Akami sat in tense, unsure silence, hands folded neatly in her lap. She was kneeling at the kotatsu beside Shinju-san who, despite the fact that she was supposed to be Ryū’s primary caregiver, was absolved from the most guilt simply because of her mental condition. Her notes were spread in front of her and she read them over and them again to avoid the figure of Mori-san sat quietly in the corner. He was clearly very worried about his great-grandson and Akami was sad just looking at him. Poor thing.
It had been close to an hour now and the cup of green tea Daiki-san had made her had long ago gone ice cold. Miraculously, just as she was beginning to drag, there was a chime as the doorbell rang.
Daiki-san, hunched over awkwardly on the couch with twitching hands, sprang to his feet. “That must be my father!” he said eagerly. “I’ll fetch him right away!” He ran back into the kitchen and Akami heard muffled voices.
A moment later, Daiki-san trailed back in, wide-eyed with Akami’s boss on his heels, a woman who only ever introduced herself as -
“Miso,” she said to Daiki-san. “Like the soup.”
Miso-san had long brown hair tied back in a strict ponytail, tanned skin and always wore black reflective sunglasses, even indoors and even in the dead of night. Her black pantsuit was neat and her ID badger was clipped at her breast. She looked the same in the picture, same clothes, same sunglasses, same expression, even though it had been taken many years ago. Akami, rightly so, was terrified of her.
“Miso-san, a pleasure,” Mori-san greeted, rising with his hand extended. “I’m -”
“Igarashi, where’s the boy?” Miso-san asked, ignoring him completely. Why was she being so rude to this poor old man? Akami had found him nothing but helpful and cooperative, just eager to sort this whole problem out. Perhaps he’d make a good candidate for a transferal of custody? Thoughts wandering, Akami jumped up from the kotatsu and dusted off her skirt.
“Yes,” she stammered. “Yes, well that’s the thing. He’s, um. He’s at school.”
“Hm, well that’s not too surprising, is -”
“At U.A.!” Akami burst out with, horrified even as she was doing so; she was interrupting Miso-san, the scariest woman she’d ever known! “Ryū is a Hero in training there!”
“Ah,” Miso-san said. “Igarashi, call the police.”
Akami nodded quickly. “I already have, ma’am; they should be collecting him right about -” her pocket rang. “This must be the officer I spoke to!” She grabbed it, tapped to accept the call and held her cell phone up to her ear.
“Is this Igarashi Akami, the caseworker of Kaminari Ryū?” a gruff, no-nonsense voice asked. It certainly was not the lovely officer she’d spoken to earlier.
“This is Detective Ishikawa with the Musutafu General Police Department,” he said. “We were called to U.A. to collect the boy in question, but it appears he never arrived for class this morning. They were preparing to call home and report him absent when we arrived.”
Igarashi felt her heart stop. “O-Oh?” she managed. “Was he present yesterday?”
“Yes,” Detective Ishikawa said. “And that’s not all.”
She had a very bad feeling lurking in the pit of her stomach and Akami never disregarded a bad feeling. “What happened?”
“There was an...altercation,” he said. “Yesterday after school. The boy, Kaminari, was involved in a fight with an older student. He was injured and healed by the school nurse, who allowed him to walk home straight afterwards. By then it was late, at around seven, so the nurse, well, he was the last member of staff to see Kaminari on campus.”
Bad, bad, bad feeling.
“Thank you for letting me know,” she said professionally. “Was there anything else?”
“The student,” he said. “The one that Kaminari fought with; apparently his name is -”
Could this day get any worse?
“- Bakugou. That’s all I could get from the principal, but I figured it was enough of a connection, both of them being Pro Heroes, that is...”
“Alright,” Akami said and she was impressed with how composed she sounded.
He cleared his throat. “Look, I really have to get going now, some idiot dumped his car abandoned near a kids’ park and some parents are getting concerned. If you need to file a missing person’s report -”
“No, no,” she said. Not yet, at least. “Thanks for all your help.”
“Hope you find the kid,” he said. “He’s classmates with my boy, so...I’m sure he’ll turn up.”
“Yes,” she said. “Me too.” She cut the call and eyed Miso-san, who was waiting impatiently with her arms crossed. “He never turned up for class.”
“That’s not good.”
“What?” Daiki-san gaped. “But he - I - “
“Did either of you see Ryū this morning before he left for school?” Igarashi asked, looking between them. “Or even last night?”
“No, I went to bed early,” Daiki-san fretted. “Grandfather?”
“As did I,” Kurou-san said and she felt another pang of sympathy for him. Clearly, he was just tied up in the mess through pure happenstance and she felt indebted to help him find his great-grandson and give him as much custody as she could get. They obviously had a close bond with one another, after all! “I dropped him off at school yesterday and I was supposed to pick him up, but he didn’t come out on time so I left.”
“Alright,” Akami said thoughtfully. “The detective I spoke with says that Ryū got into an argument with an older student,” she leaves out that bit about his half-brother for now, “and was taken to the nurse’s office. The nurse healed him up and was the last person to see Ryū as he left to catch the bus home. This was at around seven o’clock.”
“So no one has seen this boy since yesterday,” Miso-san said, folding her arms. “What about his friends?”
“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know much about that,” Daiki-san said.
“Well, what do you know?”
“I -” his eyes lit up. “My daughter - Ryū’s cousin - would know who Ryū is friends with! They’re close to the same age and if anyone would know where he might be, then she would!” He checked his watch. “She’s probably still in bed! Let me fetch her.” He trampled upstairs.
“My only great-granddaughter,” Mori-san explained sadly. “I only have four, you see, so we’re all very close. Hibiki is her name; it means echo.”
“Irrelevant,” Miso-san said. Why on earth was she being so rude to this harmless gentleman in particular? Then Daiki-san came running back downstairs, eyes bugging out of his head.
“She’s not in her room - her purse is gone and so is her phone. I haven’t seen her since yesterday evening either!”
“They might’ve gone together,” Miso-san theorised. “Call her.”
Daiki-san did, but the line simply rang off to voicemail.
“How old is your daughter?” Akami asked. She was now theorising a pair of teenagers who’d simply run away together to escape. ‘Escape what?’ was the question, however.
“Has there ever been any sign of a sexual relationship between Ryū and Hibiki?” Miso-san asked.
Mori-san went white. “What?” he said and then it seemed as if a red cloud had descended over his face. “Ryū would never -”
“Hibiki,” Daiki-san said firmly, “would never do such a thing either. Besides,” he cleared his throat a little awkwardly, “I was under the impression that Ryū prefers the company of other...boys.”
“Ah,” Akami said. She and Miso-san exchanged a look (though it was a tad hard with Miso-san’s sunglasses in the way); they both knew exactly what the other was thinking. A fifteen-year-old boy and his twenty-year-old cousin, both missing and having not been seen since the night before. Around fifteen hours now. There was really only one decision to make. “I’ll make the call.”
She dialled the main number for the Musutafu General Police Department and was put straight through to an officer. “Hello, yes? I’d like to report a missing person. Or, well, two missing people potentially.”
“May I take their names?” the officer asked. “As well as ages, general physical description and last known location and timestamp. And their Quirks, please.”
She put the phone on speaker.
“Kaminari Hibiki,” Daiki-san said shakily. “She has long black hair, fair skin, brown eyes and is about 170 cm. She’s twenty, has a tattoo of a lightning bolt on her left hand, and I last saw her in her room at around...eight o’clock last night. She was wearing her nightgown.”
“And her Quirk, sir?”
He glanced around the room and then chewed his lip for a second. “Her Quirk is called Déjà-vu and it allows her to, uh, force another person to relieve a specific memory.”
That was...a tad unnerving to here, Akami could admit.
“Alright, sir,” the officer said. “Is she with the other missing person?”
“We don’t know,” Akami said, “But it’s possible as they are cousins. The other is a boy, fifteen, and named Kaminari Ryū. He was last seen at seven o’clock last night leaving the grounds of U.A., at which he is a first-year Hero class student. He was wearing his school uniform and is,” she checked her file, which had been updated by his doctor very recently, “152 cm tall. He has short black hair and red eyes, pale skin, and his Quirk is called Magma. It enables him to produce heat and light from his skin and makes him impervious to fire.”
“Alright,” the officer said again. “I’ll send out a notice to all our on-duty officers for them to keep an eye out and ring you back if we find out anything or require any more information.”
The call ended and Miso-san clapped her hands. “Let’s find out who this kid is friends with,” she said. “Igarashi, you’re with me. One of you get in contact with the grandfather and get him back here pronto.” She swept out of the room.
Akami smiled comfortingly at Mori-san, who was sweating with clear nerves, “Thank you for your time,” she said. “We’ll find them.”
“Yes,” he said as she followed after Miso-san. “I’m sure you will.”
They got to U.A. and were met at the main gate by a tired-looking purple-haired man in his mid-thirties. He introduced himself as the principal and led them onto the grounds, up the steps and into the school.
“Kaminari’s in 1-B,” he said, “under the teaching of a new teacher, Kobayashi Rin. From what I’ve seen and heard, he’s doing well and is hoping to become a rescue-specialist hero when he graduates. He’s hard-working and has a strong character; I don’t imagine he’d run off and miss class for no good reason.”
“Neither do we,” Akami said curtly. She still couldn’t believe that Ryū was a student at this place; it seemed so... different to what she would have predicted for him. “Does he have any friends?”
“Two that I know of,” he explained. “One in his class and another in 1-A.” They stopped outside a classroom and he knocked, poking his head inside. “Tetsutetsu, with me.” There were a few ‘ooh’s from the other children and a chubby-cheeked girl shuffled out, bug-eyed. She was fidgeting anxiously and it only got more intense when she saw Akami and Miso-san standing before her.
Tetsutetsu was tall, yes, but she was well-muscled too; gray hair pulled back in a side ponytail and blue eyes friendly and approachable. She was wearing the school uniform, of course, but Akami got the impression that she was a kind girl who liked to help people. And, well, her impressions were never wrong. She still couldn’t believe that not one person she’d met so far had given her to heebie-jeebies.
“Don’t look so scared,” Shinsou told her. “You’re not in trouble.”
“What’s this about, sir?”
“Hang on,” he said and they walked along a door before he, once again, knocked and leaned inside. This time he asked for: “Ojiro.”
Ojiro was a boy with messy pink hair, brown eyes and a sharp, eager face. His tie was undone and hanging loosely against his breastbone, shoelaces tied neatly in two knotted bunnies. He looked at Tetsutetsu for reassurance and the two pressed shoulders, leaning against one another. If Ryū was friends with these two it was clear they were very close.
“Kaminari Ryū,” Shinsou said. “Have you seen or heard from him this morning?”
“Ryū-chan?” the girl, Tetsutetsu, asked and why did that sound so familiar? “Noooo...is - is something the matter? Are you the police?"
“No, no,” Akami reassured them. “We’re his caseworkers. We’re just wondering why he didn’t show up for school today.”
She scowled. “So are we. He was supposed to meet us at the corner by the ice cream parlour, where we always meet, but he never showed! Because of him, Kagi-kun and I were late for homeroom!”
Akami tried to think of a way to break the news to them gently, but before she could, Miso-san opened her mouth and said: “He’s left school yesterday after getting into a fight, at around seven, and no one has seen him, nor his cousin, since.”
They both gaped at her.
“W-What?” the boy, Ojiro stammered. “Ryū-chan’s missing?”
“Yes,” Shinsou said. “Are you sure you haven’t heard from him?”
“No! I mean, yes! I’m sure I haven’t heard from him!” Tetsutetsu insisted, “He hasn’t answered any of my texts in days!”
Akami frowned. “Did you have a fight?”
“No, so that’s why it’s weird! I don’t think he as reading them anyway, because they still just said ‘sent’ instead of ‘read’. Maybe he’s just been...busy. I mean, since Monday he’s been a bit...” They exchanged a complex glance full of idiosyncrasies Akami couldn’t yet decipher. She was sure now that they were definitely best friends who were very close.
“Off,” they said in unison.
“Alright,” Miso-san sighed. “Well, this was a dud. Let us know if you hear from your friend, alright?” She handed over her business card. “Thank you for your time.”
“Wait!” the boy called as they turned to go and Akami turned, hoping they had miraculously come up with some sort of new lead. “You said his cousin is gone too, but...I have her cell phone number.”
“Her father’s already -”
“She has a second phone. That not many people know about. I don’t even think Ryū knows she gave her number to us, but it was only because she worried we might not be able to get in touch with either of them.”
“In case something bad happens,” Tetsutetsu explained furtively. “You know. At home.”
“That’s,” Shinsou said. “Concerning. Why was she so worried about that being an issue that might come up?”
Akami wanted to know that too.
“Um...” Ojiro trailed off. He looked at Tetsutetsu, as if for reassurance. “I don’t know if we can -”
“Ojiro,” said Shinsou sternly. “Keeping information from -”
“Alright!” Tetsutetsu cried, throwing her hands up. She was sweating a little and her pupils were dilated. “It’s - it’s Mori, their great-grandfather or something. I think he’s a bit...mean, you know? A bit...hot-headed.”
“He’s freaky,” Ojiro added. “You know, staring, weird looks...saying some stuff that isn’t what people normally say. I once heard him say -”
Tetsutetsu sucked in a sharp breath. “Kagami, don’t.”
“I don’t think he knew I was there, but he was on the phone. This was, I don’t know, a few months ago. He said that Ryū-chan was, uh. A ‘little minx’, which I thought was weird. That’s weird, right? But then he laughed at something the other person said and. Ugh. He called - he called Ryū a...‘temptation’!” He looked physically sick at having to repeat the scenario in his own head, let alone out loud and Akami was completely thrown off kilter.
But Mori-san had seemed so - so genuine! And Akami’s instincts had felt so at ease around him; she always trusted her gut and it had been telling her that he was nothing but a concerned, well-meaning old relative who wanted nothing more than to find his great-grandchildren. To hear that he might’ve been...well, there was no evidence, but the conversation Ojiro had overheard, if it was accurate, was certainly incriminating enough that she’d have to follow up on it.
“It was brave of you to come forward with this information, Ojiro, Tetsutetsu,” Shinsou said and he looked at Miso-san, tired purple eyes heavy with emphasis. Ojiro took a pen out of his pocket and wrote down the number for Ryū’s cousin’s secret second phone, hanging it over to Shinsou. “Let’s call the station.”
“Yes,” Miso-san sighed. “Igarashi?”
Akami took out her phone and dialled the police station. She spoke to the two children, Ryū’s helpful friends, as the line rang, with a gentle smile that held as little of her nerves as she could manage: “Thank you. Both of you. You can go back to your classrooms now.”
“I think I need to go the nurse’s office,” Tetsutetsu said quietly and Ojiro patted his arm.
“I’ll take you, Michi-kun,” he comforted and, when Shinsou nodded in approval, they set off down the hallway at a slow, steady pace, whispering heatedly. At one point, Ojiro glanced over his shoulder at them, but then the phone was answered and Akami returned her attention to it.
“Hello, yes, I called earlier to report two missing persons and I’d like also bring up a case of suspected abuse. Friends of Ryū Kaminari, the fifteen-year-old, report a possible inappropriate sexual relationship between the boy and a relative.”
“Who is this relative? Ma’am, do you think he might be connected to the disappearance?”
“I don’t know,” she said honestly. “But there’s something not right about this. About the relative.”
“And his name?”
“Mori Kurou. The great-grandfather.”
“Are you freaking out like I’m freaking out?”
Michiko ran her hands through her hair. She’d taken her ponytail out and not put her scrunchie back in again. She was too...kerfuffled to do so. Too...worried. Why was Ryū such a troublemaker? He was always getting himself messed up in something or another, but it was always dangerous, and Michiko and Kagami, as his friends, had a certain obligation to help him not...die.
Or get seriously maimed.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I am.”
“Let’s go,” Kagami said and when she blinked at him, he laughed. “What? Did you think I really wanted to go sit on a bed with a sick bucket for an hour or two? No, idiot. Come on, let’s go find ourselves a Ryū.”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Akami waited impatiently at the main steps of U.A. High School, clutching her purse to her chest. Miso-san was talking on her phone back inside and Shinsou was with her, keeping an eye on her with his hands in his pockets. Clearly, he’d decided that she was the one worth checking up on and Akami was...not.
As she stood there, trying not to tap her foot or think of poor Ryū, God knows where and with God knows who. If he was even...
“Ugh!” she threw her hands up. How had she been so foolish? How had she been so swayed by Mori? Her gut was never wrong, but he’d been so charming, so concerned for Ryū! How could she have been so blind!?
“Miss, are you okay?”
She startled, hands falling from where they’d clutched into her hair. Her purse dropped to the floor and Ryū’s file spilt across the ground, papers scattering everywhere. Gasping, she reached for a piece that flew up into the air.
A fist caught it for her and she looked up from where she was crouched, hair now a complete mess. Three people stared back at her, one a boy in a school uniform and two in matching black suits. Red hair, blonde hair, black hair...
“Why do you have a picture of my kid?”
She stood up and dusted herself off, flustered. The piece of paper the teenager was holding was Ryū’s main information sheet, the cover page of his case file. Attached to it was the photo she’d taken when she’d first become his social worker - five years ago when he was only ten. Small and pale, he stared at the camera with empty red eyes and no smile. His shoulders were hunched and there was a bruise smudged on the edge of his jaw. Akami had been meaning to get a new photo for a long time, but Ryū would never let her take one and, well. She had more important things to worry about, to be honest.
“Kirishima-san, Bakugou-san,” she greeted because of course, it was them. Of course. “I’m Igarashi Akami. Ryū’s social worker?”
“Yes,” Kirishima said, blinking rapidly. “Yes, of course - why are you -”
“What are you doing here?” Bakugou demanded. “Did something happen?”
“No!” she said instinctively and then: “Well. Yes. We...think so.”
“You think so?”
She scowled a little. “After your fight yesterday,” she said, giving Ryū’s half-brother, whose name had escaped her at that moment (he glared back at her), “the nurse here sent him home late, at around seven. But he...never came home. We declared him a missing person a little while ago.”
“Oh,” Kirishima said.
There was a pause.
“WHAT THE SHIT DO YOU MEAN HE’S FUCKING MISSING -”
“So,” Michiko said as they peddled, leaning down further on her handlebars. “Where to first?”
“Let’s take his route home,” Kagami suggested, keeping up alongside her on his own purple two-wheeler. Her’s was a much more respectable bright, sunshiney yellow. “Keep an eye out for his bag, phone, really any of his stuff!”
“Sure, and anything we think might be suspicious! Ryū always goes the same way if he’s trying to go straight back to his house, and if it was late he would’ve stuck to the sidewalk and not cut through the park so -”
“He would’ve gone straight past your house! Do you think he’d show up on the security camera by your driveway?”
Michiko hit the breaks and her bike skidded to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk, startling a woman pushing a stroller beside them. She shot them a dirty look and continued on with her fat little baby still fast asleep. It took Kagami a moment to realise she’d stopped and he screeched to a halt a little ahead of her, twisted around on his seat with a sneaker dropped on the concrete for balance.
“Ojiro Kagami,” she grinned. “You’re a genius!”
Michiko heaved a sigh of relief when she saw the driveway of her house mercifully empty. If her mom and dad found her home after skipping school...they would not be happy campers, let her put it that way.
She fished her house key out of her pocket, glad she kept it in there and not her school bag - which was still hung on her desk back at U.A. - and unlocked the door. They kicked their shoes off and ran into the kitchen, which was where her dad’s laptop sat on the counter, plugged-in and charging.
After booting the computer up and putting in her dad’s very predictable password - itsukamichikomasuka - so she could open the security system hooked to the camera outside their front door, Michiko scrolled back through the day for any sign, any glimpse, of their missing friend.
“I don’t see him today,” Kagami, a comforting weight pressed against her side, said. “Not his bike, him on foot, and I don’t think any of those cars belong to his great-grandfather either.”
“His car is silver,” she said. “I remember because, you know.”
“Silver’s your favourite colour,” he said thoughtfully. “Well, go back to last night. If Mori dropped Ryū off then it wouldn’t be that weird for him to pick him up either, especially since Ryū wouldn’t have his bike.”
They watched the tape wind back, cars flickering past and the lights getting dimmer and dimmer.
“If he left around seven, then...there!” Michiko slapped the spacebar and the video returned to real-time, the clock pushed back to seven fifteen. A blue car drove past, but the streetlight right outside her house was still broken, so it was hard to make out any details. What they could see, however, was a smaller figure sitting in the passenger seat, the side closest to the camera. In the driver’s seat was a larger figure, clearly a man. Any other details were obscured by the darkness.
“The timeline fits,” he said. “But Mori’s car is silver, not blue.”
“Ugh.” Michiko sat on the kitchen table, chin in her hands. She felt defeated before they’d even reached the first hurdle. “What are we supposed to do now?”
“I dunno.” Kagami hit play and watched the video run, the time tick on past eight and on towards nine. “Maybe we should - wait! Look!”
Michiko dove off the table and pressed her face up close to the laptop screen as a tiny person walked past, stumbling and zig-zagging. “That’s Ryū! That’s him, I’m sure of it!”
“But where is he going?” Kagami looked as confused as she felt herself. “He would’ve passed his house to go by yours if he’s heading in that direction. I don’t...get it.”
“He looks drunk,” she said, though Ryū didn’t drink alcohol as far as she knew. “Look at him, Kagami. He’s stumbling and walking really slowly. Maybe’s he’s hurt or - or confused.”
“He could be going to your house,” she suggested. “Or back to school.”
“Why would he do that? It’d be much easier to knock here and besides, he’d know you were home. Your lights are on, I can see it in the footage, and your dad’s car is on the driveway.”
“School then. I can’t think of anywhere else he would go.”
“Maybe he was looking for help? That would make sense if he was injured or someone hurt him; all our teachers are Pro Heroes so Ryū would know they’d keep him safe.”
“Okay,” she said. “Okay...so that’s our big theory, right? Well, how come he didn’t get to U.A. then? We rode the way here and we didn’t see him or his stuff.”
Kagami looked at her seriously. “Foul play. It’s the only explanation. Look at him, Michiko, he’s clearly walking like that because he’s hurt or drugged or something and he wouldn’t do that to himself. No; some caught him on his way home and did whatever it is they did and Ryū went looking for help, probably to U.A., but on his way there this person caught up with him and did...something. Something not good.”
Michiko took a moment to think that over. “Do you think he’s dead?”
Eyes crinkling up and mouth twisting to one side, Kagami made a thoughtful, considering noise. “...No. No. And if he is ...are you...okay with what might happen?”
“Like?” she asked even though she knew exactly what he meant.
“Michi-kun, Ryū’s our best-friend and friends look out for each other. Are we. If he’s hurt or - or whatever, then I can’t say I won’t -”
“Then we take this into our own hands,” she replied. “Simple as that. Ryū’s our best-friend, like you said, and we need to find him. No matter what.”
“Good. Where to first?”
“Ryū’s house,” she said. “We need to find out why he didn’t go there for help.”