Izuku is six years old when Mom puts her foot down.
He didn’t mean for it to happen. He tried to keep silent, to keep it secret. He knows she worries about him, and about Nighteye with his hero work, and he doesn't want her to have to worry more than she already does. If he had his way then she never would have known.
But he doesn’t get his way, and it’s all Nighteye’s fault.
When he gets out of school, he’s doing a good job of not limping, he thinks. That’s because his head hurts more than his leg does; he twisted something trying not to fall, but he ran into the cupboard door first. And that’s besides the usual burns.
Izuku’s plan is to go home and escape to his room like he usually does, change out of his beat-up uniform and into long sleeves and pant legs. There’s nothing he can do about the bruise on his forehead, but at least he can say he ran into a door, and it’ll be the truth.
(It’s always the truth. If he runs into a door, he doesn’t have to say it was Kacchan who chased him into it. If he falls down, he doesn’t have to say it was Kacchan who pushed him.)
All of this has worked before. It’s been working for as long as Izuku has been quirkless. Today, his luck finally runs out. He walks outside, flinching when Kacchan fakes a punch at him, and then again when Yubito gets a real one in, and weaves through the crowd of other kids to the street. He’s supposed to walk home with Kacchan on the days that Mom is busy, but more often than not he’ll rush home by himself. That’s what he means to do now.
He stops in his tracks.
Nighteye is there waiting for him, with his tie loose and his suit jacket off, ready to walk him home. Nighteye has never walked him home from school before.
He doesn’t say anything, and that’s the worst part, Izuku thinks. As Izuku walks to him, Nighteye just looks at him, at his scuffed and dirty uniform and his bruised face and his limp that maybe he’s not hiding as well as he thought. It’s hard to see how he’s feeling. Maybe it’s the glasses, shiny in the sunlight and hiding his eyes.
Nighteye takes his hand. “It’s good to see you, Izuku,” he says. “How was your day at school?”
Izuku looks over his shoulder. Kacchan is still glaring at him from across the yard. He’s never met Nighteye before, because he’s just never had the chance. But the Bakugous do know that Mom’s a widow, so Izuku wonders who Kacchan thinks Nighteye is.
(Kacchan will ask him the next time they see each other, and beat him bloody when Izuku fails to answer.)
Gently, Izuku pulls his hand out of Nighteye’s grasp. He uses his quirk by touching people, and Izuku doesn’t want him to see his future right now. Nighteye lets him, and doesn’t say anything but small talk until they get home.
Any plans he had to escape to his bedroom disappear. Mom meets them at the door, sees Izuku’s clothes and bruise and limp, and her face falls. Izuku bursts into tears before he can think of what to do. She takes him in and fusses over him, carefully avoids the bruise when she kisses his face. “I’m thinking katsudon for dinner,” she tells him. “Does anything hurt?”
“No,” he says, and then flinches when her hand brushes his cheek. He didn’t realize that there was a burn there. One of Kacchan’s explosions must have gone off too close to his face.
Mom smiles, but it looks fake. “Why don’t you go get changed?” she says. “Put on a shirt and shorts, and we’ll fix you right up, okay?”
A few minutes later, Izuku is sitting on the counter and trying not to fidget while Mom dabs gently at the burn she found on his arm. Cotton balls, band-aids, and disinfectant wipes float around her, and every now and then she reaches up and plucks what she needs out of the air. She steps to the side, and Nighteye appears with an ice pack wrapped in a dish towel. Steadying Izuku’s chin, he holds it to his aching head and carefully guides Izuku through holding it in place himself.
His hand is still on Izuku’s chin, careful to avoid the mild burn on his cheek, when Izuku sees him turn his head away as his eyes turn black.
Panic hits him like a slap to the face, and Izuku drops the ice pack and pushes Nighteye’s hand away. “ Don’t! ” he shrieks, but it’s too late, All Nighteye needs is one touch, and he can see as much of Izuku’s future as he wants for a whole day. There’s nothing that Izuku can do now to stop him from looking. Nighteye’s eyes are still black, and Izuku screams at him again. “Stop it! Stop looking at it! Stop it! ” Mom says something that he can’t hear over his own sobbing, and Nighteye quickly leaves the room.
In the next moment Mom’s arms are around him, soothing him, but Izuku doesn’t want to be soothed. He wriggles and pushes at her, tears stinging down his face as his panic continues. “Make him stop! Mom, tell him to stop!”
She hushes him and says she’ll talk to him, holds him gently in her arms until he finally stops sobbing. When he isn’t squirming and screaming anymore, she sits him back down on the counter and finishes putting on band-aids.
And she does talk to Nighteye, after Izuku shuts himself up in his room and hides. She just doesn’t talk to him to tell him not to look.
The next day, Izuku stays home from school, and Mom goes in his place. Nighteye stays with him for the few hours while she's gone, which is strange because Nighteye is a hero and he should be busy during the day. Izuku wants to ask him about it, but… can’t. He can’t do the things he normally does with Nighteye, like ask him about work or pester him for stories or beg him to watch videos with him or show him his best drawings. He just can’t.
Luckily, Nighteye seems to understand. He doesn’t press. When Izuku wants to sit quietly in his room, Nighteye doesn’t try to make him talk. He doesn't come any closer than Izuku wants, and he doesn't try to touch him again.
That last part is very important. Izuku isn’t sure why, but it is.
Eventually, Mom comes home. Izuku should be happy to see her, but when he goes to the door, he finds her angry. Even when she smiles and greets him, kisses his hair and asks if he had a good day, he can feel it on her, like holding his hand over the stove to feel how hot it is. He’s never seen her so angry before, and it sends him scurrying back to his room while she goes to talk with Nighteye.
They talk for a long time. Mom calls someone on the phone. Nighteye leaves for a little while and then comes back. They talk more.
Finally, Mom comes into his room and closes the door behind her. Izuku sits on his bed and watches her with wide eyes. She doesn’t look angry anymore, just tired, but that doesn’t stop him from worrying. Is he in trouble?
“You’re not in trouble, sweetheart,” is the first thing she tells him. Sometimes Izuku wonders if his mother can read his mind.
Then she sits beside him and gives him the news, and all the worries he’s built up over the whole day come crashing in. He crumples immediately into tears.
“I don’t want to move,” Izuku sobs. “I don’t want to move! Why do I have to move?”
“We aren’t moving,” Mom tells him, patiently mopping his tears with a tissue. “You’re just going to a different school, that’s all.”
“I don’t want to go to a different school!” Izuku shouts, pushing her hand away.
Instead of insisting, Mom puts the tissue aside and places his hands in her lap. “Izuku, why not?” she asks, always gentle. “I had a talk with your teacher and your principal today, you know. Do you know what your teacher told me? She didn’t say it so many words, but she knows that your classmates were hurting you, and since she couldn’t stop them, she wasn’t even going to bother trying anymore.” Some of her anger from before comes back, but it’s not as sharp. “Which is still better than your principal. He pretended not to know anything, and when I told him what was happening, he got angry with me.”
And that just makes him feel worse, because now his principal is mad at Mom and it's all his fault. "It’s 'cause—” Izuku hiccups, scrubbing at his tears with his hands even though he pushed the tissue away. “It’s ‘cause I’m quirkless, and Kacchan has, he has—everybody says he has a good—a good future, and it’d be bad to ruin it when he’s still little.”
Mom goes stock-still. She doesn’t answer right away, but before Izuku can get scared enough to cry, she takes a deep breath. “It doesn’t sound like the kind of school I'd want to go to,” she tells him. “Somewhere no one wants to put a bully in his place. It doesn't sound like a very nice place at all."
“But it’s true ,” Izuku says. “Kacchan’s r-really strong, and he has a cool quirk, and he’s gonna be a hero someday.”
“Hmph.” Mom purses her lips. “I certainly hope not.”
Izuku stares at her, eyes still watering. “But, Mom, I thought you liked heroes.”
"I do, very much." Mom doesn’t look angry anymore, just sad. “Izuku, what do you think would happen if Kacchan became a hero, the way he is now? If he got a license to use his quirk whenever he wanted? What would he do?”
“Um…” Izuku finishes drying his face. “He’d… save people?”
“Why do you think that?”
“Heroes always save people,” Izuku answers readily. “That’s what heroes do, and Kacchan wants to be a hero.”
“I’m not asking you what heroes would do,” Mom tells him. “I’m asking you what Kacchan would do.”
Izuku can only stare at her, confused.
Mom shifts over on the bed and takes his hand. “Izuku, it’s not a magical transformation, you know,” she tells him. “When heroes get their licenses, they’re still the people they were before they had them. They’re still human beings, and human beings get scared and angry. Human beings make mistakes. And a person like Kacchan? Imagine if all his teachers from here until he’s grown up decide not to punish him for treating people badly, just because they don’t want to ruin his future. Do you think, if he became a hero, he would suddenly decide to start protecting people, just like that? When all he ever did before was hurt them because he thought they were weak and deserved it?”
Izuku doesn’t answer.
He doesn’t know .
“I don’t know that he would,” Mom sighs. “I don’t know, Izuku. But I do know that if any hero decided not to save someone because they were quirkless, because they were weak, because it wasn’t worth their time, then it wouldn’t be that person’s fault. It would be the hero’s fault for being a bad hero.” She reaches out and runs her hand through his curls, soothing him with a soft touch. “You deserve to be saved, Izuku. That’s why you’re moving schools. Because someone is hurting you, and I want it to stop.”
Fresh tears well up and spill over. This time, Izuku doesn’t fight it when Mom picks up the tissues again.
There’s a soft knock at the door. It’s Nighteye, holding up the phone with a sheepish look on his face. “Call for you, Inko,” he says.
Mom gives Izuku one last kiss before getting up and taking the phone. She whispers something to Nighteye, and once she’s gone, he steps into the room. After a moment, he sits down in Mom's spot, so that there's just a little space between them. He doesn’t try to dry Izuku’s eyes. He keeps his hands folded in his lap and a little space between them.
“Izuku?” he says when the new tears have almost stopped.
“Yeah?” Izuku sniffles.
“I’m sorry I used my quirk on you without asking.”
His chest feels funny when Nighteye says that, and Izuku can't tell if it's good funny or bad funny. “It’s okay,” Izuku says, still rubbing his eyes. He says it, but he’s still glad there’s space between them. Seeing Nighteye’s eyes turn black while they were touching was scary .
“Still,” Nighteye says. “How about if I make you a deal? I promise I won’t use my quirk on you unless you say I can. But.” He leans down until Izuku can look him in the eye without having to tilt his head so far back. “In return, you have to promise that if someone is hurting you, you won’t keep it a secret. Does that sound fair?’
“Good.” Nighteye holds his hand with the pinky extended. “Deal?”
“Deal,” Izuku says, and hooks his pinky to Nighteye’s. “I promise.”
Nighteye smiles at him. “That’s settled, then.”
Izuku takes his pinky back. He feels a little better—just a little!—but he still feels so full of questions. He’s still scared about the thought of going to a new school. What if it’s the same? What if it’s worse? What if—what if—
What if he goes away and Kacchan gets even worse?
“Nighteye?” he says. “Mom says Kacchan’s going to keep being mean if nobody makes him stop.”
“Your mother’s very smart,” Nighteye replies. “I don’t know Kacchan very well, but it will be very difficult for him to change if no one teaches him that he’s behaving badly.”
“Then… then is it really okay if I go away?” Izuku asks.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Nighteye asks, frowning.
“Because… he doesn’t know he’s doing bad things,” Izuku presses. “Somebody has to tell him. He needs help. Shouldn’t I help him?”
For a moment Nighteye simply stares at him, blinking a little. Then he sighs, deep and long. “I was afraid you were going to ask me something like that.”
“Yes. Just like your father, trying to fix every problem you find.” That puts another funny feeling in Izuku’s chest. “Izuku, why do you think you have to be the one to teach him? I’ll grant you, you’re a little farther along than he is, but you’re still learning about these things, too.”
“Because he’s my friend,” Izuku answers. “Friends help each other.”
“Do they?” Nighteye asks, raising an eyebrow. “That’s funny. Does Kacchan help you often?”
Izuku opens his mouth, then closes it again. “No," he admits.
“Friendships are made of more than one person,” Nighteye tells him. “And if only one person has to do all the work, well, that’s not very fair, is it?”
“But is it really okay?” Izuku asks. “Is it really okay to give up?”
Nighteye takes another deep breath, in and out, turning away from Izuku for a moment to look at his bedroom walls again. Izuku follows where he’s looking. He has posters everywhere, some heroes, some TV shows he likes, and a nature one with sea turtles that he got at the aquarium once. But the biggest one has Dad on it, and that’s the one that Nighteye’s looking at now.
“You know, Izuku,” Nighteye says, in the tone he uses when he’s about to tell a story. Izuku scoots closer to listen, and Nighteye smiles a little when he notices. “When someone enters your life, they become a part of you,” he says. “Not that you were incomplete before, of course. They simply… find a room in your heart. And they move in and make themselves at home. Can you picture that?”
“Yes,” Izuku says. He saw a diagram of a heart once, with four chambers in it. He imagines those chambers are little rooms with beds and dressers, and the picture makes him grin.
“Now, a lot of people you become close to are good guests,” Nighteye goes on. “They clean up after themselves. They keep things neat and tidy. They treat their space with respect. And if they do happen to make a mess, or break something, they do their best to clean it up and fix it. Like making up after an argument, or apologizing for doing something wrong.”
“Like you,” Izuku says. “You used your quirk on me, and it scared me, and you said you were sorry. Right?”
For a moment Nighteye almost looks upset, but then he smiles and nods. “Right,” he says. “But… others aren’t so courteous. Sometimes you let someone in and they don’t respect the space you give them. And before you know it, it’s just one mess after another.”
Izuku thinks about this, pressing his lips together as he tries to make sense of it. After a moment he says quietly, “Kacchan makes a lot of messes.”
“I know,” Nighteye replies. “I could see that, even before I used my quirk. And there comes a time when you have to make a choice. You have to ask yourself, is it worth it to spend your days cleaning up after them, fixing what they break? Or is it better, for both your sakes, to show them the door?”
That makes a little more sense, doesn’t it? It's like how Mom is with the neighbors sometimes; last month she invited the Hanamuras for tea, and Mrs. Hanamura said rude things while Mr. Hanamura spilled his coffee on the carpet, and after they were gone Mom said she was never inviting them over again. So maybe… maybe it was like that with Kacchan.
Kacchan was mean. Kacchan hit him and told everybody else in class to hit him, too. Kacchan called him names and told him he was worthless, and made fun of anyone who tried to be nice to him. Did he really want to be friends with him anymore?
Izuku kicks his legs, knocking his heels against the bed frame. “Am I a good guest?”
Nighteye gives him a fond smile. “Of course you are.”
“You have to tell me if I’m not,” Izuku said seriously. “Okay?”
“I will, don’t worry about that.”
The poster catches Izuku’s eyes again, with his father’s golden hair and wide grin. “Was my dad a good guest, too?”
This time, Nighteye’s mouth opens but no sound comes out. For a moment Izuku is almost afraid that maybe he wasn’t a good guest, and Nighteye has only been polite about it all this time.
“Did he keep his room clean?” Izuku asks.
Nighteye glances at the poster again, then looks back at Izuku. He huffs quietly, smiles again, and sits back.
“I think he left it better than he found it.”