Nakahara-sensei was a strange one. But, well, every single teacher in UA had their own quirks, (heh) so his seemed rather mild in comparison to Midnight-sensei. He barely reacted to his Hero Alias, for one. Usually being an Underground Hero meant that people barely knew your real name compared to your hero name. Izuku supposed everyone in the underworld already knew Nakahara-sensei’s true identity anyway, so there was no need to be extra careful. Especially considering the history his sheer presence held.
He also would accidentally cuss in the middle of his lesson, before covering his mouth in regret. Eventually he gave up trying to keep his mouth clean during class, and made the students promise not to tell their parents about this. “It’s fine if your principal does, though. He’ll just think it’s funny.” He shrugged.
Izuku noticed that Nakahara-sensei seemed to be good friends with Principal Nedzu. He was the only teacher besides Recovery Girl who seemed to be on equal grounds with their principal. “Ah, well, I’m used to dealing with nasty little men.” Nakahara-sensei grinned teasingly at Nedzu-sensei who was sitting on his shoulder.
Nedzu-sensei snorted. “I’m drinking buddies with a coworker from his agency. Despite being human he is surprisingly very similar to me.”
“You truly are his fursona.” Nakahara-sensei nodded sagely.
“Hah! More like Dazai is my humansona.” Nedzu-sensei laughed wholeheartedly. Izuku never heard him talk as carefree as he was doing right now with the new teacher. He couldn’t help but to smile too. There was something about Nakahara-sensei that just seemed to make it so easy to communicate with the other teachers. Izuku liked that.
And yet, Nakahara-sensei’s friendliness did not make Izuku feel at ease at all in this situation. Aizawa-sensei already chewed him and the others out for going out on their own to save Kacchan. Not to mention he already had an understanding with his childhood friend after their latest spar. And they both already got grounded for it too. So, what else?
“Midoriya-san,” he said, after serving tea for both of them. “How have we disappointed you?”
“What?” Izuku sat straighter. That was a completely unexpected question.
"You always go out to deal with problems on your own without consulting us. So clearly we have done something that makes you not trust our judgement. What have we done, and how do we fix that?"
“That’s--” Izuku blinked in confusion. He couldn’t understand the point of this conversation. “Absolutely nothing! You haven’t done anything wrong, Sensei! All of you are great people who know what they’re doing! It’s just… a me issue. I’m sorry for always causing trouble. I promise to be more careful in the long run.”
"Hmm... Midoriya-san, you have done research on who I was before I became Moonlight Beast, yes?"
"Y-yes. sorry." Izuku ducked his head in slight embarrassment. People never really stopped calling him an otaku even after becoming a UA student.
"No, I'm not mad about that. I think it's important to remember history and how this quirk-accepting society came to be,” he said kindly. “Can you tell me about my childhood?"
Of course Izuku knew. The Gifted Protection Act was part of curriculum in Modern History Class. Just as Nakahara-sensei said, it was important to know how their current society came to be. Back then, Quirks were persecuted instead of adored, and this man in front of him was one of the many important people who changed the world for the better. Nakahara Atsushi--or rather, at the time, he was Nakajima Atsushi- the poster boy of their campaign. “You were abused for your Quirk…” Izuku mumbled, opting to say the heavily censored version.
"That's right. But even if I was someone quirkless, I would still be abused. The orphanage I was in was a place where children obtain the favor of the caretakers by sacrificing their peers. Adults favor children based on completely abstract stuff as long as it makes them feel good about themselves. Sounds a lot like schools, doesn't it?"
Izuku was aghast. “No! I--I don’t think schools are that bad!”
“Why?” Nakahara-sensei cocked his head the same way he would when he was asking the class important but uncomfortable questions about Hero Industry.
"We don't get locked up and beaten up for one..." Izuku wondered if he was being insensitive right now.
"Not by your teachers, sure." Nakahara moved from his seat and knelt on the floor instead, just so he could look at Izuku's downcast eyes. "But you know, no matter which country we are in one thing doesn't change: schools tend to be shit at dealing with bullying, and the victims are always the one to blame. Have we in UA done something like that to you?"
"No! Of course not!" Izuku felt like a parrot, repeating a point already made. "You're all good people!"
"But even good people are capable of making mistakes. We are not all-knowing, after all. It's entirely possible we missed an obvious incident happening in our school." The teacher’s face turned serious. "Something happened that made you not trust us. It might be miscommunication, or it might be something far more serious."
"No, no, I’m just-- I’m just being stupid."
"You're a bright child who wants to be a hero to protect others. Yet you don't think it's necessary to protect yourself. Rather than being stupid, I think you have experienced something that made you think it's alright for you to get hurt, because you're the one person you know for sure won't be missed."
Izuku is stunned for a moment. "...My mother would miss me," he finally managed to force out a reply.
"She would. But it's still hard for you to believe your life is worth the same as everyone else's, isn't it?"
"Well, maybe not now." Izuku couldn’t help the bitterness.
"What have we done to you, that makes you think all your worth lies on your ability to be other people's meatshield?"
"Why do you keep saying you did something to me?"
"Because if we were doing our job right, then you wouldn't hesitate to trust us."
"Maybe it's my fault," he shot back.
"Maybe. But I won't know if you don't tell me anything."
What. The. Hell.
Why did someone suddenly care about what he thought? Why did a teacher care? Something inside him felt like it was going to burst, but it wasn’t One For All for once. “So suddenly I shouldn’t get hurt?”
“What do you mean?”
“But I get hurt a lot even in school.” A small part of Izuku thought he was being stupid and unreasonable. After all, getting hurt was part of the job. Even if they told him it wasn’t a student’s job to get hurt. “Nobody ever stopped Kacchan from going too far. Nobody stopped All Might from going too far in the final exam. I don’t know when it’s fine to get hurt! Nobody ever told me! It’s fine at school but it’s not fine when it’s an actual life and death situation? It’s not fine if it’s to save someone else? Why?”
He knew why, he always knew why. It was the same as to why it was fine for Kacchan to hurt him in middle school. Izuku just wasn’t worth protecting. And he was fine with that. Because in the end, he wanted to become a hero to protect others, not the other way around.
“I see.” Nakahara-sensei’s voice wavered, and Izuku was waiting for his teacher to lash out in anger. “We have failed you, after all.” Izuku couldn’t help but to snap his head up and looked his teacher in the eyes. Oh. He was crying. “I’m sorry, Midoriya-san. How do we make it up to you?”
"I... I don't know." Izuku admitted, "No one ever asked."
Nakahara-sensei wiped the tears from his cheeks. "May I give a couple of suggestions? You can choose the one you like the most."
"I can... choose?"
"Yes. After all, we're the one at fault, and you're the one who got hurt."
Izuku shifted uncomfortably. Was this a test? If so, what kind of test?
"There will be a staff meeting in a couple of days; I can bring it up there, if you're comfortable with it."
"I... guess?" Izuku was unsure.
"Would you like to speak for yourself in that meeting, then?"
Fear seized his heart. "H-huh? why?"
"It's your story to tell."
"Do I have to?" Izuku didn’t want to sound like he was whining or being ungrateful. It was just… too much to handle.
"You don't have to. I can relay it for you, but I will defer to you on what I should and shouldn't tell."
"Because it's your choice."
But it had never been a choice. Not then and certainly not now. He wasn’t dumb. It didn’t matter how good of people the UA staff were. They were still people. People didn’t like when they were told they were wrong, especially if they were teachers. Even though Nakahara-sensei was listening right now, what about the others? They could still jeopardize his grades, and he worked so hard to get here. Even worse, what if they decided he was lying?
"Would you like me to pretend I found out all on my own?"
Nakahara-sensei’s question snapped him back into reality. Izuku stared back at his teacher. "It feels like you already know what I want to say. Is there even a point giving me a choice?"
"Yes. There will always be a chance that you want to scream at the faces of everyone who has failed you, and there is no way in hell I would deny you that chance. Whatever the choice you make, I will surely protect you."
Atsushi won’t let the choice Midoriya made end up a mistake. He couldn’t really imagine this boy yelling at his teachers. But there was always a chance. There was always a breaking point. If Midoriya ended up yelling at them during this meeting, then it would be what they deserved. Righteous fury and desperation to be heard and believed in was something Atsushi was intimately familiar with, after all.
He held Midoriya’s hand, giving the boy a kind smile to comfort him. This kid didn’t need a ferocious tiger fighting his battle. What he needed was someone to fall back to. So Atsushi chose to be kind and reserve his anger for another day.
Nedzu called them in. Atsushi let Midoriya hide behind him as they entered the room.
“Oh no,” Aizawa groaned. “What did he do this time?”
Before Midoriya wilted completely, Atsushi spoke. “He did nothing wrong. In fact, we have grossly mishandled his situation. Now, kindly shut up and let Midoriya-san speak.”
Everyone immediately shut their mouth. Good.
See, despite ADA’s lack of fame in this new era, there was an unspoken rule in The Industry. If someone from The Agency demanded your attention, you gave them yours unfailingly. It didn’t matter if it was the ex-international criminal Null or the naive looking farmer Ivatov Boy. You shut up and listen. The Agency was still the one on top of the hierarchy, hero ranking be damned. Neither All Might or The Pro Heroes Association could really tell them no. It was the privilege of being the one who ended the era of discrimination against Gifteds and surviving it.
Of course, in the end old issues resurfaced in different packaging, so Atsushi couldn’t say he was particularly proud of the world he helped shape. Still, that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to use his privilege to protect someone, despite his disgust.
Atsushi gently encouraged Midoriya to speak.
The boy who fought bravely against villains older and stronger than him, the one whose arms were littered in scars from his valiant and reckless effort to protect everyone… was now shaking like a newborn deer.
He was clearly terrified. It took all his courage to even stand in the same room as all of them, let alone to let his voice be heard.
Yes, it has always been easier to have your body hurt rather than your heart. Atsushi knew that all too well.
Midoriya spoke about his middle school.
He spoke about Bakugou Katsuki, about the teachers protecting his bullies, and about how his mother blamed herself for his suffering--but nobody ever told him that it wasn’t right for him to suffer because he was quirkless.
Atsushi looked around the room, silently satisfied with how horrified everyone seemed. Good. Now he wasn’t the only one aware of this failure.
Eventually Midoriya faltered and quieted down. He didn’t dare to look at anyone. He was clearly waiting for someone to denounce him, to call him a liar, or to dismiss him with sweet promises that would never be brought up outside of this meeting.
So Atsushi knelt once again and held his hands to reassure him. The words that came out from Atsushi’s mouth, however, was the verbal equivalent of handing Midoriya a guillotine. “How do you want us to deal with Bakugou Katsuki?”
"I don't know. I don't want him to stop being a hero."
"Then he doesn't need to stop being a hero, is he? After all, asking for justice is something heroic."
"If this gets out--"
It would be so easy to destroy the boy’s future career. All Midoriya had to do was say the word. But despite the other teachers’ clear apprehension, Atsushi knew that Midoriya was simply far too kind to ask for revenge. But it wasn’t only kindness, wasn’t it?
"You don't have to carry on the duty your middle school teachers imposed on you."
It took Midoriya a while to process what he just said. Then the boy’s eyes widened in uncomfortable realization. He was quiet for a while before ultimately sticking to his decision. "I think he deserves to be a hero. I know he's capable of helping so many people, even if I'm not one of them. I just..." He paused. "I just don't know what I want from him."
Atsushi didn’t want to assume, but it sounded like a load of horseshit to him.
What was the point of enduring all that, if in the end Kacchan didn’t become a hero?
Atsushi could just imagine Midoriya’s heart screaming like that. Atsushi was so close to snapping. He wanted to yell out, if that was enough to stop him from being a hero, then he doesn’t deserve to be one!
Because there was always the option of vigilantism--The Agency firmly believed that if you weren’t ready to get arrested, you weren’t ready to be a hero- or becoming underground heroes who had no need for fame. Hell, The Agency would take him in regardless of his smeared reputation as long as he was sincere in his work.
But that wasn’t what Midoriya needed to hear. So, Atsushi offered a compromise. Because, truly, this boy deserved so much more than this. "Would you allow me to shut down your middle school, then?"
"My agency is good at revealing corruption while protecting the victim's identity. We will hide both yours and Bakugou’s identities. Will that be an okay compromise with you?”
“I mean… that means a lot of people are gonna lose their job… there are teachers who just want to provide for their families--and it’s not like everyone was in on it. Some of them are just… people.”
Of course he would defend them. They were kind for looking away instead of joining in jeering him. They were kind, like Shibusawa-sensei was kind for giving him extra food and protecting him from The Headmaster, despite cutting him open to learn how fast he would heal.
“Was ignoring your plight kind?” Atsushi’s heart ached. "The orphanage I was in relied on me to be their black sheep. When I left, what do you think happened? That everyone suddenly became a better person? Of course not. Another child will take our place.”
"As long as no one speaks up, there will always be another Midoriya, another Bakugou, another teacher looking away in the hope that they can ride the coattails of their former student's future success. To keep quiet is not just an injustice against you, Midoriya-san."
Midoriya couldn’t say no to that.
Atsushi sat on top of Class A’s dormitory. The news regarding Aldera Middle School was finally reported by several media outlets. People love their horrifying scandals, after all. As promised, none of the people involved have their names outed except for the headmaster. Of course, people would still be able to find out more if they did proper investigation, but at the very least nothing would be found regarding Midoriya and Bakugou.
He waited and waited for an explosion, for his suspicion to be confirmed.
Then he heard yelling.
“Why aren’t they punishing me?!”
Atsushi did a quiet fist pump.
He was right about Bakugou. Just like Osamu, his misdeeds would always haunt him and become shackles that prevent him from becoming better. Osamu started believing he could change only after the world judged him for his crimes. As for Bakugou, he believed he couldn’t be a hero until he was punished for what he had done towards Midoriya.
There was absolutely no way for them to talk to each other without someone being pushed towards the edge. This was the main reason he offered to expose Aldera. He himself would never get his closure regarding his Headmaster, and maybe it's presumptuous of him... but he didn't want those two children to have similar regrets to his.
Midoriya would have wondered if the abuse had made him stronger. He would have wondered if he was protected by it. While Bakugou would always be aware that his success was a sham. That it only happened because he was protected by the abuse, because people continuously invalidated Midoriya’s suffering to make it happen.
What bright children they were. Atsushi was certainly nowhere as self-aware at their age.
In the end, Shouta decided to confront Moonlight Beast, after all.
He wasn’t okay with how Nakahara manipulated the situation. But at the same time, it wasn’t as if it was wrong. In the end, it had gotten them results. They now knew how to handle Midoriya and Bakugou better.
And yet… it left a bitter taste in his mouth.
He supposed Nakahara wouldn’t have been able to pass The Gifted Protection Act bill if he didn’t know how to balance what people needed to hear versus what they wanted to hear. "Did you know Bakugou would react like that?"
"Are you mad at me?" Nakahara’s reply was almost automatic.
"I just... wish you would speak to me first"
"Why? The one I needed to speak to has always been only Midoriya-san. He's the victim. Not you."
"I'm his teacher--"
"Yes. And in the end he spoke to you. So what is the problem?"
The problem was that Shouta was disappointed in himself for not noticing, disappointed that he wasn't the one who managed to help, disappointed that it needed all these manipulations to get it done.
"How did you notice?" Shouta asked in murmur.
"Because I was the Midoriya Izuku of my orphanage." Moonlight Beast smiled, bitter and cruel. "While I want to condemn you for not noticing, people in general aren't aware of this kind of thing." He turned away. "Blaming you would be... a waste of time."