Warning: This is not a happy story. It is also somewhat more serious and dark than my other stories. It is not a one-sided or fetishized portrayal, I believe, but the final judgement on that is up to you. I'm putting a lot of things I learned over the years into this story, and I hope I can tackle it earnestly.
I want to explore realistically why people descend into "evil", or villainy, or a disregard for other people's lives/other real-life equivalents. I saw a fic recently where All For One had sort of taken in Izuku as a sort-of pupil, just with casual talks and the like (and of course, it grew from there), and the idea struck me then as brilliant. So I am idea-stealing from Griffen Strange (or rather, taking some inspiration from), but this story will take a very different direction.
Hope you find something of value in this. Remember: life can be ugly sometimes, but it can also be beautiful. Most of the time, however, life is still just normal. And there's a beauty in that too.
A (Not-so)Calm Descent Into Evil
Midoriya Izuku was crying. Hot, sobbing tears filled his cheeks, his hands, as he fumblingly wiped away at them, trying to clear his vision, but they just came and came and came. There was an ache in his throat, a wrenching in his breast, and he curled over himself, his backpack his only solace as the weight pressed down into him and dug into his back.
He – he –
Bakugo had attacked him. It had come out of nowhere. Izuku had just gotten into the lunch room, and after getting his tray from the front, had cheerily walked to where his cool friend and other friends were sitting.
Once he had sat down, however, his neighbor came at him with a vengeance.
"Useless Deku," he had snarled. "Quirkless and stupid. We don't want you here! Get out!"
Then he had raised a fist towards Izuku, an explosion tottering out from it and into Izuku's shirt so that Izuku had been slammed backwards into the floor and the other boys had laughed at him.
Izuku's body wracked uselessly at the memory, and he shivered, sobs intensifying. The words circled and circled around his mind, attacking, merciless.
Why would Kacchan – ?
He needed to get back home. It was getting late. Mom would be getting worried; the elementary school had ended an hour ago. But here he was, just outside of school grounds, unable to find himself making the walk.
The explosion hadn't been what hurt. What hurt was the suddenness, the shock of it. He had just been going on an adventure with Kacchan and the others yesterday and everything had been fun! Kacchan had fallen into the river, but he had been okay, and…
And now he didn't want Izuku to be there?
He couldn't understand it.
But he certainly felt the pain of rejection.
It was with hollow eyes some dozens of minutes later that Izuku returned home. His mother had taken one look at him, pulled him into a hug, then asked him what was wrong. Mumbling, he told her, "Kacchan hit me."
"What was that, Izuku?" She pulled away, smoothing his hair down, as she looked at him with concerned eyes. Her hand on his head felt warm, nice, and it steadied him enough for tears to begin to bloom again at the corner of his eyes and for his chin to warble and for him to spill out the entire story.
She comforted him, and once she understood what had happened, gave him a glass of water and a talk. "People aren't always what you want them to be," she said. "Sometimes they will hurt you. But, Izuku, do you think that Katsuki meant to hurt you? This is a very important question."
Bearily, Izuku hesitated, began shaking his head, then shrugged. The tears made it hard to see and he fixed his gaze on the floor.
"I don't know," he whispered. "He wasn't like this yesterday."
His mom was silent for a long moment, before she spoke again. "Well, tell you what. How about you and I go to the school tomorrow, and try to find out what happened?"
Izuku opened his mouth, then closed it, then shook his head.
"I don' wanna get Kacchan in trouble," he said, and his mom huffed a fond sigh.
"You, always looking out for others…" she said, shaking her head. "Alright. Then, you get one chance to ask Katsuki what happened, alright? Then, you come back to me, and if it doesn't work, I'll talk to his mother, okay?"
Izuku nodded, hesitantly. "Okay."
Then she smiled, pulled him into a deep hug, and for those moments, everything was alright again.
After that, however, things were very rarely alright again.
Talking to Kacchan had only resulted in more verbal abuse. Izuku had shrunk away, not understanding it, and later, had told his mom, as promised. The next day, when Kacchan found out, he was furious and called him a snitch in front of the entire class. Izuku felt humiliated, and confused, and hurt, and afraid.
The rest of the class soon picked up on it. Calling Izuku "deku", or "quirkless" soon became a resident affection. Izuku hadn't been the only one who admired Katsuki, after all – he was brash and confident and cool – and soon the others had picked up on his behavior and copied it.
Izuku became an outcast. Everyone in the class either avoided him or insulted him. It became the new normal. Every day, as it went on and on, he told himself that. Every day he walked home with less tears in his eyes, the hurt easing, and every day he told himself more and more that he would become a hero so that they'd never insult him again and see how being quirkless wasn't such a deficiency and that Izuku could do it. He'd show them! He'd prove them wrong!
Then, with a sinking heart, he wondered sometimes if they might be right. If being quirkless really meant being useless.
But he threw that thought away like vermin whenever it appeared and tried to focus on his studies, on reading, on his fantasies of heroship, anything else.
Years passed this way. Until, one day, in his first year of junior high, he ran into a stranger wearing a ventilator mask in the park.
The mask was dark black, and had slick metal tubes jutting out of it, coming into and underneath the polished suit the man wore. It covered his entire face, but not his neck or the back of his head; it was strapped via elastic straps and Izuku started to wonder what the mask was for, if the man had breathing problems or a disfigured face or...
Izuku must have stared for a little too long, attracted by the strange and almost-villaneous getup, because the man then chuckled and said, "Hello there, little one."
Seeing that the man was talking to him, Izuku eeped and stiffened, back stiff as a rod. Glancing side to side, making sure no one else was there that the man might be talking to instead, Izuku then tentatively said, "... Hi."
He stayed a healthy distance away, of course. Mon had always told him not to talk to strangers, and this looked like a particularly villaneous one.
"Don't be afraid," the man murmured, but it carried over the distance between them and the residual park chatter and humid air. "I'm just an old man looking for a chat. Tell me, who are you?"
Izuku considered for a second, then squeaked. "Izuku."
The man smiled. Izuku could tell by the way the mask curved – it wasn't stiff and was stuck to his face by the corners – and the way the man's body incrementally relaxed, head inclining one way, shoulders lowering ever so slightly. "Well, then, Izuku. Beautiful day out, isn't it?"
Somehow, the man slowly drew him into conversation and Izuku found the story of what Kacchan had done to him today spilling out, then the story of what he had been doing to him for years, then his speculative hypothesis on Kacchan's strong sense of insecurity and pathological need to be seen as strong. It had somehow all come out in a tumble, and it was so nice, that someone wanted to listen, was listening so patiently and attentively, and asked him all the right questions, prodding him forward at the right times. It was like a heavy weight had left his chest.
"I see," the man said when he had finished. "I believe you are correct; your old... friend clearly does have an inferiority complex and is taking it on you."
The confirmation lifted Izuku up, and he beamed. It might not have been an appropriate response to the statement, but it felt so good for him to be told that he was right when he could talk to no one else about this and it had just all been theory in his head.
He had been alone for a long time.
"Thanks," he said finally, after a long, pleased moment had passed. "It's been nice talking to you." He bowed, then thought he shouldn't take up more of this kind stranger's time – it was getting late already, too. Then a thought occurred to him. "Er, what's your name?"
He straightened at the stranger's response, looking up at him curiously.
"Really?" Izuku asked, concerned. "Is that… okay?"
The man smiled again and assured him it was.
"Well, Aku-san, thanks for asking me to talk," Izuku said sincerely. "I hope I'll see you around again."
"I come here about once a week," the man said. "Maybe we can meet here again."
Izuku nodded, smiled, bowed again, then was off. Afterwards, while walking, thoughts all turned inwards and not on his surroundings, he marveled to himself,
Wow, I spoke to a stranger!
And such a nice one, too!
When he got home, he was still smiling, and his mom was relieved to see his attitude. She cooked up a spicy but hearty dinner that day, and they laughed over their meal, chatting back and forth.
It's amazing how much better one conversation can make you feel, Izuku thought later that night, marvelling at it, the way everything had just felt so normal again. It had been wonderful.
That night, he resolved to make things better for himself. He couldn't just keep making excuses, let things carry on as they were. He had to do something, fight for his dream – and maybe just for some sense of day-to-day normalcy too.
Aku Shocho… That was a strange name, wasn't it? It could quite literally be translated to "evil symbol". If he rearranged it a little, added a preposition, it could become "symbol of evil"...
Izuku suddenly felt embarassed, remembering how he had bluntly asked the man "if his name was okay". Of course he had to be embarassed by it! Someone given a name like that couldn't not be! And Izuku had asked him if his name was okay, surely reminding him of the strangeness of it, maybe even early childhood bullying days! And to make things worse, the stranger had the grace to not show it or mention his rudeness.
He groaned, slapping a hand to his face.
Well, he'd just have to apologise the next time he saw the stranger.
The term was busy, and he didn't have much time to go to the park. The first few times he had managed to, he hadn't caught sight of the stranger, to his disappointment. The sixth time, however, when he had sat on a park bench, thinking over some of the latest quirk analyses he had submitted in an essay for a school assignment, he was surprised and delighted to find the stranger approaching him.
"Well, then, young Izuku, was it?" he said with the demeanor of a smile.
Izuku eagerly scooched over on the bench, making space for the man, and the man sat himself down next to him, slowly, like old men set themselves down, carefully and gingerly, a heavy weight to his bones. His clothing rustled as he did so, and Izuku could feel the human warmth now inches away from him. He scooted further into his side of the bench, then, abruptly, as they were both silent for a long moment, felt a growing tension in him, drawn out by the nearness of the stranger.
Izuku suddenly felt out of place and very confused and struck by the reality of something.
This was… this was odd.
"What are you thinking, little one?" the man's voice asked, amused. His head shifted incrementally to Izuku's direction.
Izuku fumbled. "Well, it's just, er."
He leapt to his feet, unable to take it any longer. "I think I'll just stand, thanks!" he squeaked out.
The man chuckled, then shook his head. "If anyone should be giving up the seat, then it is I." He stood up, then gestured to the seat. "Please. Sit. I will stand, a little excercise does good to an old man, after all."
Izuku adamantly shook his head, feeling mortified. He had just stood, just like that. Now the stranger would know he was uncomfortable with him! Wait, was that a bad thing? Wait, he needed to answer the question – no, statement – request – "No, please," he blurted out. "I couldn't. I just… er, I just like to stand!" He jogged in place for a second, miming, then gave a shaky grin. "It helps me think! When I'm talking to someone! So… !"
He found himself abruptly without any more words to say.
"As you will."
The man shrugged, then comfortably set himself down again, propping his elbow on the bench's arm rest. His masked gaze was fixed on Izuku.
"I wouldn't mean to keep you," the man said apologetically. "If you need to go somewhere…"
"No!" Izuku said more sharply than he had intended, and he flushed. "I mean, there isn't anywhere I need to go… actually, I was hoping to run into you…"
As soon as he said the words, he regretted it. God, what a stupid thing to say. Nevermind that it was the truth. Abruptly he felt embarassed by the whole matter, and began stammering something, trying to explain, also apologizing over the name insult last time while he was at it –
The man laughed, a hearty, full-throated laugh. Even through the mask, it came out loud and clear.
"Do not worry, little one," he said. "You have done nothing wrong. Now, if you want another little chat, I would be more than delighted to participate."
Izuku sighed in relief, shoulders slumping forward. Oh, good. So he had been worried for nothing.
"Why don't we start with the weather again?" the man suggested. When Izuku nodded, he continued, and gestured forward, settling into a rythym as he looked forward and beyond sightlessly. "Look over there, at the river, how the sun just sparks off of it… Quite beautiful. I recall a painting once, that was able to nearly capture this spark, this reflection, but it couldn't quite grasp it…"
As he spoke on and on, his voice in a steady cadence, Izuku found himself relaxing again. Now it was his turn to ask questions, and he found himself fascinated by the man. Apparently, he had travelled the world thoroughly and had stories from exotic places – America, Britain, Germany, Nigeria! – and knew their histories quite deeply as well. The breadth of knowledge the man had was awe-inspiring.
"How old are you?" Izuku found himself asking at some point, and had to blush at the bluntness of his question. "I mean, you just know so much…"
The man smiled again, in that way that made his stance soften, projected clear as day even without the visible sight of his mouth.
"Quite old," he confessed. "Though I have dedicated my life to participating in history – that is how you can truly come to know things. It is quite amazing how much you can accomplish in little time."
Izuku looked at him in awe.
"Can you teach me?"
The words had been blurted out before he could think through him, so strong that tug in his heart, that thirst and yearning for knowledge, something more, called him, telling him in that moment that these were the right words to say.
There was a surprised silence, then the man nodded slowly.
"I don't see why not. What is it you'd like to learn, little one?"
And so it began. Izuku asked him all about the origin of quirks, how quirks had devolved the progress society and science, the sociology of heroism, the stop to global warfare after the rise of heorism and villainy. He let it slip, accidentally, how badly he wanted a quirk – and if it was possible to manufacture one, somehow. Then he asked about a detailed history of Japan, for some hundreds of years ago that they were currently studying in class, which Aku-san knew a startling amount about. At some point he had sat himself down on the grass, crossing his legs together to be more comfortable as he looked up at the man and traded questions and answers back and forth.
They talked late into the evening, Aku-san answering his questions calmly and with great thought. It always felt like he knew more than he had been able to tell Izuku in these spare moments, like an ocean of knowledge was in his head and Izuku was only getting the barest teaspoons. Still, it was fascinating and went on and on, until Izuku finally had to break it off, regretfully, saying, "I'm sorry… I have to go, my mom will be worried about me…"
"Go, little one," he said. "I will see you again next week, at the same time as we met today, for your tutoring."
There was no question to it, but Izuku still nodded, confirming that he would be there.
"See you then!" he said brightly, then, stood up, stretched, and waved off at the man. After he had received a reply – a calm hand raised in farewell – he trotted off, running back home in hopes that his mom wouldn't get angry about him staying out late.
She wasn't angry, but she was concerned, and set him off to bed straight away. He happily complied, and though his thoughts were restless, still processing all that he had learned today, he was soon able to drift off into an easy sleep, dreams filled with ideas of samurai and exotic places and a man with a black mask with ventilator tubes in every one of them, fighting alongside him.
It was too much to place on a stranger, Izuku knew. But he was the only one aside from his mother who would talk to him without jeers, and all the teachers and adults would always talk down to him, like he was stupid just because he was a child still. Not so with Aku-san. He listened patiently, discussed ideas with Izuku as if Izuku was a meritable scholar, and took his ideas seriously.
So it wasn't all too unexpected that Izuku developed a quick and strong attachment to the man, even if he knew it wasn't right to be talking to a stranger so much - even if he knew mother would be worried if he told her how he had met his mysterious new tutor. He liked the man, and his company, the chatter, was a soft comfort to Izuku, a solace that he realized he had desperately needed.
So that was why, when Aku-san told him that this was their last meeting some months after their meetings had begun, that he could not come here any longer, that there would be no way to contact him when he was gone, Izuku asked if he could come with him.
They were words he had said on a whim, out of a surprised panic, but the man had considered it seriously. He then, just as seriously, told Izuku that he had many enemies and did not live a comfortable lifestyle. Coming with him would not mean a comfortable or convenient life.
Izuku was stunned that the man had took the hasty proposition seriously, and found himself now thinking about it more, running possibilities and regrets and ideas through his mind like his life was a reel he was watching through. He didn't find much in that reel worth watching, however, so he bolstered himself, squared his shoulders, looked ever so slightly away, and said, "I still want to. I don't have anything here to live for. You're the only one that actually talks to me." He wasn't embarrased by the words, because it was a confession he had already long since spouted and been recieved graciously.
He swallowed, and found that his gaze had drifted to the ground, his eyes fixed to his shoes.
Taking a deep breath, he raised his eyes to meet Aku-san's implacable mask.
The man stared at him for a long moment, then said,
"You can come with me, Midoriya Izuku. But I warn you, it will not at all be what you expect, and you will not be able to turn back."
At first, Izuku could scarcely believe his ears.
Then a smile broke out on his face.
He could come!
He could break out of this hellhole and be free!
Unheeding of the man's warning, he found himself hugging the man in gratitude, this impromptu idea taking a wild hold of him, promising him salvation, freedom, change, anything else.
He didn't know anything about this man, other than his scholarship and kind demeanor. He didn't know where he was going. He didn't know what kind of "enemies" he had.
But Izuku was damned if he wouldn't let the one person who actually talked to him go without a fight.
He had been just that lonely.