A/N: Fresh out the gate of being scarred by the season finale of The Boys, it's ya boy back with Incident Zero!
Thank you to all of those who have offered their thoughts on chapter 54 last time out; it's interesting to see that the whole question of vigilantism and when someone is going too far can encourage healthy debate, and that not everyone has the same view on those types of activities. Equally, I just wanted to apologise that the last chapter had a few moments where Shigaraki's "welcome input" in Izuku's head wasn't italicised like it normally is… oops. It was fine in the document, I swear.
Brief moment before we start the chapter to do an entirely shameless bit of self-promotion. Many of you fine readers know that I have an absolute love for Lady Nagant, and if you haven't already seen I have a new fic out starring her. It's called Crossfire and I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who likes her (or wishes more for her than canon provided) to go and check it out. It's my part of the Lady Nagant Big Bang, a fic collection which is on AO3… be sure to go and see what the other talented writers have come up with.
Now… you thought it was a chapter with class 1A fight scenes, but it was I, Tenko Shimura!
The centre of Musutafu in the evenings rippled with people like waves crashing on a beach at high tide, the ebb and flow of groups of commuters spilling out of the train station and dissipating to wherever they needed to be. All the people who came home from Hosu or Shizuoka to be with their families, with their heads down in their phones scrolling through the news or held up with laser focus on their destination, oblivious to everything else as they just wanted to come home.
Through all of that and against the current, Tenko Shimura walked, and felt completely disconnected from everyone around him.
People brushed past him, and he barely felt the nudges and jostling against his arms. Hands stuffed into the front pockets of a dark blue hoodie Izuku had gotten him for his birthday, gloves on so he was careful not to accidentally activate Decay, Tenko parted through the crowds in the opposite direction and didn't feel a thing as anyone went by him. His mind was too busy racing to focus on anything else.
Right about now, Izu and Set would be starting the first night of the brand new training regime to work out just how many branches Izuku's skill tree had grown in the wake of the USJ attack. Part of him, buried deep down, felt bad for missing it. He'd always been the one to be there when his brother in all but blood had to explore his Quirk, offering advice on how to combo moves and comforting Izuku when all he wanted to do was reroll and get abilities that he didn't have to hide away from the rest of the world. He'd been there the first time Izuku manifested a Quirk, when Izuku first took a Quirk and when he first gave a Quirk… and now he wasn't there.
Nor was Himiko, in fairness to him, so it wasn't like he was the only one of their group who had gone off on side-quests away from the rest of the party. But she was the last arrival to their group and she had always been able to function away from them, fiercely independent and determined to do whatever the hell she wanted whenever she wanted. She chose to stick to them like glue most times, but she had a life outside of them, with her old man and her brother and all that.
Tenko… didn't. Sure, he'd gotten more friends since joining UA because Setsuna wouldn't allow him anything else, and they were nice people. But his bond with Izuku was something that survived monster attacks and villains trying to tear them apart; at times it was like they were both living a co-op adventure, fated to fight the same bosses at every stage along the way. Tenko wanted that. He wanted to stand up beside Izuku when he made it to being a Hero.
So to actively choose to step away and pursue his own objectives, even if only for one night at first, felt so alien. Even if he wanted to bring Izuku and Setsuna and Himiko up to speed once he'd been able to piece together what he was looking for, going off without them was a big step. It said a lot that he'd made his mind up to do it this way.
The feeling inside of him was enough to shake him into action, clearly.
Tenko couldn't describe it properly. It was… like an echo of something, and even that as a vague description wasn't right. The feeling of something before normality came back, like the brief second after a cold shiver where the chill was absent but something lingered behind. Like the numbness that followed pins and needles, where the body didn't feel perfectly right but the jabbing pain was now gone. Like his stomach had twisted in reaction to something, and a pang of angst had remained.
He hadn't felt the same since the USJ. It was probably something to do with Decay, and pushing his Quirk beyond the limit to defeat Nomu and save Izuku from the creepy old Doctor Garaki and his monster. Decay had never felt the way it did when he used it in anger, so much raw power pumping through him, that the thought scared Tenko a little; his Quirk was something that he had to be so careful with, because he could cause bad endings every single day he used it. But as much as it could have been due to Decay, there was something else that left Tenko feeling a little hollow, and in need of answers.
That something was Nana Shimura.
Tenko's family was… a dark subject that he tried not to bring up. He was slowly able to talk a little more about them with Izuku, so he could mention Hana's existence without breaking down and could briefly swallow back the lump that formed in his throat each time. He could even bit down the fear and anger that bubbled up every time his mind wandered back towards his father, to the man whose face was burned into his memory even if so much of what happened on Incident Zero was a blur to him. But there was a secret in his family, his father's mother, the woman whose name apparently meant so much to so many people. The Hero who he knew nothing about, and now wanted to know everything.
Nighteye had asked him about her, on the day when Tenko joined the others to try to join UA. That crusty old doctor had brought her up again, before saying that All Might had been defending his entire family from All For One when the endgame boss had descended on Musutafu. Tenko had to put it all together like a puzzle.
Nana Shimura clearly meant something to All Might, if he would give up his life to save her family, and she was clearly known by enough people in All Might's party if Sir Nighteye was going to start prying about him. And she must have clearly been important to All For One, because Izuku's Quirk benefactor was supposed to be Japan's greatest villain and yet she of all Heroes was the one who he and his acolytes seemed fixated on. There was no doubt about it, Nana Shimura was the link between all of them.
And that made it all the more frustrating when Tenko couldn't find a damn thing out about her.
It made such little sense. The whole of society was dominated by Heroes, news reports every day about rescues made or villains stopped, or criticism of Heroes coming from members of the public tired of the new status quo. Even before All Might died, it seemed any Hero of possible note would end up with merchandise to sell to kids, biographies and documentaries, even movies and games based on what they were worth. Nana Shimura was clearly a woman of note and yet as much as Tenko had scoured, there wasn't a damn thing he could find about her.
It didn't help that he didn't know her Hero name, in case anything might have come up under that name without mention of her actual name. Even so, he had trawled corners of the internet that he probably shouldn't have, and even those hadn't given him a lead to explore. There were Underground Heroes out there, Heroes whose existence should have been secret and whose methods shouldn't have been given away, who Tenko had found more on.
It wasn't like it was locked behind requirements he hadn't reached yet, or Nighteye wouldn't have dangled it in front of him like a fishing lure when he got assessed at UA. It just… plainly wasn't there and accessible. Like something had been scrubbed clean. And that made Tenko even more suspicious.
That was the whole prompt to his trip out, leaving Izu and Set behind to go and dig further. He'd stayed awake until ungodly hours on his computer and found nothing, left feeling drained and derelict the day after with nothing to show for it. Maybe it wasn't easily accessible… but he was determined. There were other ways of finding out information, stuff that maybe wasn't held online for whatever reason.
"Maybe this sounded a little more like an RPG in my head," he muttered to himself, under his breath. Tenko had long since given up caring what people thought about him to care about speaking to himself, talking himself through what he had planned, and he wasn't at all concerned if people heard him. Most if not all of the NPCs walking past him didn't give a shit enough to stop and talk back to him, too busy focused on where they were going. And besides, they probably saw enough crazy hobos talking to themselves that one more kid in a hoodie thinking aloud would get the same reaction; a turn of the head, and a walk on by in ignorance. "Go find some archives, dig up the secret treasure map, find the objective at the end of it, unlock some extra backstory. Maybe it's too much to wish for."
He shivered, drawing his arms in a little more, eyes flickering over to an alleyway beside the street. It was telling that nobody went down there, no matter whether or not it was a shortcut. The Hero Killer's raid on the Shie Hassaikai not far from the train station had meant that Yakuza activity around Musutafu had plummeted, but there were still some of them around trying to salvage some presence. That sort of alleyway was exactly the sort of place where they would hang out, like the one he and Izuku had been cornered in when Izuku gained Steal.
Tenko flexed his fingers as he walked on by, but thankfully the brief stirring in the shadows only turned out to be a neighbourhood cat, and not some mook in a mask looking for a Trigger sale or a quick fight. Tenko could have given him one, sure, but it would have been too quick… and as much as the bastard would have deserved it, he couldn't risk his place at UA using Decay on some no-life who didn't know better. Izuku would never forgive him. "This whole society… it's a mess."
He really did mean that. He and Himiko got along so well because she was ardently in favour of vigilantes like the Hero Killer, and he completely agreed. He wanted to do things the right way for his best friend, and he admired Izuku's almost unwavering optimism to do everything he could with a light-aligned choice. But things had gone so far, and problems were so widespread, that Tenko had realised a long time ago he would be willing to taint his own alignment choices if it achieved the result he and Izuku wanted, and kept them safe. Maybe it was a good thing that Izu stayed as pure as he did, to prevent him from going too far and be better than what they had… but maybe it was good that Izu had him to rely on when tough choices had to be made, like the need to take Nomu out permanently. Balance, and all.
He quickened his pace slightly and soon enough, his end goal was in sight. Tenko's logic had been simple enough, in the end. The internet was a wretched hive of scum and villainy, without a shadow of a doubt, but there were people curating it at any available opportunity. People could hide content behind paywalls or unlock requirements, or delete files entirely so that they couldn't be found even with a deep dive into the code. Hard copies, however, could slip through the cracks, and that was what he was counting on. If someone had scrubbed clean any trace of Nana Shimura online, fine, but they might not have been thorough enough to get every hardcopy document or report or article which ever existed.
"Surely someone's missed something." He said it to himself as much to convince himself that there was hope, that anyone who wanted Nana Shimura to disappear hadn't taken every file or burned each last trace of her existence in hardcopy as well. But as he reached his destination and looked up, the lights inside the small office building still on to his luck, he had to hope. "Anything at all…"
The Musutafu Shimbun somehow kept going as a hardcopy newspaper in the modern age, even despite most of its rivals moving to solely online content; even the Shizuoka Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the prefecture with the giant office block in the heart of town, was a website-only feature these days. Tenko was surprised that in the constantly-changing world after Incident Zero, newspapers like it hadn't been targeted with lawsuits by Heroes unhappy at how they were presented, or turned into some propaganda arm for the Hero Commission.
Then again given that the Musutafu Shimbun survived off the back of being able to report on UA High, the most prominent landmark in its reporting region, there was every likelihood that Principal Nezu had bought it up to prevent that out of an abundance of caution. Tenko suspected that he had, given that if he was cynical and bitter enough to think that buying the paper would give someone a great opportunity to attack UA on its doorstep, someone else had probably had the same idea. Not that the coverage these days was anywhere near pro-UA from what little Tenko had read… maybe Nezu was good enough to not interfere and let them do their own thing.
He paused as he walked through the sliding door, realising that with elevators behind the main reception desk and what looked like meeting rooms on either side, he probably needed to fix a new waypoint. The best bet was to talk to the receptionist, who appeared to have the head of a bird, black feathers and two tufted horns sticking out. Tenko… couldn't identify what type of bird immediately. He wasn't an expert in bird studies… what was the word for that again? "Uhh… evening."
Tenko wasn't the most sociable person, but at least he hadn't said something completely embarrassing like he had expected. Luckily for him, the head of the woman sat at the reception swivelled around one hundred and eighty degrees from where she had been filling out some notes in a book, and answered the query about what type of bird she was immediately; a horned owl, feathers inky-black and eyes wide and yellow. "Hello. Welcome to the Musutafu Shimbun. Do you… have an appointment?"
"Uh, nah. I… didn't know you had to book." Tenko scratched the back of his head. Ornithology. That was the word. "Can I still…"
"Of course." The woman spun around fully so that the rest of her body was facing the same way as her head, and Tenko caught sight of a name badge- Mimizu Furuikuro, apparently. "We're open later to allow for anyone who finishes their ordinary working day to come over here, in case they have a story to tell. And, obviously, if anything happens with a Hero while everyone's heading out for their commute, our editors want to make sure they catch it to go into the next morning's front pages."
"Huh… makes sense." She sounded not too much older than he was, but so much wiser… he almost felt a little self-conscious speaking to her. "You… been here for long?"
"Me? Not really. I only started working here around my degree. University is expensive." Mimizu laughed, a mix of human laughter and the warble a normal bird would make. "You're… around my age, aren't you? Are you studying-"
"Yeah, but not at uni. I wouldn't have been much good on that route… I'm a late entry to first year at UA." Mimizu blinked - owlishly, Tenko added to his own amusement in his head- as he said that, and Tenko felt slightly more relaxed. "That's why I'm late here, I couldn't get out of classes until now."
"You're in the first year? What a small world." Mimizu's beak twisted slightly into a smile. "My cousin is, too."
"Your… cousin?" Tenko put two and two together quickly. "Oh that's… huh. He's… also a bird, I assume?"
"I feel like you were concerned that I might be offended if you guessed that." Mimizu laughed to herself. "Don't worry. There aren't too many people like me and Fumikage around Musutafu, so you're right to assume."
"Heh… he's nothing like you."
"Bold of you to assume that, having just met me. I might sacrifice you to the Abyss if you steal my pens." Tenko couldn't help but laugh at that response, as Mimizu sat back in her chair. "Which of his classmates do I tell him I've met, when I see him next?"
"Tenko." The second he said it, Tenko wondered if perhaps he shouldn't have. If somebody had been going around deleting records of Nana Shimura, it might not have been the wisest decision to give his real name. Maybe an alias would have been better… like Arumihs, or something. Then he shook himself; he wasn't getting red flags off of Mimizu, so why should he worry like he was in some kind of spy thriller. "Tenko Shimura."
"I'll let him know." Mimizu scribbled it down on a notepad. "Who is it you want to talk to? Given you could only come here once you were free from UA, I understand it's last minute. I'll see if anyone's around."
"Well… huh. This is gonna sound weird."
"Is it? I like weird. You wouldn't believe the weird things people have told me walking through this door."
"I… spend a lot of time on the internet. I probably would." Tenko cursed himself the second he said it, and tried to move on immediately. "I'm not looking to see a journo with a story. I… was wondering if you had records. Like… hardcopies. Stuff I can look through."
"Oh… you mean archives?" Mimizu tapped her pen on her pad twice, and then stood up. "One of my friends works here with our archives. If you tell him what you're looking for, I'm sure he can help find if we've got something about them."
"... Really?" Tenko was anticipating that he would be turned away and told to come back another day. Most expo-dump quests usually had a time limit attached to them, one way or another. "Is that alright?"
"Sure. I'll just come with you in one second…" Mimizu lifted a little sign up onto the desk, telling anyone who came in to ring a bell and wait to be seen, before heading out around and gesturing to a meeting room just to Tenko's right. "There we go. Follow me."
"This isn't what I was expecting," Tenko said, as Mimizu ushered him in the direction of one of the offices on the ground floor. "I thought all the archives would be in the basement or something. Underground in, like, some vault or something."
"I like a good vault as much as the next person. But it's not exactly efficient to go trawling each time." Mimizu's slightly strange comment was glossed over as she opened the door. "This way is a lot easier. Daichi can help you."
"Indeed!" Whoever Tenko had been expecting to be greeted by when he walked into the little office, it wasn't the man in front of him who rose and offered him a handshake. Tenko had preconceptions in his head about archivists being small and dusty people with big glasses and fringes that hadn't ever seen a comb; Daichi turned out to be a man made of stone wearing a loosely-fitting shirt, craggy surfaces all over his head and bare forearms as far as Tenko could see. "It's a pleasure to meet you. You need to look in our archives?"
"Yeah, I…" Tenko took a second to reconcile the image in front of him with the polite voice. Daichi sounded like a scholar and looked like a golem, the sort that would have been employed by groups like the Shie Hassaikai to man the gates of a compound. "I'm Tenko. And if you can do a deep dive fine, but I don't know if you'll have what I need."
"If we have, I can find it." There was no arrogance to Daichi saying that, just an absolute desire to help out. "Daichi Kanasaki. And you are?"
"He's Tenko Shimura, and he goes to school over at UA with my cousin." Mimizu spoke before Tenko could. "I'm guessing that if you came here on your own, this isn't an official UA project?"
"No, it's… family stuff, really." Tenko felt a bit awkward saying that, but it was true. "You guys write a lot about Heroes and UA-"
"And not enough about sympathetic villains with redemption arcs?"
Mimizu sighed. "Not every villain has a tragic backstory."
"But some of them deserve a happy ending!" It sounded like this was a rehearsed thing that the two friends had. Tenko didn't really know what to say, and the awkwardness must have showed on his face, because Daichi coughed. "Sorry. Um… I just enjoy those sorts of stories. I suppose it's a guilty pleasure."
"Me too, honestly." Tenko cleared his throat, and moved on from the weirdness as quickly as he could. "But, yeah, it's not really about Heroes. My family are from around here and one of them used to be a Hero, so… you're most likely to be the lorekeepers. I can't find much about her anywhere else."
"Truly? Nothing at all?" That apparently piqued the archivist's interest. "How peculiar. I will do my best to help. What's her name?"
"Thanks, it's… Nana Shimura. I don't have a Hero name or any other junk about her, but… she's my grandmother. And I…" Tenko trailed off, watching as Daichi began to unbutton his shirt. "What's he doing?"
"Oh, yeah. That's why I stayed around to explain." Mimizu was completely unfazed, which was lucky for Tenko because he was a little lost. "See, most people have a computer system which stores all of their lists and files, so you can search it up on there. But computers aren't perfect. You can delete stuff, you can set up rules on the searches so things aren't visible, you can hide files, you can straight-up just break the computer. I've broken the search bot we use at least twice because basic bot programming is beyond me… trust me, it's easily done."
"Right…" Tenko couldn't take his eyes off Daichi, no matter how strange it felt to see him remove his shirt and take a seat. "I'm guessing… you do it differently."
"We still have a computer system, but… the most reliable way you can search our archives is sat in front of you." Mimizu nodded at her friend. "Daichi's Quirk is-"
"Rock Memory." Daichi's voice had taken a lot more gravelly tone as he sat down, not looking up at Tenko. "Every crack or bump on my skin records different information, and I cannot delete information when I add to it. I've worked here for a few years now, which has meant that over time… I used to have smooth skin."
"Woah… that's OP as hell. Each bit of your skin… permanent memory?" Now that made more sense to Tenko, and was seriously impressive. As long as there was a centimetre of pebbly skin available to this guy, he could store new information for all eternity… he could be a savant on the level of Nezu if he used his whole body. "Your exam results… you must hold records."
"I wouldn't use them for exams. That would be cheating, really. But… thank you for your respect, all the same. It is a useful ability. Infallible, as long as nobody takes a hammer to my skin." Daichi looked up at him briefly. "I will search for Nana Shimura. I presume you want records beyond her Hero work? Any local reports about awards, whether she was married, any records of birth or death?"
"That… if you can."
"Indeed. Allow me to consider." Daichi's response was to sit back, close his eyes and extend one finger, beginning to run it along the crags of his head and his torso as Tenko watched. "Hmm…"
"He's like a walking computer, really." Mimizu spoke beside him, sounding admiring of her friend. "I always enjoy watching this. Sometimes he can find things which nobody else would find in a million years."
"Doesn't it… distract him, if you're talking?"
"You'd think it would, but when he's concentrating on his own memory, you can't shake him out." Mimizu shook her head, her tufted ears twitching. "They should really pay him more. Imagine being so committed to your work that you carry around everything in their archives on your skin, for all time. People would kill to have him work for them."
"You're… probably not wrong." Tenko blinked, as Daichi finished working his way down one arm and moved to the other, switching hands. "How long does it normally take with him? Surely this stuff has to buffer for him to work out what he needs."
"No, it's normally pretty instant. If he finds something, it's there immediately. It only takes a while-"
"If I can't find anything." Daichi spoke up and opened his eyes, his voice losing its gravelly edge as he frowned. "That… that isn't usually how things go."
"Nothing?" Tenko's heart sank slightly when he heard that. Even here… someone had gotten to Nana first. "She… can't just not exist."
"That would make no sense." Daichi spun around to tap a couple of keys on his keyboard, and made a face when the computer loaded; Tenko didn't have to read minds to work out what that meant. "Not even a record of birth or marriage which survived in a few column inches years ago… I've never encountered someone so completely missing from history."
"And yet I was told she was one of the greatest Heroes… by Sir Nighteye." Tenko clenched a fist, feeling the fabric of the glove palm against his fingertips. "How can there be no trace of an SS Rank Hero anywhere, even about her being married? She had a son, Kotaro Shimura, he… he was my…"
"Your father?" Tenko hadn't meant to bring him up, the frustration bubbling over until he mentioned the name of a man who had terrified him and whose memory haunted him, and when Mimizu filled in the gaps all he could do was nod silently. "I… well, I don't know your story, but if it's hard for you to talk about him I'm sorry. Maybe, Daichi, there could be something if we had a look for his father-"
"It's worth considering. But only if Tenko is happy for me to do it." Daichi paused. "I… sense that he might not be so happy with that."
"... Nah. Bad memories. But…" Tenko hung his head. "What choice do I have, right?"
"There's… there's got to be another way, surely?" Mimizu was far more optimistic than Tenko was. "We could always ask your friend Daichi, the info broker? Maybe Giran knows something about it that we don't?"
"Yes, I'm sure that's a great idea." Daichi folded his craggy arms and frowned at Mimizu. "I'm sure that sending a UA Hero Course student to meet with a C-Rank Villain won't have any consequences for him or us in the long run."
"Hey, I was just going to call him a source! You're the one that called him a C-Rank…" Mimizu trailed off, and spun her head around on her neck to look sheepishly at Tenko. "You… if you could pretend you didn't hear that from us, that would be great?"
"Look, don't tell Nezu that I was here looking for my grandma, and I won't snitch about your connections." Tenko couldn't really believe he was saying it out loud, but the sighs of relief were easier on his ears than anything else. "It's… gonna have to be the old man, isn't it? Fuck. Those are some cutscenes I didn't really want replaying-"
"I think I might have another idea."
Tenko stopped because of Daichi's interjection. "... How? What other route do we have to explore?"
"You mentioned Sir Nighteye, just now. All Might's former sidekick." Daichi hummed to himself, turning his arm to look at a few cracks and chips. "Did he know your grandmother?"
"... Not personally, I don't think?" Tenko took a second to think back on what Nighteye had told him at UA, all those weeks ago. "Nighteye told me that he had been told she was one of the greatest Heroes ever to live. The only people who I've ever heard that she had connections with are Nighteye… and All Might."
"... Sir Nighteye has only ever worked with All Might." Daichi's stone eyebrows furrowed. "So if somebody told Sir Nighteye that your grandmother was a great Hero… I think I have an idea."
"You're… you think All Might could be the key to it?"
"Oh, this'll be good." Mimizu took a seat on top of the table, yellow eyes wide. "We don't have many files left on All Might."
"After Incident Zero happened, most of the records we held on All Might were taken. Musutafu was the site of the final battle, so any information we could provide was taken either by Sir Nighteye for his own investigation, or by the Hero Commission. Our records on All Might are… incomplete." Daichi turned over his arm to show Tenko a smooth patch of skin on his tricep, as if part of his Rock Memory had been wiped clean. "But your grandmother means we can look at older records. Records which didn't come from All Might's hero career… there's something in them I've always wondered about."
"Records before his career…" Tenko frowned, as Daichi's eyes closed and his finger began travelling over a particular patch of rock with purpose. "Back before All Might was god-tier… when he was a kid?"
"Close. I think I know what he's referring to." Mimizu's ears had pricked up. "We have a good reader base as a newspaper because Musutafu has something no other city has. A place with enough stories and rising stars to last a hundred lifetimes."
"UA…" Tenko realised. "All the levels right at the start, before All Might got his Hero Licence. All those chapters as a Hero will be gone, but in the shit you hold about UA… there might be something?"
"Indeed." Daichi's eyes had opened, tapping repeatedly on one spot of his skin. "I've found it."
"You… what?!" Tenko could barely contain himself from leaning forward. Finally, something that might be of use… was it too much to hope for? "What is it?"
"All Might's training. There was something that I always found to be a mystery, when I read his records." Daichi had moved to the computer, tapping at the keyboard and putting in a reference number which Tenko was too slow to read. "All Heroes followed the same pathway at UA, and All Might was no exception. The Sports Festival was their first chance to demonstrate their potential, and internship placements followed. Some students stayed with the same Hero for all subsequent internships, others floated between different Hero Agencies depending on their chosen path or any improvement in subsequent Sports Festivals. And usually, the best students in the Sports Festival would receive offers with the top-ranking Heroes, and spend their studies training with the Top Ten."
"But All Might… didn't," Mimizu continued, catching Tenko's attention. "From the first Sports Festival, all the way through until he graduated and left to go to America with David Shield, he was with one Hero… his homeroom teacher."
"The same Hero who he frequently teamed up with later in life, who retired the day after All Might's funeral service…" Daichi hit the enter key, a sound which went right through Tenko. "Gran Torino."
Something inside Tenko that he didn't understand stirred at the sound of that name, so familiar and yet so unknown to him. "Gran… Torino. Who is that? Why… why do I know that name?"
"Perhaps from the funeral. But perhaps he's more important than you think. Do you see this?" Daichi motioned him over, and Tenko's eyes widened as he saw what was on the screen. A young All Might, eyes full of glee and a skinnier face than what he was used to, clutching a gold medal in one hand with the other arm around a tall man with grey hair and a black domino mask. "This is him… with Gran Torino?"
"That's him. I think the last time I saw him, he was a lot shorter these days." Mimizu peered over Tenko's shoulder. "Did you find these in the UA archives?"
"I did. Most of the old reports about All Might before he went to America were taken by the Hero Commission, but they didn't check the separate historic reports about the Sports Festival. And that's… where I think this is useful to Tenko." Daichi began clicking the mouse, several relatively similar photographs being scrolled through. "All Might won every Sports Festival he took part in, and there's three or four photographs of him as the winner attached to our reports from the time. The celebration issues, everything. All of them are exactly the same…"
Tenko saw the thread of hope hanging, and leaped for it. "Except?"
"Except one, in the tournament recap article for his first year. All Might and Gran Torino…" Daichi clicked once more, and the sound of it reverberated through Tenko's head. "And one other person."
… It was her.
Whatever Tenko had been hoping and praying to see, it didn't change his reaction to the image, to seeing the three people in one photograph. All Might's medal hung around his neck, his left arm around the shoulder of an unimpressed Gran Torino, but his right arm… that was wrapped over the shoulders of a black-haired woman Tenko had only ever seen once, in a photograph shown to him by Sir Nighteye. She was completely unknown to him, in her cape and costume, but that smile was so distinctive that he would never forget it.
"Nana…" He breathed her name out, his raspy voice rattled slightly with emotions he had never felt before. This was it… the hidden unlockable he had been searching for, that opened the path to the true ending. "Finally…"
"This is your grandmother?" Daichi asked, and Tenko could only nod. "Then that answers my questions about the importance of this picture. Whoever she was as a Hero, whatever mystery has led to her disappearing in time… she was important to All Might."
"I… need to find Gran Torino." Tenko's mind was made up. "He… he will know."
"Then hold on a second, and we'll get you an address for his Agency. He always used to live in an apartment above that." Mimizu shrugged when Daichi sent her a look. "What? This guy's just found out that his grandma's been wiped from history by something or someone. This is the only lead we can find…"
"It's possibly not ethical for us to give out an address like this," Daichi said, reasonably. "The editor might be upset."
"It's not ethical, but damn it, it's the right thing to do. And anyway… you're the guy who's friends with a C-Rank broker."
"Touché." Daichi nodded. "Give me a moment, Tenko. We'll help you with an address, so you can go on your way."
"I owe you both…" Tenko was normally the sort of person who would deflect rather than admit anything, be sarcastic and insincere and reluctant to speak openly. But these two strangers had helped overcome a hurdle he could never have managed on your own. "If I find him… I can finally know about Nana."
"Then good luck. The rest is up to you." Mimizu bowed her head, a smile on her beak, as Daichi dived into Rock Memory one last time. "I hope you find what you're looking for."
It had taken him just over an hour and a quarter, with the mad sprint to the train station and a ride on the Shinkansen out of Tatooin Station, to end up in Yamanashi Prefecture. Tenko hadn't even checked to see if there would be return trains later before committing to jump on the train. He just didn't care.
Daichi and Mimizu had waved him off from the Musutafu Shimbun and wished him luck on his journey, but his brain was whirring so much that he had almost forgotten to wave his thanks to them, barely able to contain the mess of emotions that had hit him about finding a lead he could work with. He had worked himself up on the train on the way over as well, even earning himself a concerned look from an old woman sitting at the table opposite him, but he was almost oblivious to it. There was a goal in sight now… and that goal was Gran Torino.
Tenko hadn't remembered much about the day of All Might's funeral, the memorial service that followed afterwards, but that had been the last day Sorahiko Torino had been present as a Hero in society. That was only the day after Tenko's day had been turned upside down, and the very first few weeks when he'd met Izuku, so he wasn't surprised that it was a blur. There had been a moment when Gran Torino had been cornered by a reporter, the devastation of a man who had lost his greatest student, and a stark warning that those who followed in All Might's footsteps weren't fit to protect the public from the changes to come. Gran Torino probably wouldn't take much comfort in how right his prophecy had turned out to be.
Nobody had seen him since in the line of duty, and from the look of his apartment as Tenko stood outside it, Tenko had questions whether the old coot had ever been outside full stop since that day. The building looked like it was sixteen-bit in a high-definition neighbourhood, and was in such a state that if it had been lifted up and dropped into the Ruins Zone at the USJ, Tenko wouldn't have felt it was out of place. Pieces of the plaster on the front had fallen off and brickwork was exposed, while one of the upstairs windows was now boarded over completely. There had been a sign once above the door saying something in English, but Tenko couldn't guess what it had said before; several letters must have fallen off, leaving just a large 'W' and a smaller 'm' which hung perilously off the edge.
It was hard to believe that a Hero so strong he had trained All Might lived here, or that someone would allow themselves to live in such a dump. But standing in front of the beaten and worn door to the apartment, dwarfed by its size, all Tenko could think was that maybe he understood why Gran Torino had shut himself away. This was a guy who had watched his pupil become the Symbol of Peace, and lost him along the way, and if he was close to Nana Shimura as well… Gran Torino had lost almost everything.
Tenko knew what that felt like.
His hand reached to knock on the door, before Tenko paused. It said a lot about his nerves that he actually cared, that he was stopping and second-guessing himself on what would happen if he fucked up even a single dialogue choice with somebody so important to him. "... Just don't fuck it up, Ten."
The knock was soft, because for the first time in a long time Tenko felt nervous about something and didn't land the contact he was looking for. He swore to himself under his breath, knocking again, loud enough this time to hear the echo of it on the other side. The breath he let out as he took a step back may as well have lasted for a minute, his nerves were that on edge. "... If he's off fighting mobs elsewhere, this was a pretty big waste of a train fare."
The time that passed could have been half a second or three whole years, but it felt exactly the same to Tenko- agonising, like feeling himself crumble away to Decay on the doorstep. But just as his resolve was about to falter, just as he was about to give up and go and look for a back door in case the old man used that, there were footsteps from inside. The chunk of a door being unlocked, the creak of hinges. "... Eh? Hello?"
It really was him. The old man on the other side of the door… it really was Gran Torino. Tenko had only seen photographs of him in his yellow Hero uniform on the way over, so seeing the old man in a crumpled flannel shirt and trousers like a stereotypical pensioner was weird, especially without the mask. Even weirder was the change in height; he knew that Gran Torino had shrunk from what the two newspaper clerks had told him, but the difference between the photograph with All Might and Nana and the person who greeted Tenko was stark. All of it meant that Tenko was taken aback for a second, unsure what to say. "It's really you… you're Gran Torino."
Maybe the old man was hard of hearing, and Tenko focused, speaking up. "Gran Torino… you used to be a Hero."
"Hero? No… don't see many of those around here." The way in which the old man responded, staccato and disconnected from what Tenko was saying… he sounded so frail. "Who are you?"
"Me… I'm Tenko." Tenko straightened up, smiled briefly at the old man, and then realised it was so unnatural to him to do it that his cracked grin probably looked terrifying and unnatural. "I'm… I'm a hero student at UA."
"UA?" Gran Torino frowned at him. "What's a UA?"
That answer… that was it. That was what made his heart sink. It couldn't be… he must have been old to know his grandma and train All Might, but after everything he'd been through, had the passage of time really got to this guy before Tenko could find him? Was Tenko too late to find the truth, and the only man who knew past the point of no return? "No… no, you know what that means, right?"
"No… come on, no. Please." Tenko felt himself sag, all of the expectation and hope that had propelled him across Japan fading out of him. "Not now. Not you. After everything… you're the only hope I had to work out what the hell is going on. Gran Torino… please tell me this isn't the end."
"Gran… Torino?" The old man scratched underneath his chin. "I'm sorry son, I don't know who that is."
"... Of course you don't." A single tear began to fall down's Tenko's cheek, the pressure release valve broken now as it all came pouring out. "The only person who could help me, and you're… gone. You don't remember any of it? You're Gran Torino… you trained All Might. You knew my grandmother…"
"And now you don't know. You can't help. You were the only one who could." Tenko couldn't stop now. "You knew her. You were with her at the Sports Festival when All Might won for the first time. And now, nobody will tell me anything about her. Nighteye knows and didn't say, and someone's deleted every trace of her from history, and nobody else knows! What am I meant to do?"
"She gave up my father to be adopted, and died a Hero. She knew you and All Might, and she must have meant something, because All Might died trying to save her family-"
"Who are you?"
Tenko, mid-sniff as he tried to wipe tears away, jolted at the sound of the question from Gran Torino. The look on the old man's face was the same, the same goofy smile… but there was something else in that question that made it sound different to how it had before. And there was something else too, something in the way he was carrying himself, something deep in those old and tired eyes… a light that wasn't there before. "I'm Tenko… Tenko Shimura."
"..." Tenko had never seen anything like what he saw in the old man's eyes in that moment, hearing his family name for the first time. So many complex things passing across his face and mind, before Gran Torino took a step back, heavy and shaken. "... Nana."
"... You know her." Tenko shuddered, the beaten flame of hope flickering back into life. "You… remember."
"... Nana Shimura's grandson." Gran Torino looked him up and down, and swallowed heavily, his voice sounding more robust even as the emotion cracked through. "You… I thought you all died. All For One… Toshinori… Nobody told me-"
"I lived." Tenko nearly choked on it. "I lived."
For a second that lasted eternity, Gran Torino stayed there unblinking, unmoving, seeming to process the teenager standing in front of him on his doorstep. Finally, he moved to one side and pointed an arm down the corridor; if Tenko blinked, he would have missed the way that his arm wobbled slightly at the elbow. "... There's taiyaki in the kitchen. Sit. I'll… be a minute."
Tenko didn't need to think twice about the invitation, ducking past the old man and down the hallway, ignoring the faded paint on the walls and the dust on the ornaments. After everything he had been through to get into this position, not even Nomu could have stopped him…
As Tenko headed down the corridor, Gran Torino pulled the door shut with a clunk, and let out a breath that shook his entire body. Reaching for the cane he kept beside the door, finally he found he had a need for it; he had always kept it to maintain the facade and give himself something to hit any intruders with, but with the weight of the world crushing down on him at that point, it was the one thing keeping his knees from buckling immediately.
"After all this time…" Torino's voice cracked, turning and hobbling into the main lounge. The worn and beaten couch had seen better days, and the television was at least ten years out of date, but he had eyes for nothing in that room except the far wall. "Toshi…"
The former Hero came to a halt in front of the wall, staring up at the enormous canvas that was at least three times his own height. The picture which he kept on his wall as a memorial every day, the one which he talked to when he was at his loneliest and most frail, when the devastation at losing what he most loved became too much. The weary and proud smile on his own face in the photo, the wide grin of a young All Might and the shine of the gold medal in his hand… a memory that would never fade, no matter how much that fateful day haunted his sleep or how keenly he felt the loss. "You… you did it, Toshi. You kept your word that day… You saved him."
Gran Torino leaned the cane against the wall and reached out a hand to the canvas, stretching at his highest to place one palm against the picture of All Might's face, and shuddered. "I'm… so proud of you."
The palm hung there, against the cheek of his former student, before Gran Torino shifted and brought it to the edge of the canvas, gripping the frame around the blown-up photograph of him and All Might all those years ago. With a grunt, not used to having to pull, the old man gripped the picture and swung it out away from the wall, out into the room so that he could see the small space carved away like a cupboard behind.
The picture behind was different, tucked in its own little frame on a shelf. A younger version of himself, taller, no longer shrunken down by depression and emptiness, standing shoulder to shoulder with the greatest woman he ever knew. Nana was grinning- of course she was- and full of her unbridled optimism, focused on the camera and not on the horizon as he was. So full of life, even frozen in an instant for all time… just as she always had been, right until the end.
It was only then that Gran Torino allowed the tears to fall from his eyes and splash against the floor, as he reached one hand out to place a finger against the face of his fallen friend. "Nana… I didn't know. But now I do… and I make a promise to him."
He reached for the piece of cloth, hanging on the hook beside her picture. "For you."
Tenko, hand reaching at last for one of the taiyaki on the plate in the kitchen, turned at the sound of the noise from the hallway. "You…"
"Yes." Gran Torino held his yellow costume and cape in his hand, staring at it as if searching for meaning in its threads, before looking up at Tenko and blinking. His voice wasn't senile anymore, simply weary with the wisdom of ages and the pain of his lifetime. "Nana… you're really her grandson."
"Y-Yeah…" Tenko never stuttered. He never faltered about anything, no matter how high the stakes were. But knowing who he was in front of… it felt so unreal. "And you're… you really were her friend."
"... I was." Gran Torino folded his arms, cradling his costume close to his chest, and nodded at Tenko. "Take a seat, young Shimura. We've… got a lot to discuss."
A/N: The working title to this one in my docs was "Tenko Shimura's Day Off". Not quite as carefree as Ferris Bueller, mind you.
I knew that I wanted to have a Tenko scene where he started trying to learn who he was sooner rather than later, because I don't think a young man who lost his family and has all of these questions in his head courtesy of Garaki would be holding back on it. I've not had a solely Tenko-focused chapter in some time (the flashbacks sorta count, right?) so it was good to try. For those of you curious about the OCs in the library, these are inserts for two great authors and good friends, Maxemilien (Daichi) and AntiqueOwl (Mimizu). Please go and check them out if you get the chance.
I didn't think that I would be writing Gran Torino in this story any time soon, not least because when I was starting out I had intended to write him out (hence him speaking at All Might's funeral and disappearing in the earliest chapters). But I couldn't resist the bundle of hurt that I could call upon reuniting him with Tenko… if you want to know the soundtrack which I had playing when I wrote the scene with his cape and Nana's portrait, search for "Manga Spoilers Fix You" and watch the video by NekoKitkat25 hug, particularly from 2 minutes and 35 seconds in. I didn't get sad while writing, I swear.
Anyway, that's it for this chapter. As ever I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please review and leave your comments (just be constructive if you're gonna criticise, y'know), and please do favourite, follow and forward to your friends, ya dig? And if you want to discuss more, please join the Ignite to the Call Discord where you can hang out in the Incident Zero channel; the join code is GxTXjvfN.
Ya boy, signing out.