’t been around in a while, buried in paperwork, you know how it goes.” He helps himself to a scoop of rice, then proceeds to pick through the tempura, stealing a few choice bits. “How are your teeth doing?”

Benjiro grins recklessly, displaying his teeth without shame. He hasn’t cut his mouth even once since he started using Kurosu-san’s mouthwash. The application tastes terrible, but it’s a small price to pay for twelve hours of being able to talk clearly and without pain.

The other man responds with a small, pleased smile.

Unexpectedly, Kurogiri-san speaks up. “By chance, is your increased workload due to the cold case that has been the talk of the precinct?”

“Partly. The detective in charge stirred up some hornets with his investigation,” Kurosu-san replies absently, sliding his plate onto the counter and pulling up a stool. “Honestly, I’m not even upset about the paperwork at this point. Anyone who can follow a fifteen year old paper trail is a hero in my book.”

“You still feel that way after their second visit to Tartarus Prison?”

“Ugh,” Kurosu-san groans. “Don’t remind me. My secretary is still unresponsive, just mutters ‘in triplicate’ every time I ask if he wants a coffee.” The man pauses, eyes narrowing as he points his chopsticks at Kurogiri-san’s head. “And don’t think I don’t know which little birdie sang, my friend. You’re suspiciously well-informed.”

Benjiro shovels more rice into his mouth and keeps his head down, listening curiously. He has no idea what the two are discussing, has the barest inkling of what Kurosu-san’s job entails, but the way they talk to each other is more interesting than the content of their conversation.

If the expression on Kurosu-san’s face has any impact on the shadowy gentleman, it doesn’t show. He simply asks, “Has the Hero Public Safety Commission been informed?”

“Mm-hm,” Kurosu-san hums. “The Board of Heroics too, of course. How many months will they waste over pointless infighting, do you suppose? Three? Four?”

“I couldn’t dare comment.”

Kurosu-san laughs. “That’s a dirty lie. You staying out of it implies that bets have already been placed.”

“I couldn’t dare comment,” Kurogiri-san repeats, blankly and without feeling.

That was. That was a joke, wasn’t it? Benjiro smothers a grin.

Oblivious to Benjiro’s unexpected delight, Kurogiri-san continues, “What are your thoughts on the matter, young master?”

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that.” Kurosu-san takes a delicate bite of tempura, chewing thoughtfully. He swallows, then shrugs, “Three months, minimum. The Board of Heroics will ultimately come out on top. The Commission’s been hemoraging influence for years, they’re clearly in their death-throws. Really, they’re the only ones who don’t realize their ship is sinking. But they still have their uses, I suppose.”

Something in the air seems to shift.

There’s a sort of heaviness in the room that wasn’t there before. Kurogiri-san stands, not quite at attention, but close enough that it makes Benjiro inexplicably nervous.

Kurosu-san’s voice is - it’s still pleasant and he isn’t any louder, but there’s an undertone there. A sharpness as he continues, “After all, when you’re trying to tie things up, nothing beats red tape.”

Then he laughs, a sweet, light sound, and the thread of tension is dispelled. “Anyway, enough about work. I’ve been threatened by our favorite princess to coordinate my schedule for a family dinner. So here I am, coordinating.”

***

A week passes. The knot in Benjiro’s stomach slowly loosens.

His job at the warehouse is so very different from his limited retail experience. For one, it’s physically demanding to the point of exhaustion. Exposure to Seiyaku-hime’s relentless energy only adds to his fatigue, and he is often asleep the moment his head hits his pillow.

The biggest difference is that his boss never shames him. For all her irreverence when it comes to personal space and her pension for childish nicknames, she never makes him feel less. When he can’t recall a particular shipping procedure, she is happy to teach him, again and again until he is comfortable with the knowledge, and she actively encourages him to take notes in a little booklet she has him carry in his pocket.

Her patience is strange, at odds with what he imagines to be her attention span. She is alive with perpetual motion, tapping her fingers on the counter, slapping her hand against her thigh, dancing on the balls of her feet as she transitions between the main computer and the warehouse shelves. Benjiro has never seen anyone else who finds such joy in movement.

If he had to describe her in one word, it would be... loud. Distracting. Her vibrant t-shirts, her torn-up jeans, her neon blue hair. She’s older than Kurosu-san, but her round face and her wide smiles make her seem much younger.

She hums under her breath all the time. She tries to steal bites of his lunch stating, “You get Moya-kun’s cooking every day, you lucky bastard.” She invades his personal space without a single thought to his comfort.

She is his boss, but she’s more like a big sister and a little sister rolled into one. Benjiro finds himself looking forward to seeing her each day.

Another week passes. He no longer wakes in the middle of the night every time he hears a creak.

He opens an account with a different bank, and updates his temporary mailing address. He starts searching the internet for apartment listings, forwards his information to reasonably priced realtor, and checks the public bulletin boards on the way as he cycles to work. Several additional changes of clothes appear outside of his door, courtesy of the shadowy butler, and Benjiro’s lunch expands to include a picturesque cake slice or an exquisitely decorated pasty.

“Practice,” Kurogiri-san divulges on prompting, “for what I will be making for the family dinner.”

Kurosu-san stops by once or twice. There is no set pattern to his visits, but he always takes a moment to check with Benjiro: how are you feeling, and is Nemu-hime treating you well, and Kurogiri mentioned you didn’t eat a lot at dinner yesterday, is everything alright?

Aside from these questions, the man has never asked him for anything. Benjiro is starting to honestly believe that the man will never ask him for anything. This level of self-sacrificing altruism is both humbling and horrifying.

Benjiro’s family is dead. He has no old classmates worth mentioning, no former colleagues worth knowing. He has no friends, and no one to depend on, and aside from his dad and his grandmother, no one in his life has ever tried to help him because no one else has ever cared.

Kurosu-san has a job in the government, and the kind of connections that money can’t buy. Kurogiri-san and Seiyaku-hime would move the moon if he asked them, and Benijro recalls the woman who owns the café, who let a bloody stranger use her backroom without question, and thinks they’re probably not the only ones. Kurosu-san is smart, he’d have to be to create something like the teeth-blunting mouthwash. He’s strong, too, if the way he took out three burly yakuza is any indication. That’s money and power and influence on a scale that’s almost incomprehensible.

The point is, there is nothing that Benjiro can give him that he doesn’t already have.

There is no reason for Kurosu-san to have saved him from those thugs. There is no reason for this continued assistance, living quarters and food, a job and the time to get his bearings. There is no reason for these questions, this quiet, honest interest in his mental health and well-being.

The only rational explanation is that for some inexplicable reason, Kurosu-san cares.

It doesn’t make any sense, so Benjiro can’t understand it. But having seen the evidence, having lived it, he has no choice but to accept it.

He breathes into a paper bag that night, and counts, one, two, in, out.

***

Another week passes. The weather has just started to shift, carrying with it that little bit of chill that Benjiro can feel in his bones. The slight drop in temperature is heralded by two events, courtesy of the omniscient Kurogiri-san. First, he finds a fleece-lined winter jacket hanging outside of his room that morning. Second, a thermos of hot chocolate so thick he might lovingly call it sludge materializes next to his lunch box in the hallway.

He takes a sip before he leaves the house, and he has to stop for a minute because it is literally the best thing he has ever put in his mouth. It’s heavy on his tongue, sinful and bitterly sweet, and he is struck by the certainty that he could finish the entire container in a single sitting, that the richness would leave him sick to his stomach, and that it would be completely justified because the stuff was just that fucking good.

Benjiro hides the thermos from Seiyaku-hime as soon as he reaches the warehouse. It takes her less than ten minutes to sniff it out, and she dances through the warehouse singing “Kue, kue, kue~ choco-kuro~.” She downs two thirds of the container before he manages to steal it back.

That night, he hears quiet noises coming from the kitchen well after Kurogiri-san is usually asleep. Benjiro peeks his head through the open doorway, only to find Kurosu-san sitting at the counter, quietly muttering to himself as he thumbs through a stack of paperwork. There is an oversized mug to his left, alongside a familiar-looking thermos.

“Everything okay?” Benjiro asks awkwardly.

Kurosu-san glances up, his gaze sharp. The expression softens in the split-second it takes him to recognize Benjiro. “Oh, did I wake you? Sorry about that, I have a rather troublesome habit of talking to myself when I work. A childhood mannerism I never quite outgrew.”

“S’fine, I wasn’t asleep.” Benjiro nods meaningfully towards the thermos on the counter. “But if you really wanna’ make amends...”

The man in the suit laughs. “You drive a hard bargain.”

Benjiro huffs. “Seiyaku-hime stole mine this morning.”

“Ah.” Kurosu-san grins knowingly. “Kurogiri only makes hot chocolate on special occasions, so you’ll have to take care to guard yours better in future. As it is, I think I can bear to part with a cup though. Just this once.”

Benjiro is familiar enough with the kitchen now. He opens one of the cabinets, finds a twin, oversized mug to match the one Kurosu-san is using, and pours himself a coveted cup of hot, chocolate sludge. He settles onto one of the kitchen stools, blowing short puffs of air across the surface of the drink to cool it.

Internally, he marvels. His mouth and tongue work in tandem, pursing with each breath, but there is no pain, no coppery jolt to ruin the taste of chocolate as he brings the mug to his lips.

There is something inherently comforting about watching Kurosu-san as he returns to his work, shoulders relaxed as he twirls his pen. He scribbles notes, circles words, and slashes whole paragraphs until each page drips with red. The movements are nothing like Seiyaku-hime’s frantic, high-strung energy. The rustle of paper, the soft scratch of ink, and Kurosu-san’s voice, a near inaudible murmur - these things lull Benjiro to an unfamiliar place of calm.

It is into this calm that he quietly admits, “Met with a real estate agent today. She put me in touch with a couple of guarantor companies, but... none of them wanted to sign for me because of my fucking face.” He clutches his mug and scowls at the counter, ashamed.

Kurosu-san pauses, glancing up to meet Benjiro’s eyes. He takes a moment to straighten his papers, only to set them aside. He doesn’t look surprised by the statement, nor upset or offended or any of the other reactions Benjiro had imagined.

“I used to have a scar like that.”

Benjiro blinks. He stares at his savior’s entirely unmemorable face, but can find no visible trace of scarring. “Kids in my grade used to tell each other stories, that I got it in a knife fight with a rival gang’s boss or some shit.” He pauses, wondering if he will be believed. “I got it falling out of a tree when I was a kid. Sliced my face on a rock like some kind of dumbass.”

The man in the suit smiles faintly, dragging a gloved finger from his brow to his chin. “I would have rather sliced my face on a rock.”

“You don’t - I mean, there’s no scar - ”

“Not now, but... there were two, originally. The first was relatively small, just under my eye. The second actually blinded me.” Before Benjiro can parse through that horror, Kurosu-san adds, “Thankfully, a dear friend of mine was able to heal me completely.”

Benjiro thinks about how they met. He’s thought about it before, more than once. The way Kurosu-san stopped three yakuza cold, without difficulty or any injury to himself. How collected Kurosu-san was in the face of such violence, how unfazed he’d been by the blood and the bruises.

“That kind of thing is terribly inconvenient, isn’t it?” Kurosu-san continues, voice gentle with understanding. “It’s all some people seem to see.”

“That day... why’d you save me?” The question has plagued Benjiro since the beginning, though he’d been too wary to ask it. He doesn’t even know if he really wants an answer.

“Hm.” Kurosu-san tilts his head to the side, smiling faintly. “Would you like the long answer, or the short one?”

Benjiro realizes his savior is waiting for some sort of reply. “The long answer?” he says, more question than statement.

“All right,” Kurosu-san agrees easily. “I can get a bit long-winded so feel free to stop me at any time. To understand the long answer, you have to go back, oh, two decades, give or take?”

Benjiro blinks. “Excessive.”

Kurosu-san laughs. “I suppose it is, a bit. Back then it was common for society to ostracize anyone born with what they called a ‘villainous’ quirk. For example, mind-control or a frightening physical mutation... I’m sure you’re quite familiar with how those children were treated.”

No one calls him a villain to his face - thankfully, that’s the kind of insult that would warrant a week of detention in school if a teacher overheard - but Benjiro has been dealing with fearful side-glances and hushed whispers his whole life. He nods.

“So society looked at those children, at their power and their potential, and instead of offering acceptance, they passed judgement instead. There was actually a study conducted during that time, a truly massive undertaking which compiled the results of roughly four hundred interviews from imprisoned villains.”

“Huh. I never heard of a study like that.”

“You wouldn’t have. At that time, sensitive information was tightly controlled by the Hero Public Safety Commission.” Something in Kurosu-san’s tone goes strange and flat. “Let’s leave that can of worms for a different conversation.”

Benjiro nods, and Kurosu-san resumes his lecture, his tone taking on a particularly engaging cadence. “Back on topic, it was found that ninety-five percent of the prisoners interviewed had been labeled as villains from birth, based solely on their quirks. Eighty-two percent initially admitted to committing their first criminal act in direct response to such treatment - after all, if society already thought they were villains, what was the point in trying to be anything else?”

“It’s terrifying, really. Somehow shunning a significant portion of the population was done so mindlessly, people didn’t even consider there could be consequences. Those were the social norms: to fear the holder of a ‘villainous’ quirk as a villain, to elevate a child with a flashy, ‘heroic’ quirk as a hero, and to treat those born without a quirk as less than human.” Kurosu-san sighs. “Society supported this toxic mindset blindly, and as a result, it very nearly destroyed itself.”

“It took years of legal reform to make a dent in those behaviors, and the institution of both corrective and preventative measures. One example of such change is that all government-regulated jobs are required to participate in a series of mandatory seminars, including but not limited to encouraging interdivisional teamwork, understanding the importance of emotional health, and appropriate language in both the workplace as well as daily life.”

Kurosu-san must see the touch of incomprehension on Benjiro’s face, because he continues without prompting, “That last one is just common sense; the world ‘villain’ isn’t inherently problematic, or at least no more so than words like ‘murderer,’ ‘liar,’ or ‘thief.’ The actual problem lies in appropriate condition and use. For example, you wouldn’t accost a person on the street and call them a murderer, not unless you had concrete evidence of their crime. Calling someone a villain is much the same, and is now considered defamation of character. If someone were to call you a villain based on your appearance alone, you could bring them to court - and you’d win.”

Benjiro nods again. He’s never really heard it put in so many words before, but he’s peripherally familiar with all of this information, fragments of elementary school lessons and his own father’s teachings.

“I’m getting sidetracked again,” Kurosu-san admits ruefully. “What I’ve just described was a single core problem, the treatment of children who fit into a ‘villainous’ mold. However, despite the solutions that I’ve just described, attempting to fix an issue back then was an exercise in futility. Tug on one string, and you’d find yourself tangled in a web.”

“Twenty years ago, villainy itself was at an all-time high. More attacks meant more civilian casualties, which resulted in higher numbers of children sent into the system for fostering or adoption. More children in the system meant existing resources were spread even thinner. Not enough qualified social workers resulted in uncaught abuse, poor placement in foster homes, and lack of support when some of those children developed their own ‘villainous’ quirks. It wasn’t uncommon for those children to turn down darker paths themselves.”

“There weren’t enough prisons to house apprehended villains. Again, a higher number of prisoners led to fewer resources and inadequate supervision, which in turn lead to unqualified quirk councilors and abusive prison guards. All of which ultimately destroyed the chance of rehabilitation for men and women who might have otherwise learned to integrate as productive members of society. Instead, once they were released, almost all of them returned to a criminal life of familiarity.”

“I can cite other studies done at the time, on the correlation between villainy and homelessness, and another on homelessness and quirklessness. That’s another separate discussion, I think.”

Kurosu-san shakes his head. “And don’t even get me started on the schools. The glamour of the heroic industry was practically spoon-fed into every child’s mouth from infancy. As such, fewer children pursued careers as police officers or social worker, directly contributing to the shortage of human resources in those departments.” He huffs, clearly frustrated. “Did you know that hero licenses are highly regulated? Because the government is responsible for the salary pool of the entire industry, there are a limited number of provisional license-holders allowed to pass every year. The larger the pool of candidates, the higher the number of failures. Some of whom became some so embittered by the system that they turned to villainy themselves.”

Benjiro’s head spins. He was pretty sure he asked a question at the start of all this, but for the life of him, he can’t understand how it’s connected.

Kurosu-san sighs again. “The only reason Japan’s social infrastructure didn’t collapse on itself was because of All-Might. His emergence as the Pillar of Peace was simultaneously both the best and worst thing that could have happened to Japan.”

“He’s a great hero,” Benjiro automatically defends, unsure of why he feels the need to do so. All-Might has been the number one hero for fifty years. That has to mean something.

“He is,” Kurosu-san agrees. “And that’s the problem. There is literally no one else in the world who could have done what he did. He single-handedly inspired an entire nation to put their faith in the heroic system - even when the system did nothing to deserve it.”

“He was a stopgap. A bandage. He didn’t even recognize that there was a problem with the system. Instead he dealt with the symptoms, defeating and incarcerating all of those villains trapped by social expectations. He smiled for the camera and locked them away and nothing changed. Every issue, every problem, it continued to fester, but because it did so out of public view, no one cared.”

“I don’t.” Kurosu-san closes his eyes. He takes a deep breath before opening them. “I don’t blame All-Might for that, not really. It’s the nature of the job - heroes defeat villains - so I honestly believe it was impossible for any hero to recognize the root of those problems. Even if they had, they wouldn’t have been able to fix it.”

“In fact, it took the downfall of a hero really get the ball rolling. You were pretty young at the time, so you might not remember Endeavor. He was the number two hero, and he was trash. He failed as both a father and human being, and until he was put on trial, society failed to notice. That was also the beginning of the end for the Hero Public Safety Commission, because their part in covering for his crimes came to light. The Board of Heroics was formed to fill the void, and their commitment to transparency is what continues to keep them in power.”

“There was no way to fix just one problem. The entire system had to go. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t clean. It was - it was chopping off a gangrenous leg to save a life. And once the rot was cut away, it was a long, careful road to recovery, and it was earned.”

“Anyway, I’m pretty sure you weren’t expecting a history lesson, especially not one quite so long-winded or lowkey political, but... it’s important. Societies failures, how close we came to complete destruction. It’s important. That someone doesn’t look at another person and judge them solely on the merits of their quirk. That no one turns to villainy because that’s what society has dictated them to be. That we honor the responsibility we have to each other... and that we don’t waver, when it comes to the responsibility we have to ourselves.”

Benjiro mulls it over as he makes his way back to his room. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s... interesting, that history, and the personal connection that Kurosu-san seems to have with it.

Later, laying in his bed, staring at the ceiling, Benjiro realizes that he forgot to ask what the short answer was.

***

It’s Sunday afternoon, a few days after Kurosu-san’s impromptu history lesson. Benjiro hasn’t had any luck finding an apartment, but he’s got enough set aside for both the deposit and key money. Someone’s going to give him a chance regardless of whether or not they like his face, he vows, because they’re going to like his fucking wallet.

Tonight is the family dinner. His stomach twists and knots the more he thinks about it: how many people will attend, and will they be afraid of his teeth, and even if they don’t fear him, there is no guarantee that they will like him.

Benjiro pushes these thoughts to the back of his mind, and takes comfort in the fact that Seiyaku-hime will be there. She calls him Togatta-kun and steals bites from his lunch, surely she must like him well enough? And Kurosu-san will be there, of course, and Kurogiri-san had been the one to formally invite Benjiro in the first place, and maybe it won’t be completely terrible.

I can be charming, he thinks, and he mentally glowers at these nameless, faceless family members. He glances in the mirror, notes the angry hooks of his eyebrows and the flat line of his lips and thinks, heartfelt, fuck.

He pokes through his closet, fretting over his clothing, when he hears the quiet knock on his door. It’s Kurosu-san, who smiles with real charm, an expression that reminds Benjiro of sunshine on a white, snowy day, and asks politely, “May I come in?”

Benjiro moves back, allowing the man in the suit to enter. He’s carrying a medium sized cardboard container. A slim, manila folder sits on top of the box.

“I know you’ve had some trouble getting on your feet,” Kurosu-san says without preamble. “Prejudice is an unfortunate reality, and for as much as things have improved over the last decade, it’s still an uphill battle.”

He sets the box carefully on the bed, then picks up manila folder and hands it to Benjiro. Benjiro takes it, flips it open. He stares at the paperwork inside, not quite sure what he’s reading. He recognizes his old address, but -

“I’ve spoken to your former landlord. Your old apartment is actually still available. There’s a list of three guarantors there, all of whom have already agreed to sign with you, so you can pick whichever one you’d like, and the landlord said you can move in anytime next week.”

This is the paperwork to his grandmother’s dinky little apartment. His home of ten years.

Kurosu-san sounds abashed, almost nervous. “I know it’s a bit presumptuous of me, but I thought - ”

“ - thank you - thank you so fucking much - ” Benjiro chokes.

He stares at the documents and fights down crybaby tears. His dreamy haze shatters abruptly as he remembers, you hear me you little shit, DEAD, and he panics and says, “What about - if I go back there, won’t my old boss - ”

“They won’t bother you,” Kurosu-san replies easily, like it’s irrefutable fact. The earth is round. The ocean is blue. There is no problem with the yakuza.

Benjiro believes him.

“Unfortunately, the landlord had to sell a few pieces of furniture to pay for the damages to the apartment, but she seems quite fond of you. She took it upon herself to pack everything else into storage, paid for it out of her own pocket.”

That’s. Benjiro doesn’t know what to do with that. The woman had been friends with his grandmother, but he never thought she would - there were things in that apartment, family photo albums and his father’s cufflinks, momentos that he’d figured were just gone. He’s not going to cry. Fuck, he’s not, he’s not.

“The address of the facility and the lock combination are both in your paperwork,” Kurosu-san continues. “You can sort through it before you move, but I wanted to make sure you had these as soon as possible,” and he carefully taps the top of the cardboard container.

Benjiro steels himself. He takes a step forward, then another, until he’s standing in front of the box and opening the lid. Nestled inside are two ihai tablets and two portraits. Benjiro stares at his father’s unsmiling face until the tears drip down his chin and splash on the glass of the frame.

“My mother died young.” The quiet compassion in Kurosu-san’s voice is the kindest, cruelest thing Benjiro has ever heard. “I wasn’t able to honor her the way she deserved for the longest time. It’s an awful feeling.”

Benjiro clutches the edge of the box with numb fingers. His tongue feels thick and stupid against his teeth, his vision so badly blurred that Kurosu-san is nothing more than a smear of black hair and gray suit and pale skin.

Fuck, he thinks. Holy fucking fuck. He is barely twenty years, and he would die for this man.

Kurosu-san places a hand on Benjiro’s shoulder, squeezes once, then steps away. He says, “If you need anything else, just let me know. I’ll see you at dinner tonight?”

Without waiting for a response, his savior turns to leave. Before he can make it through the door, Benjiro blurts, “Why’d you save me?”

There are two answers, Kurosu-san said, one long, one short. The long answer was a history lesson, a subtle warning to learn from the mistakes of the past, to honor the hard-won evolution of society by exemplifying the responsibility each of them has to their fellow man.

But the short answer? Benjiro stares at the treasures in front of him, his father and his grandmother and his grandmother’s apartment, the only places he has ever felt safe, the ones he thought were lost to him forever. Why has Kurosu-san gone this far? Why has he done any of this?

The man glances back. His mouth is smiling, a rueful little twist of his lips. His voice is honest, his reply simple: “Because you looked like you needed help.”

***

Later that night, the doorbell rings. Kurosu-san is the one to answer, as Kurogiri-san bustles around the kitchen, working his usual delicious sorcery.

Benjiro has already set seven places at the dining room table, and is washing the dishes in the sink when an unfamiliar voice calls out, “Papa!”

Papa? Benjiro thinks, puzzled, just before Kurogiri-san replies fondly, “Welcome home, Eri-chan.”

***