It is February 21st and Yagi Toshinori stands alone watching the sunrise over Dagobah Beach.
A young couple walks past him, chattering happily about the changes the park has undergone in the past several months. Neither gives the tall, thin man a second glance.
It’s been five years, but Toshinori still gets caught off guard sometimes by the anonymity his smaller form affords him. He takes as deep a breath as his damaged respiratory system will allow, the cold morning air stinging his one remaining lung. A quick glance at his phone confirms what he already knows.
Young Midoriya is late.
Toshinori adjusts the lay of his scarf around his neck. He tells himself there is no reason to be concerned. Teenage boys oversleep all the time, and Young Midoriya has more reason to than most. But it is just under a week before U.A.’s entrance exams, and Midoriya Izuku is the most driven young man Toshinori has ever seen. Would a young man like that, someone who repeatedly pushes himself past his limits, take a day off without saying anything? Toshinori doesn’t think so. If anything, he finds it far more likely he’d find his pupil passed out in a pile of garbage, having worked himself well into the night.
But young Midoriya is nowhere to be seen.
Toshinori watches the sun peek out over the piles of garbage his pupil has yet to clear and feels a ball of dread settle in his nonexistent stomach.
Toshinori waits until well into the afternoon before finally heading home. When young Midoriya is a no-show again the following morning, he slowly makes his way to the Midoriyas’ apartment.
He hasn’t introduced himself to Midoriya Inko before now. It’s only in the beat between when he presses the buzzer and Midoriya-san opens the door that Toshinori realizes that may have been a mistake.
Midoriya-san looks like her son—or rather, young Midoriya looks like his mother, Toshinori can’t help but note when the small, green-haired woman pulls open the door. But the more he looks, the more the resemblance seems almost superficial. Young Midoriya has inherited his mother’s coloring, clearly, but those wild curls and the shape of his face must come from elsewhere in the family. Midoriya-san’s eyes are stained red, the skin of her face puffy from crying.
The ball of dread in Toshinori’s gut swells in size.
“Midoriya-san,” he begins, careful to keep the thick rush of emotion out of his voice, “I am sorry to call on you like this, but I am acquainted with your son—”
“Ah,” she gasps softly, one hand wiping fruitlessly at her eyes, “you must be the person he’s been visiting after school.”
Toshinori promptly chokes on his own spit. His hand shoots up involuntarily to cover the blood now no doubt staining his lips. “Th-that’s correct. How did—”
“He didn’t tell me anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.” She cradles her cheek with one hand. Her eyes—young Midoriya’s eyes—watch him with concern. “My Izuku is a quiet boy. But a few months ago—it was like his spirits lifted.” She turns towards the apartment interior, pushing the door open a little wider. “Won’t you come in..?”
“Yagi-san,” she repeats, and steps back inside. Toshinori can do little else but wipe the blood off on the back of his hand and trail after her.
The Midoriyas’ apartment is small but lived-in, carrying inside of it that familial charm that Toshinori’s own apartment lacks. It is pleasantly cluttered, though not unkempt. Toshinori thinks he sees the notebook he signed for young Midoriya, lying open on the sofa. Several family photos fill the cabinet pressed against the back wall, though at a distance Toshinori only spies young Midoriya and his mother among the frames.
Once Toshinori slips out of his shoes, he wanders over for a closer look. He is momentarily drawn to a picture situated in the middle. Judging by Izuku’s age and the slimmed-down, less-worn figure of Inko, it is the oldest picture on the shelf. In it, a tall laughing man with curls as pronounced as young Midoriya’s stands with a tiny Izuku propped up on his shoulders. The child’s wildly flailing arm blocks most of the man’s face from the camera.
Young Midoriya was an adorable toddler.
“Can I offer you some tea, Yagi-san?” His pupil’s mother calls out to him from the kitchen.
“Hmm?” Toshinori pulls his eyes away from the photo. “You needn’t bother yourself, Midoriya-san.”
“It’s no trouble,” she assures him, already propping a kettle up on the stove. “It’ll help with my nerves, anyway.”
She gestures for him to take a seat at the table and stands waiting for the kettle to boil. Her hands grasp tightly at the hem of her apron. “You’re here about Izuku, aren’t you, Yagi-san?”
“Yes,” he confirms, painfully aware of her fragile mood. “I’ve been helping young Midoriya prepare for the U.A. entrance exam.”
Her hands twist the fabric of the apron tighter, then fall still. “...Are you a hero then?”
“I...I’ve worked with pro heroes for many years now. Your boy is...he’s one of the most courageous, hard-working young men I’ve ever seen.” His large palms settle over his thighs, gripping hard at each pant leg. “Which is why I found it odd he missed our usual training time.”
Midoriya-san chokes on a sob, both of her hands flying up to cover her face. “Izuku is just so...good. I know he would make an amazing hero. But I always wished he’d...kept his dreams more attainable.” She turns to Toshinori with a smile, tear tracks streaming down her face. Yet another thing young Midoriya inherited from his mother. “Does that make me a poor mother?”
“I told him that, too, originally,” Toshinori admits, and that mistake still burns a hole in his chest that hurts almost as much as the one his nemesis gave him, “but he proved me wrong. I believe young Midoriya will keep proving both of us wrong.”
The kettle whistles. Midoriya-san turns her back to him and sedately prepares each of them a cup of tea. A somber quiet settles between the two of them as she sets Toshinori’s cup in front of him and takes her own seat at the table. It strikes Toshinori then, that as cluttered as the apartment is, something about it still feels oddly empty.
“Two nights ago,” Midoriya-san finally says. Her hands wrap tightly around her tea cup. “Izuku never came home. I contacted the police, but they…”
Her hands start to tremble, tea nearly sloshing over the sides and onto her small fingers. Toshinori watches her forcibly reign in her composure, tea cup set back down on the table with a soft ‘clink.’ “They found his backpack stuffed behind a garbage can on the other end of Musutafu. I don’t understand...And the officers said...they said…”
She sobs again, one hand coming up to cover her mouth, the trembling back in full force. “They said he might have r-run away. But my Izuku wouldn’t do that! He wouldn’t…”
And Toshinori froze, tea cup halfway to his lips.
Everything he knew about young Midoriya pointed to a young man who never gave up, who knew what he wanted and kept working towards it no matter what. He hadn’t even let Toshinori stop him, all those months ago on that roof. Why would the police..?
“He’s been so happy lately,” Midoriya-san goes on, heedless of Toshinori’s inner turmoil in the face of her own. “He’s been doing so much better. But because he’s quirkless, and the things with school…”
“...Young Midoriya has troubles at school?” Toshinori hadn’t got that impression at all. By all accounts young Midoriya was an exceptionally bright young man.
“He’s never said anything,” she admits. “But when he would come home sometimes. The way he would carry himself. His things, missing or burnt. But a few months ago, it was like he got his spark back.” She lifts her damp face. “That’s because of you, isn’t it?”
“He’s been doing very well,” Toshinori tells her, his voice rasping more than he would like. “You’ve raised an amazing son, Midoriya-san.”
She smiles soggily at that, the expression not-quite reaching her eyes. “He’s amazing all on his own.” Her sniffles softly subside. She gestures and the charred notebook Toshinori noticed before floats across the room and into her waiting hand. “Izuku’s been writing these for years. I—”
Midoriya-san’s smile becomes something a little brighter, a little less wounded. Something about it reminds Toshinori, inexplicably, of Nana. “He’s always been obsessed with heroes and their quirks. Hisashi—that’s Izuku’s father—he used to encourage it, when Izuku was little. They made a game out of watching heroes on the news, trying to guess how their quirks worked. I’m not sure Izuku even remembers that, actually. But even after Hisashi left, he kept taking notes.”
She flips absentmindedly through the notebook. Her fingertips briefly rest on the same page as Toshinori’s autograph, big and bold. “He usually keeps his notes on heroes in here, but—.” The book falls open to the last page. Midoriya-san pushes it across the table for Toshinori to see. “I don’t think he would have written this if he didn’t mean it, do you?”
No, Toshinori thinks, he wouldn’t have.
Scrawled across the page, in Izuku’s familiarly messy handwriting, are the words: I’m okay, Mom.
And below it, in a smaller script, a number: QA0937.
Toshinori touches his index finger to the paper and feels the indent of the pen from young Midoriya’s harsh, hurried scrawl. “What does it mean?”
“It’s a reference number, I think. To one of Izuku’s other notebooks. Quirk Analysis 9, page 37.” Midoriya-san lifts a hand and another notebook flies gently across the room, this one unmarred by burns. “I sent Hisashi some pictures of it. He’s on his way back, now. But...”
She holds the notebook out to Toshinori with both hands, a determined set to her mouth. Her eyes are still red, but something in them blazes. Like mother, like son indeed. “Please,” she says, “if you’re a hero. Help me bring my son home.”
Well. There is only one thing Toshinori can say to a request like that.
“Not to worry, Midoriya-san,” he murmurs as he accepts the notebook, “for I am here.”
Toshinori takes a seat at the conference table across from Tsukauchi Naomasa. “It is good to see you, old friend.”
“It’s good to see you as well, Toshinori.” The detective chuckles to himself. “Well, I’ve seen you on the news, of course, but it isn’t quite the same.”
Toshinori sighs. “I know.”
He had lucked out, catching Tsukauchi-kun just as he returned to the precinct after lunch. Toshinori hates approaching his good friend like this, but as a pro hero with only so much time in one day, he doesn’t have a lot of options. The longer young Midoriya remains missing, the less likely his recovery will be.
The ball of dread in Toshinori’s gut hasn’t gotten any smaller.
“And you begin teaching in just a couple of months,” Tsukauchi adds. “I wish you the best of luck in finding a successor.”
“I may have already found one. Midoriya Izuku—a middle school student. I’ve been preparing him to receive my power these last few months. He’s a very determined young man.”
“Oh? I look forward to meeting him, then.”
Toshinori rarely gets to see his dear friend for purely social reasons, and he regrets that today’s visit is no exception. “That’s why I’m reaching out, old friend. My young pupil...he’s gone missing.”
Tsukauchi’s gaze sharpens, instantly professional. Toshinori has always respected that about him. “Because of his connection to you?”
Toshinori coughs. He had considered that, before his conversation with Midoriya-san. He and young Midoriya had been careful, but...perhaps not careful enough. “I don’t believe so. If that was the case, I likely would have received a ransom note by now.” He produces the quirk analysis notebook from his coat and places it on the table between them. “He vanished on his way home, two nights ago. The Musutafu police apparently don’t find it worth investigating. His mother and I disagree.”
“Why would they…”
“Young Midoriya is quirkless. He was labelled a runaway.”
“Ah,” Tsukauchi sighs, understanding instantly slumping his shoulders. “I should have guessed.”
“But young Midoriya left a message for his mother, and in a hurry, too.” Toshinori nods at the notebook on the table, prompting Tsukauchi to finally reach over and pick it up. “There’s something in there he wanted us to see.”
Tsukauchi sinks back into one of the shabby office chairs across from Toshinori and starts to skim through young Midoriya’s notes. The more he reads, the more his eyes widen. “You said a middle school student wrote this?”
Toshinori nods, his own eyes pinned to the fluttering of the notebook’s pages. The first time he flipped through one of young Midoriya’s notebooks, his impression had been that of a particularly keen fanboy. He realizes now that perhaps he’d been too dismissive. There was raw talent there in the pages of young Midoriya’s notebooks, though not anything Toshinori knew how to cultivate.
But something about the way the young man wrote about quirks...It had Toshinori the slightest bit on edge. Ah, well. Probably nothing to be concerned about. This was young Midoriya, after all.
Tsukauchi hums, gently drawing Toshinori back out of his thoughts. “It’s rough, but with a bit of work your student could be a fine analyst.” He holds the notebook up. “And he brought your attention to this one specifically?”
“Yes. Page 37.”
Tsukauchi calmly flips to the correct page and begins to read. About halfway down the page, something dark crosses the detective’s face. Something that causes his brow to furrow, his jaw to tighten.
Toshinori leans forward in his seat at the table, hands holding tight to his knees. “It means something to you.”
It hadn’t, to Toshinori. The quirk described on page 37 was unremarkable: a variation on a regeneration quirk where the user could shed their skin. Young Midoriya had gone on to describe the user’s secondary mutations and list possible uses and drawbacks. He had even speculated that the user could regenerate from deep tissue damage, which Toshinori had found more than a little grotesque.
Tsukauchi’s mouth presses into a thin, grim line. “There’s an active case right now. A human trafficking ring that targets quirkless people.”
Toshinori blinks and sits back. He has heard of quirk trafficking—of course he has, even in Japan it can be a serious problem—but quirkless trafficking? “...Why?”
His friend shrugs. “Any number of reasons. Even if we ignore the value quirkless people have as control cases in medical studies, they make unfortunately easy targets. Missing persons cases involving quirkless individuals are statistically more likely to go unreported and discrimination against them is at an all-time high.” Tsukauchi eyes Toshinori, a frown tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Shouldn’t you know this? You were quirkless.”
Toshinori’s gaze drifts off to the side. That is true, but if Toshinori is honest with himself he hasn’t considered himself quirkless for well over half his life span. Not since Shimura Nana gave him her gift. He thinks, then, of Midoriya Inko, waiting alone in that oddly empty apartment. “You think young Midoriya was picked up by these traffickers.”
“I think that’s exactly what your student was trying to tell us.” The detective taps at the open notebook in his hand. “We ran notices on this man for nearly three weeks last month. He’s a petty thug, but we’ve long suspected his ties to the ring.”
“So you have an idea of where to find him?”
Tsukauchi grimaces. “Not quite. The ring hasn’t moved on Musutafu before, that we know of.” He runs a hand over his short hair. “Damn. We haven’t been able to predict their movements at all.”
Toshinori folds his hand tightly in a fist, his blunt nails digging roughly into his palm. “There has to be something we can do.”
“Two nights ago, you said.” Tsukauchi taps thoughtfully at his chin, eyes narrowed down at Quirk Analysis No. 9. “We won’t have long. Our intel suggests the ring moves the victims quickly—within the week.”
Not long at all. “Please Tsukauchi-kun,” Toshinori says, head bowed, his long bangs brushing against the table’s surface. “Let me assist with this case. I need to bring young Midoriya home to his mother.”
Tsukauchi sighs again. “The case is actually a collaboration between the precinct and an underground agency. But I’ll get in touch with the pro running lead and we’ll see what we can do.”
“Absolutely not,” says Aizawa Shouta.
Toshinori clenches his teeth. He and Eraserhead have never quite seen eye-to-eye, a fact Toshinori has long since attributed to their differing approaches to heroism. Ever since Toshinori joined the staff at U.A., however, the glares Aizawa has been shooting him during meetings make him wonder if there might not be something more to it.
“Cases like this require subtlety.” Aizawa punctuates the last word with one of those signature glares, a momentary flash of his quirk lighting up his eyes as he looks Toshinori’s skeletal form up and down. The level of derision in those eyes makes Toshinori feel even smaller. “Why should I let you muscle in on this operation and ruin months worth of work?”
“He brought us a lead,” Tsukauchi points out, “our first in weeks. And his student may very well be the latest victim.”
“All the more reason not to let him on the case,” Aizawa retorts. “Personal feelings get in the way of investigation all the time. It’s not logical.”
“I just want to bring a young boy home to his mother.”
“All the more reason,” Aizawa repeats.
“Look at the lead at least, Aizawa-san,” Tsukauchi suggests, holding young Midoriya’s notebook out to the underground pro. Aizawa takes it, if somewhat begrudgingly. “Page 37.”
“This is…” Aizawa reads through the entry even faster than Tsukauchi-kun had. His brow lifts. “This is incredibly detailed. Who wrote this?”
“Midoriya Izuku. My pupil.”
“Your pupil writes analysis on a level most underground pros wish they could,” Aizawa says flatly. “He even points out several locations our suspect would be likely to hide, based on known behaviors and secondary mutations. This is…”
“Excuse me, sirs,” one of the other officers interrupts, the one with the cat quirk. He pokes his head in through the doorway of the conference room, feline ears twitching. “There is a young lady, here with her mother. She claims to have information on that trafficking case.”
The two pros and the detective exchange glances, eyebrows raised. Tsukauchi nods, prompting a roll of the eyes from Aizawa.
“Well,” Eraserhead grumbles, “why don’t you send her in?”