At the sound of her name, the young woman looks up from her hands. Naomasa notes they are clenched in her lap, twisted and white-knuckled.
She gently corrects, “Mrs.”
She is a pretty woman, dark hair pulled back from her pleasantly round face in a neat bun. Her entire appearance is neat, really - a white button-down shirt, a gray blazer and matching slacks, all crisply ironed and well-presented despite slight fray and signs of use. As she stands, her sensible flats make no sound on the tile floor, soles soft and worn.
Naomasa catches all of this in a glance, noting the bright gleam of the wedding band on her finger as her hands fall to her sides. She bows politely and hesitantly greets, “Detective... Tsukauchi?”
Her voice is indecisive but warm, just as he remembers from their brief conversation on the phone. Even though her words now are drowned by the general din of the police station, detectives at their desks, phones ringing, papers rustling, her voice holds a gentle quality that inexplicably reminds him of a mother.
At his nod, the woman straightens from her bow and continues, “Thank you for your time. I saw the notice and I - ” Her voice wavers, overcome by some unknown emotion, and she bites her lower lip. She tries again. “It’s something that has bothered me for years and I never - ”
A pause, unsure. The silence stretches between them, suddenly awkward. Finally she says fiercely, “I had to come. I had to speak up.”
Naomasa’s quirk remains quiet.
Her desire to be here is entirely truthful, which bodes well for his investigation. Naomasa doesn’t know for sure what this Suzuki Niko wants to share with him, but he can easily read her nervousness, her hesitation, her fear. However, he can also see a blaze of determination in her dark, tired eyes that wouldn’t be out of place on a hero.
He gestures for the woman to follow him; he has already set up a room for this interview. “Of course, Mrs. Suzuki,” he agrees easily. “This way, please.”
She turns quickly, reaches down, and snags the strap of her large, black purse from where it sits on the chair. She slings it lightly over her shoulder, adjusting the strap with the comfortable familiarity of one who has done so many times. Naomasa turns, ready to lead her across the tiled floor, down the corridor and to the interrogation room. He takes two steps before he realizes she is not following.
He glances back and sees her eyes have found the cork-board on the wall. The board is tacked full, warnings of local villains and their quirks, faxed reports of unsolved crimes from nearby precincts, and of course, missing person notices.
He follows her line of sight easily, already knowing where her gaze will fall.
The notice is unremarkable, one face lost among a sea of lost faces. It is a yearbook photo of a young boy in his school uniform. His eyes are wide, shadowed by dark half-circles. His hair is green, wild and curly. He does not smile as he stares into the camera, and the somber expression makes him looks far older than his purported thirteen years. The text below the photo reads: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS BOY?
Naomasa is already familiar with this notice, as he was the one to print and distribute it a few weeks prior. Despite the common appearance, it’s an interesting notice for two reasons. First, there is the name of the pro-hero who initially opened this investigation. Second, the image used is somehow the most recent photo of Midoriya Izuku that could be found.
It was taken nearly fifteen years ago.
Naomasa pauses, watching the woman’s lips compress to a thin line as she stares as Midoriya’s face. He notes the way her shoulder’s slump forward, as though she carries a massive, invisible burden. He thinks he even catches the slightest glimmer of wetness in the corners of her eyes.
Then Miss Suzuki takes a breath. She straightens her back, shaking the weight, and when she meets his eyes, he sees nothing but resolve.
“I’m sorry for the delay, Detective,” she says quietly. “Please, lead the way.”
Silent as he battles his own invisible weight, marked by a curious dread that knots his stomach and digs deep into his heart, Naomasa does.
Naomasa takes one of the seats, gesturing for Mrs. Suzuki to take the other. As she settles herself, he begins, “I’m obligated by law to tell you that this conversation will be recorded. This is not an arrest, nor are you a suspect, but there has been precious little information in regards to this case, and as such I would like the ability to revisit and replay our interview again.”
The woman makes a soft sound of agreement, eyes unfocused as she stares at the window behind Naomasa’s head. She tilts her head to the side, frowns slightly, then shifts her attention back to him fully.
“Yes, of course,” she says quietly. “You have my consent.”
“For the record, please state your name.”
“Suzuki Niko,” she replies. “Written with the kanji ‘two’ and ‘hearts.’”
Naomasa gives into his curiosity and prods gently, “If I may ask, Mrs. Suzuki, what were you looking at a moment ago?”
“My quirk is a mild form of empathy,” she replies. “Barring a few special circumstances, unless someone is directly in front of me, I don’t usually feel anything. But... whoever is behind that window feels so strongly that I couldn’t help but notice. I didn’t mean to get distracted.”
“Ah.” He considers the man on the other side of the window, then smiles slightly. “No, I understand completely. Let us begin, then. What brings you here today?”
The woman takes a deep, unsteady breath. She rummages around in her purse for a moment, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper. It’s identical to the notice on the board outside. With careful, gentle movements, she smoothes the wrinkles out, flattening the paper on the tabletop, and young Midoriya’s face stares up at them blankly.
Even upside down, Naomasa can easily read: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS BOY? Below that, a short plea for any information, followed by the police department’s phone number and Naomasa’s own extension.
“I’m here because of him,” Mrs. Suzuki whispers, staring down at the photo. Her expression is something like sadness and regret and longing, all rolled up into one.
“And who is he?” Naomasa prompts.
“Midoriya Izuku,” she replies. “He was my hero.”
Interviewee: Suzuki Niko
Time, Date and Location: 3:07 PM, August 12th, NPA District 13
TN: I’m obligated by law to tell you that this conversation will be recorded. This is not an arrest, nor are you a suspect, but there has been precious little information in regards to this case, and as such I would like the ability to revisit and replay our interview again.
SN: Yes, of course. You have my consent.
TN: For the record, please state your name.
SN: Suzuki Niko, written with the kanji “two” and “hearts.”
TN: If I may ask, Mrs. Suzuki, what were you looking at a moment ago?
SN: My quirk is a mild form of empathy. Barring a few special circumstances, unless someone is directly in front of me, I don’t usually feel anything. But [pause] whoever is behind that window feels so strongly that I couldn’t help but notice. I didn’t mean to get distracted.
TN: Ah. No, I understand completely. Let us begin, then. What brings you here today?
SN: [paper crinkling] I’m here because of him.
TN: And who is he?
SN: Midoriya Izuku. He was my hero.
TN: How did you meet Midoriya-kun?
SN: [short laugh] It’s funny, but I never formally did. I never even spoke to him.
TN: When you contacted me, you told me that you had information regarding his disappearance. You made it sounds as though you were personally involved in Midoriya-kun’s life. Did I misunderstand?
SN: I knew him. He knew me, probably better than anyone in my life at that point. I realize it doesn’t make any sense but [pause] if you’ll allow me to explain?
SN: To truly understand what he did for me, you need to understand who I am. My parents died in a villain attack when I was too young to remember. I was put into the system for adoption, but it never really worked out for me. I was fostered, bouncing around from one house to another, always with the same complaints.
TN: What complaints were those?
SN: [distinctive voice change, high-pitched, nasal] Niko never listens! She’s so ungrateful! She doesn’t even eat!
SN: [regular voice] It was my quirk, you see? A weak, short-ranged empathy. So many foster parents harbored an underlying, festering feeling of frustration and resentment, and while it wasn’t necessarily directed at me, I always felt like it was. Even now, I can’t blame them. The foster system was awful, and the ratio of children without homes versus families willing to take them was, and still is, incredibly unbalanced.
SN: As a police officer, I’m sure you’re familiar with those difficulties. At a glance, the influx of children due to the increase of villains, as well as the quirks of the children themselves. There was no support system for foster families to help deal with the destructive nature of some of those quirks, or the occasional prohibitive cost, or even the quirk counseling that for years wasn’t mandatory upon manifestation.
TN: It isn’t perfect, but it has gotten better.
SN: It has. It’s gotten so much better in recent years. With renewed interested in Japan’s many social and economic programs, there has been a frankly miraculous wave of new legislation and increased funding. But fifteen, twenty years ago? Honestly, the only program worse off at that point was the prison system.
SN: I couldn’t eat. Everything I ate in those homes, everything that was cooked for me, it all tasted like ash. Even a bite of rice turned to bitterness, disappointment, and helpless anger on my tongue. I didn’t understand it, and I couldn’t explain it. Everyone else could eat just fine, so clearly the problem was with me and not them.
SN: I found I could eat most prepackaged junk foods without issue, and I gained a lot of weight in my formative years. I was miserable. It wasn’t until I turned twelve that I was placed with a family in Musutafa, and transferred into Aldera Junior High.
TN: You were his classmate.
SN: Yes. Not that I was a very good classmate, to him or anyone else. I kept my head down. I didn’t make friends. I was unhappy and overweight, the new transfer with the boring quirk that could tell you how you were feeling. But that quirk kept me out of trouble because I always knew if someone was trying to tease me or if they were genuine. Most of the class left me alone. They didn’t talk to me, but neither did they bully me.
TN: Was that an issue? Bullying?
SN: Midoriya-san was bullied to death.
TN: [pause] That’s a very serious accusation to make. Do you have any proof?
SN: No, I do not. Back then, I made excuses. I ignored the sick feeling in my stomach and told myself that I couldn’t do anything about it. I didn’t speak up, and I’ve regretted it for years. When I saw your notice, I had to come here and tell you the truth.
TN: What truth is that?
SN: Midoriya-san was bullied and abused relentlessly. The other children, they hurled insults and destroyed his things, and he was always covered in bruises and burns. Even the teachers called him Deku - useless - and anyone who didn’t actively participate turned a blind eye. Everyone at that school was equally guilty.
TN: Why did no one speak up?
SN: Because Midoriya-san was quirkless. Back then, those who were quirkless were always treated like something less. And one bully [pause] the worst of them. He’s a pro-hero now, you know? As I got older, I’d think about saying something, and then I’d wonder who would even believe me.
TN: Earlier in our conversation, you seemed certain that Midoriya-kun knew you, despite your claim that you never spoke to him. Why is that?
SN: I explained to you that I had trouble eating anything that wasn’t prepackaged? I was at Aldera for maybe two weeks when that changed. Usually I’d buy myself something from the vending machines on the way to school, but when I reached into my desk to pull out my [pause] melon bread. It was melon bread, that day. There was a bento-box with my name on it.
TN: In place of your melon bread?
SN: In addition to. A bento-box and a short, hand-written note. It read: I’ve never seen you eat a nice meal for lunch. I think I know why. I made this for you, so please try it.
SN: Can you imagine? I was so confused. Skeptical, you know? But it was such a cute little box, and I honestly didn’t know when the last time I’d eaten something that didn’t come out of a plastic wrapper, and the melon bread didn’t look half as appetizing as the rice and the tempura did, so - I tried it.
TN: It tasted like ash?
SN: It tasted like heaven. I was twelve years old, and for the very first time, I ate a meal like everyone else. I think I might have cried.
TN: What was different about that bento-box, as compared to what you’d eaten before?
SN: At the time, I didn’t know. But the next day there was another bento waiting for me at my desk. Accompanied by a note that theorized that my empathy was the cause of my dietary problems. It said that the food in the box had been made for me by someone who wanted me to be happy, and had nothing but the best intentions towards me.
TN: Ah. That isn’t a connection that I would have initially made.
SN: It wasn’t a connection that anyone made, not until that very moment. Not my foster parents, not my social worker, not the single quirk councilor I’d met with in my life. It took my mystery-benefactor two weeks to understand and solve my problem. It honestly amazes me even now.
TN: These mystery-bentos, they continued?
SN: Yes. Every day, I ate the bento-box and left it empty at my desk. Every day, it was replaced, swapped out with something that had been made just for me. I wasn’t able to catch whoever was making them for me, although I will admit when I ate, sometimes I’d sense the smallest, brightest little flicker of happiness aimed in my direction. Months passed, and I was healthier than I’d ever been. Finally, I left my own note.
TN: What did your note say?
TN: And did you receive a reply?
SN: I did. A single sentence. It read: You looked like you needed help. [pause] Just that. Just someone who looked at me and saw that I was struggling, that I was unhappy, and decided to help me because they could.
TN: Mrs. Suzuki, why do you think Midoriya-kun was bullied to death?
SN: The last time I ever saw Midoriya-san, I’d forgotten to leave my empty bento-box in my desk. I went back to the classroom, and when I was outside the door, I heard voices yelling.
SN: Midoriya-san [pause] and the bully I mentioned before.
TN: The one who is now a pro-hero?
TN: Do you remember what they were yelling about?
SN: Not really. That bully, he was always yelling. Always angry. I don’t remember any of it, except for the last thing he said before he left.
TN: And that was?
SN: He said [pause] he said, “If you think you’ll have a quirk in the next life [pause] go take a swan dive off the roof.”
TN: Are you saying this bully literally told Midoriya-kun to kill himself?
SN: Those were his exact words. I’ve never forgotten them. I have nightmares about them, sometimes. After that, Midoriya-san left the school. He didn’t come back the next day or the one after that, and [pause] and those bento-boxes that saved me? They stopped, too. I tried to ask one of the teachers, but they just, they brushed me off. Midoriya-san hadn’t been in school for a week when I took matters into my own hands.
TN: How so?
SN: I found out his address from the school secretary. I told her I wanted to bring him the work he’d missed. It didn’t matter that I’d never said two words to him before, she was just so relieved to have someone willing to drop it off. I walked to his house and.
SN: There was a white, paper lantern hanging by his front door. I couldn’t. I stood there, and I just couldn’t. He was my hero and he saved me when no one else even noticed I was struggling, and I couldn’t.
TN: What was the name of the bully? The one who’s now a pro?
SN: The Number 3 Explosive Hero, Ground Zero. Bakugou Katsuki. [pause] What a joke.
SN: Midoriya-san never came back to school. None of the teachers ever made any announcements as to why he disappeared. It was as if the minute they could no longer see him, he didn’t exist. [pause] I know what I saw, Detective. Even if no one else remembers. Even if no one else believes me. I don’t know why you’re investigating his disappearance fifteen years later but. Thank you. Thank you for not forgetting him.
He hears the door open, but he doesn’t look up.
“You know,” Naomasa says slowly, “my quirk didn’t go off once during that entire interview. Suzuki Niko honestly, truly believes that Midoriya Izuku died fifteen years ago, an unsung victim of quirkless bullying.”
There is a scrape of metal on tile as the chair opposite him is pulled back.
“As for me, I don’t know what to think. Having looked through the records, I know that his name doesn’t appear in the obituaries of that time, which calls into question why there would be a white lantern outside his home. But of course, none of that is what I really want to ask you.”
Two careless thuds, and the table vibrates with the strain.
Naomasa frowns. “When you first came to me, when you told me there was a boy you went to school with who had the ability to analyze quirks with the same care and precision we’ve seen from the Critic’s notes - I had no reason to doubt you. We have no other leads, so I didn't see the harm in looking into it. But with what I’ve just learned, I have to ask... is what she said true? Did I open this case not to help with our current investigation, but rather to assuage your fifteen-year-old sense of guilt?”
When Naomasa looks up, Bakugou Katsuki, Ground Zero and the Number 3 Hero, crosses his arms belligerently over his chest as he leans back in the chair, feet propped rudely on the table. His lips twist into a vicious sneer as he replies, “She’s not wrong.” A pause, and when Naomasa meets those red, angry eyes, they seem to burn. “But she’s not right, either.”